Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pardon Me While I Have a Musical Interlude...

        Hey there Gang, and welcome back. As always, I'm your host Jamie Thomas, exercising my right for a lazy Sunday! Who's with me?! No man should have to review, or editorialize fiction on a day like today! It's dark! It's cold! It's so gloomy I'm prepping the premises for attack by angst ridden, sparkly vampires!

Blah...I guess...


Whoops, might've overdone it on the Bradbury.
    Wellp, looks like my Sunday's gonna be anything but lazy. In the meantime, how about you kids enjoy this playlist of lit inspired music. Remember gang, the Vameyers can't get you if you keep expanding your mind and eschewing poorly contrived dreck! Hang on....what's that....?!

Repeeeeeetive Giiiiiimiiiickssss...
   Aw crap! That explosion summoned a horde of Michael Bay fanatics! I've got to maintain radio silence, see you on the other side. Over and out!

                                                    Awesome Lit Mix Vol. 1!

     Bonus Points if you can name all the works that inspired the tracks!

   This has been your weekly dose of Shelves and Stacks. I'm your host Jamie Thomas reminding you to guard your wits and keep those headphones handy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Harvey Pekar and the Great American Comic

     Hey gang, and welcome back to Shelves and Stacks. As always, I'm your host Jamie Thomas and I just finished watching my new favorite movie.

   Made back in 2003 by HBO Films, American Splendor is the (mostly) accurate tale of underground comics writer Harvey Pekar, creator of the titular autobiographical comic. Aside from being a wholly enjoyable film with a plethora of clever written and visual tricks ( Gotta love cartoon Harvey berating the genuine article in the grocery line whilst internally ranting about the shopping habits of  Jewish grandmothers), American Splendor is an origin story. Sure, it tells the tale of how Pekar became a celebrated comics curmudgeon, but that's only half the story. Ya see gang, American Splendor tells the story of how the autobiographical comics genre stayed afloat and became one of the most popular and widely used today.

 Alright, everyone, gather round the Way Back.

 Why, back to bygone era of 1961. The place? Japan, birthplace of (among other things) the art form known as manga. 

Tezuka sensei noticed me!
  While Mr. Tezuka is indeed known as the father of the medium, our focus today is on artist and writer Shinji Nagashima and his work Mangaka  Zankoku Monogatari, or if you prefer, Cruel Tale of a Cartoonist. Published in 1961, Nagashima's work was one of the first widely known autobiographical works to be told in the comics medium and with a title like that, it would have been in good company amongst the underground comics written and drawn by Pekar and his peers during the 70's.  Aside from Cruel Tale, Japan was also home to fellow mangaka Keiji Nakazuma and his ground breaking work, Ore wa Mita (known in English as I Saw It.). Published in 1972, I Saw It presented readers with first hand accounts of the devastation of the bombings of Hiroshima. This work was immediately followed by Nakazuma's most famous piece, Barefoot Gen, which expanded upon the themes and concept of I Saw It, further reminding us all of the devastating horror that is war.

 Also released in 1972 was Justin Green's Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, in which the author relates his befuddled youth growing up in a combination Jewish/Catholic household while battling the early onset of Obbsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Sounds like it'd be enough to drive anybody looney.

  So, what's all this got to do with our man, Harvey Pekar? Jump ahead four years, and join me deep in the heart of Cleavland, Ohio.Don't look at me like that, just go with it. At least it's not Jersey. Anyway, once upon a time in this humble burg lived an average joe fed up with being called a curmudgeonly old grump.

Whoops! Heh heh...Wrong comic. 

      Sorry folks, hang on a sec....

There we go.

  Handsome fella, ain't he? You see, back in 1976, Harvey Pekar was a twice divorced file clerk with so many chips on his shoulder he'd have gotten his own cookie endorsement deal!

Ya know! Cookies! Chips...Like chocolate...?


Anywho,  Harvey blundered along in life until he met up and coming underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb. For those of you who don't know Crumb,you can check out some of his work here:

For the record, you probably shouldn't read these in any place with small children, grannies or employers lurking about. Trust me on this.

    So, after reading some of Crumb's early work, Harvey's  preconceived notions that comics were just for kids was shattered, and since he felt he "couldn't draw a straight line", Harvey wrote out a few pages worth of daily observations, and passed them along to Crumb, who happily illustrated them. So, from 1976 to 2008, Harvey's ramblings became known to the public as American Splendor, immortalizing Harvey as a surly everyman, and paving the way for hundreds of cartoonists including: Art Spiegelman (Maus), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Craig Thompson (Blankets), and even his old pal Robert Crumb, just to name a handful.

