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COMIC BOOK PEOPLE: PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE 1970s AND 1980s

COMIC BOOK PEOPLE coverComic Book People: Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s
By Jackie Estrada
160 9x12-inch pages
b/w plus color section
2014 Exhibit A Press
hardcover
$34.95

When I first heard of this book I thought, Well, sure — but what’s so fascinating about a bunch of old photographs? And then I witnessed a copy at the Exhibit A table during the Denver Comic-Con last spring, and — wow! — was I wrong. My first error was in supposing that this tome would consist solely of photos; but Estrada has captioned each photo, supplying information about the person in the pic and dating it. Captions and photos together make the volume a fascinating nostalgic trip into the history of comic-cons, San Diego’s in particular. Fifteen chapters are mustered under thematic titles — The Giants (Eisner, Feiffer, Kirby), Golden and Silver Age Comic Book People, Writers, Artists, Writer/Artists, Comic Strips, Cartoonists, Animators, etc. So I bought a copy. And I bought Volume 2, too; it came out in time for the Sandy Eggo Con in July, and it is also available at exhibitapress.com.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FUGITIVES FROM THE UNDERGROUND

I am chagrined to admit that I didn’t realize that various fugitives from the underground comix of yore — and some of their present-day fellow travelers — are still actively producing comics. The evidence is Mineshaft, a small (60 6x9-inch pages, b/w) but earnest magazine of sketches and an occasional comic strip. And it’s been going for some time: the issue I’ve laid hands on is No.31. It features R. Crumb’s Dream Diary, Billy Childish At the Oakwood Mental Hospital, Art Spiegelman’s Sketchbook, Plot Robot by Kim Deitch, and even Bill Griffith’s Zippy, plus work by Nina Bunjevac, Justin Green, Christoph Mueller, David Collier, Tony O’Neill, Pat Moriarity, Aleksandar Todorovic, Aaron Lange, Rika Deryckere, and William Crook, Jr. Here are some sample pages.

Mineshaft1

 

 

Not much here of the outrageously offensive convention-shattering oeuvre of that deliriously stoned yesteryear, but enough, withal, to be interesting, engaging — even provocative. Back issues are available; see mineshaftmagazine.com — which is worth visiting solely to view covers of previous issues by all those renowned personages we’ve come to know and love. And subscriptions (three issues for $27) can be had by sending the money to Gioia Palmieri, c/o Mineshaft, P.O. Box 1226, Durham, NC 27702. (So maybe Palmieri is the driving force: this issue’s 1,500 copies were printed by Grass Roots Press in Raleigh, less than 50 miles from Durham. And it’s an excellent printing, too.)

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

COMIQUECON

Comique con logoComiqueCon, the first ever convention “for women, by women,” packed the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, on November 7, reported Dave Herdon at pressandguide.com. Designed to celebrate women in comics and cartooning, nothing like it had ever been organized, and founder Chelsea Liddy decided it was time for a change. She was tired of seeing “women in comics” as a single panel at shows.

“It was time that we had a space of our own to show off what women are capable of,” she said. “There are a lot of talented women out there in the field, people need to know about all of them.”          

“Creators from across the country came to display at the one day show,” Herdon said. “Women from Connecticut to Los Angeles and everywhere in between were set up in the annex to the Museum, while the Museum proper hosted the panels and other activities. Exact attendance figures weren’t available [at the time of his November 8 posting], but early estimates were that more than 350 people had come into the show by midway through the day.”

Some of the main stage guests included: Leila Abdelrazaq, graphic artist and author of Baddawi; Nancy Collins, author of Vampirella; Marguerite Dabaie, author of The Hookah Girl; Alex de Campi, author of Smoke/Ashes, Archie vs. Predator, Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman and No Mercy; Nicole Georges, author of Calling Dr. Laura and Mikki Kendall, co-author of Swords of Sorrow.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

ARCHIVE'S BETTY DISCOVERED

Montana and Tokar photo
Bob Montana and Betty Tokar in the early 1940s.

