West Virginia Book Festival

Abra Sabuda!

We haven’t seen much of pop-up book wizard Robert Sabuda here on the blog in the run-up to the West Virginia Book Festival. Honestly, it is pretty difficult to describe the magic of opening one of his books and getting Peter Pan’s cloud-level view of London, or seeing a deck of cards appear to flick through the air. Here, watch this video:

Robert Sabuda’s Beauty and the Beast

That should give you some idea of the experience. Then you can come see for yourself. Sabuda appears at the Book Festival at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Truth, justice and fresh picture book bios

Comic books are notorious for wrestling with themes of justice. Yet a sad vein of injustice seems to run through the lives of many comic book creators.

One is Bill Finger, the subject of Marc Tyler Nobleman’s newest picture book biography “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.” Nobleman will appear at the West Virginia Book Festival at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Charleston Civic Center.

Finger was responsible for much of Batman’s look, his character development and decades of stories. But because of an early contract with artist Bob Kane, Finger’s name is left off every book, film and TV show featuring the Caped Crusader.

While the writer never got official credit, fans and fellow comic book creators started to take notice and spread the word about Finger’s role in Batman starting in the 1960s.  Nobleman’s book builds on their work and rescues parts of Bill Finger’s story that might otherwise have been lost.

Part of what made Batman such an innovative character when he was introduced in Detective Comics back in the spring of 1939 is that he is a flesh-and-bone hero. He is not bulletproof. He can’t fly. He’s not an alien or a god or made invulnerable by radiation. He is a brave, clever, but flawed vigilante made by the world around him.

Nobleman concisely depicts the world that made Batman’s creators from page 1:

After Milton Finger graduated from high school, he invented his first secret identity. In 1933 Jews were sometimes not hired just because they were Jews. Milton was commonly a Jewish name, so Milton chose a new one: Bill.

Vivid panels of illustrations by Ty Templeton complete the story.

This book follows Nobleman’s 2008 “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman,” another story of comic book creators and their difficulties. This time, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a couple of teenagers from Depression-era Cleveland, sold the rights to their creation for $130, and then struggled for much of their lives trying to correct the mistake.

Illustrations again, this time by Ross MacDonald, enrich the experience. The art not only shows the style of dress and cars and pulp mags of the day; the style of painting actually evokes illustrations of the time.

These picture books are accessible to elementary-school readers and listeners, but they are sophisticated works of art and serious research capable of pleasing older readers as well. Both include detailed epilogues and bibliographies for further reading.

A page from “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman” by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald, imitates both the art and life of the Depression-era America that give rise to the Man of Steel.


Iconic New Deal photos collected in new book

Betty Rivard

After a 25-year career as a social worker and planner for the state, Betty Rivard became an award-winning professional fine art landscape photographer. When she discovered more than 1,600 photographs that were taken in West Virginia by 10 government photographers on the Library of Congress website, she was inspired to share these photographs and their story. The resulting book is “New Deal Photographs of West Virginia, 1934-1943,” published by West Virginia University Press.

Rivard will speak about the process of creating her book and present some of the most iconic images in the collection during her talk at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 10 a.m. Her program is sponsored by West Virginia University Press.

Rivard has a  photography business, West Virginia Homeplace, and two part-time jobs: secretary for the WV House of Delegates and producer of the FestivALL Charleston art fairs. She lives in Braxton County.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; Dan Chaon, former National Book Award finalist; and Tamora Pierce, author of 28 fantasy novels for teens, have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation; Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart; the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County; West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book; BB&T West Virginia Foundation; Books-A-Million; and William Maxwell Davis. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

An illustration from "Hush-a-Bye, Baby" by Kate Greenaway, one of the originators of the modern children's book.

When I’ve written about children’s books and authors on this blog, I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m giving enough credit to the illustrators of those books. I’ll be more careful about that after visiting “Draw Me A Story: A Century of Children’s Book Illustrations,” an exhibit at the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh.

