Monday, June 8, 2015

Books: Scandalous

The 2015 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

When the Communist witch hunt of the 1950s drew in Hollywood, battle lines were clearly drawn. Senator Joseph McCarthy stirred up a tremendous amount of fear and paranoia over the alleged threat the Soviet Union and their Communist system of government presented to the American way of life, and within the film industry, even a casual acquaintance with the wrong someone could cost you your career. Still, actors and directors and writers were used to this form of scrutiny, in a way, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of an institution every bit as tenacious as the federal government: the paparazzi.


In this modern information age, we tend to think of TMZ, Perez Hilton, and E! as the ultimate purveyors of celebrity gossip, but in reality they're merely the latest incarnation of a system that goes back much further. Stars in other media are also prone to the unblinking eye of the tabloids, but it may be that movie stars are the most susceptible, due to the glamour and larger-than-life imagery we associate with them - and always have.

The 2004 graphic novel Scandalous, by J. Torres & Scott Chantler, delves deep into the world of Hollywood paparazzi in the time of the Red Scare, the early '50s. A work of fiction inspired by actual people and events, it has a deceptively light touch that hides a darker undercurrent.

The story follows two rival rumor-mongers: one, a former private eye who digs through Hollywood stars' garbage, sometimes literally, for an East Coast tabloid; the other, a thinly-disguised Hedda Hopper type who writes a syndicated column that dishes celebrity dirt through blind items and innuendo, with a special interest in evidence of Communist influence.

For Harry, the ex-dick, he feels unappreciated by his New York boss and wants to write, but he isn't getting the opportunity. For Paige, the columnist, she gets off on the power she has to grind an ax against the power players of the film industry while protecting her friends from potential scandals. The Red Scare changes both of their lives profoundly. Paige is a fervent supporter of the anti-Communism cause, and though her crusade puts her cozy relationship with the studios on shaky ground, she'll stop at nothing to root out the Reds. As for Harry, he sees his friends getting adversely affected by the cause and longs for a measure of control over not only his job, but his life. A decision he makes changes all of that, and puts him on a direct collision course with his more affluent rival.


J. Torres (writer), and Scott Chantler (artist)
Torres' writing uses characterization in subtle ways. A clue planted in one scene will pay off further down the road. A key visual provided by Chantler, dictated through the descriptions in Torres' script, will compliment his dialogue to give you important information about a character, as good comics do. He gives you just enough to indicate who these people are and what they're like - classic movie fans will recognize a number of disguised versions of Old Hollywood stars within Scandalous - and even if the dialogue is a bit corny at times ("You're colder than the meat in my icebox, lady"), given the 50s milieu, it doesn't seem that far out of place.

Chantler's art uses bold lines and judicious gray tones to create rubbery figures that wouldn't seem out of place in an animated cartoon. He nails the double-page spread that opens the book, random shots of Hollywood including the famous sign up in the hills, Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Brown Derby, and Schwab's Pharmacy, a layout that Old Hollywood fans will love, and will eagerly invite them into the story. I would've liked a bit more visual distinction between Paige's world (studio offices, ritzy restaurants, her fabulous mansion) and Harry's world (city streets, seedy bars, his run-down office). Chantler takes the same visual approach in rendering them both. Maybe Harry's world could look more Warner Brothers film noir and Paige's more MGM musical comedy?

There's a lot to like about Scandalous, for both the comics fan and the classic film fan. Well worth a look.

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Look for more posts in this series throughout the summer.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds fascinating. I must venture outside the familiar areas of the bookstore.

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  2. Toronto has a comic shop called The Beguiling that has an outstanding reputation. I'd start there.
    beguilingbooksandart.com

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  3. Great review. I like your suggestion of depicting the worlds of the two characters in different styles. I think that would make for a very captivating graphic novel. I feel like graphic novels dealing with old Hollywood or even this era are rare. This is quite a find!

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  4. They are rare. I have other graphic novels about Hollywood, but most of them are set in the present day. SCANDALOUS is absolutely a book made for classic film fans. I know you would enjoy it.

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