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FOUR-COLOR BEAUTY

For all of us who like Terry Dodson’s exquisite pictures of delectably beautiful women (as inked by his sister, Rachel), Red One enjoys a welcoming arrival at the comic book store. The plot is simple enough: a Russian female agent, Vera Yelnikov, is sent to America to eliminate a costumed do-gooder named The Carpenter, who is idolized by a Puritanical movement that threatens, er, world order, I assume. Vera is one of Dodson’s delections. In the first issue, she displays her physical prowess (and her figure) and accepts her assignment to go undercover in the U.S. In the second issue, she’s in the U.S., working as a chauffeur and helper to an old movie maker. In both issues, she takes on various baddies and handily whips them. At the end of the second issue, she finally confronts The Carpenter in physical combat. But the issue ends before the combat does.

Xavier Dorison’s story is infused with light-hearted humor, some of which involves Vera’s sex appeal (and, even, her enjoyment of canoodling). But there are other laughs, too. Even the fight sequences sparkle with wit, both verbal and pictorial.

Based entirely on the Dodsons’ reputations, the first two issues of Red One are being re-issued as a hardcover book this summer. Presumably, there’s a third issue a-borning somewhere, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of it yet, what with all the hype about the hardcover.

The Dodsons’ pictures are beautiful and highly competent. Attention to detail is masterful. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the title, however, is how small most of the pictures are. Pages are full of panels—many of them tiny close-ups of faces or aspects of the action. Most pages have one somewhat large panel in which Vera (or “Alabama Jane” as she styles herself) is depicted. But most of the action and the narrative takes place in the small panels.

Dunno whether the page layouts are a direct result of the script by Dorison or not; I assume, though, that they are. The Dodsons are fully capable of telling the story under these circumstances, but their drawings suffer from the reduction in size. Dorison is not capitalizing on the Dodsons’ forte as much as he could with fewer panels to a page and larger pictorial content in each panel. Still, it’s fun to look at all of the tiny detail, panel after panel, and the Dodsons are such expert renderers that their pictures are always engaging.

RedOne

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DAREDEVIL DOESN'T GO HOLLYWOOD ON US (Or Does He?)

Now that Marvel's Daredevil has begun streaming through Netflix wearing a black costume, I cringed to think that us funnybook fans would soon see his apparel in print modified to conform to the TV duds. That’s the way these things play out. As soon as Captain America showed up on the Big Screen in something suitable for the hero in a movie — something different than star-spangled tights — we saw the comic book Cap wearing something akin to the uniform worn by the motion picture incarnation. Hence, for Daredevil in the comic books, red is surely destined to give way to black.

How we’ll be able to see DD, who usually works at night, is another problem, seems to me. It’s hard enough to see him on Netflix but his being in motion helps: we see movement and discern that it is he. But in the static imagery of comics? In black, he’ll be lost.

The so-called thinking governing the TV costume is probably that red is too visible for a crime-fighter who fights at night to wear: like a crimson flag, a red costume draws attention to its wearer. Or so it would seem. But red is not especially visible at night: as the color of a costume, it isn’t like a neon sign.

Unexpectedly, then, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, who control DD’s fate in the funnybooks, have so far declined to adhere to this new pattern. Daredevil, now working in San Francisco, is known to be Matt Murdock: he gave up the secret of his civilian identity. And he is now, as a result, a highly public figure. And in No.14 of the title, Murdock shows up in court in a new suit that flaunts his alternate identity as Daredevil.

RedDaredevil

Wonderful. Waid and Samnee have, so far, resisted the temptation to conform to newly emerged custom. No motion picture garb for them.

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COMIC-CONS IN THE FUNNYBOOKS: PART TWO

Another entry in the comic-con comic book trials is the second issue of Tales from the Con, a title that debuted last year. Chris Giarrusso’s squared-off comedic drawing style is, as before, refreshing and funny. But Brad Guigar’s jokes veer off into the obscure reference realm a little too much for me. Then again, I’m an old coot and I can’t keep up with every new nuance of comic-conning or comic bookery, so maybe the jokes aren’t so obscure to more informed — and younger — witnesses. Here are a few that even I understood.

