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CrimeReads Article, Chicago Review of Books Review and Cory Doctorow

Hi all! Here’s some more links (I swear I will be posting an actual movie review soon).

Here‘s an article I wrote for CrimeReads.com about George Smiley, a huge influence on my own character Nikolai South.

Here is a really nice, in-depth review from the Chicago Review of Books for When the Sparrow Falls.

And as a reminder, I’ll be having an in-depth conversation with author and journalist Cory Doctorow about the themes and world of the book on July 10th 2PM, Pacific Time. He’s a fascinating guy, it should be a fascinating talk and you can reserve your tickets HERE.

John Scalzi event and Audiobook sample!

When the Sparrow Falls is finally on sale in the states and we had the book launch last night, very kindly hosted by Kelly of Fountain Bookstore in Virginia with an assist from legendary sci-fi author John Scalzi. The event was recorded and you can watch it HERE.

Also! The audiobook will soon be available and you can listen to an excerpt HERE. Jake Fairbrother did an absolutely phenomenal job of bringing Nikolai South to life and it sounds so, so good.

Upcoming events!

Hey did you know I have a book coming out at the end of the month? (I know, I know, I need to be less shy and retiring about these things). Anyway, I have some really exciting virtual events lined up to launch this sucker.

29th June

Oh yes, THAT John Scalzi. We’ll be in discussion in an event hosted by Fountain Bookstore in Virginia. I wanted to call it “Gettin’ Palsy with Scalzi” but they said no and that’s fine.

Join us at 6pm Eastern Time, Thursday June 29th. Admission is free and you can book your tickets HERE.

10th July

Oh yes, THAT Cory Doctorow. Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego will be hosting this one at 2pm Pacific Time, Saturday 10th of July and you can reserve a place HERE.

27th July

And lastly but by no means leastly, my friends Trilby Black, Daniel M. Bensen and I all have books coming out at the same time so we’re having a joint launch hosted by Magers and Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Jul 27th at 5:00 PM IST and you can book tickets HERE. Tickets for this event will be $5 and attendees will receive virtual event access and a $5 off code for use at magersandquinn.com. Attendees also have a chance to win prizes during the event! Follow @magersandquinn or the authors on social media and share our posts about the event, and you’ll be entered to win fabulous prizes!

Felix the Cat (1988)

Here we go again. Every so often I’ll have a moment where I’ll go “Have I really been blogging about animation for X number of years without covering Y?” and this one’s a doozy.

So, ahem.

Have I really been blogging about animation for nine years without covering Felix the Cat? Because Felix the Cat is a pretty damn big deal in the history of animation.

Not the first cartoon character, but the first cartoon star, the first cartoon character able to draw a crowd on name recognition alone. The character was created in 1919 by Australian animator Pat Sullivan.

Or, as is now accepted by a majority of animation historians, by one of Sullivan’s animators Otto Messmer.

Honestly, researching this post taught me that Pat Sullivan was what people think Walt Disney was; a talentless credit-stealer and a nasty racist to boot. Anyway. Sullivan’s studio produced a rake of silent Felix shorts in the late teens and throughout the twenties and Felix was, for a time, a full on pop culture phenomenon. And you know what? With good cause. While simple, these shorts have a real charm and wit and I honestly think they hold up a lot better than a lot of later cartoons by Disney and Warner Bros from the early talkie era.

These shorts were also hugely influential on the field of animation in general, with the basic precepts of Felix’s design going on to influence American and Japanese animation right up to the present day, setting the template for characters as diverse as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog. And some people didn’t even bother with being “influenced” and just straight up fucking stole it.

Pictured: Julius the Cat, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks’ TOTALLY ORIGINAL CHARACTER.

But, by the end of the twenties a sinister new threat had emerged to challenge Felix’s place as the world’s preminent cartoon character: SYNCHRONISED SOUND.

Hear my dark melody, Cat. I whistle your doom.

Sullivan resisted the switch to sound for as long as he could, but eventually caved and started producing sound Felix cartoons. Unfortunately, these cartoons did not use synchronised sound and instead were pre-animated with music, dialogue and sound effects being added in post-production, which results in what animation aficionados call “really crap cartoons”. The new series of sound Felix cartoons were cancelled, the studio shuttered and Pat Sullivan spiralled into an alcoholic depression brought on by the death of his wife and died in his forties Jesus Christ that got so bad so fast.

A brief, utterly Disnified run of cartoons by Van Beuren studios in the thirties notwithstanding, Felix was seemingly a defunct property. Having failed to transition to the sound era, Felix disappeared from public view, presumably to a rambling mansion on Sunset Boulevard where he could brood and slip into obsession and madness.

“I know you! You’re Felix the Cat! You used to be big!”
“I am big. It’s the cartoons that got small.”

Fast forward to the 1950s and Joe Oriolo, an animator and artist who’d worked with Otto Messmer on the Felix the Cat comic strip, created the Felix the Cat TV Show. This show was arguably the most influential and famous iteration of the character, introducing a host of concepts and characters that are now inextricably linked to Felix like the magic bag, the Professor and Poindexter. And if you love this cartoon…you do you. Personally I can’t stand it but then I’m pretty non-plussed by mid-century American TV animation as a general rule. But yeah, this series gave Felix his second bite of the super-stardom pie and also launched him to Spinal Tap levels of popularity in Japan.

So why did it take so long for Felix to make the leap to feature length animation? Well Pat Sullivan’s death had left Felix in legal limbo but Joe Oriolo was finally able to get full ownership of the character in 1970, probably because Joe Oriolo was an absolute snack.

“Hey doll, how about you give me the rights to YOUR pussycat?”

Oriolo pére passed away in 1985 but his son Don carried on the Felix legacy, finally bringing a full length Felix the Cat animated feature to movie screen in 1988.

Sorry, sorry, my mistake. The movie was completed in 1988 (using Hungarian animation) but only released in the United States in 1991. Very briefly. Before going straight to video.

Oh, and, fun bit of trivia. Researching for this post I first came across the phrase “abandoned movie”. Felix the Cat has been “abandoned” in the United States. What this means is that Felix the Cat DVDs are no longer sold in America. If you’re in America and you want a DVD of this movie you either have to buy it from overseas or get one of the original run of discs from the nineties which will cost you an arm and a leg.

And I know what you’re thinking!: “Mouse, this film that was animated in a second world totalitarian Communist state whose release was delayed by two years before getting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run and then being consigned to home video hell before being full on abandoned at the side of the road in the new millenium sounds like a really good movie!”

Which is what I love about you, reader. Your unflagging optimism. But I’m afraid I have to crush your hopes with the greatest violence possible. How bad is this movie?

(more…)

Conventional Wisdom

I tell ya, by the end of this month I’ll be like Johnny Depp in the Pirates Movies, everywhere and beloved by all.

Tor are holding their annual TorCon convention next week and I’ll be taking part in the Chaotic Storytelling panel with Christopher Buehlman, JS Dewes, Andrea Hairston, Jenn Lyons and Drew Broussard where we will try to improvise a new science fiction story on the fly.

Check out the guide to the Con HERE where you can sign up to this event and many others featuring some of the greatest Science Fiction/Fantasy authors currently working.