Opus 24:

1. Roundup of Reviews (4/5)

1. Roundup of Reviews.  Conservative editorial cartoonist Bruce
Tinsley's staunchly Republican comic strip, Mallard Fillmore, got
into one of Andrews McMeel's reprint tomes (96 9x9" pages, $8.95) in
1996, and the book's still around, taking on trash television, the
White House, liberal media bias, the EPA, politically correct
classrooms, the IRS, and Al Gore.  Deploying caricatures of actual
political figures as well as an anthropomorphic duck, Tinsley
continues his assault on liberal sensibilities even as I write.  In
the local paper here, it ran on the editorial page until it finally
got too conservative for even this Republican bastion.  It
disappeared, its place taken by Shoe.

Editorial cartoonist Jimmy Margulies attacks from the opposite
direction in Pelican Publishing's paperback reprinting of his best,
Hitting Below the Belt (160 8x5" pages, $8.95).  Margulies
successfully deploys the visual-verbal nature of the medium
repeatedly, giving his pictures meaningful punch with the addition of
a few words.  In a comment on recent misadventures in Montana (the
siege of a militia stronghold, the home of the Unabomber),
Margulies's cartoon displays the word Montana in giant letters, the N
shaped like a magnet to which a bunch of nuts cling.  

Ted Rall is back with another original graphic-novel length
composition for paperback book publication, My War with Brian (NBM,
80 6x9" black-and-white pages; $8.95).  In his usual linoleum-block
style of rendering, Rall gives us the grisly details of his teenage
encounter with the school bully, Brian Koff.  After being persecuted
and beaten himself for years, Rall gains weight and height when
puberty kicks in one summer, and he promptly retaliates, attempting
to kill Brian in repeated bloody engagements.  Brian is finally
humbled, and Rall concludes the book by saying: "Brian made me
stronger, but he also made me meaner, less trusting, hateful of
hyper-masculine men." In short, another stunningly tasteless
extravaganza by the same fella who brought us The Worst Thing I've
Ever Done, but this book, to the extent that it is actually
autobiographical, reveals better than his other oeuvre why he feels
compelled to smear such highly visible cartoonists as Art Spiegelman
(as Rall did last summer in The Village Voice).  As Rall says, "My
war with Brian turned out to be a precursor to hundreds of conflicts
with people who equated my reasonable demeanor with weakness."

Carol Lay's Joy Ride, one of the last publications from Kitchen Sink
Press (112 8.5x11" black-and-white pages, $11.95), serves up 45 Story
Minute strips and the mini-epic Joy Ride in Lay's delightfully
mannered design-conscious style.  In the long story, an old woman
occupies the body of a younger woman in order to aid her in following
a diet that will reduce her from 438 pounds to something more normal.
  Along the way, we find out a good deal about compassion and the kind
of accommodation necessary for living together.  Lay's work is always
a treat to look at and humanizing to read.  Not to be missed.

And if you're amazed at all by the career and achievements of the
underground's most legendary cartoonist, you won't want to miss
Fantagraphics' 7th volume of the R. Crumb Sketchbook (160 9x12"
black-and-white pages, $19.95).  This series is one of the most
remarkable publishing enterprises of the age, tovarich: after all,
only sketchbooks are likely to give us insight into the idling engine
of the mind of a cartoonist, and Crumb was both copious and prolific
in keeping sketchbooks.  This volume embraces 18 months from mid-1969
to the end of 1970.  By the summer of 1969, Crumb was probably the
most celebrated of the underground cartoonists, and in August, copies
of Zap No. 4 were seized because of the incest in Crumb's story
therein about Joe Blow and his family.  By the end of 1970, Crumb's
Despair had appeared, perhaps his most sustained effort at social
criticism.  The pictures in Volume 7 of the Sketchbook were all drawn
between these two events and are more graphic sexually than some of
the earlier volumes; and by the end of the volume, Crumb is well into
his elaborately cross-hatched style.

Also from Fantagraphics, another landmark in cartooning history finds
preservation between two covers.  This is Arnold Roth's Poor Arnold's
Almanac (116 8x10" black-and-white pages, $14.95), a weekly comic
strip that ran from 1959 to 1961.  This book includes all 104 strips
of this nearly forgotten masterpiece, plus five previously
unpublished strips.  Roth's antic style of drawing--his pointy noses,
beady eyes, and gangly anatomy--is perfectly matched to the manic
sense of humor it embodies.  Each of the Almanac strips offers
humorous vignettes in individual mostly unconnected panels,
commentary on a single subject each week--Valentine's Day, George
Washington's Birthday, dueling, books, etc.  Roth's mode achieves a
perfect blend of word and picture: the words present a fact, the
pictures a comedic comment on that fact.  Engineers design everything
in modern use, proclaims the text.  And the picture underneath shows
a man changing a diaper on an infant and saying, "Well, nearly
everything."  And much of the fun resides in the pictures themselves:
Roth's gift is drawing hilarious pictures, after all.

