Hello and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Matthew Thurber of 1-800 Mice and Infomaniacs fame. To see what Matthew and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
I checked out the first four issues of BOOM!’s Steed and Mrs. Peel reprints – the Grant Morrison and Ian Gibson ones – and they’re wonderful. I’m not familiar with the British TV show The Avengers (except for the Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman movie, but let’s not speak of that), so this was sort of my one chance to figure out what all those ‘60s spy fans keep talking about. I don’t know how well Morrison captured the spirit of the show, but I definitely want more comics like this with the unflappable agents, outlandish villains, and ludicrous schemes to take over/destroy the world. Gibson gives the book a curvy, groovy look that positively immersed me in that world. Anne Caulfield wrote the fifth issue and that’s on my pile, so I’m hopeful that her version is up to Morrison’s standards. Gibson’s back for that story, so I have that to look forward to anyway.
I also read another BOOM! book: the first issue of Adventure Time with Finn and Jake. I’ve seen a couple of episodes of the TV show and liked them, but I’m not that knowledgeable about these characters and their world. Fortunately, I didn’t need to be to enjoy the heck out of this story about Finn the Human and Jake the Dog’s fighting an evil lich who escaped from a bag of holding with the help of an unwitting snail. It’s fun, it’s hilarious, and it has a disgustingly delicious backup story by Aaron Renier (The Unsinkable Walker Bean) in it. Whether or not I ever add Adventure Time to my TiVo, I’ll be back for more of this.
Prince Valiant Vol. 5 -- As the war years draw to a close, the strip finds Valiant settling down -- at least a little bit -- by finally winning his true heart's love, Aleta. There's still enough brigands and evildoers to keep Val busy, but a lot of Vol. 5 is spent with the couple developing their relationship, and Harold Foster deepening and developing Aleta's character in the process. She comes off as a smart, complex woman, though sadly not immune to some of the sexism of the period. The bottom-tier strip, Medieval Castle, draws to a rather bittersweet close, giving Foster a bit more space to chronicle Val's adventures. Despite this there are few of the stunning large panel vistas that typified the strip in its early years. Nevertheless it remains a thrilling, boisterous work.
Dungeon Quest Book Three -- Joe Daly's faithful D&D fantasy by way of Harold and Kumar proceeds apace, with lots of bloody skirmishes with fierce animals and fiercer bandits and an abundance of jokes about penises, pot, hand-jobs and the like. Daly really delves into the history of this fantasy world he's created in this latest volume, going so far as to halt to story to insert a lengthy prose section on the history of an ancient civilization. What I most appreciated this time around, however, were Daly's eye for scenery. His incredibly detailed forest backgrounds are really quite exquisite, and the full panel sequences of his band of adventurers simply trekking along a forest path or walking through a stream were my favorite parts of the book.
This week I was lucky enough to see a PDF version of the Dracula World Order one-shot, written and created by Ian Brill and drawn by what I will gleefully call a murderer's row of artists: Tonci Zonjic, Rahsan Ekedal, Declan Shalvey, and Gabriel Hardman. Each artist complements the other well, and each could carry further installments by himself. DWO is the post-apocalyptic tale of vampires (and other familiar creatures) taking over the world, but Ian has couched their conquest in today's definitions of inequality. That gives DWO a satirical bite (sorry), but it also makes the vamps' victory seem chillingly inevitable. Fortunately for humanity, the action picks up with the start of a rebellion, so it looks like DWO won't skimp on the action. Unfortunately for me, a hard copy of DWO won't be coming to my local comics shop, so I'll have to hunt one up online. I'm already ready for more, though -- in spirit and tone it reminds me of a cross between Tomb Of Dracula and Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's Empire, which is a pretty good place to be.
I also read Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator Of Batman (written by Mark Tyler Nobleman, drawn by Ty Templeton). Basically it's a thin picture book with some prose and photos at the very end, but it lays out Finger's contributions to Batman's creation, origin, and early adventures effectively and concisely. Templeton's art is particularly versatile, recreating both real-life scenes (such as the 1964 New York Comic Convention) and images from the comics (Batman and Robin chasing crooks over giant appliances) equally well. Nobleman's prose is sometimes a little too precious (for example, saying the artists "loved when Bill was at Bat"), but always sincere, and the end result is fairly persuasive.
