goComics
 

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

GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.G. WELLS

Graphic Classics H.GEdited by Publisher Tom Pomplun
144 7x10-inch pages
b/w
third edition of 2014 Eureka Productions paperback
$12.95

This volume is one of more than two dozen titles from Pomplun’s Eureka imprint. The scheme in each of them is wonderfully simple, beautifully executed: Pomplun commissions writers and artists to adapt to the comics medium various literary works by noted authors. Here, five of Wells’ stories are illustrated as follows: “The Time Machine” by Craig Wilson; “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by Reno Maniquis; “The Inexperienced Ghost” by Rich Tommaso; “The Star” by Brad Teare; and “The Invisible Man” by Simon Gane. Gane, a favorite of mine, gets the longest story in the book—40 pages.

Wells1

Wells2

 

The drawing styles vary wildly from Gane’s quirky, cartoony mannerism to Tommaso’s stark simplicity, from Maniquis’s realism to Teare’s woodcut simplicity in rendering “The Star” wordlessly.

Gane is British, by the way; lives in Bath and has illustrated several of the stories in various Graphic Classics books. Maniquis is in the Philippines.

Other authors in the Graphic Classics series include Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Oscar Wilde and so on. Some of the latest productions are not collections of a single author’s works but stories on a common theme — horror, fantasy, gothic, westerns, etc. You can find the whole enterprise at graphicclassics.com, where the prices are lower than cover prices ($10 and $15 instead of $12.95 and $15.95/17.95 for the titles in color).

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

STORIES ABOUT RED RYDER'S FRED HARMON: Part One

Cartoonist Fred Harman, who produced Red Ryder, the nation’s only long-lasting cowboy comic strip in newspapers, was an authentic cowboy: he grew up on his father’s ranch near Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Fred1

His erstwhile home and studio is now the Harman Museum, and I visited it a couple years ago and met the cartoonist’s son, another Fred Harman (the Third, the cartoonist’s father being the First). One of the family stories is about our Red Ryder Harman’s mother.

Once she and her husband were driving home and got stuck in the muddy road. Harman stayed at the wheel of the auto and his wife (the cartoonist’s mother) got out and pushed the car. After they’d extricated themselves from the mudhole, a couple of Native Americans showed up. They’d observed the Harmans’ predicament and their escape from it. Admiring the behavior of Mrs. Harman, one of the Indians offered Harman five blankets and a horse “for the woman.”

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

CARTOONING AS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

Editorial cartooning has been in trouble for years. In May 2008, 101 editoonists worked full-time on the staffs of American daily newspapers. That number is now 50. No one has anything like an exact count of the number of editoonists when the profession was at its peak. But it was undoubtedly more than 100; maybe as many as 200, but probably about 150-175.

The erosion of this profession has been attributed to the plight of the newspaper itself. Newspapers aren’t making as much money for their stockholders as they once did — and the possibility of expanding paid circulation in the age of the free Internet is remote, foreclosing the option of increasing revenue. The remaining balance sheet choice is to reduce expenses, which means, mostly, cutting staff, and editoonists are the supposed luxury and therefore go first.

But some attribute the slow death of editooning to other causes. Timidity. Ted Rall calls it “corporate slacktivism,” an aversion to rocking the boat with satire. Editoonist Clay Jones, quoted (like Rall) by Jaime Lopez at news.co.cr, agrees: “I do feel that newspapers are afraid. To be honest, most editors don’t know a good cartoon when they see it. They love obituary cartoons. They love the most obvious. Dean Haspiel photoThe laziest cartoonists draw the same old cliches of sinking ships, candidates as Pinocchios, people going over the edge and so on. And those cartoons get a lot of reprints. Check out USA Today every Friday. Most newspapers reprint cartoons and don’t have a staff cartoonist.”

Freelance cartoonist Dean Haspiel, not an editoonist but still looking to sell cartoons for publication, gave the keynote at the Harvey Awards ceremony at the Baltimore Comicon. Speaking about the once vibrant New York City scene for freelancers, he remembered basement “night clubs” and second floor venues where people went for entertainment. No more. “Who goes anywhere anymore when everyone is glued to their smart phone and tablet?” And for the freelance cartoonist looking for publication outlets, “it’s hard to compete for an audience that can’t extricate themselves from the Internet for a couple hours to experience something live and direct with carbon dioxide. Our surveillance society has created attention-deficit-disorder zombies. The ‘scene’ got taken hostage by the screen.”

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

LUCKY LUKE'S ORAL FIXATION

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

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

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

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

THE GRIST OF HELLBOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visitor1

 

Visitor2

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

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

REBIRTH

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

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

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

MORE WATCHMEN TO WATCH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAS CHARLIE GONE SOFT ON ISLAMIC HOOLIGANISM?

Charlie Hebdo cover 2015

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

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

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

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

COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS DO WELL IN 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other publishers saw a similarly rosy horizon.

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

GRAPHIC NOVELS OFF THE NYT LISTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIRST COMICS CRITICISM IN THE U.S.

From John Adcock on his blogspot site:

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

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

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

Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck cover

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

PREZ

Prez coverMark Russell’s satirical comic book Prez, about the first woman teenage president of the U.S., was supposed to return last October with six more issues that would complete the 12-issue series. But those issues were cancelled, ICv2 reported last summer. Instead, a 12-page winding-up Prez Election Special was supposed to arrive in November.

No official reason was offered for the change, and perhaps poor sales had some influence, but Steve Bennett (Confessions of a Comic Book Guy) speculates that “given the nearly hysterical political mood of the country as we move ever closer to this year’s presidential election, you can’t discount the possibility that Time Warner just didn’t want to seem to take any sort of political stance (especially with so many people busy online comparing one of the current candidates to former President Lex Luthor).”

Prez finally showed up as a backup story in Catwoman Election Night No.1 in November, and there, it fizzled out sadly but brilliantly, the last appearance of this happy frolic of a political satire funnybook.

Herein, Russell takes on gun control (or, in this case, lack of it) and women’s reproductive rights, linking them for one of the niftiest wrap-ups you can imagine.

The opening gun segment ends with the deaths of several open-carry advocates when the police can’t tell who the rogue shooter is. So much for the advisability of arming everyone: everyone armed is everyone a target — and everyone a shooter.

Later, Prez Beth is defeated in an attempt to control gun violence by limiting access to ammunition. “The Second Amendment,” she points out, “guarantees the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. I mean, as long as we’re interpreting it exactly as it was written...,” she concludes satirically.

But Russell gets in one final jab: birth control pills, which Beth’s Congress wants to outlaw, are finally permitted when they are shaped like bullets that can actually be fired from a gun rather than taken orally.

Too bad there won’t be more of this caliber comedy in the future. Apparently at DC Comics, George S. Kaufman’s famous saying “Satire closes on Saturday night” is as accurate ever.

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

MARCH MARCHES ON

March  Book Three coverCongressman John Lewis made history at the 2017 American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards (YMA) on Monday, January 23, when Top Shelf’s March: Book Three, the third and final installment in a graphic-novel trilogy that has Lewis’s 1965 Selma March as its dramatic centerpiece, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, took four YMA wins, including the Robert F. Sibert Medal, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award and, the crowning honor, reported Christina Vercelletto and Sara Bayliss at slj.com — the Michael L. Printz Award.

Previously, March: Book Three earned the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature as well as the 2017 Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, the RFK Award, and the Eisner.

It irks me just a little that all these awards, an indisputably distinguished list of honors, proclaim the book as children’s literature thereby ignoring its suitability for adult readers as well. It’s almost as if — “Well, comics — it’s for kids, right?”

No, not any more. But you couldn’t tell by looking at the awards the book has collected.

Lewis, however, was not inclined to carp. “I love books and I love librarians,” he said. “When I was growing up, I tried to read every single thing I could. I hope these awards will help inspire all of our young people — and some of us not so young — to read, to learn, and to act. March is a guidebook reminding us that we all must speak up and stand up for what is right, what is fair, and what is just.”

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

THE PRO IN MOTION?

The Pro cover

 

Paramount Pictures has picked up rights to The Pro, a graphic novel with a comically sleazy heroine (not to say “working girl” — but she is) by Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti, lovingly drawn by Amanda Conner. Erwin Stoff of 3 Arts is producing and Zoe McCarthy has been hired to write the screenplay. She is best known for her script “Bitches On A Boat.”

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

POSTCARDS AND OLD MAGS: Part Two

Postcards and An Old Pamphlet

At the postcard show, I also pawed through a couple files of postcards and picked up those displayed here. The first three cards are all promotions for a postcard dealer named Allan Gottlieb. These cards were scattered all over the venue — Gottlieb’s promotions. I stared at them for a while because I recognized the drawing style. Then I caught the cartoonist’s signature in the corner — Rick Geary.

Postcard15

 

Postcard16

 

Postcard17

The other cards are what you usually find in the “comics” sections of postcard files — lame sexist jokes, mostly. (Well, those are the ones I buy.) I try not to spend more than $3/postcard, so my harvest at these affairs is fairly modest. The cartoonists don’t often sign them, but three of these bear signatures, two of which can be read — Faber and Walt Munson.

I also found a little booklet, Foolish Questions: Yellowstone’s Best, assembled by Jack Chaney and enlarged by J.E. Haynes in 1924. I like the antique cartoons within, but the cartoonist isn’t given formal credit anywhere I can find. He signs “Oz” with a flourish on the “Z,” and in one drawing, he’s added “Black,” presumably his last name.

YellowStone1

 

YellowStone2

The foolishness of the questions is not quite of the caliber of Rube Goldberg or Al Jaffee, but it’s good fun anyhow. Here are some: Are these springs natural or were they just put here? Is the elevation here too high to toast marshmallows? Why doesn’t the government pen the bears up? Ranger, will you please tell me on which side of the river the bridge is on? Is that Sponge Geyser made of real petrified moss? Do the beavers come down to the beaver dam to drink? What does Old Faithful do in the wintertime? Are we going up or down?

