COMICS: What's so great about Edgar Allan Poe? Elementary!
April 28, 2013 4:00 AM

A new Edgar Allan Poe book is giving me the warm fuzzies. Oddly, the reason why involves Sherlock Holmes.

Millions of years ago — well, it was the mid-1980s — the young Captain rode his dinosaur into a bookstore and expended what was then an uncomfortable amount of money for Amarinth Press’ “The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes,” collecting all of the stories of the great detective by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s a beautiful book: hardback with padded covers; gilt edges; period illustrations; faux-aged pages.

Of course, as a full-fledged nerd, I had read all these stories before. But buying this book collected them all in one place for easy research or casual rereads. Buying this book allowed me to chuck all the tattered paperbacks and other tacky, secondhand Holmes stories on my bookshelf.

But most importantly, buying this book said something about me.

It said I was not going to outgrow my geek interests (sorry, Mom!). It said I was willing to spend my disposable income for high-quality versions of what some folks dismissed as kid stuff. It meant that I was embracing my identity as an adult Nerd Rampant, vested with all the power and pride of those who pursue their interests despite threat of ridicule.

In short, I could say, as Popeye did before me, “I yam what I yam, and today I yam a man.”

It’s been decades since that day in the bookstore, but I felt an echo with the newly published “Tales of the Macabre” by Edgar Allan Poe (Archaia, $29.95). Like the Sherlock Holmes book, it’s a very attractive prose collection: Hardback with raised cover art; black-and-gray pages edged in red; gorgeous illustrations by Benjamin Lacombe. Best of all are the notes that explain Poe’s literary and/or obscure references, and the excellent essay “Edgar Poe: His Life and Works,” by the French poet Charles Baudelaire.

This collection isn’t comprehensive, but it mixes some well-known stories (“Berenice,” “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Oval Portrait”) with some lesser-known works (“The Island of the Fay,” “Morella,” “Ligeia”). It doesn’t include “The Cask of Amontillado” or “The Masque of the Red Death,” but perhaps those will headline a sequel.

Regardless, “Tales of the Macabre” will take a position next to “The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes” on my bookshelf. That will serve to remind me that Nerd Culture has become respectable at last — and of the bad old days, when it was not.

Speaking of Archaia, this little-known publisher has had a creative explosion of late in its graphic-novel line. Here are some of its offerings:

-- “Rust Volume Two: Secrets of the Cell” ($24.95): This is the second book in a proposed four-part series by writer/artist Royden Lepp. A former animator, Lepp is uniquely suited to telling the tale of Jet Jones, a robot boy with a jetpack who wants to live a normal, human life. In addition to the Pinocchio and Astro Boy overtones, “Rust” is set after a horrific war that appears to be a variation of World War I, except that the Germans had goose-stepping robot troops. The trauma of war is evident in Jet, the family that takes him in and their neighbors, and also in the subdued watercolor art, both of which combine to create a gloomy, forlorn atmosphere.

There are also abandoned robot soldiers lying about — a threat to humans, but a necessary resource for our robot boy, who needs a constant replenishment of his power cell.

When a neighbor boy discovers Jet’s secret, a chain of events is set in motion that promises to destroy everyone’s dreams. Given that this book appears in media res — and I somehow missed the first volume — I can’t really comment on the success of the series overall. But this one book affected me emotionally, so it is a success in and of itself.

-- “Hopeless, Maine: Personal Demons” ($19.95): It appears this GN began life as a webcomic on the Druid Life website (druidlife.wordpress.com), home of writers-artists Tom and Nimue Brown, where much of it — and its sequel - can still be found. The Browns are big into druidry and other elements that dovetail neatly with pagan religions and philosophies, such as steampunk, Goth and the supernatural. All of that comes into play in “Hopeless, Maine,” set on the eponymous island shrouded in constant fog and inhabited by witches, demons, goblins and some ordinary folk, where adults keep disappearing, resulting in an abundance of orphans.

One such is Salamandra, a pyrokinetic (fire starter) hounded by a demon who appears as a little ghost girl. The book follows Salamandra’s struggle to find herself — and un-find the invisible friend — abetted by a friendly witch, the reverend’s son and the ghost of a good-hearted adult.

Think of it as a long-form fairy tale, and I think little girls (and some boys) of all ages will eat up this gorgeously rendered and not-at-all hopeless story, whose subtle lesson is that it’s OK to just be yourself.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com or on his Web site, http://captaincomics.ning.com.

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