   While snooping around for this article, I rediscovered James Kochalka and his long running journal comic American Elf. 

And NOBODY likes a quitter! Well, except for A.A.
          Upon rereading Kochalka's work, I realized just how similar it was to the tone and style of American Splendor. Both Pekar and Kochalka are typical guys, who just so happen to be talented. They each have a loving(albeit) put upon spouse to guide/look after them, and they each live in a world they find filled with beauty and simple pleasures, yet overrun with rampant stupidity. Granted, the art is pretty different back and forth,  Elf and Splendor are both rendered in expressive styles, capturing the protagonists and their supporting casts in an open, honest (and more often than not) unflattering light.

Life is fraught with technology and toilets.  

        Despite their self depreciating humor, Pekar and Kochalka do allow themselves moments of quiet dignity, pondering life on and off the page.

By the way, this sequence is beautifully executed in the film.  It's my favorite scene.

        Long of the short of it, Harvey Pekar's a legend for a reason. he kept a niche genre afloat, glorifying it, and inadvertently inspiring some of the greatest cartoonists of our time. It's pretty tough to find free pdfs or scans of  American Splendor  online, but if you'd like to give Harvey's work a read, check out The Pekar Project:

It reads just like Splendor, and it's free. So, win win. Also, if you dig Kochalka's American Elf, check it out right here:

 If you'd like to learn more about Maus, Persepolis, and Blankets, check out this Shelves and Stacks rerun, (and your local libraries and book/comic shops):

And, if you'd like to check out even more online auto bio comics, check out this list from Comics Alliance:

I recommend DAR by Erika Moen.

Pffft! Hahaha...Funny Money! 

          This has been your weekly dose of Shelves and Stacks, as always I'm your host Jamie Thomas giving credit to all the owners of these fine, fine images I purloined for this post, and reminding you to keep scribbling away in your journals, kids. You never know when you'll pull a Pekar.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned (Comic) Books

     Hey there gang, and welcome back to Shelves and Stacks. As always, I'm your host Jamie Thomas, and if there ever was a week to promote literacy one tome at a time, it'd be this one. For those of you out of the loop, this week is Banned Books Week.

  Held every September from the 21st to the 27th , and promoted by everyone from local libraries  to the authors themselves, Banned Books Week is a celebration of an individual's right to read whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want!

Check out: for more on how you can get involved, and for more information.

    With all that squared away, let's get down to business!   No, not to defeat the Huns.

Jeez guys, you act like these peaceable nature lovers are out to invade a country or something. Paranoid much? 

     No gang, the business at hand is a call to arms! A chance to defend, life, liberty, Mom's apple pie, and of course, our most precious resource of all. Comic books.

Ya. Rly. Wanna make somethin' of it, Hooty?

      Ok, comics may not be as important as say, oxygen or anything, but they've really come into their own since being introduced back in 1933.They've spawned countless film and television franchises, inspired everyone from Bradbury to Gaiman, and have been known to provide even the most unwilling reader  a way to get excited about literacy. It's for that final reason ladies and gents that we must stand up for comics! Still not convinced? Still think comics are just kiddie stuff, or escapist, male power fantasies featuring grotesquely muscular nut jobs and pretty ladies prancing around in outfits that'd make Lady Gaga cringe?

Rob Liefeld, you're the Michael Bay of comics.
  Liefeld aside, these comics straight off the banned and challenged list are a testament to the growth and evolution of the medium, and why we need to keep them on the shelves, and in the hands of not only the youth, but all the scoffing oldsters. Pulled straight from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's site, the following four selections are all comics I've read multiple times, and hold near and dear to my heart. Check out: for the full list.

1. Bone by Jeff Smith

Reason Challenged: Depiction of smoking, drinking and gambling.

    Written, drawn, and self published back in 1991 by the incomparable Jeff Smith, Bone is a beautifully rendered, and highly engaging fantasy epic about three cartoony cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone), who after being run out of their home town, stumble into a lush, fantasy realm called The Valley, and into an age old conflict of good vs. evil, and man vs. "stupid,stupid rat creatures". While Smith's work has served as a stepping stone into the world of literacy for hundreds of children, Smith never intended to write specifically for that audience.

   With that in mind, it's easy to imagine that Smith wouldn't have thought twice about having several key scenes take place in a local tavern,centering a storyline around a foot race and a betting booth, or bestowing a seemingly endless supply of cigars on his resident comic relief.

You know, I don't even see any smoke coming off this thing.

    So, what's the big huffing (and puffing) deal? Cartoon and fantasy characters smoking and drinking is nothing new. Granted, our attitudes toward the two have become less relaxed in recent years, but the characters in Bone don't appear to promote these behaviors in any way. The characters who drink are never depicted as drunk or drinking in excess. In fact, more than a few scenes in the tavern depict characters having a meal, or simply enjoying one another's company. As for Smiley's cigars, they're used in a very Groucho Marx sort of way. They're not necessarily a source of tobacco as they are a prop. They give Smiley something to do with his hands while pontificating. In one scene they serve as a handy plot device a la Hansel and Gretel.
  The gambling in the story mainly takes place during The Great Cow Race arc, and everyone who gambles (or in Phoney's case fixes the bets) winds up losing big, and getting their comeuppance for it.

Seems legit...

So, if nothing else, Smith is showing us the dangers of gambling, and reckless behavior.

2. Persepolis by: Marjane Satrapi

Reason Challenged: Profanity, and depiction of violent content.

    Published back in 2000, Persepolis is the two part, autobiographical memoir of author Marjane Satrapi's youth and adolescence in war torn Iran. Set just after the Islamic revolution, Satrapi details the struggles (and occasional joys) of daily life in a political war zone. Drawn in a simple monochrome style, and narrated in an open and honest voice, Persepolis strives to " keep [its] dignity and be true to [its]self ".

   While I do agree that Persepolis is awfully heavy material for younger audiences, its honest, pull no punches approach is exactly what we need.  While works like Persepolis (as well as Art Spiegelman's Maus, but more on that later) are typically viewed as a chance to take in exploitative violence, their true purpose is to enlighten and inform. Satrapi's account of the Islamic revolution is forthright and accurate, albeit slightly unreliable, but is also thoroughly humanized by her presence in it. To this end, Satrapi is able to give the revolution and all its surrounding conflicts both a national and personal identity.

         Scenes like the one above are common in Persepolis. They cut through the violent content and profane language (present, but not at all excessive. Just honest), and provide readers with a look into Satrapi (and Iran)'s past as each struggled for a better future.

Fight for your right, kids.

    3. Blankets by: Craig Thompson

Reason Challenged: Obscene imagery.

   Written and illustrated by Harvey award winning graphic novelist Craig Thompson, Blankets is the story of Thompson's boy to adulthood. Centering around his life with his strictly religious family, Thompson gives readers unabashedly honest insight into the struggles of a budding artist coping with the highs and lows of a first love. Thompson's story runs the emotional gamut, inviting us to join in tender moments between himself and the object of his affections, Raina; to the constant feelings of fear and obligation to family and savior experienced by Thompson, and his younger brother, Phil. Rendered in a style best described as wistful, spindly, and swirly, Blankets encompasses all the familiar strangeness of adolescence.

From angsty to adorable in zero to sixty. 

            So, where does the alleged "obscene imagery" come into play in such a heartfelt story? Why, after Craig meets Raina of course! Over the course of the story, Craig winds up spending a few weeks with Raina and her family, and the two....well, you know. Love stuff. Anywho, it's this section of the book that tends to leave parents and teachers with white knuckles and protruding forehead veins. Honestly, I find the approach to this subject matter tasteful, creative, and , in some cases, playful.

Told you things got swirly.

   As you can see, there are no naughty bits present. In fact, the entire book partakes in surreal, patterned designs, feeding the addled, adolescent mindset of the author quite nicely.

Best. Exposition. Ever.

 4. Maus by: Art Spiegelman

Reason Challenged: Considered anti-ethinc, and inappropriate for age group.

     Ok gang, here it is. One of the most notorious graphic novels, banned or otherwise. Much like Satrapi's Persepolis, celebrated underground cartoonist, Art Spiegelman's classic Maus debuted in 1991, and still provides grounds for discussion, examination, and controversy to this day. Chronicling the journey of Spiegelman's father, Vladek, Maus provides a brutally honest look at the living conditions for prisoners living in POW camps. Often ridiculed for its representation of characters as animals (Most notably mice as the Jewish people, cats standing in for Germans, and pigs representing the Polish), Maus has been called everything from a masterpiece of modern literature, to a disrespectful farce, ripping off Animal Farm.

Honestly, I find it to be a fitting and clever metaphor on war and barbarism's dehumanizing effect, but that's just me.
    The challenge toward Maus calls the work "anti-ethnic". While I most definitely do not condone the subjugation of one group by another, I'd be hard pressed to consider Spiegelman's work "anti-ethinic". if it's anti anything, it's anti hatred. Anti fear mongering. Anti hatred. Like Satrapi after him, Spiegelmen's willingness to embrace all aspects of history allows him to inform his readers of the dangers of totalitarianism and xenophobia, while in a Thompsonesque journey of self discovery, better understand Vladek's preceptions of him self, the world around him, and finally, Art.
I warned you.

  As for the "inappropriate for age group" concern, I'm on the fence. According to the CBLDF's post, the book was found in a local library. No section was specified. On that note, "public library" means open to the public, with all materials accessible to the public. While libraries typically have designated sections for different age groups, books intended for one group may fall into the open hands of another. Is Maus heavy stuff for a kid to wrap their heads around? Totally, but should we really keep history from them? The more we hide, sugar coat, and neuter the facts, the more likely it will be that the next generation gets it wrong, and finds themselves doomed to repeat it. I'm not saying we should or shouldn't ease them in a bit at a time, or push them in all at once, but come on people, let's not keep them in the dark? Besides, isn't the point of the written word (and the penciled panel) to enlighten as well as entertain? 

  This has been your dose of Shelves and Stacks. I'm your host Jamie Thomas, reminding you to stand tall, and read like everyone's listening.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Writer's Block

     Hey there gang, and welcome back to Shelves and Stacks! As always, I’m your indispensable host, Jamie Thomas, promoting literacy one tome at a…a…Aw, crap! Not again! Don’t you just hate that, gang? You’re hunkered down in your comfiest chair, hunched over the keyboard (or type writer for all you hipsters and oldsters), and all of a sudden….BAM! Your brain blows a fuse, and you start spewing word vomit, making a fine pile of slurry where a great work of literature in the making had just been. What a revolting development, am I right? Now, just imagine you’ve got a grade, contract, the notice of an attractive love interest, or a literary festival to read at just on the horizon.  No pressure!

Freddie knows that feel. This feeling of stress, pressure and/or intestinal discomfort may be one of two things.
1. Your Grande Burrito making its presence known.
2. Writer’s Block.
If it’s not the tex mex talking, you may be suffering from a case of writer’s block.
The first step in defeating thine enemy is to know it. Merriam Webster (.com) defines writer’s block as “the problem of not being able to think of something to write about or not being able to finish writing a story, poem, etc.” So, by this logic we can assume that writer’s block is a wily little creature, lurking around in the back of our heads, chasing down, and capturing our ideas as they rush from brain to fingers.

   Not that kind of wily. If our writer’s blocks were that kind of wily, we’d never have this problem, and we’d all be slugging it out in an oversaturated literary market.
Now that we know our enemy, why does he keep popping up, trying to lay hands on our roadrunners? Honestly, the answer to this question (like the taste of soylent green), varies from person to person. If you really want to delve into the psychological side of writer’s blocks, there’s a plethora of articles and theories (reputable and otherwise) online. Personally, I chalk writer’s block up to the three P’s: Psych outs, Pressure, and Panic.
Let’s say, you’re working on your latest novel, and it’s an awesome novel. It’s got everything: action, adventure, great one liners, dastardly villains, emotional clarity and enlightenment, vast worlds full of wonder, etc. This thing is gold, and it’s going to bring wave after wave of publishers to your door, begging and battling one another for the rights to publish your story, and all you have to do is kick back in your comfy pants and just make up a whole bunch of stuff while drinking a coffee and listening to episodes of Buffy. That’s when the horror begins.

                                                Writer’s Block in Three Acts
Act 1: The Psych Out

As the aspiring author hunches over their work, cranking out draft, after draft, they wonder, “Is my work good enough? Is it marketable? Is it worth the shed blood of the ten thousands armies of publishers slaughtering one another on my front lawn? To write, or not to write? That is the question. Whether tis nobler to see this draft through to its end, or to bail and go watch Youtube videos?” Struck dumb with indecision, the author slowly pushes himself away from his work and ponders still.

Act 2: The Pressure

Unable to speak, the author has secluded himself to a small space under his desk where he rocks back and forth in the fetal position, feeling the crushing weight of the world pressing in from all sides. Cue musical interlude from David Bowie and Queen.

Act 3: The Panic
After a solid hour of rocking back and forth, the author begins eating his manuscript in the hopes of keeping its hideousness a secret from the world at large. He proceeds to run out of his home in nothing but a robe and his striped boxers. He gets as far as the local convenience store before he is tackled, cuffed, and carted away to the Bellevue Home for the Delightfully Unhinged. He now subsists on a diet of tapioca pudding and crayons.


  Pretty gruesome stuff, gang. So, how does an aspiring writer keep writer’s block from making them…well…you know…

 The best plan is to have a plan. Lucky for you, I’ve got a whole stash of them that I’m willing to give to you (yes you!) for the low, low price of free!

You know, I spoil you kids.

8 Ways to Beat the Block (In No Particular Order)

1. Rough Drafts- If you’re approaching your writer’s block with a head full of ideas, and pages worth of notes, then a rough draft is for you. By forcing yourself to cut loose and just write your story, you’re able to lay it all out on paper, creating something tangible that you can begin revising. If nothing else, it gets those pesky investors/classmates/professors off your back. See the following link for more on the subject of rough drafts.

2. Write Some Hooks- For those of us who’ve sat through the endless barrage of TV commercials and movie trailers doing everything inhumanly possible to pry our hard earned dollars from our tired, overworked fingers we know all about hooks. Behaving exactly as they sound, a hook is nothing more than an attractive sounding blurb that tells us the bare minimum (with a little flash) about the product in an attempt to make us say

How does this apply to writing? If the author has no interest in the work, neither will publishers, critics and readers. So, start generating buzz by getting yourself on board.

3. Organization- The most boring of my techniques, but the most effective. When your head’s brimming with frothy grog of good ideas, it gets hard to pin them all down and start fitting them together into something of a cohesive whole. Using outlines, graphs, charts, index cards, and any other means of laying out your ideas.

If it works for the cartoon guys, it’ll work for you novelists.

4. Captions- Taking a page from Gary Larson’s classic one panel wonder, The Far Side,

my next technique concerns captions. Take a picture, any picture from your scrapbook, the internet, film stills, you name it. Just take an interesting picture, stare blankly at it, and make an observation. Turn a piece of Renaissance art into lowbrow comedy. Make monster movies into romantic comedies. Turn a Family Circus comic into the next Far Side. Get creative, and remember, (almost) nothing is sacred.

5. Your Head- Sometimes, we just need to clear our heads to think clearly. I recommend it whole heartedly. Sit back, relax, take a deep breath, and just let it all go. Release the stress, have baked ideas and bad vibes. Doesn’t that feel better? Are we clear and relaxed now? Groovy. Now, I want you to do as Jefferson Airplane instructs in their song White Rabbit. “Feed your head”. Get out there and watch some movies, go for a walk, read some books, chat with friends. Get inspired! Pull from what’s around you, find something new, and just start Voltronning that stuff together. You never know what you can find when you clean house (and then fill that house with brand new junk).

6. Bouncing Ideas- While brainstorming alone is a good way to get a downpour of material, a particularly nasty writer’s block can turn it all into a weak drizzle. When this happens, get together with friends and create a raging monsoon. Using others as a sounding board allows you to look at your ideas (and theirs too) in an open, honest “not locked up inside of your own head” environment. It’s easier to inspect your logic for holes if you’ve got an extra set of eyes. If you happen to naturally have an extra set of eyes, I still recommend this tip. If you think one set of eye strain is bad, try two. It’s brutal.

7. Short Bits and Flash Fiction- Similar to the captions method, Short Bits and Flash Fiction allow you to make use of our overly social mediacentric society. Using the status bar of your favorite social media site (which typically limits the number of characters you can input), create a short, detailed, and interesting story or blurb. Post it, and let the feedback come rolling in.

8. Stream of Consciousness- One of my personal favorites, stream of consciousness is a tried and true (albeit oddball) way to get a story out of your head and onto paper. Through writing (or my favorite personal favorite talking) and shutting off your filter, you can unlock concepts, plots, and characters that you may have had stashed away all along. If you opt for the more vocal method, don’t forget to bring a tape recorder along, otherwise you may find yourself crafting your next masterpiece from…”the home”.

See what I mean?

