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Why Jim Steranko left comics, in his own words: “I felt I’d achieved a certain measure of my vision and found new areas to challenge my imagination. I’ve always been drive by the tyranny of my visions and never being satisfied with anything. I’m like a shark which must swim or die. I have no choice in the matter but to keep creating compulsively almost every waking minute. It’s a curse and a gift at the same time.”

Steranko spread

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S. Clay Wilson VolThe Mythology of S. Clay Wilson, Volume 1:
Pirates in the Hearthland

Edited by Patrick Rosenkranz
232 8x11-inch pages
b/w and some color
2014 Fantagraphics

Although the content is mostly a healthy dose of Wilson’s art from c. 1968-75, plus a few of his more than one thousand comic strips drawn while a teenager and some photographs, many in color, Rosenkranz has manufactured a biographical text from interviews he conducted with many of Wilson’s friends. The narrative takes Wilson from his college career at the University of Nebraska to his arrival in San Francisco, hub of the underground comix movement, with an 18-month detour en route at the University of Kansas.

Robert Crumb may be the icon of comix, but Wilson was its creative goad. Rosenkranz quotes Crumb: “I was immediately overwhelmed by the force of his personality. I’d never met anyone like him before. He struck me right away as a larger-than-life, archetypal character, a synthesis of the boisterous, expansive, beer-swilling Midwestern American and a decadent, eccentric, dandified aesthete. I studied the portfolio of drawings he had handed to me as he kept up a rapid, inspired patter, full of white-hot enthusiasm for a vast gamut of cultural subjects. ... In fact, I was being blasted away, dissolved, atomized! ... I was never quite the same after meeting Wilson.”

Crumb continues: “The drawings were rough, crazy, lurid, coarse, deeply American, a taint of white-trash degeneracy. Every inch of space was packed solid with action and crazy details. The content was something like I’d never seen before, anywhere, the level of mayhem, violence, dismemberment, naked women, loose body parts, huge, obscene sex organs, a nightmare vision of hell-on-earth never so graphically illustrated before in the history of art. After the breakthrough that Wilson had somehow made, I no longer saw any reason to hold back my own depraved id in my work.”

Victor Moscoso is also quoted: “Every artist censors himself, and Wilson blew the doors off the church. Bada boom. Crumb set up the form, and Wilson came along and put it into earth orbit.”

SMost of those Rosenkranz interviewed spoke about Wilson’s charismatic personality and his reckless partying. The text is crammed with anecdotes about excessive drinking and other wild behaviors.

Insightful as these textual interludes are about the craziness of Wilson’s social life and peccadilloes, it’s the pictures that show us how his mind works. Rosenkranz’s description attempts the impossible—and succeeds: “Wilson’s comic stories go full bore from the first frame to the last. ... His gleefully pornographic scenes of sexual frenzy and wanton slaughter are often insightful interpretations of the base desires that fuel man’s inhumanity to man. His characters are propelled by greed, lust, and villainy: the basic fuels for our primal urges. ... Yet even in the midst of the goriest carnage or worst excess of the flesh, there is always humor—at someone’s expense, of course.

“Not jokes, not punch lines, but anatomical exaggeration and giddy violence, the burst of ecstasy at seeing your enemies humiliated, along with authentically brutal dialogue that baldly declares what most of us are loath to admit. ... Wilson amazed his fans with the increasing complexity of his minutely detailed ‘dense packs’—his intricate single-page compositions that had to be studied carefully to determine who was dong what with which and to whom.”

But Wilson has the final word, the truth of personal testimony: “I’m doing these things because I like drawing dirty pictures. It’s enjoyable because it’s dirty. It’s the idea of breaking a taboo.”

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


Goodbye God?
By Sean Michael Wilson and Hunt Emerson
120 6x9-inch pages, b/w
May 2015 New Internationalist

Emerson is one of Britain's iconoclastic cartoonists, author of graphic novel adaptations of such classics as Dante’s Inferno and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and this book is another feather in his bad-boy cap. Under the subtitle “A Visual Exploration of Science vs Religion,” writer Wilson takes a look at the science vs religion debate in what he supposes is a graphic novel format and brings together a wealth of facts, figures and the views of some distinguished scientists, philosophers and atheists — and Emerson draws up this vision, filling pages with single panel and comic strip depictions of various personages looking at the arguments that rage over Creationism vs Evolution, belief vs atheism, etc.

