Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crime Fiction Masters: Berlin Noir: Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther Novels

Philip Kerr is the author of many novels, but perhaps most important are the ones featuring Bernie GuntherA Quiet Flame, The One from the Other, and the Berlin Noir trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem). Kerr lives in London and Cornwall, England, with his family.

The Philip Kerr Bernie Gunther  mysteries are exciting and insightful looks at life inside Nazi Germany -- richer and more readable than most histories of the period. We first meet ex-policeman Bernie Gunther in 1936, in March Violets (a term of derision which original Nazis used to describe late converts.) The Olympic Games are about to start; some of Bernie's Jewish friends are beginning to realize that they should have left while they could; and Gunther himself has been hired to look into two murders that reach high into the Nazi Party. In The Pale Criminal, it's 1938, and Gunther has been blackmailed into rejoining the police by Heydrich himself. And in A German Requiem, the saddest and most disturbing of the three books, it's 1947 as Gunther stumbles across a nightmare landscape that conceals even more death than he imagines.

The Bernie Gunther novels:

March Violets. London: Viking, 1989.
The Pale Criminal. London: Viking, 1990.
A German Requiem. London: Viking, 1991.
The One From the Other. New York: Putnam, 2006.
A Quiet Flame. London: Quercus, 2008.
If The Dead Rise Not. London: Quercus, 2009.
Field Grey. London: Quercus, 2010
Prague Fatale. London: Quercus, 2011

Crime Fiction Masters: A Titan of Thrillers: Lee Child

I started reading this crime/thriller series, and I got so hooked, I read every book in the series obsessively, one after the other, until I had finall read them all to date.

Jack Reacher is the fictional character created by British author Jim Grant who writes under the pen name of Lee Child.

Lee Child is the author of sixteen Jack Reacher thrillers, including the New York Times bestsellers Persuader, The Enemy, One Shot, and The Hard Way, and the #1 bestsellers Worth Dying For, 61 Hours, Gone Tomorrow, Bad Luck and Trouble, and Nothing to Lose. His debut, Killing Floor, won both the Anthony and the Barry awards for Best First Mystery, and The Enemy won both the Barry and Nero awards for Best Novel.

The Jack Reacher novels:

1. Killing Floor (1997)
2. Die Trying (1998)
3. Tripwire (1999)
4. Running Blind (2000)
5. Echo Burning (2001)
6. Without Fail (2002)
7. Persuader (2003)
8. The Enemy (a prequel, time frame occurs before Killing Floor) (2004)
9. One Shot (2005)
10. The Hard Way (2006)
11. Bad Luck and Trouble (2007)
12. Nothing to Lose (2008)
13. Gone Tomorrow (2009)
14. 61 Hours (2010)
15. Worth Dying For (2010)
16. The Affair (2011) another prequel to Killing Floor

Crime Fiction Masters: Charles Willeford

Perhaps my favorite crime fiction author is Charles Willeford, with his outstanding Hoke Moseley novels. The 1990 film, Miami Blues, starring Fred Ward as Hoke (who gets second billing to Alec Baldwin as the sociopathic Frederick J. Frenger Jr.) was a first-rate adaptation. It's a shame no sequels were made.

The book critics rightly rave:

“If you are looking for a master’s insight into the humid decadence of South Florida and its polygot tribes, nobody does it better than Mr. Willeford.”The New York Times Book Review“Extraordinarily winning. . . . Pure pleasure. . . . Mr. Willeford never puts a foot wrong.” —The New Yorker“No one write a better crime novel than Charles Willeford.”Elmore Leonard“A tempo so relentless, words practically fly off the page.” —The Village Voice“The prose is clean and tough and flows easily.” --The New York Times Book Review“A Graham Greene-like entertainment, but tougher and funnier, softened by neither simile nor sentiment. This is probably as close to the real now Miami as any thriller is likely to come.” --Donald Justice“Terse, scary, and evocative, Miami Blues is a thriller with cold blood. . . . Snap up Miami Blues.” --The Philadelphia Inquirer“Nobody writes like Charles Willeford . . . he is an original–funny and weird and wonderful.” --James CrumleyA nasty crime-comedy that’s full of casual violence, outrageous coincidences, and hilariously rude dialogue. . . . Willeford has a marvelously deadpan way with losers on both sides of the law.” --Kirkus Reviews“Absolutely brilliant in every regard–the definitive Miami novel.” --Stanley Ellin“Bone-deep satire . . . terrific.” --Publishers Weekly

Icons From the Age of Anxiety: The King of Pop Michael Jackson

Michael Joseph Jackson (1958-2009): The American recording artist, entertainer, and businessman who is often referred to as the King of Pop, or by his initials MJ, is recognized as the most successful entertainer of all time by Guinness World Records. If ever there was a text-book poster boy for the anxiety disorder known as Body dismorphic disorder, MJ would have to be it.

