FORWARD INTO THE PAST?: the chronologically dichotomous world of comics
NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: surprise award; at the movies; the worst superhero film of the summer; hot TV fun in the summertime; apologies to Keith; Chaykin interview and much more
BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE: Casus Belli goes belly up
REVIEW-O-RAMA: Sheep Of Fools, Struwwelpeter; Darling Cheri; Scrublands; Krazy And Ignatz; Hotwire; Mome; Innocence And Seduction; Sex, Rock & Optical Illusions; Werewolves: Call Of The Wild; and Elmer
“Well, does anybody remember Lou Fine, does anybody remember Hal Foster ? The industry is very much a reflection of contemporary culture. Look what happened to J.C. Leyendecker . Leyendecker was completely forgotten until Richard Amsel and Roger Huyssen borrowed images from his work, for movie posters and magazine illustrations in the 1970s. The poster for The Sting is what brought J.C. Leyendecker back to public awareness.”
Then yesterday I had a chat with an editor who had recently returned from one of the best schools for aspiring comics artists in the country, where he met and saw the work of many young artists whose art is phenomenally good, especially considering their youth – and he was shocked to find virtually none of them had heard of Toth, or Kurtzman or Milton Caniff, or any number of pivotal artists whose work had at one point or another transformed the field.
Which raises an important question. How can we tolerate an artistic profession where the incoming practitioners are oblivious to the great work of the past? Is it reasonable to think of any major actor who has never heard of Humphrey Bogart or James Dean or Orson Welles, let alone having never seen any of their films? (I’m not even working my way into the more obscure actors or directors.) What college art major is unaware of Van Gogh or Rembrandt? How on earth can there be whole schools and art programs dedicated to the teaching of comics art without having at least one comprehensive history of comics art course. This should be mandatory for any official training in comics art.
If you don’t know what has been done before, you’re missing out on a variety of techniques and approaches to learn from and make your own work easier. No one wants anyone to rip off other people’s work, but if you don’t know what has been done before, you don’t know if all you’re doing is reinventing the wheel. And it’s hardly unheard of for artists to be inspired to find their own directions by things they find in other artists’ work.
If we have a lackadaisical attitude toward our past in that regard, we are criminally obsessive about it in another. I’ve been reading a few DC comics lately, and obviously this is working for DC because their sales are going up particularly on affected items, but if it hasn’t become policy over there to elliptically refer to past or parallel continuity in their superhero comics then it must be in the company’s cultural subtext because I keep running across DC books that throw in dialogue and allusions that are incomprehensible without a complex knowledge of the minutiae of at least twenty years of DC continuity, without providing the slightest level of context. A case in point was a collection of Judd Winick’s recent BATMAN arc which returns the supposedly dead former Robin Jason Todd as a murderous psychopath. Jason Todd’s existence throughout is alluded to but never explained, nor is his relationship to Batman to any degree, which I imagine would suck the air right out of the shocking revelation – everything these days is built around the shocking revelation, y’know – for anyone who didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the Batman/Jason history; you’d just scratch your head and wonder who the hell he is. There’s a fleeting reference to the HUSH mini-series (I don’t know if it’s popularly known, but Jason Todd was originally intended to be the shocking secret identity of the villain Hush) that comes out of nowhere with the mention of obscure Bat-villain Clayface, without the slightest reference to Clayface impersonating Jason in the HUSH series. There’s a conversation with Green Arrow where he and Batman talk around each other in elliptical dialogue that can only be deciphered if you’re familiar with the events of IDENTITY CRISIS, and a running sequence of Batman going to superheroes who have died to discuss the possibilities of coming back from the dead, again without providing any real context for the conversations. Winick’s generally not what I’d call a bad writer, and if you’re in the know, it’s even a relatively clever story, but man! If you’re coming in cold it must be like reading hieroglyphics.
And from evidence in other DC comics, it’s almost like DC has made a decision to play to the hardcore fan base and to encourage sales by convincing people that the only way to get the most out of any of their books is to read all their books. Which, given this market, wouldn’t be the dumbest thing in the world. It’s basically how Stan Lee sold Marvel to the readers originally, and look where Marvel is today.
