BEAR ALLEY BOOKS

BEAR ALLEY BOOKS
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Friday, August 30, 2019

Comic Cuts - 30 August 2019

We've had a relatively quiet week, starting with a quiet bank holiday. It was so warm that we found ourselves at the pub on Monday afternoon, sat outside under an umbrella on the quay watching boats go by. This was the first time I've felt relaxed in a couple of months.

One reason was due to a ridiculous mistake – or, rather, an imagined mistake –  I thought I'd make on the new book from Bear Alley. With everything finished bar a few typos that will inevitably leap out at us at the last minute, I uploaded a draft to the printers. A big, red warning appeared telling me the book was oversized for the format I wanted it printed in... and not by a smidge that could be easily fixed. This would involve re-doing the whole book.

My stomach sank... all I could think of was that instead of allowing 2.5 millimetres bleed, I'd accidentally allowed 2.5 centimetres. It was the only explanation.

Thankfully, it wasn't the only explanation. I had discussed two different sizes for the book with the authors and I'd clicked on the one we'd decided against rather than the one we eventually chose. Once I realised this, and tried uploading the book with the correct choice of paper size, it went through without any problems. This was on Monday morning, which in part explains my burning desire to have a pint – a mix of stress and relief as well as the 30°+ temperature.

We're now waiting on proof copies of the book, which is the autobiography of John Chisnall, the TT and continental Europe motorcycle and sidecar racer, who also happens to be my uncle. It has been co-written with his pal, Tony Davis, and is packed with stories and anecdotes from his riding days. It's a slightly surreal experience reading a book about a relative because, when we were growing up, we would visit John's motorcycle workshop, or see the trophies at his home, and it didn't really register that he was doing anything special. That was just the way it was.

Now, looking back from a position where I can appreciate it, he had quite an amazing career as a rider. Just goes to show how easy it is to take your family for granted.

Which leads me on to the following, which discusses some rather grisly stuff, so skip to the end if you're a bit squeamish.


Looking for something to watch that was a little different to The Boys—and with Mindhunter not out yet—I saw a recommendation for I Am the Night, a 6-parter based on the story of Patty Allman (India Eisley), raised in Sparks, Nevada, by an alcoholic, black, single mother. After an argument, Patty discovers her birth certificate… but it is in the name of Fauna Hodel. The certificate gives her mother’s name—Tamara Hodel (Jamie Anne Allman)—but her father is only listed as a unknown negro.

Believing herself to be bi-racial, she visits relatives in Los Angeles, her place of birth, and phones every Hodel in the book. This brings her into contact with Corinna Hodel (Connie Nielsen), Tamara’s step-mother, through whom she learns of her grand-father, George Hodel.

Also investigating George Hodel is Jay Singletary (Chris Pine), a photo-journalist and former Korean War veteran who deals with terrifying flashbacks and violent outbursts with drugs and alcohol. Together they discover that Tamara is living in Hawaii surrounded by her younger children, one of them named Fauna.

Already aware that George Hodel was once a suspect in both the murder of his secretary and the infamous Black Dahlia murder, the pieces gradually fit together to paint a picture of a man obsessed with surrealist art and sex, protected by powerful men whose secrets he knows.

I knew the basics of The Black Dahlia murder generally from the novel by James Ellroy and the Brian de Palma movie—or, rather, documentaries on around the time of the release of the movie. It is one of the great unsolved mysteries of America, topped only by “Who killed JFK?” and “Who was the Zodiac Killer?”. The fascination stems from the gruesome detail that her body was cut in half and displayed on a road side. That Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old dark-haired, green-eyed beauty painted by the tabloids as a woman of questionable morals (she was a “waitress with many boyfriends”), only adds to the story.

Because this is a TV series which conforms to the structure of a TV murder mystery, the initial “Who Am I?” mystery soon giving way to solving a gruesome murder, the horrifying details of the crime are easier to dismiss. Knowing that this is based on a real murder case, that George Hodel was a suspect and that Fauna Hodel did indeed only discover her relationship to the Hodel family when she was a teenager, makes it rather more uncomfortable viewing.

But even more uncomfortable is the real story of the Hodel family, of George, or Tamara and her children—who did not have the happy, smiling and sunny lives depicted in the TV series. The truth takes a strong stomach, which is what you need for Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family, an 8-part podcast dating back to last February but which I’ve only discovered in the wake of the TV series.

It is narrated by Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile, the great grand-daughters of George Hodel and includes interviews with many of the family members, including taped recordings of Fauna and Tamara, whose discussions cover Tamara’s childhood traumas and the hands of her father and his friends. Tamara would eventually take her father to court, accusing him of incest and rape, a case eventually dismissed. The cycle of abuse then continues with her children now the victims.

Against this background, Steve Hodel discusses how he began to piece together the story of his father’s connection to the Black Dahlia murder and explores the connections between the staging of the body and surrealist works by the likes of photographer Man Ray, a friend of George Hodel. The full details of the mutilations performed on Short’s body, both before and after death, are tough to hear.

If you like grisly murder shows, the TV series might be a bit lightweight, although with the added frisson that there is some truth to the events it depicts. I found it a useful stepping stone ahead of listening to Root of Evil, which, because it’s true and horrible, will make your skin crawl.

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