Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dark Visions and Internet Artistry: 'Literature at the Margins' Comes to Washington College

Chestertown, MD — A Chestertown native, author of science fiction and historical mystery who doubles as a staff writer for the Kent County News. An Indian-American scholar who is one of the leading authorities on 20th-century horror icon H.P. Lovecraft and other masters of the macabre. A pair of internet-based artists at the forefront of the webcomics scene. This unique assemblage of notable talents—Peter J. Heck, S.T. Joshi, Jeph Jacques and Aaron Diaz, respectively—will gather to discuss "Literature at the Margins" at Washington College's Rose O'Neill Literary House on Friday, March 21, at 6 p.m., and Saturday, March 22, at 1 p.m.

Peter Heck is the author of numerous science fiction and historical mystery works, including nearly a dozen novels. He is perhaps best known for his "Mark Twain Mysteries"—historical whodunits featuring the famous author as a detective - and his "Phule's Company" series, written in collaboration with Robert Asprin. Heck has also been an editor at Ace Books, where he edited Lynn S. Hightower and Robert J. Sawyer among others. He is the creator of the SF newsletter Xignals and its mystery equivalent Crime Times for the Waldenbooks chain.

Heck is a regular reviewer for Asimov's Science Fiction and Kirkus reviews, and has reviewed for The Washington Post. Heck earned degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins before beginning advanced grad work at Indiana, teaching at several universities, including Indiana, Temple, and Dowling College, before leaving to pursue a life of writing and editing. Heck's recent accomplishments include the editing of Harry Turtledove books for Del-Ray. Heck is currently a staff writer for the Kent County News.

Literary scholar S.T. Joshi is a leading figure in the study of H.P. Lovecraft and other authors. Besides producing what many critics consider to be the definitive Lovecraft biography (H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, winner of the 1996 Bram Stoker Award for Nonfiction), Joshi has written about the great Edwardian ghost-story authors Lord Dunsany and M.R. James, as well as other literary figures including H. L. Mencken. In addition to his biographical works, Joshi has written a number of books charting the evolution of the weird tale via its most significant proponents in each era. He won the International Horror Guild's awards for nonfiction in 2005 and 2006. He also has authored a significant amount of social criticism centering on themes of prejudice, political polemics and religion.

The time-honored art of the comic strip has enjoyed a booming renaissance in the cyber-age, as webcomic sites have flourished in ever-increasing numbers. Among the growing stable of internet-based sequential artists, Jeph Jacques is a standout. His "Questionable Content" ("QC") site, featuring the ongoing saga of a hapless (and universally recognizable) group of post-collegiate indie-hipster types, melds a deceptively simple drawing style with wry insights into American twentysomething culture.

"QC is tremendously fulfilling for me, mainly because I know I'm doing the best I can with it at any given point," Jacques said in an interview with Comixpedia. "The fact that so many other people seem to enjoy it and identify with the characters and laugh at the jokes is a nice bonus, but I'd still be doing the comic even if nobody was paying any attention. If it wasn't worth it I wouldn't do it."

A similar success story can be found in the career of Aaron Diaz who, already at the age of 24, is making a full-time living from his popular webcomic "Dresden Codak." It must have been with great pleasure that the young writer-illustrator was able to declare on October 26, 2007, "I have decided to go full-time with the comic. My regular day job ends in a week."

"Dresden Codak" has won or been nominated for several Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards in the last couple of years. An intoxicating stew of science, philosophy and comic artistry, "Dresden Codak" riffs on theories from postmodernism, quantum physics and psychology, putting its characters through a surreal "celebration of science, death and human folly," as Diaz describes it. "Not only is Diaz's art top-notch, but it's backed up by some great writing," raved Webcomicgeek.

Admission to both sessions of "Literature at the Margins" at the Rose O'Neill Literary House is free and open to the public.

March 10, 2008

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