#31Days: A Collection of Horror Essays, Vol. 1 – #BookReview

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

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SUMMARY

Imagine immersing yourself in a world of unimaginable horrors for a month. Now imagine doing it every year for 16 years. Horror critic Robert J Gannon does it ever year. The #31Days challenge is to watch and review a different horror property–film, TV series, book, game, play, etc.–every day for the month of October.

In this newly revised and expanded collection of essays, Robert J Gannon celebrates the horror genre with a focus on film and television. #31Days features 65 essays and reviews covering everything from Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” series to the anthology horror show “Masters of Horror.” This non-fiction collection follows the spirit of Sketching Details, Robert’s long-running entertainment media criticism website. Horror deserves the same level of respect and analysis as any other genre. Robert J Gannon has built a career out of analyzing and sharing a passion for genre fiction–horror, sci-fi, and fantasy–and he’s ready to show the world in his debut non-fiction collection.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Every year Robert Ganon spends 31 days in October consuming and reviewing different types of horror media. His most recent critical reviews are collected in #31Days: A Collection of Horror Essays, Vol. 1. These reviews focus on film from a wide range of horror history with everything from the Phantasm series to Death Note and even has a healthy smattering of documentary and reality show material he has reviewed.

Horror fans will be glad to know that Ganon does a good job of avoiding major spoilers in any of his reviews. Another thing many fans of horror will appreciate is the content warning he gives for each review. This makes it much easier to know if a particular show or movie might not be right for you.

Most of the reviews are objective and Ganon clearly knows his history of horror and what does and does not work well in a visual horror story. He does tend to lean towards films and shows that can be a bit experimental. If you are a horror fan who has seen everything under the sun you will likely appreciate some of the more rare findings he speaks about. For fans of more popular films and shows, Ganon has several of those in there as well so anyone who does like horror is bound to find at minimum one thing worth watching.

If you don’t happen to be a fan of the Phantasm film series you may want to skip those reviews as he does go through every single film. However, in my opinion, and Mr. Ganon’s that series is majorly undervalued by media critics at large and is worth a viewing. He sums up its place in film history very well.

One other thing that is refreshing about these reviews is that they are at times intimate and personal. One of the stand out reviews is about a documentary that was made touching upon the homophobia surrounding A Nightmare on Elm Stree 2: Freddy’s Revenge. It’s not often that you find such thoughtful criticism of horror in general and it’s a great touch here in #31Days: A Collection of Horror Essays, Vol. 1.

Fans of horror would all do well to give this book a look. You’re not going to like everything in it but if you are a fan of horror at all there is something here for you. If Mr. Ganon decides to put out another book for next October I will be getting myself a copy to see what in the world of horror is worth my time.

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The Ten-Cent Plague – #BookReview

The Ten-Cent Plague

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon, here back to review another book. This time I am reviewing the book that was on the very bottom of my TBR list. I always meant to read this book but hadn’t gotten around to it. Reading the book at the very bottom of my to be read list was also the first item in my book challenge for the year which you can find here.

The book I read was The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America. That’s quite a mouthful but it was a great read. It’s a non-fiction account of the period in the 1950’s in America when there was rising concern that comic books were contributing to the juvenile delinquency of the country. The idea was that books that depicted horrific acts and showed criminals committing crimes were causing kids to imitate those actions in real life. This was mostly spurned on by a book called Seduction of the Innocent written by a psychiatrist named Frederick Wertham.

There’s a lot more to the story than that but essentially, there was a crusade that was enacted and culminated in not only hundreds of thousands of comic books being burned but also led to legislation that banned the distribution of certain types of comic books (pretty much most of them) and caused the comic book industry to adopt its own censorship organization that nearly destroyed comic books as an art form entirely.

While Wertham had some real credentials and was a leader in many ways in his field, when it came to his book about the link between comics and juvenile delinquency, he only used cases he had come across, and his methods were anything but purely scientific. He excoriated comic books, called nearly all of them crime comics, no matter what the subject actually was and made bold proclamations about how these books were ruining children’s minds.

Interestingly, Wertham also was friends with and highly respected Richard Wright, the author of the fabulous book, Native Son. Somehow, it never seemed to occur to Wertham that if Wright’s book were drawn in comic book form, he would not want children to read that either. In fact, there are plenty of instances of classic literature, right down to nursery rhymes that depicted as much violence as some of the comics that were complained about. The difference? One was drawn and sold for ten cents and the rest was considered classic literature.

If, like me, you are an avid comic book reader, you probably know much of the history found in Ten Cent Plague already, however, it is still worth a read. The author David Hadju gives a brief but somewhat oversimplified history of the early start of comics from the first strips in newspapers, to the popularity of Superman right through the explosion of crime and horror comics that were mostly printed by EC comics.

What’s interesting in this book is just how heroic EC actually comes out in the story. They were blamed for causing the antipathy and hatred of comics by concerned parents but they were also about the only company really fighting back, saying that no one was talking to the actual readers of comic books. Particularly, Bill Gaines who was the head of EC at the time went to testify in front of a senate committee and stated that a comic book that had an ax murderer holding up a severed head was in good taste, “for a horror comic”.

That more or less sealed the deal for censors and then the Comics Code Authority was born. It restricted what could be put in comics and made the whole industry a lot less free. The Ten-Cent Plague only touches on it briefly but the whole industry would have gone under if it had not been for Stan Lee and his cohorts at Marvel for reviving the industry with new and interesting superheroes.