Back in the day, Jim Shooter became something of a maniac about making sure every comic was accessible to any reader who came along, on the basis that every issue of a comic is somebody’s first issue. There’s something to be said for that, though at Marvel it often turned into spoonfeeding readers lots of unnecessary exposition, which eventually helped to turn the company into a nightmare of cancerous continuity. But there’s also a middle ground between total information and no information, and it’s there we ought to be staking our claim. We can’t on the one hand encourage our audience to have no knowledge of comics’ past – as seen with the art students – and on the other expect them to have total knowledge, as seen in BATMAN: THE RED HOOD. Surely it’s not that difficult for comics writers to artfully provide context for any story information a reader may need to fully enjoy a comic book. That’s called storytelling. And we can’t afford to have any reader not enjoy a comic book or graphic novel as fully as possible. Any other course of action is simply surrendering to the hardcore elite and abandoning any notion of drawing in a wider readership. (So if the former is what you’re interested in, forget I said anything.)
Which brings me back to the Atlas comics. Let’s face it: those books are loaded with ugly, half-assed crap. But they’re also loaded with some very fine work by some of the best artists ever to work in the medium, and you know what I’d love to see? I’d love to see Marvel do collections, not of characters or genres but of artists from the ’50s, the really good artists who produced a lot of work for titles like UNCANNY TALES and TALES OF JUSTICE and QUICK TRIGGER WESTERN and BATTLEGROUND, highlighting a single artist per volume: John Severin, Russ Heath, Al Williamson, George Woodbridge, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Bernie Krigstein, John Buscema, Angelo Torres, or a collection combining artists who had only a few stories published there, like Joe Kubert and Alex Toth. This was all beautiful work, and it’s sad to see it rotting in obscurity. It should be out where people can enjoy and admire it.
But that’s unlikely to happen. It makes no economic sense for Marvel because we have no market where such things matter. That’s the pity of it. That’s what we’ve created and what, apparently, we want.
Huh. I seem to have won an award recently. Or, more accurately, Marv Wolfman did, a Distinguished Achievement Award For Excellence for the Steck-Vaughn IMPACT Graphic Novels he created, outlined and edited for Harcourt Achieve. But since I wrote one, as did Christy Marx, Mike Baron, Jo Duffy and Peter & Kathleen David, I’ll bask in the reflected glory for a second. Okay, that’s enough. Congratulations, Marv.
Spent quite a bit of time at the movies this week, starting with X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. It was okay. (Caveat: I didn’t pay for any of these, which may explain my happy-go-lucky attitude toward them.) Not being an X-purist, and I should think those would stay far, far away from these movies anyway, none of their “tweaks” bothered me at all and I was taking a little vac. In fact, the only thing I really had any problem with was Magneto’s fluctuation power/confidence level. They couldn’t manufacture a huge blowout between Magneto and Jean at the end? I know what they were going for with the final Jean-Wolverine confrontation, but they had the tools to make it so much better, considering Leech was there to shut down mutant powers. But what the hey; any film with Vinnie Jones in it can’t be all bad. I know they’ve been touting there won’t be any more, but this certainly didn’t play like that. Next up was THE PROPOSITION, a brutal, ponderously slow Australian spaghetti western written and scored by rock star Nick Cave, which I really liked but don’t think I can recommend to anyone. Again, any film starring Ray Winstone and Guy Pearce can’t be all bad, but it was pretty obvious Cave had Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID on his mind while writing this. Lovely, grim and glacial. Also in the “any film starring… can’t be all bad” category was THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS 3: TOKYO DRIFT, where Sonny Chiba unexpectedly showed up as a Yakuza boss. TOKYO DRIFT‘s story is totally cookie-cutter – lovable but misunderstood car-loving hillbilly kid has a run in with the law, ends up with his other divorced parent (this one a Navy man in Tokyo), tries to fit in but runs afoul of bad guy while romancing bad guy’s girlfriend while being mentored in a whole new way to drive, leading to one thing after another until everything’s resolved with a car race. It’s THE KARATE KID on wheels. In Tokyo! But it’s an entertaining enough popcorn movie, and drift racing is pretty damn impressive. (I hear a lot of Japanese get killed drift racing every year.) The final scene also ties a nice little unexpected bow around the trilogy. Not a great film by any stretch… but better than X3. The one thing that really gets me about films like F&F3, though, is their hideously backward misogyny, in which the women exist solely to be the property of the male characters; the film features two races in which a woman is the victor’s prize, and it’s hardly the worst offender. The problem isn’t so much that the male characters think that way, but that the female characters present themselves that way. That’s so 10th century, Hollywood; get over it.