 

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

POSTCARDS AND OLD MAGS: Part One

An Old Mag

Delineator  June 1928  cover
Went to a postcard and paper show last summer. This one, across town at the Jefferson County Fair Grounds, comes around every 4-5 months, but I don’t go to them all. I’m not really into postcards. Some of the dealers have old magazines, though — and books. So I go for that reason, hoping to find a book or magazine that a postcard dealer doesn’t know is a treasure. That almost never happens. But this time, I found a hardcover collection of Ted Key’s Hazel cartoons from the Saturday Evening Post. The book is copyrighted 1946 and includes cartoons as far back as 1943, so it may be the first Hazel collection. Dunno, but I like it.

Found a couple old magazines, too — The Delineator, a woman’s mag of short romantic stories and women’s clothing fashions that started in the mid-1860s; the one I bought, June 1928, has a page of Rose O’Neill’s Kewpies and an article by Ida Tarbell who explains why she’s losing faith in Prohibition.

Tarbell, with Lincoln Steffens, was one of the most famous muckrakers in the early years of the 20th century. In 1902-04, she produced a nine-part series on Standard Oil, exposing the often illegal monopolistic practices of the company, resulting, in 1911, in the Supreme Court ordered dissolution of the monopoly.

I like magazines of this vintage (from, say, 1915 through the early 1950s) because of the illustrations — the ones accompanying short stories, chiefly, but not exclusively. Before the dominance of photography, advertisements were illuminated by illustrators. And in many of the magazines from the last 20 years of the period single-panel cartoons littered the back pages to which long articles and stories were continued: the cartoons broke up the columns of gray type.

As a rule, The Delineator apparently didn’t publish cartoons although I found one by Helen Hokinson, who would soon find fame with her cartoons of mannerly matrons in The New Yorker. I’ve posted her cartoon and some representative illustrations nearby.

Kewpies1

 

Kewpies2

 

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

THE BOOK OF HOPE

By Tommi Musturi; translated by Pauliina Haasjoki
220 7x9-inch landscape pages, color
2015 Fantagraphics hardcover
$34.99

Book of Hope coverThe best short description of this volume is on the book’s back cover: “Tommi Mustukri’s graphic novel depicts the melancholic retirement of a couple in rural Finland. As the days veer between the existential monotony and quotidian beauty of routine, everyday life, bigger dreams and ideas take shape. The Book of Hope eloquently and humanely lives up to its title while also serving as a showcase for the medium of comics itself.”

In Hope, Musturi ponders old age. The protagonist, a squat old bald man with a luxuriant moustache, is leading a quiet life at a country farm, and we watch him perform various activities, often musing philosophically as he does.

Walking through a forest, he says: “The sigh of a forest puts everything in scale.” “The eye of the night is lit for the one who has no one to talk to. It watches over you as you lie down to rest in the wonderful night.”

The narrative is divided into five parts. In Part 1, we see a lake and a house, and we meet the old man. We see him dozing, building a bird house, fishing in a boat, eating dinner, walking through the forest. At the end of the day, it rains. When he talks, occasionally someone off-camera responds. Probably, as we learn by the end of the book, his wife, the old lady.

The narrative is accomplished with 2-page spreads. Each incident takes place on facing pages; then we move on. There’s seldom (if ever) continuity from one spread to the next. Each page is a grid of 8 identically sized panels. Neither the number nor the size ever changes. The clockwork-like regularly gives the narrative a leisurely, thoughtful pace, contributing considerably to the over-all sense of an unhurried mundane life, exactly the life the old couple is living.

Part 2 seems to focus on the woods; Part 3, the desert; Part 4, a burnt-out forest; Part 5, the beach.

In Part 4, we finally meet his wife. Part 5 begins with the courtship of the couple and continues into their young marriage—housekeeping, hunting, fishing. The chapter contrasts their young married life and their life now, in old age. The old man makes a kite and flies it. The final 2-page spread shows the couple dancing when young. The next—the last—page depicts their farm house in the blue dusk with lights in the windows. We’ve seen the farm house before, at the beginning of almost every chapter. But this last picture of it is the only one with lights in the windows.

The implication is that life goes on. The implied hope is that it will continue to go on—with all its little pleasures, duties, and imaginings. Just as it has so far throughout this book.

But the attraction of the book—apart from the restful reassurance of the narrative—is the art. Musturi draws with a simple, bold line and colors with complimentary hues. Altogether, an exemplary graphic novel. Here are a few of the spreads, pictures and philosophies.

  Hope1

 

Hope2

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

ALEX RAYMOND: AN ARTISTIC JOURNEY

Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey—Adventure, Intrigue, and Romance
By Ron Goulart; Introduction by Daniel Herman
242 19x13-inch pages, b/w and some color
2015 Hermes Press hardcover
$75

Alex Raymond cover
This is an art book of the very first order. The pictures are all reproduced from original art — Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim (both January 7, 1934-April 30, 1944), Secret Agent X-9 (January 22, 1935-November 16, 1935), and the later Rip Kirby (March 4, 1946- September 29, 1956), all of Raymond’s masterpieces of illustrative art. Organized chronologically, a third of the book is devoted to Flash; another third to Rip Kirby; the remaining third, to a miscellaney — X-9, Jungle Jim, and book and magazine illustration.

The generous sampling of the strips also appears in chronological order within each section, but a lot of strips are missing: this is, after all, not a reprint volume of the totality of any of the titles. Each strip is meticulously dated. Some pages reproduce at enlarged dimension (perhaps original art size) individual panels from a strip on the facing page — “details,” in curator lingo — which better reveal the intricacies of Raymond’s artwork. A few strips are reproduced in color from their newspaper appearances, but the book is fundamentally a black-and-white showcase.

Despite the gigantic page measurement, the strip reproduction is small. Sunday Flash measures 7.5x11 inches at most, usually smaller; and the daily Rip Kirby is 2.5x8 inches, about the size it appeared when initially published.

Goulart’s text traces Raymond’s career and, for each of the strip titles, offers summaries of a few of the stories and a brief critique of the artist’s developing drawing style. Goulart is always a good read and a fund of information. Here, he adds to the Raymond canon, noting, for instance, the several Big Little Book incarnations of Flash Gordon. But for the full career rundown and biography, you need Tom Roberts’ superior production, Alex Raymond: His Life and Art, which we reviewed in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com) in Harv’s Hindsight for May 2009.

The only disappointing aspect of the book is, oddly, in the very reproduction of the artworks the volume exists to showcase. In all of Raymond’s syndicated work, he resorted to a fine line for feathering and many details; a fine line typically outlined faces and other forms. Unhappily, many of the fine lines disappear or are broken rather than continuous in some of the reproductions. This shortcoming is particularly noticeable in the Rip Kirby strips in which Raymond deployed fine lines masterfully in sharp contrast to solid blacks.

This unhappy situation in an art book with this one’s ambition is unfortunate, but the book itself, while suffering somewhat, is scarcely devastated. Many more of the strips are accurately reproduced than are flawed in their fine lines. And the maneuver of reproducing some panels as enlarged “details” compensates for the shortfall in some of the strips. Any fan of Alex Raymond’s oeuvre should have this handsome volume in his library.

GoulartRaymond1

 

GoulartRaymond2

 

GoulartRaymond3

 

 

 

 

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

FRANK MILLER'S DAREDEVIL AND THE ENDS OF HEROISM


By Paul Young
248 7x10-inch pages (est.)
mostly text with illustrations
Rutgers Comics Culture series
paperback, $27.95
2016

Publisher's Blurb (and I have no reason to doubt it; after all, it’s Rutgers):

Frank Miller's Daredevil… coverIn the late 1970s and early 1980s, writer-artist Frank Miller turned Daredevil from a tepid-selling comic into an industry-wide success story, doubling its sales within three years. Lawyer by day and costumed vigilante by night, the character of Daredevil was the perfect vehicle for the explorations of heroic ideals and violence that would come to define Miller’s work. Young’s book is both a rigorous study of Miller’s artistic influences and innovations and a reflection on how his visionary work on Daredevil impacted generations of comics publishers, creators, and fans.

Young explores the accomplishments of Miller the writer, who fused hardboiled crime stories with superhero comics, while reimagining Kingpin (a classic Spider-Man nemesis), recuperating the half-baked villain Bullseye, and inventing a completely new kind of Daredevil villain in Elektra. Yet, he also offers a vivid appreciation of the indelible panels drawn by Miller the artist, taking a fresh look at his distinctive page layouts and lines.

A childhood fan of Miller’s Daredevil, Young takes readers on a personal journey as he seeks to reconcile his love for the comic with his distaste for the fascistic overtones of Miller’s controversial later work. What he finds will resonate not only with Daredevil fans, but with anyone who has contemplated what it means to be a hero in a heartless world.

***

RCH: Yes, all true. I watched Miller’s stint on Daredevil as assiduously as Young apparently did. Miller was not only revamping the character: he was revamping the way comic books told stories.

Other titles in the Comics Culture series include Twelve-Cent Archie, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, and Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics.

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

BILL GRIFFITH'S INVISIBLE INK

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist
By Bill Griffith
200 7x10-inch pages, b/w
2015 Fantagraphics hardcover
$29.99

Invisible Ink coverOn the cover, Griffith calls the book “a graphic memoir,” and he’s right: it is more meandering memoir than sordid sensation. Despite the focus of the subtitle, the book wanders at length through family history (Griffith’s great grandfather is William Henry Jackson, famed photographer of the Old West) and dwells on tangential connections (his next door neighbor in Levittown, Ed Emshwiller, celebrated illustrator of sf and mystery paperbacks) before chronicling the adulterous relationship his mother had for sixteen years with “a famous cartoonist,” who, today, is probably nearly unknown. In recognition of this shortcoming, Griffith spends many pages on the biography and career of Lawrence Lariar.

