Author Archives: nestblog

Aesop’s Fables-in-waiting

On Nov. 11, 2014, Warren Clements wrote:

The Nestlings Press list for the spring of 2015 is shaping up nicely. One of the titles will be a collection of Aesop’s fables in verse. To be honest, a couple of them don’t seem to have been written by Aesop. They were added later by people probably trying to cash in on the Aesop cachet. Of course, since we really only have the word of the Greek historian Herodotus that Aesop existed — and that was a century after Aesop lived, first as a slave and then as a freed man — it’s a pretty tenuous cachet anyway. But let’s assume that, as later writers wrote (speculated?), he was a marvellous fable-spinner who spoke truth to power and, as a result, was pitched off a cliff by the Delphians and died. Imagine the moral Aesop might have tacked on to that one. “If you speak truth to power, you’ll pass your last hour.”

While we scramble to get the spring list in shape, here’s a sample fable that I’ve newly adapted into verse. It will look even better with the illustration (being arranged even as I write).

The Boy Who Cried Wolf


The son of a shepherd was guarding his sheep,

And grew just a tiny bit bored.

In order to stop himself falling asleep,

He climbed to a hilltop and roared:

“A wolf is attacking the sheep! Come and help!

He’s vicious, and I am afraid!”

The townspeople, hearing the shepherd boy’s yelp,

Came rushing to offer him aid.

He laughed as they scrambled, and said, “It’s a lie.

I just felt like pulling a prank.”

They grumbled and cursed him for sounding his cry,

And said his behaviour was rank.

A day or two later, the shepherd boy saw

A genuine wolf on the prowl,

With glistening teeth and a sheen on each claw.

The lad gave a terrified howl.

“A wolf! There’s a wolf! Come and give him what-for!”

But nobody paid any mind.

They figured the boy was dissembling once more,

To falsehoods and mischief inclined.

Once bitten, twice shy, they would not be deceived.

The wolf cut the flock clean in two.

The moral: A liar will not be believed,

Not even if he should speak true.

The mystery of Walter de la Mare’s Bold

It is hard to believe that the identity of a significant illustrator could vanish into the ether. Welcome to the puzzle of Bold.

Bold is probably a pseudonym. No one knows whether he or she was a he or she. All anyone knows is that he (or she) provided beautiful and imaginative wood engravings for two books by author Walter de la Mare in the 1920s: Stuff and Nonsense and Broomsticks and Other Tales.

I take such mysteries as a personal challenge, and have spent months trying to crack this nut. It doesn’t help that “Bold” is an impossible name to pursue with Google, since all one gets are paeans to “bold illustrators.” One site suggests that Bold is an illustrator named Alan Bold, but there is no demonstrable connection. Another speculates that Bold was a German artist (Boldt), but goes no further.

The hunt shouldn’t be this hard. De la Mare was a famous writer in his day, and the subject of several biographies. You’d think that one of those books would reveal Bold’s identity. You would be wrong. I devoured a few of them at the local library, and came away with zilch. Was the artist de la Mare himself, or the writer’s close friend, or an established illustrator who chose to remain anonymous, or a promising artist who died too soon or chose a different career path – guarding state secrets, perhaps? The biographies were of no help.

In pressing the case, I was inspired by a thin book I picked up four decades ago in London, where it was gasping for breath on a crowded shelf in the musty basement of a bookstore near the British Library. The book itself, published in 1930, was nothing extraordinary: Ghosts Grave and Gay, a series of reflections on London’s past by E.P. Leigh-Bennett. But tucked inside the front cover were several letters from and to a fellow named Stanley Scott, who owned the book in 1950 and sought to decipher a Bold-like puzzle.

The book was deftly illustrated in pen and ink, but the artist was given no credit. So Scott wrote to the author’s widow, Dorothy Leigh-Bennett, who replied that she didn’t know who had illustrated the book but that Scott should contact Harold Curwen of the Curwen Press, which had published the book. Trouble was, Harold Curwen had died a year earlier.