EC basically lost everything, except for Mad Magazine which they kept and used to poke fun at everything and everyone. It’s a magazine, not a comic book because it would not have passed through the Comics Code Authority’s restrictive standards. It has the goofy face of Alfred E. Neuman on it so that censors would think it is just a goofy kids magazine, never realizing that inside the pages of Mad was biting satire that was often more politically relevant than some of the major newspapers of the time.

The most difficult section of The Ten-Cent Plague to get through is the part where Hajdu talks about book burnings. Often times, kids were not told that the comic books would be burned. Most of the adults who were on the crusade of destroying these hadn’t read them and couldn’t articulate why they were bad but obviously seeing these covers with the words CRIME, HORROR and WEIRD in capital block letters must have been doing something to their children. It wasn’t all adults though, there were plenty of kids who thought that these books were no good and organized drives to do so themselves in several towns across the country. These were typically good kids trying to do the right thing because what they were seeing in the news was that comics were bad.

The fact that less than a decade earlier books had been burned in Germany prior to and during the second world war didn’t seem to matter to those who wanted to censor comics. They didn’t see it as the same thing but there are distinct parallels. The same parents that would encourage children to read Hamlet would be horrified by a child reading a comic book titled Crime Does Not Pay. Yet, there is plenty of violence and crime in Hamlet. I guess it’s worse if there are pictures to accompany it?

Anyway, The Ten-Cent Plague is a good read even if you are not that interested in comic books, it’s a strange and unique look at a part of American history that we should probably take the time to learn from.

After reading this book, I want to go out and read some pre-code EC comics. They’re pretty interesting, the horror ones are quite gruesome in fact, and over the top. They did not deserve to be burned though and Bill Gaines didn’t deserve to be chased more or less out of comics but it’s what happened.

If you don’t want to go read The Ten-Cent Plague, then do yourself a favor, go out and find a comic book. Read it and enjoy it and think for a moment about the fact that it very nearly did not exist due to the hysteria of a minority of people who never even read the books in the first place.

Comic-ally yours,

Slick Dungeon

I Remember – #BookReview

I Remember When You could Write a book That didn’t Only start Sentences With I Remember…

Hello fellow book nerds and freaks out there in the world. I read a lot of books and sometimes what I look for in a book is… shortness. I love epic reads and long books but on occasion I want a short, easy palate cleanser of a book to give me a brief fresh outlook on things. One that will revitalize me and energize me to read more books.

Well, I saw I Remember on my shelf and realized that it is only 167 pages and quite thin so I thought it might be a great match. Err…. noooooope. The entire book is made up of sentences by Joe Brainard that begin “I remember…”. Okay, sure, maybe you could make something interesting out of this. I feel like a lot of great stories might have begun with an author remembering something, I’m sure this applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Joe Brainard’s book is non-fiction and it is one of the dumbest reads I have ever read. While there are a few poignant passages that delve into love or sex or deep emotions there is a much larger amount of totally random bizarre thoughts that seem more at home on my blog than in a book.

Here’s a few actual quotes from the book.

  • I remember pink dress shirts. And bola ties.
  • I remember cherry Cokes.
  • I remember cold turkey sandwiches.
  • I remember that germs are everywhere!
  • I remember sometimes blue underwear.

You know what? Everyone else remembers those things too! (Except for the blue underwear, in my experience underwear is either blue or it is not.) It gets weirder though.

  • I remember that woman who was always opening refrigerators.
  • I remember eating airplane glue off my fingers. (Yum-yum.)
  • I remember never using shoehorns.
  • I remember “Uranium”.
  • I remember, in art movies, two nuns walking by.

Ok sure dude. I think you should have just written an interesting story about a woman who opens refrigerators looking for Uranium while you eat airplane glue off your fingers because you lost a shoehorn due to being distracted by two art-ish looking nuns walking by. That’s the kind of a story I can get behind.

But wait! This gets weirder. I’m not going to post the things that Joe Brainard remembered that were essentially racist or overtly sexual but those were definitely in the book. I am just gonna list more of the weird stuff.

  • I remember when a kid told me that those sour clover-like leaves we used to eat (with little yellow flowers) tasted so sour because dogs peed on them. I remember that didn’t stop me from eating them.
  • I remember Dorothy Collins’ teeth.
  • I remember the clock from three to three-thirty.
  • I remember (ugh) hound drops.
  • I remember “7” and “14” and “13” and “21” and “69”

I admit I have no idea what a hound drop is, or why someone would eat leaves that dogs peed on or why one person’s teeth are so particularly memorable but I will say that you forgot most of the clock and how to count in order with all the numbers. I’m thinking you may want to have that checked out if that’s all you remember dude.

But I can’t end this post without my absolute favorite, weird line from this book. This is the only I remember worth it in the whole thing and it comes last.

  • I remember a dream of meeting a man made out of a very soft yellow cheese and when I went to shake his hand I just pulled his whole arm off.

Me too, Joe Brainard, me too.

So, to summarize the whole entire book I must remember that famous quote from the classically bad film, Ghostbusters II. “Very good Louis. Short but pointless.” — Egon.

Forgetfully yours,

Slick Dungeon