 

The original of Betty, the girl next door to Archie Andrews, is Betty Tokar Jankovich, once a girlfriend of cartoonist Bob Montana, who invented the Riverdale gang, according to George Gene Gustines at nytimes.com. Discovered by journalist/documentarian Gerald Peary, a passionate Archie fan who set out to find all the inspirations for the Archie characters, Ms. Jankovich at 94 remembers dating Montana. After graduating from high school, she and her sister Helen worked in a cafeteria in the same building that housed MLJ Comics. They met Montana and Harry Lucey, another Archie cartoonist, and they went out on a double date, after which, the couples switched partners, Lucey dating Helen, whom he eventually married. Betty, meanwhile, soon broke off with Montana: “I really liked him,” she said, “but I didn’t think I would be much of an asset to his career — I wasn’t educated enough for him. So we broke up and went our separate ways.” She eventually married the police chief of Perth Amboy. Montana, Betty said, “had a very nice life, and I married a very nice young man. It turned out beautifully.”

See "Archie's Betty," a documentary film by Gerald Peary.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SILBERKLEIT COMIC-CON IN WHITE PLAINS

SILBERKLEIT COMIC-CON IN WHITE PLAINS: With Anti-Bullying Message

While all the folks at Archie Comics were drumming up publicity for the “new” Archie (No.1 arrived in July), co-publisher Nancy Silberkleit advanced her anti-bullying campaign into the comic-con realm. Her first overt effort in this campaign was publishing her “heartfelt comic book, Rise Again,” penciled by the late Stan Goldberg and written by John Wilcox. Then she organized the first White Plains (NY) comic-con with an anti-bullying theme, “It’s Time.”

Rise Above full cover“My idea behind this con was to emphasize the anti-bully message,” she wrote me. “Many organizations are working very hard to stop person-to-person as well as group acts of bullying. Any individual or group that acts to target an individual with aggression or creates an environment of humiliation is wrong. For the past decade there has been a very strong vocal movement to put an end to all of that and to understand the behavior so when it starts we know how not to let it escalate. Personally I promote graphic literacy as a way to communicate tough topics such as bullying. The rich graphics are filled with information that can prompt the reader to internalize the visual information and begin to form their owns values in a manner that makes sense to themselves.”

Being, now, in the comics industry for six years, Silberkleit has connections that she reached out to, asking them to attend the White Plains fandango—“and bring along their talents and utilize their graphics to communicate anti- bullying messages.”

Stan Lee helped out by recording a brief but forceful (everything Stan says is forcefully said) message on video, which was played throughout the day. At least 25 comic book artists and creators joined in — including artists from Papercutz, Archie Comics, Beetle Bailey Comics, Valiant and others. Three panel discussions were featured, examining how comic books are made and how they can benefit learning.

The Con convened May 16 on the upper floor of the White Plains Public Library, and it was, according to exhibiting artist J.M. DeSantis, “packed with people for a good portion of the day, and even the mayor of White Plains (Thomas Roach) came down to meet all of the artists and vendors. I have to honestly say, of all the conventions I have been to, this one seemed to have the largest outpouring of support for those who were exhibiting at the show.”

Another of the exhibiting artists, Michelle Witchipoo, reported that “the moment the doors opened, the entire library was packed. The crowds got to see indie artists, panels and a tiny bit of cosplay. The purpose of this comic con was to raise awareness for bullying.”

The Con was “well organized,” DeSantis said, “ — especially considering this was its first year. I attribute that both to Ms. Silberkleit’s desire to make everyone feel comfortable and at home. She even, personally, stopped by everyone’s table to check on how they were doing with an offer of refreshments—unheard of at a convention, though it would be great if more con hosts did this, in some form or another. Also, there was the obviously wonderful advice and support she received from my friend, Ray Felix (yes, the same guy who runs Bronx Heroes), who was honored with an award at the culmination of the show because of his help organizing the convention.”

