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FIRST ISSUE: MOCKINGBIRD

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

Mockingbird 1 CoverMOCKINGBIRD No.1 isn’t really a first issue. We know the character: an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Barbara “Bobbi” Morse has been around for a while, both before and after she was brought back from the dead by Fury. Besides, this is a one-shot “50th anniversary” issue. So the usual criteria for a first issue don’t apply. The issue opens with her awakening in bed with her current lover, Lance Hunter, but she mutters the name of a former lover, “Clint” — as in Clint Barton, Hawkeye. Lance doesn’t seem to mind, though.

Barbara arises, gets dressed, reads in the morning paper that her mentor, Wilma Calvin, has been murdered, and goes to the morgue where Wilma’s corpse is residing. Joined by Wilma’s son Percy, Barbara conducts an autopsy and decides Percy killed his own mother. Percy, however, has drugged Barbara by lining her plastic gloves with neurotoxin, which knocks her out. When she recovers, she’s bound to an examining table, but she breaks free and takes Percy out. At the end of the issue, she’s back in bed with Lance, and as she turns out the light, she says, “Goodnight, Clint.” And Lance says: “You did that on purpose, right?”

A nicely circular storyline, but I don’t know why writer Chelsea Cain wants Barbara to object to Lance’s “cuddling her.” Probably because cuddling is intimate, and Barbara is trying not to be too intimate with Lance. But that’s just a guess.

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The book is drawn by Joelle Jones in her usual hard-edged bold linear manner. But Cain doesn’t take full advantage of Jones’ talent in rendering action sequences. As you can see in the accompanying illustrations, the narrative on many of the book’s pages is carried by multiple tiny panels that permit a focus on only parts of the person depicted. This kind of pacing is skillfully managed, creating and sustaining mood for dramatic emphasis, and Cain/Joelle make it work here.

But they also contrive a huge two-page illustration of Barbara performing the autopsy under a massive ceiling light to no dramatic purpose. A conspicuous waste of space. Ditto the single page given to showing Percy hovering over Barbara’s body as she wakes up, chained to the examining table. The space would be better used in showing Barbara taking Percy down after she’s broken free of the shackles.

Given the over-all success of the book, this quibble is perhaps excessive. In any event, it’s nice to see Jones at work again in a pleasingly complex tale.

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

A VISIT TO ABE MARTIN LODGE

I was in Indiana last year, visiting relatives, but I encountered a charming scrap of cartooning lore while there, thanks to my nephew, who recommended that we dine one evening at the Abe Martin Lodge, a resort atop Kin Hubbard Ridge in Brown County State Park just down the road a piece from Nashville, Indiana, a small town with artist colony aspirations and numerous souvenir shops, tourist traps, and parking problems.

Dedicated and named in 1932, Abe Martin Lodge now boasts 84 sleeping rooms (two beds and a bathroom each), meeting and conference rooms, a dining room/restaurant, an indoor water park and, scattered around the immediate vicinity, numerous cabins for rent. The Lodge claims to be “only one of a few resorts in the world named after a cartoon character.” “Only one of a few” is a curious statement, hedged with qualifiers that handily undermine disputation — if any. (Well, there’s Disneyland, but Disney wasn’t a cartoon character; and the defunct Dogpatch U.S.A. in northwest Arkansas, but Dogpatch, although individual enough to be a virtual character in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, was the locale, not a personage. So unless anyone can think of a resort named after a cartoon character, Abe Martin Lodge stands undisputed—despite the qualifiers.)

And who, you ask, was Abe Martin?

Glad you asked. He was the comical concoction of Kin Hubbard, an Indiana cartoonist and humorist renowned for three decades, 1900-1930.

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As we see from the above visuals, Abe Martin was probably the inspiration for the expression “cracker barrel philosopher”: he stood around mostly, uttering utterances both profound and comical. With every daily appearance, he usually uttered two such utterances, but they were not connected or related to a common theme. They were, each, entirely free-standing.

Both Hubbard and Abe were famous enough to enjoy the admiration of none other than Will Rogers, who considered Hubbard an equal in the humorist racket. Rogers is still remembered even today, amid the rampant wholesale absent-mindedness that distinguishes our times, rendering both Hubbard and Abe among the forgotten famous. If you want the whole story of Hubbard’s career and Abe’s creation, you can find it at RCHarvey.com in Harv’s Hindsight for March 2013. Or in a chapter of my book, Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creations (which is shameless offered for sale at the aforementioned RCHarvey.com).

We conclude with a short photographic essay depicting Abe Martin as he now appears in the lobby of the Abe Martin Lodge. AbeMartinLodge2

 

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Abe Martin, incidentally, is still being published—in reprint, I suspect, in the newspaper that Hubbard’s father published in Ohio, the Bellafontaine Examiner. The publisher nowadays is Kin Hubbard’s grandson.

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

FREE SPEECH IN THE WAKE OF THE DANISH DOZEN

Jacob MchangamaLast fall, September 30, 2015, marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten, an editorial decision that would ignite a global battle of values over the relationship between free speech and religion that is still ongoing, reported Jacob Mchangama in Copenhagen in early October. Said he:

"On one side of this conflict are those who insist that free speech includes the right to offend any idea, religious or secular, and that tolerance means putting up with those expressions that you most despise. On the other side are those who believe that religion, and in particular Islam, must be protected from scorn and mockery, a small minority of whom are willing to use violence to enforce a “jihadist’s veto.” In between are the many members of what Salman Rushdie has called the “but-brigade,” people who are formally committed to free speech, but for whom a commitment to tolerance and social peace means imposing society-wide norms of self-censorship on ideas that may offend or hurt members of religious or ethnic groups.

In a world where, according to Freedom House, only 14 percent of the population live in states with free speech, and where respect for press freedom is at its lowest point in more than 10 years, the stakes of this battle are very high indeed. Will the hard won freedoms of conscience and expression prevail, or will even liberal democracies internalize a sugar-coated version of the red lines of the “jihadist veto?”

Mchangama concluded: “There can be little doubt that the past 10 years have proven Flemming Rose right when on September 30, 2005, he wrote that ‘the public debate is being intimidated,’ and warned that ‘we’re on a slippery slope, where no one can predict what the result of self-censorship will be.’ Fortunately, the prescience of Rose’s prophecy has had a salutary effect on public opinion. But whether it will be enough to conquer the fear that has paralyzed editors and newsrooms is yet to be seen.”

Jacob Mchangama is the executive director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights and the rule of law.

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

THE SECRET OF COMIC-CONS

Denver hosted the 10th annual Zombie Crawl on the downtown 16th Street Mall last fall, October 17. Thousands lurched along the street in bloodied clothing and decayed facial make-up in what was billed as the largest event of its kind. That so many took part helps explain the success of comic-cons: these days, people apparently love dressing up to assume the role of their favorite character, and comic-cons give them all the excuse they need so they attend in droves, converting what once were venues for collecting comic books into costume parades.

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

THREE GRAPHIC NOVELS ON BANNED LIST

Drama cover

Last fall during Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom produced its annual “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books” list. Three graphic novels are on the list: 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

GRAPHIC NOVEL SALES UP

Graphic Novels panel

 

Despite a slight summer slump last year, graphic novel sales are still on the rise, according to the annual ICv2 report, summarizing “the biggest year ever in 2014 with an estimated $460 million in sales, via both comics shops and traditional retailers,” said Heidi MacDonald at publishersweekly.com. “Bookstore sales hit an all-time high at $285 million, surpassing even the manga boom of the mid-Aughts,” she added. “Female readership also continues to grow: Comixology reported that the percentage of their new customers that was female had doubled over the last two years, up to 30% of new customers, from 20% in l2013.”

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

WIMPY KID ON TOUR

Jeff Kinney embarked on a global tour last fall to promote the 10th book in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School was released November 3 in the U.S. by Abrams’s Amulet Books imprint, triggering a tour with stops in 15 cities on five continents, including New York, N.Y.; Boston, Mass.; Tokyo, Japan; Beijing, China; Sydney, Australia; Madrid, Spain; London, U.K.; Lisbon, Portugal; Frankfurt, Germany; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; Bucharest, Romania; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Riga, Latvia; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Said Kinney: “One of the biggest surprises of my life is that kids from all over the world seem to relate to Greg Heffley and his comic struggles. What I’ve learned is that childhood itself is a universal condition that transcends culture and language.”

Wimpy Kid Old School drawing

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

SUCCESS FOR THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus is the name of the newest comic-con phenomenon. Capitalizing on Ohio as the birthplace of so many cartoonists (exhibit A, herewith)

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and on the Ohio State University’s Columbus campus as host of the world’s largest archive of original cartoon art and historical information, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, CXC (as it styles itself) was formed by Jeff Smith (creator of Bone), Lucy S. Caswell (retired curator and nurturer of the Ireland Library — once, at its beginning, simply the Milton Caniff Research Room) — Vijaya Iyer (Smith’s wife and business partner), and Tom Spurgeon (former managing editor of the Comics Journal and host of his own comics blog, ComicsReporter) to take advantage of the venue to celebrate the arts of cartooning. I suspect in the back of their collective mind there lurks a hope that CXC will become the Angouleme of America; but I may be reading too much into all this.

An estimated 1,200 people attended the inaugural weekend of the event last fall. Next fall, CXC will meet October 13-16; in 2017, September 28-October 1; in 2018, September 27-30; in 2019, September 26-29. Mark your calendar; mine’s already marked.

“What makes this show unique is Columbus itself,” said Smith, CXC’s President and Artistic Director. “We have unprecedented levels of institutional support for cartooning and comics here, from the museums and schools to the James Thurber House with its annual Graphic Novelist in Residence, which recognizes outstanding new talent.”

And he and his cohorts set out to put the best into CXC. And more: “This festival brings the whole city into the celebration.”

CXC promotional information says the event’s mission “is to celebrate the diversity of the cartoon arts, including animation, editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels, and to highlight the city of Columbus and its comics community to the world, working to secure the brightest possible future for the next generation of comics-makers.”

CXC takes the place of the triennial Festival of Cartoon Art that was staged by and at the Ireland Library every third year since 1983.

Said Jenny Robb, the current curator at the Ireland: “The Festival was a wonderful event, but participation was capped at 300 people. While attendees enjoyed the intimate nature of the Festival, we wished that we could find a way to allow more people to participate and to celebrate the art form.”

CXC is the way.

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