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Daggers Drawn: 35 Years of Kal Cartoons in The Economist
By Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher
190 pages
10 x 12
b/w and color
paperback in a slipcase
Chatsworth Press

"A giant book for a giant talent" is the succinct way to describe this impressive collection of editorial cartoons, elegantly designed by Dellon Design’s owner, Glenn Dellon, Kal’s one-time intern. Although The Economist is an international news magazine, it is published in Britain, and Kal was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, an unlikely teaming. Upon graduating from Harvard in June 1977, Kal went to England to lead a bunch of American teenagers on a bicycle tour of the island. After which he stayed and knocked on magazine doors, seeking cartooning opportunities. He found one at The Economist, which was looking for caricatures. Kal’s first “weapon of mass distortion” — caricature — appeared in the issue for April 8, 1978.

Within a few years, Kal was doing covers for the magazine (140 so far), and he continued doing caricatures and covers even after returning to the U.S. to take a position as staff editorial cartoonist at the Baltimore Sun in 1988. Ten years later, he started doing visual commentary for The Economist, too, becoming the magazine’s first editorial cartoonist in its 145-year history.       

The Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, John Micklethwait, provides an insightful and orientating Introduction. “Every Economist editor needs a Kal,” he begins. “For all the concentration on words at the magazine, nothing unhinges an editor’s mind more than a cover subject that seems impossible to illustrate.” Faced with this dilemma repeatedly, his solution was simple: “Call Kal.”

Micklethwait remembers November 2000: with the world waiting on Florida to determine the results of the Gore-Bush presidential contest, “there was no time, the result was unclear, panic was setting in. Until, of course, my predecessor called Kal. ... There is no subject that defeats or unnerves the moustachioed man from Baltimore.”

And we have only to look at a half-dozen Kaltoons to realize just how accurate Micklethwait’s assessment is. The ingenuity of Kal’s visual contrivances is stunning; the copiousness of telling detail, awe-inspiring; his mastery of color and crosshatching, nearly overwhelming — particularly considering that most of the final art is done virtually overnight, in 24 hours or less. Here, at the corner of your eye, we begin a short gallery of Kaltoons, starting with the punning cover of the book (itself a notable example of the sort of quirky inventiveness that underpins many of Kal’s cartoons) and Kal’s solution to the November 2000 dilemma posed by the Gore-Bush standoff in Florida (note their weapons, another kind of visual pun). The Economist’s editorial beat, as you can see, treads a hunk of U.S. turf as well as international political geography beyond England’s shores.




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


Century West coverOther evidence of Howard Chaykin's persistent foraging in uncharted territory is a 64-page, full-color graphic novel. Originally created for Disney Italia, Century West was published in 2006 in Italian and Spanish; it made its Stateside debut in English on September 11. The book combines Chaykin’s affection for the old west with his passion for movies, focusing on the 20th Century arriving and “steamrolling over the 19th Century against the backdrop of the once-sleepy town of Century, Texas,” reported TJ Dietsch at comicbookresources.com. Watched over by a trio of Texas Rangers, Century finds itself not only dealing with a changing world, but also invaded by a new, unknown force: Hollywood.

Including Hollywood in the mix reveals a typically quirky Chaykin belief that “the movies were the last great creation of the American West — ultimately, the West was tamed so that it could be filmed.”

Each of the Texas Rangers is an emigre — one from Saskatchewan, one from New Orleans and one from New York City. Each, in his own way, faces the 20th Century assault on their traditional way of life.

The story has its origins in Chaykin’s reading of early 20th century history: “The more I read about the period between, say, 1903 when the Wrights first flew and 1914 when the first World War began, the more I realized that modernity was older than I’d ever believed.”

At first, he worked up the story as a pilot concept for Paramount TV, but when that fell through due to a change in Paramount management, Chaykin reworked it as a graphic novel.

Other Chaykin projects due out soon include Black Kiss Christmas Special, Black Kiss 3, and Midnight of the Soul.

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


Continuing with excerpts from Michael Dooley’s interview with the artist in early July at printmag.com:       

Said Chaykin: “When I returned to comics in 1982, after being driven out by the then editor-in-chief at one of the major companies, I made a conscious decision to apply graphic design techniques hitherto only hinted at in comics. I looked at everything but comics for six months, and built a playbook of new ways to present information on a page. This new approach was then mixed in with the three strains of comics storytelling -- Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, and Jack Kirby and Stan Lee -- and that was where I started.”