Good news for SUPERMAN fans, though: SUPERMAN (which rumor has it is going through emergency re-editing to cut the time down to 2:15, not to mention excising scenes like the one where Superman comes out of the closet, which is reportedly already on the trading cards) may not be the worst superhero film of the summer. That dubious honor will almost certainly go to the Uma Thurman comedy MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND, which proves that even the mightiest and noblest woman in the world can turn into a psycho bitch when her boyfriend dumps her. I’m sure someone somewhere thought that concept was hilarious, but there’s that old misogyny thing again. Not that it guarantees SUPERMAN won’t be the worst superhero film of the summer, but…
As usual, BBC America is doing their bit to liven up summer TV, with GORDON RAMSEY’S KITCHEN NIGHTMARES at 10P Wednesdays and THE ADVENTURES OF SHARPE at 10P Saturdays, the latter being a swashbuckling adventure in Napoleonic Europe starring the very underrated Sean Bean (LORD OF THE RINGS fans know him as Boromir) as a working class British soldier working his way up the ranks under the Duke Of Wellington while being constantly hindered in his duty by “gentleman soldiers” (AKA British nobility) who are virtually to a man stupid, vain, pompous, petty, venal, supercilious, cowardly, manipulative, lying and degenerate. It’s quite refreshing in its singular disdain for the British upper classes, though Sharpe (Bean), originally a sergeant but as of my latest viewing a captain, is far from flawless himself. KITCHEN NIGHTMARES stars footballer-turned-chef Gordon Ramsey (also starring in Fox’s reality show HELL’S KITCHEN, 9P Mondays) as he travels from restaurant to restaurant throughout England helping them overcoming crushing debt and lack of customers, and not always succeeding. There’s a pattern to the episodes – owners tend to be clueless, head chefs self-important, hapless or beaten down, and Ramsey’s advice is almost always the same (cut prices, trim the menu, sell food appropriate to your market, advertise and clean the damn kitchen) to the point you’d think most owners would just watch the show to learn everything they need to know – but god is in the details, and the god of this show is clearly Gordon Ramsey, all-knowing and all-seeing, endlessly fascinating as he desperately tries to convince his clients to change their evil ways. The show has two curiously contradictory effects: you will want to go try all manner of new dishes, and you will never ever want to eat in a restaurant again. Unless it’s Ramsey’s. Good summer fun, both shows.
My apologies to Keith Giffen and Boom! Studios. A few months ago, Boom! published Giffen’s TEN, drawn by Andy Kuhn, as a one-shot. Last week, I reviewed Giffen’s new Boom! monthly, TAG – and promptly confused the titles. TAG is an entirely separate concept. And title. Sorry about that.
Interesting interview with my old pal Howard Chaykin with an unconventional (publicly, anyway; it’s hardly an unheard of view in professional circles, at least the ones I travel in) perspective on Will Eisner. Worth a read, especially for Eisner hagiographers.
Weird week. But only subscribers to the Whisper newsletter are going to hear about it. If you want to subscribe, click here.
Ain’t it funny how money always dries up just before you need it most? Me, I need about $3500 to see me through convention season, with the first $1000 or so needed by July 1st. I’ve been doing well enough lately – not real well, but well enough – that there’s no justification for any sort of fundraiser (I’ll save those for when I’m incapacitated by car crashes, knock wood, and thanks again to everyone who helped out then) so I’d like to remind everyone of my availability as a story advisor and script editor, and, of course, writer. Rates negotiable depending on the project. Time to rake in some extra cash. (Or you can just buy one of my books; see below.)
Next Monday starts my jury duty stint so I have no idea yet what’s happening next Wednesday.
Congratulations to Ray Gonzales, who was the first to correctly identify last week’s Comics Cover Challenge theme as “gods.” Specifically, each comic pictured featured a father/sky god from a different pantheon, but, since no one zeroed in that closely, I’m more than happy to accept Ray’s answer. Ray would like to promote his ex-wife’s business, just to be a nice guy.
Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week’s Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn’t been an issue so far.) Every week I include a clue somewhere in the column, but this week the answer is so tricky that I’ll just ask a riddle instead, the first one I can ever remember hearing: if a plane crashes on the US-Canadian border, where do they bury the survivors? Good luck. (Okay, so it’s a joke only Jerry Seinfeld could love, so sue me.)
And good luck to FABLES/JACK OF FABLES and SHADOWPACK writer-artist Bill Willingham, who, of all things, opens his own poker dealing school here in Las Vegas today (Wednesday). (Bill used to deal poker for a living, in between being a writer-artist.) I can’t wait to check out the premiere party.
Due to WHISPER (coming from Boom! Studios in August) and CSI: DYING IN THE GUTTERS (which debuts from IDW in July, I’ve been giving a slew of interviews lately. You can find the latest ones at Scryptic Studios and Newsarama, and while it’s not an interview, Johanna Draper Carlson asks a few pertinent questions about the WHISPER relaunch.
TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my “Master Of The Obvious” columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.
HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.
The popular myth is that Congress, in a panic to prove to the American public they were determined to take the fight to the evildoers as they were when they passed the largely idiotic bit of legislation called the “Patriot” Act (whose title not so subtly implies that anyone opposing its counter-Constitutional provisions is at minimum unpatriotic and possibly worse, a suitably McCarthyesque tactic), handed over to the Hand Puppet the power to make war, which, according to the Constitution, is a power that only Congress may have (so as to avoid the near occasion of a president with dictatorial power. This isn’t exactly what happened and, strangely, Congress was actually a little more conscientious than that. A little.
The build-up was, of course, a big public relations con job by the administration. Enough information has come out now about what the White House, the CIA and the NSA knew about Saddam Hussein’s true capabilities and connections that a case can easily be made for the admin cherry picking the data to back up a predetermined plan, and it’s known that VP Cheney (who has been the true power in this administration far more than the American public has been allowed to know) had spent almost a decade by that point pushing for an invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam, and that virtually the first words out of his mouth on 9/11 was that the fall of the twin towers would justify that invasion. Which was planned almost immediately after 9/11 but put off when the White House was pressured to take care of business in Afghanistan first. (You remember when they captured Osama bin Laden, right?) The “facts” about the threat of Iraq – their hiding of WMDs, their truck with al-Qaeda, their search for fissionable uranium in West Africa – were all known well in advance of our invasion to be nonsense, and many of the “sources” the Hand Puppet cited in his justifications in fact proved the opposite of what he was claiming, if they weren’t 10 to 15 years out of date. They turned speculations into facts when it suited them, and dismissed any data that didn’t fit their premise as “tainted.” (A concentrated CIA program to contact Iraqi nuclear scientists, for instance, was ignored and dismantled when every one of their many contacts, who took considerable effort and risk to generate and who had been promised asylum, told the exact same story: there was no nuclear program. Which meant, for the administration, not that there was no program but that they were disinformation artists deliberately placed by Iraqi intelligence.) The reason Colin Powell’s speech to the UN on the Iraq threat didn’t sway that body to back a US invasion wasn’t because snotty Europeans were jockeying for power but because virtually everything contained in that speech was already known to the international diplomatic community to be rubbish.
Which left the White House to manufacture a unilateral American invasion.
So Congress provided the Hand Puppet a declaration of war. Sort of.
In the declaration of war were certain clauses known as “prefatory” clauses. In this case these were the premises under which the Hand Puppet was allowed to declare war on Iraq. Stating the premises in no way meant they were true nor that Congress believed them to be true. What it meant was that the White House had to present a report proving these premises to be true before declaring war, and only in the presence of that proof was war permissible.
Which was good. As it should be. It wasn’t a blank check. It was a “put up or shut up” resolution.
And then Congress fell on their collective ass.
Much of the “evidence” against Iraq had been concocted via a deliberate game of telephone: the White House or its various attendants developed speculations, then shared them with think tanks and intelligence agencies that massaged them, manipulated them, and sent them back as white papers that would become “a foundation of fact.” It was, in fact, a shell game, a sort of three card monte where, as the great pro wrestling announcer Gorilla Monsoon was wont to say, “one lies and the other swears to it.” (This may be the first pro wrestling administration. Wrestler/writer Mick Foley is sure that the Hand Puppet’s crafted campaign persona was based on Stone Cold Steve Austin, and certainly their dependence on their audience to play along with the script is straight out of pro wrestling.)
And so the short road from declaration of war to war was another shell game. The Hand Puppet did indeed provide Congress with a finding of fact. Which took the prefatory statements and declared them Congressional findings of fact, and, in essence, said, “See? All this proves my case for me!” Were you watching to see which shell the little ball was under? The White House took the speculations which, if proved, Congress declared would be justification for war, and claimed the speculations were the proof. At which point Congress should have hauled the White House onto the carpet, but, instead, here we are at lord knows how many Americans and Iraqis dead.
You don’t have to take my word for this. Go look it up.
But at least we finally got Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s supposed “top man in Iraq.” Or, now, former top man. Who, apparently, had no guards, since our air and ground attack on his HQ, where he was killed, met with no resistance. Zarqawi’s death certainly warmed American hearts, proving terrorists can’t escape us even in a country where we’ve created fertile ground for them where none actually previously existed, and certainly it was good news for the White House and the Hand Puppet, whose approval rating suddenly jumped from a record low of 35% to…
Almost immediately after calling Zarqawi’s death a “major blow” to terrorism in Iraq and throughout the world, the military and the news media started seeping out the real facts of the matter. (Even the White House has been uncharacteristically circumspect.) Zarqawi’s death might have meant something if this were a traditional war, and if there were any actual proof that he was in fact a mighty warlord rather than a relentless but relatively isolated self-promoter (the “lieutenants” he was supposedly meeting with numbered all of two) and if there were any hard evidence he had ever genuinely been directing the “insurrectionists” in Iraq. (This isn’t even the first time he’s been “killed,” though it’s almost certainly the last, though even in death he’s proving an embarrassment to American forces, who’ve been forced to revise their story of his passing a couple times already; while the official autopsy proclaims it was injuries sustained in the bombing that belatedly killed him, eyewitnesses have claimed American soldiers helped speed up the process with a good beating, a claim the autopsy doesn’t actually dispute.)
The fact is that Iraq must always have looked more promising to the White House than al-Qaeda because, at least for a time, we could have a traditional war there. Traditional wars are good, from a political standpoint. They create visible triumphs and solid outcomes. An administration can reward its campaign contributors with spoils of war, as this one has by handing over billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts in Iraq to friends, backers and business partners. But traditional wars can only be fought against traditional armies, and they’re inappropriate against public insurgencies and phantom “armies” like al-Qaeda. Unless an army, and, by necessity, the people of the country backing the army, are willing to do some very nasty things to very innocent people. Americans like to view themselves as “the good guys,” which is why this administration has had to go so far out of its way to frame torture, secret imprisonment, collateral damage, etc., as things “the good guys” do, even though in American tradition, at least the official one, they’re not.
Even if Zarqawi might reasonably have been viewed as the “head” of al-Qaeda in Iraq, his death means nothing. Because, as has been established by the military many times since 9/11, al-Qaeda is not an army. It doesn’t have a structure. It’s not even an organization anymore, it’s a franchise. A slogan. Military structure is top down (which is one reason the administration has consistently tried to militarize American life, most recently in its depositing of National Guard troops along the Mexican border to save us from, as one pundit put it, “the fiends who want to mow our lawns”): the order is given, handed down and carried out. al-Qaeda is the exact antithesis, with any centralization of power gone following 9/11; it’s basically anyone or small group doing whatever they can think of. You’d think as Americans we’d be familiar with this technique, since much of the Revolutionary War was waged using it. Since al-Qaeda’s “structure” is so non-traditional, to think of it even having a “head” (even bin Laden is now largely just a figurehead) is counterproductive, and Zarqawi’s death, far from being the victory for democracy it was originally touted as, seems to have meant only an expansion of Iraqi insurgency.
