Don’t Let Us Lose Another Bookshop

Some grim news came out today regarding Notions Unlimited Bookshop, one of Australia’s favourite bookstores. Owner-operator, all round good guy, and king of all that’s spec-fic, Chuck McKenzie, announced that the bookshop is in very real danger of closing by Christmas or soon after, due to the ever rising costs of running a business.

The following is taken directly from the Notions Unlimited Bookshop‘s website:

Since the day we opened our doors, just 20 months ago, the staff and management of Notions Unlimited Bookshop have worked hard to create something more than just a specialist bookstore, and we feel genuinely proud of much that we’ve achieved during that time, such as:

# Continuing to offer a great range of publications, including the best of Australian small-press, rare and hard-to-get titles, genre classics, and latest new releases.

# Building and maintaining a reputation for friendly and knowledgeable service.

# Keeping our prices reasonable – no mean task in these days of Internet shopping and global economic downturn.

# Becoming accepted as part of the local community, plus creating an ever-growing community of our own, bringing together fans of SF, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, gaming, manga, esoteric interests and more – something we’re especially proud of, and that we hope to continue doing for a long time to come.

In order for us to reach that last goal, however, we really do need the assistance of our customers, general supporters, and Facebook subscribers at this time.

Currently, Notions Unlimited Bookshop is looking at the very real possibility of closure – if not by Christmas, then perhaps just afterwards – with the chief cause being the ever-rising cost of running the business. It’s not definite at this point, but the writing is on the wall, and this appeal is an attempt to reverse matters before it’s too late.

Our aim, therefore, is not just to increase our daily sales, but to substantially increase the number of potential customers. Previously, we have tried to boost customer numbers through signage, social media and print advertising – yet almost 80% of our customers tell us they discovered us through referral from friends, family or colleagues.

So this is exactly what we’re asking our friends and customers to do for us now – refer us!

In a nutshell, while we’d love you to pop into our shop over the next few weeks and purchase a book (or two) to help keep us afloat, what we really want you to do is tell other people about us. Jump on Twitter and Facebook, tell your friends, family, workmates, and anybody else you know who loves SF, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, manga, media tie-ins, gaming, esoteric subjects, and other such related genres, to come and check us out in person (and then tell all of their peeps!). We’re not looking for handouts – just introductions to potential customers who may help to keep us in business. And do be sure to mention to everyone you refer us to that this is all in aid of keeping Notions Unlimited Bookshop operating.

Finally, I just want to make it absolutely clear that this is a genuine appeal, not some fake ‘going out of business’ sale or marketing trick. If things don’t improve markedly for us over the next month, we will almost certainly be forced to close our doors forever. No business owner ever wants to admit that a business is failing, but there comes a time when that owner has to either quietly slide towards the inevitable, or step into the spotlight and ask for assistance. So, if you feel you can assist, and will do so, you will have the absolute gratitude of myself and my staff – as well as, hopefully, a future in which we may continue to provide you with the range, service and community you deserve.

In the meantime, a massive and heartfelt ‘thank-you’ to all of our customers, regular and casual, who have supported us already since we opened. We couldn’t have survived thus far without you.

With Thanks,

Chuck McKenzie (Chief Zombologist)
Notions Unlimited Bookshop
facebook.com/pages/Notions-Unlimited-Bookshop/
@notionsun
[email protected]

Bookshops are an endangered entity in this day and age, and whenever one closes its doors for good, we are all a little poorer for it. Don’t let this happen to Notions Unlimited Bookshop. Please help in any way you can.

Review: Witch Hunts – A Graphic History of the Burning Times

witch-hunts-a-graphic-history-of-the-burning-timesWitch Hunts – A Graphic History of the Burning Times
By Rocky Wood & Lisa Morton
Illustrated by Greg Chapman
Publisher: McFarland
Paperback, 186 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7864-6655-9

Blurb: For three centuries, as the Black Death rampaged through Europe and the Reformation tore the Church apart, tens of thousands were arrested as witches and subjected to torture and execution, including being burned alive. This graphic novel examines the background; the witch hunters’ methods; who profited; the brave few who protested; and how the Enlightenment gradually replaced fear and superstition with reason and science. Famed witch hunters Heinrich Kramer, architect of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, and Matthew Hopkins, England’s notorious “Witchfinder General”, are covered as are the Salem Witch Trials and the last executions in Europe.

Way back when I had just started High School I discovered, in the library, graphic novel versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. There were also graphic novels of the life of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. They were brilliant. They not only introduced me to wealth of historical figures and to Shakespeare’s genius but they cut through all the hard work of the original texts. They presented art and history in a visual way that made the past exciting and interesting. It is something that stuck with me. It is something that helped pave the way for my own journey to becoming a writer and illustrator.

What has ‘Witch Hunts – A Graphic History of the Burning Times‘ to do with this?