Chaykin is also a fan of illustrator Al Parker and of comics artists Jose Garcia Lopez, Eduardo Risso, Leinil Yu, Vittorio Giardino, Sean Murphy, and (of course) Dave Johnson, “the best cover artist comics has had since Reed Crandall on Blackhawk and Military.”

Discussing his working methods, he said: “I work with and use Photoshop in my comics work. I also believe that web comics are the future of comics, a future with little or no room for me, since I produce a page-designed product, and web comics are aspect-ratio based. An iPad is either portrait or landscape, with zoom and click: a factor that obviates my primary skillset.”

But he’s far from done.

“I'm 62 years old,” he said, "-- celebrating 41 years in the comics business. And one of the reasons for that long-lived career is a capacity for growth, an ability to develop, an acceptance of the frequent need for reinvention, and an avoidance of dogmatic thinking. I've changed my mind about a lot of shit in those more than 40 years. And I'd encourage my whinier colleagues to consider doing the same.”

That’s Chaykin. And it’s a good thing, too.

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


Michael Dooley interviewed the artist in early July at printmag.com, and Chaykin, as always, is worth listening to. Here are some excerpts:

Chaykin’s flippancy, Dooley writes, “— and his feistiness — are backed by four decades of battle-scarred professional experience. He's worked with Marvel, DC, and currently, Image Comics. And he's earned a solid reputation for his sharp, sophisticated graphic style, which draws extensively from the Silver Age of American illustration. His lively, innovative page layouts have also been praised for their mastery of design composition [mostly, I’d say, in American Flagg!, not so much in the titles at hand—RCH].

“Among Chaykin's many self-generated projects, his most well known is American Flagg!, a groundbreaking, subversive deconstruction of the action-adventure genre. This 50-issue series was created in 1983 and paved the way for Frank Miller's Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen three years later. ... Plus, its postmodern anti-hero, Reuben Flagg, was a horny, Jewish everyman rather than a super-character. So it's only recently begun to receive the recognition it deserves.

“Black Kiss purposefully broke several boundaries of comic book propriety, and it was a huge sales success. It was also one of the most harshly criticized comics of its time, for what Chaykin calls its depictions of sexual activity in a variety of forms, ‘filthy language, transgressive behavior, unpunished misbehavior; how dare I?’

“Chaykin has said of that particular book, ‘it's like a different person drew it, because I was in a trance.’ When I asked for amplification he replied, ‘As I've indicated in a number of places, I didn't draw a sober breath between August of 1967 and January of 1992. You figure it out.’ Still, except for a Hollywood TV show staffer stint, his comics career has continued apace.”

Then Dooley summarizes some of the rest of his interview, quoting Chaykin directly:

“I'm long past giving a shit what people think about me and my work,” said Chaykin. “As my wife pointed out to me not too long ago, most of these blogging shitheads are anonymous pu**ies who'd kill to have my job and my life.

“Mainstream comics,” he continues, “despite any appearance to the contrary, are enormously socially conservative. And it's clear to me that I'm a bit of an embarrassment to comics in general and comics fans in particular, who seem to be afraid their girlfriends will find out they might have an erotic thought or two. I'd suggest they talk and listen to their girlfriends a tad more than they do."

To be continued...

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


Howard Chaykin's other recent launch, Satellite Sam, written by Matt Fraction, starts off with a stockinged cover, promising, in other words, the usual lasciviousness for Chaykin is sometimes renowned. The promise of the lascivious cover, however, is not delivered in the pages of the first issue. 


Except for a two-page spread fore and aft depicting “photographs” of those retro pin-ups in garters and bustiers, the rest of the issue sparkles with television argot and snappy patter among people who know who they are and what they’re doing, which is more than we know. Fraction here indulges in what I’d call “the new realism” in comics: have characters talk and behave as they would in real life without bothering to tell us who they are. “The new realism” in comics is tv’s Aaron Sorkin in four-color pamphlet form.

We are, it eventually emerges, on the set of a television show, and the story mixes television crew jabber with scripted speeches from the show, “Satellite Sam,” the star of which is missing for all but the last page of this issue, where he shows up dead, the victim, we assume, of foul play. While the crew plunges ahead to broadcast the show even without its star, and it all goes swimmingly — glittering quips, slangy asides, close-ups of various heads talking, all bustling headlong at breakneck speed.