Finally, there was a lot for me to like in Action Comics #10 (written by Grant Morrison, penciled by Rags Morales, inked by Rick Bryant; backup story written by Sholly Fisch and drawn by CAFU). There were obscure references (e.g., Earth-One Supes actor Gregory Reed starring in "A House Above The World"), Morrison wrote a little Justice League scene, and the mystery of the "first" Superman was teased. The best part, though, was that it all seemed to work together. A mysterious bounty hunter is after Clark Kent (kind of like Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers, actually) while Superman goes berserk on a child-murderer and tries to convince the League to broaden its scope. There were good character bits for Lois and Jimmy, especially in the backup, and the ending promises an unconventional issue #11. Morrison and Morales' Action isn't anything revolutionary. He's done better "straightforward" superhero work on JLA, New X-Men, and Batman. However, this was a solid issue with a nice balance of plot, action, and character. It presented a Superman setting which felt lived-in despite its relative newness, and its portrayal of a still-young Superman contrasted nicely with the unconventional problems it introduced.
The only thing I have to discuss this week is Shigeru Mizuki's NonNonBa, but I'm enjoying it very much. It's his memoir of growing up in a country town with his grandmother, who shared with him an awareness of yokai, the Japanese spirits who populate the everyday world but are invisible most of the time. Mizuki remembers well what it's like to be a child, and we see him getting into trouble at school, eating too much at home, and joining his friends in battles with kids from other neighborhoods. This isn't a sweet book—several of young Shige's friends die in the course of the story, and his teacher and his mother seem to be sharp with him most of the time—but Mizuki's cartoony style helps lighten the story and make the yokai who invade their lives more plausible.
I read the first two trades of the current run of Uncanny X-Force some time ago, but haven't been keeping up. So I was pleased to see comiXology's 99-cent sale for the comic this past week. So I downloaded as many of them as I could for that price, the majority of which were the "Dark Angel Saga." And wow, great superhero stuff. I never cared for the whole "Age of Apocalypse" storyline, but I like what Rick Remender did with those characters here. There's also a great, touching segment between Archangel and Psylocke at the end that was particularly well done and almost made me cry on my iPad. I think there are still a few issues I can download for the regular retailer price that weren't a part of the sale, and I'm sure I'll do that in the next day or so instead of waiting patiently for the next sale on comiXology.
My other download this week was Double Barrel #1, the "digital-only" anthology featuring stories by Zander Cannon of Top Ten and Replacement God fame, and Kevin Cannon, whose Far Arden graphic novel made my best-of list a few years ago. Zander's story is titled <"Heck," about a guy who finds out the house he inherited from his dad has a portal to Hell in it. He ends up using it to form his own unique business where he and his buddy deliver messages and ask questions of the deceased for their still-living relatives. "Crater XV," meanwhile, is a follow-up to Far Arden that sends Army Shanks off on a new adventure while he's still dealing with the emotional ramifications of his last adventure. It's $2 and worth every penny; I would have bought the eventual print collections of both of these works anyway, but it's nice to get a preview of what they're working on before those eventually hit the stands.
I owe comics scholar and pal Craig Fischer for making me aware of the inaugural issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art. While the journal is "rooted in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden)" I was intrigued to read Mervi Miettinen's "Past as multiple choice – Textual Anarchy and the Problems of Continuity in Batman: The Killing Joke". While I have never been a big fan of Killing Joke, I enjoyed Miettinen's analysis of continuity and fans' expectations as readers. The journal, which will run twice a year (Spring and Fall editions), will also potentially draw attention to previously released works. One example from this edition is Martin Lund's positive review of the 2010 A. David Lewis and Christine Hoff Kraemer-edited Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels.
The Dum Dum Posse by Ron Rege Jr.
This is a 1996 comic that I've been dying to read forever and finally found at Desert Island. It's spiral bound and has a silkscreen cover and xeroxed innards, a beautiful object, mega-D.I.Y. production. I really like this early phase of Ron's comicking which is more jagged and 'punk.'
The story is loose and fragmented and follows The 'Non-Posse Member' who is friends with some gentlemen that "don't have steady jobs, phone numbers, or the ability to stay in one place for too long. You know, the unpredictable ones...." The protagonist wants to lead a normal life but can't resist the shenanigans of the Dum Dum Posse whenever they appear. At one point they show up throwing rocks at his apartment window. The Non-Posse-Member invites them in and they hang out and tell stories, and he begs them to stay, saying "WAIT! I never get to spend any TIME with you guys!" The Dum Dum Posse proceeds to stay but instantly set about making a musical ruckus, pissing off his roommate. He returns from work the next day to find them still there destroying the place, and kicks them out. But they return 24 hours later, climbing in through his bedroom window and waiting in the dark for him to get home. Finally they just vanish abruptly.