The exploration is mostly verbal; Emerson’s pictures, while, as always, amusingly antic, contribute no substance to the arguments raging. He pictures Darwin, for instance, and Darwin utters one of his utterances in a speech balloon. It would be more graphic novel-like if Darwin were shown fishing and suddenly catching a fish with legs about to walk onto dry land.

Instead, Emerson’s pictures are mostly just decorations for Wilson’s words. And that’s too bad because the cartoonist’s own views on the topics under consideration would doubtless add to Wilson’s explications.

Goodbye God? coverTalking with reporter David Bentley at birminghammail.co.uk, Emerson, named one of the 75 European Masters of Cartooning of the 20th Century by the noted French Comics Academy, explained how he came to collaborate with Wilson on this new tome exploring the age-old debate of whether God exists and where life came from.

Said he: "I got involved in the Goodbye God? project for three main reasons. The first is straightforward: it was paid work, and in the comics business we cannot afford to be too choosy about that. Secondly, I am always interested in the ways that comics can be used as a medium, and this project is one of the more radical and intriguing that I have come across. The third reason is that I am very opposed to the teaching of Fundamentalist, Creationist views to children. I think Creationism is wrong, is contrary to scientific truth, and is a dangerous and retrograde idea that should not be imposed on children’s minds."

He added: "Further than that, I disagree strongly with the teaching of any religious beliefs in school, and in so-called faith schools of whatever creed. State education should be secular — and, of course, free — and should not be dictated or shaped by the demands of patriarchal, morally authoritarian institutions whose primary purpose is to further their own views and beliefs at the expense of truth and freedom of thought.

"Am I an atheist?,” Emerson continued. “I suppose I am, though I don’t like to make a big fuss about it. I was raised in an average, not fanatical, Methodist household, and I hope that I carry the morals, gentleness and wisdom of those concepts. I have no regrets about it — but I can’t in all honesty believe in the supernatural basis for that or any religion."

Goodbye God page

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Step Aside, Pops coverKate Beaton has a sequel to her best selling Hark! A Vagrant. Entitled Step Aside, Pops, it came out in the fall. Here (in italics) is what Beaton says about it:

The comics in the new book are more varied than in the first, playing with form and moving away more from the history/literature parody type stuff more often. There are definitely more comics that focus on things like feminist jokes. It’s all just about what I’m interested in making at the time, so it changes. ...

And a lot of times, if you’re telling a woman’s story from the past, there’s going to be something in there about how she was overlooked by her peers or over time. It’s just there. But these women, underdogs sometimes, are usually someone’s hero, someone who wants their story to be told. So I make these comics about women, and I get a lot of mail that’s like, “Check this other person out!! YOU WILL LOVE HER I LOVE HER!!!”

And I’m thrown all these stories, and of course they are interesting. And when you get into it, you get all riled up, like — yeah, people should know about this person! And this person! And this person! Why didn’t I know about this person?

I think it started a long time ago, specifically, when I made a comic about Rosalind Franklin. Lots of mail from people trying to get me to read about this female scientist or that who was maligned by history or in her time. Really passionate. It’s very touching, in the end, telling these stories is just sharing the love you have. That love is contagious.

I mean history is huge, you’re not going to know everyone, but with women, you really are going to know less. So I find out about people like Ida Wells or Sara Josephine Baker and I’m pacing the room thinking, “I gotta make a comic! People have to know!!”

And I start to look at my work, and I’m thinking that if you leave out these people whose lives were hard and who were overlooked in history, and instead you just go for the easy targets, you’re just making comics about dead white presidents and leaving stories like Ida’s out yet again. It’s not like my comics are some kind of cultural masterpiece, they’re just dinky comics, but you know what I mean? So I made comics about Ida, and they are in the book, and I hope I did a good job because I wanted to celebrate her.

