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Slabbed Zap #0Comic books are made to be read, Chris Arrant said at comicbookresources.com, “but along the way they’ve grown to become a collectible in the minds of some, leading to an interesting bifurcation of fandom: collectors and readers.” Well, not really “collectors”: more like “investors” — people who buy comics as an investment, expecting them to increase in value like stocks or lab rats. In order to preserve their value, investors “slab” their most valuable comic books, incasing them between heavy-duty plastic plates, bolted together. The most conspicuous offender in the slabbing business is the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), which makes a livelihood out of grading and slabbing comics.

Readers, like me — and cartoonist Derf Backderf — find this practice reprehensible. Derf was shocked, Arrant reported, “at the degree to which comics collecting [investing] had subsumed the readability of comics, especially given that ‘true collectors’ would hermetically seal their comics in CGC ‘slabs,’ leaving them unable to be read — you know, the original intent for the comic.”

“For someone who has devoted his life to making comics, and who takes several years to painstakingly craft each one … to be FUCKING READ! … this is an abomination,” Derf wrote in a long post on his blog. “For baseball cards, fine. because you can still read everything on the card. With a comic book, 90 percent of the contents are lost forever! Most of these ‘collectors’ wouldn’t know the difference between Wally Wood and Wally Walrus. They’re just collecting a number. It’s an affront to everything I hold dear.”

In ferocious reaction, Derf has started what he calls a “one-man crusade against slabbing” by buying CGC books and “then free[ing] them from their plastic coffins.”

And I say: Bravo.

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


Alter Ego No

 Alter Ego No. 122 is devoted entirely to commemorating the Comics Buyer’s Guide, fandom’s most venerable publication, the publisher of which, Krause, unceremoniously terminated a year go without giving any of us a chance to give it a dignified send-off. Here, however, editor Roy Thomas has gathered many of the people who contributed to CBG over the years, providing us all a chance to give the magazine the decent burial it deserves after a 42-year run. Founder Alan Light shows up to recount the early history, and he’s accompanied by a horde of others, each contributing remembrances — Brent Frankenhoff and John Jackson Miller with more history; senior editor Maggie Thompson, her editor emeritus husband Don (posthumously in photos), columnists Murray Bishoff, Bill Schelly, Peter David, Tony Isabella, Mark Evanier, Bob Ingersoll, Fred Hembeck, even Yrs Trly. The issue, copiously illustrated, is a nostalgian’s feast. I’m still reading it. Back issues are available at twomorrows.com at $8.95 each.

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


Watterson AngoulemeWhile the Super Bowl was transpiring on this side of the Atlantic, Bill Watterson was winning the grand prix at France’s Angouleme, the international comic strip festival, according to GlobalPost.com. In winning France’s top prize for cartooning, Watterson, 56, creator of the now retired Calvin and Hobbes, beat Japan's Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and Britain's Alan Moore (Watchmen). Not unexpectedly, the reclusive Watterson was not present to receive his prize, the most prestigious of its kind in the French-speaking world. In 1986 and 1988, Watterson received the Reuben Award of the National Cartoonist Society. In 1992, he won the prize for best foreign comic book at the Angouleme Festival. He wasn’t present for any of those presentations either.

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


Hit number one coverIn Hit No.1 (of a four-issue run), writer Bryce Carlson indulges a fantasy about policemen who turn hitmen, killing bad guys without bothering about courts and trails. The protagonist, Harvey Slater, rubs out several evil-doers in the course of this book — enough, in short, to serve the purpose of such episodes: they demonstrate his personality as a bully-boy. Not the sort of fella you’d like to be around so why would we buy the next issue?

Probably because the concept is tantalizing even if the star of the show isn’t a very appealing character. And the cliffhanger ending helps, too.

Slater runs into an old girlfriend, his captain’s slut of a daughter, Bonnie, who got involved enough with drugs that her father had to pull strings to save her. She’s been away, waiting for the heat to cool. Slater takes her to his apartment and after a roll in the hay, he goes to answer a knock on the door, and finds there a detective who wants to arrest Bonnie, who, it seems, is a fugitive. While Slater is talking to the guy, Bonnie finds Slater’s shotgun and blasts the detective to smithereens. A provocative predicament if ever there was. And there Carlson leaves us, dangling on the edge.

