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Issue #275

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Issue #275

The best laid plans, etc.

This week’s column may look a bit retro, as I’m writing it on my old, broken down laptop. I’d intended to spend the last couple weeks of the year remodeling my office, cleaning out all the rest of 2006’s business, organizing my 2007 assault on the comics medium (among others). Last Thursday, I made the mistake of plugging a headset into the front panel of my computer. A spark – static electricity – leaped about an inch from the plug tip to the socket, and abruptly my computer rebooted. I didn’t panic; things like that have happened before, though I do everything I can to stave off static. Sometimes it just sneaks up on you.

Anyway, the machine reboots fine. Everything comes up fine. Except I finally switched to hi-speed mid-last week and was going to configure a couple of things, but the configuration program told me no hi-speed connection was present, despite my USB2 adapter sitting blinking at me in its slot. I was afraid the spark had wiped the adapter, but sometimes rebooting clears everything up, so I just rebooted. At which point I was called away for about an hour.

When I get back, the computer isn’t on. I had to think whether I’d left it on. But I had. It wouldn’t go back on. The smell of smoldering rubber was in the air. When I opened up the rig up, the foul stench seeped from the power supply. Ran over to Fry’s, picked up a new power supply. The computer came back on.

Or, rather, enough power was coursing through it to set the case fans going, as well as the fan on the CPU heatsink. (Which was good, because that’s something I don’t have to replace.) I’m in the midst of doing a CMOS clear now, but it’s likely the motherboard is trashed, and a worst case scenario sees the CPU and memory gone as well. A lot of expense I wasn’t anticipating, and not the way I’d planned to close out the year.

Which has pretty much cut me off for the moment. So if you’ve sent email recently, or a Christmas gift, or I was supposed to get you cover ideas, or anything like that, this is why you haven’t heard from me. (Your phone numbers are also buried in the bowels of a temporarily inaccessible hard drive.) In a way, the timing is very convenient because most editors are in absentia this week anyway. I also can’t announce the winner of last week’s Comics Cover Challenge, because his name and information are buried on that other machine’s hard drive. I haven’t emailed out holiday cards for the same reason.

I have had a lot more time than expected to remodel my office, though that’ll likely end today, when the parts stores reopen. Just as soon as the column’s done.

So those who were expecting to hear from me in these two weeks, you’re not forgotten, only misplaced. To the rest of you: have a really, really great 2007. I’m going to try to.

Addendum, Tuesday morning: woke up with the head cold to end all head colds. That’s the kind of year it’s been.

  • It’s the end of the year as we know it, and I have reviews:

    From Blue Dream:

    THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES BOOK ONE by Scott Christian Sava ($19.95)

    Animator Sava gets his C.S. Lewis on, with a lot of Chris Claremont thrown in. I reviewed some of this back in its original Alias Comics run (do they still exist?) and, despite its intriguing 3d art style, I was less than thrilled with its Claymation-looking figurework (tends to gut any realism the style tries to imbue) and its by-the-book cutout fantasy characters: a college student/psych test subject abruptly discovers the means to return to the fantasy world he visited in his dreams as a kid (Dreamland, natch). But Sava takes too much time getting anywhere – despite a hefty number of pages in this volume, not to mention a hefty price, it’s only the first chunk of a serial, and not much happens except to introduce character after character – while disparate parts so far are uneven (his brother’s attitude abruptly changes mid-volume without much reason) or disconnected (the main function of the psychologist subplot seems to be to dismiss science as closed-minded. Sava may be saving up some real zingers for future volumes, but so far it’s hard to tell whether he’s just not showing any cards or he doesn’t have any. Great coloring, though.

    ED’S TERRESTRIALS by Scott Christian Sava & Diego Jourdan ($19.99)

    Aliens take up residence in a young comics fan’s treehouse, in what appears to be solidarity with labor unions. The kid’s greedy rich girl nemesis helps the alien’s extraterrestrial taskmaster recapture the escaped worker drone aliens, until the kid concocts a plan to save them all. It gets a little obvious at times – there’s a section where the kid comes up with new careers for aliens bearing way too strong resemblances to cultural stereotypes, and Sava tortures each joke seemingly endlessly before getting to the punch line we knew was coming from the moment the alien appeared, as when a slug with an Elvis haircut finally realizes he can become an Elvis impersonator – but it’s clearly aimed at the children’s book market, where beating the obvious to death is practically a way of life, and Jourdan’s charming, airy artwork pretty much pulls it off. It’s okay.

    From Open Crash Comics:

    S.P.B.:RISE! Part One by Thomas Williams ($3.50)

    I have no idea what’s going on in this mini-comic; it’s a dream logic horrorshow meditation on rural living, and the helpful character synopses in the back aren’t that helpful. (Though it does interpret the story as the young hero making a deal with Belzebob to get his head reattached after his dog bit it off.) Nonetheless, it’s got some great spurts of humor and the art, though not exactly attractive, is pretty striking and memorable. I don’t know if I’d say (yet) that it’s good, but at least it’s different and interesting.

    From Dakuwaka:

    PURITY #1 by Shawn Lewis, Andres Guinaldo & Juan Selcedo ($2.99)

    I dunno, I think it’s me. I’ve written enough tough guys in my career that I now find the whole concept, at least as generally portrayed in comics, TV and film, pretty laughable. Mainly this comic seems to be about people you know nothing about beating up other people you know nothing about, though it’s got something or other to do with angels and demons because, you know, what doesn’t these days? But while the story struggles to hold attention through the Brownian motion of pointless ultraviolence, artist Guinaldo is worth paying attention to. He’s not quite there yet – he needs to tighten up his linework and get better control over proportions, and pay less attention to Rob Liefeld and more the George Perez – but he’s only a couple steps off. Not sure why Justin Timberlake’s on the cover…

    HELIOS UNDER THE SUN #2 by Jason Rand, Andres Guinaldo & Kwang-young Hyun ($)

    More Brownian motion stories, this time featuring military-inflected superheroes as teammates beat the crap out of each other for no particular reason. I know it’s not exactly heroic, but do you realize how many superhero stories would short-circuit if someone just asked a simple question and someone else gave them a straight answer before fists and powerblasts started flying? How come characters who don’t want to fight never just raise their hands and says, “I don’t want to fight”? There’s some sort of polical power play going on here, according to the recap, but the issue sheds zero light on it. Again, Guinaldo’s art is the main selling point, this time with much better inking by Hyun. If it had a story, you could almost mistake this for a mid-line DC comic.

    From Comix Mill:

    THE SPACE PILOT GIRL by Tim Fischer ($1.00)

    A mini-comic that seems to want to be AMERICAN FLAGG! Amid lots of sex banter and sex play, Space Pilot Girl waves a gun around and collects money owed her. Decently done but pretty slight, with no dramatic tension or payoff to speak of, but it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to cap off a story mainly about women sexing porcine aliens with a feminist manifesto.

    From Archaia Studio Press:

    THE KILLER #1 by Matz & Luc Jacamon ($3.95)

    I think if Celine had written crime comics, this is what he’d have written. This Euro import treads semi-familiar territory, given the cluster of recent series where the “hero” is a semi-sympathetic criminal planning to leave The Life on achieving a financial goal, but the set-up issue is a well-drawn, controlled examination of the killer’s psychology, essentially a still life, but the art is so sure and the narrative so focused that you ignore that. Worth a look.

    From Meanwhile…:

    CHIAROSCURO: PATCHWORK Book 1 by Troy Little (No price given)

    Life’s weird sometimes. On the very day that I suddenly wonder, for the first time in I think years, whatever happened to this great independent Canadian comic called CHIAROSCURO, what arrives but the first trade paperback collection? And it’s still strangely compelling, mostly a picaresque slice-of-life dramady about an artist/slacker named Steve, but the story abruptly right-turns on twinges of propinquity, synchonicity and quasi-paranoia. (Creepy, bizarre events occasionally leak into the narrative, and drive it by their absence.) Good storytelling (a lot of both Eisner and Sim in there, I think), well-drawn characters (in both senses), just the right dose of poignancy; it’s not so much that Little makes it so entertaining, it’s that he makes it look so effortless. Find it, get it, read it, love it. All these years and Little hasn’t dropped a step.

    From Fantagraphics:

    HWY 115 by Matthias Lehmann ($19.95)

    A serial killer escapes a mental institution, and a detective attempts to track him down by interviewing various released patients from the same asylum about their experiences with the killer, only to have each subsequent murder reflect the contents of the last story he heard. I’m not partial to the art though it gets the claustrophobic mood across well, but the intriguing premise stumbles on too much repetition, an eleventh-hour bout of surrealism, and an inescapable story logic that telegraphs the mystery’s solution by the end of the second chapter.

    NEW TALES OF OLD PALOMAR #1 by Gilbert Hernandez ($7.95)

    Not sure this story will mean anything to anyone else, but fans of Hernandez’s “Palomar” stories (set in a small Latin American town and collected in PALOMAR, which I’d advise reading first) will find a treasure trove here: the origin of Tonantzin and Diana, lots of familiar characters, even a tense if brief adventure, though if you’re not familiar with the characters you may wonder why many act as they do. Hernandez is a sure storyteller, but he really shines when the stories accrue into one massive narrative, as in the PALOMAR collection; on their own, the stories are entertaining but easily (if wrongly) dismissible as merely quirky.

    INTERIORE by Gabriella Giandelli ($7.95)

    A rabbit spirit, or imaginary figment, unseen except by pets hangs around a European apartment building, observing the bittersweet lives of their inhabitants, while a demonic presence in the basement impatiently awaits their deaths. The narrative device is a little irritating, since the story could easily take place without the rabbit, save for rare scenes where he interacts with someone, and by the second half of this volume Giandelli herself seems to have abandoned him. Yet, without him, it is so far merely a Euro-soap opera.

    DELPHINE by Richard Sala ($7.95)

    Another Sala creepfest, though more Hitchcockian than most. A college student follows his missing girlfriend to her decrepit hometown, where his presence is resented and his quest waylaid over and over. Not much to the story yet but set-up, but the horror movie twist on the “town without pity” theme is a winner, so far.

    BLAB! #17 ed Monte Beauchamp ($19.95)

    Fantagraphics publishes two or three of the best regular alt-comics anthologies around, and BLAB! is one of them, though it doubles as an excellent art culture magazine. If nothing else, it’s packed with alt-comics you can actually read: in this case a history of tulip speculation in Holland (one of history’s more bizarre episodes of speculator fever); a poetic essay on the destruction of New Orleans by hurricane; an essay on Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt; a collection of ’50s roller rink logos; a collection of mock-BAZOOKA JOE comics; and a great set of comics by Spain Rodriguez, Matti Hagelberg and others. There are other alt-comics anthologies, but work as hard as BLAB! to break down the imagined walls between “art,” “pop art” and “comics art.” Another terrific issue.

    MOME Winter 2007 ed Gary Groth & Eric Reynolds ($14.95)

    Great Fantagraphics alt-comics anthology #2. Not as style-centric as BLAB!, MOME‘s strength is its focus on content. Many usual alt-comics suspects are here – Tim Hensley, Anders Nilsen, Paul Hornschemeier, Jeffrey Brown, Sophie Crumb, Lewis Trondheim, etc. – and a few new faces, and you may not like every story but what you won’t find here is the self-indulgence, pointlessness and navel-gazing that infects so much that tries to pass for “alt” comics. Story comes first at MOME, resulting in a lot of clever, tight, focused material that, for the most part, veers toward some sort of point. If you’re going to read only one alt-comics anthology, this should probably be the one.

    THE NEW ADVENTURES OF JESUS: THE SECOND COMING by Frank Stack ($19.95)

    Jesus, returned to Earth, goes to see a blockbuster Hollywood rendition of the Gospel story. At the film’s end, the cinematic Jesus, played by a tall, musclebound Hollywood god, responds to the Crucifixion by tearing himself free of the Cross, uprooting it, then beating all the Roman troops to death with it to end with a final shot of him standing against a glorious sunset, standing proudly next to a Cross reimplanted in the ground like it was the flag planted at Iwo Jima, as a buxom beauty clings to him with grateful lasciviousness. On his way out of the theater, the real Jesus walks behind a couple, as the man says to the woman, “The end’s not like the book.” Jesus, with a broad, pleased grin, says, “Believe me, it’s better!THE NEW ADVENTURES OF JESUS was one of the great and most memorable achievements of underground comics, if among the most subsequently ignored: pithy, almost always laugh out loud funny, strangely irreverent and reverent in the same breath. Stack, working as Foolbert Sturgeon, always treated his Jesus character with respect and fondness even while using him to explode social, political and religious hypocrisies, whether via imaginative reinterpretations of bible stories (“Did you see that?! The Prince Of Darkness was back there offering the pleasure and power of the world to a camel!”) or using Jesus as a piercing commentator on modern existence. It’s amazing how little these pieces have dated, mostly due to Stack’s comedic sensibilities, and to show he’s still got it, Stack tops off the book with “Jesus Meets Intellectual Property Rights,” a new tale for our times. If you do’t get anything else I review this week, get this. It’s still great.

