The Play’s the Thing

Barbara and I were talking about Reed playwrights after watching the rebroadcast of the second episode of Treme the other night. Eric Overmyer (’73) is executive producer and writer on the series—set in the months after the flooding of New Orleans—and he’s also worked on a couple of other critically-acclaimed shows: Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire among them.

Today’s mail brings a flyer from the Reed Alumni association about Lee Blessing who graduated a couple of years before Overmyer. Profile Theater, in the Theater! Theatre space in my neighborhood is doing a staged reading of Blessing’s new work, When We Go Upon the Sea, in a couple of weeks (in addition to producing several other Blessing works this year). I cannot recommend Fortinbras enough for serious but humorful Shakespeare aficianodos.

When We Go Upon the Sea is described in the flyer as exploring “a future, in which President George W. Bush is put on trial for international war crimes.” I have to say that I find this sort of amusing because the one act play I wrote for my playwriting class twenty years ago at Reed was “Ollie North, 2000 A.D.,” with a sort of similar premise. It starred my classmate (not from playwriting) Scott Quinn as Ollie North, local cinephile D.K. Holm as The People, and Barbara as Fawn Hall. I lost my digital copy years ago but D.K. gave me a copy of the script a few years ago. I may have to dig it up and wander over to the show.

Band of Brothers

I predict a good night for poker on this, St. Crispin’s Day.

And Crispine Crispian shall ne’re goe by,
From this day to the ending of the World,
But we in it shall be remembred;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he to day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother: be he ne’re so vile,
This day shall gentle his Condition.
And Gentlemen in England, now a bed,
Shall thinke themselues accurst they were not here;
And hold their Manhoods cheape, whiles any speakes,
That fought with vs vpon Saint Crispines day.

Henry V, William Shakespeare

Best wishes, too, to Tomer Berda who’s off to Vienna for the latest leg in the European Poker Tour, which begins tomorrow. You can follow live action reports from Austria on the web via Poker News (they also have a great iPhone app).

The Internet Did It

The Huffington Post featured a piece yesterday consisting of short essays on the future of literary reviews in the world of the internet by the editors of journals ranging from Agni to The Yale Review. I guess that’s an important topic now that the web’s been around for more than fifteen years. Always good to mull these things over.

For my own part, of course, I’m proud to say that the internet had nothing to do with the demise of my own review. Plant’s Review of Books was able to collapse entirely without me saying “The computers did it!” or “Nobody reads any more!” 100% human failure. I take the rap.

Diconix

It’s summer again (at least that’s what they tell us here in Portland despite the record rain in June and a totally blown Independence Day forecast which has ended up with cloud cover and no sight of the sun today) and time for cleaning out the boxes and corners of the house and garage.

Twenty years ago this summer I was in New York City for the first time. I’d just graduated from Reed (eleven years after getting out of high school, after attending three other institutions of higher education, and having spent five years out of school, a good portion of that unemployed). Barbara and I had just bought a house but we hadn’t been able to move in before I left for NYC, because the closing check hadn’t been paid to the previous owner yet, and she needed the money for deposits on the apartment she was moving to (the rental house we moved out of on my graduation day just sold for $228,736).

Back then I was working for Powell’s Books, as was Barbara (after leaving her legal practice) and her sister Lori (who lived with us). I was fairly proud of my position within the company. I’d started off working in company-wide returns and stocking the downtown store’s pop fiction section (everything from Tom Clancy to Barbara Cartland), then standardized the shipping for downtown (which had been more or less a free-for-all) and basically became the shipping department. All the while I was going to school at Reed I was working full-time at the store. I proposed a desktop publishing department to management around 1988 or 1989 and they spent $10K to buy a Mac II, a LaserWriter, and software with which I did signage, advertising, and an employee newsletter. I had big plans for the company, including a magazine that reviewed new and old books, in keeping with the Powell’s philosophy.

So during my last year at Reed I started looking for how to burnish my publishing credentials and I found the New York University Summer Institute in Book & Magazine Publishing. I applied and was accepted and then the whole thing with the house happened and I had to head out, leaving barbara in the lurch to complete the move (most of our stuff was in the new house’s garage, Barbara and Lori were staying with out friend Paula).

I carried my Mac Plus to New York, and I ordered this neat little printer from Kodak. The Diconix M150 is probably the smallest printer I will ever own. It weighs less than three pounds, it’s smaller than a thick book of history. And it’s twenty years old.

It’s probably a bit difficult for some folks to remember the tech environment of two decades ago. It’s even hard for me to come to grips with it sometimes and I was there. Lots of people are used to working on laptops that weigh next to nothing these days (not to mention iPads or smartphones) but the physical act of printing still requires non-virtual elements: some sort of mechanism that moves a printhead across a piece of paper and a type of ink or toner at the minimum. The Diconix was slow and its output was far from ideal, but for me, in an NYU dorm on Third Avenue printing out comps of cover graphics or proposals for books, it was like having some piece of spy paraphernalia.

After NYU I proofed a couple of books for Random House, but even though I had the key to his office, Michael Powell wasn’t down with the idea of a book review magazine. At least not with me at the helm. After I left the company and started up Plant’s Review of Books a couple of years later, Powell’s came out with their own literary magazine, and of course now their critically-acclaimed web site is full of exactly the type of thing that I was trying to get off the ground twenty years ago, but them’s the breaks.

A Guy, a Gal, And a Lizard

Frank Frazetta's art for 'Princess of Mars'

My high school years in the late ’70s were in a number of ways dominated by two Franks, one of whom died just the other day.