From Wikipedia: Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD, also body dysmorphia, dysmorphic syndrome; originally dysmorphophobia) is a type of mental illness, a somatoform disorder, wherein the affected person is concerned with body image, manifested as excessive concern about and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical features. The person complains of a defect in either one feature or several features of their body; or vaguely complains about their general appearance, which causes psychological distress that causes clinically significant distress or impairs occupational or social functioning. Often BDD co-occurs with emotional depression and anxiety, social withdrawal or social isolation.

Common compulsive behaviors associated with BDD include:

Compulsive mirror checking, glancing in reflective doors, windows and other reflective surfaces.
Alternatively, inability to look at one's own reflection or photographs of oneself; also, removal of mirrors from the home.
Attempting to camouflage the imagined defect: for example, using cosmetic camouflage, wearing baggy clothing, maintaining specific body posture or wearing hats.
Use of distraction techniques to divert attention away from the person's perceived defect, e.g. wearing extravagant clothing or excessive jewelry.
Excessive grooming behaviors: skin-picking, combing hair, plucking eyebrows, shaving, etc.
Compulsive skin-touching, especially to measure or feel the perceived defect.
Immotivated hostility toward people, especially those of the opposite sex (or same sex if homosexual).
Seeking reassurance from loved ones.
Excessive dieting or exercising, working on outside appearance.
Comparing appearance/body parts with that/those of others, or obsessive viewing of favorite celebrities or models whom the person suffering from BDD wishes to resemble.
Compulsive information-seeking: reading books, newspaper articles and websites that relate to the person's perceived defect, e.g. losing hair or being overweight.
Obsession with plastic surgery or dermatological procedures, often with little satisfactory results (in the perception of the patient). In extreme cases, patients have attempted to perform plastic surgery on themselves, including liposuction and various implants, with disastrous results.

Common locations of perceived defects:

In research carried out by Dr. Katharine Philips, involving over 500 patients, the percentage of patients concerned with the most common locations were as follows;

Skin (73%)
Hair (56%)
Nose (37%)
Weight (22%)

MJ appears to be another high-profile case of an afflicted person of wealth and celebrity that, instead of being treated for his anxiety disorders, was enabled and exploited. It's a tragedy, because he was a talented, good looking kid and it all went horribly wrong. Avoidance is a bitch.

Icons From The Age of Anxiety: The Genius of Logic Kurt Gödel

Kurt Friedrich Gödel (1906-1978): Celebrated for Gödel's incompleteness theorems, Gödel's completeness theorem, the consistency of the Continuum hypothesis with ZFC, Gödel metric, Gödel's ontological proof. Gödel, “established, beyond comparison, as the most important logician of our times,” in the words of Solomon Feferman, founded the modern, metamathematical era in mathematical logic. His Incompleteness Theorems, among the most significant achievements in logic since, perhaps, those of Aristotle, are among the handful of landmark theorems in twentieth century mathematics. His work touched every field of mathematical logic, if it was not in most cases their original stimulus. In his philosophical work Gödel formulated and defended mathematical Platonism, involving the view that mathematics is a descriptive science, and that the concept of mathematical truth is an objective one. On the basis of that viewpoint he laid the foundation for the program of conceptual analysis within set theory. He adhered to Hilbert'soriginal rationalistic conception” in mathematics (as he called it);  he was prophetic in anticipating and emphasizing the importance of large cardinals in set theory before their importance became clear.

Logic failed in later life, as Gödel suffered periods of mental instability and illness. He had an obsessive fear of being poisoned; he would eat only food that his wife, Adele, prepared for him. Late in 1977, Adele was hospitalized for six months and could no longer prepare Gödel's food. In her absence, he refused to eat, eventually starving to death. He weighed 65 pounds when he died. His death certificate reported that he died of "malnutrition and inanition caused by personality disturbance" in Princeton Hospital on January 14, 1978.

Bitter Bob (Formerly Known as Art Man), 1991

The original Bitter Bob (formerly known as Art Man).

