This Friday Iron Man 3, which was partially filmed in Cary and throughout North Carolina, will blast into theaters after already taking in $200 million internationally. While it's the biggest comic-book-related event in the Triangle, it's not the only one, as a series of local and national creators are headed through the area during the next few months. These events help emphasize the variety and diversity of the medium.
Scholars of classic illustration would do well to check out Fantagraphics' sample from their reprints of the classic comic strip Prince Valiant, while fans of the AMC mega-hit The Walking Dead should check out the free issue of the comic book that inspired it.
Local creators are also represented at Free Comic Book Day. While there's plenty of books for kids featuring Adventure Time, the Smurfs, the Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants and even translations of Swedish Pippi Longstocking comics, we recommend checking out the Princeless/Molly Danger book from Action Lab Entertainment, featuring a pair of well-developed, strong-willed female heroes that are equally appealing to young boys and girls — and their parents.Free Comic Book Day event at Chapel Hill's Ultimate Comics along with Pittsboro-area creator Tommy Lee Edwards, who in addition to his comics work has helped design such feature films as The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington and the scuttled live-action remake of the popular Japanese anime/comic Akira.
Ultimate Comics celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, along with the fourth anniversary of the Durham-based NC Comicon, which attracted such record numbers to the Durham Convention Center last fall that they've doubled the space for this November's show. In celebration, they're doing a series of events with Marvel Comics creators over the next few months.
Mitch O'Connell's colorful, crazed pop-art illustrations have appeared everywhere from the cover of Newsweek (four times) to a recent full-page story in The Wall Street Journal, but you'll have to forgive him for hoping for a good-sized turnout at his appearance at Nice Price Books in Raleigh on April 27.
"I’ll be in North Carolina meeting my fiancé’s father," says O'Connell, on the phone from his home in Chicago. "My only goal is that hopefully a respectable line is in place to impress him.
"So I impose this responsibility on the people of Raleigh—hopefully it’s a burden they’re willing to shoulder."
O'Connell's on tour to promote Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist, a new hardcover collection from Last Gasp Publishing that offers an extensive retrospective of his pop culture-infused career in art, providing colorful, chaotic pics that draw from decades of American iconography.
"I’m lucky that my grandparents and my parents saved a lot of my stuff, so there were still books available from childhood and adolescence," O'Connell says. "It let us give the book an actual narrative, and hopefully a humorous one."
“I wanted to scream,” Byrne recalls when she received news of the agreement at the end of last week. “[My agent] was excited, everyone was so excited, and so pleased by the deal, which was considerable.”
Crown signed what Byrne characterized as a six-figure deal for the North American publication rights in a pre-emptive contract for the book, buying it before it went to auction with other publishers. As a result, she now joins a group whose roster of writers is capped by the likes of Rachel Maddow, Martha Stewart, George W. Bush and Michelle and Barack Obama.
The Girl in the Road, some 98,000 words long in manuscript form, traces the harrowing twin journeys of two women forced to flee their homes in different times in the near future. The first, Meena, is a Brahmin-caste student whose odyssey takes her from the coastal city of Mumbai toward Djibouti across a futuristic but treacherous bridge that spans the Arabian Sea. The second, Mariama, escapes from slavery as a small child in Mauritania, joining a caravan heading across Saharan Africa toward Ethiopia.
The novel took five years to write, Byrne says, and was completed during a research trip to Belize at the end of last year. Its purchase came three weeks after she acquired representation with the Frances Goldin Literary Agency, a New York firm specializing in literary fiction and politically oriented nonfiction. Its clients include Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich, Dorothy Allison and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The development follows Byrne’s successes as a playwright on local stages over the last two years. After she appeared in productions of Fistful of Love and REDGHOST with Durham’s Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, artistic director Jay O’Berski directed Byrne’s dark comedy Nightwork for Manbites Dog Theater in 2011. Last April, Little Green Pig commissioned and produced What Every Girl Should Know, a speculative historical drama inspired by the work of Margaret Sanger. The company has commissioned a new work for their 2013—14 season. A subsequent drama, The Pentaeon, was selected for the 2012 Collider New Play Project, a collaboration between Fermilab and Fox Valley Repertory Theater in Illinois.
Byrne is currently at work on her second novel.
According to a news release, Nice Price has partnered with the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library for a benefit bag sale on March 9 and 10. Nice Price will donate 20 percent of sales to the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library, with books priced at $10 a bag on Saturday and $7 a bag on Sunday. Records, CDs and movies will also be available at 75% off their lowest marked price.
The sale is part of the Friends of the Library's efforts to meet the financial needs of the Chapel Hill Library's expanded facility. Friends has pledged $200,000 toward that goal this year.