Beaton Femme Fatale

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Frank Miller, who defined Batman for a generation of comics readers—and set the pace for darkly flawed superheroes — is back for another turn with the Cowled Crusader in The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. This 8-part series extends to a trilogy that started with the 1986 limited series The Dark Knight Returns and continued in 2001-02 with The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Miller, who wrote as well as drew these two titles, is working with co-writer Brian Azzarello (Wonder Woman, 100 Bullets) on this title.

"Batman remains my favorite comic book hero and a sequel to Dark Knight is daunting," Miller said in a statement, "but we'll do our best."

Azzarello added: "It's been an amazing experience collaborating with Frank these past six months. I think we have an epic story that these characters truly deserve."

Sporting a stunning black-and-white cover, the book, penciled by Andy Kubert with inks by Klaus Janson, is an extravagant — i.e., expensive — production with glossy thick paper, a few pages that are nothing but shadowy photographs of dark, cloudy nights, and the astonishing inclusion of a comic-within-a-comic, a mini-comicbook bound into the larger enterprise — all an elaborate testament to Miller’s market value in the industry. No comic book artist that I can recall has ever been given this kind of treatment. So the question is: Is it worth it?

Hard to say. I had to read Book One twice to make any sense of it, and what sense I can find is ambiguous at best. But Book One is a setup for the remaining seven volumes, and a setup is supposed to do two things (at least): introduce the characters and provoke readers’ curiosity. And this issue does all of that.

At various intervals throughout, we in action police commissioner Yindel, Batman, Wonder Woman, Superwoman, and the Atom (who stars in the mini-comic). Nothing conclusive about any of this. But none of it is supposed to be conclusive: it’s all preparation.

Finally, in the book’s closing sequence, Batman on a motorcycle is pursued by the police in several squadcars. When they catch up to him, a battle ensues. Batman is nicked by a bullet and downed. The cops then gang up on him, beating him to a bloody pulp.

But when one cop approaches the prone body, Batman seemingly revives and attacks the cops surrounding him. At this point, police commissioner Yindel shows up, pointing a pistol at Batman and telling him to stop. She bends over the bleeding Dark Knight and asks: “Where’s Bruce Wayne?”


And as Yindel pulls the mask off Batman, we see that Batman is — a woman.

Who says: “Bruce Wayne is dead.”

In this hodge-podge, we can discern, vaguely, a theme. We see a police force somehow corrupted and diverted from its traditional purpose. And we see various superheroes who’ve given up their functions.

And Bruce Wayne is “dead.”

The stage is now set for his return.

The artwork, by two seasoned veterans, leaves nothing to be desired. The pictures are models of clarity and competence. The storytelling echoes Miller at his best — alternating, as needed, between vast vistas and quick-cut fast-moving sequences, focusing on telling aspects of the action.

More to come.

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Roses in December coverCrankshaft, the eponymous protagonist of the comic strip by Tom Batiuk and drawn by Chuck Ayers, emerges from newsprint in a new collection of comic strip reprints entitled Roses in December. The book offers two Crankshaft storylines about characters who find themselves dealing with the incurable condition of Alzheimer’s disease.

Batiuk has delved into sensitive subjects like this before, notably, the death from cancer of Lisa, a character in his other strip, Funky Winkerbean. Sometimes Batiuk seems a bit too enamored of the serious work that comic strips can do, but he is undeniably doing a service to many of his readers. The book includes a resource guide for caregivers, patients, and practitioners.


Roses in December art

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Here are some of the entries in Iran’s anti-ISIS contest of last summer, which called for drawings of “crimes committed by the Islamic State” (i.e., the Cutthroat CalipHATE). More than 1,000 cartoons were submitted; 270 were chosen for the competition. One drawing below shows members of the CalipHATE leaving their brains and hearts at the door; the other shows the cutthroat hooligans destroying historic artifacts as they have done in places like Mosul in Northern Iraq.