Li'l Kicks #1 Mini Comic Cover, 1995

"Kix just keep gettin' harder to find." The Mutt o'Muses delivers a swift kix to Kopy Katz in this arranged marriage of the art styles of Tex Avery and Paul Klee.

Enjoy The Pop Art Fiction of Mango Press, 1995

Hello, I'm super-sophisticate cartoonist Don Mangus and I draw "funnybooks" for kicks.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Return of Bitter Bob: Daily #1, 2012

Bob is back and more bitter than ever. Can you blame him?

Mangus Family Lore: Marv and Jane Mangus, 1950

My mom and dad, Marvin and Jane, on their honeymoon in 1950. Since neither one of them admitted to doing any jail time, I believe this shot was taken at the National Zoo, Washington DC's 163-acre zoological park set within the Rock Creek National Park, which now features more than 400 different species of animals. The National Zoo is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, and admission is free.

Mangus Family Lore: Chester H. Gray, 1950

Here's mom at her wedding with her father, Chester H. Gray. Chester was the Corporation Counsel  of Washington D. C. This is the title given to the chief legal officer in some municipal and county jurisdictions, who handles civil claims against the city, including negotiating settlements and defending the city when it is sued. According to Wikipedia, in Washington D.C., the former Corporation Counsel, now known as Attorney General, prosecutes adult misdemeanors and juvenile delinquency cases in addition to traffic and local ordinance violations. What I remember most is that Grandad had a city license plate on his car of "4." The President's was "1," the VP's "2", and so on, so we thought, wow, he 's a real power broker in our nation's capitol.

Unfortunately, he died at the age of 65, just a week after retiring. Since we lived in Guatemala, Canada, and then Alaska, I only got to visit him a few times on vacations. He was the first Grandparent to die. Even so, he made a huge impression on me. He was urbane, loved reading mystery novels, playing cards, chess, and the had a "system" for betting on horses. He smoked, drank dinner cocktails, and he wasn't shy about putting huge pats of butter on his baked potato. Family lore has it that he was an amazingly fast touch-typist, and he learned the law at night school. I believe he got a signed letter of commendation from FDR for his invaluable typing skills in the service. This photograph is exactly how I remember him.

Rex, the Fearless, 1953

Rex, the Wonder Dog #11 (9/53). What a dog, nothing spooks him -- atom bombs, dinosaurs, whatever -- Rex to the rescue.

Math Prodigy: Srinavasa Ramanujan Iyengar

Mathematician Srinavasa Ramanujan's handwritten notebooks in the possession of University of Madras Library.
Photo: V. Ganesan

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel

"This moving and astonishing biography tells the improbable story of India-born Srinavasa Ramanujan Iyengar, self-taught mathematical prodigy. In 1913 Ramanujan, a 25-year-old clerk who had flunked out of two colleges, wrote a letter filled with startlingly original theorems to eminent English mathematician G. H. Hardy. Struck by the Indian's genius, Hardy, member of the Cambridge Apostles and an obsessive cricket aficionado, brought Ramanujan to England. Over the next five years, the vegetarian Brahmin who claimed his discoveries were revealed to him by a Hindu goddess turned out influential mathematical propositions. Cut off from his young Indian wife left at home and emotionally neglected by fatherly yet aloof Hardy, Ramanujan returned to India in 1919, depressed, sullen and quarrelsome; he died one year later of tuberculosis. Robert Kanigel gives nontechnical readers the flavor of how Ramanujan arrived at his mathematical ideas, which are used today in cosmology and computer science."

Icons from the Age of Anxiety: Hoarder Legends The Collyer Brothers

I wonder if there are any long boxes of Golden Age comic books in there?

The Collyer Brothers
Past and Present
Wrttten by William Bryk, April 13, 2005

Long after Harlem became the center of African-American life, Homer and Langley Collyer, scions of one of the city's oldest families, stayed in their mansion on Fifth Avenue near 128th Street. Both men were Columbia graduates. Homer, born in 1881, practiced law until his stroke in 1933. An affable, Dickensian character, he had affected high collars, sideburns, and an elegant, Spencerian hand. Younger brother Langley, a former concert pianist, favored flowing bow ties.

They disconnected their telephone in 1917, claiming they had been "billed for long distance calls they didn't make." After the gas was shut off in 1928, the Collyers lived without heat and hot running water, using kerosene for lighting and cooking. When vandals stoned their windows, Langley boarded them up.