If Lariar is remembered at all these days, it is for compiling and editing a series of “Best Cartoons of the Year” anthologies for almost thirty years, from 1942 to 1971. But he did much more, and Griffith details it all: he also wrote lurid crime novels (using pen names Michael Stark, Adam Knight, Michael Lawrence) and “how to” books about cartooning, and he tried, sometimes successfully, to get his comic strips syndicated. He wrote them; someone else drew them. Lariar also contributed to early comic books, including New Fun, in which his Barry O”Neill appeared briefly.

Griffith’s parents’ marriage was not a happy one, and his mother, after finding part-time work as secretary for Lariar, who was also married, fell into an affair with him. Griffith’s father died in a bicycle accident in 1972, when the affair was fifteen years along. By this time, Griffith’s mother was deeply in love with Lariar. She revealed her love to him, hoping he’d divorce his wife and marry her.

Bill Griffith photo
Lariar, however, was not interested in marrying Griffith’s mother; he broke off the affair.

Griffith pieces together this long tale by rummaging through boxes of old letters, photographs, and other memorabilia, including his mother’s diary, and an unpublished novel his mother wrote, a thinly disguised autobiography.

Given the nature of the tale he’s telling, much of Griffith’s storytelling is what I call “decorated captions”: the narrative is carried by the captions, the pictures contributing very little to the story. But there are long sequences in which Griffith depicts characters conversing, and often in such sequences, the pictures add information to the narrative.

Griffith’s extensively hachured pen drawings are often stunning: street scenes and other locales rendered realistically in copious detail. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading Zippy lately: Griffith spends more time on settings than on the people who occupy them.

The tale is methodically told, and its detail begins to absorb you. It is, after all, a mystery, and mysteries live in their details. Throughout, Griffith is slowly, event by event, episode by episode, one discovery after another, solving the mystery.

Systematically, Griffith answers the questions, exercising admirable composure and emotional distance, and we go along with him to learn the answers.

InvisibleGriff1

 

InvisibleGriff2

 

InvisibleGriff3

The book held my attention to an obscure and insignificant event with slices of life that demonstrate our common humanity.

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

FIRST STICK KNIFE GUN: A Personal History of Violence

By Geoffrey Canada, as drawn by Jamar Nicholas
128 6x9-inch pages, b/w
2010 Beacon Press
paperback, $14

 

Fist Stick Knife Gun coverWith this book, Canada and Nicholas join an ever-lengthening line of failures at the medium. An African-American, Canada started with a prose treatment of his growing up in the South Bronx; then Nicholas adapted the prose to what they both believe is a graphic novel. But, alas, it isn’t: captions carry the narrative; the pictures contribute nothing. So it’s not a graphic novel: it’s decorated prose. And the book also fails as a polemic, which Canada obviously intends.

Young Geof, like all youth everywhere — not just in the South Bronx — wants to belong, and in his tough neighborhood, belonging means living by the code of the block. He must establish a reputation and then work to maintain it. He begins with his fists, fighting to prove he is tough. Then as he grows older, he takes up other weapons — a stick, a knife, and, finally, a gun. So far, Canada’s tale is insightful and logical. But in the story’s resolution, he fails.

Carrying a gun, Geof realizes that, sooner or later, he would have to point the gun at someone and pull the trigger. “In the end,” he says, “my Christian upbringing proved to be stronger than my fear of the gang or my need for a sense of control over my environment. ... In the end, I realized that I didn’t want to kill anyone.” And so he throws the gun away. And the book ends.

His motive at this turning point in his life is wholly absent from the narrative. His “Christian upbringing” is never mentioned anywhere else in the book. What is there about his Christian upbringing that overwhelms the ethos of the gang that he has so carefully obeyed throughout the book? Canada clearly intends the book as a cautionary tale: don’t do this or you’ll wind up badly; but you can save yourself. He achieves the first part admirably (albeit sometimes tediously); but he fails at the second part. His book doesn’t show how a young kind growing up in a tough neighborhood can save himself.

Geoffrey Canada photo
Canada, who is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit community-based organization aimed at helping kids, is a passionate advocate for educational reform, and he provides an epilogue that discusses some of his understandings and purposes:

“Schools in America are especially dangerous places. Intimidation, threats and outright fights go on in the classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, and schoolyards. ... When it comes to violence, school is too often the child’s learning ground about the impotence of adult authority. ... The problem cannot be solved from afar. The only way we are going to make a difference is by placing well-trained and caring adults in the middle of what can only be called a free-fire zone in our poorest communities. ... Adults standing side by side with children in the war zones of America is the only way to turn this thing around. ... While nationally we have foolishly invested our precious resources in a criminal justice approach to solving our crime problem — including hiring more police and locking up more people for longer periods of time — we have nothing to show for it except poorer schools, poorer services for youth, and more people on the streets, unemployable because they have a criminal record.”

He concludes: “If we were fighting an outside enemy that was killing thousands of our children every year, we would spare no expense in mounting the effort to subdue that enemy. What happens when the enemy is us? ... Do we still have the will to invest the time and resources in saving their lives? The answer must be yes.”

But that’s Canada’s hope. It’s not his assessment of actuality.

He wrote this book — first in prose, then with accompanying pictures — trying to address the problem. He describes the problem thoroughly. But his solution is deux ex machina, a mechanism that descends into the narrative and magically rescues the protagonist. To be effective, the solution should arise from the narrative, not be imposed upon it from without.

And who does Canada see as the audience for this book? Young people? Presumably, Canada chose the graphic novel form as a way to reach youthful readers, readers caught in the trap he escaped from. But he doesn’t show them how to escape.

Nicholas’ pictures are excellent—boldly outlined, deftly toned in gray. But they add nothing to the narrative carried in captions.

Fists

 

 

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

FIRST ISSUE: MYCROFT HOLMES

I was surprised when I saw the byline over a column in Time magazine some months back — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all-time leading scorer of the National Basketball Association. In the magazine, he writes, usually, about some racial issue, and he always makes good sense. But I was surprised again when I saw his byline on a comic book — specifically, Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, debuting last fall. From straight expository prose to fanciful fiction.

Mycroft Holmes coverAnd then I was again astonished — even more so this time — to learn that Abdul-Jabbar is a New York Times bestselling author, having written twelve books, including three childen’s stories (one of which won the NAACP Award for Best Children’s Book), two autobiographies, several historical novels, and the prose novel about Sherlock Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft Holmes, his first work of fiction, which he wrote with Anna Waterhouse, a professional screenwriter and script consultant.

That’s a lot of writing credit for the seven-foot two-inch Basketball Hall of Famer (since 1995).

And now, a comic book.

Comic books require a wholly different writing sensibility than prose fiction. More like script-writing for movies or television. Again, Abdul-Jabbar had help: Raymond Obstfeld and Joshua Cassara. Roles are not specified, but my guess is that Obstfeld helped with the story and Cassar did the drawing. And they do all right.

Abdul-Jabbar, an English and history graduate of UCLA, became addicted to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories early in his basketball career and claims to have adapted Holmes’ powers of observation to the game in order to gain an edge over his opponents.

“I read the Conan Doyle stories during my rookie year in the NBA,” Abdul-Jabbar says in the comic’s closing pages, “and was fascinated by Holmes’ ability to see clues where others saw nothing. I was intrigued by his ‘older, smarter brother’ [Sherlock’s characterization] who was involved with government at the highest levels.”

So high are the governmental levels at which Mycroft works that Sherlock once says the government could not function without him.

The debut issue of the comic book begins with a five-page episode in which a man in a derby hat wearing a scarf destroys a museum and, presumably, kills several people who happened to be within. None of which has any apparent connection to the tale that follows.

The narrative begins in Cambridge in a philosophy class. It is there we meet Mycroft Holmes, the older brother of the more famous Sherlock.

Mycroft is mentioned in only a few of the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, and he appears in only two. In both, he is described as “strapping,” and Sidney Paget’s picture of him show him to be somewhat stout. Admittedly, the Conan Doyle tales take place some years after this comic book adventure, which is dated 1874. At that time, Mycroft was, to judge from Cassar’s portrait, a normally proportioned even somewhat muscular youth.

In the only self-contained complete episode in the book, Mycroft engages in an intellectual debate with his professor — and wins. For which impudence, he is almost tossed out of Cambridge.

He displays wit and towering snobbery. He’s self-satisfied, has a high opinion of himself, and he’s snooty. In these traits, he’s much like the effete know-it-all snob Philo Vance in the detective stories by S.S. Van Dine (aka Willard Huntington Wright). Not an admirable personality even if gifted. Mycroft’s younger brother, who shows up later on, is a much more likeable character.

As if to demonstrate Mycroft’s masculinity, we see him next, naked in bed with a young woman, equally naked. They are interrupted by the arrival of a somewhat peevish Sherlock, who explains that Mycroft’s invitation to visit was arranged deliberately so that Sherlock would see a naked woman. “Lord knows,” Mycroft says, “with his personality, this will be his only opportunity [to see a naked woman].”

While Mycroft and Sherlock exchange witticisms, the apartment is invaded by three men wearing masks. After a couple pages of scuffling, they kidnap Mycroft; we next seem him suspended upside down from a ceiling.

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar photoIn his exchange with his captors, Mycroft proves himself a gifted observer—not unlike his brother Sherlock— determining by keen observation that his chief captor is the “dean” of the Cambridge school who managed to get him reinstated after his go-round with the philosophy professor.

This is something of a mis-characterization: Conan Doyle’s Mycroft was noted for his superior memory, not his powers of observation; for those, he, Mycroft, relied upon his younger brother on those rare occasions when Mycroft ventured outside the halls of government.

Sherlock describes his brother this way: “He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts of any man living. In that great brain of his everything is pigeon-holed and can be handed out in an instant.”

And the departments of government rely upon Mycroft’s memory to sort out the issues upon which decisions are required.

But in demonstrating his ability to discern not otherwise evident facts by observing tangential evidence — Sherlock’s speciality — Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft reveals, also, his courage — his imperturbability — in the face of a very threatening situation.

It was probably Mycroft’s being denominated Sherlock’s “smarter brother” that attracted Abdul-Jabbar; everything done here makes that point. In contrast, young Sherlock seems somewhat (and merely) ill-tempered. Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t explore Mycroft’s fabulous memory at all.

As Mycroft is explaining what observations led him to his conclusion about his captor, a door bursts open and a woman wearing a tiara storms into the room, demanding to know “if this is the young man who is willing to sacrifice his own life to save the world — and more importantly, the British Empire.”

There, the issue ends.

Who is she woman? Probably Queen Victoria. She’d be 55 at the time of this story, and Cassar’s visual fits.

Abdul-Jabbar’s story presents a not quite acceptable (to Sherlockians) interpretation of Mycroft Holmes. Although it deviates noticeably from the Conan Doyle version, we can accept Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft as a younger, not stout at all, Mycroft — still in college, long before his plumper self became, due to his memory for bureaucratic and other details, indispensable to the British government. His snooty demeanor, however, clashes violently with Conan Doyle’s Mycroft, who was polite and at least as verbose as Sherlock but not annoying. And he was even deferential to Sherlock’s superior talents for detection, that not being Mycroft’s forte.

Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft, we must note, is young. And Abdul-Jabbar’s previous version of the character, in the novel, was somewhat older — 23; and he, while still too self-absorbed, was not the snob he appears in this comic book.

Cassar’s artistry — his storytelling, breakdowns, panel compositions and page layouts — are expertly bent to relate and enhance the drama in the narrative tasks before him. We can ask for no better.

Mycroft

I’ll probably return for the second issue. Not because Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft is Conan Doyle’s but just to see what Abdul-Jabbar does with his version of the character. So far, he shows a mastery of the comics form.

 

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

FIRST ISSUE: BETTY & VERONICA

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.

We've been waiting for this one a while. The “new” Betty & Veronica, written and drawn by Adam Hughes. A widely admired drawer of the feminine form, Hughes proves here that he can tell a goodly tale, too. Betty and Veronica begin this issue as friends — Betty doing all the work; Veronica lounging around at her ease. They end as enemies.

The McGuffin is Pop’s, the beloved soda-hamburger shop where Archie and Jughead and the rest of the gang hang out. It’s closing. Or, rather, being foreclosed. Betty passionately launches a fundraising drive to save the shop. Then she discovers (a) that Veronica Lodge’s father owns the bank that is foreclosing on Pop’s, and (b) that the new tenant for the shop is a coffee company that Veronica’s father owns. In effect, as Archie puts it, “Veronica’s father is running Pop’s out of town.”

When confronted, it seems Veronica could care less, which sets Betty off on a tear. The book concludes with a fight brewing between the erstwhile friends.

Hughes manages to prolong revealing the Lodge connection for most of this issue. He slowly builds suspense while at the same time deftly revealing elements of the plot as he goes along — all the while having the characters engage in teenage banter. Nicely done.

The book’s “narrator” is, drat, a dog. A sheepdog by the look of him. Named J. Farnsworth Wigglebottom III, he speaks in grandiose prose. But I don’t see that he adds anything to the tale. Nothing in the story needs a narrator. We could have done just fine without him. Maybe Hughes will reveal a profound interdependence in some future issue, but in this issue, Wigglebottom’s presence is a superfluity. Cute but wholly unnecessary.

But we tune in to this issue for Hughes’ pictures not his story. His portraits of Betty and Veronica and Moose’s girlfriend Midge are exquisite — beautiful girls, and (the mark of a master limner of ladies) they look like individuals not copies of one another. But that, given Hughes’ skill, was expected. Gone are all the Dan DeCarlo-mimicked look-alike cute girls.

Not expected is the muted color throughout the book. The toned-down intensity takes the book out of the realm of “funnybooks” and into another kingdom altogether, where the pictures border on realistic. And some details — facial features and hair — while still rendered in line, are drawn in a different hue of the same color family as the principal subject; the line strokes that indicate Betty’s blonde hair are drawn in a light shade of brown, a tint, so to speak, that delineates the layering of her hair-do. These aspects of the book’s color are the most striking of the issue.

B&V1

 

B&V2

The colorist is Jose Villarrubia, but I suspect the decision to go muted was Hughes’, no slouch of a colorist himself.

The last portion of the issue reprints “a classic tale of the original BFFs,” says Jon Goldwater: “It’s time to get a sense of where things started.” Drawn by the iconic Archie illustrator, Dan DeCarlo, it’s a refreshing look back.

As a bonus, we have a self-congratulatory two-page spread displaying all 24 alternative covers for this issue. I have both Hughes’ and Ryan Sook; Sook can draw beautiful women, but, alas, they all look an awful lot alike.

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

CARTOONING AT THE NEW YORKER: Part Two

Part Two: Today’s Excellences

Today’s New Yorker cartoon is changing a little. If we browse a little slower in the 90th Anniversary Book, we can tell that the cartoons are better drawn today than they’ve been for several recent decades. The improvement has been gently seeping in on us for several years — gently, but noticeably. Lines are stronger, compositions better, anatomy surer.

This advance in cartooning artistry is accompanied by the emergence of a single new trait in New Yorker cartoons: to a greater extent that has been manifest for years, the comedy in these cartoons arises from a blend of words and pictures. These days, captions are not funny alone, by themselves, without the accompanying pictures — as has been the case in so many New Yorker cartoons for so long. Instead, we need to comprehend the implications of the pictures for understanding the captions in order to “get” the joke.

You may think that’s always been the case with single-panel “gag cartoons.” Well, yes — in every venue but The New Yorker, where cartoonists could get away with drawing any old picture and then slapping a wholly unrelated caption across the bottom, creating the uniquely inert cartoon for which the magazine is notorious. Like the ensuing examples of “sophisticated” (bored) urban ennui over upper middle class daily life that once passed for “cartoons” in the magazine. (For more in this vein, see the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves Opus 344, wherein we examine BEK and find his cartoons seriously wanting.)

We don’t need pictures for any of the following captions in order to comprehend the alleged humor (in italics):

If I could take back ninety percent of the things I say, then I think people would know the real me.

Don’t you want to have parents who can brag about their children?

I thought I’d be a successful fashion blogger by now. (Spoken, in this instance, by a small girl in the playground, but the picture could be of anything or anyone: the caption still works as an example of the sophisticated weariness of the legendary average New Yorker.)

But I like living in the past. It’s where I grew up.

No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you? (Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff’s most famous cartoon, which pictures a man talking into a telephone; but do we really need the picture to see comedy in the caption?)

Instead of this tiresome litany, we more and more have cartoons in which neither the caption nor the picture make any comedic sense without the other — a few of which I’ve gathered in our next visual aid:

NewYorkVisualVerbal1

NewYorkVisualVerbal2

 

Hoorah, I say — hoorah for our side, the side of verbal-visual blending.

And there are other reasons to rejoice at The New Yorker — among them, there are new names signed to many of the cartoons of the last decade. More newcomers have arrived in the last 5-7 years than in the previous seventy. Hoorah again, I say.

 

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

CARTOONING AT THE NEW YORKER: Part One

Part One: A Basis for Comparison

Starting in 2011 and continuing every year through 2016, The New Yorker has been publishing a paperback book that ostensibly collects “cartoons of the year 2011" with exactly that title, changing only the denominated year. Presumably (and it hasn’t been clear until this year’s tome), the cartoons in the book are culled from the issues of the magazine in the titled year.

Last year’s annual (for 2015) was postponed by the arrival of an anniversary collection of cartoons, The New Yorker 90th Anniversary Book of Cartoons (144 8x10½-inch pages, b/w; $12.99). Its nine chapters are organized in ten-year increments beginning with 1925-1935 and ending 2005-2015. These cartoons are winnowed from the 9-decade history of The New Yorker. Many of the magazine’s most famous cartoons are included; and I’m posting nearby some of them — and a few others that I found on my own -- here:

NewYorker90th2

NewYorker90th3

Thumbing through the book’s 90-year survey, you’d think you’d notice a steady deterioration of the quality of the drawings. After all, today there are no Peter Arnos, Helen Hokinsons, Carl Roses, George Prices, Gluyas Williamses, Charles Addamses or Richard Taylorses. Instead, we have Roz Chast, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Victoria Roberts, P.C. Vey, Emily Flake, Bob Mankoff, Tom Cheney, Richard Cline, Michael Crawford, Zachary Kanin, David Sipress, Edward Steed, B. Smaller, Danny Shanahan and others of the less-than-firm-line ilk.

Still, back in the early decades, The New Yorker had James Thurber, William Steig, Mary Petty, Saul Steinberg, and a few of that fine shaky-line breed, so when paging through this volume, we notice only that some drawings are less expertly done than others, from beginning to end, starting in 1925 and ending last year.

Sipress, of course, is scarcely Steinberg, and Vey is not Rose. But the linework seems similar enough that we don’t notice how seriously the run-of-the-mill cartoon is less well executed today than it was in days of yore.

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

FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE

Looking through an issue of Diamond’s Previews catalogue last winter, we arrived at a birdseye view of the funnybook industry today. First, there are lots of comic books being issued each month. In fact, there may be too many comic books, as some observers say. And to support this contention, ComicBase surveyed Januaries Lumberjanes coverof yesteryear and found that an average of 174 new comics were published 1970-80; in January of 2015, that number was 715 a month. That’s a lot. That’s by far more than I or any other normally endowed individual can read and/or review every 30 days. (I don’t even try: if I don’t like the artwork, I don’t buy the book, and I try to concentrate on Number Ones, the genuine newcomers.)

Second, the subjects of those comic books — their focuses (er, focii) — are much more varied these days. We have more to choose from than just costumed superheroes: mysteries, sf, steam punk, legends of Oz, war, horror, teenage adventure, crime with cops and robbers, survival in the wild, skimpily clad heroines, jungle tales, spies, manga (even some of the erotic sort), prehistory and Biblical yarns, romance, not to mention zombies all over the place, Star Wars (understandably, but also Star Trek) and an exorbitant plethora of Doctor Who.

Third, there’s a growing category of the My Little Pony species: Salem Hyde, Blade Bunny, Lumberjanes, Little Dee and the Penguin, Pippi Longstocking, Goosebumps, Missile Mouse, Magic Trixie, Nimona, The Muppets, Kung Fu Panda, Geronimo Stilton, Fuzzy Baseball, Silly Lilly, Jack and the Box plus munchkins, fairy tales, and garden gnomes under every bush. In short, cutesy stuff of the pre-adolescent sort.

I’m not sure that all these roly-poly creations are an improvement over blood-sucking vampires and brain-devouring zombies. Probably. But all three leave me vaguely nauseous.

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

READ IT AND RELISH

Angel Catbird cover“I am a cartoonist, a goalie, a dystopian feminist — many things, but you cannot represent all the realities of a person’s life at any given time,” said novelist and poet Margaret Atwood. “I am writing for Angel Catbird (a trilogy about a part-cat, part-bird superhero) for Dark Horse Comics, and I drew the cartoons for The Secret Lives of Geek Girls for a Kickstarter-funded anthology.

But graphic novels are not exactly a new idea, you know. They were big in the 1940s. Caricatures have been a big thing since the late 19th century. And there is a huge tradition of stories told in paintings and carvings on walls, cathedrals and tapestries across the world. It is just that younger people have started taking a greater interest in comic books, especially serious stories told in the comic format.

I drew comics as a kid, and I drew a strip in the 1970s for This Magazine. It was called Survivor Woman. She was a Canadian superwoman who wore snowshoes so she didn’t fly like they did in America. She did pretty much nothing except sit on the curb and think [enacts rolled fist under her chin].”  -- quoted by Malini Nair, timesofindia.com

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

NEW CREDIT FOR WONDER WOMAN?

Secret History of Wonder Woman coverEllie Collins is mustering the feminist and otherwise caring troops to add a name or two to the credit line identifying the creator of star-spangled Amazon. Now that Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman has told the whole world about William Moulton Marston and his two live-in lovers, his wife Elizabeth Holloway and his one-time student Olive Byrne — all members of a “sex cult” that practiced free love and advocated the superiority of women — it’s time to admit, as Lepore apparently does, that Holloway had a role in developing a comic book superheroine. Ditto Byrne.

So Collins would like the credit line to read: Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston — maybe even adding on the end, “with Olive Byrne.” I assume that this proposal is timed to get the credit on the big screen when the Wonder Woman movie debuts. So where’s H.G. Peter, the guy who created WW’s look? I mean, if you wanna be inclusive in portioning out credit, let’s be all-inclusive and not overlook the most visible aspects of a visual artform.

Secret History of Wonder Woman image

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

FIRST ISSUE: RENATO JONES

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 Renato Jones: The One % is, we are assured several times throughout, “created, written, drawn, colored and owned by Kaare Kyle Andrews,” of whom I haven’t heard a whit. But then, I don’t get out much. In any case, Andrews has a perfect right to blow his own horn: the book is extravagantly, delightfully, energetically, pleasingly drawn, Andrews deploying a bold almost inflexible line and plenty of shadowy black, resorting, on some pages, to stunning stark black-and-white.

The narrative is a little hard to follow. It consists of three strands: the early nightmare childhood life of Renato Jones, an abused rich scion; the excesses and abuses perpetrated by a greedy, self-absorbed “one percent”; and the punishment/revenge rained upon the latter by (we think) the former, who has grows up into a masked vigilante called the Freelancer.

Renato1

 

Renato2

 

Renato3

Through the book, the narrative jumps back and forth from one strand to another, which necessarily involves leaping from one time to another. There are no objective narrative captions: the captions are the thoughts of the Freelancer as he reviews the events of his childhood and present endeavors. Without explanatory captions, it’s a trifle difficult to sort it all out as we go along, leaping back and forth. But the words are infected with a revolutionary fervor, and the pictures are exciting forays into extreme action arrayed in imaginative layouts.

In the completed episode, young Renato kills his cruel stepmother (a bloated fat woman who acquired him after his real mother was killed), whose cruelty justifies her demise. Her man servant, Church, explains: “This isn’t murder. This is payment for one’s misdeeds. It is restitution.”

At the end of the book, the Freelancer kills a highly objectionable member of “the one percent,” Douglas Bradley, saying: “You are an abuser of women. You are a sadist and a murderer. You’ve built yourself a luxury yacht that floats on horrors.”

Bradley, groveling, screams: “Dude — they’re not even people.”

“Choke on this,” says Freelancer, shoving a monster gun into Bradley’s mouth and blowing him away.

On the last page, the Freelancer says: “They’ve destroyed this country. They’ve imprisoned the masses. They have escaped prosecution and judgment. But they won’t escape me.”

The next issues of the five-issue series continue in this vein. The series seems driven entirely by Andrews’ detestation of “the one percent”; he’s turned his passion into powerful pictures telling a horrific story. Between revenge killings, the pages quiver with rants against the very wealthy: “They’ve run our economy into the ground, destroying jobs and opportunity. They’ve taken homes from families.” Etc. “Who will make them pay?”

The Freelancer, of course.

This may not be the first comic book infected with a hard-breathing political message. But its politics are not at all veiled. They’re out there, plain and simple, for all to see. And Andrews’ powerful drawings carry the message from page to page.

In the fifth (and, for now, the last) issue in the series, Andrews says he’ll be back with more in a second series of the title.

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

AGED ANTI-WERTHAM COMIC BOOK DISCOVERED

Wertham UK coverCarol Tilley, the dauntless comics scholar who discovered that Fredric Wertham fudged his research in Seduction of the Innocent, went to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in the fall of 2015 and unearthed a piece of Wertham-related history that has languished in vaults for seventy years or so: a “satirical, trenchant and silly 27-page comic book, The Uncanny Adventures of (I Hate) Dr. Wertham,” produced in the late 1940s by a teenage cartoonist and comic book collector named David Pace Wigransky.

The comic book exists only in its original, pen-and-ink on typing paper form, bound with a piece of string. No copies are known to exist (and none are likely to exist). Said Tilley:

 “The author bills himself as Sterling South, a play on the writer and critic Sterling North, who helped inaugurate mid-century comics hysteria with a widely circulated and emulated 1940 editorial in the Chicago Daily News. Tucked into a folder with a few bulletins published between the years 1946 and 1948 from the National Cartoonists Society, the comic has languished, seemingly forgotten — it was noted on the finding aid but one has to be looking for it — in the storage of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum until I stumbled on it last October during a research visit.”

Tilley has written a description of the comic book (accompanied by copies of many of its pages, like the one of the cover posted near here) that rehearses its story (ending with Wertham shooting himself); it can be read at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library website, cartoons.osu.edu. Once you get there, scroll down to Blog, click on it, and you’ll be transported to “Guest Post! Found in the Collection: ‘The Uncanny Adventures of (I Hate) Dr. Wertham.’”

TilleyDiscovery

Interestingly, the “Wertham” character on the cover speaks with a German accent. The actual Wertham came to this country from Germany and, presumably, spoke with an accent. Our teenage cartoonist was clearly informed about his subject.

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

COMICS AGAINST VIOLENCE

From the press release:

Nancy SilberkleitNancy Silberkleit, co-CEO and co-Publisher of Archie Comics, is using the power of comics to open a dialogue on gun violence. Published last spring, See Something, Say Something is an eight-page comic book that tells the story of a teen who is new at a school and is shunned and bullied by a group of students. He struggles with the turmoil and cannot find inner peace, which causes him to bring disharmony to the school. He tells another student of his plan to get even, which involves violence to others.

“I began working on this project at the beginning of this year,” said Silberkleit, whose Rise Above Social Issues Foundation has published comics on bullying and self-esteem. “After the horrific shooting in a church in South Carolina, United States last winter, I put the project on fast-track. Never could I have thought I would be suggesting that our educators present the unthinkable issue of ‘gun violence’ for classroom instruction. The story underscores the need to take action to bring about change, in this case to educate young people about dealing with anger and the need to say something if you see or hear something that could portend a problem.”

See Something, Say Something was scripted by noted U.S. educational consultant and scriptwriter Peter Gutierrez, with pencil illustrations by Loyiso Mkize from Cape Town, South Africa. The story has a five page teaching guide, free for teachers who purchase the digital comic.

Silberkleit, a former teacher, said the new book is designed to provide teachers with a platform to spark discussion among young people on the issue of keeping their educational environment safe.

“Like all of us, teens are looking for ways to explain and understand episodes of mass violence that too often capture the headlines,” she said. “The text and rich graphics of the comic create a stage for students to think creatively, internalize feelings and share them through open discussions in a classroom setting.”

Copies of See Something, Say Something are available digitally for $1.99. To order contact Nancy Silberkleit at riseabovesocialissues@gmail.com or call (+1) 914 450 9880.

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

SELF-PUBLISHING PIONEER JACK CHICK, R.I.P.

Jack Chick panelJack Chick. who made a living for half-a-century drawing, selling and distributing religious comic booklets of 24 pages each (which you could buy for 13 cents), died on October 23rd. His tracts have been described variously as “sanctimonious hate literature,” “hardcore Protestant pornography,” and “pure spiritual sadomasochistic fantasy.”