    THE COMICS JOURNAL LIBRARY: HARVEY KURTZMAN ed Greg Sadowski ($19.95)

    Most people would likely cite Will Eisner or Jack Kirby as the most important cartoonist ever to work in American comics, and you could make good cases for them, but me, I’d say Harvey Kurtzman. While hardly as prolific as the other two, Kurtzman was far more the innovator who looked beyond narrow markets at a truly wide audience for comics, with a more ruthless, progressive and intellectual approach to the medium than either the more sentimental Eisner or the rawer, more instinctual Kirby, and certainly none more suited to his moment in time. His war comics for EC put a neo-realist focus on accuracy and realistic emotional content, he arguably generated the first original modern comics book with the trade paperback GOODMAN BEAVER, a sendup of modern business culture that was eventually threatened into oblivion by Archie Comics (Goodman Beaver being a logical evolution from MAD‘s parody “Starchie”). His later humor magazine HELP! gave an early outlet to many of the cartoonists soon to be known as “underground comics,” including Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, not to mention a paycheck for future feminist publishing mogul Gloria Steinem, and while many wouldn’t recognize The Spirit or the Human Torch, it’s unlikely there’s an American male who was a teenager between 1960 and 1975 who wouldn’t know PLAYBOY‘s Little Annie Fanny. Eisner and Kirby may have arguably have had more direct influence on comics art, but Kurtzman went beyond influence; he was a sensibility, and that sensibility arguably had far greater influence. Sadowski does an excellent job here of organizing probing interviews done with Kurtzman (and a couple articles written about him) published in the Comics Journal over the years – who knew they’d done so many? – and illustrating them with a terrific compendium of art drawn through Kurtzman’s career as well as a tribute piece by Robert Crumb and spot illos by artists Kurtzman worked with or discusses. All in all, a really illuminated volume about one of the great minds of comics history, and a terrific look into the mechanics of the medium. Don’t miss it.

    From TwoMorrows Publishing:

    ALTER EGO #63 ed Roy Thomas ($6.95)

    Alex Toth was a comics creator’s artist, his work for a long time almost as universally dismissed by fans as it was adored by professionals, for mostly the same reasons: during the rise of comics fandom, Toth’s more graphic, story-focused style was not in fashion – Kirby ruled the roost then – and Toth never stayed with any single strip long enough to become identified with anything. Mostly you had to hunt for Toth’s work if you wanted it, the series he did his longest stints on (which is not to say long) were more obscure and ununified works like ZORRO, Eclipso and HOT WHEELS, and as he went on his art became increasingly impressionistic, breaking down less into fixed forms than into a Manichean standoff of darkness and light. You can talk about Toth all you want, but he’s a guy whose art you either get or you don’t, and this tribute issue of ALTER EGO on the occasion of his death this year isn’t likely to change your mind. It is, however, a loving eulogy for Toth, including an interview and memoirs from numerous professionals he worked with, clashed with (Toth was known to be a tad prickly) or influenced, from the great Joe Kubert to John Workman and Terry Austin to Mike Allred and many others. As usual, the issue is well-illustrated, a nice little primer in the development of Toth’s style throughout his career. This issue might not convince you to like Toth’s work, but you’ll likely come out of it understanding why people thought he was great. Very good.

  • I was going to forget politics for the remainder of the year, but then I have to turn on the evening news and see something so stupidly funny it has to be mentioned. No, not the Hand Puppet very reasonably announcing, as he discards the Baker report, that he’s willing to consider any plan that will achieve victory in Iraq (sorry, pal, but that ship has sailed, and you should have thought of that four years ago). No, there was Keith Ellison, newly elected representative from Minnesota – Democrat, black and Muslim – talking about taking his oath on the Quran during his private swearing in ceremony (that’s not the funny part; wait for it) and immediately followed by a new representative from Virginia, Republican Virgil Goode, announcing with an air of gravitas and constipation, amid his utter outrage that such a thing would ever be tolerated in these (presumably Christian) United States, that his prime mission in Congress would be to crack down on immigration to ensure that Muslims would never ever gain a majority in the House Of Representatives!

    It’s funny how there are some things people say that can only be answered with momentary shock followed by laughter followed by “What the hell is he on?!”

    It’s hard to figure whether Goode is intentionally pandering to fearmongering among his constituents or is merely an idiot, but you’d have to search pretty far to find as many misconceptions in another single sentence. Does he think Ellison is an immigrant? Does he think the vote that put Ellison in office was the product of Al-Qaeda sleeper cells diabolically placed in Minneapolis years before to manipulate elections and inaugurate the Islamic takeover of America via the democratic process?!! Does anyone anywhere really imagine a day when Muslims have a majority in the House Of Representatives?

