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Mental floss coverWill Brooker did a Ph.D. on Batman, and in the bi-monthly magazine Mental Floss for September/October, he’s interviewed by Jeff Rubin, who asks “which Batman” Brooker wrote about. To which Brooker said:

“I regard Batman as a concept. He’s like a mosaic. Batman is everything that Batman has ever been. You might not like the 1960s Batman or the 1939 Batman or even the Joel Schumacher Batman, but without that, the character would not be the kind of rich, multifaceted, complex thing that he is. If Batman had carried on the same as he was in 1939, I don’t think he would have continued — he’d be kind of a flat, pulpy, plastic character. To me, Batman is interesting because he’s so many contradictory things — he’s very, very complex.”

Rubin asked what makes Batman more interesting than Superman.

“Batman is more interesting because he is not a god, but he walks with gods. Batman is a mortal — a normal guy who’s trained himself up since his parents were killed to the absolute pinnacle of physical strength and agility and intellectual power. So he’s a good model for someone doing a Ph.D. I think he’s an amazing figure of what humanity can do. Superman is basically the big blue Boy Scout, and he’s been pretty much that since the 1940s. He’s just, to me, pretty bland. He’s too powerful. He’s too good.”

Worth a look in this connection, is Bob Hall’s 1999 opus, Batman: I, Joker, a stunningly ingenious Elseworlds Batman story told by the Cowled Crusader's arch enemy. But the plot is laid far in the future by which time Batman is a god-king called "The Bruce." Incorporating elements of the Fisher King myth, Hall constructed an artful parable that parallels the relationship between the comic book hero, Batman, and his faithful readers, before whom Batman (like the Bruce) re-enacts periodically the ritual conquest of a roster of arch villains in successive issues of his comic books.

Having set up the resonances of this situation, Hall then proceeded to explore its implications. I did a review of this book ‘’way back at the beginning of Rants & Raves, in Opus Two, at the Usual Place; and there, you’ll find “Batman comic books as religious ritual” described in more detail.

Hall, who also wrote and drew the series Armed and Dangerous, hasn’t done much since, and that is the medium’s profound loss.

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


By Jaime Hernandez
128 7.5x11-inch pages
2008 Fantagraphics Books

This must be my month for catching up on long-neglected graphic novels that have been lurking around here unread in the R&R Book Grotto for much too long. I’ve been an admirer of Jaime’s drawing style for as long as I’ve known about it — which means over 30 years — but have seldom perused one of his books. Ditto his brother Gilbert’s. But I chanced upon this one in the graphic novels section of the local library and, surrendering at last to a persistent temptation, glommed onto it.

The title is a little misleading: Hopey stories (under the continuing heading “Day by Day with Hopey”) take a little less than half the book; the remainder is devoted to Ray Dominguez’s mooning about his lost love,
VivianMaggie, while at the same time wondering if he’ll get lucky with Vivian “Frogmouth” Solis, an out-of-control stripper who spends a lot of time hanging around with local gangsters. (He finally does get lucky: she, in effect, rapes him.)

The only connection between the two sections is Maggie, once the paramour of both Hopey and Ray; she shows up in both stories, briefly.

The Hopey stories are all little slices of her life as she gets fitted for eyeglasses, tries to learn a new job, lusts after Gracie (her latest roomie) and the eyeglasses saleswoman. The Ray-Vivian section is a more unified narrative.

Jaime’s crisp pictures are enough to hold me even if the stories are a little frail in the usual fashion of slice-of-life tales. His treatment of Vivian’s hair in the accompanying excerpt is enough, by itself, to captivate me. And this kind of visual seduction happens on nearly every page.

As for the stories — to return to them for a nonce — they are not so much stories (sequences of events) as they are personality portraits of the characters. It’s their attitudes and how they react to situations that keep me reading. And that’s what slices of life are all about.