DeSantis reported that she was pleased at the number of people who attended (an unspecified number but enough, as she says, to keep the venue packed all day long) and is glad to know that the Con will return next year.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

GRAPHIC NOVELS MAKE BANNED BOOKS LIST

This One Summer cover
In early October came Banned Books Week, for which the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom produces its annual “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books” list. Three graphic novels are on this year’s edition: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (its offense: gambling, bad language, political viewpoint), Raina Telgemeier’s Drama (candid depiction of homosexuality, “a very chaste scene of two boys kissing”), and This One Summer by Marilko and JilllianTamaki (miscarriage, teen pregnancy, profanity)—all books “marked by both high quality and high popularity,” said Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs, “the latter certainly a function in drawing fire.”

While it is alarming to notice how frequently graphic novels that are popular with young readers are making the ALA list, this year’s roster is based upon only 311 complaints “made formally in writing.” That’s not a big number, 311, out of the millions of books being read by millions of young people. Still, it’s sad to realize how active and dedicated some would-be censors are.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

PERFECT NONSENSE: THE CHAOTIC COMICS AND GOOFY GAMES OF GEORGE CARLSON

Perfect Nonsense: The Chaotic Comics and Goofy Games of George Carlson
Edited and Introduced by Daniel F. Yezbick
Preface by R.C. Harvey
318 9x12-inch pages, color
2014 Fantagraphics
hardcover
$49.99

If, like me, you've always wondered just who was George Carlson, the manic mind behind the visually punning, whimsically inspired adventures of Dimwitri, the Pie-Face Prince of Pretzleburg, and “Jingle Jangle Tales,” who also, incongruously, provided the deadly serious cover illustration for the first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, then this is the book for you. Yezbick, a friend of long-standing, has performed a stunning feat of research (including extensive interviews with Carlson’s daughter and grandson) in reconstructing the life and work of a man who dabbled in a wide range of children’s printed entertainments — from cartoons and comics to riddles, puzzles and games; magazine and book illustration (among which, Uncle Wiggly stories), even political cartoons.

Carlson’s longest gig was with John Martin’s Book (1913-1933), a “kiddie pulp,” for which he was lead designer, puzzlemaster, and, as Yezbick puts it, “spinner of graphic gimmickry” — a shamefully short sample of Yezbick’s rollicking prose style, for which slight perhaps this fragment will compensate (a little): Carlson was “JMB’s wunderkind, flooding every issue with a spiraling array of ornaments, geegaws, and finials of miscellaneous styles and traditions.”

Yezbick’s 43-page biography of Carlson is lavishly illustrated with rare photographs and drawings, after which, the book’s chapters (each introduced with a short essay by Yezbick) present his works thematically — poems and pixies, songs and games, art instruction, portraits, advertising and so on—followed by 70 gloriously colorful pages of Pie-Face Prince stories and “Jingle Jangle Tales,” six 5-6 page episodes in each category. The latter, for which Carlson has been celebrated for years among comics cognizantti, is as significant a part of the book as the biography: just as Carlson’s career outside of Jingle Jangle Comics (a comic book created to showcase his cartooning talents) has been unknown, so are the comics stories for which he is celebrated hard to come by: those old funnybooks are now nearly impossible to find and too expensive to purchase if somehow found. But here we have a generous sampling of the masterworks, caught between the highly decorative covers of a captivating cut-out design.

Below is a not quite generous but hopefully adequate sampling of the pictures parts of Yezbick’s book.