The Frank who had the greater impact on my life passed on nearly two decades back. I listened constantly to Frank Zappa in my teen years, saw him in concert on his infrequent trips to Oregon in the ’80s (I think he’s the only act I’ve seen in two different cities on consecutive nights), and have a pretty complete collection of his original pre-mortem vinyl LPs. A lot of material has been released since his death that I don’t have, and I haven’t converted (or bought CDs of) what I already own, so I really haven’t listened to any of it for a a long while, but even with my leaky memory I can recall big sections of lyrics. Zappa lives on in some ways in the Zappa Plays Zappa neverending tour, with Frank’s son Dweezil taking on the mantle (coming to Roseland here in Portland on 13 June).

The Frank who died this week was more of a backdrop in my youth. Hanging out in and then working at a sci-fi/fantasy bookshop from the mid-’70s to the early ’80s, I was there for the rise of Frank Frazetta, whose work seemed to be on the cover of every other book (all the other books had artwork by The Brothers Hildebrandt) and whose collection The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta was on whatever passed for a coffee table in the home of every geeky guy in town.

Later trends in cover art would evolve toward a photo-realism where you could see the slime and sheen on the bodies of the creatures slain by/ridden by/copulating with the heroes on the cover, but Frazetta’s work had a rough, textured feel to it that most of the time perfectly evoked the prose within. He was hugely popular, making the leap from covers of DAW Book reprints of Robert E. Howard’s Princess of Mars (above) to the sleeves of top-selling albums for bands like Molly Hatchet (although he had done the poster art for the movie What’s New, Pussycat? in the mid-60s). Sure, it could be formulaic (a guy with some sort of big weapon; a barely-clad woman, chained or clinging at his feet; some sort of creature, the lizardier the better) but then again it matches the material within.

Here’s a shout-out to all you big-thewed warriors!

Literally

From a McClatchy Network version of a Los Angeles Times story about the coal ship that rammed into Australia’s Great barrier Reef:

Like other coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef was built literally on the backs of small, colonial animals that make formations resembling tabletops, giant brains or elk horns.

Well, not “literally.” Corals don’t actually have “backs” except in the sense that they have a side facing away from you. The Times version currently online doesn’t include “literally.”

Copyreich

Copyreich

If you’ve been following the story of who owns the copyright to Mein Kampf since I first published my article on the subject in the debut issue of Plant’s Review of Books in the fall of 1992, then you no doubt noticed the article in today’s The New York Times:

MUNICH — In Germany, an author is granted an ironclad copyright for 70 years after his death, apparently even if he is subsequently regarded as one of the greatest mass murderers in history and a dark stain on the national character.

Hitler’s copyright on “Mein Kampf,” in the hands of the Bavarian government since the end of the Nazi regime, has long been used to keep his inflammatory manifesto off the shelves in Germany. But with the expiration date looming in 2015, there is a developing showdown here over the first German publication of the book since the end of World War II.

If you’re interested in the subject in the international realm, please take a look at Amders Andersson’s site from which I ripped off the graohic and title above (and which links back to me!)

He’s Got Issues

Another bit from the 1989 treasure trove.

Back at the time, I was doing all of the major graphics work for the downtown Powell’s Books and for the corporate offices. Not that that was anything particularly fancy. The famous “City of Books” poster pre-dated my beginning there in 1987, and my skills were never in the artistic realm. I just knew how to use Adobe Illustrator and Aldus PageMaker, both applications which were then pretty new.

Powell's City of Books postcard. ©1984 Stephen T. Leflar
Powell’s “City of Books” postcard from the late 1980s. Artwork copyright 1984 by Stephen T. Leflar.

I’d somehow managed to convince Powell’s to spend something like $10K on a Mac II, a LaserPrinter and some software, and set up my own little niche in the company doing a newsletter for employees, shelf signs, working on the first color-coded map of the store, whacking out advertising for readings, and whatever other special projects came my way.

One of those special projects was Powell’s participation in the ACLU’s Banned Book Week. As one of the primary sponsors, the company took on the production of the poster in 1989. Oregonian editorial artist Jack Ohman did a cartoon for the big graphic draw, and I incorporated that into a flag-inspired design listing the events.

An Uncensored Celebration: 1989 poster for Portland's Banned Book Week and 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights

The 1989 celebration was particularly significant, because September 25th marked the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Bill of Rights. Anyway, a day or so before the first events, a letter showed up at Powell’s Travel Store, which was in Pioneer Courthouse Square where KGW now has a studio. Somehow the letter ended up in my hands, which seems odd in retrospect because I wasn’t the liason with the ACLU or anything important, I was just the guy who did the layout of the poster. It appeared to be a photocopy; one of the pages has material on the left side that seems to have gotten cut off in the copy process. The same page has a faint line near the bottom and is jaggedly torn across. The postmark on the envelope is 23 September. It’s not obvious which of the pages was supposed to be read first.

Crazy letter about Banned Books Week

Crazy letter about Banned Books Week

Considering that one of the books that was being discussed for the repeated attempts to ban it was Catcher in the Rye — which is filled with proto-man issues — I think Mr. G. Really may have missed the boat.

Busted Flat


Fair for Fare

Yeah, maybe it would have been a better idea to stick with the electrical engineering degree back in 1980, but at least I don’t go around screwing up my joke about penniless English majors by substituting a homonym for the word I meant to use.