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LUCKY LUKE'S ORAL FIXATION

Below, you’ll see a familiar picture that appears without variation on the back of all the English versions of Belgian’s Lucky Luke books — the comically dramatic portrait of a Western gunslinger so fast that he beats his own shadow to the draw.

LuckyLuke
 If you look carefully at Lucky Luke, you’ll see the two pictures are not, actually, identical. And if you look just below the pair of color pictures, you’ll see another pair of just Luke’s face in profile. There the difference between the two pictures at the top becomes blatantly evident: Luke is smoking a cigarette in the picture(s) on the left but is sucking on a straw in the picture(s) on the right.

Yup: political correctness has finally invaded the wide open ranges across which Lucky Luke saunters from one stirring adventure to the next. A cigarette dangling from his lips is as much an authentic portrait of Lucky Luke as his wide-brimmed hat. But that’s gone, deleted from his legendary persona forever. Now if only he’ll give up shooting people, we’ll all be better off. (Seriously? No.)

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

THE GRIST OF HELLBOY

Visitor coverPaul Grist is drawing Mike Mignola’s latest Hellboy 5-issue epic, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed; and his style, similar to Mignola’s, is perfect for the task. The series is as much about Hellboy as it is about the Visitor. Assisted by Chris Roberson, Mignola tells the story of Hellboy’s early years, beginning with his arrival December 23, 1944, when he pops into view in front of some soldiers in World War II Europe, one of whom is actually an alien visitor who possesses the mysterious Prism, a card-like iphone-looking object that he almost deploys against the infant Hellboy. But he stops just as “Archie” shows up to plead for Hellboy’s life.

The soldiers put their guns down, and the alien wanders off into the forest where he communicates with his commander aboard a space ship hovering somewhere in the upper atmosphere. The alien explains that he decided not to kill “the destroyer” (i.e., Hellboy) because he was “just a child.”

“He is his mother’s son as well as his father’s, after all. The future is still in motion. There is still hope for him. Hope for redemption. He is an innocent. He cannot be blamed for the circumstances of his birth.”

The alien decides to remain on Earth and monitor the child’s progress. His commander’s space ship scoots off into space, leaving the alien behind.

For the rest of the book, we have glimpses of Hellboy as he is growing up—in 1947, 1948, 1950 (by which time, he’s broken off most of his horns), 1953 (by which time he’s joined the paranormal investigative agency), and 1954, when he goes into the woods and kills a dragon. The panels of these pages are laid out against black solids which accent an increasing number of drops of blood, falling across the scenes.

All this time, a trenchcoated figure lurks in the background, watching. It’s the alien. And as he watches lilies growing out of the dragon’s blood, he marvels: “It never occurred to me until this moment that the child might grow into a force for good in his own right. ... I shall watch how he progresses.”

And we’ll watch with him for the next 4 issues of this 5-issue run.

Mignola’s story is the usual constipated narrative, pregnant (to mix a metaphor) with lurking unknowns and half-explained knowns, exactly the sort of mysteriousness-clogged tale that could annoy more than it entertains. But completed episodes reveal the storytellers’ competence—the opening gambit, the vignettes of Hellboy’s life through the years, and the final triumphant encounter with the dragon—and the tale moves forward, promising some sort of resolution ultimately. And for that, we’ll return.

Grist’s pictures, like those of Mignola, are drenched in solid blacks and are often mute, their silence — their noncommittal presence — underscoring the unexplained by not explaining, lending to the entire enterprise a haunting atmosphere, the sort of thing at which Mignola is so expert.

Visitor1

 

Visitor2

We’ll be back. Wouldn’t miss it. Especially since it promises to tell us more about Hellboy.

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

THE INKED WONDER

The December issue of the Previews catalog contained a picture of the new Wonder Woman statuette, “Gotham City Garage,” showing the star spangled Amazon leaning up against her ride, a glitzy hog. Now look closely at the accompanying illustration: does she have tattoos on her forearms?