A trip to Europe will not get the Dum Dum Posse out of our hero's mind. As he lies awake in his hotel bed he wonders: "I wonder what those idiots would do in a place like this. Probably something WHACKED and EXCITING."
The book ends without resolution, only deeper confusion: "I drew all of these fucking pictures, trying to tell some kind of 'story' and it just didn't work. It just sucks. It has no end, and I have no shining ideas that would tie all this shit up into a nice little bow. -so FUCK YOU."
I love this comic. It is a truly great autobiographical work, mixing reality and fantasy but describing emotions that are very real and understandable. It's such a good analysis of the conflicting feelings one may feel about one's friends or peers, and about one's own responsibility/ fun ratio.
Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
After about 10 years of trying to achieve escape velocity, I finally made it through Gravity's Rainbow. I'm so glad there are three remaining Pynchon novels waiting for me to start feasting on like a maggot. I love the feeling of his books, the humor, the cinematic quality of them, how they seem to be describing the greatest movie that could never exist. This one is more relaxing than Gravity's Rainbow. It's more of an accessible yarn, and I have not so much the feeling of being drowned under a waterfall of ideas. Or of wondering whether the author was stoned when writing any particular passage that seemed particularly abstract. Mason and Dixon, the story of two English astronomer/surveyors drawing a straight line across America, takes place in the anarchic American landscape before the war of Independence. I love how Pynchon describes parties, bars, crowded scenes, coffeehouses, smokey rooms, 'business' going on. In some strange way it seems completely accurate and believable. Reality is weird.
The book presents a lot of serious ideas in a farcical and light-hearted manner, a feat that I admire. Sometimes its completely hallucinatory, such as the character of the "Learned English Dog" who appears in a Tavern singing a musical number 20 pages in. That really throws down the gauntlet of absurdity right from the start. Another classic moment occurs when George Washington and his steward Gershom smoke pot with the title characters and they are entertained by Gershom's 18th century version of stand-up comedy.
This book is from 1997. I guess I've been into the 90s recently.
Amazon Comics by Foolbert Sturgeon, aka Frank Stack
This is a one-off comic from Rip Off Press in 1971. I don't know much about Frank Stack except that he illustrated some of Harvey Pekar's stories. This comic blew me away. The Greeks and Trojans have been fighting over one patch of land for 10 years and the conflict has been reduced to monotony: "How much longer you on fight detail?" "You hacked shit out of my shield yesterday." Along come the reinforcements from Phrygia: The Amazons, who tell the Trojans to step aside and commence to slaughter the Greeks. "Those crazy bitches are playing for keeps!" says Ajax. Immediately after, he is confronted by Pentheselia, Queen of the Amazons, and they engage in really gnarly combat for the remainder of the comic book.
But THEN there is an epilogue set at the "Campus of Mid-Southeastern Desert Institute of Technology at Millstone, California" where two blazer-wearing eggheads are discussing the likelihood of the previous comic being a true story before an audience of grad students. Eventually remarks like "The Amazonian hypothesis will not wash because women cannot compete with men in violent physical encounter" touch off the anger of female students and the room descends into bloody warfare that echoes the first part of the book. It is quite brilliant.
I love Frank Stack's drawing. It reminds me somewhat of Lauren Weinstein (as do the war goddess subjects herein) in its loose precision. Mr. Stack obviously has a great grounding in figure drawing, like a lot of other underground artists from that period: Bill Griffith, Spain, Justin Green. No noodle-limbs here! A pleasant friction is created between the realistic drawing and the funny dialogue like "Gotta quit this stoopid hanky-panky and get this two-bit war over with".
I bought this at Roger's Time Machine for $5. I need more Frank Stack!
Samuel Pepys' Penny Merriments, edited by Roger Thompson
Sometimes you don't buy a book and then you obsess about it and have to return to try to find it again. Luckily this one was still on the shelf at the bookstore a week later. Samuel Pepys the English diarist, collected these chap-books which could be bought at stalls in London in the 1600's. They were mostly about 3x 5 inches and 16 or 24 pages long, and were very crudely illustrated with woodblock prints. This book collects about 80 of them. They are like zines or minicomics. Same format, same feeling, little hits of information or storytelling. A lot of re-circulated mythology which has a great feeling. Popular history, criminals, palm-reading, magic, Tom Thumb, Tom Ladle, Robin Hood, Unfortunate Jack, heroes, villains, and outrageous figures, fools, idiots, rich people, mercenaries, great jokes played, pirates, dancing rogues, sex, cuckoldry, property, the Devil. There are good bootlegs of Dr. Faustus, Shakespeare and The Canterbury Tales.