goComics
 

GARFIELD GALACTUS

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a preview:

GarfieldGalactus

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

TEX: THE LONESOME RIDER

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

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

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

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

Tex1

 

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

 

Tex2

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

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

LIST OF SCHOLARLY BOOKS (Perhaps Too Many)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

           

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

KREMOS: THE LOST ART OF NISO RAMPONI

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

Vol.2—Curvaceous Color
Foreword by Jerry Carr

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

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

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

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

Kremos2

Kremos4

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

 

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

LOST AND FOUND: COMICS 1969 - 2003

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

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

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

LostGriff1

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

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

THE BEST OF PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE MONTHLY

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

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

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

 

BestPS1

BestPS2

BestPS3

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

WILL EISNER AND P.S. MAGAZINE

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

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

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

EisnerPS1

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

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

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

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

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

THE STORY OF MY TITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hayden1

Hayden3

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

WALT KELLY'S FABLES AND FUNNIES

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

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

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

KellyFables1

KellyFables2

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

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

THE TIPPING POINT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tipping

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

THE WHITE DONKEY: TERMINAL LANCE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his book, the White Donkey appears six times.

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

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

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

Donkey1

Donkey2

 

 

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

GAG ON THIS: THE SCROFULOUS CARTOONS OF CHARLES RODRIGUES

Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodrigues3

 

RodriguesDeadFriend

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

ANCIENT HISTORY

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

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

AlleyBooklet1

AlleyBooklet2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT'S KRAZY TIME AT LAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHITE BOY IN SKULL VALLEY : COMPLETE SUNDAYS

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

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

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

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

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

WhiteBoy1

WhiteBoy2

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

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

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

THE FIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fix1

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

The Fix. Worth checking out.

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

SOME GOOD STUFF

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

BlackWidMock

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

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

Renato2

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

Ship1

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

NEW IRON MAN

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

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

Riri Williams Iron Man

 

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

COMICS GURU ALAN MOORE PRODUCES JOYCEAN NOVEL

Jerusalem boxed setNobirdy Avair Soar Anywing to Eagle It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

OBAMA SENDS PUBLISHER PAGES FOR PRESIDENTIAL GRAPHIC NOVEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

MY FRIEND DAHMER

My Friend Dahmer cover

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

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

 

 

 

Here is a trailer for the film:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derf1

Derf2

 

 

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

TRUMP QUOTES TO BE USED IN NEW SUPERHERO FUNNYBOOK

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

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

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

TrumpCovers2

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALLACE WOOD PRESENTS SHATTUCK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shattuck1

 

Shattuck2

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

MURDER AT THE HOLLYWOOD HOTEL


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

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

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

GearyHotel

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

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

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

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

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

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
FEATURED SERVICES:
MOBILE SERVICES:
GAMES & PUZZLES: