A comic, a book, and a crazy weird instrument
A scene from Pretty Deadly
A scene from Pretty Deadly

A comic, a book, and a crazy weird instrument

Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations

Pretty Deadly, volume one
Lately I’ve cast myself headlong into my nearest comic-book stores, buying things left and right without really knowing what the numbers on the covers mean. I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks, I swear, and in the meantime, made some very exciting discoveries. Pretty Deadly is old news for comic-book fans—Oliver Sava reviewed the first issue last October—but as someone who is getting into serialized comics before they get adapted into movies and miniseries, it’s a revelation. Pretty Deadly is a story of the magical, folklorish Wild West—something like Deadwood’s take on the Western, but with the supernatural, too. It’s a blend of history, character drama, and mysticism that reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or Showtime’s latest Penny Dreadful. Best of all is the scattered, sweeping way that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos tell this story: a palette of impressions and moments, an atmosphere built with pastiche. Never has horror been quite so... pretty. The series finished volume one in April, meaning you can read it all in one go; you can also buy the issues directly from Image Comics or from your local comics retailer. [Sonia Saraiya]

The theorbo
The baroque was an era of awkward, ungainly musical instruments: 10-stringed guitars the size of ukuleles; violins without chin rests; oboes curved like French horns; six-stringed, fretted, upright viola da gambas, played with the bow held in an underhand grip; assorted viols that resemble pieces of lacquered wood cut into random shapes and festooned with as many strings and pegs as possible. Even by the standards of the time, the theorbo (also known as a chitarrone) was a monster. Over six feet long, with an average of 15 strings, it was the T. rex alpha predator of the lute family. Its distinctive sound is sharper and more percussive than a guitar, with rich overtones. During its heyday in the late 17th century, plenty of beautiful music was written for the theorbo as both as solo and ensemble instrument. (Baroque musicians sat close together and performed in small spaces, which sounds like a recipe for slapstick comedy. I can picture it: The theorbist knocks the viola da gamba player’s wig off his head, fisticuffs ensue, the lid of the harpsichord slams down on someone’s fingers…) One of the greatest theorbo composers was Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger. Last month, I snagged Rolf Lislevand’s 1994 recording, Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger: Libro Quatro d’Intavolatura Di Chitarone, and have been listening to it regularly ever since; I recommend checking out his rendition of the sublime “Toccata Seconda Arpeggiata,” as well as the “Ciaccona,” which showcases the theorbo in an ensemble setting. The album is out of print, but can be tracked down through libraries; additionally, someone has put it up as playlist of it on YouTube. I’ve also been listening to Pascal Monteilhet’s Robert De Visée: Les Suites Pour Théorbe, a 2007 recording of music by one of the instrument’s other great composer-innovators. The production on the latter disc isn’t meant for passive listening; there’s plenty of scrapes and string noise, and you can frequently hear Monteilhet breathing. (It seems engineered to sound as though you’re listening to yourself playing the theorbo.) Though a physical copy will set you back about $60, there are always libraries and YouTube, which is full of cool professor types getting their theorbo on. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Creativity: The Perfect Crime by Philippe Petit
This spring saw two books about creativity titled Creativity released within a month of each other: Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull wrote Creativity, Inc. (which is, in essence, a book about managing creative types) and Philippe Petit (Man On Wire) released Creativity: The Perfect Crime. Petit begins his book on creativity by denouncing books on creativity and follows that up with a treatise about the invitation of a blank page and a lengthy “interview with himself.” Yet readers willing to wade past the self-adulation will find a both a philosophical memoir and an examination on the nature of a creator—specifically why creating requires an outlaw mentality. He also discusses the place of craft, intuition, rehearsal, humility, observation, and faith in creativity. The drawings (also by Petit) that appear throughout the book also help give the impression that we’re reading a discarded notebook from Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the author’s heroes, rather than the musings of a man most famous for walking a tight rope between the Twin Towers 40 years ago. [Andrea Battleground]

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