Under the Radar’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide Part 6: Books and Graphic Novels | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Under the Radar’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide Part 6: Books and Graphic Novels

For Your Reading Pleasure Featuring Books for Music Fans, Kids, Film Buffs, and More

Dec 16, 2021 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

For the sixth installment of our 2021 Holiday Gift Guide we take a look at some of our favorite pop culture pops from the last year. Included are some good reads for kids, books that would appeal to comic book fans and film buffs, and more. One was written by my mother, Mary Moore Mason, who also pens some of the write-ups in this guide. There are also three books written by Under the Radar writers, which we first told you about last year.

Also check out the other parts of our 2021 Holiday Gift Guide: Part 1 on table top and board games, Part 2 on drinking, Part 3 on Blu-rays and DVDs, Part 4 on video games, and Part 5 on collectibles and toys.

Read on to read on.

School of Rock (Quirk Books)

RRP: $18.95

Author and Illustrator: Kim Smith

For the last few years Kim Smith has done all of Quirk’s PopClassics picture book adaptations of classic movies and TV shows, including Back to the Future, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Home Alone, E.T., The Karate Kid, and Doctor Who. They are equally wonderful for kids who have seen the original movie/TV show as they are for kids who haven’t. My eight-year-old daughter Rose is too young to watch The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she still adored Smith’s picture books based on them. And Rose is a big Doctor Who fan and also loved that book.

This year Smith has turned her attention to the classic comedy School of Rock. Mike White wrote the 2003 film and also co-starred in. Richard Linklatter directed School of Rock and it’s perhaps the only family friendly movie in his filmography. Jack Black stars as struggling wannabe rock guitarist Dewey Finn, who cons his way into being a substitute teacher at a prep school to pay the bills. Instead of following the curriculum, Finn teaches his fourth graders to be a rock band, in an effort to win the local battle of the bands. The film was critically acclaimed and a surprise hit, spawning a Broadway musical of the same name, as well as a Nickelodeon TV show. Smith’s version stays true to the original plot, but condenses it and removes some of the PG-13 material (there’s no mention of groupies, for example). Jack Black’s infectious energy still leaps off the page. We recently showed School of Rock to Rose (she’s an aspiring musician herself as a pianist and wants to learn the drums) and she was very taken with it. She’s going to love this adaptation. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

A Rugrats Chanukah (Quirk Books)

RRP: $18.95

Author and Illustrator: Kim Smith

Kim Smith has also set her sights on the much loved 1990s cartoon Rugrats, adapting the episode A Rugrats Chanukah. In the story, babies Tommy, Chuckie, Lil, and Phil, as well as their older cousin Angelica, are taught about Chanukah. At first it’s via a story about the first Chanukah that their grandma reads to them, with the historical characters represented by the babies, then the learn more from watching a Chanukah play their granddad is in. Tommy, Chuckie, Lil, and Phil get confused, thinking that the candles on the menorah are birthday candles and searching for the meany of Chanukah (referring to a bully) rather than the meaning of Chanukah. But they work it out eventually and young readers (or adult fans who grew up with Rugrats) will enjoy the journey. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The DC Comics Encyclopedia: New Edition (DK/DC)

RRP: $40.00

Authors: Matt Manning, Stephen (Win) Wiacek, Melanie Scott, Nick Jones, and Landry Q. Walker (Forward by Jim Lee)

The DC Comics Encyclopedia returns with a brand new edition. The impressive guide to the various heroes and villains of the DC Universe has been updated to feature entries on newer characters (the Green Lantern Jessica Cruz now has her own half-page write-up) or fresh information on legacy characters, taking into account more recent comics storylines. Major players such as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman get in-depth four-page spreads. Other important characters, such as The Flash and Harley Quinn, get double-page spreads. Plenty of small and medium statue heroes and villains get a look in too, with tinnier entries ranging from an eighth page to a full page, not to mention the extensive Roll Call section at the end with short blurbs on all sorts of supporting players you may or may not have heard of (including Doctor Alchemy, Doctor Death, Doctor Impossible, Doctor Mist, Doctor Occult, and Doctor Poison—who knew DC had so many doctors—and everyone’s favorite food foe, The Condiment King). There’s also a forward by Jim Lee, the legendary Korean American comic book artist/writer who is also currently the Publisher and Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics. The DC Comics Encyclopedia makes for good bedside reading for comics fans seasoned and new. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Listening Party (DK)