Scott sent off letters to a couple of leading illustrators in the hope one of them might have been the mystery artist. Douglas Percy Bliss said he wasn’t responsible, but “I am glad to find someone who cares deeply enough about illustration to go to such trouble.” Albert Rutherston similarly replied that he wasn’t the guy, but suggested that “you write my nephew Oliver Simon at the Curwen Press. He is certain to know.”

Simon responded that he would love to help, but there was a hitch. “We lost a number of our file copies when we were blitzed [during the Second World War] and, as a result, have no copy of Ghosts Grave and Gay.” Scott accordingly sent Simon his copy, and Simon came up with the answer. “The illustrations are by Miss Celia Fiennes, who is now Mrs. Noel Rooke.” (Noel Rooke, an artist himself, had been Celia’s instructor.)

Inspired by Scott’s resolve, I have consulted innumerable friends with a deep interest in illustration and deeper shelves of books about illustrators. No one knew about Bold. I wrote a letter to Constable & Robinson Ltd., the successor to Constable & Company, which published the original books in which Bold’s work appeared. A representative wrote back that “unfortunately we do not have any information regarding these titles,” and that any company archives that might shed light on the situation were packed away and would not permit easy access.

Okay, I said. Let’s try closer to the source. Walter de la Mare’s grandson Giles has his own publishing firm in England. In fact, Giles de la Mare Publishers has published Short Stories for Children, an impressive volume of his grandfather’s work that includes many of Bold’s illustrations. Surely he would know.

Giles de la Mare was kind enough to answer my letter, but he too was stumped. “Very mysterious. I too have tried to find out who he/she was, but I have also drawn a blank, even in the correspondence and in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s database for illustrators.”

That even Walter de la Mare’s correspondence doesn’t illuminate the puzzle of Bold is dispiriting. After all, Stephen Leacock was blessed with an illustrator named Fish, another un-Googleable name, and he didn’t hesitate to mention her in his letters. (I refuse to let the fact that Anne Harriet Fish was rather well known sully my point.)

The clock is running out on the chance that someone is still alive who might have known Bold in the 1920s, but hope springs, if not eternal, then at least for another year or two. If the identity of Deep Throat – the secret source used by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to bring down U.S. president Richard Nixon – could be revealed as Mark Felt by Felt himself decades after the Watergate scandal, there may be hope that someone, somewhere, will tell the world about Bold.

Posterity demands it. Well, I do, anyway. Please. I have other work to do.

Comic book fair in Toronto May 10/11

On Saturday and Sunday, May 10 and 11, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival takes over Toronto’s Metro Reference Library, located on Yonge a block above Bloor. Hundreds of cartoonists, illustrators and graphic novelists will show off their wares. Nestlings Press will have a table to introduce the new collection of Nestlings comic strips, Third Time’s The Charm. Philip Street will drop by at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, to sign copies of the collection of his Fisher comic strip, When Tom Met Alison. We will also have copies of the collection of Anthony Jenkins’s Globe and Mail caricatures, A Fine Line. The book fair takes place from 9 to 5 on Saturday and from 11 to 5 on Sunday. Admission is free. Hope to see you there.

New Nestlings collection almost here

Warren Clements writes (April 10/14):
Today I was shown the first glued copy of Third Time’s the Charm: A Nestlings Collection, a 120-page compilation of the comic strip I used to do for The Globe and Mail. Nestlings Press will be showing it off on May 9 and 10 at a table at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, a free event that takes over the Metro Toronto Reference Library on Yonge a block above Bloor. Other Nestlings Press books for sale that weekend will be Philip Street’s When Tom Met Alison: A Fisher Collection and Anthony Jenkins’s A Fine Line: The Caricatures of Anthony Jenkins. Both artists are expected to pop in during the comic arts fair to say hello and, if asked, sign copies of their books.