By using one or more of the eight methods, I guarantee (well, 98 and ¾% anyway) you’ll find the means to slay your dragon, and get back to your story. If not, there’s always the teen vampire novel. It’s easy to write, and after awhile, you won’t mind the sparkles so much. This has been your weekly dose of Shelves and Stacks. As always, I’m your host Jamie Thomas reminding you to…to…Sigh…Not again.

 (Shelves and Stacks acknowledges the copyright and ownership of all videos and links used in this and any and all future posts.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Astro Boy...The Modern Prometheus?

You’re traveling through a dimension not of sound, or sight, but of addled mind. Traipsing pathways overgrown with speculation, you see a sign post up ahead. Adjacent to the last clean restroom this side of paranoia and sitting a mere stone’s throw away from a conspiracy theorists’ support group, it reads “ Hello there gang, and welcome back.”  You’ve invariably stumbled into an air conditioned plot hole I like to call “Shelves and Stacks.” 

    Submitted for your consideration are two tales, two authors and two creations. Penned by like minds, but separated through time, space, geography and genre, the tales in question are a two way mirror. A mirror gazed into by a monstrous mockery of man and a light hearted, childlike defender of justice. Each side a different outcome, but eerily enough, with similar origins. Can a nameless beast of the gallows and a mechanical child of light be one in the same? To you, a notion like that may, at best, be represented as a slim probability. However, the house of ideas has better representation among the Shelves and Stacks. 


    Phew! Didn’t know how much longer I could hold my Serling face. Hey there gang, and welcome back. For this week’s review, the boys upstairs thought a little atmosphere was in order. So, anybody here confused by the whole “two way mirror” and “monster and defender of justice” spiel? Yeah? Thought as much. Alright, here’s the skinny. So, while diligently pondering the complex mysteries of the literary universe, I had a revelation.

True and valid as that point may be, I’m talking about the idea that (and stay with me on this), Osamu Tezuka’s highly celebrated and praised manga and anime (comic book and cartoon show to the uninitiated) series Astro Boy can be interpreted as an indirect retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic work Frankenstein in which we can get a taste of what the monster’s life might have been like had he found his way into a safe, loving, and positive environment. Granted, it may just be simpler to watch a few episodes of this

 but, for the purposes of this little exercise in speculative pop culture we won’t for one fundamental reason. The Munsters suffers from a disturbing lack of robots and as we all know, robots improve the quality of every situation.

For the record, he does an excellent Snape impression. Really, it’s quite good.

    Now then, before we get too far into things, let’s have a quick word about retellings. Our friends over at define a retelling as follows:
retelling (noun) a new, and often updated or retranslated, version of a story.
retelling (verb)to tell (a story, tale, etc.) over again in a new way.

    Keeping this in mind, let’s take a moment and look at the whole of pop culture for a moment. Pop culture, like a rampant rumor, is rife with retellings. We’ve got Shakespearian fantasy morphing into 50’s science fiction (The Tempest retold as Forbidden Planet), classic detective novels retooled into televised crime drama (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels retold through the BBC program Sherlock) and beloved animation retconned into a Nicolas Cage movie ( Fantasia’s  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice remade into a live action film of the same name).

Because, Disney works in mysterious ways Cat Bug. Mysterious ways.

    So, what’s all this have to do with the alleged retelling in question? Consider the following. In Mary Shelley’s classic tale, grad student of the damned, Victor Frankenstein (spurred on by scientific interest and grief for the passing of his mother), attempts to create life from dead matter.

The experiment is a rousing success. After Victor brings his creation (an attempt to enhance, and possibly replace mankind with a hardier specimen) to life, he makes a startling realization. Aside from looking like something that crawled out of a bin of medical refuse Victor’s work is not a continuation of life, but a mockery of it. Realizing the error of his way, and with all the grace and dignity of a brave and chivalrous knight, he acts accordingly.

Alright, he’s a little more Sir Robin than King Arthur. Left to its own devices, the rejected creature wanders out into the world. Subjected to cruelty for his cadaverous looks, the creature grows to hate and fear humanity. After years of wandering that would rank a solid seven on a scale from 1 to Lord of the Rings, the creature hunkers down near the home of an old man named De Lacey. Seeing what his life could be like if he wasn’t so corpsey, Frankenstein’s rejected creation sat tight, biding his time and learning to speak, read and write.
    Meanwhile, 134 years in the future and a few continents over, medical doctor turned cartoonist Osamu Tezuka was busy whipping up his own tale of mad science. Decidedly more light hearted than its predecessor,

Astro Boy’s first story arc was every bit as cruel and unusual as Frankenstein. Mourning the loss of his young son Tobio, the brilliant Dr. Umataro Tenma (head of The Ministry of Science in a futuristic Japan) brought together the Ministry’s greatest minds and resources to aid him in the creation of a technological masterpiece, a perfect mechanical copy of his deceased son.

(For the record, I have no idea why he’s running around in hot pants. Just roll with it.)

    After Astro is assembled and brought to life, Dr. Tenma immediately whisks him away, and continues on as if Tobio’s passing had never happened. Unfortunately, Dr. Tenma slowly realizes that his joy (much like his relationship with Astro) is built on false pretenses. Much like Victor who deluded himself into believing that a living (?) corpse was the herald of a new species, Tenma had fooled himself into believing that this lifelike machine could and would grow and behave as a normal boy. Realizing his error, Dr. Tenma…well…oh, just see for yourself.

Pow! Right in the feels! 

    That’s right gang. Tenma subjects an innocent, childlike being to physical and verbal abuse, and then sells him to a shady looking character of ill repute who carts the poor boy away and forces him to perform in a circus. Pow! Right in the feels!
    That’s right gang, whether they realized it or not, Shelley and Tezuka were pretty much working on the same wavelength. Both created a story about a brilliant scientist (grieving over the loss of a loved one) trying to make themselves feel better and achieve their dreams through the irresponsible creation of sentient life. What’s more, both abandon their creations, and leave them at the mercy of a race who they only wanted to protect, but will always hate and fear them!

Oh, yeah…heh heh…The X-Men kind of already have a monopoly on that. 

    So, you’re probably asking where and when the “re” in this telling fits in.  Well, to answer that, let’s check back in on Frankenstein’s monstrous malcontent. While hiding out on the De Lacey’s property, Victor’s creation becomes fluent in English, and learning that his unwitting host is blind, decides to strike up a conversation. Waiting for the children to depart, the creature slips in and wiles away a pleasant afternoon chatting with his neighbor.

The original text is a bit more eloquent, but you get the picture. As you’ve probably guessed, the De Lacey children return, instantly assume their dear old dad’s about to have his brain munched by a Romero refugee and chase the creature over the farmyard and through the woods. Wounded and betrayed, the creature shambles off in search of his creator and the bitter satisfaction of vengeance well wrought.
    Meanwhile, Astro had problems of his old. Sold to the circus, Astro was forced to perform feats of strength, daring, and gladiatorial combat. Despite the hardships endured at the hands of the circus’s owner Mr. Hamegg (I wonder if he’s related to Olive Oyl or Mayor Mc Cheese), Astro keeps his chin up and resolves to let his spotless conscience be his guide (Coincidentally, Tezuka sites Pinocchio as a primary inspiration for his work). As luck, and plot devices, would have it, Astro is given a kind old man of his own. Enter, the big nosed Professor Ochanomizu.  Assuming Astro is a human, Ochanomizu attempts to liberate Astro from bondage. After learning that he is indeed a robot, Ochanomizu sees greatness in the horn haired tyke, and carries out his plan to liberate Astro Boy.

 Under the professor’s care and guidance, Astro learns to utilize his robotic powers (heh heh, butt rockets) and becomes a champion for the rights and safety of humans and their mechanical creations.  Granted, Astro does still come under fire from people (mostly villains) who view him purely as a machine, but rather than allow his anger toward them to fester (like a certain monster we all know), Astro strives to be the change and progress he and Ochanomizu wish to see in the world.
    So, there you have it gang. Mostly infallible proof that Astro Boy can be interpreted as not only an analogue of the Frankenstein story, but as an alternate tale that allows readers a chance to see what could have been. For those of you interested in checking out more of Astro’s adventures, check out the following links:

You’re welcome.
    Thanks for reading another episode of Shelves and Stacks. As always, I’m your host Jamie Thom- Hang on a minute, they need me on set.

     Two creators, separated by time and circumstance. Their creations, not so different. Lost within the ages and annals of time and pages long since turned, but found and reunited as spiritual siblings. Family trees fork, but have been known to fold backwards into something between a figure eight and a pretzel in the curmudgeonly old growth forests among the Shelves and Stacks. Goodnight.

(Shelves and Stacks acknowledges the copyright and ownership of all videos and links used in this and any and all future posts.)