The title actually undersells the exhibit, which covers more than 130 years in children’s book illustrations, from Randolph Caldecott (namesake of the American award given to the best children’s book illustrator of the year) to Thomas Taylor (who drew the original Harry Potter illustrations, only to be replaced by a more seasoned illustrator when the book became the biggest children’s publishing hit in decades).

The original cover for "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," drawn by Thomas Taylor.

Several other illustrations (and the books they appeared in) will be familiar: W.W. Denslow’s illustrations for “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum; early drawings of Raggedy Ann and Andy by Johnny Gruelle; a Maurice Sendak sketch of Max from “Where The Wild Things Are.” And although she’s not part of the illustrators in the “Draw Me A Story” exhibit, an adjacent gallery with objects from Helen Clay Frick’s childhood includes a book by Maud Humphrey, maybe the most popular children’s illustrator at the dawn of the 20th century. Humphrey isn’t very well known today, but her son — whose first name was her last name — still is. You’ve probably heard of him.

The exhibit, which originally appeared at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, includes an area with children’s books and seats, so there’s a place for kids to read the books with the illustrations they’re seeing on the walls.

“Draw Me A Story” is only in Pittsburgh until May 20, so if you want to see it, better hurry.

Are comic books art? The Warhol Museum says yes

"Batman: Knight Over Gotham," by Alex Ross

If you’re a comic book fan, and you can make it up to Pittsburgh over the next few months, you’re in luck. Alex Ross, one of the great comic artists of the era, is having an exhibit at the Warhol Museum, titled “Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross.”

As the description of the event on the Warhol’s website notes, Ross won the Favorite Painter award from the Comic Buyer’s Guide so often, the award was retired. He worked on two landmark events early in his career, Marvel Comics’ “Marvels” series (the view of costumed heroes and villains from an ordinary man’s perspective) and DC Comics’ “Kingdom Come” (an imagination of the future of the superhero universe). Art from both is to be included in the exhibit (although seeing as how one of the exhibit’s sponsors is DC Comics, I’d expect their characters to occupy the places of prominence).

Ross will be on hand for the opening celebration on Oct. 1, and the exhibit will run until Jan. 8. Andy Warhol was a big comic book fan, so some of his collection will be featured; also, Warhol’s unfinished camp film “Batman/Dracula” (1964) will be screened.

Celebrating the beauty of southern Appalachia

The first day of autumn arrives later this week. As West Virginia enters the peak of the fall foliage season, there may be no better time to ponder the beauty of the Appalachian mountains and forests around us.

Earlier this month, the University of North Carolina Press published a book that may be of interest to those who appreciate that beauty.

“Southern Appalachian Celebration: In Praise of Ancient Mountains, Old-Growth Forests and Wilderness” is a collection of photographs from James Valentine, who’s spent four decades hiking in eight Southern Appalachian states, including West Virginia. Author Chris Bolgiano wrote the text for the 152-page book.

The book got blurbed by two-time Pulitzer Prize nonfiction winner Edward O. Wilson, who said, “No book of my experience has ever caught the natural beauty and richness of southern Appalachia with greater exactitude.”

Historian and author David McCullough poses with art by George Catlin, one of the artists featured in his new book, "The Greater Journey," at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington. At left are Catlin's paintings, at right is a painting of Catlin by William Fisk. AP photo

We ruminated earlier this year about David McCullough’s new book, and now it’s here. The Associated Press has an interview in which McCullough walks around the National Portrait Gallery and talks about Americans in Paris in the 19th century, which to a certain segment of the population (or maybe just me), sounds like the best interview ever.

“Here’s the painting I wanted to show you,” he says, stopping in front of an oil portrait by Abraham Archibald Anderson of a pensive, bow-tied Thomas Edison.

