Sketch's Suggested Reading List

  • The C Programming Language : ANSI C Version
    by Brian W. Kernighan, Dennis M. Ritchie
    Published by Prentice Hall

    The process is simple: You make a little money, but not a lot, or you make no money, and want to make a lot. Well, you like computers, you like playing TIM, you might even like building things on TIM, and coding them to do neat stuff. Well, here's your foot in the door. Pick up the Kernighan-Ritchie, read it a little but mostly go grab other people's code and use this book as reference when you don't understand what's being done, learn the basics of C code, practice and practice, make interesting stuff, start having a knowing eye when reading the source of stuff you download, and voila! Soon you're coding your OWN stuff, you move to the platform of choice (Windows, Solaris, Linix), and you shop yourself around and eventually you buy a really really nice house with a beautiful study and a kick-butt computer and this book is on the shelf. Does it get simpler than that?

    This book does NOT teach you C. What it does do is provide a handy, well-written reference guide created by the guys who created C. And that's a great thing to have. I'm still learning C, and every once in a while, I read through the book again trying to understand all the concepts presented. Now THAT's fun!

  • Understanding Comics
    by Scott McCloud
    Published by Kitchen Sink Press

    Mr. McCloud takes on the unbelievably daunting task of having to explain the genesis, history, science, and art of comics, bring it into a contemporary context, and provide the reader with the tools to look towards the future of this medium. Surprisingly, he does not emerge from this narrative a bleeding, gibbering wreck, but instead brings you through the whole book without a spot of boredom or pettiness. He's witty, he's really thought out the entire process of comics, and he brings a bushel of great ideas right to your table. You'll come away from this book feeling like you can critique and digest with the best of them, and you'll never look at comic books the same way again. Oh, and it's a comic book.

  • Araki Tokyo Lucky Hole : Tokyo Lucky Hole
    by Nobuyoshi Araki
    Published by Taschen America Llc

    The Toyko Lucky Hole is a painted piece of wood or plastic with a female form on it, with a strategically placed hole containing god-knows-what on the other side. Skanky? Disturbing? Alluring? Well, whatever response you have, you're going to have it for 690+ pages of stark black-and-white photographs from the Tokyo sex industry of 1980-1983. The photographer, Nobuyoshi Araki (or just "Araki", as he's known in Japan) chooses all sorts of strange tangental aspects of porn and sex-based businesses, and presents them with absolutely no running commentary. There's a nice pretentious dozen or so pages of text at the end of this book, but it was written by someone else and goes WAY too much into the semiotics of Araki being in his own photographs and the "role" that his camera plays in the taking of the pictures. Skip this drivel; the questions they raise are the same of ANY documentary. What matters here is the feeling you get browsing page after page of restaurants, bordellos, showers, strip joints, geisha bars, slave/bondage dungeons, and, of course, the TOKYO LUCKY HOLE! I can't even say it's even all that arousing; what it is for me, however, is compelling; you just wander from place to place, seeing all the cultural aspects of Japan twisted into specific kinks and twists of the human condition. Not even all of the pictures are necessarily dirty, either; one sad photograph comes at the end of a series covering a party with prostitutes, and just shows the sun risen grey over an endless landscape of tokyo buildings. For me, compelling.

  • The Tree House Book
    by David Stiles
    Published by Avon Books

    The kind of book that still inspires my imagination a decade and a half after I first found it. I can't guarantee they still package it this way, but the copy I have is spiral bound, on brown construction paper, with just drawing after drawing of neat tree-house ideas. Stiles presents his handwritten, handdrawn subject with humor and grace, and halfway through this book, you want to BUILD ONE. I did, and man did it suck, this complete mess nailed into several poor trees out in the woods. But I tried! And I had fun trying! And that's what this book is about. Fun, dreams, and trying to make the world even more fun than it is.

    Great for kids, or the kid in you with the nails and hammer and 15 2x4's.