Wiley's latest Non Sequitur offering from Andrews McMeel is Beastly
Things (a giant 256 8.5x11" page production, only $14.95).  The
strips run two or three to a page, so they are reproduced fairly
large.  And it's a good thing, too: one of the delights to be found
in Wiley's work is in the visual details--tiny video-cassette cases,
keyboards, salt and pepper shakers, in and out baskets, bemused
cats--and, in a saloon of yesteryear's wild west, wholly extraneous
to the gag espresso machines tucked away in one corner--all rendered
in exhaustive detail.  This is an elegant production with an embossed
cover, and, on every page, the strips run against a tan background
that reproduces Wiley's signature penguin.  The book does not present
strips in chronological order but groups them thematically--sections
on Relationships, The Examining Room, The Arts and Media, Legal
Briefs, etc.  Throughout, Wiley's squatty fireplug people, strangely
mute because mouthless unless actually speaking, somehow enduring the
absurdities of our world.

Frank Frazetta's Icon from Underwood Books is a giant (175 9x12"
page) hardcover enterprise that might well be the last Frazetta book
I buy ($35).  After this, what's left?  It's a biography and a
gallery of all his principal works.  Everything he's ever done is
represented--comic books, comic strips, movie posters, book covers,
illustrations, prints.  About Al Capp, for whom Frazetta pencilled
Sunday strips 1953-1961 (and was paid enough that he had no other
regular employment), Frazetta says: "Al Capp was a really miserable
s.o.b., but I'll never knock his talent; I think he was quite the
artist."  They split up when Capp proposed cutting Frazetta's salary
by half.  The illustrations include all my favorites--a page from
Little Annie Fanny, some pen-and-ink sketches, movie posters for
After the Fox and The Night They Raided Minsky's (among others), five
Death Dealers, both versions of Desperation and Vampirella, The
Countess, Captive Princess, the Golden Girl, the Snow Giants,
Egyptian Queen, Cat Girl.  Here we have Frazetta's male warriors with
their potent chunky musculature and his women in their naked fleshy
amplitude, cavorting against backdrops of castles in ethereal
Maxfield Parrish hues or dimly lighted forests and swamps, oozing
sinister threats and prehistoric monsters, or mirrored in glassy lake
surfaces.  Here, a typical example: the Princess and the Panther, the
luminous flesh tones of the former contrasting against the snarling
darkness of the animal next to her and the shrouded forest behind,
fading into obscure blacks.  Some of his latest stuff is fairly stiff
and mannered as if he is simply going through the motions (motions he
has, by now, perfected); but none of this should detract from the
juicy triumphs of his best work, which is all well-represented here.

The third volume of the Pin-up saga came out last year from Blase
Publishing (48 9x12" pages in color; $16.99).  This enterprise, you
will recall, tells the story of Dottie, the girl a young soldier
named Joe Willys left behind during World War II.  She eventually
finds work modeling for cartoonist who is drawing a morale-building
comic strip for circulation to armed services publications.  The tale
is laced (pun intended--as you'll soon see) with references to actual
persons or events associated with WWII.  The drawing on the cover,
for instance, is Milton Caniff's celebrated Miss Lace--but with
Bettie Page's face and hair-do.  The cartoonist is named "Milton" (no
last name--or is this it?) and he signs his strips with his name in a
box.  Dottie's full name is Dorothy Partington, which, for those of
you who have been paying attention, was the name of a model Caniff
hired to impersonate Miss Lace on the stage during chalk-talk shows
he and other cartoonists did for wounded servicemen during the War.
The books in this series are chuck-full of references to actual
persons--Will Eisner, Earl MacPherson, John F. Kennedy, even Norman
Rockwell allusions, and so on.  In this last volume, the War ends and
so does Milton's strip, leaving Dottie unemployed.  She finds work as
a model, posing for a sleazy photographer named Irving Klaw and his
sister, Paula--their real names.  Yup: Dottie becomes Bettie Page.
She is eventually re-united with her Joe, who, by now, is a blind
ex-G.I.  Given the sequence of events, you might think that the famed
Bettie Page got her hairstyle from the heroine of Caniff's Male Call
strip.  The timing's right.

Somewhere I read that there are two more volumes in this series but
that neither of them has been translated into English yet.  Be

Stay 'tooned.

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