Nice Price co-owner Cindy Kamoroff said in the release that she saw an opportunity to help the library and clear out store inventory.
“For many years, Friends of the Library volunteers have shopped with us. With the decline in bookstores and the strained economy, libraries have an even more important role in society. We want to show our gratitude for the support the people of Orange County have given us. And we need to sell a lot of stuff.”
Nice Price Books announced the closing of its Carrboro location last month after more than 20 years at its Boyd Street location, citing declining sales and increased competition from such outlets as online sellers as among the reasons for the closing.
The sale will be held at Nice Price's original location at 100 Boyd St. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 9, and 1 p.m to 5 p.m. on March 10.
That was the challenge set before young writer Brandon Sanderson when he was called upon to complete The Wheel of Time, a series of doorstop-sized fantasy novels published from 1990 to 2005 by Robert Jordan, a pen name for James Oliver Rigney, Jr., that have sold 44 million copies worldwide. Jordan’s death in 2007 while working on the planned 12th and final volume of The Wheel of Time caused an uproar among those seeking to know the fate of hero Rand al’Thor and the other characters.
Enter Sanderson, the prolific young writer of the acclaimed Mistborn series. A longtime fan of The Wheel of Time, Sanderson was tasked with turning Jordan’s partially-finished manuscript, pre-written ending and extensive notes into something that would successfully conclude the series, which eventually was split into three novels. (Jordan had once said the last book could run 2,000 pages; the finale trilogy collectively ran more than 2,500). That last book, A Memory of Light, was published in January to rave reviews and a spot on the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Sanderson will appear at Quail Ridge Books and Music with Jordan’s widow and editor Harriet McDougal on Feb. 20 to promote Light and answer questions about the series. We got him on the phone to ask what it was like to finally bring the series he loved to an end.
Journalist Jonathan M. Katz, who currently resides in Durham, was the only full-time U.S. reporter in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake. His experiences, not just during the immediate aftermath of the quake but over the next few years of relief efforts, are recounted in his new book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (Palgrave Macmillan, $26.00), which he'll read tonight at Durham's Regulator Bookshop at 7 p.m. The book has received widespread acclaim for its insight into post-earthquake Haiti, and during its writing it received the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia and Harvard Universities.
We got on the phone with Katz at his Durham residence for an in-depth discussion of the problems with Haiti relief efforts, the lack of understanding and need for accountability regarding the international community's involvement with Haiti and much more.
INDY WEEK: Obviously you have strong opinions on the issue, but I’m curious if your thoughts or perspective on Haiti have changed from when you first wrote the book.
JONATHAN M. KATZ: Most of what I’m describing in the book is what happened, so if something significant happened in the future, I’d want to write a Part Two. But, nonetheless, it’s important to remember that the clock hasn’t stopped, and people are still living in Haiti, and the problems they are facing are still going on.
But I wanted to focus on the aftermath of the disaster, and then the coverage of this a year after, and then two years after, because those are the problems that carry into the future. These problems didn’t end, and they aren’t going to end unless things are done.
After nearly a decade and 11 novels in her best-selling urban fantasy series The Hollows, author Kim Harrison admits that the characters "almost seem real" to her. "I know them better than a lot of my neighbors," says Harrison in a call from a hotel in Houston on her latest book tour. The author will appear at Quail Ridge Books and Music on Saturday, Feb. 2.
"I’ve spent almost 10 years with most of the characters in the books, and know what they will and won’t do—but it’s most exciting for me when they do something I wouldn’t expect, because then I have to back through the books and figure out why and flesh out their history one more layer, and that’s always fun."
The Hollows series, which started in 2004, chronicles the adventures of witch and private investigator Rachel Morgan in an alternate universe where supernatural creatures exist alongside the human population, which was mostly wiped out by genetically-engineered tomatoes in the 1960s. The series, currently on the 11th of a projected 13 books, features plenty of action and not a little humor—and has hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Harrison says she's already written the end of the series: "The next book is at the publishers, and, if I’m lucky, I’ll have the edit letter waiting for me when I get home. And the final book is in rough-draft form. Everyone who survives gets their happy ending—everyone who survives, that is. I like to laugh, and I can’t end things on a sour note. Rachel would be very upset with me if I did."
INDY WEEK: It’s only been a little over a year and a half since bin Laden’s death. How soon after the event did you start working on this book? What were some of the challenges in making sure it was something that was ready to be published?
Mark Bowden: It all started, technically, the day after bin Laden was killed. I was out in LA at the time, and a movie producer asked me if I would consider researching and writing a script. I emailed Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, and asked me if he would consider putting me on the list of the thousands of journalists who wanted to interview the President about this event.
