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BOOK SELLING (AND BUYING)

Freddy the Pig coverA couple weeks ago, I made an expedition which, among other things, demonstrated why people go to bookstores, particularly second-hand bookstores. Such forays are essentially fishing trips. Fishing is different from hunting. For fishing, you have a fishing pole; for hunting, you have a rifle (or bow and arrow, I suppose).

When hunting, you know what you’re going for, and when you see your prey, you get it in the sights of your weapon and fire. But when fishing, you don’t know, quite, what will nibble the hook you drop into the water. Sometimes, you catch something good; sometimes, not so good.

Visits to second-hand bookstores are fishing trips. Sometimes, you find some treasure that you’ve always been looking for — or something you didn’t even know existed but a treasure nonetheless; sometimes, you don’t catch anything.

Well, I caught a couple things. Beginning in about the fifth grade, I was an avid reader of the Freddy the Pig books by Walter Brooks. I’d seen one of these books on a bookshelf in the classroom, and after reading it, I began looking for the rest of the series in the city library — Freddy the Detective, Freddy and Mr. Camphor, Freddy and the Bean Home News, and so on. There are 26 titles all told; I haven’t read but maybe 8 or 10 of them — all while still in the fifth grade.

Freddy and all the other animals in the books talk — among themselves, and, in Freddy’s case, with humans. Freddy often must disguise himself as a human in order to accomplish his purpose in that book, whatever it might be. So he dresses up in human clothing and walks on his hind trotters, looking like a short, chubby pink-faced person.

Some people think Brooks’ Freddy books were inspired by Orwell’s Animal Farm. Both authors have pigs on a farm, virtually running things. But Freddy first appeared in 1927; Animal Farm came out in 1945. So if anyone inspired anyone else, it was the other way around.

The Freddy books were all illustrated by Kurt Wiese, who drawings I always love. And on this bookstore trip we made, I happened upon a book I didn’t know existed: The Art of Freddy. In it, many of Wiese’s illustrations were displayed. A treasure, I’m sure you’ll agree. I did. And I bought the book as fast as I could. I’ve posted scans of a couple pages.

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But that wasn’t the only treasure I found. I also found (and promptly bought) The Lone Ranger’s New Deputy. Published in 1951, it was illustrated by Ted Shearer, who worked most of his life in commercial art but who, towards the end, became a syndicated comic strip cartoonist with Quincy, the daily gentle adventures of a black kid in an inner city. Shearer, I should note, was also African American. The strip is one of the most beautifully drawn in the history of the medium.

The Lone Ranger illustrations don’t at all remind me of Quincy, but I’m delighted to have this specimen of Shearer’s earlier work on my self. I’ve posted scans of a couple pages from the book—plus a page of Quincy strips.

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

BADINAGE AND BAGATELLES: JIM DAVIS

Garfield and Jim Davis photoIt might seem like writing jokes about Garfield’s love of Italian food might get tedious, but the fat feline’s creator Jim Davis told Devon Maloney at wried.com that it doesn’t. “I talked to Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker about this early on. One writer once likened gag-writing to ‘walking into a dark closet, taking some gags off a shelf and leaving without knowing how big the closet really is.’ ‘You know what?’ said Mort, “ — it actually gets easier.’ And he’s right. It gets easier and easier as you get to know your characters better. And the times change enough that you [always] have a ton of stuff to write about. If anything, writing Garfield is easier today than it was 30 years ago. The thing is to relax and have fun with it. I have fun writing stuff that people have fun reading because you really cannot fool the reader — you have to be laughing yourself.”

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

COLLECTORS' CORNICHE

Welcome to our sentimental section where I muse and marvel about antique volumes on the shelf and rare finds in old bookstores and the like. Nothing major. Skip over this if you’re busy.

For the collectors among us, here (at the bottom of this post) are some pages from an antique issue of The Cartoonist, the magazine of the National Cartoonist Society, summer 1953, when cartooners were more playful when assembled than later. The cover illustration, as you can see, is a mock They’ll Do It Everytime (TDIE) by Jimmy Hatlo. This spoof, however, is drawn by someone else — namely, Sayre Schwartz. Hatlo’s assistant, Bob Dunn, is peeking out of the file cabinet. Hatlo appears at the right corner of the upper panel and at the “wall,” drawing on it, in the lower panel. The wall is in a hangout and former speakeasy called the Palm, the walls of which cartoonists had been decorating for several years by 1953; it’s still there on Second Avenue, right across from The Palm Too on the other side of the street. “Bozzi,” is the name of one of the co-owners, last name Pio to be exact; the other’s name was John Ganzi.

There are now several Palms around the country, each decorated with cartoons, but none except the original Palm features cartoon murals drawn by famous hands. In all the other Palms, the pictures are reproduced mechanically or drawn by freelance illustrators who are not, necessarily, working cartoonists.

Next is a page of Joe Palooka by the unlikely “guest cartoonist,” Dick Cavalli; followed by Sniffy Sniff by Fred Rhoades and Wun Sent (a spoof of Penny) by Bob Montana of Archie fame. Then Eldon Dedini conducts a fashion show at the bottom of the page.

Wun Sent deserves a little more explication. The drawing of “a girl taking a hot bath in a tea cup” is a remnant of the chalk talk show that cartoonists used to put on in military hospitals to amuse wounded soldiers in WWII. A cartoonist would draw that picture only the other way up and proclaim it to be a light bulb (which is what it looks like upside-down). Then another cartooner would come along and turn the picture upside-down (or right-side up) and say it is a picture of “a WAC taking a bath in a helmet.” This is the excuse for humor that only the wounded would go for. And they did.

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

CORTO MALTESE IN SIBERIA

Corto Maltese in Siberia
By Hugo Pratt
a new translation by Dean Mullaney and Simone Castaldi
120 9x11.5-inch pages, b/w
2017 EuroComics imprint of IDW
$29.99

Corto Maltese in Siberia coverThe fifth in IDW’s current Corto Maltese reprint project, this volume is the first book-length tale, qualifying thereby as an authentic graphic novel; published in 1974, it preceded Will Eisner’s A Contract with God by four years. All the previous Corto Maltese books have been compilations of short stories, often related to each other but free-standing, too.

In this tale set in about 1919, Corto meets his old frenemy Rasputin, and the two go off in search of a train carrying vast amounts of gold that once belonged to the recently murdered Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. Along the way, Corto meets numerous fascinating scalawags.

After being hired by the Red Lanterns, Corto encounters sundry freebooters on opposing sides of a many-sided struggle for power in post-Tsarist Russia. These encounters take him to Shanghai to Manchuria and Mongolia to Siberia. Despite amusing interludes, he doggedly continues his pursuit of the gold train, but when it finally falls into his hands, it is quickly snatched away, and the train car carrying the gold falls into a river gorge. Shanghai Lil watches it go over the cliff; later, she and others of her gang return and retrieve the gold.

Corto falls into and out of the hands of various of the competing warlords, although he is never captured or imprisoned. He and they have witty repartee and then he goes on to the next episode, sometimes roughing up thugs on the way.

Pratt’s solid blacks seem crisper in these pages than in the earlier works, especially the immediately preceding volume, The Ethiopian, in which some of the drawings are copiously textured for shading. No hachuring at all in this volume: all modeling is done by black solids, perhaps the most Caniffian of Pratt’s work so far.

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Pratt’s tales are imbued with an almost hypnotic attraction. Corto’s encounters with other pirates and subversives are shaded with menace. Will they start fighting? Will Corto’s conversational partner take him prisoner or otherwise threaten his well-being? And throughout it all, Corto seems relaxed, at ease, despite the unspoken threats.

Another Corto Maltese in Siberia was published by NBM in 1988. I have this volume, and the differences between it and IDW’s version are negligible. The artwork seems sharper in IDW’s (perhaps due to its being printed on slightly glossier paper), but NBM’s offers several informative pages of rambling introduction to the situation in China and Russia at the time of the tale’s action. While that helps orient us to the action, it doesn’t seem to be essential; the IDW book’s orientation is less than a page long and works as well as we need it to.

IDW’s book is a new translation from the original. That, too, seems nearly negligible, but there are nuances that IDW reveals that NBM doesn’t. NBM’s translation seems perfunctory; IDW’s catches subtleties that the other misses. Unless you’re a nut for the niceties of language, NBM will do just fine. Assuming you already have it. If you don’t, get IDW’s instead and enjoy.

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

THE BAKER STREET FOUR, VOL. 2

Baker Street Four  VolThe Baker Street Four, Vol. 2
Written by J.B. Djian and Olivier LeGrand
drawn by David Etien
116 7.5x10-inch pages, color
2017 Insight Editions
$16.99

Above all else, this graphic novel is beautifully, exquisitely, drawn. Etien’s pictures are laden with detail, all precisely rendered. His style, for backgrounds, is realistic and copious but linear, not photographic; and the figures and faces verge, slightly — pleasingly — on cartoony. And it’s not all just pretty pictures: it’s comics. The storytelling is excellent: narrative breakdown times the action for dramatic impact as well as clarity; panel composition is dramatic; and page layouts are inventive and varied—and serve the narrative. And most of the action sequences are accomplished without verbal encumbrances.

The volume’s title quickly conjures up for all Sherlockians the master detective himself. Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street in London, and he sometimes recruited a few of the street urchins in the neighborhood to gather information that helped him solve cases. The street urchins were dubbed the Baker Street Irregulars. In this book, there are four of them: Billy Fletcher, “Black” Tom of Kliburn (he has black hair), Charlotte “Charlie,” and Watson, a cat. And all the usual suspects from Conan Doyle’s books: Holmes has a small part, Dr. Watson a slightly larger one, and walk-ons by Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs. Hudson and Watson’s wife, plus Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. But it’s the Baker Street Irregulars’ story.

Two stories, actually. The first is a tumbling tangle of converging plots. A man named Corbett is the owner of the Merry Minstrel music hall; he owes money to Harry Sykes, a racketeer, who sends his agent, Bloody Percy, to collect. Whilst threatening Corbett, Percy makes advances towards Corbett’s comely daughter Grace, a singer in her father’s music hall. Grace has attracted the attention of Lord Neville Asprey, age 19, who has just come into his inheritance and spends his evenings worshiping at the shrine of Grace in the music hall. Holmes is asked to investigate Asprey’s “nocturnal escapades,” and he sends the Baker Street Four (BSF) on this errand. And after that, events fall into a tangle.

At the beginning of the second adventure, we learn that Holmes is dead: Moriarty came after him in Switzerland, and the two struggled and fell into Reichenbach Falls. Both, we fear, dead. (Both, however, survive; but that’s a tale for another day.) Without Holmes to employ them, the BSF break up. Black Tom of Kliburn (whose last name, we learn, is O’Rourke) goes back to Kliburn to rejoin a family of thieves; he meets and falls in love with Kitty. Charlie gets caught pinching a pizza and is sent to a workhouse. Bill Fletcher wanders the streets and eventually encounters Dr. Watson, who takes him under his wing, intending to find Tom and Charlie, too. Meanwhile, Bloody Percy breaks out of jail, vowing to settle the hash of the BSF and Watson and his wife.

The rest of the adventure gets Charlie out of the workhouse, Black Tom out of the burglary ring, and reunites the BSF, including the cat, Watson.

There are at least two other volumes in the Baker Street Four series—Vol.1 and Vol.3, which is just a-borning. Another book, A Study in Feminine Persuasion, is also available at insightcomics.com; it appears, however, to be some sort of revamping of Vol.1. Can’t say for sure, but I’ve sent for Vol.1 in order to enjoy some more the storytelling talent of David Etien. We conclude with samples of his work from the stories we’ve just rehearsed.

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

THE RETURN OF BARBARELLA

Dynamite Entertainment has announced the series artist for its upcoming Barbarella comic series, reports ICv2. Launching in December, Barbarella will be written by Mike Carey and drawn by Kenan Yarar (Hilal). Issue No.1 will feature eight different covers, including ones by Kenneth Rochafort, Joe Jusko, Joseph Michael Linsner, Robert Hack, and Annie Wu.

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FIRST ISSUE: GRRL SCOUTS

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Jim Mahfood is back, writing and drawing Grrl Scouts No.1, “Magic Socks,” in which he competes with Kaare Kyle Andrews (Renato Jones: Freelancer) for visual daring and panache with the kinky-est cartoony graphic styling in comics. His lines are brittle, his forms angular, and page layout squirms uncomfortably throughout.