WonderCycle

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

LYNDA CARTER DEFENDS WONDER WOMAN

Wonder WomenAfter just two months with the UN last fall, Wonder Woman lost her gig at the United Nations as a symbol of self-empowerment for girls and women. Too many observers thought she was more pin-up than feminist icon and therefore not a suitable symbol at the U.N. Alex Williams reported at nytimes.com that “a United Nations spokesman said the campaign had merely run its course, and that the end had nothing to do with the uproar” that ensued when Wonder Woman was first announced as an ambassador for women and girls and for gender equality.

But “one loyalist was not going to sit by as her cape was dragged through the mud: Lynda Carter, the actress who starred in the 1970s television show “Wonder Woman,” came to the Amazon’s defense.

Now 65, Carter took time from acting (including a role as the U.S. President on “Supergirl” and a governor in the coming film “Super Troopers 2”) and career as a singer (she just competed a four-city tour and is recording her third studio album) to discuss the complex legacy of her Amazon princess alter ego. In an edited and condensed interview with Williams, Carter recognized at the onset the disagreement about what a feminist icon should look like:

“What I find interesting is that they didn’t look at the larger picture. I agree that the issue of gender equality is much larger than any character is, and I understand that a comic book character should not be representative of something that is that important. I agree with that. What I disagree with is this [mistaken] idea about Wonder Woman. She’s an iconic defender. She’s archetypal. It’s the ultimate sexist thing to say that’s all you can see, when you think about Wonder Woman, all you can think about is a sex object.”

About Wonder Woman’s skimpy costume, Carter was a little belligerent:

“Yeah, so?” she said. “Superman had a skintight outfit that showed every little ripple, didn’t he? Doesn’t he have a great big bulge in his crotch? Hello! So why don’t they complain about that? And who says Wonder Woman is ‘white’? I’m half-Mexican. Gal Gadot is Israeli. The character is an Amazonian princess, not ‘American.’ They’re trying to put her in a box, and she’s not in a box.”

(Er, I don’t see the super bulge that Carter sees at Superman’s crotch. Could she be imagining things? Things she wishes for?)

Lynda Carter photoAbout her own stint in the star-spangled scanties: “If you think of the ’70s, that was miniskirts and bikinis. I never really thought of Wonder Woman as a super-racy character. She wasn’t out there being predatory. She was saying: ‘You have a problem with a strong woman? I am who I am, get over it.’ I never played her as mousy. I played her being for women, not against men. For fair play and fair pay.”

Why did “Wonder Woman” on TV “strike a chord with girls watching the show”?

“There was this idea that inside every woman is a secret self. It’s much less about the color of your skin, much less about your height or weight or beauty, but it’s the attitude, the strength of character, the fight for rights — the beauty within, the wisdom within.”

Carter attributes her post-Wonder Woman struggles with alcohol to her bad marriage not post-fame blues. Drinking brought solace at the time, she said, “but now it’s coming up on 20 years since I’ve been sober.”

Asked about her inspiration for the presidential role she assumed in “Supergirl,” Carter said: “It was Hillary. I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 35 years. She is the kindest, most wonderful human being. She has an infectious personality and smile and warmth and personality and true nature. She grew up in a time where you had a be a certain way to be taken seriously. Now you can be whoever you want. You don’t have to be serious. You can be feminine and powerful at the same time.”

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

REBIRTH

Watchman Rebirth imageRiesman mentions DC’s recently launched Rebirth in which “creators were told to tweak the venerable mainstream-superhero pantheon so the characters could be their best selves.” It’s possible, I suppose, that “the” Watchmen could serve as a thematic foil, contrasting failed or flawed superheroism with successful “best selves” superheroism in the Rebirthed DC universe. Such a maneuver would give the Watchmen a serious (if not satirical) function. It would also perpetuate Moore’s theme.

That, however, is not likely to happen. DC is almost certainly simply using the fame of Moore’s Watchmen to hype sales of its titles, a sad but capitalistically sound tradition.

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

MORE WATCHMEN TO WATCH?

WATCHMEN castDC Comics just can’t let well enough alone. After one mediocre attempt to expand the Watchmen universe by producing a “prequel” series about what Alan Moore’s superheroes did before the publication of the initial Watchmen, DC is apparently poised to try another approach to milking Moore’s sea-changing creation for all it’s worth. Apparently, saith Abraham Riesman at vulture.com, in this new incarnation, the Watchmen will cross-over to meet the superheroes of DC’s universe — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al.