    It should be mentioned that the private swearing in of Representatives is largely symbolic. What’s important is the group swearing in – the one where they jointly promise to uphold the Constitution and provisions therein, like freedom of religion – and Ellison isn’t insisting on a Quran for that. But Goode’s diatribe is just the latest expression of the xenophobia that has underwritten much of American political thought since the country’s birth, the fear of The Great Other that constantly threatens to destroy us. You can claim all the justification from 9-11 that you want, but there’s so far no evidence I’m aware of that Ellison is a blind ideologue pursuing fatwa on the Great Satan. Fact is, there are a lot of Muslims in America, most of them homegrown, though hardly enough against the backdrop of the overall population to take over the House Of Representatives, at least not without considerable cooperation from a great many others on the political scale. Even if not widely acknowledged, it’s not an alien religion in America, any more than, oh, Santeria is. It’s part of the landscape. Like most “alien” religions, it has taken on its own forms here, especially in relation to politics. I’m just barely old enough to recall when John Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for president amid loud right wing claims that electing him would effectively reduce American to a vassal of the Vatican, as Kennedy would undoubtedly and unquestioningly follow whatever orders the Pope gave him. Whosever sway Kennedy may have been under, it doesn’t seem to have been the Pope’s, and in subsequent years the Vatican has had to call out American bishops on several occasions about divergences from official Vatican policy on religious and social matters. (Meanwhile, the same years have seen a great many movers and shakers on the right, not to mention pundits – hi, Bob! – hooking up with the ultraright wing group Opus Dei, raised by JPII from a bunch of anti-democratic lay whackos – who basically believe the 12th century was as close to paradise as mankind has attained since The Fall – to an official branch of the church. Time’s little ironies.)

    But that’s what America is, even if we frequently frown on the idea ourselves: a place where everyone gets to think for themselves. And I strongly suspect, from conversations with those American Muslims I know, that they too largely think for themselves. I don’t really buy into the whole “Islam is a religion of peace” thing, since plenty of Muslims over the years have managed to fit war and aggression comfortably into their philosophy, the same as Christians, Jews, Taoists, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. have, but no religion is a “religion of peace.” But all religions have their nutjobs, and all have their adherents who just want to get along. In America especially it’s even difficult to speak of religions as a whole, since different churches in the same religion are as strongly influenced by the conditions of their particular dioceses as by the tenets of their faith, and even those tenets filter through local interpretation, even among religions like Catholicism that are theoretically centrally controlled. Hell, look at how many splinter groups the Mormons have, and they’re centrally controlled and pretty new in the game. One man’s faithful is another man’s apostate.

    So there’s absolutely no reason to assume that Keith Ellison (or the Muslim who lives in the apartment next door, for that matter) is in thrall to some extremist version of his religion, but it’s clear he represents something to the state of Minnesota (or, at least, the voters in Ellison’s district) whose voters (remember, I grew up in Wisconsin; I’ve watched ’em for years) tend to be paradoxically stodgy but idiosyncratic. (Hi, Jesse!) Given the general tenor of Minnesota politics, I wouldn’t expect any radical moves by Ellison at all, though his presence in Congress will doubtless promote the somewhat fanciful impression of the Democratic Party as the party of tolerance and inclusion. And maybe Goode says something about his district as well. What I wonder is whether they’d rather Goode spend his time pursuing legislation that might actually improve their condition, or devote his Congressional presence to making sure Ellison isn’t taking his marching orders from Tehran or the caves beyond Kabul? Or do they consider those the same thing?

  • MMMMMMwah! That’s me kissing off 2006. Happy New Year.

    As I haven’t been able to get online to change it, the special deal on my three e-books – TOTALLY OBVIOUS, IMPOLITIC and HEAD CASES – due to end on Christmas continues until I can. The downside, though, is that until I get online I can’t fulfill orders. So, as Clint Eastwood once put it, do you feel lucky? Well, do you?

    While the winner can’t be announced until next Wednesday, the answer to last week’s Comics Cover Challenge was not, as many suspected, “metal,” but Metal Men, as in the goofy DC robot series of the ’60s. (Hence the inclusion of MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER, who shared a name with Metal Men inventor and unofficial co-member – and current 52 denizen – Doc Magnus. The other members – Gold, Platinum, Mercury, Iron, Lead and Tin – are also named, albeit surreptitiously in some cases, on the other covers.) For those who came in late, most weeks this column posts seven disparate and apparently unrelated covers from throughout comics history that are nonetheless tied together by a fiendishly clever secret theme, which could be found on the covers themselves, in the contents of those comics, in their respective places in comics history, or some other factor. You can snoop around The Grand Comics Database for information, since that’s where we get our cover shots from. Normally I give some sort of hideously obscure clue here in the column as well, but since this week I’m not going to know what the covers or the theme are until I get to a computer to send the column in, no clue this week. But I’ll make it easy, just for you.

    See you next year in brand new show.

    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. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. 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.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    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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