Two other characters: Dick Danning, the director of the show; and a woman, Libby Meyers, perhaps the show’s producer, who goes looking for Carlyle White, who may be the “star” of the show but who winds up dead at the end. His son, Michael White, stands over the body at the morgue, calling the corpse “Dad.” Earlier, Michael White stepped into the broadcast void, impersonating his father playing the part of Satellite Sam. Or so it seems.

Later, going through his father’s effects, Michael discovers boxes of photographs — all those pix of chicks in stockings and garters that decorate the opening and closing pages of the book. “Pop,” says Michael, “what the Hell were you into up here?” End of No.1.

Satellite Sam logoUnhappily for a first issue, the story does not give us a protagonist who is either recognizable or particularly likeable. Is the hero Michael White? He shows up only at the end of the issue. He rescues the broadcast handily, which speaks well of his potential as a leading man; but we know little else about him except that he is apparently dismayed at his father’s hobby of photographing retro pin-ups. And he looks like at least one other character, Dick Danning, whose distinctive feature is eyeglasses—and Michael is shown wearing specs, too. At first, I thought he was Danning.

While I don’t know or like any of the characters enough to want to find out what happens to them, I do want to know what Carlyle White’s preoccupation with retro pin-ups will do for the story. So I’ll be back. But not because Chaykin has made me a fan of any of his characters, as a first issue ought to.

In black and white, all of Chaykin’s most irritating graphic mannerisms leap to the fore in this title. He’s taken to adding fine lines to faces where there usually aren’t lines, for instance. And he crams too much detail into every picture, creating the kind of visual confusion that color would normally sort out. Most of the backgrounds are painstakingly laid in with ruler and pen, the resulting rigidity imparting to nearly every scene an antiseptic visual sterility.

Satellite Sam shows Chaykin still to be in an experimental mood, his saving grace over all others.


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


Buck Rogers by Howard Chaykin #1Wandering by the Hermes booth at the Sandy Eggo Con, I picked up the first issue of Howard Chaykin’s latest comic book enterprise, Buck Rogers. Hermes has carved a large niche for itself in Buck Rogers equipage: it’s up to the 8th volume reprinting the classic Dick Calkins/Rick Yager strip from its 1929 debut on. And Chaykin’s version of the 25th Century adventurer gives him a more contemporary patina.

Chaykin’s tale, which he writes as well as draws, begins when Buck and Wilma Deering are already well acquainted and, wearing jetpacks, engage in a aerial fight with Killer Kane’s gang. Buck is another of Chaykin’s patented heroes—a flip, insubordinate wise ass, who, this time, keeps his pants on. Not only is that a change for a Chaykin hero lately: it’s a change for Buck, who, in the original saga, falls in love with Wilma, who is calling him “Buck darling” before the end of the third week of the strip’s run. Here, however, their relationship is even a little hostile, Wilma constantly reminding Buck that he is only Captain Rogers while she is Colonel Deering.

In another new and intriguing wrinkle, Chaykin gives Buck some unconventional political convictions. Buck is a fan of Eugene Debs, the early 20th Century socialist and one of the 1909 founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the Wobblies), an organization that promoted the notion of One Big Union. Workers would be united in one social class and capitalism and wage labor would be outmoded. Buck fought in World War I as pilot in the famed Lafayette Escadrille in 1916, and his experiences “fighting and dying to keep our masters rich” have sold him unequivocally on Howard Chaykinthe IWW program. War, he concluded, was always the same — workers killing each other in the name of some plutocrat’s lies.”

For much of the first issue, Buck and Wilma are airborne in their jetpacks, firing at the bad guys members of rival gangs and trading snarky quips as they smash the heads of their foes into a fine mist of dark red. Buck wants them to fight the Han (presumably a Chinese outfit since China, the only surviving super power, rules the world) instead of skirmishing with Killer Kane’s gang or Black Barney’s. (Barney is of African descent.)

Chaykin’s linework is clear and clean, and Jesus Aburto amps it up with delicious coloring that mutes or blurs many of Chaykin’s quirky stylistic embroideries around lips and chins and eyes. So far, none of the erotic ambiance for which Chaykin has lately become infamous — no  bustiers, garters, stockings and retro-style pin-uppery.

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


In the New York Times at the end of August, Patrick Healy reviewed a new book about the Broadway Spider-Man phenom. Song of Spider-Man ia “a dishy insider memoir” that “chronicles the ugly slide of the once close creators, the erstwhile director Julie Taymor and the composers Bono and the Edge of U2, retailing stories about a morass of betrayals, lawsuits, and petty slaps, like a producer’s yanking Taymor’s tickets for the show’s opening night. The backstage bickering, cast injuries and Taymor’s ultimate firing are rendered in close-ups by an observer especially near the action: Glen Berger, who was chosen by Taymor to collaborate on the script for the musical.”

Berger was later encouraged by the show’s producers to write a Plan X, “without Traymor’s knowledge,” that would “turn the show into a sunnier, family-friendly entertainment.”

“Berger’s tortured pas de deux with Taymor dominates the book,” says Healy, quoting from the book’s first chapter: “'Even now, I still carry the dream with me every day — to make up with her. I loved her. I still do. With heart-scarred bewilderment, I love her. And the thing of it is—she despises me.'”

Says Healy: “A spokesman for Taymor said on Thursday that she had not read the book and had no comment on it.”

But Berger’s duplicity “eats away at him, and leads to a deep rupture when Taymor learns of Plan X and dismisses it as ‘a cut-and-paste mess.’ Most theater critics eviscerated the show’s script and its songs during a first round of reviews in February 2011 and again in June of that year [when it officially opened], after parts of Berger’s Plan X were incorporated and Taymor had been fired.”

Healy goes on: “Berger said he did not reach out to Taymor about the book, largely because of a lawsuit she filed against him, the producers, Bono and the Edge, which has since been settled. But he said he recently received a phone message from her:

:What followed over the next two days was a handful of e-mails and three hours of conversation,” Berger wrote in an e-mail. ‘The conversations weren’t just civil, they were genial — strange and psychedelic for being so almost normal.’”

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


For the first time since performances began in rehearsals in November 2010, the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” took in less than $1 million for a standard eight-performance playing week, with a recent week’s gross totaling $966,952, reports Patrick Healy in the New York Times (August 26). “While ticket sales have been softening since last fall for the $75 million musical, the most expensive in Broadway history, a spokesman on Monday linked last week’s total to ‘fallout’ from a well-publicized foot injury suffered by the cast member Daniel Curry during the August 15 performance.”

Healy continues: “The low gross is notable because, over the last two years, the ‘Spider-Man’ producers have explicitly pointed to their seven-figure grosses as a sign of audience validation for a musical that critics widely panned. The producers have also been optimistic about earning back the show’s $75 million capitalization, but that feat would require weekly box office grosses in the $1.5 million range for several years. Last week’s gross was below the show’s weekly running costs, which are in the low seven figures.”

But, adds Healy, quoting a spokesman for the show, “‘Spider-Man’ remains one of the highest grossing shows on Broadway, and we expect this dip to be little more than a temporary reaction to the media coverage.”

“Spider-Man” remains a fan favorite, Healy says: “No Broadway musical has endured so many bad reviews and so much negative publicity — over the firing of its original director, Julie Taymor, and over cast injuries in its early months — yet continued to run for nearly three years with mostly million-dollar weeks.”

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


By Doug TenNapel
176 pages
6.5 x 10
Image paperback

RATFIST is about a would-be costumed superhero, who, in civilian guise, is Ricky. In its inaugural form, the book appeared a page at a time on TenNapel’s website as he experimented with web comics. TenNapel was careful to give every page some “take-away” quality that a viewer would enjoy. Generally speaking, that results in every page ending on a suspenseful or comedic note, which gives the whole production, now assembled into a single volume, a sort of breathless excitement, an aspect that is wonderfully suited to the headlong dash that is the chief and commendably exciting aesthetic of TenNapel’s works.

In the opening sequence, Ricky resolves to propose to his girlfriend Gina, but during the dinner at which he plans to spring this surprise, Ricky suddenly grows a rat’s tail and his face blossoms out with rat’s hair. Ricky dons a mask in order to hide the hair. From there on, meaning and narrative coherence deteriorate rapidly into a frenzied rollicking romp of explosive action and daunting plot twists and looney layouts. And strange beings. Ricky cuts his tail off, but it acquires a life of its own and wraps itself around him like a bandolier; henceforth, Ricky (Ratfist) deploys the tail like a whip whenever he’s not engaging in conversation with it. Or with a rat that rides on his shoulder most of the time.

The story is a manic delight, leap-frogging from one madcap episode to the next without quite resolving the first. There’s a monkey and a cat-faced former boss at the Simian Icthus Institute where Ricky and his lab cohorts are searching for a cure for cancer. Gina, it seems, marries Rick in some other life and they have a child, but she gets cancer. At the end, she seems cured, Ricky’s face loses its rat-hair, and he gives millions of dollars that he’s inherited to cancer research. On the last page of the book, TenNapel supplies what might be a coda for the work, quoting from Ecclesiastes 3:19: “Everything is meaningless.”