It’s a project that could go very, very wrong, Riesman said. “Notice the lack of a ‘the’ in Moore’s title as it’s the key to understanding the potential disaster the story might turn out to be.”

At first glance, Riesman goes on, we may suppose that Moore’s book is about a team of superheroes called “the Watchmen.” But that team never shows up.

“There is no group by that name,” Riesman says. “The noun, as it turns out, is referring to Juvenal’s immortal question, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,’ one translation of which is, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’

“It’s a clever and disarming misdirect: instead of denoting the costumed crusaders in the novel, the title is critiquing them for their narcissistic decision to act as humanity’s unaccountable guardians — and critiquing us for our dreams about letting them do so. That’s sorta the whole point of Watchmen. Three decades after it debuted, it remains the gold standard for deconstructionist superhero stories, subverting the perverted power fantasies and harmful delusions of grandeur that we indulge in when we create or consume superhero fiction.”

DC is likely to miss that point, Riesman speculates, “treating the pointedly pathetic protagonists of Watchmen as just another super-team. In fact, it seems almost inevitable.”

And it will undercut and destroy the whole idea of Moore’s Watchmen, Riesman continues: “Moore ... [made] an epic that was free of the moralism and heroism of the mainstream DC universe. In the ecosystem of conventional superhero stories, the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and the moral gray areas are never that gray. That kind of approach is antithetical to the themes of Watchmen, in which the good guys are fuck-ups, sadists, and/or sociopaths whose personal failings wind up making them the bad guys. What’s more, their world mostly follows the laws and logic of our own, with only one character possessing actual superpowers — a fact that makes him horrifyingly pivotal in the fate of humanity.”

So what will happen when the “earnest do-gooders” of the DC universe meet “the tragic idiots? There are only two possibilities that I can imagine,” Riesman writes. “One is an extremely metatextual satire that finds humor in the eye-rolling notion of such an encounter. But that’s about as likely as Batman adding a tutu to his costume. Much more probable is a story that crassly capitalizes on 30 years of enthusiasm for and familiarity with Watchmen’s characters by throwing them into a serious, high-octane adventure alongside the kinds of figures they were designed to mock. The idea is perverse in its misguided, more-is-more shallowness.”

Riesman says he “struggles” to imagine “what anyone could do to make a worthwhile and respectful Watchmen tie-in. We should withhold critical judgment until the pudding is made, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.”

Riesman mentions DC’s recently launched Rebirth in which “creators were told to tweak the venerable mainstream-superhero pantheon so the characters could be their best selves.” It’s possible, I suppose, that “the” Watchmen could serve as a thematic foil, contrasting failed or flawed superheroism with successful “best selves” superheroism in the Rebirthed DC universe. Such a maneuver would give the Watchmen a serious (if not satirical) function. It would also perpetuate Moore’s theme.

That, however, is not likely to happen. DC is almost certainly simply using the fame of Moore’s Watchmen to hype sales of its titles, a sad but capitalistically sound tradition.

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

HAS CHARLIE GONE SOFT ON ISLAMIC HOOLIGANISM?

Charlie Hebdo cover 2015

One of Charlie Hebdo’s most outspoken journalists quit the satirical magazine at the end of 2016 because, she says, it has gone soft on Islamist extremism. AFP reports that “Zineb El Rhazoui accused the weekly of bowing to Islamist extremists and no longer daring to draw the Prophet Muhammad.” Said she in a damning interview with AFP: “Charlie Hebdo died on January 7” 2015, the day the gunmen attacked the magazine’s office, killing 12 people.

She said she felt Charlie Hebdo now follows the editorial line the extremists had demanded “before the attack — that Muhammad is no longer depicted.”

El Rhazoui, 35, who is followed everywhere by police bodyguards and is known as the most protected woman in France, also questioned the magazine’s “capacity to carry the torch of irreverence and absolute liberty.”