On August 11, 1938, the World-Telegram reported on realtor Maurice Gruber's complaint that the Collyers wouldn't respond to his offers to buy their real estate in Queens. Reporter Helen Worden called Langley "the mystery man of Harlem." She repeated rumors that the house's shabby facade concealed an "Arabian Nights" palace of Chinese rugs, rare antiques, morocco-bound books, and piles of money Langley feared to put in the bank. She had even cornered Langley one night as he went shopping, calling out, "Good evening, Mr. Collyer. The neighbors tell me you keep a rowboat in the attic and a Model T in the basement."

"Yes and no," he replied. The boat, he explained, was his father's canoe. "He used to carry it to the Harlem River on his head and paddle down to [work] every morning and back every evening. The auto was his, too." Another reporter quoted a neighbor describing Langley as "the ghosty man ... He did have a brother, Homer, but nobody's seen him in a long while. They ain't seen his ma, either. She was s'pose to be dead, but she never had a funeral. ... He's like haunts in graveyards, he don' come out before midnight."

These articles made the Collyers into mysterious local characters. Later stories suggest that thereafter nosy neighbors frequently knocked on their doors. Vandals just threw rocks and bottles at the house. Terrified, Langley transformed the mansion to a fortress crammed with junk-filled packing boxes piled in interlocking tiers that concealed a maze of booby-trapped tunnels.

At 8:53 a.m. on March 21, 1947, police headquarters received a pseudonymous call reporting a dead man in the mansion. After failing to force the front doors, the police unhinged them to find a solid wall of boxes. The basement stairs to the first floor were similarly blocked. After forcing a first-floor window, they saw rooms and stairwells jammed with ceiling-high, rat-infested stacks of boxes, paper, and furniture.
Around noon, officers entered a second-story window to find Homer dead. Whether bearded (Daily News) or mustachioed (Times), clothed in a tattered robe (Times) or a few ragged fragments of clothing (the Sun), he had neither eaten nor drank for at least three days before dying from chronic bronchitis, gangrenous bedsores, and senile pulmonary emphysema.

By the end of the second day, according to the Times, the first floor hallway alone had yielded 19 tons of debris. Thousands of passersby walked or drove by, but the Daily News reported that "few lingered. ... They were driven away by the smells." The cops were smoking cheap, foul-smelling cigars against a stench of organic corruption "like a blow from a mailed fist." A housing inspector told the Sun that even the house was rotting, its floor and walls water-saturated due to open windows and a leaky roof.

A Surrogate's Court official hired movers on March 31 to empty the house. After ripping out the cellar doors, they began removing Homer's 2,500-volume law library, only a 10th of the books in the house. Amidst hundreds of tons of garbage, they found family oil portraits; hope chests jammed with unused piece goods, silks, wool, damask, and brocade; a half-dozen toy trains; 14 upright and grand pianos; chandeliers; tapestries; 13 ornate mantel clocks; 13 Oriental rugs; five violins; two organs, and Langley's certificate of merit for punctuality and good conduct from Public School 69 for the week ending April 19, 1895.

By April 3, the Herald Tribune reported that the movers, in clearing only two first-floor rooms, had removed 51 tons of stuff. Another 52 tons later, on April 8, they found Langley's body. Police told the Sun that his clothing may have snagged a tripwire, releasing a booby trap that had buried him alive in paper. On May 9, the city's buildings commissioner ordered the mansion demolished as a public menace. The brothers' estates totaled only some $66,000 before estate and unpaid property taxes. Whether the 40 relatives who filed claims with Surrogate's Court ever saw a dime is unclear.

All the Collyers had wanted, Langley once explained, was to be left alone.

Icons from the Age of Anxiety: Bobby Fischer

My maternal grandfather, Chester H. Gray, taught my older brother, Alfred, and me how to play chess in the early sixties. My brother warmed to the game more than I did. He was into cold, winning logic, while I made these ill-advised "artistic" moves, each executed with a grand Ed Norton-like flourish, and was soon mated. I think I even made the classic "Fool's Mate" moves several times where you're checkmated in only two moves. I don't think I ever beat Alfred, ever. To my credit, I only kicked the game board over or threw my Rook at his head a half-dozen times. I took my revenge by rolling the dice in "luck-based" board games like Conflict and Risk.

Like mastering math, pool, or poetry I really savored the idea of playing winning chess -- sadly, I just wasn't too successful at those endeavors. My brother played our neighborhood pals like Mark Moustakis, who went on to become the Alaskan State Chess Champion for a while. Alfred played on the East Anchorage High School chess team with his classmates, Steven "Wayne" Gordon and Willie Stone. Ultimately though, Alfred had to quit playing in his post-High School chess career because he just couldn't stand the pain of losing, even if he didn't lose that many matches. The soul-wrenching agony of losing was far more intense than the joy of winning -- a textbook case of "loss aversion."