“This has a nice story. Edison came to the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. That was the fair that introduced the Eiffel Tower to the world. He had some 400 of his inventions on display and was a sensation. The crowds followed him everywhere. The electric light was already transforming Paris, let alone the world. So he hid to get away from the paparazzi and the crowds. He stayed with a friend of his (Anderson), and Anderson painted this portrait of him while he was in the studio.”

The artists he discusses share two vital qualities, McCullough says. They all spent at least some time in Paris and they all are in the same business as he is. They are historians, documenting the people, the customs and the conflicts of a given era.

If the interview doesn’t whet your appetite enough, here’s an excerpt from “The Greater Journey.” Or you can check out the book’s website, but know that McCullough says in the AP interview that he didn’t even know it was there; his publisher set it up.

Bill Lynch reports in the Gazette on “the holiest day of the year” for hardcore comic book fans: Free Comic Book Day. It’s … well, like the name says, it’s a day when stores that sell comic books hand out free ones, in an attempt to get more people into their stores and interested in comics.

Dave Gilligan and Corey and Jess Lake say it’s a huge event for them. They all work part-time at The Rifleman comic shop at 419 Virginia St. W. (in Charleston).

“We had a great crowd last year,” Corey said, “and this year, we think it’s going to be even bigger.”

This is the 10th annual event. You can’t just take any comic you want; there are several special editions issued just for the day, including issues of the Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Darkwing Duck, Betty and Veronica and many more.

According to the Free Comic Book Day website, other participating stores include DMC Comics in Hurricane; Four Horsemen Comics and Gary’s Comics and More, both in Morgantown; Comic Paradise Plus in Fairmont; Bob’s Sideyard in Lewisburg; and Lost Legion Games and Comics in Princeton. That’s not a complete list, I’m sure, so if you’re interested, call your local comic book store and see if they’re involved.

UPDATE: Here’s more on the event, including some words from Free Comic Book Day founder Joe Field.

Where Are They Now?: Jim Clark

A photo from a gallery titled "West Virginia Autumn 2010" on Jim Clark's website.

Award-winning outdoor photographer Jim Clark, who grew up in West Virginia’s southern coalfields, came to the West Virginia Book Festival in 2003 to officially release and promote his book “Mountain Memories: An Appalachian Sense of Place,” published by WVU Press. But when I asked Clark sometime last year about his memories of the event, he said they don’t have as much to do with the book as they do with more personal things:

“Ah yes, the WV Book Festival…It was a very nice experience for me, not so much as an author, but because I was able to share the weekend with my wife, our four-year old son, and my mother…

“I remember doing a program called Mason Jars and Memories: An AppalachianSense of Place and then spending the day signing books. One particular fella, a doctor I believe, purchased a case of my new book at the time … My mother sat with me at the table and talked to lots of the festival goers and I’m sure her charm helped me sell more books than if I was on my own 🙂

“My wife Jamie spent the time with Carson doing all the kid activities that were scheduled. and I had time to explore the festival with him as well.”

At the time Jim wrote this, last summer, his mother was still living in War, McDowell County, at 95 years old.

Jim and Carson Clark, in a photo from Jim's website.

But the bigger family news involves his son, Carson, who is quickly establishing a name for himself. At 11 years old, he and his dad are finishing up the second book in a planned five-book series about Buddy the Beaver. They took the photos for the first book in McDowell County, according to this West Virginia Public Broadcasting profile of Carson. (He’s also been written up in The Washington Post, among other places.) Jim says his son “loves to go to WV — he and I do it about three times a year to just explore, photograph and visit my mother and brother.”

As for Carson’s father, Jim said (when we last e-mailed) that he’s a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and he still does workshops around the country and in West Virginia — including last year, when the grand prize in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Photography Contest was a one-on-one photography workshop with him.

Video of the Week: Jim Benton draws Franny K. Stein

This week’s video is Jim Benton, who put on a great show at last fall’s West Virginia Book Festival, drawing one of his signature creations, Franny K. Stein: