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HALLOWEEN CLASSICS

Halloween Classics: Graphic Classics, Volume 23
Edited by Tom Pomplun
144 page
7x10-inch pages
All color
Eureka Productions
paperback
$17.95

Halloween Classics VolThis graphic "novel," like virtually all of the Eureka Productions volumes, is not a novel but a collection of short stories, in this case, five, including Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s mummy musing, “Lot No.249,” Mark Twain’s “A Curious Dream,” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air.” The longest piece in the book is a treatment of the silent film “The Cabinet of Dr. Calligari,” illustrated by Matt Howarth.

Extending the theme of the volume are storytelling flourishes evoking the horror fantasy titles of EC Comics: each story is introduced by “Mort Castle,” whose text is illustrated with ghoulish characters drawn by Kevin Atkinson. The cover bears a vaguely familiar logo, which, upon closer inspection, is not EC but GC. Touches like this distinguish Eureka publications.

Among the adapting artists are two of my favorites — Shepard Hendricks on Irving’s headless horseman and Simon Gane on Doyle’s mummy. Craig Wilson, who draws the Lovecraft tale in deep shadows that sculpt shapes so cleanly they seem carved from ice, is new to me, but I’m glad to make his acquaintance.

In these stories — as with virtually all Graphic Classics I’ve seen — the adaptations are not merely illustrated excerpts from the original prose but visual-verbal interpretations in which the pictures contribute narrative information to the speeches and captions. These are, in other words, true comics treatments, in which the words and pictures blend for a narrative meaning that neither the words nor the pictures alone achieve without the other.

And the drawing styles of the artists contribute to the meaning of the tales. Twain’s “Curious Dream” about the exodus of the skeletal remains from a graveyard because the town has neglected its upkeep is a humorous satire, and Nick Miller’s pictures are appropriately bigfoot in manner. Wilson’s shadow-shrouded pictures, on the other hand, are aptly suited to spooky Lovecraft.

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

JAMES JOYCE

James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner coverJames Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner, is purported by John Spain at the Irish Independent to be “a remarkable depiction of the Dublin of the author’s time, his family, his friends, his travels in Europe and how he overcame poverty, rejection and ill-health to create some of the greatest works in the English language” (the stream-of-consciousness novel Ulysses for one). But “the core of the book” is its depiction of the James’ “all-consuming love” for his wife, Nora. “As is usual in graphic novels, the love affair is shown in an explicit manner at some points, including sections showing them cavorting together in the nude on Howth Head and naked on a bed in the town of Pola, now in Croatia.”

Probably, unless I miss my guess (which I have done at least once before), the book does not record the most notable event of their first date which took place in a pub and no doubt contributed to James’ infatuation with his wife-to-be: she reached under the table at the pub and into James pants. Nor, probably, does it reveal that Joyce, who drank considerably, “overcame” his poverty by begging money from his friends.

According to Spain, the 228-page book has thousands of drawings “and the surprising thing is that the book is not the work of an Irish artist, but a young Spanish illustrator and Joyce admirer, Alfonso Zapico.”

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

THE ILLUSIONIST

MOVIE REVIEW

The Illusionist posterThe Illusionist: a 2010 British-French animated film directed by Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”)

It's been sixty years since I saw “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” but I recognized in the title character of this film the caricature of Jacques Tati that is intended. Not only is Tati’s face on display, but his body language is captured precisely — the classic Hulot pose with hands on hips; the way he walks, leaning forward slightly as if walking against a high wind. As a final giveaway (though it is scarcely needed), the character’s stage name is Tatischeff, Tati’s name at birth.

I don’t usually review animated cartoons, I realize — and, in fact, I don’t usually see them anymore — but this one’s debut in 2010 was heralded by such glowing reviews (Roger Ebert called it “an extension of the mysterious whimsey of Tati ... the magically melancholy final act of Jacques Tati’s career”) that I have been long tempted and at last surrendered and rented a copy from Blockbuster. And I’m glad I did.