After High School, Mark and Wayne used to go to chess tournaments in the "Lower 48" to collect autographs from chess Grandmasters, as well as try to increase their Elo ranking by winning matches. I've had two good friends that have written chess columns and books, Wayne Gordon, and here in Dallas, Ken Artz. Both of them also collected comic books.

I enjoyed being a chess hanger-on, and followed Bobby Fischer's career avidly, along with my friends'. He went from being a national hero to being a despised pariah. The only comparable crash I can think of is the soaring popularity and then dizzying plunge in the pop culture status of The Green Berets during the Vietnam era.

From the DVD description, "In 1972, America was chess-obsessed. The Soviet Union used chess to demonstrate its intellectual superiority to the West, but along came a young, lone American, who demolished the Russian masters of the sport. At the height of his career, Bobby Fischer was better known than any other man in the world. Relentless press attention, political pressure and a monomaniacal focus on chess ultimately led to his undoing.

Filmmaker Liz Garbus uses the narrative tension of the 1972 match between Fischer and the defending World Champion, the Russian Boris Spassky, to explore not only the politically charged period of the early 1970s but also the nature of genius, madness and the game of chess itself."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Satroialist Marvel Style: Doctor Doom and the Incredible Hulk

The King of Kong: Obsessed with Being the Best

"The stuff of gladiatorial battle is here: good versus evil, right versus wrong, nerd versus... super-nerd? At any rate, it's a more entertaining showdown than most fictional movies can muster. The King of Kong is the saga of Steve Wiebe, a Redmond, Washington dweeb who sets a new record in the video game Donkey Kong, only to see his accomplishment challenged by the grand poobahs of the gaming establishment. And if you don't know how pernickety the grand poobahs of the gaming establishment can be, well, one of the pleasures of this movie is finding out about this collection of oddballs. It seems Wiebe has toppled a score that has stood since 1982, when eminent "Gamer of the Century" Billy Mitchell set it, and Mitchell isn't too happy about being overthrown."

A black-mulleted showboat, Mitchell provides the perfect counterpoint to Wiebe's mild-mannered family man, and the smaller fish around him are no less colorful. This is one of those movies you watch in delighted disbelief, marveling that such people exist -- and that they gladly allowed themselves to be filmed. Director Seth Gordon does an important thing in presenting this world of eccentrics: he doesn't mock them, or provide editorial nudging; he simply lets them be. The result is an ingratiating classic."

The Game is On: Sherlock: Season One DCD (2010)

Here's an updated version of Sherlock Holmes that I enjoyed tremendously. Check it out if you haven't already seen it.

"A contemporary take on the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock is a thrilling, funny, fast-paced adventure series set in present-day London. Co-created by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling) and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock stars BAFTA-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Hawking, Amazing Grace) as the new Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Office, Love Actually), as his loyal friend, Doctor John Watson. Rupert Graves plays Inspector Lestrade. The iconic details from Conan Doyle's original books remain -- they live at the same address, have the same names and, somewhere out there, Moriarty is waiting for them. And so across three thrilling, scary, action-packed and highly modern-day adventures, Sherlock and John navigate a maze of cryptic clues and lethal killers to get at the truth."

Hostile Takeover by The Blubber Boy, 1995

Sugar-coated fatballs with a salt center -- the ultimate fast food. Yum. Circa 1996. Another Mangus mirth-terpiece.

Read, Read, and Read Some More: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

Here's a great book that sheds some light on Edward O. Thorp's roulette wheel-predicting buddy, the genius Claude Shannon. I smile when I recall William Poundstone's opening description about Shannon in Fortune's Formula, something along the lines of, "It would be unfair to Claude Shannon to Albert Einstein. Unfair to Shannon because he was so much smarter."

This hefty tome is touted on Amazon as, "From the bestselling author of the acclaimed Chaos and Genius comes a thoughtful and provocative exploration of the big ideas of the modern era: Information, communication, and information theory.  

Acclaimed science writer James Gleick presents an eye-opening vision of how our relationship to information has transformed the very nature of human consciousness. A fascinating intellectual journey through the history of communication and information, from the language of Africa’s talking drums to the invention of written alphabets; from the electronic transmission of code to the origins of information theory, into the new information age and the current deluge of news, tweets, images, and blogs. Along the way, Gleick profiles key innovators, including Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Samuel Morse, and Claude Shannon, and reveals how our understanding of information is transforming not only how we look at the world, but how we live."