But Chick was more than a religious zealot. He was that, but he was also a comics artist and writer who (it isn’t too much to say) pioneered self-publishing with greater success than anyone before or after him.

“The ultimate underground cartoonist,” Brill’s Content called him in 1999. Chick Publications claims (with some justification) that almost 900 million of the tracts have been published and sold in 102 languages to missionaries, churches, youth groups, and, even, individuals.

Jack Chick open booklet

 

Jack Chick panel re booklets

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

TRUMP AND TRUDEAU

In 1987, when Garry Trudeau first began ridiculing Donalt Rump, his presidential ambitions, and his soaring ego, said Michael Cavna at Comic Riffs, the real estate mogul was  flattered at Doonesbury’s attention. Later, maybe not so much, as Trudeau ridiculed him over his treatment of wives and other women, employees and other underlings — and, in general, most anyone (everyone?) he deemed beneath him.

Said Trump on one occasion in late 1988 when it was beginning, finally — after more than a year — to get to him: “There are 210 million people in this country. Why’s he have to keep putting me in his strip month after month?”

“Actually,” Trump said as Trudeau’s persecution of him continued, “I don’t read his stuff. You know, I did pretty well in school, but for the life of me, I still can’t understand what Doonesbury is all about.           

“They say Trudeau is somewhat clever,” the Trumpet continued, “but I’d venture to say that most people are like me: they don’t comprehend what Trudeau’s trying to achieve with Doonesbury either.”

“He’s always been impossible to ignore,” Trudeau told Cavna in an interview posted on last summer (July 5, when Chris Christie was still a viable possibility). “It’s like having a big, clanking cowbell installed in your head. I’ve just written four Sundays in a row about Trump, which is insane.

“I figured he’d eventually run,” Trudeau went on, "especially after he got a taste of double-digit poll numbers with his birther campaign. But I also assumed he’d quickly drop out after he’d maximized the promotional value.”

Said Cavna: “It’s easy to forget that many of the headlines surrounding Donald Trump’s current campaign were strikingly foreshadowed. But a stroll down the past three decades of Doonesbury can read like a road map to the billionaire’s 2016 candidacy.”

Then he lists the checkpoints:

A Trump run for president? Check. Doonesbury first had that covered nearly 30 years ago.

Campaign references to Trump as sexual being? Double-check. The comic strip was dishing that satire back in the last millennium.

Trump University shenanigans? You betcha. Cartoonist Trudeau was on the case more than a decade ago.

And Trudeau’s new book, Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump shows the degree to which The Donald himself has been telling us for decades what was on his long horizon. Herewith, we cull excerpts from Cavna’s interview with Trudeau.

“By 1987,” Trudeau said to Cavna, “he’d already made himself a risible figure in New York. But he was completely harmless, fodder for Spy magazine. The ads were the first ‘uh-oh’ moment and my response was a kind of reflexive, prophylactic slap-down. The grandiosity was so over-the-top that it would have been comedy malpractice to ignore it. Of course, now we know he was playing the long game. I’m sorry I missed that.”

Cavna: You call Trump an “a–hole.” Are a–holes any easier to satirize — kind of like how good actors are drawn to playing villains?

Trudeau: Absolutely. “A–hole” has a very particular meaning, one that is universally understood. The a–hole is a demeaning, abrasive bully who takes all the credit and assigns all the blame to others. In my lifetime, we’ve had several presidents who’ve disappointed us; we’ve had a crook, a warmonger, some philanderers, but we’ve never actually had a president who’s a total a–hole. This is where I fundamentally got it wrong; I assumed that the body politic would reject such a toxic personality. It’s also why I thought Chris Christie would fail to get traction. Now we face the distinct possibility of having not just one, but two a–holes on the same ticket. That’s how I much I know about politics.

Cavna: Has anything about Trump’s rise as a candidate changed your sense of much of the electorate?

Trudeau: Yes. I never imagined they could be so easily conned. Here’s what the people who love Trump don’t understand: he doesn’t love them back. I figured they’d be on to him by now. These are folks who feel anxious and left behind by the new economy. Many are struggling. Trump has a word for such people: losers. And he’s never had time for losers. He doesn’t have time to sit in their kitchens and go to their barbecues and listen to their problems. True, losers in the aggregate — say 12,000 at a time — get him to where he wants to be. But he’s always one squirt of Purell away from getting back on his plane so he can sleep in his penthouse. Never has an electorate been held in more contempt by its putative champion.

Cavna: What is your single favorite aspect about Trump for cartoon skewering?

Trudeau: Probably his use of language. An analysis by USA Today concluded that he uses a fourth-grade vocabulary in his speeches, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t inventive. Who else uses phrases like “nasty with lies” or “win with the military” or “that I can tell you”? I don’t do much to tweak his speech mannerisms — I’m more of a stenographer — but there is some art to reconfiguring it for satiric purposes...

Drawing Trump is a journey, not a destination. I’ve been trying to reverse-engineer his hair ever since it was brown, well before he set it on fire to run for president. All cartoonists draw Trump differently because we each have a different understanding of how he achieves his effects, especially now that he’s of a certain age. He’s been melting for some time now, so we’re now down to hulking, gilded bloat and it ain’t pretty. But someone has to draw it.

Cavna: Among the many political candidates you’ve covered and mocked over 46 years, where does Trump rank in that illustrious field?

Trudeau: I can’t really compare Trump to other political figures because they’re all relatively normal human beings. Trump, on the other hand, is an actual toon, and I’ve always treated him as such. He’s just another character in my strip, and the rest of the cast regard him as a peer. I didn’t have to change a thing.

Dbury 7-10-16

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

YUGE! 30 YEARS OF DOONESBURY ON TRUMP


By G. B. Trudeau
112 8x9-inch pages, all in color
paperback
Andrews McMeel
2016
$9.19

YugeTrudeau has been after the Trumpet for three decades, and with the publication of this volume of reprints, we are invited to appreciate his prescience. As the Amazon blurb says: “Ever since the release of the first Trump-for-President trial balloon in 1987, Trudeau has tirelessly tracked and highlighted the unsavory career of the most unqualified candidate to ever aspire to the White House. It’s all there — the hilarious narcissism, the schoolyard bullying, the loathsome misogyny, the breathtaking ignorance; and a good portion of the Doonesbury cast has been tangled up in it. Join Duke, Honey, Earl, J.J., Mike, Mark, Roland, Boopsie, B.D., Sal, Alice, Elmont, Sid, Zonker, Sam, Bernie, Rev. Sloan, and even the Red Rascal as they cross storylines with the big, orange airhorn who’s giving the GOP such fits.”

And the Trumpster has had his shots at Trudeau, too: “Doonesbury is one of the most overrated strips out there. Mediocre at best,” saith the Trumpet. Trudeau is the “sleazeball” “third-rate talent” who draws the “overrated” comic strip that “very few people read.”

In his Preface to the book, Trudeau gets even:

By the 1980s, “Trump had already become the gold standard for big, honking hubris, and to ignore him would have been comedy malpractice. In New York City, he practically owned the 1980s, rocketing to the top as the Big Apple’s loudest and most visible asshole, knocking off big-league rivals like Ed Koch, Julian Schnable, and Steve Rubell. To those of us in the ridicule industry, the man Spy dubbed ‘a short-fingered vulgarian’ was a gift beyond imagining.”

Alluding to being a target of Trumpster vituperative, Trudeau continues: “I was one lucky tar baby, and remained so for years. ... Then came the extramarital affairs, both real and imagined, conducted under kleig lights, followed in rapid succession by the high-profile bankruptcies, his attempts to tear down a family restaurant to build a parking lot for limos, his various televised spectacles (the most storied of which featured him firing celebrities who were already out of work), his creepy sexual fantasies about his own daughter, the Truther debacle, his failed product lines, and on and on. ... You can’t make this stuff up, so why try? Some people feel that Trump is beyond satire, but we professionals know he is satire, pure and uncut, free for all to use and enjoy, and for that we are not ungrateful. For our country, though, we can only weep.”

The volume scrupulously dates each strip so you know exactly where in the continuum of Doonesbury mockery of the Trumpet each strip falls. The book, released last summer, is worth owning just for the intimate and detailed view Trudeau gives us of the Trumper’s complex hair-knit.


Dbury Sunday 2-14-16

 

 

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

THE TRIAL OF MIKE DIANA

Soon To Be A Motion Picture Near You

Mike DianaOver twenty years after his mini-comic Boiled Angel made comix creator Mike Diana the first and only U.S. artist ever convicted of obscenity, an upcoming documentary aims to tell his story, reported Maren Williams at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. “Directed by cult filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, ‘The Trial of Mike Diana’ will explore the often subjective standards of obscenity and the intense backlash that can result from what are after all “only lines on paper.”

Diana’s work was exactly the kind that CBLDF was created to defend: “Boiled Angel featured nudity and sexuality, but also extreme violence, including mutilation, rape, and child molestation, as well as taboo subjects such as necrophilia and cannibalism,” Williams went on — although none of this is evident on the surreal cover.

Boiled

CBLDF financed Diana’s defense by local attorney Luke Lirot. “Despite Lirot’s valiant efforts and the fact that Boiled Angel did not meet the definition of obscenity as laid out in the three-pronged Miller Test, Diana was convicted and received a fine of $3,000, as well as a sentence of three years’ probation, which included stipulations that he stay away from minors and refrain from drawing.”

This diabolic sentence also directed that he would be subject to unannounced inspections by police.

The upcoming documentary will include original animation by Diana himself and will feature “interviews with several key players from the trial and the surrounding spectacle, as well as commentary on Diana’s case and his art from a slate of industry experts including Neil Gaiman, who was inspired to join CBLDF’s board of directors after witnessing this miscarriage of justice. Filming of The Trial of Mike Diana is nearly complete,” Williams concluded, “ — we’re thrilled to see this project come to fruition!

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

TWO-BITS FOR TWENTY-FIVE

Image Comics will celebrate 25 years as a comic book publisher next year, and it’s giving its fans a little gift, reports George Gene Gustines at the New York Times. February issues of The Walking Dead, Invincible, and Outcast, each written by Robert Kirkman, will cost only a measly two bits, just 25 cents (25 years; 25 cents).

“The stories in these issues will be a good jumping on point for readers” Gustines said: “The Walking Dead No.163 follows the conclusion of the Whisperer War; Invincible No.133 begins ‘The End of All Things,’ a 12-part story that will conclude the superhero series; and Outcast No.25 will introduce characters to the series about demonic possession.”

The Walking Dead 163

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

SURPRISE: SUPERHEROIC REGGIE AT ARCHIE COMICS?

Reggie and Me #1 coverAt CBR, Jeffrey Renaud reminds us that “as a writer and editor, industry legend Tom DeFalco has told stories with heavyweight heroes ranging from the Amazing Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four to G.I. Joe and the Transformers. So when he calls Reggie Mantle a ‘sinister super-villain,’ you might want to pay attention.”

What prompts this cautionary note is that DeFalco is writing a new on-going series at Archie Comics — namely, Reggie and Me, about Archie’s presumed rival. Predictably, Archie Comics, having produced a line of titles for slightly older readers with the new Archie, Jughead, and Betty & Veronica books, now turns to the only other main character without a title of his own, the unlikable Reggie Mantle.

DeFalco started his career at Archie, so he’ll be coming “home” in some sense. Renaud asked him several impertinent questions about the new Reggie book, and DeFalco responded in kind.

About Reggie, DeFalco said: “Classic Reggie was a prankster, but he was always rather harmless. He was also one of Archie’s friends, and a member of the gang. The current Reggie is an outsider. Yes, the other guys want to be like him and the girls want to be with him, but he is no longer a member of the gang.”

Renaud: You say he’s one of your favorite characters. You admit that he’s been called a self-aggrandizing egotist, a sinister super-villain, a merciless monster and worse. So — what’s to love?

DeFalco: What’s not to love? He drives the best cars and throws the wildest parties. He is also the closest thing Riverdale has to a supervillain and everyone loves a great villain.

Renaud: Is Reggie Mantle misunderstood?

DeFalco: Absolutely! A lot of people assume he has some redeeming characteristics. [Laughs]

Renaud: Can you confirm today that the ‘me’ of Reggie and Me is in fact Reggie’s dog, Vader?

DeFalco: I could, but why spoil the surprise?

Renaud: Will you be telling done-in-one stories in Reggie and Me or will the stories be longer arcs?

Reggie and Me interiorDeFalco: I will be doing both. Every individual issue will be a done-in-one, but the stories will build upon each other to form larger arcs. I never make life easy for myself.

Renaud: What can you tell us about the first story that you have planned?

DeFalco: Reggie throws a party and things go sour for everyone… except Reg. Also, we learn the not-so-secret origin of Vader.                       

The first issue hit the stands on December 7, illustrated by Sandy Jarrell, Kelly Fitzpartrick, and Jack Morelli. In writing the story, DeFalco deploys as narrator Reggie’s dog Vader — obviously, the only living thing that could like the guy.

Alas, this revamp isn’t gonna work, kimo sabe. (But three out of four for Archie ain’t bad.) Reggie isn’t “evil” per se: he’s merely a more viciously inclined than usual case of adolescent angst. Self-centered to an extreme degree, he’s about wreaking petty revenge for every perceived slight. Not an attractive personality. Why would anyone want to follow the so-called adventures of such a repulsive character?

Only to see him get his comeuppance, which doesn’t happen in this first issue. The drawings are usually adequate but no better than that, and sometimes the “new look” of stiffness gets awkward. And the backgrounds, rendered with a straight-edge ruler, are sterile and uninhabited. Reggie’s only redeeming characteristic: he is infatuated with Midge, who is Moose Mason’s girl. Unrequited, Reggie earns a little of our sympathy. But not enough. I won’t be back.

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

LAST GASP'S NOT-LAST GASP

Last Gasp logoAccording to Milton Gieppe at ICv2, “Last Gasp has announced that it is closing down its distribution business, which has wholesaled comics, graphic novels, art books, and other publications for 47 years. The distribution business rose out of Last Gasp’s roots as a publisher of underground comics, which were sold through a network of bookstores, head shops, record stores, and eventually comic stores. Last Gasp used that network to sell not only its own comics, but those of competing publishers, and added to its mix books and occasionally magazines that fit the same audience.”

The company will now focus exclusively on its publishing endeavors “for which it has many new titles planned for 2017.”

Meanwhile, my guess is that we should keep a sharp eye out for a bargain-hunter’s sell-off of the publisher’s remaining inventory.

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

JOHN LEWIS' MARCH WINS : Part Two

Part Two: Lewis Interviewed

Two days later, back in Nashville, Tennessee, which Lewis calls the first city he ever lived in, the Congressman was interviewed by Margaret Renkl on behalf of the Nashville Public Library Literary Award, which Lewis was on hand to receive the next day.

Margaret Renkl: Back in your student days, when you were being arrested repeatedly for working to integrate restaurants and movie theaters and the rest of daily life here, what would you have said if someone had told you that one day you’d be back in Nashville to accept a prestigious award for your work as an author?

John Lewis: I would have said, “You’re crazy. You’re out of your mind. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I feel more than lucky — I feel blessed to come back here. I’m honored, I’m gratified, I’m pleased.

Asked about how he thinks the Black Lives Matter organizers feel about his generation of leaders, Lewis said: “I think the Black Lives Matters generation tends to admire and embrace what we did. I have had the opportunity to sit down and meet in Atlanta — and also in Washington — with many of the young people, and I tell them all the time, ‘Read the literature, read the papers and books and speeches from that period. You could learn something.’ And I tell them that we never became bitter. We never became hostile. We believed in the way of peace, the way of love—we believed in the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. I say, ‘You can learn something from the 1960s.’ And that’s what I tell them each and every time I meet with some of them.”

Does he have any advice for American children?

“Yes. I would say, ‘Children, read. Read everything. Learn as much as you can learn. Study. Be kind. Be bold. Be courageous. And just go for it.’ As I write in the book, my mother and father and grandparents and others said, ‘Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.’ I was inspired to get in trouble, and I got in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. People like Rosa Parks and Dr. King and Jim Lawson and others — and being in Nashville — helped mold and shape me, and I have not looked back since.”

Margaret Renkl: In the March trilogy, the story of your history is framed and punctuated throughout with scenes from your experiences on January 20, 2009 — the day of Barack Obama’s first inauguration — and it includes a note signed by President Obama: “Because of you, John.” What are you thinking as you watch his presidency come to an end after eight years?

John Lewis: It’s difficult to see it come to a close because I think President Barack Obama has injected something rare and meaningful into America, and it’s going to be missed. I see him from time to time; I listen to him by way of radio, TV; I read about him and each time he seems to be hopeful and optimistic. And that’s what we need more than ever before. I think he’s been good for America. He’s been good for the world community. On one occasion, when he was running for reelection, I said, ‘Mr. President, if you were running for reelection in Europe, you wouldn’t have to campaign. You’d win by a landslide.’ I’ve traveled to different parts [of Europe], and the people there love him.”

Reported by Rocco Staino at slj.com

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

JOHN LEWIS' MARCH WINS : Part One

Part One: The Win

March, Book Three cover“This is unreal!” shouted Congressman John Lewis as he and his co-creators writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell accepted the 2016 National Book Award (NBA) for Young People’s Literature for March: Book Three (Top Shelf, 2016). The title is the third in a graphic memoir that chronicles the civil rights movement from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963, to the passing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

But — an award for Young People’s Literature? Why Young People?

Is it because graphic novels are glorified comic books, and comic books are for young people? Probably. But I don’t think the March trilogy was written expressly for young people. I think it was written for everyone, regardless of age.

I know: a carping criticism. Don’t look gift horseflesh in the maw. Accept your fate.

But Lewis didn’t. He didn’t accept his fate.

“There were very few books in our home,” Lewis recalled in accepting the award. He also told of going to his public library to get a library card, only to be told that libraries were “for whites.” Despite this, Lewis was still encouraged by his elders to “Read my child, read,” he said.

Aydin, digital director and policy adviser for the Congressman, as well the March trilogy’s co-author, reminded the audience that the “story of the movement must be told.” Lewis, who as a young man was directly involved with the Freedom Vote in 1963 in Mississippi, was convinced to tell his story in a graphic format by Aydin. A big fan of comic books, Aydin proclaimed at the close of his acceptance, “Prejudice against comic books must be buried once and for all.”

Hear, hear.

 

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

THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF BLACK COMIC BOOKS

Out, presumably, in time to help celebrate Black History Month, Bill Foster’s history is something of a landmark accomplishment (hardcover $39.99). Foster has been advocating for black comics for years, and now he’s put some of his knowledge down on paper (with the able assistance of Craig Yoe). The volume traces the changing image of African-Americans in comic books from the 1940s up to the present day. It includes nearly 200-pages of rarely seen classic and mainstream comics, many in full-color.

Untold History of Black Comic Books cover

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

SNOWDEN

By Ted Rall
224 5x7-inch pages, color
2015 Seven Stories Press
paperback
$16.95

Snowden by Ted Rall coverNot so much a biography of Edward Snowden, the nation’s most wanted whistle-blower, as it is a polemic on the subject of government spying on American citizens, this volume is a good example of bad graphic novel technique. Every page has a picture on it, accompanied by captions, but the pictures add no information to that which is rehearsed in the verbal text. Rall — journalist, cartoonist and columnist — has seized upon Snowden’s notorious escapade, revealing that the government was listening to every phone call U.S. citizens made and reading every e-mail, to second the motion: Rall is clearly a supporter of Snowden’s actions, so much so that we wonder about some of the narrative he gives us.