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

COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS DO WELL IN 2016

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl coverLast year, reports Michael Cavna, the only area within adult fiction that increased in sales over 2015 was graphic novels. He quotes Publishers Weekly, which, citing Nielsen BookScan numbers, asserts: “The lone bright spot in fiction was comics and graphic novels, which had a 12% increase on the year.”

Fiction overall was nearly flat last year, dipping by 1 percent. There were “no breakout bestsellers” in adult fiction, PW reports, and almost “all fiction subcategories closed out the year lower than in 2015.” Yet amid this nearly across-the-board decline on the fiction side, comics were too popular to be denied.

At mid-year (last summer), Heidi MacDonald at publishersweekly.com reported that after a year of slipping sales and smaller lines in 2015, the comics industry was in a more upbeat mood at the 2016 Diamond Retailer Summit, held August 31-September2 in Baltimore by Diamond Comic Distributors, the main distributor for periodical comics and traditional comics publishers. ...

While sales have yet to fully recover from a shaky start in 2016— overall sales are down 2.2%— graphic novels are up 2.4%. Additionally, Diamond’s customer count is up 3.6%.

Periodical comics are down 2.6%, and merchandise down 1.6%. However, at a breakfast presentation, Diamond reps announced that sales had picked up over the summer, and by year's end they expect sales to stabilize.

The growth in graphic novels was remarked on by nearly every publisher. Mainstream authors Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood have had success at Dark Horse, said editor in chief Dave Marshall, at a state-of-the-industry panel. “More and more of our readers are preferring the collected [book] format.” ...

Much of this summer’s surge in sales is due to DC’s Rebirth event, a moderate revamp of its superhero comics line, which launched in April and has shipped over 12 million returnable units since then. The sales velocity of Rebirth has been even bigger than 2011’s New 52 (an earlier DC superhero revamp), with Rebirth showing a 76% rise in sales compared to New 52’s 47% rise.

DC hopes to continue the upswing with a Justice League vs Suicide Squad event — DC’s iconic superhero team battles DC’s bad-guys turned good-guys team—early in 2017, announced by co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.

At Marvel, retail channels outside the direct market (local comic book stores) have had an impact, including Scholastic Book Fairs, where lighthearted Marvel characters such as Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl are sold. Marvel senior v-p of marketing and sales David Gabriel said Marvel is having its best year since he started at the company 14 years ago. The new Black Panther series by Ta-Nehisi Coates has also expanded the diversity of Marvel’s line, as well.

Other publishers saw a similarly rosy horizon.

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

GRAPHIC NOVELS OFF THE NYT LISTS

GHOSTS  coverStarting February 5, the esteemed New York Times dropped graphic novels from its bestseller lists—i.e., Hardcover Graphic Books, Paperback Graphic Books and Manga. Among graphic novel publishers, this maneuver is seen as a serious blow to the future of graphic novel publication.

“In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued,” New York Times VP-Communications Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email to ICv2's Milton Griepp. “The discontinued lists did not reach or resonate with many readers.”

The graphic novel bestseller charts date to 2009, with George Gene Gustines of the Times marking the significance of the launch in the Arts Beat blog with the pronouncement that “Comics have finally joined the mainstream,” a cultural milestone for the comics medium.

“We read the ‘did not reach or resonate’ comment as ‘didn’t get enough clicks,’” wrote Griepp, “but note that publishers and comic creators have used the ‘New York Times bestseller’ moniker frequently as a way to provide a widely accepted measure of a title’s popularity. So even if direct traffic was less than the Times wants for the amount of labor it took to produce the lists, they certainly spread the brand and credibility of the Times to a broader audience.

“We see this as a retreat,” Griepp continued, “— by the most important publication in the U.S. from one of the fastest-growing and most influential parts of pop culture, even though [as promised] the Times may increase other forms of [graphic novel] coverage.”

According to Ha, “The change allows us to expand our coverage of these books in ways that we think will better serve readers and attract new audiences to the genres.”

But, saith Griepp, “The lack of understanding that comics are a medium, not a genre, is not reassuring. And even if there are more reviews and other coverage, there is no way that the number of titles affected by such reviews can ever come anywhere near the number of titles to which publishers were able to append ‘New York Times bestseller’ for the past eight years.