On Second Thought: Heuristics and Framing

Once again, the pioneering research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky serves as the foundation for this breezey Malcolm Gladwell-type book, On Second Thought, by Wray Herbert. I never tire of reading about heuristics and Prospect Theory. Check out the subtle visual pun on the cover design.

From the almighty Amazon, "Our lives are composed of millions of choices, ranging from trivial to life-changing and momentous. Luckily, our brains have evolved a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to quickly negotiate this endless array of decisions. We don’t want to rationally deliberate every choice we make, and thanks to these cognitive rules of thumb, we don’t need to. 

Yet these hard-wired shortcuts, mental wonders though they may be, can also be perilous. They can distort our thinking in ways that are often invisible to us, leading us to make poor decisions, to be easy targets for manipulators…and they can even cost us our lives. 

The truth is, despite all the buzz about the power of gut-instinct decision-making in recent years, sometimes it’s better to stop and say, “On second thought . . .”

The trick, of course, lies in knowing when to trust that instant response, and when to question it. In On Second Thought, acclaimed science writer Wray Herbert provides the first guide to achieving that balance. Drawing on real-world examples and cutting-edge research, he takes us on a fascinating, wide-ranging journey through our innate cognitive traps and tools, exposing the hidden dangers lurking in familiarity and consistency; the obstacles that keep us from accurately evaluating risk and value; the delusions that make it hard for us to accurately predict the future; the perils of the human yearning for order and simplicity; the ways our fears can color our very perceptions , and much more. 

Along the way, Herbert reveals the often-bizarre cross-connections these shortcuts have secretly ingrained in our brains, answering such questions as why jury decisions may be shaped by our ancient need for cleanliness; what the state of your desk has to do with your political preferences; why loneliness can literally make us shiver; how drawing two dots on a piece of paper can desensitize us to violence, and how the very typeface on this page is affecting your decision about whether or not to buy this book.   

Ultimately, On Second Thought is both a captivating exploration of the workings of the mind and an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn how to make smarter, better judgments every day."

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Impulse Factor

Thanks to the success of Malcolm Gladwell, there are now scores and scorces of popular psycholgy science books that are fun to read and easy to understand. I'm blazing through this one now. Sometimes I will read two or three of these titles, jumping from one to another if I get bored.

From the ever-popular Amazon, "In his work as research and development director at cutting-edge think tank TalentSmart, Nick Tasler realized that the recent discovery by scientists of a potential-seeking gene could have a remarkable impact on how we understand decision making. Those who have this gene – about one quarter of the population – are endowed with impulsive tendencies that can lead to fast and decisive action or to foolish choices. The cautious majority that Tasler calls risk managers can make carefully considered decisions or become hopelessly lost in the fog of details. Now The Impulse Factor offers a unique online opportunity to analyze their own decision-making style and harness it to improve their everyday lives. With examples from business, psychology, and Tasler’s own research at TalentSmart, the book also vividly illustrates how susceptible we are to the events around us and how our reactions often run contrary to our best interests. By combining his research with real-world examples of extreme decision making, Tasler teaches listeners how to thrive when faced with difficult choices."

Nueroplascticity: The DVD

This 2010 DVD covers much of the material in the books I recommended  in my earlier post on neuroplasticity.

From its Amazon listing, "Brain Fitness Frontiers explores how ordinary people are utilizing their brain plasticity to create lasting and astonishing changes. From aging to recovery from injury, the frontiers of neuroscience research are proving that our own neuroplasticity holds the key to previously unimaginable and incredible transformations. Hosted by Peter Coyote, Brain Fitness Frontiers takes you into the labs of the scientists and into the lives of those who have been assisted and changed through cognitive training and other therapies on the cutting edge of neuroscientific discovery. Brain Fitness Frontiers contains interviews with luminaries of neuroscience and medicine including Dr. Michael Merzenich, Dr. Skip Rizzo, Dr. John Donoghue, and many more. It challenges our misconceptions about the brain and invites us to embrace new possibilities in our own lives as we witness the struggles, the triumphs, and the transformations made possible through the power of neuroplasticity."

