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Once you have a series of Archie Comics based upon Archie’s marriages to Betty and to Veronica called Life with Archie, it seems only logical that there be another series echoing the title and connecting to a current fad. And so we have Afterlife with Archie. About zombies. Nothing bizarre about that evolution — except that the title is intended to be bizarre. In the first issue written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Jughead’s beloved dog is a hit-and-run victim, and Jug takes the animal to Sabrina, hoping the delectable witch will be able to revive the creature. At first Sabrina declines to try — saying such activities violate the witches’ code. But she soon relents, and Jughead’s dog is up and running again, but this time, he’s a zombie. And he bites Jughead, who shows up at the school Hallowe’en dance as one of the walking dead — as we see here, just to the right of a reproduction of the book’s cover.  


In the interview that closes this issue, artist Francesco Francavilla calls him “JugDEAD.” Ha.

Drawing in the realistic pulp-retro style he deployed in his creator-owned Black Beetle, Francavilla drenches the tale in his patented blacks and stark reds and oranges and wild page layouts. Spooky stuff. And fun, too.

In short, Afterlife with Archie is another triumph of deviation at Archie Comics. And I’ll buy the next issue (which is, of course, already out at your neighborhood comics store).

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


Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby
By Charles Hatfield
310 pages
6 x 9
30 b/w illos
8 pages in color
University Press of Mississippi
$25 in paperback
$65 in hardcover

Jack Kirby photoHatfield examines Kirby's artistic legacy, analyzing the development of his technique, the recurring themes in his work, his use of dynamic composition and moral ambiguity in his art and writing, his split from Stan Lee at Marvel, and his later work as a solo artist. Hatfield considers briefly Kirby’s early work in romance, western, horror, and humor comics but concentrates on the artist’s superhero genre, showing what makes Kirby “a singular narrative artist: a cartoonist and writer of ineffable power, endearing eccentricity, and lasting influence.”

Hatfield traces Kirby’s “improbable career,” examines the way the artist’s drawing was a narrative art, discusses the ways Lee and Kirby created Marvel Comics, and shows how Kirby changed the superhero, concluding with an analysis of Kirby’s unprecedented Fourth World creations. Hatfield’s perception is acute and his vocabulary is precise, usually without the sort of verbal pretension that infects academic writing; his style is conversational and friendly, eminently readable.

In one of the earliest chapters in the book, Hatfield undertakes to solve the riddle of which of the seminal Marvel creative team, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was the formative genius. Hatfield readily admits Kirby’s shortcomings while pinpointing his indispensable contribution. “Although Kirby would not be capable of creating a publishing empire like Marvel on his own, he did serve as the dynamo that powered Marvel and revitalized Lee’s then idling career as a comic book writer. ... Kirby was the artistic dynamo of the Marvel line.”

Hatfield scarcely skimps on Lee’s contribution. Some of his happiest lexicological dance steps are performed in the arch descriptions of what Lee did.

“It would be an exaggeration to credit Kirby with full authorship of his work at Marvel; the sixties, after all, were a pivotal decade for Stan Lee as well. As editor and chief spokesman for marvel, Lee’s presence was sustaining, generative, and overwhelming: his verbal swagger and editorial cunning were definitive to Marvel, and documentary evidence suggests he was, early on, both Kirby’s guide and active collaborator in envisioning such properties as the Fantastic Four. ... Lee’s stew of verbal bounciness, jokey reflexivity, earnest humanism, cheerful cynicism, and grandstanding, Barnumesque hype established the Marvel ethos. ... Kirby produced what many consider his greatest sustained work within this context, in a collaborative process ... that served to harness, discipline and spotlight his strengths. Stan Lee ... helped make all that happen and was, though not sole architect, conservator and chief promoter of the Marvel mythos.”

Still, through it all, “Kirby warrants recognition as Marvell’s signature artist and founding conceptualist ... [standing] as Marvel’s co-founder.”

While Hatfield’s assessment of the Kirby canon is formed largely on the basis of the concepts Kirby convened and fostered—the characters he invented and the stories he told about them—Hatfield also recognizes that Kirby’s metier, the basis of his triumph as a comics artist, lies in his instinctive understanding and demonstrable mastery of pictorial narrative. It was making pictures that fueled Kirby’s creative engine and that dramatized the product.

“Kirby’s graphic ferocity, the sheer, brawling kineticism of the style, calls to mind combat,” Hatfield writes, “—the slugfest, the siege, the riot, in sum the carnal indulgence of raw physicality and untamed rage.” Passages like this are imbued with the essence of Kirby.

And again: “It should be evident by now that Kirby’s style represents an especially tense and fiercely, brilliantly, elaborated version of that struggle. Perhaps this is why Kirby was, for so long, the superhero artist par excellence: his style constitutes an unresolved yet generative compromise between realism and symbol, naturalism and fantasy.”

Sentences like these need not make specific connections to a particular drawing or series of drawings: they are sufficiently persuasive through vaulting verbal dexterity. And Hatfield is better at such pyrotechnics than most academics. He is, therefore, fun as well as informative to read.



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


Pelican Publishing's annual Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year: 2014 Edition (for cartoons published in 2013) came out in March, edited by Dean P. Turnbloom, who is billed as “a cartoonist, editor, defense contractor and former navy officer.” He did a couple collections of “prizewinning political cartoons” for Pelican, so he’s scarcely a novice at the screening and selecting racket.

Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year 2014

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


DARK HORSE HAS BUNDLED all of Frank Miller’s Sin City oeuvre between a single set of covers under the title Big Damn Sin City; probably 1344-1360 pages, retailing for $100. Also on deck to coincide with the August release of the Miller move “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is a paperback edition of Frank Miller: The Art of Sin City (to which I contributed an essay) and a reprint of the long-out-of-print A Dame to Kill For.


Big Damn Sin City

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


Sex posterNow there’s a wholly unsurprising headline for you. But the sex in this case is the name of Joe Casey’s comic book series, Sex, meticulously drawn by Piotr Kowalski. The series is now up to No.9, and so far it’s mostly a talk marathon punctuated in every issue by at least one explicit sex scene. For a while, I thought the sex scenes were intended to exhibit a different kind of sexual activity each issue. In one issue, the ostensible hero, Simon Cooke, a young albeit retired superhero, strolls fully clothed through an orgy, and it was difficult to find any couples engaged in what we’d call traditional copulation; everything else, from oral sex to anal sex to same-sex sex and more, was on display in plentitude.

Sex comic book coverI had thought the title of the series was simple unabashed salesmanship — an avaricious knee-jerk grab at selling books by using one of the language’s two most potent sales words (the other is “new”) — but it turns out, not so. Superheroes as a rule don’t have sex lives, Casey notes in an article in Playboy of some months ago: “Superhero comics have always brushed against a very adolescent view of sexuality, and more often than not, they’re the most embarrassing examples of sex in comics.” So, saith Playboy, “these prepubescent portrayals led Casey to create Sex. ...” wherein “Simon Cooke is forced to confront the failings of his sex life. ‘He’s not prepared for the world he must now live in,’ says Casey, “ — he’s so repressed, based on everything he locked down inside himself when he was a superhero.”

Well, yes — I see that he’s repressed even if everyone around him is not. He’s trying to assume control of his multi-million dollar business, and apart from this preoccupation, he doesn’t seem to be confronting his libido’s repression much. He keeps running up against the femme fatale, his one-time ally as a crime-fighting superhero, but they don’t leap into the sack at once. In fact, in No.8, they are together, and he takes off his clothes only to discover that she’s fallen asleep on the couch, fully clothed. He gets dressed and leaves.

So there are all these explicit sex sequences, but none, it seems, involve Cooke. Where, then, is Casey’s theme?

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


A Rabbit Under the Hat: A Collection of Magic Cartoons
By Ellen Friedman and Jim Whiting
156 8x8-inch pages
Edition House paperback
$9.90 at Amazon

Jim Whiting, my friend (and oft roommate at the annual shindig of the National Cartoonists Society), is not only a cartoonist: he is also a magician (and, in addition, nurtured a career as a radio talk show host), and he has drawn cartoons about magicians and their machinations for over nine years in Magic Currents, the monthly publication of Magic Ring 76, the San Diego, California, chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (known, in some circles as IBM). Local IBM chapters are called “Rings,” each numbered in the order it was chartered. Ellen Friedman, who wrote the gags for these cartoons, is a writer, scientist, artist and the wife of a magician.

The cartoons reprinted in this volume are divided into categories — Living with a Magician, Why “Whiffle Dust?”, The View from the Stage, The View from the Audience, The Magic Moment, The View from the Hat (the rabbit’s perspective), and so on. Each chapter is introduced with a couple of paragraphs to orient the reader to what he is about to see. But — alas! — no secret moves are revealed.

Introducing Magic and the Art of Acting, Friedman reports that “a good friend told me she was surprised I enjoy magic, given that the magician is ‘trying to trick you’—lying. How can you be entertained when you know the magician is lying to you? It’s actually a surprising question. Here’s why: magic is make-believe.”

It’s like acting, she continues. “Magic as entertainment is a very special form of acting that takes a lot of skill and hard work to learn and to present. Ask the rabbit—it’s not easy to suddenly appear in a hat.”

If you ask the rabbit at this keyboard, he’ll recommend this book — not only for the cartoons, which are dutifully funny and skillfully rendered, but for the insight afforded into this mysterious profession.


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


By Peyo (aka Pierre Culliford)
Introduction by Matt Murray
192 pages
NBM’s Papercutz

The Smurfs Anthology VolThe Smurfs Anthology reprints several of the Smurf graphic novels published by Papercutz, plus (I think) other stories not thus far reprinted. The publisher claims the order of the stories in the volume is the original order of publication, but that’s true only if we allow for the torque of the fulsome backcover blurb. The book’s first story, “The Purple Smurfs,” makes sense only if some other Smurf story — one with the li’l dwarfs in their usual blue skins — had preceded it. And the first appearance of the Smurfs, in a Johan and Pirlouit story, “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute,” is printed here at the very end of the book. So not the original order of publication exactly.

But, and here we get to the truth of the publisher’s assertion, the first Smurf story and several of its immediate successors appeared in serial installments in Spirou magazine. Then the blue dwarfs began appearing in stand-alone books (i.e., “graphic novels”), and the first of these was, indeed, The Purple Smurfs. That volume, which is the first reprint in this book, included several other Smurf stories, presumably reprising them from the pages of Spirou.

Fortunately, the book isn’t being published to please nit-picky historians: it’s for Smurf fans. Or Peyo fans, among whom I count myself. The stories offer Smurf renderings — the characters and their surroundings — in their customary trappings, bigfoot little people capering across locales drawn in persuasive and charming detail. And herein the pictures are displayed at the more generous dimension of the initial publication rather than at the digest page size of the 15 Papercutz volumes published so far.

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


Peyo - The Life and Work coverCatalogue for a 2011 Exhibit of Peyo’s Work
Edited by Eric Leroy
Text by Serge Lemoine and Pierre Sterckx
256 pages
b/w  with some color
ISBN 978-2-9539743-0-0

The Life and Work is an exhibition catalogue and is, therefore, long on pictures and short on text (which appears in both English and French). Much of the text simply quotes Peyo or his admirers, and little of it is bothered by the absence of biographical detail, dates and the like. The pictures, usually reproducing original art, are engaging as Peyo always is. Perhaps the most valuable part of the book is a timeline at the end that pinpoints events in the professional life of the cartoonist. For more (albeit still only of the overview sort) biographical detail, visit the Usual Place, and Rants & Raves, Opus 270.

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