 

TalesCon

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COMIC-CONS IN THE FUNNYBOOKS: PART ONE

Leading up to the Comic-Con season we have [Jimmy] Palmiotti & [Matt] Brady’s The Big Con Job, an adventure muscularly drawn by Dominike “Domo” Stanton. In the first issue of a 4-issue series, we meet a small gaggle of elderly actors who once played superheroes in movies and on TV. Having lost their sex appeal, they no longer work as actors. Instead, they make the rounds of comic-cons for a living. But they’ve lost their lustre. The comic-con audience is changing: the fans are younger. When they were older, they remembered the characters the old actors played, but the younger fans have no such nostalgic recall. To attract them, convention management goes after the young stars of current hot shows. The old timers used to get up-front money and guarantees; no longer. No up-front money, the only money they make is by selling autographs

And that’s not enough. In one of the completed episodes herein, washed-up Danny Dean returns to his motel room after a show and finds that he’s locked out because he can’t pay. He goes to visit another old actor, Poach Brewster, and the two of then drink themselves into unconsciousness. The next morning, Poach finds Danny dead, a suicide. The night before, he’d said he couldn’t take it anymore.

At the end of the book, Poach and his old actor friends are at another comic-con where the management hasn’t even booked hotel rooms for them. Then they meet Tony King, a young promoter, who suggests a way they can make some money: he proposes that they rob the San Diego Comic-Con.

And that’s where we leave them for this issue.

And that’s enough to bring me back.

The story brims with knowing glances at the comic-con business — Palmiotti at least knows it well. And it’s fun for those of us who attend such shindigs to find ourselves on such familiar ground.

There’s also a tender scene involving Poach, whose young live-in actress friend decides to leave him because her career is still ahead of her — and Poach, whose career is now behind him, can no longer help her. They still love each other, and their parting is painful; still, Poach knows she is right to leave him. But the next morning, awakening alone in his bed, her fragrance clings to the bedclothes, and Poach embraces the blanket in a poignant moment.

Stanton’s drawing style, angular anatomy with heavy outlines, is a little clunky but still pleasing. And it’s cartoony enough that all the characters are easily recognizable.

StantonCon

 

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BENNETT BEARED

Clay Bennett, editoonist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has received the Clifford K. and James T. Berryman Award for Editorial Cartooning. The Award, established in memory of two celebrated Washington Star editorial cartoonists, father and son, is given annually “for work that exhibits power to influence public opinion, plus good drawing and striking effect.” The winner receives a $2,500 prize and an engraved crystal vase.

In his remarks accepting the Berryman, Bennett admitted, tongue somewhat in his cheek, that his simple cartoon style (an example of which lurks nearby, revealing that his so-clled “simplicity” symbolically conveys an insight powerfully) was a consequence of his inability to draw.

Bennett Rebuilding Iraq

 

He also said his forte lies not in being funny (as amply demonstrated, he said, by the speech he was giving). And he confessed that he can’t do caricatures either (showing an image of a cartoon in which Obama appears and explaining, “That guy is Obama”). His sly implication was therefore that he was unqualified as an editorial cartoonist — except for having one of the salient traits of the breed: he has definite opinions. And he hopes by expressing them in simple, un-funny drawings to offer keen insight into current affairs.

 

Bennett Lie-Truth

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KAL HONORED

Kal full self-portraitKevin “KAL” Kallaugher of the Baltimore Sun and The Economist managed to win two awards in as many weeks: the 2015 Herblock Prize for Editorial Cartooning and, just before that, the 2014 Grand Prix for Cartoon of the Year in Europe as presented by Press Cartoon Europe. The cartoon, which is visible just in the corner of your eye, was selected from over 400 published works from 151 cartoonists in 26 countries.

The Herblock Prize is awarded annually by The Herb Block Foundation for “distinguished examples of editorial cartooning that exemplify the courageous independent standard set by Herblock.” The winner receives a $15,000 after-tax cash prize and a sterling silver Tiffany trophy. The Grand Prix Cartoon of the Year winner receives a check for 8,000 euro (about $8,850) and a bronze trophy designed by Belgian graphic artist Ever Meuklen.

Kal Google Pop-UpKAL’s portfolio for the Herblock Prize “impressed the judges with his ability to jump between macro international policy issues to Baltimore mayor's stonewalling about the accuracy of its speed cameras. Like Herblock, KAL is a committed defender of civil liberties. His artwork, still traditional ink on paper, remains strong in his fourth decade of cartooning. He is a master of caricature. Whether single panel, circular, or multi-panel, his cartoons are clear, thoughtful, forceful and in the best tradition of Herblock.”

Judges for this year’s contest were Jen Sorensen, nationally-published political cartoonist and winner of the 2014 Herblock Prize; Sara W. Duke, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art at the Library of Congress; and Michael Rhode, archivist and author, commentator on comics for the Washington City Paper and creator of the ComicsDC blog.

Other awards KAL has won include the 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2014 Thomas Nast Award presented by the Overseas Press Club of America, and the 2002 Berryman Award presented by the National Press Foundation. 

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

GOOD NEWS FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally. A University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.

Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop joins the chorus for print: “Paper still rules the soul,” she writes. “That’s why e-readers have barely dented the market for children’s books. It seems that most parents don’t want to read a bedtime story off a screen. They want their children to hold a book in their hands and play with the pages. Thus, digital versions account for only 5 percent of children’s book sales. ... E-book sales in some adult categories account for five times that share.” But that’s only 25 percent — and only in “some” adult categories.

Gore reading Sunday comics
Harrop concludes: “It’s been predicted that the paper books of the future will be better made and more treasured than today’s typical pulp product.”

That’s already started. More effort goes into book design these days: books have become objets d’art, things to value for their appearance. Ask Chip Kidd.

Books are not on their way out.

And even the humble daily newspaper is still with us.

With its comic strips.

 

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ZAP

The following is excerpted from excerpts of the oral history section of The Complete Zap, published by Fantagraphics. A longer version of excerpts can be found at tcj.com/zap-censorship-and-suppression/

ZAP zero coverThe first underground comix backlash came from the usual suspects opposed to smut and licentiousness. America at mid-twentieth century was chock full of self-appointed, blue-nosed guardians of good taste who tried to control what could be shown in popular media and insisted that everyone follow their rules. Movies couldn’t be released without facing the Motion Picture Production Code. Books like Naked Lunch were banned in Boston and elsewhere, because they depicted perverse relationships. Race music was not played on the radio, and religious groups burned Elvis Presley records. A United States Senate subcommittee investigated juvenile delinquency in 1954 and accused comics publishers of contributing to it. The Comics Code Authority quickly stepped up to police the industry and quash the offenders. Magazine publishers like Ralph Ginzburg went to jail for trying to exercise free speech in print. For a long time, the most conservative elements of American society held sway over everything that could be read, watched, or heard in the media.

The underground press found a way to bypass all these barriers by creating an alternative production and distribution system. Newspapers and comic books could be printed cheaply in small runs of ten thousand or less and spread around through a network of hip businesses and street entrepreneurs. Nobody in those networks cared about censorship.

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PEANUTS AND ACTUAL CHILDHOOD

NUTS logoGahan Wilson did a comic strip for National Lampoon. The strip was entitled Nuts. The title is inspired by Charles Schulz’s iconic strip. In his book I Only Read It For the Cartoons about some New Yorker cartoonists, Richard Gehr says: “Wilson admires and appreciates Schulz’s work, but he considers Peanuts a deceptively anodyne depiction of childhood.” Gehr goes on to quote Wilson:

“I always respected what Charles Schulz did—which was religious teaching. He was doing a kind of medieval religious pageant. His strips were little moral fables. It’s fine and dandy, but it has nothing to do with children, and that’s all there is to that. But he did exactly what he set out to do, and it’s quite extraordinary stuff. It did piss me off that he was pretending it was about cildren and it wasn’t.

“Childhood,” Wilson went on, “is a terrifying world. The little critters are so alive and so perceptive. They’re all scared to death but so delighted when something works out. Children are intensely alive and complicated. The thing that made me angry at Schulz is that he sentimentalizes the idea of childhood, which has really done a lot of harm.”

In his Nuts, Wilson drew everything “down” to scale. “It’s like the kid is being crushed and confined in this box. The frame is kid-sized, and you only see parts of the huge people and world that surround him. That’s all a kid apprehends: giant projections in his immediate vicinity and everything else far away. Doors are big, difficult to open, and so on. But they struggle through; they’re amazing.

“So Nuts was saying, ‘This is the nitty-gritty, folks. This is what it’s like being a little kid.’”

To devise adventures for his kid, Wilson just “racked” his brain to remember things that happened to him as a kid that were so awful. “The Kid is trying to figure it out. The Kid never had any name at all, also very much on purpose. I didn’t want to nail him down.”

Wilson’s Kid was every kid, terrified of the looming world around him. Here are a couple of his adventures.

Nuts

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THE PC OF ZOMBIES

Zombies and the rest of the undead are at today’s terminus of a trend toward political correctitude that began before any of us were born. Comics — of the newspaper ilk — had been criticized by Concerned Citizens almost from the beginning. And the criticism lurked, sometimes shouting and sometimes merely growling, ever since. With the advent in 1954 of the Comics Code, we learned specifically what the Concerned Multitudes were so concerned about. It was a long list.