Monday, May 28, 2012


Stuff Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things gives deep insights into collecting that are somewhat discomforting. Hoarding, once thought to be a variant of OCD, may actually get its own separate anxiety disorder listing in the DSM. There is a very, very faint line between collecting and hoarding, and I have seen this line vanish when massive collections from deceased collectors are consigned to the auction house by their estates. There's a passage in the book about a woman nicknamed "The Keeper of the Magazines" who is obsessed about buying only magazines that are free from flaws that will strike a nerve with any high-grade comic book collector. She insists on ringing up her purchases at the bookstore chain herself, buys so many magazines she doesn't even read them, and so on.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Team Cul de Sac Auction: Bravery

Team Cul de Sac is a charity auction to raise funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkison's Disease research in support of cartoonist Richard Thompson. I've been writing descriptions for the auction lots at my job with Heritage Auctions. Since my own father, Marvin D. Mangus, died from PD, I decided to join in the fun with this strip about my dad, titled Bravery. The two characters flanking me in the final panel are Annie and Petey Otterloop from Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac comic strip.

Neuroplasticity: Think Yourself Well

Neuroplasticy is an exciting topic. The basic premise is that the brain is always growing and changing and is very adaptable, thus "plastic." When one part of the brain is damaged, with proper training another part can sometines assume the functions of the damaged part. Behavioral changes and new thinking can actually modify the brain's biology. "Neurons that fire together, wire together" is the sound bite. By resisting OCD compulsions with Jeffrey M. Schwartz's "Brain Lock" techniques, the areas of the brain that are implicated in the OCD disorder can be changed. I definitely plan on exploring this topic at length. I've read these books on the subject and highly recommend them. There is also a top-notch DVD on the topic. Hey Benjamin Braddock, the future is not "plastics," it's "neuroplacticity."

Behavorial Economics

One of my favorite topics is "Behavioral Economics," which uses psychology and "Heuristics"to explain why we often make irrational economic choices. Much of modern economics and psychology is built upon the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Richard Thayer join in on the economics work.

Hey, It's Sh*thouse Mouse -- Home is Where the F*rt Is.

What can I say, scatological humor  -- it even SOUNDS funny. The second and last to date of the Malodorous Mouse's episodes.

Hey, It's Sh*thouse Mouse -- the In Mouse from the Outhouse

I can't see any grand themepark empire being built around my tasteless 'toon, but it sure seemed funny at the time. My dad inspired this in a way, because he used to say this all the time, usually after he hit his thumb with a hammer --"Well, sh*thouse mouse." I never knew what it meant, if anything.

The Marked Man

This is my character, The Marked Man, who is marked both literally with tattoos and figuratively as a "Witness on the Run." As a Weegee (Arthur Fellig)-type news photographer, he stubbles onto the scandalous murder of a crime-connected politician. After he is beaten to a pulp by guards, he escapes, camoflages his battered face with tattoos, and goes underground, working as a carny hand. Meanwhile, he is being manhunted by both the government and also crime figures. He knows and has seen too much. I only did one seven -page story, I but had a whole world, and future plots worked out for him. Maybe someday.....the Marked Man will return.

Bad Ads #2: Dis' Me and -- You Die!

A DC public service page got the Bad Ad twist in this antisocial chiller. Cremo Studios is Michael H. Price's comic book shop/imprint while Mango Press was my imprint, founded in 1994.

John Severin (1921-2012): 80 Years of Excellence

By Don Mangus, Heritage Auctions Comic Art Specialist, newletter 2012

John Severin was not only one of comicdom's top talents, he also was one of its most prodigious.

Years ago, comics historian Robin Snyder captured my full comics-obsessed attention when he posed this riveting question in his indispensable newsletter, The Comics, "Who has written the most scripts in the history of the comics?" Robin took up a monumental task, and didn't just guess or speculate, but actually counted the stories, and narrowed the champion to a handful of candidates: Paul S. Newman, Robert Kanigher, Carl Wessler, Otto Binder, and a few others. Eventually, Newman took the lead, but many years later, Robin is still counting "hanging chads." Inspired by his outrageous feat, I wondered, "Who drew the most comic pages?" Fan-favorite Jack "King" Kirby set a blistering pace. Devoted indexers meticulously compiled his stats. Kirby's career total was 20,318 pages of art, including 1,158 pages in 1962 alone. (The complete statistics can be found in The Art of Jack Kirby by Ray Wyman Jr., Blue Rose Press, 1994). The King logged a hefty career span of 58 glorious years.

