Opus Seven:

1.  Yada Yada Yada: The Tina Brown Travesty (8/25)

2.  Con-tributions: Strolling the Aisles in San Diego (8/25)

1. Yada Yada Yada.The first issue of Tina Brown's new magazine,
Talk, came out in early August.  Thanks to an exclusive interview
with Hillary Clinton in which the First Lady explained (1) her
husband by saying he'd been caught in a psychologically abusive
relationship between his mother and grandmother and (2) the
continuation of her marriage by saying that she and Bill love each
other--thanks chiefly to this sort of gossipy fare, the first issue
was a newsstand success.
     Other features in the inaugural issue's grab-bag: photo pieces on
what to wear to a prize fight and on Gwyneth Paltrow and others
dressing up to "play" different fantasy roles, Richard Butler's
rehash of the failure of the UN's inspection team to outmaneuver
Saddam Hussein, a blow-by-blow account by the guide who survived of
the murder last March of tourists in the Uganda jungle, and a
thoroughly unsensational recounting of how a infinitely minor poetess
named Laura Riding destroyed the marriage of her hostess while a
house guest in the summer of 1939.  JFK Jr. and George W. also
received the obligatory attention.
     It was, in short, People magazine on slightly larger pages.
     Oh--and, a Tina Brown trade-mark, dozens of glossy full-page ads,
photos bleeding to four sides, that begin the magazine.  Touting
mostly products that hope to find women purchasers, the ads display
luxuriously clad beautiful people, male occasionally but mostly
female, pouting in arrogant disdain as they effectively postpone our
encounter with editorial content for page after boring page.
Forty-eight of them, to be exact, before we reach the first page of
the magazine's first article.  And since these advertisers had to
contract for repeat performances over several more issues in order to
get any space in the first issue, we may expect this sort of thing to
go on interminably.
     The only reason I pause here over the latest Tina Brown enterprise
is that when she was editor of The New Yorker she talked
affectionately about cartoons.  That was to introduce the magazine's
annual "cartoon issue," admittedly --and so must be viewed as
promotional puffery rather than editorial conviction --but still, I
had hopes.  Tina dashed them: not a single cartoon anywhere in her
new magazine.
     I doubt we need another People magazine.  Particularly one without