Apart from the unusual concept, Vanesa R. del Ray’s visual interpretation of the story is equally off-beat. She uses a lot of close-ups, focusing many times upon irrelevant parts of a scene (ashtray and cigarette stubbing, f’instance). Her storytelling is deft, however: breakdowns pace the action dramatically, and she often resorts to wordless sequences of action. Her draftsmanship seems a little tentative at times; when she draws Slater and Bonnie together in the same panel, Bonnie is not only shorter than Slater but seems on a different, smaller, scale altogether.

All the narrative transpires in semi-darkness, and the gloom enhances the noir atmosphere. Archie Van Buren’s colors often spark a sequence with an atmospheric glow (Slater is always lighting a cigarette), but sometimes the colors run a little too dark, adding obscurity to the ambiance.


Altogether, though, Hit is a package I’ll buy again.

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

The Original Daredevil Archives,Volume 1

By Charles Biro et al
Foreword by Michael T. Gilbert
288 7x10-inch pages
color throughout
Dark Horse

The oriiginal Daredevil is the blue-and-red costumed crimefighter at Gleason Comics, not the blind Marvel lawyer. Gleason’s Daredevil started as a backup character in Silver Streak Comics No.6, which has been reprinted in another Dark Horse archival volume (reviewed at the Usual Place, Rants & Raves, Opus 308).

In the Foreword, Michael T. Gilbert rehearses the history of the character and Gleason Comics, and the biography of artist/writer Charles Biro (and his buddy Bob Wood, who also drew and wrote). Daredevil, who was re-created on his second appearance in Silver Streak No.7 by Jack Cole, proved so popular a character that he spun off into his own title in July 1941, which sports a title as odd as the character — “Daredevil Battles Hitler.” The U.S. wouldn’t be battling Hitler until the end of the year, but Adolph was already a well-known villain.

Like others in the Dark Horse series of archival volumes, this book reprints the entire contents of the books it includes — Daredevil Comics Nos.1 through 4, July - October 1941 — arcane advertisements and other incidentals as well as the title character stories and the backup features with Dicke Dean (Boy Inventor), Cloud Curtis, the Pirate Prince, Nightro, Dash Dillon, Pat Patriot (“America’s Joan of Arc”—an oddly religious evocation for a costumed female crimefighter), Whirlwind, Real American, London, and the Bronze Terror. The Claw, the towering Oriental villain of Silver Streak, re-appears throughout these four issues like a bad disease.

Jack Cole is back on Daredevil for the first issue, but after that, it’s Biro’s baby. Among the other artists are several whose names will rattle on through funnybook history — Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Edd Ashe, Reed Crandall, Bernard Klein and Dick Briefer. The art and its reproduction here are better than I remembered in such vintage titles as this — clean and clear, very little distracting shading and feathering of the sort neophyte artists attempt and fail at.


The Daredevil stories are also vibrant with breakneck action and not nearly as verbose as they, and all Gleason titles, became as the forties wore on and Biro gained his footing.

Historic stuff, this. And exciting reading, too.

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


Tuki coverAt the Small Press Expo in early September, Jeff Smith revealed a little detail about his new webcomic, Tüki Save the Humans. According to BleedingCool.com, the new opus centers on the first homo erectus to migrate away from the cradle of life. “Two million years ago was the very first fantastic ice age, and Africa was in a drought and all the early animals, all the early hominids, all the apes, all the creatures were going extinct because their jungles were disappearing. It was at that time that the very first early human left Africa. Somebody was the first guy, and I’m going to tell his story,” said Smith.

The first chapter was out around Thanksgiving; he’ll be doing the comic in “seasons,”putting it up 25-page chunks of story at a time.