Several cartoonists have since had the benefit of a few extra decades of work to catch or pass the King. Challengers to the throne include Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Tom Gill, Sam Glanzman, Russ Heath, Gil Kane, Warren Kremer, Joe Kubert, George Tuska, and my personal favorite, John Severin. "Big John" matches, or perhaps even tops, the unbelievably early start of comics prodigy Kubert. Tyro John Severin saw print in The Hobo News at the age of 10. Severin continued working until his passing, for a near-inconceivable career span of 80 years. In order to get solid Robin Snyder-like stats for John Severin, someone is first going to have to index nearly 45 years of Cracked magazine. Good luck. Since Severin typically did two features, as well as most of the covers, his page tally from Cracked alone is sure to be staggering.

John Severin's output is remarkable not just for its amazing quantity, but also its high quality and consistency. A childhood friend of Harvey Kurtzman, Severin sent the future MAD creator and others a steady stream of brilliantly illustrated letters that were inspired by the example of Western artist Charles M. Russell. When Severin's comics work debuted in the late forties, it appeared in full flower, and never really changed all that much — there was just no need.

In his early comic book career, Severin teamed with fellow High School of Music & Art alum Will Elder, with Severin penciling and Elder inking. It was a crackerjack team, and the two soon teamed with Kurtzman who had landed at EC. Unfortunately, after working on nine issues of MAD and many war, adventure, and Western yarns for EC, creative tensions erupted between Severin and the editorially autocratic Kurtzman. They tore a painful rift in the friendship, and Severin opted out of the collaboration for more creative freedom elsewhere.

In the many years since his legendary EC term, Severin worked steadily at Timely/Atlas/Marvel, DC, Charlton, Gilberton, Warren Publishing, Atlas/Seaboard, and Cracked magazine, as well as many other publishers. At Atlas, Severin was counted as one of "the Big Three," along with Bill Everett and Joe Maneely, and in friendly competition with Russ Heath, the four men turned out show-stopping war, Western, and horror work, always trying to top each other.

At MAD and later, Cracked, Severin showcased his endlessly entertaining talent for caricature and humor. His work stands alongside the best the field has to offer. Like all true masters of the art of cartooning, Severin was able to adjust his basic cartooning approach ever so slightly for the demands of the humor genre, while the style still remained uniquely his own.

John Severin received late notoriety in the twilight of his career when he illustrated 2003's controversial limited series, The Rawhide Kid. As quoted on wikipedia, Severin wryly quipped, "The Rawhide Kid is rather effeminate in this story. It may be quite a blow to some of the old fans of Rawhide Kid, but it's a lot of fun, and he's still a tough hombre."

Mr. Severin is survived by his loving family — sister Marie, his wife of 60 years, Michelina, six children, thirteen grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and a step-great-granddaughter. Our warmest sentiments go out to his family and friends.

In the final analysis, despite the obsession I have displayed in obtaining a page count tally, there is really only one bottom line that counts — that John Severin's many fans will continue to enjoy his brilliant legacy, preserved in the many pages of the comics we love so much.

Some Favorites:


Blazing Combat: #1-4
Cracked: A vast body of regular issue and special issues from a 45-year run
Creepy: #7, 10, 11, 14, 17, 62, 68, 73, 75-77. 78 (inks Wally Wood), 79, 81, 83, 84 and 86 (inks Carmine Infantino), 87, 89, 91(reprints 78), 92, 93 (inks Infantino), 100, 105, and 112
Eerie: #2, 6, and 8
Frontline Combat: # 1 (Kurtzman inks); 2-6, 8-11 (Elder inks); 7, 12, and 15 (solo)
Incredible Hulk: #109, 110, 131, 132, and 141-155 (mostly inking Herb Trimpe)
Kull the Conqueror: #2-9 (inking his talented sister, Marie Severin)
Mad: #1-7, 9, and 10
Our Fighting Forces: # 131 (inks Ross Andru); 132-150 (The Losers stories with writer Robert Kanigher)
Sgt. Fury: #44-46; 50-79 (inking himself, Dick Ayers, and others)
Strange Tales: #136-138 (Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L. D., over Jack Kirby breakdowns)
Two-Fisted Tales: #19-27, 29, 31, 36 (with Elder), 28, 33, 36-41 (co-edits with Kurtzman #36-41)
Unknown Soldier: #251-253; and 260-261 (Enemy Ace stories with writer Robert Kanigher)


Graphic Story Magazine #13 (Spring, 1971): Interview
Comics Journal #215 and 216 (August and October 1999): Interview
Squa Tront #11 (Spring 2005): Special John Severin Issue