Much to my surprise, Jay emailed me right back and said he thought I was an ideal person to do a story like that! He didn’t know I was just writing a script, but my friend the producer wound up deciding not to pursue the project, so I wound up with potential access with no project. I called up my publisher and pitched it to him, and he said yes.
I told him I did not want to be the first—that I wanted to research this until I felt I was ready to write, and he accepted it on that basis. So I signed a contract and got to work!
How much access did you wind up having?
Ultimately, I did sit down with President Obama for an interview in the Oval Office that lasted an hour and a half. I interviewed most of the key people on the White House staff; I interviewed extensively at the Pentagon and at the CIA, and at the Joint Special Operations Command, and in and around the country with sources of my own who were able to help me understand various aspects of the technology and strategy that’s been involved in the last 10 years, and I had the help of my son and my cousin David, who worked on a documentary film for the Discovery Channel based on my work, and they did reporting and interviewed people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With all that, I had help, and I had opportunity.
As you were doing research for this, how did your perception of the situation evolve, in terms of your understanding of it?
Well, I think like everyone else, I was fixated on the raid itself. But as I got more into the story, I realized this was more of a 10-year-long story, for which the raid was only the last few hours. And I was only vaguely aware of the evolution of what I call the “targeting engine” that the CIA and Special Operations and NSA and various counterterrorism intelligence agencies put together.
So that was all new to me, at least in the detail that I came to understand it, and of course at that time I had no knowledge at all of how the CIA found bin Laden, which to me is probably the single most remarkable aspect of the story.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception that the public’s had about the events leading to bin Laden’s killing?
Well, I do think that most people don’t realize, or didn’t realize, that finding bin Laden was not a sudden stroke of luck. It was a very long and painstaking process that developed the information that led to this fellow Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Really, the most remarkable piece of this was finding him, not knowing that he would ultimately lead them to bin Laden, but knowing there was a good chance that might happen, and then that subsequently paying off.
I think the most surprising thing for most people is that this was not something that happened suddenly; it was a very gradual, very determined intelligence effort that found bin Laden in the compound.
That touches on one thing the book makes very apparent—that intelligence is more than what people see in thrillers, it’s about a gradual compilation and advancement of leads. What was one of the greatest challenges in presenting that information in a way that stays true to the process and conveys its impact without sensationalizing it?
Well, I think that’s obviously a major challenge when you’re constructing a narrative. But I believe that if you penetrate to the core of a story, and you understand the significance of each turning point, it becomes inherently interesting.
I think where writers get lost is when they get distracted by a lot of extraneous, but curious or interesting detail. But the key to me was focusing in on exactly what were the pieces that had to be fit together, and where did those pieces came from. If you narrow it down like that, I think it becomes compelling—if you put together the story in a very clear and I think decisive way, and I think that helps maintain the reader’s interest.
In the book, you often have passages where you go inside the head of Barack Obama and others. When you’re going through your research and interviews and translating them into prose, what are the biggest challenges with sequences like that?
What I try to avoid doing is using a lot of the conventional tools of attribution, which tend to slow down the narrative. I’m content as a writer, if President Obama tells me, “This is what I was thinking, and this is what was happening,” if I can simply relate that fact.
What I’ve done traditionally in my books is have detailed source notes at the end, if anyone wants to check the attribution of the quotes throughout the novel. In this case, that was virtually impossible, because most of the key people involved, other than President Obama, were willing to talk to me, but did not want to have specific things attributed to them, because I was dealing with people who were in high office and positions of responsibility, and they’re just concerned about putting too fine a point on their thought process.
There is a bit more of a need here than in my other books for the reader to simply trust what I’m telling them is through my reporting, rather than something I’m making up.
Kij Johnson's appearance Tuesday night at Quail Ridge Books & Music to promote her new short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees (Small Beer Press, $16) is something of a homecoming for the award-winning writer of science fiction and fantasy — it's a return to the city where she recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at N.C. State University, and completed her novella "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," which recently won both of science fiction's top awards, the Hugo and the Nebula (the story is available for free online).
Johnson, who is now Assistant Professor of Fiction Writing at the University of Kansas' Center for Science Fiction Studies, completed her MFA at N.C. State earlier this year. "I'm not really a school person — I started two other master's programs at University of Kansas and Goddard College," says Johnson in a phone call from Kansas. "In both cases, I was having a hard time focusing on it because I was doing other things at the same time.
"NCSU was kind of my third try — I'd left a job where the severance was good enough to think about what I wanted to do next. I'd been writing for 20 years, but I'd stopped learning anything about writing — exposing myself to new stuff and new ways of writing. And I wanted to be able to teach at the university level because I love to teach adult students and college students."
Johnson picked NCSU's MFA program in part because of the presence of local writer John Kessel, himself an award-winning author of science fiction. She found the program challenging but exciting: "The thing with a master of fine arts program is you write a lot. You write a lot of new stuff and you often dig out your old stuff and take a look at it and try to figure out what went wrong, and in the course of that, I figured out what was going wrong with this story and completely revamped it, and it doubled in length.
"It was very productive, not just for getting the work done and getting the writing done, but producing some work I'm really proud of."
The program in some ways proved different from what she'd anticipated. "What surprised me was that I really enjoyed the classes — you do a fair amount of literature classes, and I found out I loved them!" Johnson says. "That was unexpected for me, and I was also surprised by how much I loved being part of a group again. I'd been with writing groups, but they were pretty solitary, with friends — this was getting together with the same group of people every single day to talk about writing, and that cannot be reproduced.
"From having taught in the past, I thought, 'Oh, I know what people are going to say,' and I was wrong. There were people in their 20s with literature backgrounds, there were people in their 40s like me who came from a history background, and even people who hadn't written that much but were very talented and very interesting. So everyone's critiques were very different and very interesting — they might focus more on language, or on character development, or the plot."
She also has fond memories of living in Raleigh, which she describes as "the most beautiful town." "The science fiction community out here is incredibly vibrant," Johnson says. "People know each other, there's meetings, there's a magazine (Durham's Bull Spec), and it was a real pleasure to be any part of that."
Though life in the Triangle was very different from the fog-bound cities and mysterious creatures of "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," Johnson did find the area inspiring. "I don't have a North Carolina-specific story, but I was inspired by how the Triangle is just an ocean of trees with no horizon — you're just always looking up to see the sky instead of over the horizon to see the sky," Johnson says.
"You probably don't think of that much if you're from N.C., but I'm from Iowa and that's extraordinary to think about, living in the heart of a forest. And I want to write something that reflects some of that."
Kij Johnson will read from and sign copies of At the Mouth of the River of Bees at Quail Ridge Books & Music Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.quailridgebooks.com or call 919-828-1588.
"You’re in a room by yourself, and you know that people see the strip, but the reality to the people reading it is very different from your reality — it’s like being a stand-up comedian who can’t see the audience. Walking into a bookstore and doing a signing is like going from night to day — you go from being a hermit to the center of attention in a large crowd."
Pearls has been a mainstay of newspapers for more than a decade, offering trenchant commentary on human foibles through its large cast of talking animals ranging from the naive Pig to the idiotic alligator Larry to the eternally sleazy Rat, Pastis' favorite. "I’ve always liked writing for Rat," Pastis says. "He’s the voice that’s closest to mine. If I had my way, there would be a lot more Rat, and the strip would be a lot less popular."
However, he remains optimistic about the longevity of newspaper comics. "While new papers are not coming around, I’m still in 700 newspapers, and I’m still making a good living," Pastis says. "Syndicated content is cheap content — they don’t have to pay employees to produce it.
"Sometimes I think the obituary for syndicated comic strip guys has been written prematurely — it’s almost impossible to break in, but for those who have, the readership is still there. Sometimes I want to remind people that I’m doing OK! Most towns still have a newspaper, and at the end of the day, you still have to have local news. Even Yahoo and Google rely, by and large, on content that originally comes from local newspapers. It might take different forms, but local newspapers will survive, and I feel comics will be part of that.
He's also impressed by the diverse styles and content of online comic strips, most of which feature deeper subject matter and more R-rated language than found in a daily newspaper. "The fact that strips like that can go online and build their own audience is amazing. I love to see that — it keeps things going. Just because you can’t get syndicated in newspapers doesn't mean the comic strip has to go away, and those guys are proving that."
Pastis says he loves meeting his fans in person, though encountering someone he's never met before who can quote the strip back to him can be like "a kid of yours has gone off and made friends you don’t know."
He's had some oddball encounters: "People have taken me aside to say their brother is in the CIA and is watching us. There’s always someone who hands me a CD of their cousin’s band, as though they think I’m in the music industry. People will put hats on my head with a company’s logo and take a picture before I can take it off, to make it look like I’m endorsing the company. I had a mother insist I take her and her daughter to a photo booth and take a picture with her and her daughter, so I had the uncomfortable experience of being a stranger in a photo booth.
"Sadly, I haven't been able to get any strips out of these stories."
Stephan Pastis appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music at 7:30 p.m. Monday for a reading and signing of the new collection Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out: A (Freaky) Pearls Before Swine Treasury. This is a signing line ticket event, with tickets available for each copy purchased; Pastis will also draw a character in each purchased book. For more information, visit www.quailridgebooks.com or call 919-828-1588.