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


This from the Guardian: Ahmad Akkari, a Danish Muslim leader who traveled through the Middle East inciting outrage at the Prophet Mohammad caricatures published in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in 2005-06 now says that was “wrong.”

“I want to be clear today about the trip: it was totally wrong,” Akkari said. A little late: an estimated 200 people died in the riots he helped foment.

Akkari continued: “At that time, I was so fascinated with this logical force in the Islamic mindset that I could not see the greater picture. I was convinced it was a fight for my faith, Islam.” He said he’s still a practicing Muslim but started doubting his fundamentalist beliefs after a 2007 trip to Lebanon, where he met Islamist leaders.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I realized what an oppressive mentality they have.”

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


Black Cherry: A Lurid Tale of Sex, Violence, and the Supernatural
By Doug TenNapel
Approximately 160 pages
6.5 x 10

Judging from the backcover blurb and the subtitle, Black Cherry is a fairly straight-forward story of Eddie Paretti, “a down-on-his-luck Mafioso who is so desperate for cash that he’s agreed to steal a dead body from his own mob boss. Things only get worse when he discovers the body isn’t human.” The body is that of an extra-terrestrial being, who turns up, at the end, in the most unexpected place. There’s also a love DougTenNapel0004story: Black Cherry is an exotic dancer and drug addict with whom Eddie is in love. She slips in and out of the story, which, at the end, turns out quite unexpectedly. Along the way, Eddie, like all TenNapel protagonists, is in constant vigorous motion, running, swinging fists, brandishing firearms — the usual array of energetic action.

TenNapel, who is a conservative Christian, gets God into his stories of late, but not obtrusively — and definitely not evangelically. He’s got some heat lately from more liberal-minded souls, who find his opposition to same-sex marriage reprehensible. I support same-sex marriage (and think civil unions are no substitute for the real thing — nor do they seem to come with all the attendant legal benefits that regular marriage has; they are, therefore, a cheap, petty compromise not worthy of the name), but TenNapel doesn’t seem to be doing anything more than exercising his right to freedom of expression, and that’s okay by me, even if I disagree with his religious views.

His artistic expression, on the other hand — his wildly energetic cartooning — captivates me every time.

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


Forbidden Worlds VolForbidden Worlds, Vol. 2: Nos. 5-8
Edited by Philip R. Simon
Foreword by Dan Nadel
190 pages
6.5 x 10
Dark Horse Archives

Another in the Dark Horse series exhuming historic comic book titles from the last spasm of the Golden Age, in this case, 1952 issues of the American Comics Group’s Forbidden Worlds: Exploring the Supernatural. As Nadel notes in his appreciative introduction, “Against the baroque grotesqueries of William Gaines’ EC Comics or the gutbucket horror of Harvey’s Bob Powell/Howard Nostrand stories, ACG was relatively, well, straight.” I think by “straight,” he means a little less sensationally horrifying. Good stories but not pacesetting in gruesome gory  detail.

EC has always rightfully worn the laurels for the finest artwork in comics of the period, and in the shadow of that achievement, we forget that other publishers often printed comics in which the drawing was not too shabby, ACG among the foremost. So we’re happy to have this archival project from Dark Horse to remind us of past glories that were only a little shy of glorious.

Most of the artists represented in this volume are not well-remembered these days — Lou Cameron, Lin Streeter, Al Camy, George Wilhelms, Pete Riss, Sam Cooper, Paul Gattuso, Sam Cooper, Harry Lazarus, King Ward — but a few ring a bell in the memory — Paul Gustavson, Ken Bald (nice clean covers), and Al Williamson (inked by Roy Krenkel and Larry Woromay). And the reproduction of their drawings herein is mostly decent. Cameron’s bold and crisply rendered pictures, for instance, are sharp and clear (evoking the style of Johnny Craig a little).

Williamson, however, does not survive happily. Through much of his early career in comics, Williamson was apprehensive about inking his own pencils: his pencils were superb, and he was afraid of ruining them in the inking. So he usually recruited artist friends to finish his work. But his inkers on the two Williamson stories here do not reproduce well: too many delicate fineline embroideries, and the fillagree gets mashed up and blotchy. Virtually all the rest of the work in this tome survives very well.

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