  • Hajime Sorayama
    Sorayama Call in Beauties
    Sexy Robot
    The Gynoids
    by Hajime Sorayama

    Since this is in fact a world of misery where people always long for what they haven't got while ignoring the wonderful things the DO have, let me state that I truly envy Hajime Sorayama. This guy has been around since the mid-seventies, drawing incredibly realistic chrome and skin images, bringing together a shining industrial look with a pin-up sexiness. While there are no doubt other people in the world with the ability to render as well as this guy does, I haven't seen anyone with his degree of playfulness or wit when rendering dozens of scantily clad women and robots.

    All of these books are horrendously expensive, but they're a joy to look at. Some of them are filled with self-important art critics text bordering around his images. Screw them! Look at the images. They truly speak for themselves.

    If you're trying to decide which of these books to go with, don't worry. Essentially, we're talking about the same book, except for The Gynoids, which is the really bizzare book where Sorayama goes back to some previous images he's done for pay, and resprays them with fetish and from-the-darkness-of-his-mind kind of add-ons. Women gain hatches, robots drip honey, that kind of thing. It should be a great (and expensive!) coda to your Sorayama collection, which I guarantee you will not regret owning for ONE SECOND. Well, unless mom stops by and finds it.

  • Sandman : Preludes and Nocturnes
    Sandman : The Doll's House
    Sandman : Fables and Reflections
    Sandman : Brief Lives
    Sandman : Worlds' End
    Sandman : A Game of You
    Sandman : Season of Mists
    Sandman : Dream Country
    Sandman : The Kindly Ones
    Sandman : The Wake
    By Neil Gaiman, et al

    You know a book series is good when, while reading, you have to put it down at stare at a wall. Neil Gaiman had done some piecemeal work for DC, writing for a couple books, and then he chose a completely obscure character in the DC line, the Sandman, and began to weave this completely bizzare tale of the Lord of Dreams, a being that outlives gods, and who lords over a separate plane where people travel to in dreams. And then it gets even more expansive. By the end of this series (10 thick books, hundreds of pages, and hundreds of dollars later), you're barely able to catch your breath as Gaiman just keeps stretching things further and further.

    This is one of those series where you want to reach into your magic bovine book-reviewing hat (well, I do, anyway) and just come out with the most spectacular words to describe it. Believe me. It's as close to perfect as that genre gets.

  • Batman : The Dark Knight Returns
    by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley
    Published by Warner Books

    Here's the book that caused the rebirth in comics. NO DON'T ARGUE. It's a Batman story, yes, but Batman is middle aged and he's been retired for a decade. Of course, the world has gotten more sucky as time has gone on, and now we're on the brink of war and gangs rule the streets and Bruce Wayne is going bazoo because he wants to fix the world. So, well, guess what.

    The book is incredibly engaging, and the writing is superb, and you really come away from the thing with this rich feeling of having been told a STORY, a real kick-ass tale. If you've never liked comic books, you might really like this one, because it's one of the first mainstream comics that could be called a "graphic novel". (By the way, there've been TONS of graphic novels in our past, but read "first" as "sold well".) A great way to spend a couple evenings.

  • Watchmen
    by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
    Published by Warner Books

    Often called "The Last Comic Book", this monster of a graphic novel takes the whole idea of masked avengers, costumed criminals, and superheros, and turns it soundly on it's head. Not only that,, but it forces the head into the ground and jumps up and down on it going "Whoo hoooooo! Whooo hooooo!" which is, of course, both terrifying and fascinating at the same time.

    In summary, the book starts in a different time line, where masked crusaders have been around since the 40's (that is, comic books reflect what really happened), and takes up in the mid-80's, where heroes were declared illegal 10 years ago, and in one week they start suddenly dying. This raises the hackles of Rorschach, a psychotic crime-fighter who reigns as one of my all-time favorite literary characters. He starts to dig up on stories, old problems, old conflicts, and we learn all about what's been going on for the last 50 years. The ending is beyond belief.