Well, I think they’re much the same. On opening ‘Witch Hunts…‘ for the first time, I was struck with a wave of nostalgia. Like I was that little kid in the school library, just now pulling down one more book after all these years. Within a couple of pages —  or maybe it was only a couple of panels — I was hooked.

Witch Hunts – A Graphic History of the Burning Times‘ begins with a brief introduction, an overview that sets the direction and tone of the work. There’s a bit of time-jumping in the chronology of this section, but bear with it. ‘Witch Hunts…‘ very soon settles into a detailed chronological telling of ‘The Burning Times’ (roughly 14th to 18th centuries) and beyond to the horrors still perpetrated around the world today.

A couple of things struck me about ‘Witch Hunts…’. Firstly, the obvious knowledge of the authors is there in every word. It was sort of amazing to me, as I read, to see how much history they’d encapsulated within such short bites. To distil all that information down to just a few words shows a real depth and understanding of the subject matter. Also, I felt I learnt more, retained more, and enjoyed it more than I ever have any history text-book. HWA President Rocky Wood and Bram Stoker Award winning author Lisa Morton really have to be congratulated on achieving such a feat.

Secondly, the artwork by Queensland author/illustrator Greg Chapman is spot on for the work. The style is not that of the modern ‘comic’ — all mood, bold blacks filling 80% of a panel — but much more what I remember from those old Illustrated Classics in the library — less chiaroscuro, more detail, more character. Again, as with the authors, the research that must have gone into each and everyone of Chapman’s illustrations is mind boggling. To be honest, I’m no expert on any of this stuff, but every page looks authentic. The clothing, the hairstyles, all the little objects in the background. They mesh perfectly with the narrative, really drawing you into the stories that Wood and Morton are telling.

The overall narrative is one we’re all familiar with through the culture of horror-literature and -cinema: that despicable period of inhumanity that began with the Spanish Inquisition and spread as Witch Hunts and Witch Trials throughout Europe and the New World. But Wood, Morton and Chapman take us beyond that; back to the religious and biblical origins of ‘Witchcraft’ as an evil and as a sin in the introduction, then later beyond the 18th Century. They also delve deeper. They offer up an onslaught of historical events and incidents. Grotesque images by Chapman. Individual things that happened to individual people, and these people had names. Sure, I’d sort of read and seen TV docos on the sort of things that the Catholic Church did in the 15th Century, or what occurred in Salem. But never before has this history been shown to me on such a personal level. As I said, these people had names, and now I know some of them. That has to bring anyone closer to history, doesn’t it? Gets you right in there, and you begin to really understand what these people went through. Isn’t that what learning history is all about?

That’s where ‘Witch Hunts – A Graphic History of the Burning Times‘ really worked for me. It showed me stories of real people. All the horror and the torment they went through and all the madness of the people who’d condemned them. It certainly is graphic — Chapman’s illustrations are often more uncompromisingly gruesome than the text — but it serves to show a truth about our past that we should not shy from. In light of some of the religious and political events happening around the world today, remembering that truth seems, to me, an especially important thing.

Ultimately, ‘Witch Hunts – A Graphic History of the Burning Times‘ is informative in a way few non-fiction works are, and it’s great-looking too! Definitely a worthwhile addition to any horror reader’s or writer’s library.

Giants #1 (of 5) – review by Greg Chapman

giantsGiants #1 (of 5), Phatsville Comix, 2012

Written and Illustrated by John Stewart.

28 pages, black and white, colour cover

Cover price: $AUD8.00

Available from Ace Comics and Comic Warriors in Brisbane and Pulp Fiction Comics in Adelaide.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Phatsville-Comix/71645272100

Australian comics have produced some real gems in recent years, like Sherlock Holmes: The Dark Detective, Eek and Changing Ways to name just a few. Created by dedicated artists and writers in lounge rooms and garages across the country, these comics might not have the financial backing of the big comics’ publishers, but the vision and passion of the artists is just as strong.

Phatsville Comix is no exception.

In between reading entries for the Australian Shadows Awards, I managed to read the first issue of a new comic from Phatsville – Giants, written and illustrated by one of the publisher’s founders, John Stewart.

Giants is a really cool concept, sort of Clash of the Titans in a post-apocalyptic Edwardian landscape. The world has become overrun by giants and while many simply hide from them in fear, there are others who choose to hunt them.

I really enjoyed this comic. It had a rich and dark atmosphere. Stewart has a unique drawing style which has just the right balance of light and shadow and his character design has a real Hieronymus Bosch feel to it.

The story was intriguing, with just enough mystery to make you want to read more and there are also some very nicely drawn action scenes and splash pages.

If there is one downside, it’s in the text, but nothing that couldn’t be prevented by some preliminary editing.

Overall this was a fine start to what could be a memorable limited series and it’s great to see Phatsville taking a more mainstream approach to its comics.

Review by Greg Chapman