So the loss of Zarqawi may turn out to be a real blow to the administration’s war in Iraq, since it bursts the myth of a centrally-masterminded insurgency and reframes the conflict out of traditional military stereotypes, which undermines the whole militarist rationale of Secretary of Defense/Iran-Contra co-conspirator Donald Rumsfeld’s Pax Americana scheme, toward which he has been rebuilding our military since 2000, and in a Pax Americana not only can nothing be professed to have been our fault, it must actively have been someone else’s fault, and that someone must have as their prime objective the downfall of America. (The Guantanamo detainees who recently killed themselves, for instance. Their acts can’t possibly have been due to depression or despair over being kidnapped from their homelands, incarcerated and interrogated relentlessly for years, seemingly without end, they have to have killed themselves in a planned and concerted effort to make America look bad. No other explanation is possible or, from the administration’s standpoint, necessary.) It needs Zarqawis and bin Ladens, it needs Saddams, and it has already been proven that if they don’t exist it needs to invent them. A Pax Americana of Rumsfeld’s design might still be possible, but it will inevitably require, as it has so far required, than an inordinate number of Americans be willing to tolerate doing things that only “the bad guys” do.
SHEEP OF FOOLS by Sue Coe & Judith Brody, 36p color hardcover ($14.95)
I’m not sure what the appeal of mimicking children’s books is for alt comics these days (perhaps one plus is that children’s books are usually expensive for what they are, but people buy them anyway ‘cuz it’s for the kids) but it’s good to see Sue Coe back. Coe’s one of the premier “socially conscious” artists of our age – her work’s much more common in art galleries than anywhere near comics – and SHEEP OF FOOLS is an indictment, in poem and with striking visuals of the meat industry and its commonly cruel treatment of animals. But artfully done. It hasn’t turned me into a vegetarian or anything, but it’s good.
STRUWWELPETER by Bob Staake, 40p color hardcover ($14.95)
In the same format as SHEEP OF FOOLS, this is an illustrated version of the German classic poem book by Heinrich Hoffman. Not offensive by today’s standards, the book is rife with vulgarity, naughty children (one sets herself on fire playing with matches), bodily functions, amputations and lots of laughs – exactly the sort of things most kids love and most parents hate, but loosen up. Staake’s illustrations, clearly children’s book illustrations and not comics, are good, and the book’s only marred by one unfortunate bit of racism that I’m sure no one thought twice about in Hoffman’s day.
DARLING CHERI by Walter Minus, 40p color hardcover ($14.95)
The weakest of the three books in the “children’s book” format, this is a fairly vapid collection of cheesecake poses punctuated by a letter from a woman to the lover she’s leaving. With nothing surprising or even very interesting – the punchline is amusing enough, but the journey to it is a telegraphed crawl – the book goes by in the blink of an eye and is ultimately forgettable.
SCRUBLANDS by Joe Daly, 128p color trade paperback ($16.95)
A collection of strips by South African cartoonist Joe Daly, these are a pleasant throwback to American underground comics, suitably updated, and I like them, but they meander so much and so often just come to a dead halt that I don’t know if they’re actually good, and they’re more wry than funny, so if you’re looking for a laugh riot get off at another stop. But there’s something about Daly’s work that suggests an impressive talent as well as suggesting that he’s not quite there yet.
KRAZY AND IGNATZ 1937 1938 by George Herriman, 120p color trade paperback ($19.95)
At this point, any critique of Herriman’s work is utterly redundant; KRAZY KAT was the first totally brilliant, totally original surrealist American comic strip, a fable about a dog in love with a cat in love with a mouse in a thousand bittersweet screwball variations, and this collection of Sunday strips, from the series’ heights and lovingly packaged with the usual Fantagraphics production values and attention to detail, is a must for any comics lovers’ bookshelf. Unquestionably don’t miss it.