RRP: $30.00

Author: Tim Burgess

Tim’s Twitter Listening Party was one of the few bright parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when the world was in full lockdown in early to mid 2020. Tim Burgess, frontman for the Madchester/Britpop band The Charlatans, came up with the simple idea—having musicians live tweet while fans collectively all listen to one of their albums at a preset time—after seeing actor Riz Ahmed spontaneously tweet along in 2011 to his film Four Lions. It was showing on British TV at the time and Burgess just happened to be watching and also on Twitter. Four years later he put that idea into action, doing a the first Twitter listening party in 2015 for the 25th anniversary of The Charlatans’ debut album, Some Friendly. In March 2020, as the lockdown took hold, he did it again, for the 30th anniversary of the album. Some Friendly was an important album for Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, who bought it when he was 17, and he tweeted Burgess about it, which led to Burgess suggesting a listening party for the Scottish band’s self-titled debut. Blur and Oasis were next and the whole thing grew from there, to the point that Burgess got Paul McCartney to take part in a listening party for his new album McCartney III and there were upwards of three listening parties a weeknight and six on weekend days.

While there was a certain thrill in following along to the listening parties live, where fans could make comments or even ask questions, it has been hard to keep up with it all. Thankfully Burgess has teamed up with DK for The Listening Party, a 304-page book that compiles the best tweets from 100 of Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties. Each entry is dedicated to a different album, with an intro from Burgess on the album and then one or more tweets about each song on the tracklist. Sometimes musicians shared behind-the-scenes photos in their Listening Parties and some of those are included too.

The Listening Party covers some of my all-time favorite albums—Suede’s Dog Man Star, Pulp’s Different Class, Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair, Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of This Country, Lush’s Lovelife, Doves’ The Last Broadcast, Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs, The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, Wolf Alice’s My Love Is Cool, Belle and Sebastian’s The Boy With the Arab Strap, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness, Supergrass’ I Should Coco, and on and on, not to mention my fondness for Some Friendly as well. Plus it features two photos taken by my wife Wendy (of Camera Obscura and Doves, photo shoots originally done for Under the Radar) and one by my late dad, the noted music photographer David Redfern (of Scritti Politti). So there is a lot to recommend about this book. Tim’s Twitter Listening Party continues, with parties scheduled all the way up until February of 2022. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Goodbye Hoop Skirts – Hello World! (TSL)

RRP: $15.99

Author: Mary Moore Mason

My mother wrote a book. It’s a memoir. Part of it covers my childhood years. It’s weird when your mother writes a book and you’re in it. It’s strange when your mother writes a book and you’re in it and you then write about the book in your holiday gift guide about books. At yet, I’m incredibly proud of my mom finally finishing and releasing a book she has been dreaming about writing for years.

Goodbye Hoop Skirts – Hello World!, subtitled The Travels, Triumphs and Tumbles of a Runaway Southern Belle, chronicles the life of Mary Moore Mason (aka my mother), from her own childhood in Roanoke, Virginia to becoming the first female news reporter on the daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, to her run-ins with famous folk such as Richard Nixon. Eventually she ventured to Europe (France and Greece for starters), becoming a travel writer (hence the Hello World! of the title), before settling in London at the tail end of the swinging ’60s, doing PR for the iconic airline Pan Am and then meeting my dad, music photographer David Redfern. Soon after, along came me. There’s much more to the story, as Goodbye Hoop Skirts continues up to the present day, where she continues as the longtime editor of the Essentially America travel magazine. Throughout my life I have heard many hilarious stories from my mom about her life and most of them are in the book. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

William Shakespeare’s Avengers – The Complete Works (Quirk Books)

RRP: $34.99

Author: Ian Doescher; Illustrator: Danny Schliltz

As the New York Times best-selling author of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series, author Doescher already has honed his skills as a modern-day interpreter of what he imagines would be the Bard’s approach to the triumphs and traumas of literally spaced-out superheroes.

In rollicking meter and verse with stage directions galore, his prologue explains that he (Shakespeare) “conjur’d people of uncommon skill, each with talents, courage and goodwill.” We are then encouraged to “Behold one Tony Stark, a man impassioned, last heir unto his father’s factories”…“He did create the suit of Iron Man—Uncouth and yet heroic was his plan!” And “Lo, then Bruce Banner came with verdant bulk…Kept neath a curse, in anger he is Hulk.”

The pace never slows as The Avengers face challenge upon challenge, adversary upon adversary—in the first scene alone of the first act of four we are introduced to Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), Steve Rodgers (Captain America), and Clint Barton (Hawkeye), as well as the mischievously malicious god Loki, still grumbling that he was upstaged as the ruler of Asgard by his brother Thor, whom we will meet in a following act. And that’s not to forget Nick Fury and the other leaders of S.H.I.E.L.D., who join the superheroes in Deep Space as they face a potentially lethal challenge from the Tesseract. (If you are an Avengers fan you’ll know exact what this means.)

Captain America still has his shield, but otherwise, thanks to illustrator Danny Schlitz, all the colorful cast is dressed in the garb you would expect them to wear in Shakespeare’s 16th/early 17th century. By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

I Wish I Had a Wookie: And Other Poems for Our Galaxy (Quirk Books)

RRP: $19.99

Author: Ian Doescher; Illustrator: Tim Budgen

To be honest, particularly if read out loud, the poems in this delightful, child-focused book don’t match the melodic flair of the Shakespeare-inspired poems in author Doescher’s previously reviewed Avengers opus. But then that would matter little to Star Wars fans when the poems are devoted to the likes of the adorable, cuddly Wookie, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and those cute little Ewoks.

And that’s not to forget such adventures as Broccoli Night in Jabba’s Palace, Looking for Gungan City, My Room’s the Millennium Falcon, and On the Way to Tatooine. School-age children may particularly identify with The Jawas Took My Homework and Star Wars figure-collecting parents with the plight of the father whose naughty little daughter unwrapped and played with Dad’s Luke Skywalker Figurine.

I personally warmed to the Halloween poem in which there were, among others, “19 Vaders in their robes,” 40 Kylos, “this year’s craze,” and 20 Chewbaccas (“nine were pets”), as well as the one in which a bossy little Ingrid defies all the boys in her gang to portray Chewbacca when they insisted she should stick to the gender-defining role of Princess Leia. To add further allure, all of the poems are colorfully illustrated by Tim Budgen. By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

The Other History of the DC Universe (DC)

RRP: $29.99

Author: John Ridley; Illustrators: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and Jose Villarrubia

Chances are that when you envision DC superheroes they are primarily white males—Superman, Batman, The Flash—and a few white females such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Not so for John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave and Let It Fall. In this lavishly illustrated coffee-table-size graphic novel he focuses on four African Americans, one Hispanic, and one Asian superhero, each with his or her own challenging past and persona.

In fact, the author or his alternative heroes, are quite dismissive of both Superman, described as too obsessed with global acclaim to deal with the crime and drug problems in his own backyard, and Batman, described as a rather unpleasant control freak. Although to be fair, their own youthful and ongoing identity crises are also mentioned.

Instead we meet and follow the trials, tribulations, and some triumphs of Jefferson Pierce (aka Black Lighting), his daughter Anissa (Thunder), husband and wife Karen (Bumblebee) and Matt (Guardian) Duncan, Japanese born Tatsu Yamashiro (who goes by Katana), and Hispanic Renee Montoya (The Question). In each case their challenging—and often dire—backgrounds are revealed, as are the special natural or developed powers they possess. And intriguingly their stories are set against the real-life events that have unfolded in America over many decades, including the World War II concentration camp incarceration of innocent Japanese Americans and the violence against African-American and other Civil Rights activists in the 1960s.

An intriguing book for those who want to look at other ways in which men and women can become superheroes. By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero (DC)

RRP: $16.99

Author: E Lockhart; Illustrator: Manuel Preitano

Growing up in a rundown urban area of Gotham City, teenager Willow is faced by many a challenge: her unemployed, Jewish, single-parent mother is suffering from cancer, there is little money to support them, and Willow is particularly concerned about not only the plight of a stray dog she names Lebowitz but also about her deprived school and community which she stages protests to improve. Then there are the threats posed not only by a sewer-inhabiting monster known as Killer Croc but also by the mysterious Poison Ivy who is trying to displace the neighborhood humans with all-encompassing vegetation.

Then Willow is secretly befriended by Eddie, an old family friend who had fallen out of favor with her mother, and by his friend, Pammie, a plant biologist. They become her benefactors allowing her to pay off her mother’s medical bills and household expenses while pretending that the money comes from her evening job at an animal welfare center. But are Eddie and Pammie what they seem and what do they want in return?

No spoiler intended but it helps to explain the title if I say that Willow eventually gets out of a potentially lethal situation with the aid of a magical whistle and other skills which she has developed with the aid of her hound dog friend. Quite an inspiring, and beautifully illustrated read for a teenager interested in learning how to work for change in their lives (although some of the decisions Willow makes at the urging of her mentors are not to be recommended). By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

Three of our writers put out new books last year and we wanted to continue to support them again. Below are reprints of our gift guide entries on the books from 2020.