Rall seeks to explain Snowden’s action but can find nothing conclusive. He notes that Snowden was a Boy Scout and doubtless subscribed to an idealism about how to behave. His parents divorced when he was about 18, and Rall speculates that, unconsciously, this traumatic experience may have convinced Snowden that he could trust no one.

Snowden panel
Moreover, Snowden was a gamer: “Video games and fantasy-based card gaming are centered around ideal worlds governed by straight-forward rules. Life in these realities is simple: you have to follow the rules. If you don’t, you lose. Cheating doesn’t work. You must play fair.”

A young idealist who has learned that no one can be trusted but that one must obey the rules, Snowden, when he learned that NSA was breaking the rules, decided that NSA could not be trusted — and so he told the world what the secret agency was doing.

Armchair psychology being what it is, the refuge of unbridled speculation, we must take Rall’s analysis with a few lumps of the very best salt. When Rall gets beyond his subject’s childhood, he begins to beat the drum for Snowden’s pardon. And at this point, Rall’s opinions begin to infest his narrative, tilting it in Snowden’s favor.

Snowden, who tried to protest through official channels, finally took action on his own because he learned that official channels went nowhere. Justifying Snowden’s action, Rall writes:

“How can anyone feel safe knowing that government — any government, even a relatively benevolent government (for now) — knows everything about them? History shows that, sooner rather than later, officials and institutions that know everything about their citizens use that knowledge to control them.”

Snowden panel 2I beg your pardon? History shows that? What history? Where in history has there been a government that knows everything about its citizens?

Only in literary history — namely, in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Rall evokes Orwell’s book both at the beginning of Snowden and at the end. But however neatly that bookends Snowden’s ordeal, Orwell’s novel is fiction, not fact — not history.

Snowden’s case is morally complex, and Rall’s treatment respects the complications and the morality.

I enjoyed the book because it tells me things about Snowden that I didn’t know. And I’m glad he blew the whistle, but I felt that way before reading Rall’s treatise. And while reading it, I could not shake the impression — which grew stronger as I read on — that Rall was ignoring some facts that might interfere with his thesis and that he might be manufacturing “history” that didn’t exist in quite the way he recounts it.   

Besides, his drawing, that familiar block-head style, is uniquely repulsive to look at, and it adds nothing except its gracelessness to the narrative Rall is presenting to us.

Rall’s next graphic novel was about Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old presidential contender, and Rall has an axe of similar hone to grind. I’ve read it and enjoyed it. And I found out things about Bernie that I didn’t know. And I have Rall’s Trump book at hand; I can’t wait to read it either — particularly since whatever liberal insight Rall injects into it is likely to agree with my own opinions.

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

BAZOOKA JOE AND HIS GANG

Bazooka Joe and His Gang
By the Topps Company
With an Introduction by Nancy Morse and Kirk Taylor
Essays by Len Brown, R. Sikoryak, Rhob Stewart and Jay Lynch
225 5½ x 7-inch landscape pages, color
2013 Abrams ComicArts hardcover
$19.95

Bazooka Joe coverIf what you're really after is Wesley Morse’s Bazooka Joe, this volume is for you. (I own it but only because of its cultural status.) More than 50 pages reprint the wrap-around comic strip, mostly in color. For Bazooka Joe fans, the jokes are as tiresome and lame as ever; they were manufactured, Brown tells us, from the verbal jokes printed in Boys’ Life, which he was responsible for re-casting in verbal-visual comic strip form. And various of the Bazooka Joe products and ephemera are pictured (including, in a special packet attached to the inside back cover, “bonus cards” that reprint the first four Bazooka Joe strips).

Nancy Morse and Kirk Taylor tell the Wesley Morse story in just about the same way they tell it in Wesley Morse (except I think they benefit from a better copy editor in this volume) but without any examples of his Tijuana Bible efforts. The best part of the book is Stewart’s history of Bazooka, company and comic (a version of which first appeared in Blab! No.3 in 1988, where I found it and used it extensively to celebrate Bazooka Joe’s 50th in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 127, November 2003). The worst part of the book is the typography of the prose: the type is so small that you need a magnifying glass to read it. (And apart from the Bazooka Joe strips, the pictures are pretty puny, too—even some of the BJ strips.)

The book also includes sketches of Bazooka Joe by Howard Cruse and Jay Lynch, both of whom have short histories with the character.

This is a fun book, jammed with Bazooka Joe trivia. But I wish the pictures and the typography were larger.

Bazooka Joe interior

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

THE LIFE AND ART OF WESLEY MORSE

The Life and Art of Wesley Morse
By Nancy Morse and Kirk Taylor
270 8x10-inch pages
some color illos, mostly text
2015 CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
paperback
$50

With the arrival in bookstores of this book adorned with a cover picturing a naked woman, absolutely unadorned and unencumbered, we can chalk up another advance for civilization.

WesleyMorse1

And the interior pages are similarly decorated.

Wesley Morse, you may recall, is famous for drawing the Bazooka Joe comic strips that were wrapped about wads of pink bubble gum. He is also famous (or, perhaps, infamous) for doing several of the Tijuana Bibles back in the late 1930s. Like all of those who drew these feverishly pornographic comic strip adventures, Morse was anonymous. But his drawings — and the tales they illustrated — were several cuts above the others. His women were pert and pretty, and their sexual appetites comically insatiable, but most of all, his drawings deployed a lithe and lively line, almost sketchy sometimes, and his ribald sense of sexual comedy was playful and joyful. Among all of the eight-pagers, his were the ones that were fun to read (as well as erotic).

The thing Morse is not known for is his career as an illustrator for exotic night clubs in New York — night clubs where show girls were the featured attraction, the Latin Quarter, the Copacabana, El Morocco — and, before that, the Ziegfeld Follies. The book that just arrived is full of his paintings and sketches of scantily clad show girls that he did as a nightclub artist. He also did some single-panel gag cartoons with toothsome damsels mostly undressed. And some of these are in the book, too.

Also included in the volume are some comic strips he did in the 1920s, all about pretty girls — Kitty of the Chorus, Switchboard Sally, Frolicky Fables, May and June. Everyone in these features is respectably dressed. In about 1933, he did another of the breed, Beau Gus, whose protagonist is an admirer of pretty girls, great quantities of which wander through the strip’s panels. Sadly — criminally — as reproduced in this book, the strips are too small to read — almost too small to see. And that’s too bad because the drawing is exquisite.

Below is a scan of an original Beau Gus that I own. (Probably worth thousands now that a Morse book is out; but I bought it for pittance years ago.) 

 

BeauGus1

 

BeauGus2

In the scan, notice that the pencil lines not yet fully erased — and notice, too, the fastidiously fine lines with which Morse delineates his willowy young women. Alas, the fine lines are all but lost in the reproductions in the book at hand.

The book offers a biography of the man, but the pages devoted to that are few. And, mercifully, only a few about Bazooka Joe. The authors are not particularly facile with language: their prose is adequate but uninspired, and they seem never to have met a cliche they didn’t like (like that one). But that doesn’t really matter.

What matters is the pictures, and we get plenty of pretty sexy girls by Morse, page after frolicking page of them. Herewith, are a couple of the pages.

 

Morse1

 

Morse6

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

NEW LOGO FOR NBM

For the past forty years, NBM Publishing, America's first publisher of graphic novels, pioneered the translation and release of such foreign works as those by Enki Bilal and Hugo Pratt, and was the first to collect classic comic strips such as Terry and The Pirates in hardcover volumes. To celebrate its 40th anniversary last year, NBM unveiled a new logo, and branding, as NBM Graphic Novels. In addition, a new website has launched, improving on functionality and navigation. Also, the ComicsLit imprint has been dissolved, folding into the NBM brand. The adult graphic novel imprint, Eurotica, will remain independent and separate.

Nbmlogo

 

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

BETTER THAN 2014

Princeless coverDiamond Book Distributors, the book trade unit of Diamond Comics Distributors and one of the largest distributors of graphic novels and pop culture merchandise to bookstores and the school and library market, reports that 2015 was the “second best year” in the history of DBD. Better than the somewhat lack-luster 2014. “And we expect 2016 to be our best year ever” DBD vice president Kuo-Yu Liang told Calvin Reid at publishersweekly.com. The graphic novel market overall is improving: U.S. graphic novel print unit sales rose 22% in 2015 over 2014, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which reports on sales in about 80% the bookstore market.

“Last year was very good. And our sales were not driven by any one title or publisher but by everything, a wide range of titles and genres,” Liang said. Reid reports that among the big sellers for DBD publishers in 2015 were the Saga series, Walking Dead compendiums, March Books One and Two, and kids series such as My Little Pony, Grumpy Cat, and Princeless.

“Consumer interest in graphic novels keeps rising. That’s been a trend over the last 10 years,” Liang said, noting the impact of demands for diversity. “And there were lots of new customers — including women and minorities — asking about graphic novels in bookstores. The more people talk about graphic novels, the more people want to try one out.”

The diversification of genres beyond the superhero category is also a big factor, Liang added. “There’s a graphic novel for everyone these days, crime, romance, adventure, kids books,” he said. “And graphic novels are now sold in museums, parks, the Smithsonian, and colleges. They’re sold in so many places beyond just bookstores.”

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

POOH

In honor of the 90th anniversary of the publication of A.A. Milne’s first Winnie the Pooh book, saith Time, the current series author Brian Sibley is introducing a new character in the Hundred Acre Wood. Geez: I didn’t know there was a “current series” or a new stand-in author. Nobody ever tells me anything.

Pooh and Penguin

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com
FEATURED SERVICES:
MOBILE SERVICES:
GAMES & PUZZLES: