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Spiegelman RetrospectiveFrom The Week: The very idea of a museum mounting an Art Spiegelman retrospective is an embarrassment, said Jed Perl in The New Republic. ... Far from being innovative, “his work is about giving comic books some high-culture airs,” so it’s a bit ironic that the curators of this show, which has already traveled from Paris to Cologne, Germany, claim that this venerated 65-year-old has helped tear down the wall between high and low. Pretentiousness is “pretty much Spiegelman’s M.O.” ... To be fair, said Ariella Budick in the Financial Times, Spiegelman has had fine moments. Some of the many covers he drew for The New Yorker had a “merciless, gloomy wit,” like the 1998 image in which reporters crowd President Bill Clinton and hold their microphones to his crotch. ... To my eyes, “there’s rarely a dull moment” in Spiegelman, said Holland Cotter in the New York Times. “He has always been a restless experimenter.” ... And seeing his art “in its original preprint state” adds “an invaluable dimension” because in the erasures and revisions, we get to watch him making decisions. The resulting work “is in every way the equivalent of art we see in museums all the time.” ... But Spiegelman’s career requires tighter editing, said Budick; the high points in the show have been “swamped by juvenilia, outtakes, and mountainous evidence of his obsessive self-regard.”

I can understand how Spiegelman’s juggernaut of a well-publicized cartooning career has bumped some of us off the road, but I don’t think he goes much out of his way to seek publicity. He doesn’t by any means eschew it: when the spotlight falls upon him, he knows how to enhance the occasion. (And that doubtless irritates some of us less famous drudges.) But mostly, I think he is the beneficiary of fame he didn’t set out to acquire for its own sake.

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


From Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com: TrackingBoard.com is reporting that Warner Bros has picked up a biopic script by Dan Dollar about Bill Watterson. Called “A Boy and His Tiger,” it chronicles Watterson’s early efforts to become a cartoonist, dealing with the popularity of the strip, and then his struggles with the syndicate to keep Calvin and Hobbes exclusively in the strip rather than to branch out to merchandising, which Watterson has always said would destroy the “life” of the characters who, for him, lived only in the strip. Gardner notes that studios option scripts all the time and nothing comes of the options. Although Watterson has given an interview recently (posted in its entirety in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 317), I doubt that he would be any kind of participant in the proposed movie.

Watterson was distinguished by his absence in the feature-length documentary, “Dear Mr. Watterson,” (trailer below) which examines the appeal and impact of Watterson’s strip. In the film, comic strip cartoonists speak to how they were personally influenced by Calvin and Hobbes. Says Sam Price-Waldman at theatlantic.com: “The film is a fascinating exploration into the artistic and philosophical harmony of the strip, narrated by filmmaker Joel Allen Schroeder.”

But without Watterson, how how good can it be?

The aforementioned interview was snagged by Mental Floss, the magazine of lasting trivia (“where knowledge junkies get their fix,” as it says on the cover). An article based upon the interview appears in the magazine’s December issue. While informative, the article doesn’t quote the entire interview, but the e-mail exchange between writer Jake Rossen and Watterson was published online by the magazine. (And at the Usual Place, as noted above.)

The magazine article includes some pictures and fascinating statistics ($737,000 was the amount Watterson’s syndicate was awarded in a judgment against a bootleg T-shirt manufacturer). To get the magazine; you can subscribe at http: // secure.palmcoastd.com/pcd/eSv, and if don’t like the magazine, you can cancel without paying. In effect, you get a free issue.

Poynter.org reports that Mental Floss Editor-in-Chief Mangesh Hattikudur says he has “no idea” why Watterson, a Pynchon-esque recluse, chose to give an interview to Jake Rossen. Rossen somehow got Watterson’s email address, Hattikudur tells Poynter in an email. “We have a few theories: it might be because we have ties to Ohio, and a town near where he grew up (we used to operate our little shop out of Chagrin Falls; his signed comics often show up in a book store around there). Or it might be because of how Jake approached him—in a very journalistic [rather than] a fawning fan way. We weren’t totally sure it was him — even though we put two fact-checkers on the case — until his syndicate had to go to him for approval to use Calvin and Hobbes as the main art on our cover. (He’s very protective about licensing). He gave us permission immediately.”

The magazine has “put other writers on the case before,” but none had Rossen’s luck, Hattikudur wrote. “It really stunned us when he pulled the interview.”

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


Nikki Schwab at WashingtonWhispers blog reports that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is bringing comics to Congress for Christmas. Top Shelf Productions, publisher of Lewis’ autobiographical graphic novel. March: Book One, is donating a digital copy to every single one of his Capitol Hill colleagues. Said Lewis: “It doesn't matter if you were part of the movement, if you knew anything about it, but you can learn something.”

March - Book One cover

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Al Jaffee at workAl Jaffee, 92, famed for his “fold-ins” at Mad, is giving some of the original art and other material from his 70-year career to the rare book and manuscript library at Columbia University. Said Jaffee: “It will keep my stuff in New York City, which has been very good to me.” Among the treasures — some fold-ins in all stages of development, from the first “thumbnail squiggle” (as Jaffee described it) to the large sheets of tracing paper with sketches in colored pencil to the final painted board. Columbia has the papers and artwork from several cartoonists — comic book writer Chris Claremont, Wendy and Richard Pini (Elfquest comics), and alum Jerry Robinson.


Al Jaffee Mad Fold-in

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The first Asterix comic book in eight years has been released after months of anticipation, reported Rene Moss at telegraph.co.uk. Five million copies of Asterix and the Picts, an adventure set in ancient Scotland — the 35th instalment in the French comic series — were released in 15 countries and 23 languages, the work of writer Jean-Yves Ferri and artist Didier Conrad, the first to produce an Asterix book not written and illustrated by one of the original creators, writer Rene Goscinny, who died in 1977, having created the series with his artist friend Albert Uderzo, who did several subsequent titles solo.

Asterix and the Picts cover

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


Tequila Mockingbird coverFox has renewed “The Simpsons” for a 26th season, which will keep fresh episodes on tv through 2015 {New York Times}. ... A new book entitled Tequila Mockingbird offers 65 drink recipes for English major imbibers (The Last of the Mojitos, f’instance); an older book called Tequila Mockingbird is a book of animal cartoons by The New Yorker’s Leo Cullum. And there are at least three other books with the same title. ... The latest project of alternative cartoonist Peter Bagge (Neat Stuff and Hate) is a graphic biography, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, rehearsing the life of the early 20th-century birth control activist, nurse, political celebrity and founder of Planned Parenthood {Nathalie Atkinson, nationalpost.com}. ... Craig Yoe reports that he was nominated for Best Editor in the Shel Dorf Awards at the Detroit Fanfare Comic Con; he also received the 4th Annual Jerry Bails Award For Excellence in Comics Fandom. ... Fan favorite and Archie Comics' first openly gay character, Kevin Keller has been named a Spirit Day 2013 Ambassador, the first time the GLAAD organization has bestowed the honor on a fictional character {Brilan Trukitt at USA Today}.

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


For the second time in two years, one of Cleveland’s four shrines to its spandex-clad native son has been desecrated by a driver who lost control of his vehicle. The first of this noteworthy quartet is at the city’s Hopkins International Airport: erected last October, an imposing statue of Superman stands at attention (his usual posture) in front of a verbal mural proclaiming Cleveland his birthplace. And near the clock tower at the corner of East 105th Street and St. Clair Avenue is a two-sided imitation bronze historical marker honoring Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman’s creators. Set up in 2003 on the 65th anniversary of the Man of Steel’s birth, the marker manages to misspell Siegel’s name on one of its two sides. The $2,500 marker was sawed off its post and stolen last year; but the thieves returned it three weeks later, undamaged (Siegel’s name still misspelled).

The house where Siegel lived when he invented Superman during a hot, sleepless night in 1933 is the third shrine, designated a landmark by the city in 1986.          

The couple that has owned and occupied the house since 1983 is apparently delighted by all the attention their home gets — bus-loads of passing tourists and occasional drop-in visitors (who, if Jefferson and Hattie May Gray aren’t too busy at the moment, might get to peek inside at the attic room where Siegel liked to work in seclusion and where the Grays display Superman memorabilia they’ve collected). When the building was renovated in 2009, an “S” plaque was affixed to the fence in front of the Gray house.


The fourth Superman shrine is at the corner where Armor Avenue deadends at Parkwood Drive, the site of the apartment building where Joe Shuster lived, eleven blocks south of Siegel’s house. It was to Shuster’s that Siegel ran the morning after his sleepless night conjuring up Superman, eager to tell the young artist about this new creation; Shuster, acting upon Siegel’s prompts, then drew the first depictions of the watershed superhero.

The apartment building was torn down in 1974, but the Siegel and Shuster Society built its shrine around the private home that was built there in place of the apartment building. Raising money with an online auction, the SSS had the first Superman story from Action Comics No.1 transferred to metal plates, which were then hung on a fence at the property.


Portions of the fence have twice been demolished by errant drivers, most recently last spring on June 5, when Antwann Houston veered off Parkwood into the left half of the V-shaped fence shown in our visual aid, taking down also the corner plaque depicting Siegel and Shuster and describing their creation. Houston was charged with drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a license.

The family that lives in the house behind the fence collected the plates; at least one has been badly damaged.

The previous demolition took place in May 2011, when a neighbor drove his car through the other half of the V-shaped fence. The damage then was estimated at $2,600. The plates were replaced.

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


Awash in blockbuster movies about comic book superheroes over the last few years, Entertainment Weekly periodically puts one of the funnybook longjohn legions on its cover. Last spring, EW (cover herewith) celebrated Superman’s 75th anniversary as a comic book character—and, of course, the opening of the new blockbuster Superman flick. “Man of Steel” raked in $113 million on its opening weekend ($125 mil if you count Thursday “screenings”; still well below “The Avengers” record of $207.4 million but surpassing “Toy Story 3's” $110.3 million as the best June opening of all time).


Only two versions of the comic book Superman are depicted across the bottom: on the left, Joe Shuster’s iconographic rendering (his was, after all, the very first interpretation of his friend Jerry Siegel’s super-powered concoction); on the right, Jim Lee’s. The big Superman on the cover is by Neal Adams.

Inside, a two-page spread lays out 18 different Supermen, actors and comic book characters.


The comic book artists are all identified, and I realized at once that they’d left out Wayne Boring, who went to work in the Shuster-Siegel studio in 1938 and wound up being the chief delineator of the Krypton Refugee for at least two decades (1940s and 1950s). His barrel-chested Superman (inked by Stan Kaye) was the one I grew up with — as did all of the subsequent renderers of the character.

Boring and a number of other Golden Age DC artists were summarily dismissed in 1967-68 when the company purged itself of the “old school” artists. Too bad. The purge was directed by the legendary malcontent, Mort Weisinger, who called Boring into his office and told him he was fired. Boring related the details to Richard Pachter in a 1984 interview (published in Amazing Heroes):

“You mean I’m not working for you anymore?”

“You’re fired,” Weisinger repeated.

“Fired?” Boring, flabbergasted, persisted: “What do you mean? All you’ve got to do is stop sending me scripts.” (Why, in other words, use the word “fired”?)

Weisinger went on: “Do you need a kick in the stomach to know you’re not wanted?”

Wonderful fella.

Said Boring: “I was kind of down — after 30 years!”

As for his opinion of Weisinger: “I was afraid I’d die and go to hell and he’d be in charge!” Boring joked. “That would have been the capper!”

Boring dabbled in comics for other publishers for a while, then retreated to Florida where he found a part-time job as a bank security guard. He died in 1987 of a heart attack.


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


The parade that is the con continued to stream by my table and throughout the Valley and the hall all day for two-and-a-half days. I was vastly amused by the number and variety of cosplayers. My guess is that one of every five people attending the Con was in costume, playing the part of a favorite TV or movie or cartoon character. Zombies were numerous. And Star Trek warriors. I was surprised by the quantity of steam punk fashions on display.

But I wondered as I watched: do any of these colorfully costumed persons ever buy anything offered for sale throughout the Con? None of the cosplayers I saw were carrying bags bulging with purchases. They were all playing but, seemingly, not buying.

Still, when I asked some friends from my favorite comic book shop, they said they’d experienced great sales. No one complained.

T-shirts were also big. One exhibit booth was a “tower of t-shirts,” reaching a height of at least twenty feet. T-shirts are expensive — at least $25 each, sometimes more. Merchants must charge high prices these days because the men’s clothing industry isn’t making anything on regular shirts anymore: everyone is wearing t-shirts all the time. Casual Friday has exploded into Casual Week and all but destroyed the men’s clothing business and the surrounding economy as it did. As a results, t-shirts rule, and they’re priced to prop up the entire sagging men’s shirt industry.

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


Doug TenNapel’s storytelling and rendering is among the most wildly kenetic in comics, and when I saw him in Artists “Valley” at the Denver Comic-Con, I went over to his table to see what he was selling. I wound up buying three of his graphic novels — Gear, Ratfist, and Black Cherry, “a lurid tale of sex, violence and the supernatural” it sez on the cover (“I did this one especially for you,” TenNapel said; so how could I resist?)


I bought Gear partly because of the stunning color inside and also because it is TenNapel’s first work: it collects the six issues of the comic book title he published in 1998.

“There are no people in this book,” I observed, displaying my uncanny observational skills.

“That’s because I didn’t know how to draw people then,” TenNapel explained, adding that after Gear was published, he submerged himself in months of self-instructional exercises to develop an ability to portray others of his own species.

Gear is dubbed a “surreal epic” for which TenNapel looked for inspiration to his pet cats, Simon, Waffle, Gordon and Mr. Black. The cats do battle with dogs and insects, using giant robots as weapons. The cats went on to star in the Nickelodeon series “Catscratch.”

TenNapel began as an animator and was soon working on video games, all of which led to producing graphic novels, which he’s done at the rate of about one a year until, now, there are 13. According to Wikipedia, “he is best known for creating [in 1994] Earthworm Jim, a character that spawned a video game series, cartoon show, and a toy line.”

TenNapel lives in Colorado Springs these days, so he’s close enough that he brought his entire family (wife and four kids) with him to Denver for the Con. While we were talking, his wife said she wanted a photograph of the two of us, and TenNapel readily agreed, standing up and coming out from behind his table.

What a shock. I’ve run into him several times at the San Diego Con, but he’s always been seated at a table. Suddenly, I was confronted by a six-foot eight-inch hulk, standing by my side.


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At the Denver Comic-Con last spring, I was established at a table in the usual habitat for cartoonists and artists. In recognition of the venue being near Colorado’s majestic mountains, Artists Alley here is called “Artists Valley” (probably because it's between peeks).

The table next to mine was Allen Bellman’s, and he and his wife Roz held forth like yoemen all day for three days (and he’s 89). Bellman is one of the nearly forgotten comic book artists of the Golden Age. He joined the Marvel (then Timely) bullpen in 1942 at the age of 18 and did some backgrounds in Syd Shores’ Captain America. He also worked on the Human Torch, the Patriot, the Destroyer, and the weirdly named World War II hero, Jap-buster Johnson,  among other characters and titles, and he wrote and drew a one-page feature, “Let’s Play Detective,” but it was his almost parenthetical contribution to Captain America that has underwritten his appearances at comic cons since about 2007.

After his stint at Marvel, he worked for Gleason comics in the early 1950s; then after a while, he was freelancing for Marvel. But he left comics in about 1952, and following a brief career in illustration, he went to Florida where he joined a Florida newspaper as a photographer. Then in 2007, a couple of funnybook fans found him and persuaded him to venture forth into the burgeoning business of being a Golden Age celebrity at comic cons, where he appears as a Captain America/Human Torch artist.

“This is what I live for now,” he told me, nodding at the milling throngs passing by his table. And it is a lively living: he signed autographs (often on cosplayers’ Captain America shields) and sold energetic sketches of Captain America and talked with whomever stopped to chat. I asked if I could photograph him with his cane, the grip of which, as you can see, is a Jaguar hood ornament. “Never could afford the car,” he quipped, “ — this is as close as I could get.”

He struck his comic con pose — fist defiantly, victoriously, thrust at the photographer. When little kids wanted to be photographed with him, he instructed them in how to do the fistic pose, and they did it together.



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Sean Murphy's stunningly conceived and exquisitely drawn Punk Rock Jesus ended with the sixth issue of its limited run and the whole enchilada was re-issued as a graphic novel. A graphic stylist without parallel in comics, Murphy matches visual mannerisms to a story concept that is magnificent with herculean satiric prowess.

The notion behind the tale is wildly intriguing: it’s about the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is engineered by a tv producer as a continuing reality program, “J2,” also the name of the island where the show originates. A biological techie arranges to pluck Jesus’ DNA from the Shroud of Turin and inject it into the uterus of a young virgin named Gwen. She gives birth to “Chris” — and, here’s the stunner, a twin sister. But the second birth is kept secret, and a J2 factotum runs off with the girl baby, ostensibly drowning her; but not really. Really, the child, Rebekah, is rescued by Dr. Sarah Epstein, who is also the scientist who cloned Chris. Epstein fakes motherhood, taking Rebekah as her own child, and when the girl is old enough, she is raised with Chris.

The story is laced with satirical jabs against the idiocies of our day — opposition to global warming, evolution vs. blind faith, reality tv, religious extremism (the NAC, New American Christians) and Tea Partiers, the NRA, Larry King. Gwen becomes an alcoholic due to her confinement on the J2 island; she bargains with Rick Slate, the mastermind of the project, for a normal life for her son, but when that doesn’t work out to her satisfaction, she leads an NAC army to storm J2 and take back her son. She is killed in the battle, and bereaved Chris, now a teenager, takes up mind- and body-building, learning about evolution and deciding that religion is a fraud.

Invited to host the Emmy awards tv show, Chris shaves his hair into a mohawk and takes to the stage to denounce religion as “the bastard child of America’s runaway entertainment complex.” He assumes leadership of the rock band, Flak Jackets, and takes his new gospel on a nation-wide tour.

At this point, the narrative begins to shift its focus, turning to Thomas McKael, an Irishman whose parents were killed in IRA-troubled Ireland and who grew to a hulking mountain of a man, becoming head of security at J2. He makes a couple discoveries that effectively destroy his faith. When he learns that Slate had ordered Rebekah’s death, his faith is presumably dashed to smithereens.

The NAC, which supported the Second Coming until Chris denied his divinity, now opposes the movement and attacks Chris, the discredited god. Chris is killed in the melee, and, in the aftermath, Slate decides to clone Muhammad: “There are way more Muslims than there are Christians, so imagine the viewership,” he marvels.

The book is laced with subplots and other threads of the main story, which I’ve only sketched here. (For more detailed review, visit the Usual Place, Rants & Raves Op. 314.)

Despite the anti-religious satire of the book, Murphy does not attack religion so much as he attacks religion as an aspect of the entertainment industry. It’s Slate who is the prevailing and enduring bad guy; and when Thomas kills Slate, it is an act of retribution against the entertainment Slate has made of religion.

 Murphy’s satire, while pointed, is not unambiguous. Like the issues he tackles, it is fraught with contradictions. Apart from its themes, the book is exquisitely drawn, and Murphy deploys the visual resources of the medium masterfully — varying camera angles, distance, and page layout for powerful dramatic effects. Here’s a four-page sequence rehearsing the deterioration of Chris’ mother’s mental state, concluding with a dramatic deployment of an out-sized panel.



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The Graphic Canon: The World’s Great Literature as Comics and Visuals: Vol. 2
Edited by Russ Kick
500 pages
8.5 x 11
some color
Seven Stories Press

The purpose of this series, which is already up to its third volume, is to show persuasively how great works of literature can be adapted into comics form or visual interpretations. Russ Kick allows that Tom Pomplun’s Graphic Classics “has published over twenty volumes of consistently high-quality comic adaptations of literature with each 144-page book devoted to a single writer or genre ... but up to now,” Kick continues in his Introduction to this book, “no one has brought together a huge variety in one place.” That’s what he set himself to do. And judging, as he does, from the success of the first volume, he achieved his purpose: “Not only did I set out to find the best artists I could, I wanted a blistering diversity of styles and approaches.” And Volume 2 repeats that success.

The literary works embraced by this tome span the 19th century in the order in which they were initially published — from Samuel Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” through Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty,” John Keats’ “O Solitude,” fairy tales by the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the Brontes’ Jane Eyre andWuthering Heights, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” — even Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species—to name a few of the 51 works adapted.

Although Russian and American literature are represented, the book more thoroughly treats of British literature. Each undertaking is prefaced by a short text from Kick, who acknowledges the work’s place in literary history and introduces us to the artist.

Most of the longer prose pieces have only small portions adapted. In Huckleberry Finn, for instance, J. Ben Moss presents only Huck’s crisis of conscience in Chapter 16 wherein he decides not to betray Nigger Jim to runaway-slave hunters. And for Moby Dick, Matt Kish offers highly expressionistic interpretations of an assortment of individual paragraphs, quoted directly from the novel, making no attempt to present a narrative.

Huxley King’s adaptation of a chapter of Pride and Prejudice is done in an extremely decorative manner, evoking, perhaps, the highly mannered life style of the Bennets, but the pictures add nothing to the verbal content except decoration.

Tim Fish’s interpretation of the first half of Wuthering Heights, however, is much more successful. Narrative breakdowns pace the action for dramatic effect, and the pictures often add story elements and atmospherics not present in the words of the speech balloons and captions.

In adapting “Owl Creek Bridge,” Bierce’s short story famed for a crucial shift in narrator perspective, Sandy Jimenez does a superb job without words, his final picture as much of a jolt as Bierce’s prose gave the reader in the original.

 Kick’s offerings often do not translate prose into verbal-visual storytelling; the pictures merely illustrate, they do not help tell the stories. And most of the works are represented only in excerpted bits. But the series is a wonderfully ambitious project, and the books are elegantly produced. (Publishers Weekly just named Volume 3, which covers the 20th century, of the series one of the best books of the summer.) In sum, the book is a mixed bag of successes and failures in adapting prose literature to the verbal-visual medium of comics. But the successes are often stunning. And wandering through these pages, assessing the results as we go, is an invigorating experience in comics appreciation in and of itself.


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