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


By Rick Geary
80 6x9-inch pages
NBM hardcover

MADISON-SQ-TRAGEDY.previewAnother in Geary's meticulously researched and elegantly rendered series, A Treasury of XXth Century Murders, this tidy volume rehearses the sensational murder of New York’s celebrity architect Stanford White on the evening of June 25, 1906. White’s murder was no mystery: scores of witnesses saw Harry K. Thaw shoot him while he was attending the open-air theater atop Madison Square Garden, a landmark building he had designed. The crime was followed by “the trial of the century,” in which Thaw’s wife, the gorgeous showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, related (in lurid detail) how White seduced and despoiled her (albeit before she was married), a despicable act that drove her husband to kill White to avenge her honor.

Geary begins his tale with short biographies of the three principals. White is revealed as a 50-something self-indulgent man-about-town with a taste for young women and a specially-designed boudoir in his apartment. Evelyn Nesbit is a young girl with no particular theatrical ambitions whose beauty nonetheless advances her career on the stage — initially, with the active encouragement of her mother. Harry Thaw is a spoiled rich boy whose use of drugs exacerbates the weaknesses in his personality.

In his unique restrained, step-by-step manner, Geary traces the activities of the trio on the night of the murder; and with equal care, he briefly covers each of the three trails that finally resulted in Thaw being declared sane and acquitted of all charges. In the remainder of the book, Geary tells what happened to Thaw, whose violent lifestyle continued to earn him headlines until he died in 1947, and to Evelyn, who survived a miserable existence largely by exploiting her fame.

Evelyn, by the way, is the inspiration for Charles Dana Gibson’s famed “The Eternal Question,” a portrait in which Nesbit’s hair-do forms a question mark. She is also indirectly responsible for advancing the cartooning career of Nell Brinkley whose first assignment after her 1907 arrival in New York to take a job with the Hearst’s New York Evening Journal was to cover the trial and testimony of the beautiful young woman. And Brinkley was very good at drawing beautiful young women. (All of the Brinkley story is unfolded in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 253.)

Geary’s careful drawings are the perfect accompaniment to his narrative style. In his pictures of the actors in the drama, he often depicts them as nearly emotionless automatons, their faces as deadpan as his narrative. His fastidious linear shading suggests tintype imaging, imparting to the tale a period aura. Just seeing how he models figures and faces with simple lines offers one of the great treats available in the study of the visual arts. As a concluding sample, here are some of his pages.



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


By Rick Geary
48 6x9-inch pages
Hometown Press hardcover
$16.95 including shipping

One of Geary's recent works, this volume is a self-published, Kickstarter-funded project. I bought a copy from him at the San Diego Comic-Con; and it’s for sale at Geary’s website, rickgeary.com but apparently nowhere else. The book clearly belongs in Geary’s Treasury of Twentieth Century Murder from NBM, so why did he publish it himself? Dunno.

Elwell is as carefully and thoroughly researched as any of Geary’s previous books; and his drawings (which I always admire) are as meticulously and quirkily executed as ever.

The murder here is that of 1920s bridge expert Joseph B. Elwell, who was found with a bullet-hole in his forehead in a locked room in his Upper West Side Manhattan home. Elwell was found my his housekeeper on the morning of June 11, 1920. He was dead, clad in red silk pajamas, but barefoot and without his toupee and false teeth.

Despite these and other tantalizing clues—which Geary details and explores as far as they can lead him—his murder was never solved. That is true of others of Geary’s murder treasury oeuvre, but this one seems a little colorless in comparison. Perhaps because there are no weird suspects, no odd personalities to delve into.


The book is as meticulously done as any of Geary’s other books — and worth a read simply to marvel at his research and reportage (and his picture-making). Geary’s latest from NBM, the early 1900s murder of celebrated architect Stanford White, offers much more — murder, blood, sex. And Evelyn Nesbit, and “the trial of the century.” Our review of that is next.

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


Axe Cop panelAxe Cop, a webcomic created in 2009, is about a gruff and manly crime-fighting cop who prefers his fireman’s axe to a gun. Axe Cop is also a not-very-subtle comment on our culture and what we find entertaining: it was created by a 5-year-old kid, Malachkai Nicolle, and his cartoonist brother Ethan, who was then 29 years old. I’ve often thought that our cultural tastes were juvenile, but I hesitated — until now — to assume they were also infantile. But now we know.

