Opus 42:

1. Adult Comics (12/6)

2. Forthcoming Comics and Other News (12/6)

1. Adult Comics. No, not the kind with nekkid people in them. By "adult comics," I mean comics that will interest adult readers. Grown-up comics. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with funnybooks for juveniles. Juvenile literature is a legitimate genre. But as Will Eisner has on occasion said, if comics are to appeal to adult readers, they must reflect the concerns of adults, not the preoccupations of adolescents. Adolescents want sex; adults want to survive and thrive.

If anyone should ask you what an adult comic book is, you could refer them to White Out. Oni has brought out all four issues of the comic book in a single volume for merely $10.95 (6336 SE Milwaukie Avenue - Suite 30, Portland, OR 97202). The story is a relatively simple whodunit thriller, but it takes place in the Anarctica, where it’s sometimes so cold a person’s lungs can freeze in a few seconds. A U.S. Marshall assigned there, Carrie Stetko, stumbles onto a corpse and in finding the murderer, she uncovers the plot the murder was designed to conceal and discovers the betrayal of friendship. But she also finds a new friend.

This qualifies as a mature work for several reasons. First, the personages depicted are mature, and their feelings and concerns are those of mature people. Secondly, writer Greg Rucka is able to sustain suspense and interest for all 100-plus pages by weaving at least two threads into his narrative fabric (complication being an element of mature art), one of them having to do with the personality of his protagonist. How did she get the way she is? And how will she grow or develop as a result of this adventure?

Third, artist Steve Lieber displays a sure-footed skill in using the medium to heighten the drama of key moments with layout variations and to pace the action, creating mood as well as narrative sense. But he does this without resorting to spectacular visual tricks: instead, his breakdowns march forward in an even cadence, which Lieber deviates from only on the occasions he uses to emphasize story developments. And Lieber draws well, deploying the black-and-white resources of the book to excellent advantage.

Finally, the obvious is never belabored: Rucka and Lieber know when to let the pictures do the work, a sure sign that the creators are secure in their skills, neither needing to overwhelm the other with pyrotechnical displays of either verbiage or imagery.

Another stunning example of cartooning for adults comes from TwoMorrows Publishing (1812 Park Drive, Raleigh, NC 27605): Streetwise (160 8 x 11-inch black-and-white pages on slick paper for $19.95) is an anthology of short autobiographical pieces by thirty-two cartoonists, including Eddie Campbell, Evan Dorkin, Gray Morrow, Herb Timpe, Alan Kupperberg, Alan Weiss, Scott Shaw!, Walt Simonson, Sal Amendola, John Workman, Roy Thomas (with John Severin), and Don Simpson--among others. Inspiration for the book came from the lead-off piece, "Street Code," a story about life on New York’s Lower East Side by Jack Kirby, who grew up there. (And if you’ve ever visited the Tenement Museum in New York, you’ll know just how accurately Kirby’s visuals are here: his memory is clearly flawless.)

Pencilled in the 1980s but never inked, the 10-page story displays Kirby’s distinctive mature style brilliantly. (In every modeling chip of black, I see the classic Boys’ Ranch manner, my favorite Kirby period.) The story was originally published by Richard Kyle in his Argosy, but Kyle felt the reproduction wasn’t as good as the pencils deserved. TwoMorrows does Kirby’s pencils justice here--including an astonishing two-page spread street scene. Simply superb.

With Kirby’s story as the germ of the idea, editor Jon Cooke quickly won publisher John Morrow’s approval for the project, and they approached a score or more of the industry’s top talent with a proposition: "Contribute a short story, ten pages or less, relating a real-life event. It could have occurred during their comics career or childhood; it might involve a lost love or a dramatic turning point in their life, or even a quiet moment of reflection."

The result, as Morrow attests, was "overwhelming"--a harvest of "remarkably gripping stories" from "generous souls who took a chance on a young publisher." The contents fall into sections--childhood, fathers and sons, careers, and a miscellaneous category dubbed "streetwise."

Nick Cardy’s pencilled pages present a series of vignettes of the same Lower East Side childhood that Kirby dramatizes, while Murphy Anderson’s penciled panels resurrect an incident from his youth in a more suburban environ. These are the only un-inked stories (but the pencils are, like Kirby’s, fine finishes, so we scarcely notice the absence of ink).

Art Spiegelman is represented by the earliest incarnation of his "Maus"; Sam Glanzman reminisces about his life and career while at the same time presenting us with visuals that depict his current lifestyle. Brent Anderson turns in a haunting piece with an echoing subplot; Rick Veitch, a dream-like sexual incident that might have happened; and Joe Kubert, a wordless fantasy about gargoyles at Notre Dame in Paris.

Barry Windsor-Smith does his patented cross-hatched style in a fantasy about UFOs and mind control, and Sergio Aragones tells us about the time he went swimming in a gorilla suit. Michael T. Gilbert produces a exquisitely realized anecdote about drug addiction (with an appropriately bitterly ironic "dedication" to Timothy Leary).

Three pieces are mostly text--by C.C. Beck, Joe Simon, and Alex Toth (whose distinctive hand-lettering doubtless qualifies as a visual art). Previously unpublished, Beck’s recitation (from P.C. Hammerlinck’s files of the Fawcett Collectors of America and decorated with Beck art) spans his entire career and includes several insightful nuggets. (Among them, the time one of the Fawcett brothers wandered into the art department while eating a nut candy bar. Beck went to lunch, leaving an unfinished drawing of Captain Marvel on his desk. When he returned, the Fawcett brother had disappeared--but he left a reminder on Beck’s drawing: carefully placed on Captain Marvel’s crotch were two small nuts from that candy bar.)

The book is launched with a Foreword by Will Eisner and an introduction by Charles Hatfield, which, together, trace the growth and development of autobiographical comics and rightly assert that this genre is a symptom of maturity in comics. Some autobiographical efforts are pretty lame, Hatfield acknowledges, but this book is a persuasive demonstration of the validity of the claim.

And the book itself is a beautiful example of the book-maker’s craft--including an evocative full-color cover by Steve Rude depicting a young Jack Kirby encountering his first science fiction.

For more about Kirby, maybe you should consult my book, The Art of the Comic Book, which devotes a good part of a chapter to the King. Click here for more information about the book.

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2. Forthcoming Comics and Other News. By the time your read this, Chris Eliopoulos’s second try at a comic book version of his Desperate Times ought to be on the stands. Like his early attempt with Image, the book features a cover to which Erik Larsen has contributed a babe drawing, but the interior is all Eliopoulos. Starring misfit roommates Marty and Toad, the strip regales us with their usually bumbling attempts at picking up chicks and, generally, trying to survive. They are impeded in these enterprises by Marty’s sister Linda, Linda’s ex-boyfriend Doofus who appears always in his theme-park costume as a dog named Doofus, and a three-toed sloth named Kennedy, who drinks beer excessively and chases wimmin. Eliopoulos displays a thorough understanding of the quirks and works of the medium: he uses visual exaggeration expertly and springs his gags with an exquisite sense of timing. He draws with similarly adroit mastery, using a bold line and spotting blacks for effect.

The book also includes an installment of "Alienz," the misadventures of a refugee from another universe.

"The biggest problems we have in comics today is getting new readers," Eliopoulos said recently via e-mail. "People have to seek out comic books, but if they’re not accessible, they may never know the wonderful stories being told out there."

In an effort to increase accessibility, Desperate Times takes print form in this comic book published by After Hours Press and Jam Books--and, simultaneously, in an "e-book" on the Net. Fans can choose which they want. Downloading the e-book will cost only $1.

"Hopefully," said Eliopoulos, "with a humor book that reads like a comic strip, it will appeal to folks who would never dream of picking up a comic book." Desperate Times sequences will also be published in Cracked. All this outreach is worth watching because of what it may suggest about the future distribution of cartoon products.