How to Get to Heaven and Back soon to arrive

Warren Clements writes (April 4, 2014):

How to Get to Heaven and Back, a subject I’ve been gnawing at for years, is almost off to the printers. It’s a 144-page, 5-by-8-inch movie book, about films in which people die, go to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory/Limbo, and return to Earth. (Think of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, A Matter of Life and Death and Defending Your Life. Not to mention Oh! Heavenly Dog and Little Nicky.)
Films about the Grim Reaper, God or Satan visiting Earth, resurrection (though not demonic possession) and angels made the cut, but films about vampires (undead), zombies and mummies (immortal) didn’t. Ghost films fill a lengthy chapter, but honestly, you could write a ten-volume series and still not cover all of them. To complicate matters, it’s not always clear whether particular ghosts have gone to Heaven or Hell and returned, or whether they have stayed on Earth to do their ghostly business. I ducked the issue.
There is a brief bibliography in the book, but many more titles could have been included. In the interest of completeness, I’ll paste them here. Thanks to YouTube, a miraculous way of finding material that is otherwise unavailable. (I would rather pay the copyright owners for a DVD of You Never Can Tell than see it piecemeal on the Web, but the option wasn’t there.) I got ideas from the Toronto International Film Festival program books, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and other film guides listed below. The AFI video series The Directors gave me lines from Terry Gilliam. Other aids:
The Best Old Movies for Families, by Ty Burr (2007, Anchor Books)
Doug Pratt’s DVD-Video Guide, by Douglas Pratt (as well as his DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter, a labour of love that ran for years and from which the guide was compiled)
Blaxploitation Cinema, by Josiah Howard, although I ended up not focusing on demonic-possession films (Abby) or vampire films (Blacula).
Chicks on Film, by Gabrielle Cosgriff, Anne Reifenberg and Cynthia Thomas (Avon Books, 1998)
Films in Review, by John Esposito
From Cyd Charisse to Psycho, by Dale Thomajan (1992, Walker & Co.)
Halliwell’s Hundred, by Leslie Halliwell (1984, Paladin Books), source of the Halliwell quote in How to Get to Heaven and Back.
The Handbook series (print-on-demand monographs from Tebbo), including The Cate Blanchett Handbook (Debra Farber), The Jeff Bridges Handbook (Karen Reynoso), The Julia Roberts Handbook (Ellen Woolsey) and The Nicole Kidman Handbook (sorry, no record of author)
The Hollywood Book of Love, by James Robert Parish
Home Movies: Tales from the Canadian Film World, by Martin Knelman (1987, Key Porter Books)
Hong Kong Babylon: An Insider’s Guide to the Hollywood of the East, by Frederic Dannen and Barry Long (1997), although I scaled back the section on ghost films (A Chinese Ghost Story, A Chinese Erotic Ghost Story)
If You’re Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble, by Joe Queenan (1994, Hyperion)
Ken and Em, by Ian Shuttleworth (1994), source of the note about turning colour to black-and-white in Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again
Levinson on Levinson, ed. David Thompson (a book of interviews with Barry Levinson)
(More Than) 20 Questions About Angels I Can’t Answer, an article by Lynda Barry in Self magazine (December, 1997)
The Movie Guide, by James Pallot (1995 ed.)
The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies (1999, Avon Books)
The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood’s Worst, by John Wilson (2005). Wilson founded the Golden Raspberry Awards, commonly called the Razzies.
The Pocket Essential John Carpenter, by Colin Odell and Michelle La Blanc (2001, Pocket Essentials)
The Pocket Essential Steven Spielberg, by James Clarke (Pocket Essentials)
The Psychotronic Video Guide, by Michael J. Weldon (1996, St. Martin’s Griffin)
The Rough Guide to Horror Movies, by Alan Jones (2005, Rough Guides)
The Rough Guide to Kids’ Movies, by Paul Simpson (2004, Rough Guides)
Talking Pictures: With the People Who Made Them, by Sylvia Shorris and Marion Abbott (1994)
Total Film magazine’s 50 Greatest Interviews
The VideoHound series of books from Visible Ink Press, especially VideoHound’s Video Premieres (Mike Mayo), VideoHound’s World Cinema (Elliot Wilhelm), VideoHound’s Sci-Fi Experience, VideoHound’s Epics (Glenn Hopp) and VideoHound’s Horror Show (Mike Mayo).
Video Trash and Treasures II, by L.A. Morse (1990, HarperCollins Publishers)
Your Movie Sucks, by Roger Ebert (2007)

Rob Ford’s enemies list

(posted Feb. 23/14)
Much about the saga of Toronto Mayor (in name, at least) Rob Ford intrigues me, but his latest salvo is particularly appropriate. He has created an enemies list: a list of 17 city councillors whom he wants his supporters to defeat in the fall election. The most famous enemies list was that of U.S. president Richard Nixon, who compiled the names of all the media, political and other types against whom he bore an unending grudge. Like Mr. Ford, Nixon was undone by video technology and lost all his powers halfway through his term. Role models R Us.