Axe Cop has graduated to television; specifically, Fox on Saturday night. Now we know about the intellectual aspirations of Fox viewers. At readexpress.com, Rudi Greenberg viewed the series’ debut entry and didn’t like it. Greenberg supposes that "Axe Cop" is intended for adults, but it’s “far too juvenile,” he says. And when the second episode turns into “one long poop joke — Axe Cop fights a ‘poop monster’ named Dr. Doo-Doo in London, ‘where poop gets its power’ — any hopes of this being smart, adult comedy gets flushed down the toilet.”


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


Altie editoonist Matt Bors won the 2013 John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon competition, hosted annually by Columbia College Chicago. Bors’ winning image portrays two Native Americans sitting outside a trailer listening to a radio report on the census:

Bors native Americans


Referring to Bors’ Fischetti submission, Nancy Day, chair of the Journalism department at Columbia College, said: “This image simply and starkly references U.S. history and its many controversies, from the decimation of native tribes to debates about civil rights, affirmative action and whether Barack Obama is black or even born here. Editorial cartooning requires a unique set of skills. Bors’ winning entry demonstrates how a single image can skewer assumptions with very few words.”

This national competition honors the late Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist John Fischetti, whose work was published in the New York Herald Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News. Each year, the competition honors a single image, published in the previous calendar year, that meets the highest standards of editorial cartooning and captures the zeitgeist of a particular period of American history.

I can't resist including this Bors cartoon about the death of Steve Jobs, which completely unhorsed the Pearly Gates tradition of “obit cartoons.”


Matt Bors - Steve Jobs Obit

Nationally syndicated, Bors, a 2012 Pulitzer finalist, like many of today’s political cartoonists, draws for several publications. He also cartoons full time for Medium.com, where he edits the comics section, The Nib, and regularly draws for nsfwcorp magazine. Bors also delves into comics journalism. In 2012, he traveled to Afghanistan to draw comics and served as the comics journalism editor for Cartoon Movement from 2010-2012, where he edited a project on reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

In 2012, Bors was the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for his editorial cartooning. His first graphic novel, War Is Boring, a collaboration with journalist David Axe, was published in 2010 by New American Library.

Life Begins at IncorporationThrough Kickstarter, Bors recently published a collection of his cartoons with accompanying essays, an unusual combination these days, and the essays are as provocative as his cartoons—as you can doubtless tell from the title of the Preface: “The World Is Run by Assholes.” Fellow editoonist Jack Ohman provides the Foreword for Life Begins at Incorporation (236 8x9-inch pages, color; paperback, $20 through mattbors.com/store.  which begins thus: “I can sum up kick-ass cartooning in one word — Bors.”

A few chapter titles indicate the scope of the book: Destination: Afghanistan, More Like Obummer, Homophobia Is Gay, One Nation Unemployed, Crouching Tea Party/Hidden Muslim, Avenging Uterus Rogues Gallery, Dear Gun Nuts, Social Media Is a Scam, Assorted Calamities. And there are more of this ilk.

The screed parts of the book may eventually date the work as a whole. But until then, treat yourself to a startling array of words and pictures telling truth to Power (and making us laugh as well as cry).

Bors - Zimmerman Gets Justice



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


Twenty-eight years after inspiring the title character in Greg Evans' long-running comic strip Luann, the cartoonist's daughter, Karen, is working by her father's side as the strip's co-author.

The comic strip started when Evans saw his five-year-old daughter dressed up in her mother’s clothing and jewelry. Until then, his career as a cartoonist had been somewhat irregular.

Greg and Karen Evans
Evans told Pam Kragen at San Diego’s Union-Tribune that he always dreamed of being a cartoonist, but couldn't sell his hand-drawn strips when in his 20s and early 30s, so he bounced around in a series of jobs — high school art teacher in El Centro, television news camera operator in Colorado Springs and talking-robot operator at the San Diego Zoo and Seaport Village. Then one day in 1984, beheld Karen, waltzing around their home, imitating her mother.