In the opening sequence, Jose is discharged from psychiatric ward into the hands of her mother but they encounter “delinquents” hovering by their car. They’re Jose’s friends, and at her bidding, they kill the mother, and they all go off in the car, hunting her cousin Daphne Sanchez, one of the trio of Grrl Scouts. Daphne and her pals Gwen and Rita, the Grrl Scouts, are “bad-ass bitches who live in Freak City and who deal weed disguised in cookie boxes” (hence, we assume, their guise as Grrl Scouts).

While Jose goes hunting, her prey, Daphne, is working in the Weird Hog nightclub, where she apparently dances and, undiscovered until just now, deals weed to the customers.

Just as management attempts to discipline her, Gwen arrives, and the two knock the thugs around a bit. A fight ensues for 5 pages of topsy-turvey panels and border-leaping pictorials, laced with colorful sound effects, ending the completed episode in the book—showing both the fistic and footstic dexterity of Daphne and Gwen as well as Mahfood’s eccentric treatment of anatomy and the medium in which he is working.

Just as Daphne and Gwen exit the premises, Jose and her thugs show up, asking after Daphne, and exterminating the club’s guards and owner. Meanwhie, Daphne and Gwen arrive at Rita’s place, and the three discuss the impending doom that Josie and her millions of Twitter followers threaten.

Daphne wants to know why Gwen came to the Weird Hog, looking for her, and Gwen explains that it’s about the magic socks Gwen’s wearing. End of issue.

What’s magic about the socks? And so what? Cliffhanger enough for the nonce.

By the time you read this, the series has ended with No.6. But you can find back issues at your local comic book shop.

The pleasure in reading — experiencing — this title is in Mahfood’s wild and distinctive style, both in rending his subject and in manipulating the comics form to his purposes, which are not, it seems, entirely narrative. The pictures — just to characterize them not to decipher them — may have been committed while on a high derived from something other than pen and ink. It’s a cartoony pictorial circus, a visual delight, just barely held together by the spastic forward movement of the narrative. You’ll come back until you’ve consumed all six issues.

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

RENATO JONES: FREELANCER

Renato Jones 2-1 coverThe second round of Renato Jones: Freelancer, created, written, drawn and OWNED (right: in caps) by Kaare Kyle Andrews, is the story of love derailed, and it’s told in Andrews’ frenetic, episodic manner. Don’t look for narrative coherence here: watch recurring characters in rapidly changing locales, pacing the tale in starts and feints.

The opening sequence reprises the final scenes of the first series, ending with Renato Jones as Freelancer swearing to destroy Douglas Bladley by taking all his money. Then, in a flashback, we see Renato as a child meeting Bliss, also as a child; and she swears she’s his “for life.” When we next see her, she’s been dating Bladley, and she complains about his being missing; ditto his money.

Bliss is the daughter of Nicola Chambers, a political rich con man, conning the disenfranchised. “Let’s make America hate again,” he says, echoing you-know-who.

Next, we’re in an airplane, piloted (it seems) by Freelancer. All color drains from the pages as the plane invades protected air space and is shot down. Freelancer, however, survives and lands intact. He goes after a armored character with “WA” on his chest. Perhaps Chambers’ retinue?

The airplane crash, it develops — by inference, none of the narrative is straightforward chronology — is seen as a terrorist attack, and Chambers is spirited away by his bodyguards, despite his demanding that they find his daughter and take her with them.

She, however, is somehow in the clutches of WA. Freelancer rescues her, and they run off together, still depicted in stark enigmatic black-and-white, forms and features only partially depicted, the shadowy parts, the rest, vanishing into a sea of white space.

When WA catches up, Renator — minus his Freelancer mask — dispatches him with Freelancer’s slogan, “Choke on this”—usually accompanied by his flashing a monstrous heavy-duty hand-held weapon.

Renato takes Bliss “home.” There, she pleads — no more masks, no more lying. She strips herself naked and approaches Rentao.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she says, stroking his face — and color comes in again to the pages.

Two solid black pages intervene before she can kiss him. Renato muses, “It’s always been you.”

And then — perhaps they make love. Probably not (as you’ll see). Renato’s musing continues, white lettering on a black ground: “We don’t just fall into one another — we explode. Nothing matters. Nothing but you.”

Then a flashback to his youth as a student, studying his fate. Tutored by an old bearded man, Renato sees Bliss’ name on a list of miscreant rich guys.

And then we’re back. They haven’t been making love. Renato stops Bliss before they kiss. “I can’t,” he says and leaves, back to his masked life as Freelancer.

And Nicola Chambers, having survived the deadly terror attack, is sworn in as President of the United States, Bliss at his side.

What will become of Chambers, who is surely one of those the Freelancer has been bred to dispose of. And Bliss? And the supposed love between her and Renato?

That’ll being us back.

But the delight in reading this book — as in the first series of Andrews’ creation—is in encountering and sorting your way through the visual episodic manner of his storytelling. There are no completed episodes in Andrews: every episode is interrupted by another episode. Crammed with close-ups and soaked in black, the pictures barely tell the story. Only in retrospect, looking back over the trail of pictorial episodes, can we discern a storyline.

The story is now up to the fourth issue of this title, with only one more issue to go to finish “the second round.” Even if you can find only one issue of the series, it’ll be worth your time to experience Andrews’ wild manner.

Narrative breakdown and panel composition carry the story even as they interrupt it. And Andrews deploys color and pagination for added effect. If you want to know what comics can be, here’s a place to get a few clues.

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

THE STRANGE WORLD OF YOUR DREAMS

The Strange World of Your Dreams
Edited and designed by Craig Yoe
140 9x11-inch pages, color
2013 Yoe Books/IDW hardcover
$29.99

Reprinting all four issues of The Strange World of Your Dreams from August 1952 through January 1953, this volume begins with an essay by Yoe, who takes us on a short tour of all the comics he can think of that have to do with dreams — beginning, of course, with Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1914, revived 1924-1927) and his less well-known, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, which pictures the nightmares various personages have experienced after eating the infamous cheese pie (which, despite the misleading name, is not about rabbit meat).

As usual, Yoe decorates his essay with rare pictures — in this case, the original art of two unpublished Strange World covers, caricatures of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby by an unknown cartoonist, and the cover of the comic book Justice Traps the Guilty No.56 (November 1953) depicting a police line-up in which all the miscreants are members of the Simon-Kirby shop.

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Strange World was produced by the Simon-Kirby shop, and while Kirby did the covers for all four issues, only a few of the stories are illustrated by the team. Mort Meskin did several of the stories, penciling mostly; other artists were Bill Draut, George Roussos, Al Eadeh, and Bob McCarty.

“Comics are more like dreams than any other medium,” Yoe says. And he concludes his introduction with his analysis of the covers, noting about the last unpublished cover showing a woman falling through the air that “a popular myth [about such dream motifs] is that you will die if you do not wake up before hitting the ground.” Intended for No.7 of the title, it was doubtless the last cover created before the book was dead.

Too bad. As Meskin biographer Steve Brower says, quoted by Yoe, the title “stands as one of the more ambitious and adult projects of the early years of comic books.”

Most of the dreams enacted in the book’s pages are analyzed by a “dream detective” named Richard Temple. A similar character shows up in another Simon-Kirby production, Black Magic, and a story from the second issue of that title, December 1950-January 1951, ends this collection without any explanation. But it’s classic Simon-Kirby drawing, trap-shadow and clots of black for shading, and I like it so much that I’m posting a couple pages from it right here.

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

HOMER DAVENPORT: THE ANNOTATED CARTOONS

The Annotated Cartoons By Homer C. Davenport
Researched and compiled by Gus Frederick
200 8x10.5-inch pages, b/w
2013 Liberal University Press paperback
$20

Davenport coverHomer C. Davenport is one of the great names in American editorial cartooning, but almost nothing has been written about him — nothing, at least, approaching the scholarship that Frederick displays in this volume. Born in 1867, Davenport grew up drawing all the time near Silverton, Oregon, and eventually, after numerous false starts, he wound up cartooning in San Francisco for the Chronicle, until William Randolph Hearst finally hired Davenport for his Examiner by tripling his Chronicle salary.

Davenport was part of Hearst’s team that took over the New York Journal in 1895 and helped launch the “yellow journalism” in competition with Pulitzer’s New York World. Davenport became famous during the presidential contest of 1896, depicting candidate William McKinley’s manager, wealthy industrialist Marcus Hanna, wearing “plutocratic plaid” with a tiny dollar sign in each square, accurately pinpointing the real issues and interests of the campaign. The cartoonist’s work was fierce enough on politicians that it inspired a failed anti-cartoon bill in the New York State Assembly. In 1904, one of his cartoons of Uncle Sam with his hand on the shoulder of Teddy Roosevelt is said by many to have enabled TR’s election. Davenport also bred American-born Arabian horses and wrote a book about it.

On April 13, 1912, Davenport was sent to illustrate the sinking of the Titanic. He contracted pneumonia waiting to interview the survivors and died on May 2.

Two volumes of his cartoons were published during his lifetime — Cartoons by Davenport in 1897 and The Dollar or the Man in 1900. He wrote an autobiography, focusing on his youth in beloved Silverton, The Country Boy (1910). The only biography I know of is Home Davenport of Silverton: Life of a Great Cartoonist by Leland Huot and Alfred Powers (West Shore Press, 1973), which is a fairly relaxed and casual anecdotal account of his life, mostly chronological but not entirely. Almost half of its 400-plus pages are pictures — photos of Silverton and elsewhere and Davenport’s cartoons. The quality of reproduction is, however, poor. In Frederick’s book, the pictures are superbly reproduced, the finest lines meticulously captured.

In reprinting the 1897 volume of cartoons with extensive annotation, Frederick has performed a monumental service for all students of editorial cartooning in America. The original book printed only cartoons with no explanation. Herein, each cartoon, all from 1895-1898, gets a full page, and facing it is a page of text, explaining who the victims of Davenport’s pen are and what their significance is at the time. Frederick told me he is at work annotating the 1900 collection.

Only a few of the cartoons consist of metaphorical messages in the modern manner; most are caricatures that exaggerate and distort their victim’s features, making them all seem highly questionable persons. I’m posting only a few hereabouts, including Davenport’s 1996 portrait of his boss, H.R. himself — a friendly, even complimentary, picture that may well be the most familiar of Davenport’s works: it shows up often in histories of journalism.

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Among this selection is a cartoon featuring Uncle Sam. The top-hatted, striped-trousered, goateed old gent had not been long on the scene as the nation’s emblem, and Davenport deployed the figure frequently, if we are to judge from the content of this book.

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

JERRY AND THE JOKER

Jerry and the Joker: Adventures and Comic Art by Jerry Robinson
By Jerry Robinson, edited by Daniel Chabon and Hannah Means-Shannon and Robinson’s son Jens Robinson, who also supplies “notes” (it sez here), a summary of his father’s achievements
151 9x12-inch pages, b/w and color
2017 Dark Horse hardcover
$34.99

Jerry and the Joker coverChiefly a scrapbook of Robinson's art over a long career that included cartooning in many of the medium’s genres, this volume offers samples of his early work on Batman (several pages from original art, displaying a much more flexible line than is usually associated with Batman drawn by other artists), Atoman, and miscellaneous comic book work for westerns, crime, etc., sketches of scenes from his travels, theatrical drawings for Broadway’s Playbill magazine, magazine illustrations, and a couple samples of his political/social commentary feature, Still Life, which ran for over 30 years. But, alas, almost nothing from the period when he collaborated with Mort Meskin on Black Terror, Fighting Yank, Johnny Quick and Vigilante. But the Batman material and Robinson’s Still Life are worth the price of admission alone.

Pages of pictures are punctuated with essays by Robinson, who regales us with his adventures in Cuba and Rome (where he met Clifford Irving, the infamous author of the fraudulent biography of Howard Hughes, and also the son of Jay Irving, who drew the comic strip Pottsy about a comical cop). Two of his other essays cover his introduction to comic book illustration working for Bob Kane, and the invention of the Joker.

The latter has been disputed by various people, but writer Bill Finger, who is sometimes credited as the co-creator of the Joker, is quoted herein saying Robinson created the funnybook medium’s most despicable villain. I explored this topic several years ago and satisfied myself that Robinson’s claim was legitimate. Robinson’s six-page essay in this volume explores not just his invention of the character but villainy generally in comic books (and elsewhere).

The book concludes with a brief two-page biography of Robinson. In it, we learn that he was once president of the National Cartoonists Society and, on another occasion, prez of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists — the only cartoonist to have served in that role in the two principal national organizations for cartooners. He also founded and ran for many years Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate (CWS), affiliated with the New York Times, which syndicated the work of 350 leading cartoonists and graphic artists from 50 countries. And he was one of the prime movers in getting Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster recognition and recompense for their creation of Superman. Robinson was, in short, a giant in his chosen field.

Some of the book’s artwork appeared in Chris Crouch’s excellent 2010 biography, Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics (224 8x11-inch pages, b/w and color; Abrams Comicarts, $35), which, produced while Robinson was still alive (and using original art from Robinson’s inventory — and he hoarded great quantities of his art), is about as authoritative as is possible to be.

From Crouch’s tome, here are some of Robinson’s Still Life and a few of his True Classroom Flubs & Fluffs, a feature that illustrated mistakes in the utterances of school kids. And I’ve also included the sexily charged bodacious splash page he and Meskin did for a Black Terror story and a page from another Black Terror story.

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

FOOLISH QUESTIONS & OTHER ODD OBSERVATIONS

Foolish Questions & Other Odd Observations:
Early Comics, 1909-1919
By Rube Goldberg; edited by Peter Maresca and Paul C. Tumey
96 9.5x10-inch pages, mostly b/w but some color
2017 Sunday Press, $35

Foolish Questions coverGoldberg got his name in the dictionary by doing a long series of single-panel cartoons depicting hilarious inventions that deployed complicated mechanisms to accomplish very simple operations, his satire on the dawning modern times. But before he did inventions, he did Foolish Questions. And those made him famous.

Foolish Questions was the title of a single panel cartoon that Goldberg tacked onto an otherwise unrelated comic strip. In common with many newspaper cartoonists in the early years of the 20th Century, Goldberg drew innumerable comic strips and cartoons, most of which were short-lived features that lasted a week or less. But Foolish Questions was a maneuver that could be perpetuated indefinitely by adding it to whatever his comic strip that week was. The best way to tell you about Foolish Questions is to show you Foolish Questions, which we’ve done at the end of the paragraph after the next one.

The volume at hand includes essays by Jennifer George (on “When did you find out you were Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter?”), Tumey (on Goldberg’s career), and Carl Linich (on other Goldberg strips-within-strips features). Some of the other short-lived cartoons include Mike and Ike: The Look-Alike Boys, Telephonies, I’m the Guy (“who put the cast in overcast”), I’m Cured, Old Man Alf of the Alphabet, Boob News, I Never Thought of That, The Boob Family, and Silly Sonnets. To name a few. As always with a Sunday Press book, there’s an extra publication included with the book itself: in this case, four postcards with FQs on them. But who would ever part with them to mail them off to anyone? (A foolish question.)

The first Foolish Question panel appeared October 23, 1908. It was popular enough that the panels were collected in a book published in 1909. Goldberg started numbering the FQs, but the numbers soon became wholly frivolous and altogether nonsequential. Dunno whether the book at hand reprints all of the FQs or only a judicious selection, but there are about 300 of them here, enough to convince you that Goldberg deserved the fame they brought him. Here are some of them.

FoolishQ1

FoolishQ2

 

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FIRST ISSUE: SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

The first issue of Sheena Queen of the Jungle, a revival title, exists mostly to give Moritat a chance to draw the sumptuous Sheena in her scanty leopard-skin costume in as many different poses as he can devise. He is aided and abetted by writers Marguerite Bennett and Christina Trujillo who supply a tale in No.0 so simple that only Mortat’s pictures make it memorable. The plot, so to speak, is that Sheena, sworn protector of her forest, sees a flying saucer (or something like one, but small, not large enough to have passengers) and takes steps to prevent its “invasion” of the region she is protecting. Every step she takes shows her in a different and attractive pose. By the end of the book, she’s destroyed the saucer.

And then we get the last page: no longer in the jungle, we see a young man looking at his computer screen, eating spaghetti and saying, “What did I just record?”

That might bring me back. Moritat’s drawings definitely will.

 

Sheena

But in the second issue -- No.1 -- all we have are more pin-ups of Sheena. No outright nudity, though: these pictures could have survived quite well in the repressive 1940s. The story is about as vacuous as the one in No.0. I’ve had enough.

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FIRST ISSUE: TRUMP'S TITANS

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Trump's Titans NoIn a spoof of our current Prez, Trump’s Titans stars the Trumpet with a much better-looking hair-do. Herein, the Trumpet and Veep Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner — all the president’s men, you might say — get a dose of superpowers. “The President has been given all powers that exist,” Kushner explains, “ — because he’s President. The rest of us each have one power.”

Most of issue No.1 is devoted to Trump bragging and asserting his well-known proclivities and egotism. The Trump Titans band together to defeat the Global Tyranny Organization, which is led by a generously proportioned babe in a scanty costume — exactly the kind of thing that will tempt the Trumpet. But it doesn’t work this time: still, she defeats the all-powered Trumpet. The issue closes with a promise of a next time.

This book is written by John Barron, not a Trump fan, and drawn by Shawn Remulac, who manages workable likenesses of the principal characters in his clean style. Fun stuff that exists solely because our current Prez is such a comic book character.

Titan

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FIRST ISSUE: THE HARD PLACE

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

The Hard Place NoWorking with a somewhat cliché situation, writer Doug Wagner manages a nifty twist and sucks me in with The Hard Place, No.1. A.J. Gurney gets out of prison after five years and vows to go straight hereafter. In one episode complete in a few pages, he visits the local brutal crime boss to make sure he’ll be left alone to pursue a useful civilian life, working with his father in an auto repair shop. We witness several brief but complete episodes that demonstrate the extent of Gurney’s resolve — including one in which he declines a chance to drive a souped-up cop car despite his being the best driver in Detroit.

In the book’s final episode, Gurney dresses up in a suit and tie in order to enhance his chances of getting a loan at the bank — a loan essential to revitalizing his father’s business. The bank’s loan officer is just about to grant Gurney’s request when two robbers enter the bank. Gurney encourages the loan officer to call 911, and when one of the robbers sees what’s going on, he shots and kills the guy.

The robber also recognizes Gurney, “the best wheelman money could buy,” and as the book ends, Gurney is being recruited to unwillingly drive the robbers’ getaway car as depicted on the right.

The story moves inexorably, step by illuminating step, to its inevitable conclusion. Nicely done.

The tale builds to the twist that ends it for now. It begins on the first page by depicting the results of an auto accident, and half-way through the book, we witness the inside of the speeding car that eventually crashes, killing an occupant. When we get to the last page, then, we’re ready to draw a conclusion. The dead guy in the car wreck doesn’t look like Gurney. The next issue, which I’m sure to get, will tell us whether we’re right. (Well, not quite: new mysteries and dilemmas abound in No.2 — enough to keep me going and going and going.)

Nic Rummel’s artwork is distinctive with a capital B. He deploys the boldest line I’ve seen in comics in years. And he decorates some of the space between the lines that outline faces with quirky thinner lines that model the portraits. See the sample page in the illo that accompanies the preceding post, a review of the Moneypenny book.

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FIRST ISSUE: JAMES BOND

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

James Bond: Moneypenney is a one-shot starring M’s receptionist, with whom Bond often flirts. Written by Jody Houser and cleanly, sparely, drawn by Jacob Edgar, the story is about as flat and empty as 007's tomb. Moneypenny is African American here — ooops, I mean African British — a sop thrown to today’s PC enthusiasts that is otherwise inexplicable. Some of the story is a flashback to Moneypenny’s childhood. Otherwise, the rest involves her chasing wordlessly, gun in hand, after some bad guy. The reason for this chase is ... that he’s a bad guy. Not at all engaging.

MoneypennyHard

 

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FIRST ISSUE: HEROKILLERS

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Herokillers coverThe initiating premise in HeroKillers No.1 is that when crime-ridden Libertyville elected a new, fabulously wealthy mayor, hizzoner offered to pay superheroes fabulous amounts of money to rid the town of crime. The heroes soon outnumbered the criminals four-to-one, and crime was busted out of the city. Now the crime-free town has a lot of superheroes trundling around without crime to fight. So they pick fights with robots and compete among themselves for whatever rewards and fame are available.

In other words, the story, by Ryan Browne, mocks the conventions of superheroing, deploying some of yesterday’s unemployed superheroes — Captain Battle and Captain Battle Junior, the Boy King and his Magical Giant, and, most memorable to me, personally, and to the plot of this issue, Black Terror and his youthful sidekick, Tim. In the book’s first completed episode, Black Terror turns out to be an alcoholic egomaniac, eager to collect all the glory himself.

In the next completed episode, the sidekicks manage to crime-bust the evil Dr. Baron Von Physics, and then Black Terror shows up and shoves the youngsters away from the crime scene so he can get all the credit when the news media show up. At the last moment, however, Tim disintegrates his mentor, and he and his two companions, both sidekicks of other superheroes, fabricate a scenario to explain Black Terror’s seeming death.

This is a lot of fun, but I can’t tell where it’s going. Are the sidekicks now going to take over the world? That doesn’t seem sufficiently admirable, but, given the book’s title (“Hero Killers”), it seems entirely likely.

Pete Woods’ art is crisp and uncluttered, so uncluttered that there isn’t much in the way of background. The visuals are nearly antiseptic. But he’s a master of anatomy and facial expression and deploys page layout and panel composition to keep things lively. See the sample page we posted in the previous review. Still, despite my affection for Black Terror (a residual of my misspent youth, whiling away hours with funnybooks), I’m not likely to return to this title.

 

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FIRST ISSUE: DASTARDLY & MUTTLEY

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Dastardly & Muttley coverDastardly & Muttley is about a couple of contemporary pilots. The first part of the first issue flaunts entirely too many pictures of aerodynamically superior airplanes; nothing about a picture of an airplane, no matter how superior its aerodynamics, is inherently interesting. Bad comics. The pilots’re flying a reconnaissance mission in the wake of some sort of immense explosion. In the first seat is Richard “Dick” Atcherly, seconded by “Mutt” Muller, who, unaccountably, has brought his pet dog along. Most of their time is spent arguing about the dog. Then they’re approached by a mysterious drone, spewing some sort of orange gas. The plane is disabled, the pilots eject, and the plane crashes.

Next, we’re in a hospital as Atcherly recovers consciousness. He’s being debriefed by a couple of obnoxious FBI types (who refuse to say what agency they are from) whose aggressive questions are matched by Atcherly’s aggressive non-responses. He wants to know where Muller is. He’s somewhere else, they say. They leave, and Atcherly doses off. When he awakens, it’s dark, and Muller is in the room. When he steps out of the shadows, we see that he has the face and head of his dog.

So that’s the cliffhanger.

And the narrative I’ve just rehearsed constitutes two completed episodes during which (1) we learn that Muller is a nice guy and that Atcherly isn’t and (2) is not likely to be bullied, an admirable trait but in this case, exercised by a man with a bad temper, not admirable. Apart from wanting to find out how a man’s head gets replaced by a dog’s head, nothing in this story is provocative or engaging enough to bring me back.

It’s Garth Ennis’s story and it brims with his usual unconventional concepts. Mauricet, who has no first or last name, draws the pictures, and his style is crisp and pleasing, albeit a little sterile. The storytelling makes good use of varied page layouts and panel compositions. Visually speaking, the book is a thoroughly competent work. But the story — apart from the mysterious dog-head thing — doesn’t grip me.

DastardHero

 

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SOMETHING DECENT

Neil Gaiman with book

From Neil Gaiman, quoted by Hayley Campbell in theguardian.com: "I’m convinced if I keep going, one day I will write something decent. On very bad days, I will observe that I must have written good things in the past, which means that I’ve lost it. But normally, I just assume that I don’t have it. The gulf between the thing I set out to make in my head and the sad, lumpy thing that emerges into reality is huge and distant, and I just wish that I could get them closer."

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THE LIFE AND ART OF MORT MESKIN

From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin
By Steven Brower with Peter and Philip Meskin
220 9x12-inch pages, some color but mostly b/w
2010 Fantagraphics hardcover
$39.99

From Shadow To Light coverFittingly, in a book about an artist, pictures predominate. Beginning with Meskin’s teenage art, the book includes youthful pulp illustrations and then on to covers and pages of the Golden Age comic book characters he’s most associated with — Vigilante, Fighting Yank, Black Terror, Golden Lad and Johnny Quick (for whom Meskin innovated the use of multiple figures to show the character’s speed, the so-called “strobe figure motion”) — unpublished art, sometimes whole stories; paintings in color, color roughs, advertising art from his later years, including storyboards for TV commercials, and lots of original art, some comic book pages in pencil.

The narrative relies heavily upon the quoted memories of Meskin’s two sons and of Jerry Robinson, with whom Meskin roomed early in his career and later collaborated with. They were lifelong friends and mutual admirers. I was a fan of Black Terror in my youth, and I once asked Robinson who did what in collaborating on the feature. What he told me astonished me: they alternated penciling and inking — sometimes from panel to panel. Robinson repeats and elaborates upon this fascinating fact in the book.

Even more fascinating is Alex Toth’s tribute to Meskin in a two-page sidebar essay.

“Mort Meskin broke rules, created his own (and years of splendid artistry along the way) — most notably in his Vigilante and Johnny Quick series. ... His invention, daring, and subtlety were unique and exciting to us young Turks and old pros. Mort created surprises, beauty, action, and mystery art through his keen talent for the unusual viewpoint, layout, composition, lighting, massing of forms and solid shapes, rich blacks and line work, in ways deceptively simple, bold, strong (yet subtle, remember), and clearly-stated. ...”

Toth described Meskin’s method of laying out a page. First, he rubbed a soft-lead pencil across the entire surface of a blank piece of paper, and then he took a kneaded eraser and, referring to the script, “proceeded to ‘pick out’/erase panel borders ... and then solid shapes of each panel’s interiors — a caption block, a balloon, a figure, another. Working in reverse, he erased shapes, forms, interlocking compositional elements, to create complete (but negative/white on gray) pictures.” Then he filled the blank white spaces with drawings.

Insightful as the essays and testimonies are, the book’s pictures are its greatest trove of Meskin.

Meskin1

Meskin2

Meskin3

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GOSSIP & GARRULITIES

The Hank Ketcham self-portrait below was done for a series that the Collier’s magazine ran about its cartoonists. (...Maybe it was Saturday Evening Post; but I think probably Collier’s.)

Ketcham1

Ketcham2

In his self-portrait, Ketcham’s left cheek is disfigured by a jagged six-inch scar that runs across his visage. I doubt that this aspect of his appearance shows up anywhere else — certainly not in any other self-portrait. Curiously, Ketcham doesn’t mention either the scar or its cause in his autobiography, The Merchant of Dennis.

Before the book was published, Ketcham removed the part that explained the scar. He got it in a car accident when he was 16 years old. The car, driven by a friend of Ketcham’s, blew a tire and, out of control, ran into a telephone pole. Nobody in the car was hurt — except Ketcham, whose face was slashed.

“Some kind man sped me to the County Hospital where I was quickly stitched and bandaged by a nearsighted intern. Thus the six-inch scar that I have sported ever since.”

How do I know all this? Because Ketcham sent me a sheaf of papers after I’d reviewed the autobiography. He liked the review and thought (rightly) that I’d be interested in the “out-takes,” the portions of his life story that he omitted for one reason or another. (Mostly, I suspect, because the tales weren’t funny enough to take up pages from the ration the publisher allowed him.)

Ketcham tells about the accident with the sure instinct of an accomplished comedic writer. He begins:

“Every time we [Hank and his teenage friends] went out for a drive, Grandmother Ketcham would stubbornly harp on the principle of wearing freshly laundered clothes. ‘In case you’re in an accident, you know,’ she would add. Apparently her concern was less for possible injury than the horror of being found wearing dirty undies.”

Then Ketcham relates the events of that evening in 1936 Seattle — the car crash, the wreckage, discovery of the blood streaming down his face, his visit to the hospital and the nearsighted intern.

Then he ends his story:

“Grandma Ketch would be pleased to know that, right up until the moment of collision, my BVDs were spotless.”

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CELEBRATING SHOE: A BOOK REVIEW

Best of Jeff MacNelly's Shoe coverTo commemorate Shoe’s 40 years in the funnies, a retrospective collection of the comic strip has been issued by Titan Comics (240 9x9-inch pages, b/w with a section of color Sundays, $29.99), The Best of Jeff MacNelly’s Shoe. The reprints are arranged in chronological-order sections, beginning with the first strip, September 13, 1977.

The book begins with a clutch of essays — a Foreword by Dave Barry (Backword by Mike Peters), a history of Shoe (by MacNelly’s widow and another by his brother), and a MacNelly biography. MacNelly, who was the Chicago Tribune’s editoonist as well as Shoe’s perpetrator, died of lymphoma on June 8, 2000, having produced the strip single-handedly for 23 of its 40 years. Appropriately, slightly over half the book reprints his Shoe; the rest belongs, first, to Chris Cassett and Gary Brookins, who took over the strip upon MacNelly’s death; and then just to Brookins. Sue MacNelly, the widow, is listed as one of the strip’s writers; Bill Linden and Doug Gamble, the others. My guess is that she approves what they write; then Brookins draws it.

This may be the place to tell a couple stories about MacNelly, who was storied himself (and several stories tall, up to six foot five). He once worked in an office (first in Washington, D.C.; then at the Chicago Trib), but in later years, he worked at home in West Virginia. He was always pressed by a looming deadline because Jeff MacNelly photothere were many other things he enjoyed doing that took him away from aiming at the deadline. He said the advent of Federal Express let him beat his deadline by a day. Once. And when it became possible to transmit his cartoons digitally, he beat his deadline again by a day. Once.

Like many cartoonists, he experimented with drawing instruments. Finally, he said, he settled on a ballpoint pen, the least likely of choices. At a cartoonists convention once, he was standing with two other editoonists, all over six feet tall. I wandered over and asked if being over six feet tall was a requirement for being an editorial cartoonist. MacNelly said that it helped.

Most of us, impressed by his talent and the range of his artistic aspirations and accomplishments, thought he was one of a kind, irreplaceable. But his wife Susie once said, “They say there are others like him on his home planet.”

In The Best of Shoe, we can catch glimpses of his home planet. And that includes some of the earliest characters, many of whom don’t appear very often any more — Irv Seagull, Madame Zoo Doo, Mort (the aptly named operator of a mortuary), and the beloved looney Loon, mail and newspaper carrier whose aeronautic skills are scattered, to say the least; and Cosmo’s nephew Skylar, who spends afternoons practicing football with giant-sized teammates and opponents and his summers in the Marines, thinking it’s summer camp for boys.

Shoe4

 

Shoe6

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FALL BOOKSHELF, RECENT ARRIVALS

All of these, including comments, taken from Heidi MacDonald’s “Fall 2017 Announcements: Comics & Graphic Novels” in publishersweekly.com; June 23

 

Going Into Town coverGoing into Town: A Love Letter to New York, Roz Chast; out October 3 -- an irresistible love letter to the city Monograph, Chris Ware; October 10 -- doodles

Poppies of Iraq, Brigitte Findakly plus Lewis Trondheim;  September 5 — chronicle of her relationship with her homeland co-written and drawn by her husband

Sex Fantasy, Sophia Foster-Dimino; September 12 — a moving look at intimacy in all its delicacies and absurdities

Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom, Marcelo D’Salete; October 10

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City, Julia Wertz; October 3 — sidesplitting history based upon Wertz’s columns in The New Yorker and Harper’s

Sugar Town, Hazel Newlevant; October 10 — a bisexual, polyamorous love story

Jane, Aline McKenna and Ramon K. Perez; September 19 — reimagines Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre set in present-day New York

Ditko’s Mr. A.: The 50th Anniversary Series, Book One, The Avenging World; October 24

As the Crow Flies, Melanie Gillman; October 10 — a collection of the webcomic about a queer, black teenager in an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp

Mr. Higgins Comes Home, Mike Mignola teaming with Warwick Johnson Cadwell; October 18 — sendup of classic vampire stories

Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures, Yvan Alagbe; October 24 — race and immigration in Paris by one of France’s celebrated cartoonists

The Story of Jezebel, Elijah Brubaker; already out—hilarious take on the Old Testament tale of paganism, murder and sex, with satirist wit and visual verve

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SUPERMAN AND DR. MANHATTAN

Superman will battle Dr. Manhattan in the forthcoming (and much denigrated) Doomsday Clock, the 12-issue series that tries to capitalize on Alan Moore’s inspired creation, the Watchmen, by bringing them back again. Few think this will work as well as the original; and I agree.

Due in shops November 22 with a 40-page, $4.99 No.1.

Doomsday Clock spread

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ILLUSTRATED TWEETS

Sh*t My President Says:
The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump

By Shannon Wheeler
120 5x6-inch pages, b/w
Top Shelf Productions hardcover
$14.99

Sh*t My President Says  coverPulitzer-winning editoonist Jack Ohman says about this tome: "Shannon Wheeler drew a book I wish I had thought of; that's the ultimate compliment I can offer in 140 characters!”

At the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs, Michael Cavna says Wheeler spent much of the last year sifting through over 30,000 “verified account’s tweets” (since 2009) before settling on about 1,000, “satiric clay to work with by identifying the president’s most repeated themes and compulsive narratives — from crowd size to ratings to identifying people he perceives as enemies. Beyond caricature and parody, Wheeler writes, ‘I want to show how he contradicts himself, and lead[s] the reader to question reality.’”

After all the research (stultifying in its monotony, no doubt), Wheeler sees the twitterpated commander-in-chief as playing with his base, “using his 140-character missives as trial balloons.” Said Wheeler: “He thinks: ‘How is my audience going to respond to this?’ Tweeting is like a thermometer for him.”

In the book’s introduction, Wheeler adds: “His implicit message isn’t about himself, it’s about his reader. He encourages his fans to be themselves — not with aspiration, but indulgence. Be sexist. Be racist. Be fearful. Be selfish. Hate and fear the world.”

Wheeler’s caricature of Trump evolved.

            “He’s a bully,” Wheeler says of his caricature. “He’s like the fifth-grader who got held back one grade and he’s now a little bit bigger than you are and he’s still a kid, but you’re a little bit scared of him.”

            Said Cavna: “Wheeler’s Trump is a rotund scamp with a mischievously fiendish spirit.” Then he quotesWheeler again:

            “I was trying to draw him ‘ugly’ and it was not working, and then I was starting to feel: ‘What is inside of him?’ It is the impish child. You think: ‘This is the [playground] kid who would be made fun of if he weren’t making fun of other people.’

            “When I started drawing him as a monster — like an ogre, a mean person — another insight I had from his tweets is that he thinks of himself as a protagonist,” Wheeler says. “Once I realized that and started drawing him that way, it clicked into focus.”

            Not all of Wheeler’s colleagues were pleased with that depiction, though. “Three political cartoonists implored me to draw him villainous,” Wheeler said. “I was like: ‘It doesn’t feel right for me to draw him in that way. It doesn’t give me any insight to [visually] vilify him in that way.’”

            But the last challenge with the book was turning it over to the publisher in June, says Cavna, “with a fresh Trump news cycle heating up.”

            “As soon as we closed the book, there was a new slew of Russia stuff — it broke my heart,” the cartoonist says. “It was so juicy and funny.”

            Herewith, a few telling tweets from our twitterpated Prez.

WheelerTweets1

 

WheelerTweets2

 

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GARFIELD GALACTUS

Galactus panelsGalactus as envisioned by Jim Davis’ Garfield will make an appearance in Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl No.26, out in November. Yes, that’s right: the fat orange cat enters the universe of superheroes. This issue of the Girl, said Christian Holub at ew.com, “will be styled as a zine made by Squirrel Girl and her super-powered peers, with different artists providing styles for different heroes-turned-artists.” Writer Ryan North contacted Davis to do one of the features.

Galactus seemed to Davis like a logical choice for Garfield to produce because Galactus is big and has an appetite rivaling Garfield’s: Galactus, remember, eats planets whole.

North wrote the story which Davis illustrated with the customary help of his assistants Gary Barker and Dan Davis. “The strip basically uses Galactus as a stand-in for Garfield and his herald the Silver Surfer as a stand-in for Jon Arbuckle,” Garfield’s hapless so-called master.

Said Davis: “When you look at the Silver Surfer, he’s 75% of the way there with Jon, all we had to do is give him the big eyes. That was a natural. Jon kind of hangs around Garfield anyway: he’s the straight man to Garfield’s gags and has to get him food. He’s like Garfield’s herald.

“Galactus was tougher,” Davis went on. “We were throwing stuff back and forth, and the initial sketches just weren’t working for Galactus. I said, Okay — we gotta make him fat. The guy eats planets, for godsake! Once we did that, it’s a little less Galactus but certainly a lot more Garfield. It looked more natural. Obviously, Galactus has put on a few mega-tons for this issue.”

Here’s a preview:

GarfieldGalactus

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TEX: THE LONESOME RIDER

Tex cover
Drawn by Joe Kubert and written by Claudio Nizzi
240 7x9-inch pages, b/w
2005 SAF Comics paperback
$15.95

Last winter Dark Horse published Tex: The Lonesome Rider in color, but I like this, the earlier edition: Kubert drew it with black ink on white paper, so this version is closer to the moment of conception. And this edition has front matter — an interview with Kubert and a history of the Italian “Tex” series, which has been appearing regularly for over 50 years, by Ervin Rustemagic, Kubert’s friend, who, trapped in Bosnia during the war there in the 1990s, inspired Kubert’s Fax from Sarajevo.

The story is a simple one: Tex goes to visit some old friends, but when he arrives at their ranch, he finds only their dead bodies. They’ve all been senselessly, brutally, killed by a roving quartet of outlaw thugs. Tex vows to find them and bring them all to justice. He does — one by one. The tale includes a roster of classic Western characters — bullying cattle baron, corrupt sheriff, sleazy saloon bums — plus stagecoach robbery and a one-on-one knife fight with a Native American champion. What elevates the narrative above this catalog of cliches is Kubert’s storytelling.

Kubert varies the visuals rigorously — camera angles shift, panel to panel; ditto distance, from long shots to tight close-ups. Many pages of the narrative are silent, full of visual atmosphere but no dialogue. He dramatically deploys solid blacks in shadows and silhouettes. No pyrotechnics; nothing showy or fancy. Just superb drawings and expert pacing.

Tex1

 

Throughout, Kubert’s laconic line prevails: even in tense action sequences, the figures seem at ease, relaxed. And there are numerous sequences with Tex riding through picturesque Western landscapes, lovingly limned.

 

Tex2

Whether you find the Dark Horse version in color — expertly applied, by the way — or this one in stark black and white, you’re in for a treat.

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

LIST OF SCHOLARLY BOOKS (Perhaps Too Many)

Founded in 1979, McFarland calls itself “a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books.” And many of its titles delve into popular cultureb— and comics. Culled from last winter’s catalogue, here are a few titles, which, in common with most academic titles, are long enough to be annotations:

 

The Law for Comic Book Creators: Essential Concepts and Applications by Joe Sergi, $49.95

The Comics of Joss Whedon: Critical Essays edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel, $35

Graphic Details: Jewish Women’s Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews edited by Sarah Lightman, $49.95

Imagination and Meaning in Calvin and Hobbes by Jamey Heit, $40

Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film by Alex M. Wainer, $40

           

Other titles reek esoterica, learning and high degrees of astuteness:

 

James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Super-spy by Michele Brittany, $40

Walt Disney, from Reader to Storyteller: Essays on the Literary Inspirations edited by Kathy Merlock Jackson and Mark I. West, $40

The Creation of the Cowboy Hero: Fiction, Film and Fact by Jeremy Agnew, $45

Glastonbury and the Grail: Did Joseph of Arimathea Bring the Sacred Relic to Britain? by Justin E. Griffin, $38


I sent for one — The Art of the Political Swamp: Walt Kelly and Pogo by James Eric Black. Eventually, I’ll review it here. For now, it is perhaps tantalizing enough to note that it seems to be a doctoral thesis (probably like most of the McFarland titles).

You can send for the catalogue at McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640-0611 or mcfarlandpub.com; 800-253-2187.

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

KREMOS: THE LOST ART OF NISO RAMPONI

Kremos coversEdited by Joseph Procopio
Vol.1—Bodacious Black and White
Introduction by Mario Verger
200 8½ x 11-inch pages, b/w
2015 Picture This Press paperback
$27.95

Vol.2—Curvaceous Color
Foreword by Jerry Carr

260 8½ x 11-inch pages, b/w
2015 Picture This Press paperback
$34.95

The best way to review this sumptuous two-volume set is to post a few pictures lovingly torn from their interiors. The set is the eighth production of Kremos drawingLost Art Books from Picture This Press, and it focuses on the Italian cartoonist, animator and illustrator known as the “King of the little ladies” — the provocative women of his cartoons for the weekly humor magazine il Travaso (“the overflow”) and its occasional supplement, il Travasissimo, from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. Ramponi’s career was mostly in animation, and his lively line embodies the dashed-off breezy quick drawing we expect from an animator, but Ramponi’s pictures, while they have all the energy of sketches, have also the appearance of highly polished finished art. In the color work of Volume 2, the color is judiciously applied, then splashed with accenting hues. Whether in black-and-white or in color, his drawings are an unabashed delight, as you’ll see in a trice.

“KREMOS” is how Ramponi signed his cartoons, an adaptation of the signature he employed while in the army, when regulations prohibited his moonlighting in his profession. To avoid a copyright fight with a painter who also signed his work KREMOS, Ramponi abandoned the pen name in 1957 and signed his work with his first name, Niso. But it was his cartoons signed KREMOS that seeped into the U.S. occasionally in the mildly risque digest magazines published in the 1950s by Humorama, Jest, Gee Whiz, Gaze et al.

And now for a sampling of his cartoony good girls, whose embonpoint evokes another (somewhat more celebrated) Italian figure, Sophia Loren’s. KREMOS’ women became somewhat more slender as time passed but no less appealing. They are given generous display in these volumes, one cartoon to a page; and each cartoon is copiously sourced. Visit Lost Art Books website for more pictures and to order your copies.

Kremos2

Kremos4

The captions on KREMOS’ cartoons appear, alas, at a tiny dimension. You can enlarge the pictures to read them, but you’ll discover, as I did, that the ribald comedy of the 1950s is pretty tame (not to say lame) so you’ll better spend your time just admiring the view.

 

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LOST AND FOUND: COMICS 1969 - 2003

Lost and Found coverLost and Found: Comics 1969-2003
By Bill Griffith
392 8x10-inch pages
b/w with color
2011 Fantagraphics
paperback
$35

If you think Griffith’s comic strip Zippy is all he’s been doing all these years, this book will convince you otherwise. The content is divided into four chapters: the first three cover the decades (1960s-1970s, 1980s, 1990s); the last, color work from across the years. Everything herein appeared first in underground comix; titles and dates thereof are meticulously cited. The strip started in syndication August 26, 1985, but only a short sequence from the syndicated strip is reprinted here (Griffith’s visit to his childhood home).

Zippy makes occasional appearances throughout the volume, but the first chapter — at 220 pages, the longest — belongs mostly to Mr. Toad. Zippy’s first appearance (in “I Gave My Heart to a Pinhead and He Made a Fool Out of Me” in Real Pulp Comics No.1, 1971) is included, as is the tongue-in-cheek “The True Origins of Zippy the Pinhead,” but the Pinhead takes a back seat to other characters and miscellaneous shenanigans — Alfred Jarry, the Toadettes, Claude Funston, the sex-obsessed Randy and Cherisse, Benny Breen, not to mention the hilariously sexual Young Lust romance comics parodies. There’s much more unabashed nudity and copulation here than you’d expect from the comic strip Zippy.

LostGriff1

One of the book’s chief values for historians as well as fans is in the opening 20 pages, which Griffith devotes to telling the story of his debut in comix and his subsequent rise into syndication, full of anecdote and apostrophe — and false starts at turning Zippy into a movie. For a somewhat shorter version of the tale of Griffith’s progress, you can visit the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com) where Harv’s Hindsight for July 2011 divulges the whole sordid story. The Hindsight version is much better at telling how syndicating Zippy was a scheme by a departing King Features factotum who wanted to leave a “time bomb” ticking on the syndicate’s doorstep, and Zippy was the time bomb. You have to read it.

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

THE BEST OF PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE MONTHLY

Will Eisner PS Magazine: The Best of the Preventive Maintenance Monthly
Edited by Charles Kochman
Selected with Commentary by Eddie Campbell
Introduction by General Peter J. Schoomaker
Preface by Ann Eisner
272 6x8-inch pages, color
2011 Abrams ComicArt
hardcover
$21.95

Dunno how this one slipped by me, but it’s the perfect companion to Paul Fitzgerald’s Will Eisner and PS Magazine (just reviewed, below): Fitzgerald’s text supplies a history, and this book provides the illustrative material, showing what, exactly, PS Magazine did that no other instructional publication up to that time had done.

The book includes an ample sample of the comic strips Eisner and his staff devised to entertain while explaining equipment maintenance and safety procedures—plus covers, diagrams, pin-ups, step-by-step guides, and other cartoony maneuvers aimed at supplementing technical manuals.

 

BestPS1

BestPS2

BestPS3

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WILL EISNER AND P.S. MAGAZINE

Will Eisner Centennial logoWill Eisner and P.S. Magazine: An Illustrated History and Commentary
By Paul E. Fitzgerald
224 8½ x 11-inch landscape pages, with color
2009 FitzWorld.US
paperback
$59.95

We cam divide the career of seminal cartoonist Eisner into three segments: (1) his creation of the Spirit and the newspaper comics insert in which the character appeared (which did much to shape the comic book medium) and (2) his advocacy for the artform as mature literature in the “graphic novel” are well known; less recognized, however, is (3) Eisner’s role in refining the instructional function of comics in P.S. The Preventive Maintenance Monthly — a magazine intended, as its name suggestions, as “post script” to the Army’s formal manuals and directives about operating and maintaining equipment. This last aspect of his life’s work is the subject of Fitzgerald’s modest volume. And Fitzgerald should know: he was P.S.’s first managing editor from 1952/53 until 1963 — in other words, for the first ten years of Eisner’s 20-year relationship with the project.

The book’s profuse illustrations are exactingly documented, but many of the pictures — of full-page comic strips from the 5x7-inch pages of the magazine — are reproduced much too small to read. While that is too bad, the treasure of the volume is its text, which details the ups and downs, pitfalls and triumphs, of the Eisner contract years. (Besides, lots of the pictures are still readable even at a reduced size — the covers, for example, which the book includes a generous sampling of.)

EisnerPS1

I should mention that Eisner was not the editor of P.S.; his contract with the Army was to design the publication and to produce the instructional art. Eisner’s impact in the latter effort was seminal: if he didn’t invent instructional comics, he perfected a certain kind of instructional comics.

Eisner and his staff took engineers’ descriptions of how to do something and translated them into ordinary soldier lingo. And the illustrations always depicted the action from the mechanic’s point-of-view, not the manufacturer’s. Hence, the revolution.

This part of Eisner’s creative life is at least as important as the other two parts, and Eisner was proud of it. And so Fitzgerald’s book fills in an otherwise gaping hole.

The 100th anniversary of Eisner’s birth is this year, and in honor thereof, we’ve been publishing our own fugitive interviews with him in Harv’s Hindsight, a department in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com). We also rehearse the birth of the Spirit and Eisner’s early work in comics.

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

THE STORY OF MY TITS

Story of My Tits coverThe Story of My Tits
By Jennifer Hayden
352 8x8-inch pages, b/w
2015
Top Shelf paperback
$29.99

The title, naturally, drew me like flies on horse pucky. But this graphic novel is much more than the story of the author’s breasts. It is, rather, her autobiography, starting, admittedly, with her flat-chestedness on the cusp of becoming a teenager and the agonies thereof. But she discovers sex despite this disadvantage, sleeps around, learns that boys are attracted to breasts, and hers finally show up. She pairs up with Jim, whom she eventually marries.

But there are other adventures. Her mother has a mastectomy, her father is discovered having an affair (which had gone on for five previous years), she moves in with Jim, and they move around, looking for work. He plays in a band; she writes. They go to Philly where they live with Jim’s mom, who becomes Hayden’s best friend. Then she, Jim’s mom not Hayden, develops lung cancer of which she eventually dies but not until near the end of the book.

Jim gets steady gigs with his band, and, after seven years of living together, Hayden starts agitating to get married. After a long campaign of persuasion, Jim proposes, and they marry (but not until they go through the ordeal of making wedding plans). Then Hayden begins to wonder about having children. More campaigning. Then she gets pregnant and has a baby. A boy. Next she has a girl.

Then she gets breast cancer and has a double mastectomy and implants. Jim stays constant. Hayden discovers graphic novels and starts making one, the one we’re reading.

The book offers ample insights into the various agonies of being female in America and of life in general and “the endlessly evolving definition of family,” as the back cover blurb puts it. “Hayden’s story is a much-needed breath of fresh air, an irresistible blend of sweetness and skepticism—rich with both symbolism and humor.”

The story might be anyone’s and everyone’s. But the pictures in this graphic novel are unique. The story is told in the captions; and the pictures, in Hayden’s quirky amateurish style, comment on the captions — expanding, footnoting, and supplying additional (often superfluous) detail. The panels are crowded, crammed, with visual information, a disorderly jumble of pictorial minutiae. The pictures seldom depict a continuous action from panel to panel. Most often, the panels and captions have the appearance of gag cartoons but they don’t function that way. Sometimes the captions and their pictures blend for meaning, but most often, they run hand-in-hand, carrying Hayden’s story from page to page, endless in their visual variety.

