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MORE DISASTER AT ARCHIE'S RIVERDALE

Veronica Archive Betty lift artAfter the death of Archie (which happened in July but only in one of the company’s comic titles), what more can happen? Plenty, as it turns out. Michael Uslan, who has already wreaked havoc in the Archie Universe by getting the Riverdale redhead to marry both Betty and Veronica, says in Comic Shop News No.1407 that he’s about to do it again: “I’m doing Farewell Betty & Veronica, which is going to change the dynamics of those comic books and Riverdale itself.”

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

FUNKY AND THE CON

Just in time to join in the general rush to promote the San Diego Comic-Con, Tom Batiuk devoted a two-week continuity in his Funky Winkerbean strip to comic books as treasures. Running the two weeks before the Con, the story regales us with a search for a long-lost comic book.

“It started,” said Batiuk, “with the fact that in the strip, Funky's stepson Cory is in Afghanistan. I had done some stories with him over there and I wanted to continue that but I also wanted to do a homefront story about what it was like for the parents. I was casting about for ways to get into this story when I thought of what if Holly — Cory's mother — discovered that he had a comic book collection and there were some comics missing. As a way of staying in touch with him and feeling like she was doing something, she would go out and collect the missing comics for him.”

Funky Winkerbean 7-7-14

The comic book in question concerns the adventures of Starbuck Jones, a space-traveling hero that Batiuk invented when he was in the fifth grade. One thing led to another, and Batiuk realized that the erstwhile fictional comic book had to appear in the strips. So he contacted several cartoonists, beginning with Joe Staton, to see if they’d draw a suitably spectacular Starbuck Jones cover. And they did — Bob Layton (his cover is pictured near here), Neil Vokes, Michael Gilbert, Mike Golden, Norm Breyfogle, and Terry Austin (whose cover joins Layton’s in our exhibit; the other covers can be found somewhere at web.mail.comcast.net).

Batiuk gave them complete freedom — “draw what you want” — with the unexpected consequence that Austin’s Starbuck Jones is a monkey.

Starbuck

In the course of her quest, Cory goes to the Sandy Eggo Con and rummages through bins of old comics looking for the one issue of Starbuck Jones that will complete Cory’s collection. But, alas, she doesn’t find it. Not there. She finds it back home when she goes to Tony Isabella’s Garage Con, where Isabella (a real person, columnist for the defunct Comics Buyer’s Guide in case you’ve just joined us) finds the illusive No.115.

Although he spilled this many beans to Alex Dueben at web.mail.comcast, Batiuk also promised that there’s more to come. Turns out that he invented a lot more characters while in the fifth grade — among them, The Amazing Mr. Sponge. Stay ’tooned.

 

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

GRAPHIC NARRATIVE IN PLAYBOY

Playboy cover July 2014The July/August issue of Playboy (another of its fraudulent “double issues” with only 30 percent more pages than usual allotment) contains a 6-page graphic narrative. Written and drawn in black and white by David Lapham based upon artist Joe Andoe’s so-called autobiography, the story, such as it is, concerns a drunken ride Joe took with a couple friends which got him thrown in the tank for wrecking the car and trying to beat up a local citizen. Joe gets out of jail and promptly screws his girlfriend in the back seat of the wrecked car while thinking, at the same time, of the unsanitary behavior of one of his cellmates. The juxtaposition of present and memory is competently done, but the story is otherwise wholly undistinguished. Hugh Hefner has published a couple other efforts along these lines, similarly undistinguished. Makes me think he doesn’t really understand graphic narratives.

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

TURTLE NEWS

In the summer “double issue” of Entertainment Weekly, an article about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (and, incidentally, Andrew Farago’s book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, that hit the bookstores June 24) publishes pictures of the turtles showing how through their 30-year history they evolved visually, but fails to mention the names of the characters’ creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

TeenageTurtles

This is the issue of the magazine with a cover featuring the bikini-clad Jessica Alba, touting the August debut of “Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” another in the parade of comic-book-based flicks flooding the nation’s theaters every summer. EW staged a shoot of Alba in her “figment of a swim suit” by way of previewing her reprise of the role of Nancy Callahan in the film. Says Alba: “Sex is absolutely what helps sell this movie, which is fine with me.”

Alba

But Alba, the lead-in paragraph assures us, is about more than sex: “Off camera, she’s the head of a $50 million brand. A brain for business, a bod for sin — now, that’s a dame we’d kill for.”

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

A QUEST TO FIND ANNIE

Dick Tracy is traipsing through the longest continuity that any strip has foisted off on us in several decades (except 9 Chickweed Lane, which a year or so ago ran a story for nearly a year; expertly done, too). Writer Dick Tracy seeking AnnieMike Curtis and cartoonist Joe Staton started the story on June 7, and it will last through September.

The special dispensation for length in this age of 4-week continuities is doubtless because in this story, Tracy goes looking for Annie Warbucks, the famed heroine of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, a strip that ended in June 2010 (albeit not very definitively: she was missing in Guatemala in the last strip, with a caption that was open-ended enough to permit the orphan redhead to return, should the stars be reconfigured. She’s showed up in Tracy, but, as yet, without any hint that her own strip might be revived.)

The continuity features several other LOA fugitives — Daddy Warbucks, the Asp, Punjab, even the mysterious Am (rumored, in some fanatic parts, to be Gray’s version of the Almighty Himself). And Staton alters his drawing style to mimic Gray’s. Meanwhile, Curtis is hoping this cross-over will inspire another — namely, a meeting between Tracy and Batman. “Having America’s two greatest crime fighters meet each other would be fun,” he told George Gene Gustines at the nytimes.com, “ — in fact, we have a plot if it happens.” We can hope.

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

NEWSPAPER FUNNIES STILL RANK HIGH

For the record: Bill Watterson’s surrepititious return to the funnies pages of the nation’s newspapers by invading the stick-figure precincts of Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine the first week of June created an unprecedented uproar. A clamour among millions, it quickly became that most desirable of occurrences in the entertainment world: it was an “event,” saith Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs.com.

Pearls Before Swing 6-4-14Pastis, Watterson’s dupe in the enterprise, was aghast. “It’s just massive,” Pastis told Cavna on Saturday, June 7, the last day of the Watterson Week, “—the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of. I mean, I knew there would be a big reaction but didn’t know it would be this big.”

“As of Saturday morning, Pastis had set the digital world ablaze,” Cavna wrote: “His blog account of how the collaboration came into being was the No.1 blogpost worldwide on WordPress, buoying him to the morning’s top blog overall. Update: Pastis tells me his personal blog’s Watterson post has been viewed more than 3-million times.”

And his syndicate’s website, GoComics.com, “was barely holding up beneath the sudden flood of visitors. (Universal Uclick is the syndicate for both Pearls and Calvin and Hobbes.) Update: On Saturday, June 7, the GoComics site received 6.1-million page views, syndicate chief John Glynn told ComicRiffs — a spike of 4-million more than the previous Saturday.”

Rocking the entertainment world just a month after the New York Post dropped its entire comics section (admittedly, just a measly seven comic strips) — creating what some of us saw (and still see) as an unhappy harbinger for the rest of the daily newspaper fiefdom (see Opus 326 of Rants & Raves at the Usual Place) — Watterson Week was, we trust, welcomed throughout the syndicate business as a vivid — astonishing, stupendous — demonstration of the enduring appeal of newspaper comic strips. Every syndicate salesman on the planet ought to be out there, visiting feature editors and waving the Internet statistics in their faces.

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

BELIEVE IT OR DON'T

Ripley, A Curious Man coverWhen Robert L. Ripley died in 1949, believe it or not, his long-time friend Arthur “Bugs” Baer (sometime cartoonist, all-time raconteur and wit around town), who had been with Ripley when he’d created the first Believe It Or Not, wrote about his friend:

“He had the pride of craftsmanship in his drawings and the authority of knowledge in his statements. Nobody ever proved him wrong. If Ripley told me I had two heads, I would go out and buy two hats. And tip them both to the greatest cartoonist in the history of American journalism.”                                                        
This quotation appears in the latest biography of Ripley, A Curious Man (426 6x9-inch pages; some photos, mostly text, Crown, $26) by Neal Thompson, a lively book detailing many of Ripley’s exploits as he traveled the world looking for “oddities.” Ripley kept a diary or journal of these forays, so Thompson has the benefit of an excellent source. Beginning as a sports cartoonist, Ripley probably had one of the greatest circulations in the history of cartooning; his cartoon appeared in hundreds of newspapers world-wide. “The greatest cartoonist in the history of American journalism,” saith Baer.

And yet the book prints not a single cartoon. Not one.

           

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

FIRST ISSUE: VEIL

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.

 

Veil coverGreg Rucka tells us at the end of the first issue of Veil that the character has been hovering around in his so-called mind for twenty years, “a concept more than an identity, an idea in search of a story rather than a character waiting for her story to be told.” And now, ably aided by Toni Fejzula, Rucka starts telling the story.

Throughout the book, Veil seems deranged, inarticulate and vague about her surroundings — as if suffering from amnesia or, perhaps, just awakening from a bad dream. She’s also naked. She leaves a subway platform where we first see her, asleep and naked, and, emerging from the underground, she immediately attracts the attention of some rowdies who announce their intention of “taking care” of her. Suddenly, another man steps up, shoves the head rowdy aside, and gives the girl a jacket to cover her nakedness.

He takes her to his apartment and finds her some clothes. Just as he learns her name, the rowdies show up again, armed and dangerous. Under some compulsion that seems connected to Veil and her vacuous utterances, the head rowdy starts shooting people, himself included. Soon, Veil and her rescuer, Dante, are the only ones alive, and they leave with her asking, “Who am I?”

Rucka gives us two complete episodes: Dante’s rescue of Veil from the presumably unwanted attentions of the rowdies who first see her; and the sequence in the apartment which continues to display Dante’s caring attentiveness — even after the wholesale slaughter of the intruders by the head intruder. Both episodes show us the kind of person Dante is — a good man, a caring man. In both, Veil continues to be vague, as though hypnotized or in a dream or simply mentally deficient.

Veil

Veil is mysterious beyond comprehension, but the circumstances surrounding her adventures in this first issue are not incomprehensible. We know enough about her and about Dante to want to know more, which is enough for a first issue.

Fejzula’s art is part of the attraction. His pictures brim with chips and swatches of hues of the colors, sculpting and modeling forms. Lines exist merely to outline forms, their realism is achieved through Fejzula’s distinctive deployment of color. I’ll be back if only to see more of his work.

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

FIRST ISSUE: THE WHITE SUITS

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.

White-Suits-CoverThe White Suits, we are told on the inside front cover of No.1, are “mysterious killers dressed in white who savaged the Cold War Soviet underground — then disappeared. ... And now they’ve resurfaced.” That’s about all we know about the White Suits. And we don’t learn it from the pictorial portion of the book.

Similarly, we also know that an FBI agent, Sarah Anderson, is on the trail of the Suits because she believes they can tell her how and why her father, a State Department official, vanished at the same time as the Suits did. The rest of this inaugural issue is jammed with murder and mayhem rendered in one of the most spectacularly energetic drawing styles I’ve seen in comics. Toby Cypress deploys an unwavering line to depict characters in a sometimes abbreviated visual shorthand — in black and white accented in red, the only color in the book. Alas, the pictures are sometimes confused however attractive they are, and the verbal content doesn’t help much.

The pictures are often, but not always, accompanied by a voice-over, utterances of a person who seems in constant pain and as perplexed as the visuals. We don’t meet Sarah by name until the end of the book, when she is talking to a man she’s tied to a chair, telling him that he is going to help her take the Suits down. He, we are told in the second issue — but not in the first — is a derelict amnesiac plagued with dreams of a former life of violence — in a suit of white. Is he a former Suit? In the first issue, however, we know only that he is probably the tortured narrator.

Because we don’t get to know either of these principals in the course of the book, the first issue fails on two counts: we don’t know them well enough to like them; and the mystery — who are the current incarnations of the White Suits and who are all those people being slaughtered and spurting blood, and who are their killers, exactly? — is far too cryptic to provoke the sort of curiosity that will make me buy the next issue.

To the extent that there is a completed episode (the function of which is to show us protagonists in action so we can assess their personalities), it is a five-page rampage followed by a two-page assassination—but we don’t know any of the characters, the living or the dying. The episode reveals nothing. Here are two of the five pages; we don’t know any of these people.

WhiteSuits

 

In short, the first issue of this title fails all the criteria I usually employ. But I bought the second issue anyhow because Cypress’ art is so spectacularly splattered willy nilly throughout. It’ll go on for another two issues, and by the end of the second, I’m starting to make sense of Frank Barbiere’s otherwise hit-and-miss narrative. So the first issue fails, but the second is beginning to redeem the title.

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