The story, based on a script by Tati, is straightforward. In 1959, a stage magician (the “illusionist”) finds his career evaporating as rock bands displace old vaudeville acts in theaters. He persists, nonetheless, plying his craft in smaller and smaller venues — cafes, bars, private parties. On a remote Scottish island, he encounters a young “Cinderella” chambermaid named Alice who is captivated by his “magic” and he is charmed by her unembarrassed worship. He buys her a new pair of shoes, and she follows him when he leaves. His next gig is at an out-of-the way theater in Edinburgh, and the pair take a room in a rundown guest house where other remnants of vaudeville’s past glories reside — a trio of acrobats, a clown, and a ventriloquist. The illusionist sleeps on the couch, and Alice sleeps in the bedroom and keeps house, making meals, which she often shares with the other residents.

The film has the kind of poignant sad-but-laughable quality that distinguishes Mr. Hulot’s adventures. But it is otherwise a technical triumph, which is what impressed me most about it and why I’m writing about it here. The animation is by hand, and it is unusually complex and detailed. In crowd scenes, for example, background characters move; in most animations, only the principal characters move much. And the locales are marvelously authentic. Architectural details abound in Edinburgh street scenes; landscapes are dreamlike pastoral retreats. As the illusionist travels to Scotland, he takes a ferry across a lake, and we see tiny gulls flying over the boat.

Jacques TatiThe film cost $17 million, according to Sylvain Chomet. One report said 180 creative personnel worked on the film; Chomet said 300 people and 80 animators.

Tati wrote the script in 1956, and it is widely assumed that it is a letter, a sort of apology — a plea for reconciliation —  written to his first daughter, born out of wedlock, whom Tati abandoned and never recognized, perhaps because he was then, in 1942, ashamed to admit the affair that resulted in her birth. In the film, “Tatischeff” does for Alice all the things Tati wished, in retrospect, he had done for his first-born.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

NATIVE AMERICAN CLASSICS

Native American Classics: Graphic Classics, Volume 24
Edited by Tom Pomplun; associate editors John E. Smelcer and Joseph Bruchac, noted Native American authors
Eureka Productions
144 7x10-inch pages
All color
Paperback
$17.95

Native American Classics coverWith this volume, Eureka’s shelf of adaptations of classical works of literature reaches two dozen. Although many of the previous volumes feature works by the same author (Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, R.L. Stevenson, Jack London, O.Henry, Oscar Wilde, Rafael Sabatini, Louisa May Alcott), others, like this one, are thematic compilations (horror, gothic, fantasy, science fiction, westerns, Christmas). Pomplun’s formula remains the same here: he assigns specific works to an assortment of writers and artists for adaptation to comics format. The earliest volumes in the series were black-and-white; the ones here — and many of the more recent productions — have been in glorious full color, with glossy covers and sparkling interiors.

Native American Classics is a somewhat more ambitious project for Pomplun: first, because it draws upon classic folktales likely unknown to most American readers; and second, because it involves a literary culture Pomplun is not intimately knowledgeable about, he recruited associate editors familiar with the field. John Smelcer, a member of the Alaskan tribe Ahtna, is one of the last speakers of his severely endangered Native language and is the author of more than 40 books. Joseph Bruchac of the Abenakis has spent much of a 45-year career as writer, editor, storyteller and musician, attempting to preserve indigenous languages and cultural traditions.

Many of the writers and artists in this volume, however well-known in their cultural milieu, are not household words elsewhere (although Terry Laban, with his wife, produces a King Features syndicated daily comic strip, Edge City).

Some of the folk tales are serious, even tragic; others are highly comic. And the drawing styles, as usual, echo the tenor of the tales. Pat N. Lewis, for instance, illustrates “The Story of Itsikamahidish and the Wild Potato” in a comedic manner (almost Chuck Jones) suited to a story about flatulence and how to avoid it. And Marty Two Bulls Sr., an Oglala Lakota who last year won the Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his editorial cartooning, deploys a similarly comic style for a humorous two-page story about a braggart of a mountain man who receives his comeuppance from a wooden statue of a Native American.

On the other hand, Cherokee Roy Boney, Jr. draws “How the White Race Came to America” and colors it in a painterly fashion appropriate to a tragic tale of how European culture contaminated that of the Native American.

The book also includes several poems, all illustrated in suitable moods.

As I’ve said before, the Graphic Classics are among the finest productions in cartooning arts around these days.

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

BATWOMAN CREATORS LEAVING IN A HUFF

From ICv2.com: Continuing a run of creative defections from DC after conflicts over editorial decisions, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are leaving Batwoman after No.26. The move was announced by identical posts on the creators’ websites that detailed how the team planned storylines many issues in advance (five story arcs at the outset), and were following those plans but last-minute changes demanded by their editor left them "frustrated and angry."

Batwoman poster"Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series," they wrote. "We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end."

They called Batwoman "a dream project for both of us" and are clearly unhappy at leaving the book, but feel they must. "We can’t reliably do our best work if our plans are scrapped at the last minute, so we’re stepping aside," they wrote.

ICv2 added: “Departures from DC, often over creative differences, have been a running story recently” but “DC’s co-publishers argue that the churn is normal, and that in fact, editorial control is looser than it’s been in the past.”

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

THE NEW HIEROGLYPHING

In Egypt, cartoonists participate in the on-going protests by hanging their cartoons in a tent gallery in downtown Cairo. When, on August 14, authorities cleared the demonstration (and killed 235 people in the process), the cartoon gallery, like the rest of the demonstration, turned to mud and blood. But that night, cartoonists were again drawing cartoons to post on Thursday, according to Jonathan Guyer at the newyorker.com. We’ve posted a sampling in the Usual Place, Rants & Raves, Op. 315.

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

RUMBLE IN RIVERDALE PROLONGED

Behind the scenes at Archie Comics, legal machinations continue to clank loudly. Choosing between Betty and Veronica, it turns out, is the least of Archie’s worries. The rumble in Riverdale (as Dareh Gregorian at the New York Daily News calls it) began in 2011 when Nancy Silberkleit, who inherited her co-CEO position at the death of her husband Michael, was accused of sexually harassing male employees, once barging into a meeting and yelling “Penis! Penis! Penis!” and pointing to the men present.

Veronica, Archie, BettyI’ve always thought she was being satirical, but the Archie hierarchy took her seriously: she was enjoined from entering the offices. Needing a go-between, 59-year-old Silberkleit named a friend of 40 years, Sam Levitin, 73, as her liaison with the office. But her friendship soured late last year when, she alleges in a new law suit, she rejected Levitin’s “unwanted and improper sexual advances.”

Levitin denies having hit on her and says Silberkleit is “unstable” and if she remains in a position of power, "she will greatly damage the business."

Silberkleit's lawyer, Paul Jaffe, said the allegations against his client "are just not true."

Citing Silberkleit’s bad behavior, Levitin filed court papers in December seeking to have her removed as an Archie trustee. Silberkleit followed suit by seeking to have him removed from his job, citing his "unwelcome advances."

She then filed a sexual harassment claim against him and the company this past April, claiming she "has been and continues to be the subject of unwelcomed sexual harassment" at Archie's offices in Mamaroneck, Westchester County.

Archie hired an outside firm to investigate her claims, and it determined her allegations were "unfounded." In a statement, Archie Comics said only that, "The company is not a party in the litigation."

(Virtually all of the foregoing, beginning with the third paragraph, is taken verbatim from Gregorian’s account of August 2.)
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

USAGI'S 30th

Usagi Yojimbo tribute coverStan Sakai was honored at this year’s Baltimore Con, September 7-8, with the publication of an art book in which 30 artists have drawn Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo on the occasion of the character’s 30 years of publication.

Said Sakai: “I really enjoy seeing other artists’ interpretations of Usagi. They range from pure humor to very dramatic to high action — just like my own stories.”

Sakai drew the book’s cover. While Con organizers hope to sell all the books during the Con, they’ll explore ways to sell any left-overs; check the website, baltimorecomiccon.com

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

WALLY WOOD: TAKE FOUR

Came the Dawn and Other Stories Illustrated by Wallace Wood
Edited by Gary Groth with an Introduction by Bill Mason
208 pages
7 x 10
b/w
Fantagraphics hardcover
$28.99

Came the Dawn coverThis volume reprints 26 of Wood’s EC Comics stories, including the sexually charged title story in which a shapely blonde is depicted in a way that suggests her sweater and jeans are pasted (or painted!) on. The stories are printed in chronological order, running the gamut of Wood’s EC career, beginning with “The Werewolf Legend” from The Vault of Horror No.12, April-May 1950, and ending with “The Confidant” in Shock SuspenStories No.15, June-July 1954. With the evidence laid out in this fashion, we can watch Wood mature as an artist, and Mason’s introduction is a discerning guide. The earliest of the stories here are Harry Harrison-Wood collaborations, and it isn’t until “Death’s Double-Cross” from 1950 that characteristic Wood marks begin to emerge; still, some of the art looks more like primitive Johnny Craig that Wood. But by the spring of 1951 in ”So They Finally Pinned You Down,” it’s all Wood.