Meanwhile, the expert penciling of Phil Hester and the stunning inking of Ande Parks will be on superlative display as DC returns to Green Arrow, No. 1 out in February. I first ran into this spectacular team in Mike Manley’s Action Planet Comics where they did "Uncle Slam and Fire Dog," a tongue-in-cheek treatment of a superheroicism. Much of this series has now been collected in Uncle Slam & Fire Dog: The Collection (100 6x10" paperback pages from Ande’s Books, 1209 Summit Street, Baldwin City, KS 66006; $12). Here, you can learn just what made Uncle Slam a retarded superhero with an eye that’s "all funny" and how his guardian, the sentient robot Fire Dog, keeps him out of trouble. It’s a hoot and a treat for the eyes and I can’t wait to see what they do to Kevin Smith’s treatment of ol’ GA.

And over at Sirius, we have a brace of goodies on the horizon. First is Mark Crilley’s 32 Pages in which the creator of Akiko displays the miscellaneous sketches and comics he created while hanging out in coffee shops and shopping malls. A genuine treat, a cartoonist’s visual playground--an absolutely unqualified delight. Each page is a separate enterprise--a goofy drawing, a tiny comic strip, an adventure into morphing shapes and narratives, a visual pun. These are the creations of a cartoonist’s mind as it idles, verbal and visual wit and nonsense galore. Not since the very first giddy galoot productions of R. Crumb have I seen such playful comedic inventiveness (except in the annual self-published sketchbooks of Jim Engel).

The second treat from Sirius is Poison Elves: Lusiphur & Lirilith, a four-issue mini-series written by Drew Hayes and drawn by Jason Alexander. The first issue is an exercise is adolescent angst and misfiring communication. A perfectly engaging story, but it’s Alexander’s wispy drawing style that gives flight to this otherwise mundane slice-of-life tale.

And it’s nice to see Randy Reynaldo back on the stands with Rob Hanes Adventures. Reynaldo’s black-and-white rendition of his soldier-of-fortune hero’s escapes has been one of the industry’s quietest treasures. Reynaldo’s use of solid blacks and copious shadowing is reminiscent of Milton Caniff in the early Terry and the Pirates but with a somewhat bolder line and a deft deployment of Zip-a-tone grays. The stories heap up names and incidents a little too fast sometimes, but watching the way Reynaldo pictures the action is ample reward for the time spent. The entire oeuvre of Rob Hanes is available from WCG Comics, 3765 Motor Avenue, Suite 1121 (PMB), Los Angeles, CA 90034-6493--four issues of Adventure Strip Digest at $2.50 each and a 144-page Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback for $13.95 (p&h is $1.50 if the order is under $8, $3 otherwise). I just sent for them all.

Sadly. Ed Nofziger, who cartooned animals better than just about anyone, died October 16 in Ojai, California, of injuries sustained in a fall. He was 87. Starting in 1938 in the Saturday Evening Post, his talking animals appeared in gag cartoons published by the The New Yorker, Saturday Review, Parade, and others. Nofziger was a conscientious objector during World War II, putting in his time working for the National Forest Service planting trees and making drawings. He went into animation after the war, working for UPA (drawing Mister Magoo and creating Mother Magoo) and Hanna-Barbera (Ruff and Ready strips and stories). Fellow cartoonist Roger Armstrong, who knew Nofziger well, held his loose, whimsical drawing style in high regard and said he was one of "the finest cartoonists of animals in the last half-century." I agree: all Nofziger’s animals looked wonderfully goofy, but they also looked exactly like the animals they were supposed to be.

Elsewhere. Wally Wood Sketchbook from Vanguard Productions (112 6x10" paperback pages, $14.95; ISBN 1-887591-08-7) is a tidy attractively designed package that includes Wood’s doodles of Kellyesque characters, toothsome wimmin, spandex-clad superheroes, bug-eyed monsters, model sheets for Marvel’s Daredevil cast, rough page layouts, cover designs, youthful drawings, sketches for Topps cards, and text by Bruce Timm and Jim Steranko (who produces a pretty good biography) as well as interviews with Joe Orlando (perhaps Wood’s closest professional associate and personal friend), Len Brown (of Topps), Al Williamson, and Wood himself. The latter begins with Wood’s answer to the question of when he decided to draw comics for a living: "I think the first time I saw a comic strip," he says, "I had a dream when I was about six that I found a magic pencil. It could draw just like Alex Raymond. You know, I’ve been looking for that pencil ever since."

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