Here, we’ve posted a sample of the book’s visual aspect.

Hayden1

Hayden3

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WALT KELLY'S FABLES AND FUNNIES

Walt Kelly's Fables and Funnies coverWalt Kelly’s Fables and Funnies
Compiled by David W. Tosh
Introduction by John E. Petty
280 7x10.5-inch pages, color
2016 Dark Horse
hardcover
$49.99

This happy se;ectopm of Western/Dell work from 1942-1949 gives us better Walt Kelly than Pogo. Yes, such a thing is possible, and this book will prove it to you. Tosh has collected Kelly from many of the titles to which he contributed after leaving Disney in 1941 and before the newspaper version of Pogo started in 1948 — Fairy Tale Parade, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Santa Claus Funnies, March of Comics, Our Gang, various Four Color Comics, and, of course, Animal Comics. Except in the latter, no Pogo here; no alligators either.

Under the heading “Animal Mother Goose,” Kelly illustrated nursery rhymes using animals. One of the Our Gang stories herein is pretty grown-up violent stuff, people wielding rifles and the like. In the samples I’ve posted near here, we have only a hint of the most delightful and whimsical Kelly in this volume. He did vast quantities of superior pictorial comedy for kids (and their parents—adults were always the target audience). The pages brim with his antic visual invention: the pictures are the funnies. And it is all, surprisingly, much better drawn than the early Pogo.

KellyFables1

KellyFables2

Reprinting Pogo is fashionable and lucrative these days. Fantagraphics is bringing out luxurious volumes of the newspaper strip (to which I am a paid contributor) and Hermes Press is publishing all of the Dell Pogo from Animal Comics and Pogo Comics. With this Tosh collection at hand, we realize that there’s lots more of this kind of Kelly out there, a veritable trove for Kelly fans, just waiting to be collected and compiled. And in the current stampede to reprint all of Pogo, surely someone is going to take the hint Tosh supplies here and publish more of this delightful oeuvre. And maybe some truly dedicated soul will finally assemble and publish Kelly’s editorial cartoons from the New York Star. We can hope.

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

THE TIPPING POINT

Tipping Point coverThe Tipping Point
By Various Artists
130 8x11-inch pages, color
2016
Humanoids
hardcover
$29.95

The tipping point, by custom, is that instant in the evolution of events that leads to a new and irreversible development. “That key moment,” saith this book’s back cover, “when a clear-cut split occurs, a mutation, a personal revolt, or a large-scale revolution tips us from one world to another, from one life to an entirely new one.”

The volume offers thirteen tipping point stories by thirteen cartoonists of different nationalities: Taiyo Matsumoto, Emmanuel Lepage, Atsushi Kaneko, John Cassaday, Eddie Campbell, Naoki Ukrasawa, Bob Fingerman, Boulet, Paul Pope, Bastien Vilves, Keiichi Koike, Frederik Peeters, and Katsuya Terada. Finding the tipping point in each story is more of a parlor game than literary analysis.

Campbell’s autobiographical story, “Cul de Sac,” starts with him unpacking boxes as he moves into a new apartment. His cat has run off, and he spends time looking for the beast, wandering through and describing the new neighborhood. It concludes with his dreaming of a personage with the head of his cat. In the last picture, Campbell is seated at a table, eating his dinner. I don’t see a tipping point in that sequence. Maybe it’s when he apparently gives up looking for his cat. Or maybe it’s when he moves in.

In Paul Pope’s “Consort to the Destroyer,” a man, a vicious pirate by the look of him, and a beautiful nearly naked woman, his prisoner, chained to him, are on an open boat at sea, survivors of ship that sank destroyed by fire. The boat is stalked by a shark. The pirate tugs on the chain, demanding that the woman come to him. She does, en route grabbing a knife stuck in the plank of the pirate’s seat. She stabs him to death and jumps overboard, where the shark approaches. Repeating some of the same dialogue of the previous sequence, she stabs the shark and kills it. Then she swims to an island where there are some deserted buildings but no people. The tipping point may be when the pirate tugs on the chain.

Cassaday explores Huck Finn’s decision not to turn Jim in to the slave-hunting authorities, one of literature’s famous tipping points. The decision bonds the two for the rest of Mark Twain’s book. Lepage’s “The Awakening” records a youth’s realization that he is gay. Fingerman’s “Unbeliever” meets God, who turns out to be a hoax. In Boulet’s equally comical “I Want to Believe,” the cartoonist is scornful of people who believe what they find on the Internet—until he experiences all sorts of encounters with Internet phenomenon (a lizard person, men in black, the white woman who appears to drivers just before they have an accident) and makes $90 billion by investing in one of those “I am requesting your help” messages.

The tipping point in most of the stories is illusive. Or maybe it’s just a matter of interpretation. Or not. In his Introduction, the publisher, Fabrice Giger, recounts a tipping point in his life and then says the contributors to this book “examine their own tipping points.” But he also thinks there are fourteen contributors, not thirteen. Besides, only a couple of the stories are obviously autobiographical.

But it doesn’t matter. The stories are mostly a little spooky, puzzling fragments of imaginary longer tales. They are beautifully drawn and fun to read. What more can we ask?

Tipping

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THE WHITE DONKEY: TERMINAL LANCE


Terminal Lance coverBy Maximilian Uriarte
288 7x10.5-inch pages
color (tints)
2016 Little Brown
hardcover
$15

The subtitle “Terminal Lance” refers to a webcomic Uriarte launched in 2010 after being in the Marines since 2006 and just before he left the Corps. “Terminal lance” is Marine slang for a Marine who finishes his enlistment without making further advances in rank than lance corporal, E-3, only two steps up the ladder from raw recruit. The phrase is tacked onto the graphic novel title probably in order to connect it to the webcomic so readers of the latter would buy the former; it’s not an otherwise justifiable connection. But the principal character in both is a Marine named Abe.

Uriarte enlisted in the Marines in 2006 at the age of 19, and during his 4-year hitch, he served two combat deployments to Iraq.

Amazon calls The White Donkey “a graphic novel of war and its aftermath,” going on to say: “A powerful, compulsively page-turning, vivid, and moving tribute to the experience of war and PTSD, The White Donkey tells the story of Abe, a young Marine recruit who experiences the ugly, pedestrian, and often meaningless side of military service in rural Iraq. He enlists in hopes of finding that missing something in his life but comes to find out that it's not quite what he expected. Abe gets more than he bargained for.

“This is a story about a Marine, written and illustrated by a Marine, and is the first graphic novel about the war in Iraq from a veteran. The White Donkey explores the experience of being a Marine, as well as the challenges that veterans face upon their return home, and its raw power will leave you in awe.”

I’m not so sure that I was left in awe after reading the book. But certain scenes and sequences haunt me still. And I can see why The White Donkey has hit so many of its readers hard (read the rave reviews at Amazon.com) and why it was a New York Times bestseller: the book is, as it says without sufficient emphasis above, “the first graphic novel about the war in Iraq from a veteran.” The author’s personal experience of a brutal war that we are all trying to forget gives the graphic novel the stamp of authenticity that attracts attention and applause. It has all the right ingredients: it’s a graphic novel, a genre of immense popularity just now; it’s about a nasty war; and the graphic artist is himself a veteran, a survivor, of the nastiness.

In short, this is a graphic novel that is true.

Towards the end of the book, Abe’s best friend, Garcia, is killed by an IED. Abe goes to pieces. That’s the short of the story. In the long of it, Uriarte makes good use of the medium’s resources.

The ending, by the time we come upon it, is predictable. In fact, the book as a whole is a predictable almost “familiar” (because we’ve heard this story before) account of one disillusioned Marine’s short life. Uriarte gives it drama by depicting the monotony of training camps and the routines of military life in Iraq, the ever-present menace that surrounds it, and the horror of sudden, absolute death in a seemingly uneventful albeit threatening environment.

And then there’s the White Donkey. When we first see it, it’s standing in the road, holding up a parade of military vehicles. In Uriarte’s mind, the White Donkey seems in its simple existence to deny or refute the power of the American miliary in all its horrifying glory.

In his book, the White Donkey appears six times.

The White Donkey in all its manifestations simply appears and then disappears. It performs no function — except as a kind of symbol, a symbol heralding perhaps the ineffectiveness and therefore the meaninglessness of life.

Once one accepts life’s meaningless, he/she can go on living.

Uriarte’s story does not leave me in a state of awe. But his literary use of a symbol does.

Donkey1

Donkey2

 

 

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GAG ON THIS: THE SCROFULOUS CARTOONS OF CHARLES RODRIGUES

Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues

By (of course) Charles Rodrigues
edited by Gary Groth and Bob Fingerman, who supplies a short biography of the cartoonist (pasted to the inside front and back covers in an effort, no doubt, to devote as all of the book’s actual pages to Rodrigues’ comedic masterpieces)
Introduction by Sam Gross
428 6x6-inch pages, b/w
2015 Fantagraphics hardover
$34.99

Gag on This coverYou can read all 422 of Rodrigues’s cartoons in about an hour — if you don’t pause too long to try to figure out the implications of some of the pictures — but in whatever remains of your lifetime, you’ll never forget what you will see and probably laugh at in this book. The blurb on the back cover completes the fulsome description of the volume’s content:

“Charles Rodrigues was one of the fiercest, most audacious, taboo-busting cartoonists who ever lived, and Fantagraphics’ second collection of his cartoons from the National Lampoon may be the most jaw-droppingly irreverent collection of gag cartoons ever published.

“There was no subject Rodrigues wouldn’t tackle and none he couldn’t make funny. There is no example of human suffering, misery, tragedy, or absurdity that is off limits. Gag on This is not a book for the ideologically sanctimonious, the genteel souls of middle America, or the humorless. But, if you have learned to simultaneously laugh and cry at the unending folly of human existence, you will have found your solace and your penance in Charles Rodrigues’ Gag on This.”

That, still, doesn’t quite do Rodrigues justice. In his Introduction, Gross lists over 60 “scabrous” subjects Rodrigues wasn’t timid about approaching, beginning with blind people and ending with public toilets, Rodrigues cartoonorgasms and bicycle seats, including along the way cripples, spastics, bedwetting, murder, voyeurism, menstruation, enemas, bestiality, feces, sexual aids and cannibalism—to name a few.

The first collection of Rodrigues’ National Lampoon cartoons published by Fantagraphics (in 2013), Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend (another 200-odd pages of comical vomitus) is the story of a man and his dead friend. Not easy to forget. But you don’t need to have read that book to enjoy the crop of his work harvested for this volume.

This volume is made up entirely of one-panel cartoons — the oft-dubbed “gag cartoons.” And most of these will, as promised by the title, nudge you the direction of gagging. The 2013 collection, on the other hand, was made up of comic-book style comic strips. A different appreciation experience altogether but still often gag-inducing.

More, perhaps, than the work of any other cartoonist, in Rodrigues’ cartoons the pictures are vital to the comedy. Without the picture, there’s no joke. Beyond picturing the key pictorial element of some aspect of what the cartoonist finds amusing, his pictures are crammed with minute detail. And since so much of the humor in the cartoons in this volume arises from pictures without words, if some visual detail is obscurely rendered (or not very visible due to flaws in reproduction or the clarity of source material)—as happens, but rarely—you’ll be momentarily baffled until you discern what that scrap of art actually represents. I’ve included one or two such puzzlers in the array that follows (seeing a few Rodrigues specimens is the best way of reviewing this book), beginning with what the editors of National Lampoon denominated the funniest cartoon ever done. I agree (but you have to be male to fully comprehend the comedy).

Rodrigues3

 

RodriguesDeadFriend

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

ANCIENT HISTORY

Return with us now to 1991 and the San Diego Comic-Con (not yet “International”). I’ve been sorting out the contents of boxes in the below-stairs Book Grotto of the Harvey Manse, and I discovered a distinguished remnant of that Con, my first. In those antique days when nights are filled with revelry and life was but a song, I occupied a table in Artists Alley, which resulted in the aforementioned remnant of those halcyon times; a miniature 3" x 8" booklet of cartoons.

A guy named Roger May wandered through the Alley and invited some of us do a single-page cartoon (which would measure 3" x 4"). He said he’d collect all the cartoons at the end of the day and manufacture the booklet at a local copy shop, and then the next day, he’d circulate it through the Alley and elsewhere, selling it for $2 apiece. As far as I can remember, none us contributors shared in the rewards of this feeble financial enterprise. But we all got a copy of the booklet.

AlleyBooklet1

AlleyBooklet2

Surprisingly (or maybe not, once Roger saw what I was peddling at my table — “art prints” of cartoony lewd ladies), he gave me the centerfold. (Or maybe I asked for it as a condition of my contribution — centerfold and barenekkidwimmin somehow belonging together.)

I decorated the centerfold with the cute li’l bimbo who appears at the right end of the two bottom rows above. The Con met over July Fourth that year, so firecrackers were de rigeur. And my pin-up is “threatening” to light firecrackers that are the only things obscuring an unimpeded vista of her admirable epidermis. She, all the while, pretends not to know why all of us are urging her to light off those firecrackers. (Pant, pant.)

The drawing is otherwise littered with double entendre of every spurious sort; “going out with a bang” indeed — I should be ashamed, but I’m not, not ever.

Roger dutifully numbered the booklet’s pages, all 32 of them, only a few of which are reproduced here. Several notable ’tooners of the day (and some who persisted until today) are represented. Referring to the encircled numbers on each of the pages (panels), here are the cartoonists whose cartoons appear here (first and second rows, left to right: 4, Bruce Hilvitz; 23, Rich Geary; 24, Eric Talbot; 18, Chance Wolf; 9, Shel Dorf (founder of the Con); 25, Joseph Linsner.

Third row: 3, Dan Gregory; 5, Larry Welz (I was surprised to see this old undergrounder at the Denver Comic Con this past June); 16/17, Yrs Trly; then right to left across the bottom: Guy Colwell; and, back cover, Mark Martin.

Most of the cartoonists exploit the UG tradition of the comedy of shock or make terrible puns. Talbot’s anatomical gag is wonderfully hilarious. But they’re all delicious. And to think, I almost threw this treasure out when rummaging through all those boxes downstairs.

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

IT'S KRAZY TIME AT LAST

KRAZY coverThe long-awaited critical biography of Krazy Kat and the strip’s creator George Herriman by Michael Tisserand has finally arrived — Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White 560 pages by Harper/Collins. Amazon encapsulates the history of the strip: Appearing in the biggest newspapers of the early twentieth century — including those owned by William Randolph Hearst — Herriman’s Krazy Kat cartoons propelled him, eventually, to fame. Although fitfully popular with readers of the period, his work has been widely credited with elevating cartoons from daily amusements to anarchic art.

The Kirkus Review begins: “Set among the desert mesas of Coconino County, Krazy Kat graced the funny pages from 1913 to 1944 and featured the philosophical antics of Krazy and the brick-throwing mouse, Ignatz. Tisserand reveals the depths of their age-old rivalry, tracing influences from Cervantes and Othello to minstrel shows and the Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries bout of 1910.”

“Herriman used his work to explore the human condition,” saith Amazon, “creating a modernist fantasia that was inspired by the landscapes he discovered in his travels — from chaotic urban life to the Beckett-like desert vistas of the Southwest.”

Kirkus: “Krazy Kat always had a racial angle: Herriman was born a fair-skinned boy to African-American [or Creole] parents and grew up in the Creole community of New Orleans. His complexion allowed him to ‘pass’ as white, a controversial practice [since the dangerous days of post-Civil War Reconstruction].

“Though he penned numerous strips — Us Husbands, Baron Mooch, Family Upstairs — it wasn’t until after the arrival of Krazy Kat in 1913 that he moved toward the life of a celebrated artist, garnering praise from the Krazy Kat panellikes of e.e. cummings and President Woodrow Wilson. Herriman’s unique racial perspective allowed him to sneak some remarkably potent themes into his cartoons, many of which were likely lost on his readers at the time: Krazy, for instance, is revealed to have been born in the cellar of a haunted house, in a ‘tale which must never be told, and yet which everyone knows.’ In another gag, Ignatz flings a mug at Krazy saying it's not the black coffee he wanted. ‘Sure it is,’ Krazy tells him. ‘Look unda the milk.’”

Amazon: “Drawing on exhaustive original research into Herriman’s family history, interviews with surviving friends and family, and deep analysis of the artist’s work and surviving written records, Tisserand brings this little-understood figure to vivid life, paying homage to a visionary artist who helped shape modern culture.”

Kirkus: “Tisserand elevates this exhaustively researched and profusely illustrated book beyond the typical comics biography. Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles.”

Writing to others on the Platinum Age list, Tisserand said: “If someone is going to spend eight years researching a life, I highly recommend George Herriman. Pretty sure it's impossible to tire of Herriman and his work, or to learn all there is to learn.”

I haven’t finished reading my copy yet, but as far as I’ve gone, the research is impressive

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

WHITE BOY IN SKULL VALLEY : COMPLETE SUNDAYS

WHITE BOY coverGarrett Price’s White Boy in Skull Valley:
The Complete Sunday Comics, 1933-1936
Edited By Peter Maresca
168 10.5x16-inch gigantic landscape pages
color
2015
Sunday Press hardcover
$75

Once again, Maresca’s Sunday Press brings us a scrupulously reconstructed Sunday comic strip reprinted at the size it was originally published back in the day when newspaper publishers valued comics. White Boy, the strip’s title from October 1, 1933, when it started, until April 28, 1935, when it abruptly changed its title to Skull Valley, is unique in the history of American comic strips: it is the only “western” story told from the Native American point-of-view. The title character, who is not named, is a captive of an Indian tribe. He is well-treated and becomes friends with his captors, particularly an attractive young woman named Starlight. Some of the strips regale us with Indian folklore and legend; and every strip is scrupulously dated.

Another aspect of the strip’s uniqueness is the manner in which Price drew it. It is realistically drawn in the sense that it is not bigfoot comedy: but Price drew in a simple, outline manner, without feathering or shading or any of the other illustrative tricks. He renders clothing, for instance, without wrinkles. And then, every once in a while — when his story demands it — his pictures darken and acquire texture and shading.

Then, suddenly — overnight, without explanation — White Boy disappears and in its place appears Skull Valley, starring Bob White, a cowboy in modern times who acquires a girlfriend named Doris Hale. The White Boy storyline is abandoned in mid-episode; time shifts, and we’re in another world. Bob White’s story is of a quite different sort: the strip is now a fairly conventional adventure strip. The Indian perspective is gone. And Price adds pictorial depth to his drawings with shading and solid blacks. Even a few wrinkles in clothing.

Marsca assures us in the prefatory essay that no explanation was ever given for this unprecedented change. And then Skull Valley eventually morphs into a gag strip about a dude ranch, and it ends without a ripple on August 30, 1936.

WhiteBoy1

WhiteBoy2

The book’s front matter gives us a brief history of White Boy and a short biography of Price, who, although born and raised in the West (Wyoming), became an illustrator and cartoonist of note in New York, where he appeared regularly in The New Yorker as cover artist and cartoonist. His cartoons were also published in other magazines of the 1920s through the 1970s; I first saw his work in the old humor magazine Life. Maresca’s essays are accompanied by a generous sampling of Price’s other work, including paintings and covers as well as cartoons.

White Boy was a minor masterpiece, and this volume is a gem of a historical work.

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

THE FIX

The Fix #5 coverThe Fix is up to its fifth issue as I write this, and it’s five issues of propriety-daunting shenanigans so cynical and self-serving that the series is hilarious — in a wholly unconventional way, of course. One reviewer describes The Fix as “a comedy of errors, if ‘disastrous decision-making from top-to-bottom’ counts as an error.”

The first issue begins with two ski-mask wearing guys robbing the folks in an old folks home. How low can you sink as robbers? But their actual target in the home is a retired criminal who has a cash stash the robbers want. As they uncover the hiding place, the old guy wakes up and reveals the shotgun he keeps under his bedclothes. He lets fly, and they run off with as much of the cash as they can grab and carry.

It turns out that the two robbers, a black (or Mexican?) named Mac Brundo and a white guy named Roy (whose last name I haven’t found yet and whose narrative captions tell the story), have a day job: they’re cops.

Roy eventually gives us the benefit of a review of his early life during which he played cops and robbers like all kids, and he decides that if you want a life of crime, it’s best to be a cop. Says Roy, in another of a continuing display of cynicism: “I mean, who gets to break the rules more than the guy who makes them? [If you’re a cop] nobody tells you want to do. Hell, you tell them what to do. You get to beat up whoever you want. You can even shoot them sometimes.” And you get away with it.

Roy and Mac are robbing money to pay off their debt to another guy, Josh, a stone-cold killer and loan shark, who, by the end of the issue, has proposed that the two smuggle some stuff through LAX in order to pay him back. Their pursuit of this objective — which includes getting a dog that might be a drug-sniffing dog—takes the next two or three issues. So far.

Although Roy supplies the running captions that ostensibly explain what he and Mac are doing, the pictures often contradict the soaring rhetoric of Roy’s words.

Fix1

In short, a wonderful send-up, written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Steve Lieber.

The Fix. Worth checking out.

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

SOME GOOD STUFF

What do I read for my private amusement? Last winter, I was reading Daredevil (drawn by Goran Sudzuka), Black Widow (Chris Samnee), Moon Knight (Greg Smallwood), and American Monster (Juan Doe). Brian Azzarello’s tale in American Monster is desultory to the point of near aimlessness, but Doe’s visual storytelling is inventive, sometimes to the point of startling. Likewise, Sudzuka, Smallwood and Samnee deploy the visual resources of the medium in imaginative ways—each in his own individual style, recognizably no one else’s. In the image below from Black Widow, we can see why Samnee is given co-writer credit with Mark Waid: the narrative on this page and on many pages of this issue and others is carried by Samnee’s pictures.

BlackWidMock

Comics are a visual medium, and these artists have raised “visual” to an art form.

Oh — and Kaare Kyle Andrews’ Renato Jones: One% is another exemplar of the arts of visual storytelling. The drawing is energetic, the page layouts imaginative, and the leap-frogging storyline fascinating. The second “round” of this title is now up to No.2.

Renato2

And keep your eye on The Fix, written by Nick Spencer, which, through No.10, offers a uniquely perverse concept, well executed by Steve Lieber (see the next R&R), and The Black Monday Murders, by Jonathan Hickman with art by Tomm Coker, who deploy both text and pictures in unconventional ways to tell their story. And Phil Hester’s stunning artwork in Warren Ellis’ Shipwreck is worth the price of admission even if you don’t read the “story.”

Ship1

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

NEW IRON MAN

Marvel is bringing on a new Iron Man. A woman. A black woman. They’re still working on the armored avenger’s new name, Eliana Dockterman reported at Time.com — Iron Man clearly won’t work anymore. This is another of Marvel’s many steps lately at creating racial and gender diversity in its line-up. Thor, you’ll remember, is a woman now. Then we have Jessica Jones, Miles Morales and Maria Hill. So why not Iron Man?

The new Golden Avenger, Riri Williams, is a science genius who enrolls in MIT at the age of 15 and builds her own Iron Man suit in her dorm. All I’ve seen is the picture of Riri in an afro, and I don’t think this’ll work: how will she fit her hair into the Iron “Man” helmet? And she won’t be nearly as cute when she’s covered up with the red and yellow clank suit. (Ooops: sorry: sexist remark.)

Riri Williams Iron Man

 

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

COMICS GURU ALAN MOORE PRODUCES JOYCEAN NOVEL

Jerusalem boxed setNobirdy Avair Soar Anywing to Eagle It

With the publication last winter of his extravagantly long and complex prose novel, Jerusalem, Alan Moore announced that he is planning to retire from the other medium in which he has worked for so long, the one that brought him fame — comic books. But not, it seems, right away.

The creator of such medium-altering works as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The Killiong Joke and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman said, at a press conference about Jerusalem, “I have about 250 pages of comics left in me,” and he may produce them in Cinema Purgatorio and Providence from Avatar, and the final book of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That, however, would fall short of his life-long goal, “to do a large work on a large scale.”

He plans to keep working, but to focus on films and literary novels, still aiming at that large opus.

Jerusalem, a nearly 1,300-page work of words with no pictures, presumably is a milestone on his road to that goal. It took Moore ten years to complete.

“Jerusalem,” says Andrew Ervin, an author and critic writing in the Washington Post, “revels in the idea of eternalism, the theory that past, present and future exist all at once. Everything that has ever happened in Northampton is still happening. Everything that eventually will happen there is already happening now. Amid that chronological and ontological maelstrom, Moore’s characters must reckon with the occasional slippage between their town and a shadowy parallel realm known as Mansoul. From Mansoul, the deceased can watch all of the goings-on in the town.”

The book is obviously, self-consciously, Joycean (perhaps as homage and, in some places, as parody).

“Yes, yes, very much,” burbles David Franich at ew.com. “Many of Jerusalem’s chapters follow the life-in-a-day structure of [James Joyce’s famous] Ulysses, with characters thoughtfully perambulating around a few square blocks in Northampton. Then you get to the part when Joyce’s daughter Lucia has a sexual encounter with pop idol Dusty Springfield— said encounter witnessed by actor Patrick McGoohan and the balloon-monster from McGoohan’s tv show ‘The Prisoner.’ ... Did I mention that whole chapter is written in the style of Joyce’s infamously post-coherent masterpiece Finnegans goddamn Wake??? Sample line, pulled from the middle of a random sentence:

“... Lucia askplains dashy’s expictured beckett d’main how’s o’ the massylum in spacetime for tea an’ dusks her newd frond four dimections to delaytr roaches of the ninespleen severties…”

Hence the subtitle of this article, ripped from Finnegans Wake.

“The novel doesn’t have a through-line plot arc any more than do Hieronymus Bosch’s hell-scapes,” said Ervin. “But we learn a great deal about the Vernal and Warren families,” the chief characters (other than the town itself) of the book. Another Joycean kinship.

AlanMoore“That maximalist, kitchen-sink approach accounts for many of its pleasures,” Ervin concludes: “There are unexpected twists and frequent hairpin changes in mood. What makes it truly shine, however, is its insistence that our workaday world might not be quite as mundane as we think. Lurking in the corners of the ceiling, we might just find a portal to a different realm. The imagination Moore displays here and the countless joys and surprises he evokes make Jerusalem a massive literary achievement for our time — and maybe for all times simultaneously.”

Well, that may be a bit much. A bit too Joycean perhaps.

Moore himself, in an interview with the New York Times, sees the book as filling “a need for an alternative way of looking at life and death. I have a lot of very dear rationalist, atheist friends who accept that having a higher belief system is good for you — you probably live longer if you have one. You’re probably happier. So I wanted to come up with a secular theory of the afterlife. As far as I can see, and as far as Einstein could see, what I describe in the book looks like a fairly safe option in terms of its actual possibility.”

 

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

OBAMA SENDS PUBLISHER PAGES FOR PRESIDENTIAL GRAPHIC NOVEL

ccording to former President Barack Obama, only the graphic novel format had the expressive palette capable of truly capturing his eight years in office.

Obama at Oval Office deskWASHINGTON—Saying the finished work would become the “definitive take” on his time in the White House, Barack Obama reportedly submitted a collection of pages from his presidential graphic novel, Barack Obama: Renegade, to publisher Image Comics on Thursday, June 8.

The 16-page packet of artwork and sample issues, which Obama confirmed he has also mailed to Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, and DC’s Vertigo imprint, is said to serve as a proof of concept for what he envisions as a sprawling eight-volume memoir of his presidency. According to Obama, creating an authentic representation of his two terms in office has required him to use every tool of the comics medium, from dramatic splash pages in which he appears silhouetted behind the Resolute desk, to an extended dream sequence set on the eve of his 2012 reelection, which he said takes “definite cues” from the casual surrealism of graphic novelist Chris Ware in order to fully realize the emotional truth of the moment.

“I’ve poured everything into Renegade’s panels, and when it’s complete, it will depict these eight years of my life precisely as I experienced them,” said the 44th former president of the United States, who told reporters that he planned to pencil, ink, and hand-letter each page of the series himself.

That last is the first irrefutable clue that this is “fake news.”

“Generations from now,” said Obama, “I want Americans to be able to read these pages and be confident they’re getting an unalloyed picture of my presidency. Renegade will cover mature, difficult subjects, and some of it may require multiple readings to understand, but this graphic novel is the only way to accurately convey my experiences. I realize, of course, it may be a bit too much for more sensitive readers to handle.”

Fitnoot. You guessed it: this whole thing is from The Onion, the original “fake news” publication.—RCH

 

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

MY FRIEND DAHMER

My Friend Dahmer cover

John “Derf” Backderf, whose Trashed I reviewed earlier this week (see below) is more widely known for his previous graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, which is about the real-life rapist, murderer, and cannibal who attracted national renown in 1978-9 -- and who happened to have been a classmate of Derf's.

A major motion picture of the same name, based on Derf's book, is scheduled for release on September 29th.

 

 

 

Here is a trailer for the film:

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

TRASHED: AN ODE TO THE CRAP JOB OF ALL CRAP JOBS

Trashed coverA Graphic Novel
by John “Derf” Backderf
256 6x9-inch pages
b/w with blue tint
2015 Abrams ComicArts
hardcover, $24.95

Cartoonist Backderf (The City) once worked as a garbage collector, and this book, although fiction, is based upon his experiences and those of his co-workers; or, as the dust-jacket flap says: “Trashed follows the raucous escapades of three twentysomething friends as they clean the streets of pile after pile of stinking garbage, while battling annoying small-town bureaucrats, bizarre townsfolk, sweltering summer heat and frigid winter storms. ... Interspersed with this comedic epic of reeking garbage cans and exploding trash bags are nonfiction pages that detail what our garbage is and where it goes. The reality will stun you. ... Trashed is a hilarious, stomach-churning tale that will leave you laughing—and wincing—in disbelief.”

Derf’s graphic style can be described as painfully, copiously detailed under normal conditions, but when deployed to render trash in all its multifaceted variety, his attention to detail (mostly of the repulsive sort) is astonishing. Every day’s pick-ups involve new assorted details — trash bags that break when lifted, spewing their contents all over one’s shoes; rotten jack-o-lanterns, dead pets (and other animals), liquid trash, decaying food full of maggots, condoms, plastic bags and bottles. And flies. On heavy trash days, the garbage guys pick up and grind into their truck’s interior cast-off appliances — stoves, refrigerators — a piano, an old phone booth, and various auto parts. In winter, they must dig trash out from snow banks.

At various intervals, Derf tells us the facts about trash. Americans generate at least 254 million tons of trash a year. (A conservative estimate, Derf says; 384 million tons might be closer to actuality.) Almost 30% of it consists of the containers and packages that what we buy comes in. And 20.3% is what the EPA calls “nondurable goods” — much of which is disposable diapers. “The average child will go through up to 8,000 diapers before being potty-trained. That totals 18 billion (that’s billion) poopy diapers heading to U.S. landfill each and every year.”

Each of us generates 5.06 pounds of garbage a day; that’s 35 pounds a week, 150 pounds a month, and 1,847 pounds in a year. One person’s product. Tin cans take 50 years to break down in a landfill; plastic bottles, 450 years; styrofoam — styrofoam never breaks down. Never.

But this sort of statistical analysis is a sideshow. The main event is the lives of Derf’s characters and the accidents they encounter and the pranks they play upon each other—and upon residents whose thoughtlessness grates upon the garbage guys nerves and muscles. The comedy is often gross rather than risible, but comedy it is.

Derf1

Derf2

 

 

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

TRUMP QUOTES TO BE USED IN NEW SUPERHERO FUNNYBOOK

The Unquotable Trump comic book, due for November publication, was briefly displayed at the San Diego Comic-Con in July by its creator, Robert Sikoryak, who has made a reputation for himself doing comic book mockeries of famous literary and/or actual personages.

“He’ll take a famous novel, such as Crime and Punishment, and draw it in the style of Batman artist Bob Kane,” reported Peter Larson at ocregister.com. “The resulting mash-up was Dostoyevsky Comics.”

Now he’s given Trump the treatment in a comic book of comic book covers. For it, Sikoryak pulled actual quotes from Prez Trump on the campaign trail and in office, using them to create parodies done in the style of vintage comic book covers.

TrumpCovers2

On one — the cover of which looks like a Wonder Woman comic book — below the Nasty Woman logo, Wonder Woman is shown knocking Trump off the top of a wall, and as he tumbles head over heels, he utters his famous utterance about nasty woman, his cell phone flying.

The Trump quotes are sourced at the back of the book.

“I usually work with found text,” said Sikoryak, “ — and I’d been confounded and outraged by everything he’d said during the campaign. I used only things he said out loud. None of his tweets.”

Has he considered send a copy to the White House? asked Larson.

Said Sikoryak: “I guess we should send one to Sean Hannity — that way Trump might see it.”

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

WALLACE WOOD PRESENTS SHATTUCK

Wallace Wood Presents ShattuckBy Wallace Wood
Afterword by J. David Spurlock
72 8z12-inch landscape pages, b/w
2016 Fantagraphics hardcover
$24.99

In his afterword, Spurlock calls Shattuck “the rarest strip” in the world. Undoubtedly. I’m something of a Wood enthusiast, and I’d never heard of it until I saw this book advertised. Shattuck was produced, like Wood’s Sally Forth and Cannon, for the Overseas Weekly, a tabloid newspaper published for American servicemen—with an emphasis on “men” because all of Wood’s strips for the paper featured a goodly assortment of barenekkidwimmin. Shattuck is no exception.

“Presents” is the operative word in the book’s title because Wood only “supervised the strip’s production,” Spurlock tells us in his brief but informative essay, “ — instructed his staff, plotted/wrote/co-wrote, produced rough layouts, inked some strips, and occasionally touched up the art” by others: Dave Cockrum, Nick Cuti, Jack Abel at one time or another, and, sometimes, Howard Chaykin and Syd Shores. It was for Shores, whose Golden Age work Wood admired, that Wood created Shattuck, Cuti said, “because he knew Syd liked working on Westerns.”

The strip’s protagonist, Merle Shattuck, is a cowboy gunfighter who frequents brothels and has an appreciative clientele at every one of them, and they are usually advertising with an ample display of product. Lots of shooting and sex. A Western for a mature (or developmentally arrested) male audience.

Apart from being the only reprinting of Shattuck ever, this book is remarkable because all the strips therein are shot from original art; you can see white-out and scratch marks. Originally published in Sunday tabloid newspaper page format, the strip’s installments appear on two facing pages, the top two-tier strip facing the bottom tiers across the gutter.

Towards the end of the strip’s run, Shattuck falls in love with a “respectable” young woman, Karen, who returns his regard but without showing so much as a well-turned ankle.

Since the object of the strip was to get the girls out of their clothes as quickly as possible (according to Cockrum), Shattuck’s change of heart effectively telegraphs the end of the strip.

Only 29 of these strips were produced in 1972. Wood’s assistants were moving on to other work, and his marriage with his second wife was deteriorating, so he moved back to New York City, leaving his Long Island studio, and he dropped Shattuck from his repertoire at that time.

Oddly, the strip seems unintentionally cognizant of its pending demise: in the final tier of the last strip, included below, Shattuck seems to have “skipped out.”

Shattuck1

 

Shattuck2

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

MURDER AT THE HOLLYWOOD HOTEL


Murder at the Hollywood Hotel coverGraphic Novel by Rick Geary
54 8x10-inch pages, b/w
2014 Home Town Press hardcover
$15

A violent departure from Geary’s usual genre, this book purports to be the “reminiscence” of an unnamed Kansan’s 1915 attempt to get into the infant motion picture business by moving to Hollywood and taking a room in the Hollywood Hotel, all related by the protagonist in first person. Most of the rest of Geary’s ouevre are “treasuries” of historic murders. Athough the Hollywood Hotel is a real site in Hollywood and still exists, the narrator of this story is, like the story, fiction.

The other departure the volume represents is in its format. It is not in comic strip or comic book form: instead, each page is a single illustration with typeset prose beneath it—somewhat in the manner of a children’s book. No speech balloons.

GearyHotel

Geary fills the pages with highly detailed drawings, most embellished with all kinds of decorative hachuring and shading doodles.

The narrator who wants to be in the movies is not particularly successful in breaking into field: he gets a one-day gig as an extra, and that’s about it. Before he can move on from this achievement, an aspiring young and beautiful movie actress who lives in the room next to his is found murdered one morning, stabbed between the shoulder blades. It’s a classic locked-room crime. Because the narrator’s room was next to the murder victim’s, he is thoroughly investigated by the police. Not liking the experience at all, he returns to Kansas, where he lives the rest of his live, unmarried but “decent and useful.”

About a year later, he tells us in the closing pages of the book, the murderer confessed, describing how he killed his victim by using a blowgun that he fired at her through the transom. His motive: a lady of her rarefied nature was “too fine and pure to exist on this corrupt planet.”

The fascination of most of the Geary oeuvre is in the mystery of the murder of the title, which Geary explores in detail, examining every clue and aspect of the crime. The crime in this book — and its solution — consume relatively few pages. The attraction of the book is Geary’s pictures, which, as always, delight.

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