    As an artist, there's some aspects of this book I'm especially cheered by. The one which I think others might dig is the "splatter" motif that shows up a couple dozen times, where the small splatter of blood on the happy face in the beginning of the book shows up again and again, the same shape seem in windows and jelly sandwiches and snow and you name it. It's the attention to little details like this that make the book a joy to read several times over. Definitely the first great and bold step to your downward spiral of comic fandom.

  • How to Read Donald Duck : Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic
    by Ariel and Mattelart, Armand Dorfman
    Published by Intl General

    I'm no fan of communism, and I'm leaving the master, R'nice, to the task of suggesting the works of Ayn Rand, but if you want a hands-down fascinating perspective on what you generally would consider the tamest of comic books, this is the book to get. Through example after example, the writers show the odd ideas and lessons that Donald Duck comics (as were distributed to the masses in Chile' in the early '70's, anyway) impart on the populace. Through their eyes, Disney comics are a tool of the Imperialist United States, stressing our innate Goodness over the freedom and glory that a communist regime would bring. The authors do this via pages and pages of fascinating insight and extremely thoughtful regard for the "meaning" behind the graphics. I certainly don't jibe with their ideas of what sort of governmental system should be in place, but they did get me to reconsider what the semiotics of Disney were pushing. (Like, why are there no parents in Donald Duck? Where do they make money? Why is Duckville 100 percent service-oriented?) Weird read, good stuff.

  • Saturday Night : A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live
    by Doug Hill, Jeff Weingrad

    When you hear about a tell-all book of a 20-year-old television show, you want to immediately pre-stamp it as banal and fannish, a result of the special access afforded by a publication to interview major players in the production. Not so with this incredible book; it starts some years before Saturday Night begins, tracing the individual paths that were being followed in individual careers, zooms through the genesis and initial conflicts of the show, and follows it up until the original producer, Lorne Michaels, wrests back control of his baby in the late 80's. It does so with stunning clarity, and intense writing. You feel like you're there, every step of the way. If you've ever been a part of a stage production or magazine, you'll feel for all the different personalities and forces prevalent in the production of the show and you'll be fascinated at what little hints of ideas gave seed to later cultural phenomenons.

    All the gossipy stuff is there: the fist fight between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase before Chase's guest hosting, Dan Ackroyd completely decimating a wall because his bong was missing, who slept with whom, etc. But beyond that, you find yourself understanding the people who worked so hard to keep the spirit of the show together even as it was falling apart, and marvel at the recurring themes of control and second-guessing by network executives (but they tell you which executives were sticking thier noses in and which were helping, creating a second layer to the soap opera) while also learning who created the coneheads and what fame did to the individual members of the troupe. It's big, it's epic, and you come away from it feeling like you KNOW this show, from the outside and now from the inside. Dazzling.

  • If at All Possible, Involve a Cow : The Book of College Pranks
    by Neil Steinberg
    Published by St. Martin's Press

    Neil Steinberg went out researching the story and history of college pranks, found out there was no tome offering the "Time-Life Book of College Pranks", and decided to write his own. He pulls it off really well; starting from the early days of colleges and padlocking entrances to lecture halls and stealing firewood, he takes us through a couple hundred years of short sheets, missing furniture, stolen statues, kidnapped mascots, and recounts examples of stories that aren't true and ones which, incredibly, are. As a big fan of college pranks, I found this book to be one amusing laugh fit after another.

    There's two really long chapters in this book; one goes into excruciating detail of all the pranks pulled at a midwestern college by two guys, one of whom went on to start Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and the other who went on, well, to die. The other chapter is a really, really long story about the Cal Tech Senior Day and the unbelievable amount of effort that goes into the tasks and mastery present at that school. I wouldn't be surprised if a 16-year-old reading that chapter suddenly feels they have to get accepted at Cal Tech.

    The spirit of the book is captured perfectly in a photograph at the beginning, just before the text kicks in. A hundred students are posed on the steps of a building, smiling, grinning, putting on that nice fake happy face so that you're captured forever in your best possible appearance. Above them, from the top of the building, a dozen people have just emptied massive containers of water upon them, and the torrent of liquid is coming down, just about to hit.