Posts Tagged ‘book’

Born Standing Up

I got the new Steve Martin book for the holidays and finished reading it last Sunday. I wanted to write about it, but not as a review. This is just my thoughts on a very important little book.

It is called Born Standing Up, but it should be called How To Be a Successful Comedian. Well, maybe not, because it is so specific to Steve. How To Be Steve Martin? Nah, I like the title as it is.

The point is, Steve wrote a great book about the artistic process. It is a memoir, but even the childhood stuff (dealt with in a perfunctory manner in other autobiographies I’ve read) is fascinating and well-written. The most relevant parts to me, however, and the parts that Steve seemed to stress the most, were how and why he created his stand up act, and how that was greeted by the public.

He was constantly performing. Even when he had a more conventional job (relatively speaking) as a television writer, he was refining his own material. I liked that he wrote specifically what ideas went into his act. I’m kind of amazed he could even pinpoint the moments of discovery. The funniest part is that, even after having these epiphanies, no one else seemed to notice. He would say something like, “I made this huge change in my act, but it would take eight more years for it to come to fruition.” That kind of determination is incredible, almost insane. You have to be pretty crazy to chase an idea for that long without any assurance it will be worth it.

The other thing I found interesting was how Steve really wanted to be a performer, not necessarily a comic. He started out as a magician, then added a little banjo playing, then added comedy as a way to extend the act. It was an organic process, not about demographics or marketing. As a result, he was flat broke for a long time. When he did hit, he was capable and ready because of the foundation he had built up to that time. It was the realization that his act essentially froze when he became famous that made him turn away from stand up. After all the years of experimentation, he must have felt hemmed in by playing the same jokes to huge masses of people night after night.

It was a happy surprise to read such a lucid, introspective account of this part of Steve Martin’s life.
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the unfinished masterpiece

I’ve read that every author has three favorite books: the first book, the book they’re currently writing, and the “strange” book. By strange I guess I mean atypical, or something that, after it’s done and published, the author looks back at it and wonders “I wrote that?”

I’d like to add one category to the list: the unfinished masterpiece. This is the book that the author has been working on for years, even decades, but has never completed. It is the summation of everything that author is, a grand statement worthy of parades, literary criticism, a Nobel. That is, if it ever gets done, which it never does. Sometimes an author may take a few notes and keep the bulk of it in her head. Sometimes a rough draft exists on a computer hard drive. Sometimes, like Ralph Ellison, the whole thing burns up in a fire before he gets the chance to complete it (and, why in the world was there only one copy of that manuscript? Can anyone tell me?).

The unfinished masterpiece certainly exists in other arts, as well. Beethoven’s last symphony, Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon movie, Monet’s freaking Water Lilies, the Teen Wolf trilogy…all these exist in fragmentary form, but we will never know the greatness they could have achieved. The world might be a better place today if there were a few more water lily paintings; we’ll never know.

I am not afraid of standing up beside my artistic peers. I will show the world I can start something great but not finish it. I am about to embark on my unfinished masterpiece.

I’ve already started to write it in my head. It will be a graphic novel the likes of which the world has never known. It will be funny, sad, epic, adventurous. It will break all the rules and create a blank slate for future comic artists. My themes will be nothing less than Love, Hate, Life, Death, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. I’m thinking of calling it JOSH SHALEK’S AMERICA. It will be 4,000 pages long once it is done, which it will never be. It will be a bestseller, if I ever finish it (which I never will), and it will be regarded as “Citizen Kane meets Ulysses meets Calvin and Hobbes meets Abbey Road.” I can’t wait to get started but not finish.

As you can imagine, the rewards for not finishing a masterpiece are much higher than for finishing one. There’s not as much work involved. Everyone has their own image of it in their mind, which will be better than anything I could actually write and draw. And it will only be perceived to be better as time goes on. After my death, the legend of my unfinished masterpiece will spread. I’ll be hailed a genius, even if all my published works are less than stellar.

Dear readers, the time to get excited about my unfinished masterpiece is now. I will keep you updated on its gestation right here at this blog, but don’t expect any news for a while, if ever. Just keep checking back, and hopefully my meager words and pictures will tide you over for the inevitable (but really not) masterpiece.

Searching for The Shining

shining_jack_stareWhen I’m asked about my favorite movie, there are actually two that come to mind. One of these is The Shining, a film by Stanley Kubrick based (loosely) on a novel by Stephen King. I first saw The Shining with my friend Curtis right after finals our sophomore year of high school.

It was one of those movies that are so culturally ingrained, I thought I’d seen all the best parts already. Who hasn’t seen the still of Jack Nicholson sticking his head through the door he just smashed through with an axe? To my great surprise, The Shining is full of secrets. Like Psycho, The Shining is really, really scary even if you know the key parts. Also like Psycho, The Shining is an unconventional horror story, where many of the scares come after you’ve seen the film.

Jack Torrance, the man charged with taking care of the Overlook hotel with his wife Wendy and their son Danny, is a struggling writer. For him, there isn’t much of a leap from trying to write a novel to trying to kill your family. The main question of the movie is, does Jack imagine all the horrific scenes, or is the hotel itself possessed? There is only one incident that supports the “evil hotel” theory; the rest can be explained by insanity.

And that’s what I like about The Shining: no matter how many times you try to formulate a theory, there’s always something that debunks it. To me, horror is best when it doesn’t quite make sense. You can’t follow a logical path.

It is sort of strange that one of my favorite movies has such strong ties to two places that I’ve lived: Colorado and Oregon. I never set out to live near The Shining. I want to say right now that I am not, nor will I ever be, as crazy as Jack Torrance. Ask my wife or any of my friends: I’m a peaceful guy. Think of it this way: neither the author of the book nor the director of the movie were bad people. So it goes with me. Okay, there’s my disclaimer.

The book was written by a guy my parents went to college with: Stephen King. You may have heard of him. He’s written a couple bestsellers. As the story behind the story goes, Stephen King was staying at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado and trying unsuccessfully to write a book about an evil rollercoaster. One day he looked around and realized, why not make it an evil hotel?

All the elements for a spooky setting were there. Estes Park is a wonderful little town; it backs right up against Rocky Mountain National Park. Here is the view King had from the front of the Stanley.stanley-hotel-019

And here is what the Stanley looks like from the front.stanley-hotel-038stanley+hotel+front
Although not as isolated as the Overlook, the Stanley itself is quite
The blood-red decorating scheme, the antique furnishings, the dark, dark nights: once King had the setting, I bet the story fell right into place. Well, I’m sure it took him a while to write it, but geez, the guy must write like 100 pages a day or something. He makes writing hugely successful novels look like picking up the mail.stanley-hotel-098

stanley-hotel-101An indisputable law of nature: every Stephen King book gets made into a movie. The interesting detail is who bought the rights to this particular novel: Stanley Kubrick, director of such non-horror movies as Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, and Barry Lyndon. I wasn’t there, but I imagine nobody expected a conventional slasher flick.

And unconventional is what we got! Kubrick undercuts horror cliches at almost every turn. There is never a pop-out moment, when Jack surprises Wendy (and the audience). There are incredibly long tracking shots, relatively few special effects, and lots of dialog. I haven’t counted, but I bet there is more dialog in The Shining than in every single Friday the 13th movie combined.

Though still set in Colorado, Kubrick filmed most of The Shining in England. There is one brief shot in Boulder, Colorado, where Wendy and Danny are staying before they leave for the hotel.timberline3 timberline4 timberline1 timberline2

The hotel Kubrick used is called the Timberline Lodge, located near the peak of Mount Hood in Oregon. The Timberline fulfilled the requirements of the Overlook from the book: it is fairly isolated, about an hour from the nearest sizable town and so close to the roof of Oregon you can hike there in the summer. Also, due to its altitude, there is snow on the ground almost all year. The Timberline boasts year-round skiing, which sounded impressive until I went at the beginning of September one year and saw the comically small amount of “snow” on the ground (it had been packed into ice during the course of the summer).mt-hood2

Though today the Timberline has lost a lot of that isolated quality it had back in 1980, I could still see the draw of using as an exterior.

There was a TV movie of The Shining made about ten years ago. For some reason beyond the comprehension of us mortals, Stephen King hated Kubrick’s The Shining. Is it possible to find nothing wrong with one terrible adaptation after another, but to detest one of the best adaptations of your work ever made? For Stephen King it is. King wrote the screenplay for the TV movie, and they even filmed it at the Stanley. Unfortunately, it is bad. The best part about watching it was that, when you turn on the DVD commentary, you can hear some of Stephen King’s stories about writing the book. I won’t say any more about it than that.

It has been a pleasure to be able to visit the locations of The Shining. It makes watching the movie even more of a visceral experience. I’d love to visit the location of my other favorite movie, but I don’t think the island of Waponi Woo actually exists.andy+ghost

the shining book cover

The world has been waiting for my take on The Shining, and here it is.
shining-book-cover-josh-shalekIt automatically gets disqualified as a real book cover because the weapon of choice in the book was a croquet mallet, not an axe. However, I get bonus points as I used the Stanley Hotel as the model for this rendering.



I just sent in all the files to the printer for Falling Rock Book 4, now titled: SEE AMERICA FIRST!

It will feature a super deluxe chipboard cover and a collection of 64 Falling Rock comics from the past year. Pinball Press will again be the printer, and, like last year, See America First! will feature all recycled paper and soy-based ink. You can simultaneously enjoy your comics AND save the planet.

Now is the time to purchase the first three Falling Rock books so you can catch up. I will post a new purchase link as soon as I have See America First! in my hands.

why should you See America First?

Behold, the cover to the fourth Falling Rock book collection.see-america-first-brown-paper-low
But why is it called See America First! ? Actually, like most of my best ideas, I stole this one from the railroads.see-america-first-glacier-national-park
See America First was an advertising campaign begun in 1906 by the Great Northern Railway, an effort to lure well-heeled Easterners to the new(ish) national parks in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and California. Previously they had been spending their riches all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, vacationing in lush Switzerland and Poland, among other European countries.

The ads were incredibly successful; thousands of people purchased train tickets West instead of plane tickets to Europe. The national parks achieved a much-needed attendance boost and the railroads saw a tidy profit. Everybody was a winner.

Today, a little more than a hundred years later, Falling Rock National Park needs a similar influx of visitors. Since you can only visit Falling Rock by reading the comic strip, I suggest you purchase a copy of See America First! online or in one of the comic book shops that carry my fine publications.

See America First! will be available very soon; expect an announcement regarding availability in the coming week.see-america-first-mt-rainier

write-up in coin-op

Pinball Publishing has done a swell write-up of my latest Falling Rock book, See America First!

Here is the story.
pinball book interiors
And here is where you can purchase your very own copy of See America First!

friday robots

More Penguin robots!
Penguin should publish a collection of Friday Robots, either that or sue me for ripping off all their book covers.
Hey Penguin, look over here!  I’m blogging about you!  Yoo hoo!

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Tomb of the Zombies cover and one-sheet

In an attempt to bring you, dear readers, up to date on all the latest zombie news here at Falling Rock National Blog, I present the cover of my graphic novel Tomb of the Zombies:
This book was at least two years in the making, although in reality it was much longer.  I originally got the idea back when I lived in Colorado.  Initially, there was going to be a storyline in The Family Monster in which Dee discovers a group of zombies break-dancing in the shadow of a pyramid.  They were being forced to dance by a man who hoped to take this novel act to Vegas and make a million bucks.  The story was totally solid, no doubt about it, but it was far too long to present in daily installments of four panels.  I shelved the idea.

Later, after I finished my pirate comic book Dancing With Jack Ketch, I decided that my next project had to involve zombies.  I dug through my old notebooks to find what I had written and promptly started from scratch.  You may have noticed, however, that the Ancient Egyptian motif remains intact.

As a teaser, here is a one-sheet I made up while still in the middle of drawing Tomb of the Zombies.  I took this around ComicCon in 2010 to try and drum up interest among publishers.
Keep checking back for ordering information!  Soon you will have this book in your hot little hands.