Farewell, Book City (Bloor near Bathurst branch)

Warren Clements writes (Jan. 19/14):

Elsewhere on this site, you will read that Nestlings Press’s books may be found in the branch of Book City near Bathurst on Bloor Street West in Toronto. No more, alas. This past week brought the devastating news that, after decades in business, that particular bookstore is closing. The other Book City branches will remain open.

My memories of the store stretch back to the 1980s, when I would haul copies of two collections of the Nestlings comic strip up the rickety wooden stairs to the second floor of the shop, to leave them on consignment. The atmosphere was sublime — all those books, all those readers browsing the shelves — and the staff members were helpful and interested. Thanks to John and all the others who have made recent forays so enjoyable, and best of luck to them as they navigate the increasingly cruel waters of this industry.

Book City isn’t alone, of course. World’s Biggest Bookstore is closing. And Steven Temple Books on Queen is in the final couple of days of selling off its stock of used and rare books before closing down. (Steven says he will resume selling elsewhere in Ontario, but probably from his home rather than through a store.)

The usual suspects are to blame: the high cost of renewing leases, the competition from, the fact that too few people have been buying books from bricks-and-mortar outlets to keep the stores alive. If you care about such things, and haven’t been in a bookstore recently, you might consider making a pilgrimage (if in Toronto) to one of the other Book Citys, or Ben McNally Books on Bay, or Ten Editions (used books) south of Bloor on Spadina, or TheatreBooks on Spadina north of King, or The Beguiling (illustrated books, graphic novels) on Markham Street near Bathurst and Bloor, or Sellers and Newel (used books) on College near Shaw, or whatever other surviving havens for the printed word are within easy travelling distance of your home. The sellers will be glad to see you, and you’ll always find something of value to carry home.

Books on the Way

(Filed Jan. 19, 2014)
Nestlings Press is working on a couple of books that, if the stars align and books on paper have not gone the way of the buggy whip, will be out in mid-spring.
One is a wry but factual look at all those movies and TV series in which characters die, go to Heaven or Hell, and return to Earth in human or animal form. You wouldn’t believe how many there are. The title: How to Get to Heaven and Back.
The other is Third Time’s the Charm: A Nestlings Collection, a 120-page 8-by-8 compilation of Warren Clements’s comic strip Nestlings, which ran in The Globe and Mail in the 1980s and 90s. The appendix will include strips done in the past couple of years. None of the strips appeared in two earlier books published by Sylvan Press (Nestlings First Flight, Nestlings Return Flight).

A-wassailing, ready or not

Warren Clements writes (Dec. 28):
I was invited to rewrite a few Christmas carols for the Dec. 24 editorial page of The Globe and Mail. Here they are, with a couple of extras (Bowie, twerking) that didn’t fit into the space. Hope you enjoy them.
Oh come, get your Ford fill,
Boorish and exultant.
Comfy, get co-omfy
And watch his defence.
All’s super-duper
’Xcept that drunken stu-upor.
Oh, crumbling lies before him,
A crack in his decorum.
“How dare you take my quo-orum?”
Cri-ies the Ford.
Oh come, it’s a Ford fest.
Chortle and take umbrage.
Comedy, tragedy –
The line is so fine.
Mayor of Toronto,
Spotting new foes da-aily.
“Oh come, let us appall them.
And then we’ll robo-call them.
If they ask questions, stall them,”
Cri-ies the Ford.

I saw three billion bucks float off
On Harper’s watch, on Harper’s watch,
And no one knows just where they went,
So says the Auditor-Gen’ral.
Though earmarked for sec-ur-i-ty,
When came the dawn, the cash was gone.
Three billion bucks went “poof !” – tough luck.
Next question, Auditor-Gen’ral.