return to top of page

2. Con-tributions. One of the tantalizing provocations about a
comicon is that you find things that you weren't looking for.  In
short, treasures.  At the San Diego Con, for instance, I found a copy
of a 1952 comic book I didn't know existed. Drawn by Jack Sparling,
it's entitled Pin-Up Pete.  And the wonderful thing about it is the
absolutely unabashed candor of the title. Right: it's a book of
pin-ups, fifties style.  Which is to say, not very daring: just leggy
ladies, one to a page. Also on each page, a small drawing of Pete
("Casanova of the Marine Corps") and a huge speech balloon in which
Pete tells us about the pin-up on that page--Pauline the Painter (who
got "mixed up" and left the ladies dressing room by a second exit
instead of the one Pete was waiting at), Cassie the Car Hop (who
responds to Pete's advances by hitting him in the face with the piece
of pie he ordered) and so on.  We find out pretty quickly that Pete,
far from being God's gift to women as he fancies himself, is actually
a pretty dumb cluck.  No other story.  None.  Not a single narrative
fragment on any page throughout the book.  The whole enterprise is an
excuse for Sparling to draw pin-ups.  The industry clearly couldn't
take all that honesty: after No. 1 of this comic, there are no other
     While I spend a good deal of time pawing through bins of Golden Age
comics at a comicon, I also saunter around the Small Press area, and
I pause in the aisles anytime I see a picture that's appealing.
     One of the latter is the cover of a new comic book in
black-and-white by Mike Kunkel--Herobear and the Kid.  Tyler is the
kid, and his relationship to a stuffed toy bear promises an
interesting variation on Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes: Tyler's bear,
however, becomes a giant superheroic bear wrapped in a crimson cape.
No. 1 of the title ends when we meet Herobear; the rest of the book
concerns Tyler's adventures at school, where, being small for his ten
years, he is systematically bullied by the bigger boys.  But the
thing that stopped me in the aisle was the artwork.The kid is all
by himself on a snow-swept landscape on the cover, towing his toy
bear by the hand and beaming from ear to ear.  Cute kid.Inside, we
encounter the book's most engaging visual novelty: Kunkel doesn't ink
his pencil drawings; he leaves them in pencil, adds conte crayon
shading, and gets the artwork shot as a drop-out halftone (which
leaves all white areas white, not grayed with tiny dots).  We can see
the circles that underlie the heads of the characters, the center
lines that establish nose and eye positions.  Makes every drawing
appear softer, rounder.Kunkel's experience in animation shines
through every page--not only in the style of the renderings but in
the pacing and action sequences.  In short, a treasure.  A treat.
(No mailing address other than electronic: astonishco@aol.com)
     Black and white comics have always appealed to me.  Some
subconscious hold-over, doubtless, from my youth, which was spent
enthralled by the daily newspaper comic strip.  And Anson Jew's
Saturday Nite comic book (Nos. 1 and 2) provides a stunning example
of how to do black-and-white.  Jew's line is clean and clear,
unvarying in width but expertly placed in every composition.  He
spots solid blacks with assurance and deftly applies gray zip-a-tone
for atmosphere and "color."  Each issue includes one or two long
stories and several one-to-three-page strips.  Jew sustains his
narrative frequently with pictures alone, and one story is a minor
key terror tale with no words at all.  Two of the longer stories are
slice-of-slacker-life exercises, and while I don't often enjoy these
going-nowhere tales, Jew keeps the stories interesting with the
restrained pace of his taut visuals.  (They go for $2.95 each; P.O.
Box 1625, Novato, CA 94947-1625.)
     What is there about slackers anyhow?  Now that we have an alternate
term for it, intellectual and occupational vagrancy is suddenly
fashionable.  Everyone wants to join the bum club, which, I assume,
will go slouching toward Bethlehem in cheerless out-of-cadence ennui
forever and ever.
     Well?  What can you expect in a society that makes popular icons out
of J.R. Ewing, Darth Vader, and other serial criminals?  Beats me.
     Meanwhile, the Love brothers are doing a little pummeling of their
own.  Operating as Gettosake Comics (9141 E. Stockton Blvd., Suite
250-301, Elk Grove, CA 95624), Jeremy, Robert, and Maurice Love have
produced a comic book and a magazine in launching a new line of
titles by and about African Americans.  The full-color comic book,
Chocolate Thunder ($2.95), features the title character as a highly
trained costumed vigilante who takes on the drug racketeers that
infest Brick City (pencilled by Jeremy and inked by Robert).  He
re-appears in the black-and-white magazine, Urban Epic ($4.95), which
also offers a humor strip about teenage life in the streets ("Say
What?!" by Maurice) and a saga about slaves and freedom ("Shabazz" by
Jeremy and Robert again).  The magazine also includes a gangsta movie
review column by Clyde.  The characters' dialogue rings inner-city
true throughout these productions, and the drawing style is crisp and
clean, portraying heroic characters in unabashed African American
imagery.  Unhappily, Gettosake Comics is not as well served by its
printer.  The grays of the Chocolate Thunder story in Urban Epic are
often muddy.  The color work in Chocolate Thunder, on the other hand,
is fine.  The latter is jammed with Chocolate Thunder's tangled
biography and so is heavily verbal, but when Chocolate Thunder goes
into action in Urban Epic, the tale picks up.  The artwork needs
background details--solid colors or gray tints or computer-generated
brick walls are too flat to convey a convincing sense of locale; but
the stunning facial renderings are a breath of fresh air in comics
and worth the trip.  Keep an eye out.

return to top of page

Return to Archive Index
return to archive main page

To find out about Harv's books, click here.

send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
art of the comic book - art of the funnies - reviews - order form - main page