Prohibited were: glamorized crooks, detailed plans for crimes, the words “horror” (and “crime”) on comic book covers, gruesome pictures, vampires, walking dead, cannibalism, profanity, smut, obscenity, attacks on religion, nudity, divorce, sex perversions, unperverted sex, liquor and tobacco and fireworks advertising, scenes of violence — and more, much more, but all in the same Victorian vein.

Mainly, Concerned Citizens objected to any affront to a nineteenth century sense of decorum. They didn’t like sex or ghoulishness or violence. Particularly, they didn’t like people killing people.

Zombie comics coverThe publishers and creators of comic books reacted accordingly. They skirted sex, avoided ghoulishness, and took all the weapons away from heroic characters. Batman couldn’t have a pistol. And even if he got one by disarming a foe, he couldn’t use the pistol against his opponent. No killing.

In Westerns where wholesale gunfire is common, no one is ever killed. Gunfighters shot the guns out of the hands of the bad guys. No one died.

Meanwhile, back at the superhero shops, the good guys in tights acquired new offensive armament. Force fields. Lighting bolts from the finger tips. These vibrations could render enemies unconscious or harmless. But nothing fatal or disfiguring. And no blood was shed.

Simultaneously, the bad guys were no longer members of the human (sic) sapien species. They were alien beings — with force fields under their fingernails. So the superheroes were, at last, evenly matched. Their foes were not just crooks of the same species. They were superpowered aliens. So the superheroic good guys couldn’t be accused of bullying (which, in his inaugural appearance, Superman certainly could be), of beating up on ordinary, unpowered humanoids. Perforce, it was okay to pound non-human aliens — to dismember them, to blow them full of wholes.

Admittedly, the stories told under these restraints quickly became dull. The trend reached its apotheosis in the movie Man of Steel wherein Superman and his similarly superpowered opponent, neither of whom, regrettably, has fingertip force fields, must resort to pure, unadulterated power: they run at each other and crash head on like a couple freight trains. After a couple of these, boredom sets in pretty quick.

And the same kind of thing was transpiring in comic books.

Then, to the rescue, we have the walking dead.

At last, our heroes have opponents they can dismember and dispose of without killing them. Because they’re already dead. Hence, the ultimate in politically correct violence — superheroes battling and bloodily disintegrating zombies and similarly no-longer-alive beings. No one, apparently, objects to desecrating animated corpses.

 

Calvin+hobbes+zombies
                                                                                                                          

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JACK DAVIS

Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture, A Career Retrospective
by Jack Davis
Introduction by William Stout
Biography by Gary Groth
207 10x13-inch pages
color
2012 Fantagraphics
hardcover
$49.99

This scrapbook of Davis art is organized in chapters whose themes are laid out by Stout — Early Years, Comic Book Years, Advertising Years, Record Jacket Covers, Magazine Illustration — with a few insightful notes about style and methods of work. At the end is Groth’s 12-page biography followed by 5 pages of paragraph-long “tributes” by such Davis admirers as Sergio Aragones, Peter Bagge, Drew Friedman, Bill Griffith, Al Jaffee (“The best part about Jack is that he is a throwback to a kinder, gentler time. He is a quintessential Southern gentleman.”), Joe Kubert and others. In between are pages of gorgeous Jack Davis art, much of it in color. The Early Years (high school, college, Navy) are mercifully represented by only a few pages of work. The comic book period is almost all from Mad, horror and war scarcely evident. Some of his unsuccessful comic strip attempts are here (Beauregard, the only one to achieve publication — four months merely — is criminally shortchanged by printing 12 strips postage-stamp size on one page), but when we get to Record Covers and Movie Posters, the book blossoms in color. The final section reproduces Time and TV Guide covers (alas, many small, nine to a page but with caricatures and related illustrations, including some preliminary sketches, at full-page dimension).

Jack-davis-book-cover-300dpi

 

The book’s only conspicuous flaw: no source information is given on any of the pages. To learn that pages 48-49 reproduce panels from a 1960 comic strip based on the “Howdy Doody” TV show, you need to consult two pages of End Notes. This is not an impossible task: you can browse the book with a finger at the End Notes section and easily flip back and forth. But some pages are not annotated at all. Otherwise, the book is a treasure trove of Jack Davis’ most mature work.

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