The first Nobel
For Canada’s lit
Went to Alice Munro for
The short tales she’s writ –
A field in which
She’s proven a pro.
There is no secret pla-ace
Her pen will not go.
Nobel, Nobel, Nobel, Nobel.
Fire up the printing press. Watch her books sell.

Docked in space with howls of Bowie,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hadfield put on quite a show free.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Higher than the holiest cleric.
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Space, though, is not atmospheric.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

We three souls all senators are,
Battling moves to boot us afar.
Harper named us. Now he’s blamed us.
Feathers he brings, and tar.
Oh, oh…
Claimed expenses. Chits we banked.
Senate colleagues had us yanked.
What we’ve got here
Showed there’s rot here.
Surely we three should be thanked.

Whose child is this who leads the Grits,
Whose hair is wild and wa-avier?
Once on the ropes, the party hopes
That Justin is its saviour.
This, this is youth with style,
A blankish slate with charming smile.
Grits pray his feet aren’t clay,
And please don’t say, “Just watch me.”

Kathleen Wynne says let’s look past
All the feats of Dalton.
Never mind the sins amassed,
Wounds to rub more salt in.
Sure, when we killed gas-fired plants,
Spent a needless billion.
But no need to look askance.
Stopped short of a zi-illion.

In its twelfth fray, the Commons
Was truly sad to see:
Leaden responses,
Ten-dentious language,
Non-answers given,
Ate all the time up,
Sedentary clappers
Sicced on the public –
Fie, glib harangues.
Forestalling words,
True te-di-um,
From the front bench, all response-free.

Silent knight
Nigel Wright
Held his tongue
Out of sight.
Round him, versions,
Mysteries flew.
People wonder just
What Harper knew.
Piece by harrowing pi-iece.
Gleaning the truth piece by piece.

“Heck,” the harried users swear,
“We can’t get Obamacare.
Can’t get access to the site,
Though we tried for half the night.”
Programs falter, systems fa-ail.
Hear the angry critics rail.
“Health insurance? Work this slack
Could bring on a heart attack.
Was this mess bought off the shelf?
Programmer, please heal thyself.”

Twerking – when did this break out?
Feast on Miley Cyrus.
Tongue extended, wearing nowt,
Clearly she’s no prioress.
Backing into Robin Thicke,
Smoking up in Europe.
And – a rather public trick –
Wrecking ball lifts he-er up.

O little coin of yesteryear,
How empty lies the till.
The humble cent is gone. It went
To join the dollar bill.
The two cents’ worth we offered,
The penny for our thoughts,
In use no more. Yet in our drawer
We still have lots and lots.

Away with the mailbox.
No room for a bill.
As Canada Post drops
Its door-to-door drill.
The postman is hist’ry.
The stops at the door
Will vanish, requiring
A thousand steps more.
The fit and the healthy,
The halt and the lame,
By Canada Post will
Be treated the same.
We won’t come to you, Mac.
You must come to us.
They offer a minus
And call it a plus.

Robbo, the red-faced Ford bro,
Had a very thinnish skin.
All those in Ford’s Toronto
Walked on eggs with Rob and kin.
Once in the highest office,
He was rather loath to budge.
Didn’t play well with others
And he held a fearsome grudge.
Then one fall, the roof caved in.
Other counc’llors cried:
“Robbo, you’ve behaved so ill,
All your perks we plan to kill.”
Oh, how the Ford bros ranted
As the votes against them came.
Robbo, the red-faced Ford bro,
Has to play a reined-in game.

Great books! Great art! Great sale!

(Posted Nov. 22, 2013)
Need a great small painting or a book signed by the author for that one-of-a-kind Christmas gift?
The Arts & Letters Club at 14 Elm Street in Toronto (west off Yonge north of Dundas, opposite the old Sam the Record Man site) will be holding a sales of books, paintings, prints and other items by some of the city’s best artists and authors. Nestlings Press will be there, as will a reigning Canadian expert on Dracula and others of considerable note. The sale takes place Dec. 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free admission.