All these tales are horror and supernatural, plus some of the famed sociological screeds—the latter (publisher Bill Gaines called them “preachies’), mostly from Shock SuspenStories (notably, “The Guilty,” about racism, and “Hate,” about anti-Semitism). In late 1952's “Hate,” we see at last the characteristic Wood shading and highlighting of facial features and seductively draped female figures, wearing nearly transparent gowns.

The artwork in the stories is carefully, faithfully, reproduced, and Mason’s guidance is expert and thoughtful. The book’s only flaw — a minor one — is that the Table of Contents does not date the stories; and the dates don’t appear on each story’s first page either. The dates and the titles of the comic books in which the stories were first published appear in a tiny type list on the reverse of the title page. Adequate for historical purposes, no doubt; but it should be easier to find dates in a chronological compilation, one of the appeals of which is to watch the artist’s skill grow over years.

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

WALLY WOOD: TAKE THREE

 WoodWork: Wallace Wood, 1927-1981
342 pages
9.5 x 12
color throughout
2012 IDW hardcover
$59.99

Woodwork is an elaborate publication that originated as a sumptuous catalogue for an exhibit of Wood’s art at the Casal Solleric in Palma de Majorca in the fall of 2010. Contributed by Bill Pearson, Roger Hill, and Jerry Weist, the text, assembled (as was the show) and edited by Florentino Florez, appears in both English and Spanish. Biographical details are adequate, but the great achievement in Woodwork is in the presentation of Wood’s art.

WoodWork0004
The page size permits much more lavish display of the art, including several complete stories, reproduced from the original drawings — Wood’s famed “My World,” for instance, but also “Trial by Arms” from Two-Fisted Tales, “Flesh Garden” and “Prince Violent” from Mad, and “To Kill a God” from Vampirella, to name a few. And the original art “look” here is nearly — but not quite — as evident as it is in, say, the gigantic Mad Artist’s Edition.

Woodwork cover(I don’t know why people buy these “artist’s edition” tomes: the original art is shot “in color” so every blemish — white-outs, glue-stains of paste-overs, pencil under-drawing — is visible. That makes the pages in an “artist’s edition” as close to being “original art” as it’s possible to be without actually being original art. Yes, I’ve bought a couple — Neal Adams’ Thrillkill is the other one — and, yes, you can see the pencil under-drawing; still, that’s not the same as having the original art. In the original, the inked lines still gleam, and you can see — and feel — their texture. A foolish obsession, surely; but a real one nonetheless.)

Color appears throughout the book, which permits the art to be displayed nearest the text discussing it instead of wadding it all up in a color section to be winnowed out by the reader later. And virtually all of the comic book pages are reproduced large enough to read.

The notorious Disney Orgy is on display — as are several pages of Sally Forth and other late Wood works of an erotic (not to say “pornographic”) nature.

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

WALLY WOOD: TAKE TWO

Wally’s World: The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Wally Wood, the World Second-Best Comic Book Artist
by Steve Starger and J. David Spurlock
224 pages
7x10
hardcover
b/w with a color section
2006 Vangard
$34.95

Wallace Wood photoThis volume is worthy for its text rather than its pictures. The text seems a somewhat novelized recitation of the facts of Wood’s life and career — early partnerships with Harry Harrison and Joe Orlando, work for Avon, Fox, Trojan; then EC Comics, Will Eisner’s Spirit, then, after the Wertham collapse, Marvel, Tower, Charlton, Warren, Topps, followed by risque strips for Cavalcade and other magazines, then Wood’s Witzend. But the authors quote Wood’s friends and associates as factual underpinning, making the work reasonably trustworthy despite its occasional flights of narrative imagination (especially in regaling us with the stories of Wood’s youth). The art, alas, is reproduced in snippets and minuscule fragments. A 32-page color section reproduces covers mostly.

The book’s opening chapter is a detailed description of the death scene at Unit 71 of the apartment building at 15150 Parthenia Street in Van Nuys, California, where Wood was living when he committed suicide rather than (it is supposed) endure endless dialysis treatments for a failed kidney. Grim way to begin a book, but Wood’s finish is somehow an appropriately poetic end to a brilliant career that went into decline with his health.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WALLY WOOD: TAKE ONE

Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood
Edited by Bhob Stewart
238 pages
8.5x11
hardcover
b/w with 14-page color section
2003 TwoMorrows Limited Edition
$59.95

Againt the Grain coverWally Wood, or "Woody," as his friends called him (he never liked “Wally”), undoubtedly deserves a good biography. If you need some sort of justification, then you don’t know Wood’s work. Here, from Bill Mason in the volume at hand, is a hint about what you’ve missed:

“After spending most of 1951 [the first year of his work for EC Comics] restlessly changing his style, alternately refining and coarsening the self-assured, effortless-looking manner of his early New Trend stories, Wallace Wood suddenly, in the May-June 1952 issues of EC science-fiction and war titles, brought eye, heart and mind into perfect synch and emerged as one of the great masters of comics illustration. [His stories of that period] are more than the first fruits of Wood’s hard-won technical mastery: they are graphic expressions of everything Wood knew and felt about life and art, and harbingers of a period of artistic growth and achievement that lasted almost [all of the next] three years.”

The text in Against the Grain consists of essays by many of those who knew Wood, including Stewart and others who worked with Wood in his studio. Some “essays” are transcripts of recorded interviews — with John Severin, for instance, and Al Williamson. In the opening chapters, Stewart provides a biographical overview, including lots of pre-pro Wood art.

WoodWork0001
The volume includes many photographs and scads of art, but most of the comic book pages are reproduced here so small (often 4 to a page in the book) that they cannot be read without a magnifying glass. The color section reproduces mostly covers and miscellaneous art.

Wood’s try-out page to do Prince Valiant is here, but none of the brasher undertakings of his later years — no Sally Forth (one of the more voluptuous of Wood’s ever sensuous wimmin in a refreshing comedy of sf and perpetually naive disrobing), only a few panels from Cannon, Pipsqueak Papers, and The World of the Wizard King; nothing at all from Wood’s contributions to porn magazines.

Despite the book’s shortcomings, it is copiously illustrated and the essays provide critical analyses of Wood’s work, biographical detail, and insight into his complex personality.

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

AWARDS AT THE AAEC

The Locher Award is conferred annually to the best cartoonist at a U.S. college newspaper. Presented in memory of long-time AAEC member Dick Locher’s talented son John who died in 1986 at the age of 25, this year’s award went to Kara Yasui at the University of California, Los Angeles. The award includes paying expenses and transportation to the convention site for the recipient.

The Locher judges said this about Yasui’s work: her cartoons “are notable for being strong both in concept and execution. Whether skewering the partisans in Washington or throwing darts a higher education issues, she shows an impressive level of sophistication in her drawings and coloring. ... Her readers at UCLA are already seeing stellar work.”

The Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award is presented every year by the Cartoonists Rights Network International, a non-profit watchdog organization dedicated to protecting cartoonists whose livelihoods and, often, lives are threatened by oppressive governments that object to the criticism inherent in all political cartoons. Presented by Robert “Bro” Russell, CRNI’s Executive Director, the award this year went to Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, who was unable to attend, his exact whereabouts unknown.

Raslan disappeared in Damascus in January and was reportedly being held incommunicado by the Assad government and tortured because he drew cartoons critical of President Bashir al-Assad and his conduct of the civil war raging in Syria. The charges include collaborating with rebel groups, working against Syria’s constitution, insulting the president, incitement to sedition, promoting revolt against the public order, undermining the prestige of the Syrian state, and being a CIA and Israeli agent. CRNI wrote the Syrian ambassador in Washington, D.C., asking him to intervene on Raslan’s behalf, and the trial, scheduled for June 3, 2013, was postponed indefinitely.

The third of the evening’s awards was AAEC’s Ink Bottle Award, presented this year — surprise, surprise — to me! in recognition of my alleged service to the Association and “distinguished efforts to promote the art of editorial cartooning” (as the plaque states). I was honored and somewhat overwhelmed, having never won an award before and not regarding myself as particularly distinguished either. But that didn’t stop me from having my photo taken, holding the plaque in triumph in front of an original cartoon of mine that fetched $50 in the silent auction.

HarvInkBottle0001

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