It’s an unfortunate event for the comics business, which has been growing (particularly in the graphic novel format, which, coupled to comics sales, topped $1 billion in sales in a recent report), and one sign of the seemingly inexorable forces that are pummeling the newspaper business at the Times and elsewhere.

“Regardless of the reasons for the move,” Griepp went on, “the impact on comics will be negative, particularly on the front lines of the medium’s battle for legitimacy, such as schools and libraries. And we find it hard to believe that it will ultimately be good for the New York Times.”

The decision apparently came directly from the Times book review editor Pamela Paul, who took to Twitter to defend her decision:

“Quick note to fellow comics/graphic novel fans: the Times is not cutting back on coverage of these genres/formats but rather expanding on coverage in ways that reach more readers than the lists did. To wit: new graphic reviews by comic artists, more reviews and more news and features about the genre and its creators. We are big fans, and want to recognize growing readership. Stay tuned.”

For an industry that has spent decades working its way into the mainstream, said Michael Cavna at Comic Riffs, “the death of the graphic-books lists feels like an odd setback that runs counter to recent trends. Just this month, Publishers Weekly reported that according to Nielsen BookScan numbers, all types of adult fiction books decreased in sales in 2016 — except for graphic novels, which increased 12 percent over 2015.”

Although all the comics publishers were troubled by the decision to cut the lists, said Calvin Reid at publishersweeky.com, “some publishers criticized their accuracy and were not especially worried that their elimination would hurt the category.

“Ted Jones, CEO of IDW Publishing, one of the largest independent comics and graphic novel publishers in the country, said he was disappointed to see the list go, but: ‘We liked being able to say something was a NYT best-seller but I don't know that it ever really impacted sales.’

The issue is discussed at even greater (not to say tedious) length in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 363).

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

FIRST COMICS CRITICISM IN THE U.S.

From John Adcock on his blogspot site:

EXTRA, NO. IX. The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck, often labeled “the first American comic book,” first issued to subscribers as a 40-page ‘Extra, No. IX’ issue of Brother Jonathan weekly in New York, and dated September 14, 1842, was a reworked bootleg version in English of Swiss cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer’s comic strip Les Amours de Mr. Vieux Bois or Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois (1827, Geneva album published 1837).

If Oldbuck might be called the first American comic book, the following short newspaper quip might be called the first criticism of comic books in America:

Does the “Brother Jonathan” often humbug the public with such trash as the “Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck”? The respectable papers of Boston should not become a party to such impositions by puffing them. — Gloucester [Massachusetts] Telegraph, Sep 16, 1842

Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck cover

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

KOMINSKY-CRUMB & CRUMB SHOW

A new show displays the work Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Robert Crumb have made over the decades of their partnership. At newrepublic.com, Josphine Livingstone begins her report: ‘As a woman with a big ass, I’ve always liked Robert Crumb. Those who are familiar with Crumb’s art only in passing will know him for the big, sturdy, sexualized women he drools over in his comics. ‘Nice big legs!’ one drawing reads, next to an arrow pointing to some nice, big legs. Crumb draws himself as a paltry little nerd, sometimes clinging to the legs of an enormous woman, his eyes hidden completely behind bottle-bottom glasses. Flecks of saliva tend to fly across the paradigmatic Crumb page.”

Although he is the better known of the two, Livingstone continues, “Crumb has been married for 40 years to the equally talented comics artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb. A new exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York City (previously on view at the Cartoonmuseum Basel) displays the work they have made together and separately over the decades of their partnership.”

Sorry: I beg to differ. Aline Kominsky-Crumb is not anywhere near as talented a cartoonist as her husband. She has an underground cartoonist’s sensibility, but she can’t draw worth a toot, as we can plainly see in the picture at the lower right, of the cover of their Drawn Together that shows both cartoonists seated on a couch, self-portraits of each. And next to that, at the left, another Kominsky-Crumb self-portrait. Above these two is a more illuminating visual — a photograph of the happy couple.

CrumbCrumb

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

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