Saturday, April 30, 2005

Wars Americans Know Nothing About

The Austro-Prussian

The Franco-Prussian

The Swedish-Polish

The Second Afghan

The Second Mithridatic War

The First, Second and Third Samnite

The War of the Triple Alliance

The War of the Quadruple Alliance

The Greco-Turkish

The Sino-Japanese

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Henry Fletcher

I first ran across a story by artist/writer Henry Fletcher a couple of years ago in one of AC's reprint series. It featured a peculiarly effeminate "super wizard" named Stardust in the type of adventure that you expect an eight-year-old to have created. Fletcher's art had misproportioned figures and an oblivious lack of perspective that also seemed quite child-like. The whole story seemed like outsider comics, especially when I couldn't find any other information about him except that he also used the name Fletcher Hanks.

Now I found there's a webpage at with very brief info (apparently Hanks was his real name) and better yet reproductions of three entire stories. According to Scott Saavedra there's a book about Fletcher in the works at Fantagraphics which would be an essential purchase.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

recent reading

Don’t know where this fits into my standing on the 50 Book Challenge but surely I’m way behind. There’s a lot of stuff not covered in the blog that I may or may not get to eventually (including the several books I just read about the Iraq War that should be covered together).

Ben Macintyre The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan (2004) - I love this kind of book where a half or mostly forgotten bit of cultural history is brought back up. In this case, of the early 19th century Pennsylvania Quaker Josiah Harlan who left the U.S. and served as a doctor with the British army despite having no medical training. He eventually ended up in Afghanistan during the Great Game, became an actual provincial ruler, an in-name-only “king” (very briefly), made arduous explorations and dabbled in Afghan political intrigues. Oh, and towards the end of his life he became a misplaced commander in the American Civil War and proposed that camels be used in the Southwest (thereby eventually giving the world Hawmps, which impressed me at age 14 but I’m probably skipping the recently released DVD). It would be hard to mess up this story and Macintyre doesn’t. Even if chunks of the book are more or less rewrites of Harlan’s own journals, well judging from the actual extracts that’s not such a bad thing and where anyway would I find the published journals? My library has extensive and thorough history holdings but nothing by him, not even on microfilm. Maybe that shouldn’t be such a surprise since checking a few books I have on Afghanistan and the Great Game, Harlan isn’t mentioned (or at least not indexed). Macintyre doesn’t make any claims that Harlan was an unacknowledged key figure but shows where Harlan was sometimes an active player and more often somewhat self-deluded. In any case, a highly recommended book.

Chuck Whitlock Scam School (1997) - But then there’s this. The title may actually be Chuck Whitlock’s Scam School which would be appropriate since this is mostly about Whitlock. From start to finish, it’s “look at me me me” as Whitlock talks about all he’s done, his TV appearances, his stings, his “research”, the tremendous response that apparently greets his every single broadcast, etc. I picked the book up because as a manager at a bookstore cons and scams are a constant, though tiny, threat and because after seeing House of Games recently I got interested in old-school cons. (I have no idea why it’s even in my library which as a serious, well-funded academic library really doesn’t even dabble in this sort of trade market trash.) Not that I learned much about anything from Scam School (though one of the cons mentioned does appear in House of Games). Whitlock’s fictionalizing of stories shows that he brings little seriousness to his constantly trumpted title of “investigative journalist” and it’s just creepy that he’s proud of hobnobbing with reprehensible people like Maury Povich and Geraldo Rivera who profit from human suffering. Sure he admits that he changed some names and dressed up the stories but it’s clear that large parts are completely invented to make it more “readable.” Whitlock’s frequent accounts of his undercover antics (never turned over to an associate) are intended to show how scams work but it’s blatantly clear that he loves the scams and showing how superior he is to everyday people. This just leaves a bad taste and makes Whitlock appear to be just like the other scammers, except he’s only keeping money from selling this con of a book and not from his televised victims.

A. J. Liebling The Telephone Booth Indian (1942) - This is the first Liebling book I’ve read even though he’s one of those people whose name floated around for years as somebody I might like. This title was chosen again because of the con man aspect. It was reprinted last summer as part of Broadway Books’ Library of Larceny series though there’s not much in the way of actual cons or even larceny here. (I read the North Point edition with a Roy Blount introduction but will probably stand in some store and read the new Luc Sante introduction just because I like his work. Or maybe just wait for the entire series’ eventual appearance as remainders.) Instead, the book creates an almost-dreamworld of what 30s NYC was or should have been like, with its small-time hustlers, boxers, entrepreneurs, bookies, hat-check girls, theatrical impressarios and so forth, kind of real-life Runyon. Apparently this isn’t Liebling at his most Liebling-like which may be why this is more top-notch reportage rather than the sparkling memoirs I’d expected. Still, the material about boxing and horseracing is interesting enough to somebody like me who otherwise wouldn’t find the subjects interesting enough while bits like the short history of hatchecking are dispatches from a vanished world. (Reading the piece about the Shubert’s theatres I was struck by the mention of Shubert Alley and couldn’t remember why that seems familiar since I know practically nothing about NYC theatrical history; eventually I placed it as the Mel Torme album.) Really the only serious flaw is the piece about Roy Howard of Scripps-Howard newspapers which repeats chunks of material and eventually bogs down in recounting editorial shifts at various newspapers, which probably fascinated a journalist like Liebling and possibly even his contemporary readers but today is like trying to keep straight the opaque succession of Italian Renaissance rulers.