 

Carlson1

 

Carlson2

 

Carlson’s career included many more episodes and achievements than are detailed in this volume, and Yezbick plans another volume to complete the job.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SHERLOCK HOLMES in A Study In Scarlet

Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Illustrated by Gris Grimly
280 5.5x8-inch pages
text with b/w illustrations
2015 Balzer-Bray (Harper Collins)
hardcover
$17.99

This is the 1887 prose tale that introduced the brilliantly eccentric Sherlock Holmes, “consulting detective” and master of deduction, to the world, but I bought this edition not for Conan Doyle but for Grimly’s spikey illustrations, which transform the shadowy mystery into bizarre Victorian comedy. This book, in other words, is prose with occasional pictures — not comics.

The best part of Conan Doyle’s work is the first part, this very story, wherein Dr. John Watson meets Holmes and they agree to share rooms at 221B Baker Street. We get the most detailed examination of Holmes’ eccentricities (the mind is an attic but has only so much room for “information” so he deliberately avoids learning anything that cannot be of use to him in solving mysteries) in the Sherlockian oeuvre. But in presenting Holmes’ solution to a murder, Conan Doyle is obliged to provide a long flashback about Mormons in Salt Lake City (in which the Latterday Saints are depicted erroneously as a murdering, kidnaping culture), a digression made all the more annoying because during its course, Holmes disappears from the book’s pages.

Grimly, however, does not: his pictures enliven the digression. But it’s his pictures of Holmes and Watson that are a treat; here are a few.

Grimly

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CATS, DOGS, WOMEN, NINNIES, CLOWNS: THE LOST ART OF WILLIAM STEIG

Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies, Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig
Annotated by Jeanne Steig
Introduction by Roz Chast
Afterword by Jules Feiffer
352 8x10-inch pages, color
2011 Abrams
hardcover
$40 but as little as $10 through AddALL

Steig, who started as a cartoonist, became one of the most inventive visual comedians of our times, and this volume, which has rapidly and unaccountably slipped off the regularly priced shelves into the bowels of bargain basements, is a vivid testimony to his antic imagination. Full of doodles and scrawls, many enhanced with color, the volume is arranged thematically — Ladies & Gents, Art, Dogs, Cats, Odd Ducks, Ninnies &K Clowns, Bodily Harm.

And each chapter is introduced by Steig’s widow, who supplies insights into her husband’s so-called mind. In launching the chapter on Art, she says: “In Bill’s drawings, artists are often depicted as animals, just as animals are often the subjects of artists. Art was not a profession Bill regarded with reverence. Art was part of nature, shared by dogs, cats, clowns, and roosters. ... Art expressed whatever was important about life, and in Bill’s case, he expressed it comically.”

In her Preface, Jeanne Steig explains that Steig’s humor wasn’t in captioned pictures: “It was there in the art itself. ... Bill held in his heart that one great question: ‘What’s going on here?’; with every drawing he made a leap toward revealing at least the question. And sometimes, he even provided an answer.”

Here are some samples of his answers.

Steig

 

 

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HEROES OF THE COMICS

Heroes of the Comics: Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books
By Drew Friedman
Foreword by Al Jaffee
184 9x12-inch pages, color
2014 Fantagraphics
hardcover
$34.99

Each of 83 giant, beautifully executed full-page painstakingly pointilist-like portraits appears opposite a page of biographical text that supplies birth and death dates and a helping of the most commonly held notions about the subject and his/her work, the sort of thing Wikipedia thrives on. This method results in a couple of errors: John Goldwater is credited with creating Archie, but Bob Montana pretty clearly did it; Humorama is the name of the publishing company, not the name of a magazine; neither the Pie-face Prince nor Reg’lar Fellas is mentioned in George Carlson’s write-up; Peter Parker’s saga began when he was in high school not college; George Evans is not credited with ghosting Terry and the Pirates; and the term “headlight” refers to the whole boob when given undue prominence, not “large erect nipples.”

But these are piddling criticisms. Friedman’s texts also offer tidbits of previously obscure information — Lev Gleason’s early career, for instance: Al Hollingsworth’s later career. Besides, this is a book of portraits, not biography.