Smith explained, “I’ve created a new panel flow for myself. I’m doing the pages horizontally so they’ll fit the size of the computer screen. It will be printed as a book at the end, and it might be a little awkward, but… I think it’ll be halfway between RASL and Bone. It’s going to be much more like Bone than RASL: it’s going to have humor. Part of the story is everyone is trying to stop him — the ancient gods, the animals, the other humans — they’re all going to try and stop him leaving Africa, and it should be pretty ridiculous,” Smith commented.

Tuki spread

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Goldberg Is Back

The Art of Rube Goldberg coverAbrams ComicArts is publishing a monster collection of Rube Goldberg comics with the title The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon ( C) Genius (the ABCs imitate the caption lingo Goldberg used when describing how his fantastic inventions work); it’s a 208-page hardcover with a movable “Goldberg invention” cover at $60, written by Jennifer George, Goldberg’s granddaughter.

Abrams had access to a vast acreage of original art and family records, and much of the art in the book was shot from originals, not the newspaper clippings that have been used in most of the previous Goldberg books. When forced to rely on newspaper pages for this tome, the drawings were, in effect, photographed as if they were, say, landscapes, and no attempt has been made to restore them to their original state; they’ll contain blemishes, but they’ll still look better than reconstructed artwork. Charles Kochman, Abrams editorial director of ComicArts, was interviewed by ICv2, and said, among other things:

Rube Goldberg backad“There’s a lot of original art and things that had never been published. Certain things where we have no idea where they’re from, but it’s beautiful. Lots of sketches, lots of ads. Not only was he endorsing things with his cartoons, but endorsing things with his name and face. He did a cigarette advertisement (but he didn’t smoke cigarettes, he smoked a cigar), socks, and Smith’s Brothers cough drops, and Tuxedo tobacco, Philco radios, water heaters. He also did all kinds of sheet music. He wrote the songs, too; he wrote the lyrics.

“We have an introduction by Adam Gopnik, which is really great,” Kochman continued. “Andy Baron, who did the moveable pop-up on the front cover, wrote a nice little essay about putting it in the context of movables. There are original essays by people like Al Jaffee (because he knew Rube Goldberg), Carl Linich, Peter Maresca, and Paul Tumey. Peter wrote an essay on other strips that were being done at the same time, so you’re getting a sense of Rube in context and what was happening before him and after him. Brian Walker wrote an excellent biographical essay that walks you through his life, step by step.”

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


Superman Sunday Pages coverThe DailyCartoonist reports that IDW Publishing’s Library of American Comics will publish all 25 years of Superman comic strips that appeared in the Sunday newspapers from the 1940s through 1960s. The first volume of  Superman: Golden Age Sundays will collect 170 sequential Sundays, from May 9, 1943 through August 4, 1946, beginning where the 1998 Superman Sunday Classic book by DC Comics and Kitchen Sink Press left off. These World War II-era stories feature work by legendary artists such as Wayne Boring and Jack Burnley.

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


Lazarus One splash pageOn the inside front cover of Lazarus No.1, writer Greg Rucka sets the scene: the world of the future is divided not by politics or geography but by wealthy family domains. And each family has one person who is trained (and genetically engineered) to be the family’s guardian — sword and shield; that person is the family’s Lazarus. For the Carlyles, the Lazarus is a member of the family, a woman called Forever (or, for short, Eve).

The opening sequence is nearly wordless: Eve is attacked and seemingly killed by a small band of destitute homeless people (termed “Waste,” all those humans not of a family or in service to one). But as these starving beings loot the larder, Eve comes to life again (thanks to some sort of ”healing factor”) and kills all three of them, employing whatever knives and swords she can lay a hand to.

This episode reveals her indestructibility as well as her determination and combat skills.

Eve subsequently goes to the Carlyle farm where the seed storeroom has been pilfered by representatives of a rival family, the Morrays. The Carlyles suspect that someone “inside” let the robbers in, and Eve forces one of a group of laborers to confess, whereupon she kills him — even though she knows he confessed only to prevent her from carrying out her threat to kill all of them if one didn’t confess.

This episode shows not only her dedication as the Carlyle Lazarus but her complete ruthlessness even though she knows her victim is lying.