"I saw her and I got the idea for a strip about a little girl, and for once it struck a chord because it wasn't a contrived subject. It was drawn from real life," said Evans, who decided to name the character "Luann" and aged her to 13, because teen angst would provide more fodder for storylines. On March 17, 1985, Luann launched and now appears in 450 newspapers and websites (gocomics.com), and it is read by more than 600,000 online visitors each week, reported Kragen.

Luann Sunday teenIn 2003, Evans won the industry's highest accolade, the National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. And in 2006, Evans premiered a musical based on the strip, "Luann: Scenes in a Teen's Life."

Evans told Kragen that in the early years of Luann, he drew plot ideas from teen magazines and, later, Karen's own experiences getting her ears pierced, wearing braces and entering high school. Evans’ wife Betty served as a constant sounding board for plot and character ideas. But Evans was careful to give his cartoon family lives of their own, separate from the lives of the cartoonist’s family.

For several years, Evans said he had wondered what would happen to Luann when he eventually retires. He has no immediate plans to do so, but he still wonders. Mort Walker’s sons are likely to inherit Beetle Bailey when their father decides to retire (although he protests that he never will), but none of Evans’ kids have inherited their father’s drawing talent.

Luann desk stripThen one day in June 2012, father and daughter hit on the idea of separating the writing and drawing of Luann and a partnership was born. Karen, who holds a degree in writing and literature, agreed to take an active hand in helping her father create the plots and character arcs in the story and he would carry on drawing the strip. On Sunday afternoons, they meet for story sessions, and, with Betty, they critique the drawn panels that Evans produces after each session.

Evans said he has found his wife and daughter's input invaluable to both long-term planning and character development.

"Before it was always just me and now it's three of us and two of them are women," he said. "They bring a whole other layer of detail, subtlety and nuance to the project. Luann has a lot more meat on her bones and complexity than she did before."

But fans who worry about change or the loss of Evans' signature jokes and style can rest at ease for now. The artist said he's not going anywhere for a while.

"I still enjoy it and I look forward to it every day," he said. "Until that changes, I'll keep at it."

Luann Sunday food

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


Kim ThompsonStaffers at Fantagraphics and friends will continue to miss Kim Thompson, a vital partner in all the company’s productions for over thirty years. But, as Brian Miller observed in the Seattle Weekly, “Still, after the tears are shed, books still have to be printed and sold. Business is business, and Gary Groth, the remaining partner, is looking forward.”

Said Groth: “Over the last decade, Kim spent more and more of his time working on European
books. So the most concrete and tangible consequence of his death will be to cut back — but by no means eliminate — our European line. We will continue publishing a number of authors, including Jacques Tardi, Jason, and many artists of the following generation [such as Uli Lust].”

“Groth appears unruffled by such market changes,” said Miller. “He notes that the company is venturing beyond comics:”

“Over the last five years,” Groth said, “we’ve published a number of prose novels by a variety of writers, some established, some new — Alexander Theroux, Stephen Dixon, Danny Bland, and Monte Schulz. We recently published Kip Friedman’s memoir, Barracuda in the Attic; and next year we’ll be publishing a history of 20th-century comedy by Ben Schwartz. Last year, we published The Last Vispo, a collection of Fantagraphics logoVisual Poetry, as well as Pat Thomas’ Listen, Whitey, a coffee-table book tracking the intersection between pop culture and the black-power movement.”

Groth’s determination notwithstanding, Fantagraphics found itself in need of help to get through the coming publishing year. Without Thompson, 13 of the company’s European graphic novel line, scheduled for the Spring-Summer season, have been cancelled or postponed. Meanwhile, as Groth explained, the company’s fixed costs continue unabated. Without the projected revenue that selling those books would yield, the company’s cash flow was severely impacted.

To make up for the shortfall and to support the publishing of 39 titles scheduled for spring and summer, Fantagraphics set out to raise $150,00 on Kickstarter; by November 21, loyal fans and supporters had pledged over $188,000. Every dollar over the initial goal will enhance the final products. The fund-raising ended December 5.

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