And the portraits are delicious — some, like Jerry Robinson’s, depict the subject at the time of the first blush of fame; others, like those of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the only joint portrait in the book), at maturity. All show the subjects in what are presumably characteristic poses or settings. The roster includes most of the usual suspects — Jack Kirby (whose face, strangely, is obscured: Friedman choosing to picture his hands clasped in front of his mouth), Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Joe Kurbert, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, C.C. Beck, Lou Fine, Carmine Infantino (whose grin is, unhappily, more grimace than grin), Walt Kelly, John Stanley. But others are usually on the second tier of comics creators — Dick Sprang, Wayne Boring, Basil Wolverton, Otto Messmer, Lily Renee, Marie Severin, Jack Kamen, Ramona Fradon, Howard Nostrand, Russ Heath.

Publishers are included as well as artists and a couple writers (Wonder Woman’s William Moulton Marston, Gardner Fox, Fredric Wertham) Max Gaines (ironically portrayed sitting on a dock, presumably at the lake where he drowned), Alfred Harvey, Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson, Martin Goodman, Woody Gelman, William Gaines, and Harry “A” Chesler, whose face I hadn’t seen before. (Others in this latter category include Carl Burgos, L.B. Cole, Boody Rogers — surprisingly — and Graham Ingels, Jack Oleck, and Jesse Marsh.)

In each portrait, Friedman resorts to a device of caricature, drawing the head and face proportionately much larger than the body.

Friedman

 

Friedman2

Friedman’s 8-page introduction concludes with a wholly accurate description of the book: “These were the pioneers who helped to shape a new medium, the American comic book. Some are still celebrated, some are more obscure, some died forgotten, and some are vilified. Several became rich and famous, several were exploited, and some were bamboozled, but all of them are legends—the heroes of the comics.”

Delicious, throughout.

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BERLIN, CITY OF STONES: BOOK ONE

Berlin, City of Stones: Book One
By Jason Lutes
212 7.5x10-inch pages, b/w
2001/2011 Drawn & Quarterly
paperback
$22.95

Berlin, City of Smoke: Book Two
By Jason Lutes
212 7.5x10[ilnch pages, b/w
2008/2011 Drawn & Quarterly
paperback
$22.95

These two graphic novels were originally published in comic book format, then re-issued in book form. The action takes place in post-WWI Germany between September 1928 and August 1930, when the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic lapsed. At the end of the “golden years” of the 1920s, Germany was beset by political unrest, extremists on both the left and the right, the emergence of the communists and the Nazis; economically, the country was suffering from massive inflation. In this setting, Lutes tells the stories of several individuals from different parts of the Weimar social order, chiefly that of a young woman, Marthe Muller, who comes to Berlin for the first time, and Kurt Severing, a political writer. Marthe becomes Kurt’s mistress for a time, then leaves him for a Lesbian relationship. As the institutions of democracy slip away, Kurt becomes disillusioned about the efficacy of political writing to affect the course of events. Book Two ends with his burning his papers and watching them go up in smoke.

The other characters Lutes deploys are victimized by the social and political turmoil of the period. In the first volume, one of them, a mother, dies during a riot in which the chief weapons are stones hurled by the opposing sides.

Throughout the books, the tone is bleak and unforgiving. The characters all seem helplessly caught by the circumstances of their lives. As a reflection of the history of the times, Lutes’ narrative is probably as authentic as possible. At the time of this work’s first publication, it was the most ambitious comics narrative of the day, among the earliest to use the visual-verbal medium in a serious literary manner.

Lutes’ drawing is meticulous simple linework without feathering or shading, rendering people and their surroundings in impressive detail. His page layouts are traditional rather than experimental, telling his stories with slowly paced grids of panels, varying their size and number occasionally to suit the needs of the narrative. And those needs, part from depicting events in his characters’ lives, are fundamentally tonal.