The Cannon Film Guide – Volume 1: 1980-1984 (Bear Manor Media)

RRP: $35.99

Author: Austin Trunick

In the first of an eventual three volumes we are taken on a roller-coaster ride through the early years of 1980s Hollywood’s most prolific B-movie studio, The Cannon Group, founded by pioneering Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.

Between 1980 and its demise in 1994 this enterprising, adventuresome group produced more than 200 films in genres ranging from musicals to sci-fi, comedy to horror, soft-core porno to fantasy; kicked off the Ninja film craze; were among the first to produce a breakdancing musical; and helped make film stars of such gritty action men as pistol-packing Charles Bronson and military arts experts Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. They also lured in such megastars as Sean Connery, Faye Dunaway, Robert Mitchum, and Vincent Price and such auteurs as John Cassavetes, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Luc Goddard and Robert Altman.

This volume—written by longtime Under the Radar Cinema Editor and writer—covers 40 films chronologically beginning with The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood, starring former Bond girl Martine Beswick and Adam West, best known as an early Batman, and ending with Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, starring former World War II hero and karate king Chuck Norris. Adding to the coverage are interviews with a number of their stars and along the way we encounter such one-offs as The Apple, a musical based upon the bible’s Adam and Eve story; Body and Soul, a boxing film including Muhammad Ali in the cast. Lady Chatterley’s Lover with the sex-starved heroine portrayed by Dutch soft-porno queen Sylvia Kristel; Hercules starring Lou Ferrigno, later to become The Incredible Hulk; and The Naked Face, in which Roger Moore attempts to shake off his James Bond image by playing a Chicago psychoanalyst. A great read; we can’t wait for volumes II and III. By Mary Moore Mason (Buy it here.)

50 Rappers Who Changed the World (Hardie Grant Books)

RRP: $14.99

Author: Candace McDuffie

Although rap did not become prominent in the USA until the 1970s when it first appeared in New York City, this book explains it actually had been popular in West Africa for centuries in the form of stories told to the background of drum beats. In our own time it has reflected the suffering, inequities, and anger of the Black communities. In fact, the only white rapper featured in this 112-page, hard-cover book is Eminem, who not only won an Oscar for his original song “Lose Yourself” in the 75th annual Academy Awards but also starred in 8 Mile, a film about his life.

Each star is introduced in a double-page spread, the left side solely in text written by music journalist and Under the Radar writer Candace McDuffie and the right a portrait of the rapper by illustrator Michele Rosenthal. Thus we learn more about the life, time and accomplishments of the likes of Biggie, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, and the Notorious B.I. G. In spite of the misogyny which has long been a point of conflict among rappers and their audiences, there are also numerous top female rappers such as MC Lyte, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, and Queen Latifah—who moved on to have her own TV sitcom, daytime talk show, and to star in a number of films, winning Screen Actor Guild and Golden Globes awards and becoming the first rapper to host the Grammy awards.

Of course she is not the only rapper to receive prominence outside their fields. Kendrick Lamar is a Pulitzer Prize-winning emcee who produced and curated the soundtrack to Marvel’s 2018 blockbuster film Black Panther; the late Tupac Shakur was an acclaimed poet, emcee and actor; and the controversial Kanye West not only married into the multi-faceted Kardashianclan but also ran for U.S. President in 2020. (Buy it here.) By Mary Moore Mason

On the Record: Music Journalists on Their Lives, Craft, and Careers (University of Massachusetts Press)

RRP: $22.95

Author: Mike Hilleary

This is the ideal book for Under the Radar readers as it was written by one of Under the Radar’s regular contributors, Mike Hilleary, and includes numerous quotes from the magazine’s co-publishers Mark and Wendy Redfern as well as from another regular contributor Matt Fink.

In each chapter the author presents a different topic and encourages his 52 selected writers, all prominent music journalists, to present their thoughts on the subject. They begin with a tribute to music as “one of the few art forms that includes itself in memory. You hear a song or you hear a record and somehow you are right back where you first heard it.”

The writers are then invited to discuss their introduction to music, what inspired them to go into music journalism, the challenge of interviewing top performers and criticizing their music; the relative merits of print and digital coverage, music journalism as a career. and what music does and why it matters. The music journalists include Rob Sheffield, Jessica Hopper, Ann Powers, Chuck Klosterman, Amanda Petrusich, Hanif Abdurraqib, Lindsay Zoladz, Jayson Greene, Jack Rabid, Josh Jackson, and many others.

Definitely a must-buy for those who want to learn more about the background, accomplishments and viewpoints of their favorite music journalists. (Buy it here.) By Mary Moore Mason

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