HOTWIRE COMIX AND CAPERS ed. Glenn Head, 136p color trade paperback ($19.95)
At some point you start to wonder just how many alt comics anthologies the world needs. HOTWIRE‘s not bad, but it smacks of redundancy. Here’s Johnny Ryan, who already produces several titles from Fantagraphics, scattered throughout, there’s editor Glenn Head with an S. Clay Wilson knockoff, while there’s R. Sikoryak with a GARFIELD parody that manages to match the exact exhausted tone as its source material, and Rick Altergott doing Rand Holmes. None of the work is bad, per se, and technically some of it is quite good, but it just feels… familiar, too familiar, and I had to go back over the book to even remember what I had read. When alt comics start feeling this familiar and unmemorable, it’s time to start fishing for a new angle. It just didn’t click for me.
MOME Spring/Summer 2006 ed. Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, 120p color trade paperback ($14.95)
On the other hand, Fantagraphics does know how to put together an alt comics anthology, and comparing MOME with HOTWIRE, I realize it mostly has something HOTWIRE doesn’t: genuine stories. Best is David B’s Persian epic, “The Veiled Prophet,” but almost all the work here sucks you in with good storytelling and builds to a point, something a lot of alt comics seem to think is pointless. There’s a cornucopia of attitudes and approaches in MOME, and I don’t know if it’s the best in alt comics at the moment, but it’s certainly the best cross-section of them that regularly crosses my desk. Excellent.
INNOCENCE AND SEDUCTION: THE ART OF DAN deCARLO by Bill Morrison, 210p color hardcover ($34.95)
I should say upfront I never really “got” deCarlo’s artwork; it’s one of those cases where I know why it’s good and why I’m supposed to think highly of it, but it never did anything for me. But besides providing a good biography of deCarlo, the book does a good job of displaying his ’50 “girlie” comics like MILLIE THE MODEL and MY FRIEND IRMA, his adult girlie cartoons for men’s magazines (already immortalized in another Fantagraphics book) and his career-defining teen humor work for Archie Comics. It’s an impressive array, but ultimately while Morrison’s book is very good, pretty much everything you’d want in a bio/tribute book, what it really does is seals deCarlo’s position as a footnote in comics history. The book’s worth looking at, though.
SEX, ROCK & OPTICAL ILLUSIONS: VICTOR MOSCOSO, MASTER OF PSYCHEDELIC POSTERS AND COMIX by Victor Moscoso, 144p color hardcover ($34.95)
Speaking of footnotes in comics history, Moscoso was an underground cartoonist who produced record covers and a lot of posters for San Francisco rock concerts and other venues and was one of the major players in the legendary ZAP COMIX, and a pioneer both in pop art (his use of color and design would quickly be co-opted and bowdlerized by people like Peter Max, and Jim Steranko couldn’t have existed without him. Though containing a smattering of text for context, this book collects most of his most powerful work, which though often obscurely surrealist, remains startling and oddly thrilling, a glimpse into strange and unfamiliar worlds even as you realize just how often you’ve seen his work without realizing it. A terrific art book, and thanks to Fantagraphics for producing it. Every comics artist should have a copy, because Moscoso’s work is just that bold.
WEREWOLVES: CALL OF THE WILD #1 by Mike Oliveri & Joe Bucco, 32p b&w comic ($2.99)
Pretty decent little horror-adventure book, a sort of modern-day western as a lone Indian tries to find out what happened with his brother in a small town being plagued by a werewolf. Though a bit clunky Bucco’s art isn’t bad, but Oliveri’s script is sure and suitably tense. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
From Komikero Publishing:
ELMER #1 by Gerry Alanguilan, 32p b&w comic (50 pesos Philippine; American price unknown)
Alanguilan has turned into one good cartoonist, and his fable about an angry talking rooster trying to carve out a place for himself in a human world prejudiced against chickens despite promises of equality and equal opportunity. The parallels are obvious but understated, the characters touching, and Alanguilan does as good as job with the dialogue as he does with the art. If I can be allowed one chicken joke, this is the work of a mature talent that has come home to roost. Check it out if you get the chance.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read.
IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.
Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
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