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COMIC BOOK PEOPLE coverComic Book People: Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s
By Jackie Estrada
160 9x12-inch pages
b/w plus color section
2014 Exhibit A Press

When I first heard of this book I thought, Well, sure — but what’s so fascinating about a bunch of old photographs? And then I witnessed a copy at the Exhibit A table during the Denver Comic-Con last spring, and — wow! — was I wrong. My first error was in supposing that this tome would consist solely of photos; but Estrada has captioned each photo, supplying information about the person in the pic and dating it. Captions and photos together make the volume a fascinating nostalgic trip into the history of comic-cons, San Diego’s in particular. Fifteen chapters are mustered under thematic titles — The Giants (Eisner, Feiffer, Kirby), Golden and Silver Age Comic Book People, Writers, Artists, Writer/Artists, Comic Strips, Cartoonists, Animators, etc. So I bought a copy. And I bought Volume 2, too; it came out in time for the Sandy Eggo Con in July, and it is also available at exhibitapress.com.

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I am chagrined to admit that I didn’t realize that various fugitives from the underground comix of yore — and some of their present-day fellow travelers — are still actively producing comics. The evidence is Mineshaft, a small (60 6x9-inch pages, b/w) but earnest magazine of sketches and an occasional comic strip. And it’s been going for some time: the issue I’ve laid hands on is No.31. It features R. Crumb’s Dream Diary, Billy Childish At the Oakwood Mental Hospital, Art Spiegelman’s Sketchbook, Plot Robot by Kim Deitch, and even Bill Griffith’s Zippy, plus work by Nina Bunjevac, Justin Green, Christoph Mueller, David Collier, Tony O’Neill, Pat Moriarity, Aleksandar Todorovic, Aaron Lange, Rika Deryckere, and William Crook, Jr. Here are some sample pages.




Not much here of the outrageously offensive convention-shattering oeuvre of that deliriously stoned yesteryear, but enough, withal, to be interesting, engaging — even provocative. Back issues are available; see mineshaftmagazine.com — which is worth visiting solely to view covers of previous issues by all those renowned personages we’ve come to know and love. And subscriptions (three issues for $27) can be had by sending the money to Gioia Palmieri, c/o Mineshaft, P.O. Box 1226, Durham, NC 27702. (So maybe Palmieri is the driving force: this issue’s 1,500 copies were printed by Grass Roots Press in Raleigh, less than 50 miles from Durham. And it’s an excellent printing, too.)

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Comique con logoComiqueCon, the first ever convention “for women, by women,” packed the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, on November 7, reported Dave Herdon at pressandguide.com. Designed to celebrate women in comics and cartooning, nothing like it had ever been organized, and founder Chelsea Liddy decided it was time for a change. She was tired of seeing “women in comics” as a single panel at shows.

“It was time that we had a space of our own to show off what women are capable of,” she said. “There are a lot of talented women out there in the field, people need to know about all of them.”          

“Creators from across the country came to display at the one day show,” Herdon said. “Women from Connecticut to Los Angeles and everywhere in between were set up in the annex to the Museum, while the Museum proper hosted the panels and other activities. Exact attendance figures weren’t available [at the time of his November 8 posting], but early estimates were that more than 350 people had come into the show by midway through the day.”

Some of the main stage guests included: Leila Abdelrazaq, graphic artist and author of Baddawi; Nancy Collins, author of Vampirella; Marguerite Dabaie, author of The Hookah Girl; Alex de Campi, author of Smoke/Ashes, Archie vs. Predator, Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman and No Mercy; Nicole Georges, author of Calling Dr. Laura and Mikki Kendall, co-author of Swords of Sorrow.

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


Montana and Tokar photo
Bob Montana and Betty Tokar in the early 1940s.


The original of Betty, the girl next door to Archie Andrews, is Betty Tokar Jankovich, once a girlfriend of cartoonist Bob Montana, who invented the Riverdale gang, according to George Gene Gustines at nytimes.com. Discovered by journalist/documentarian Gerald Peary, a passionate Archie fan who set out to find all the inspirations for the Archie characters, Ms. Jankovich at 94 remembers dating Montana. After graduating from high school, she and her sister Helen worked in a cafeteria in the same building that housed MLJ Comics. They met Montana and Harry Lucey, another Archie cartoonist, and they went out on a double date, after which, the couples switched partners, Lucey dating Helen, whom he eventually married. Betty, meanwhile, soon broke off with Montana: “I really liked him,” she said, “but I didn’t think I would be much of an asset to his career — I wasn’t educated enough for him. So we broke up and went our separate ways.” She eventually married the police chief of Perth Amboy. Montana, Betty said, “had a very nice life, and I married a very nice young man. It turned out beautifully.”

See "Archie's Betty," a documentary film by Gerald Peary.

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While all the folks at Archie Comics were drumming up publicity for the “new” Archie (No.1 arrived in July), co-publisher Nancy Silberkleit advanced her anti-bullying campaign into the comic-con realm. Her first overt effort in this campaign was publishing her “heartfelt comic book, Rise Again,” penciled by the late Stan Goldberg and written by John Wilcox. Then she organized the first White Plains (NY) comic-con with an anti-bullying theme, “It’s Time.”

Rise Above full cover“My idea behind this con was to emphasize the anti-bully message,” she wrote me. “Many organizations are working very hard to stop person-to-person as well as group acts of bullying. Any individual or group that acts to target an individual with aggression or creates an environment of humiliation is wrong. For the past decade there has been a very strong vocal movement to put an end to all of that and to understand the behavior so when it starts we know how not to let it escalate. Personally I promote graphic literacy as a way to communicate tough topics such as bullying. The rich graphics are filled with information that can prompt the reader to internalize the visual information and begin to form their owns values in a manner that makes sense to themselves.”

Being, now, in the comics industry for six years, Silberkleit has connections that she reached out to, asking them to attend the White Plains fandango—“and bring along their talents and utilize their graphics to communicate anti- bullying messages.”

Stan Lee helped out by recording a brief but forceful (everything Stan says is forcefully said) message on video, which was played throughout the day. At least 25 comic book artists and creators joined in — including artists from Papercutz, Archie Comics, Beetle Bailey Comics, Valiant and others. Three panel discussions were featured, examining how comic books are made and how they can benefit learning.

The Con convened May 16 on the upper floor of the White Plains Public Library, and it was, according to exhibiting artist J.M. DeSantis, “packed with people for a good portion of the day, and even the mayor of White Plains (Thomas Roach) came down to meet all of the artists and vendors. I have to honestly say, of all the conventions I have been to, this one seemed to have the largest outpouring of support for those who were exhibiting at the show.”

Another of the exhibiting artists, Michelle Witchipoo, reported that “the moment the doors opened, the entire library was packed. The crowds got to see indie artists, panels and a tiny bit of cosplay. The purpose of this comic con was to raise awareness for bullying.”

The Con was “well organized,” DeSantis said, “ — especially considering this was its first year. I attribute that both to Ms. Silberkleit’s desire to make everyone feel comfortable and at home. She even, personally, stopped by everyone’s table to check on how they were doing with an offer of refreshments—unheard of at a convention, though it would be great if more con hosts did this, in some form or another. Also, there was the obviously wonderful advice and support she received from my friend, Ray Felix (yes, the same guy who runs Bronx Heroes), who was honored with an award at the culmination of the show because of his help organizing the convention.”

DeSantis reported that she was pleased at the number of people who attended (an unspecified number but enough, as she says, to keep the venue packed all day long) and is glad to know that the Con will return next year.

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


This One Summer cover
In early October came Banned Books Week, for which the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom produces its annual “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books” list. Three graphic novels are on this year’s edition: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (its offense: gambling, bad language, political viewpoint), Raina Telgemeier’s Drama (candid depiction of homosexuality, “a very chaste scene of two boys kissing”), and This One Summer by Marilko and JilllianTamaki (miscarriage, teen pregnancy, profanity)—all books “marked by both high quality and high popularity,” said Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs, “the latter certainly a function in drawing fire.”

While it is alarming to notice how frequently graphic novels that are popular with young readers are making the ALA list, this year’s roster is based upon only 311 complaints “made formally in writing.” That’s not a big number, 311, out of the millions of books being read by millions of young people. Still, it’s sad to realize how active and dedicated some would-be censors are.

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