Berlin

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE ART OF RAMONA FRADON

Art of Ramona Fradon coverThe Art of Ramona Fradon
By Ramona Fradon
Introduction by Walt Simonson
Interview with Howard Chaykin
152 9x12-inch pages, color
2013 Dynamite
hardcover, $29.99

Fradon entered the comic book industry in the early 1950s, left to raise her daughter in the 1960s, and returned in the 1970s and left again in the 1980s to draw the syndicated newspaper comic strip, Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr, which she continued until 1995. Fradon, who was married for 35 years to New Yorker cartoonist Dana Fradon (until divorcing him in 1982), was one of the few women working significantly in comics. This volume presents samples of all her work from Aquaman and Metamorpho to House of Secrets and Freedom Fighters to Super Friends and Plastic Man (I always told her she did the best Plastic Man since Jack Cole, and she always agreed) for DC and Fantastic Four (one issue) for Marvel to Brenda.

Threading throughout the artwork on display is Chaykin’s knowledgeable and perceptive interview with Fradon, covering every aspect of her career from an artist’s perspective. The book concludes with a bibliography of her work (helpful, but, I suspect, not complete: I don’t see listed the Shining Knight story, which she says is her first for DC).

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WALLY WOOD's CANNON

Cannon book coverCannon
By Wallace Wood
Introduction by Howard Chaykin
288 7x11-inch landscape pages
b/w plus a few color pages
2014 Fantagraphics
hardcover, $35

The Overseas Weekly was a tabloid published 1970-73 for distribution to U.S. military stationed abroad, and for it, Wood produced Cannon, a full-page comic strip about an operative, John Cannon, who had been brainwashed and re-programmed to be a perfect, emotionless assassin. Most of Cannon’s assignments, however, involve rescuing barenekidwimmin, who appear in profusion with every installment of the continuing story — most regularly, the sinister and voluptuous Asian, Madame Toy.

Cannon, Madame Toy coverAlthough penciled by someone else, Wood’s inks, as Chaykin says, made the artwork “his property, his line and impact being so strong,” and as a result, we have here the mature Wood at the top of his game. The Cannon strips are printed two to a page in stunning clarity.

Cannon also appeared twice (1969 and 1976, before and after his Overseas incarnation) from the same publisher in comic book form, Heroes, Inc.; and this volume concludes with both adventures, the first, in color, but the pages are severely reduced and appear here two to a page, the women, although luscious, always clothed.

Also in this volume, reproduction of a letter from Wood to the publisher, outlining plans for a future project, a comic book of “sex, violence and horror — none of it would pass the Comics Code” — for a wide audience, “science fiction fans, comic book fans, servicemen, grownups and just horny kids.” I’m hopeful that Fantagraphics has plans for publishing a companion volume of Sally Forth, Wood’s comedic naked lady strip for Overseas Weekly.

This is the second “complete” reprinting of Wood’s Cannon: Fantagraphics did it (almost) in 2001 at a larger, tabloid size (10.5x13 inches). The earlier version is missing the first strip, but it includes an appreciative 4-page introduction by Jeff Gelb, who places Cannon in the just-concluding super-spy context of the times —James Bond, the Avengers, et al — but neglects to cite many dates; so as history, it falls somewhat shy. The volume is missing the Heroes, Inc. material, and the reproduction, while excellent, is just a tiny shade less pristine than the new production.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

NEW YORK COMIC CON GROWS

The Thing at NYCC 2015The 2015 New York Comic Con, October 8-11 at the Javits Center, was the biggest yet, with 169,000 tickets sold — “up from 151,000 in 2014,” reported Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid at publishersweekly.com. That surpasses the San Diego Comic Con by at least 30,000. The increase in ticket sales, however, “was due to event organizer ReedPop making Thursday a full day — more tickets were sold — and selling more one-day passes instead of multiple day passes, according to ReedPop global senior v-p Lance Fensterman.”

 

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com