Lazarus pageEve visits the family doctor, and we know that she’s emotionally wrought up — even though, as a Lazarus, she isn’t supposed to have emotions. So what will happen next? End of issue.

In the next two issues, Eve is sent to negotiate with the Morrays, and she meets their Lazarus, who is male. She completes the negotiation, and we strongly suspect that the two Lazaruses have a thing for each other. And just then, the vehicle is bombed and blows up. Not to worry: remember the Lazarus healing factor. But will it work if the personage is in pieces? Meanwhile, two of the other Carlyle offspring, male and female twins, are plotting — something. More to come, no doubt.

Michael Lark’s drawing style is crisp and clear — detailed without feathering or other linear folderol, heavily shadowed. And he picks up visual facial tics and makes his characters individual. Eve, for instance, has a somewhat thick lower lip and she’s always frowning. One of her twin siblings, Johanna, has the same lip, so it’s probably a Lark mark; but Johanna’s nose is different. The differences, although slight, are telling.

One of the most engaging aspects of the first issue is an essay at the end by Rucka wherein he describes, in exacting detail, how this story came to be. It is an articulate insight into the creative process, worth buying the book to witness.

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


Sergio Aragones' Funnies, which launched July 2011, is different from his other productions in two ways: first, in each issue Sergio includes stories about his own life; second, he writes it all without any help from his usual amanuensis, Mark Evanier.

“When it comes to personal stories,” said Sergio, “I’ve been fortunate that my life hasn’t been quiet. I was born in another country, and I was a Second World War refugee. I came to Mexico by ship. A lot of things happened to me; I traveled all over the world, and I was with Mad magazine. I did military service. Many, many things happened to me. So I have a ton of stories to tell. I met a lot of very famous people. I worked in the movies. I’ve been in a movie and in television shows. I’ve done a lot of things, all the time working as a cartoonist, too. I had to tell the stories, so those are very easy because I remember very well.

“Because it’s humor, I have to find the fun part of the stories. All of them had something funny. If not, you wouldn’t remember it. I look for something that will entertain — and something that might appeal to different ages of readers. Something that happened when I was a kid, something that happened when I was a young man, and something that happened when I was an adult.”

The personal adventures Sergio relates include his experience while in college of being an extra in a Daniel Boone movie, how he made his first “peso” in school doing classmates’ drawing assignments, vacationing in Acapulco and attending a Pablo Casals concert, collecting marionettes, photographing animals with a professional animal photographer, hopping a freight for a long unanticipated train ride with a friend when both were just children, visiting a famous artist in his studio, and the Mad staff trip to Mexico.

Typically, each issue of Sergio’s Funnies offers several one-page pantomime gags, a couple puzzles and games, and a second longer story. Among the latter: a retelling of the Trojan horse story, a variant of the King Kong epic, the origin of the Pinocchio story in a practical joke Carlo Collodi heard, and the invention of the guillotine.

The stories, while mildly amusing in the manner of Sergio’s marginals for Mad, are not boffo fall-down-laughing funny. But the pictures are. Sergio is “cartoonist incarnate”: he draws constantly, and the pictures he makes are funny pictures. The autobiographical tales are engaging and insightful. And they, too — like all of Sergio’s pictures — are crammed with visual details of the comical sort, sight gags galore.





And if you want to know how Sergio fills page after page of pictorial hilarities, visit the Usual Place and read Harv’s Hindsight for July 2008, wherein all is revealed.

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


I couldn't resist picking up a copy of Gail Simone’s first issue of Red Sonja. I confess, though, that I have no basis for comparison: I can’t tell you whether this effort is any better or worse — or even different — from the Red Sonjas that have gone before because I haven’t read any of them since Frank Thorne retired from the books years ago. From the beginning of the Sonja revival at Dynamite, it was obvious that most of the creative energy was poured into the character’s figure, and the birthday suit Sonja wore in lieu of a costume. A nearly naked female sword-fighter. I like pictures of barenekkidwimmin as well as the next guy, but I’m also looking for a noticeable skill in the rendering, and the guys drawing this Sonja didn’t turn me on (so to speak). Covers, nice; but interiors? Too obviously going for as much skin as possible.

But the interviews that Simone gave when she took on the writer role with this incarnation of the Robert E. Howard character intrigued me—first, because Simone apparently loves the character! A woman writer who loves a skimpily clad female sword and sorcery character? A stunning affront to male chauvinist so-called throught processes. Second, because Simone vowed to treat Sonja differently—a little more sex and sense of humor. But still a woman who is her own master. And she pretty much pulls it off.

In the opening sequence, we follow the conquerors of Zamora as they enter the dungeons and find only two survivors, both apparently women, hanging in chains from the wall. They are in such poor shape that the victorious general’s aide recommends killing them both as an act of mercy, but the general says, No. Instead, “Give them each a horse and free passage.” At that point, one of the chained creatures murmurs that her name is Red Sonja.

The story then shifts abruptly “three turns of the seasons” into the future, when Sonja is summoned to the king, Dimath, the first king Sonja ever met who showed mercy to anyone. She owes him her sense of dignity, she says, and so answers his summons.

He enlists her to help save his people, who’ve been struck down by a plague, from the pillaging of a new band of Zamorans, led by a “terrifying general.” Sonja agrees to help and  instructs farmers and craftsmen in the arts of soldiering. When the Zamoran horde approaches, she mounts a horse and leads Dimath’s peasants into battle—finding, immediately, that the fearsome general is Dark Annisia, the other woman who’d been chained with her in that dungeon three turns of the seasons ago.

The artist for this issue appears to be Walter Geovani (he’s credited as “writer” as well as Simone, but no artist is listed, so Geovani’s credit is clearly a typo). And he does all right. Every picture of Sonja is not a pin-up or an erotic opisthotonos. And her bosom is more the size and shape of a normal woman’s. Moreover, Geovani can also draw men and horses and the equipage of war. He shadows portions of every figure drawing in ways that I find excessive, but he’s at least skillful at it. I fault only his women’s faces: he, like many of his colleagues these days, pinches female facial features, giving them tiny mouths and eyes. A little too effete for my taste, but this, indeed, may be entirely a matter of taste.

The best picture of the issue, however, is on the cover, one of four variants—this one by Amanda Conner.





Alas, the normally endowed Sonja had only a brief life. By the third issue of the title, the red-headed swordswoman’s anatomy is no longer suffering from the visual restraint we have seen on the interior pages in the two preceding issues. Embonpoint blooms.

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


LONG FORM PAGINATED CARTOON STRIPS : Called Graphic Novels for the Sake of Status

It's long past the time for us to admit that some graphic novels are so poorly drawn that they never should have seen the light of day. When, as fans, we were desperate for our fondly regarded medium to be accepted by the general populace as a worthy art and narrative form, we seized upon anything and everything. But now that the marketplace is flooded with graphic novels, it’s time to step back and consider: this is a visual medium, does it do it any good to glorify scribbles?

Many of the freshest of today’s newspaper comic strips are likewise badly drawn. Lifeless lines—an insidious inheritance, perhaps, from Herge’s celebrated “clear line” technique, which Scott McCloud aptly dubbed “dead line.” Machine-drawn pictures. Childish compositions and tentative anatomy. Or else simple geometric shapes standing in for human bodies. Sequences of static pictures. The scrawling of third graders in elementary school art classes.

The sort of thing that litters the Web which now newspapers, in a hot swivet to somehow seduce Internet readers into their print pages, have imported, surrendering all artistic judgement in the process.

Team-CulDeSac-jacketLet’s not tolerate amateur artistry. This, as I said, is a visual medium: let’s demand at least modest proficiency in drawing. Pictures that speak of confidence in rendering. Linework that demonstrates that the limner knows lines of varying thickness add to the spectacle. Bring back crosshatching.

If you want to see in one swell foop a bunch of good, contemporary cartoon drawing, pick up a copy of Team Cul de Sac, a book manufactured and sold to raise awareness about and to benefit research into Parkinson’s Disease, which Cul de Sac’s admired creator, Richard Thompson contracted several years ago, forcing him to abandon his brilliant comic strip just a few short years into its run (128 8.5x11-inch pages in color; Andrews McMeel hardover, $29.99). Over 150 cartoonists and illustrators contributed drawings commemorating Thompson’s achievement, most imitating the way he drew the perspicacious little Alice Outerloop and her roaringly insecure brother Petey. And Michael Cavna contributes a nice longish essay about Thompson.

I just picked up a copy of my own, and I was smitten, as I turned the pages (the contributed drawings accompanied, usually, by a short paragraph of appreciation), with what fine drawing can still be found among today’s practitioners.

In contrast to newspaper strips, comic books are increasingly marvelously drawn—no longer just figure art, the sort of thing that seduced artists of the thirties and forties into the field—which resulted, directly, in the emergence of superhero comics because that’s where figure drawing reigns.

In today’s books, we see vast landscapes, towering skyscrapers, complex machinery. These guys are drawing virtuosos. As we can see from the accompanying cover art, today’s artists can even render slime convincingly—in the picture on the left. On the right, the new Captain America costume, drawn to resemble the movie-version of the uniform—as close to photographic as you can get without giving up lines altogether. (Merely tangential to my argument here; but what the hey....)



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Edited by Peter Maresca
152 16x21-inch pages
Sunday Press hardcover

Society Is Nix coverAnother wondrous treasure trove of early Sunday comics reproduced at the size of their initial appearance, this gigantic volume reprints over 150 of the creations of more than 50 pioneering cartoonists — most of the strips appearing here for the first time in over one hundred years. The title sums up the theme of this volume, the ninth embodying Maresca’s vision for making historic comics available at the size they were first seen: in these early years before the form of newspaper comics had been firmly established, cartoonists were free to experiment with the new medium — to try out new styles, subject matter, and page designs. And the resulting anarchy, as this book proves with digitally restored pages, was a delirious visual fete every Sunday, a pace-setting inspiration for generations of cartoonists.

The Sunday pages are printed in chronological order so we can watch as the medium was shaped and as the cartoonists grew in skill and sophistication. Annotations at the bottom of each page date and explain the significance of the strips.

The book opens with several essays on aspects of the history being made by the strips on display — contributed by such noted experts as Brian Walker, Thierry Smolderen, Richard Samuel West, Alfred Castelli, Bill Kartalopoulos, Paul Tumey, me, and David Gerstein. Also among the essays are Richard Outcault’s rehearsal of the birth of his Yellow Kid and Roy L. McCardell’s slightly abridged 1905 account of the birth of comics, historic documents both.

On display are numerous first appearances: Rudolph Dirks’ Katzenjammer Kids (December 12, 1897, when there were three of them); F. Opper’s Happy Hooligan (March 11, 1900); the first “sequential art” (comic strip) in the New York World (January 28, 1894) by Mark Fenderson; George McManus’ first series, Alma and Oliver (from the St. Louis Dispatch, 1902-1903) and his Newlyweds (April 10, 1904); Opper’s Her Name Society Is Nix illustrationWas Maud (October 2, 1904); C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreath Harry (October 7, 1906); George Frink’s antic Slim Jim (September 25, 1910) and that of Frink’s successor, Raymond Ewer; and F. Knerr’s first Katzenjammer Kids (November 29, 1914).

Among the strips are several Sunday “jams,” pages to which several cartoonists contributed their characters, all engaged in the same enterprise; mostly Hearst cartoonists since they all worked in the same bullpen at the same time. Also included are a couple “crazy quilt” pages deploying bizarre layouts that integrate several “stories” in an outlandish design.

The visual feast concludes with two pages of paragraph biographies of all the cartoonists. For the mini-biographies alone, this tome is worth its price. But there’s more, much more, in its other 150 pages. And Maresca always includes an “extra” with this books: this time, it’s a wall target for a dart game with Happy Hooligan as the target.

You can order this book — and its eight predecessors — at SundayPressBooks.com. And you can preview some of its content elsewhere at this website: search for Peter Maresca, who’s posting sample pages under the heading “Origins of the Sunday Comics.”


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