Opus 225 (June 16, 2008). We conclude this time with a review of Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel Blue Pills, but before we get there, we take a look at some of the book projects on the immediate horizon, consider the achievement represented by the runs of Lobster Johnson and Loveless, ponder again—this time with examples—what motion should contribute to the political commentary in an editorial cartoon, and report on the reputed financial status of the industry, particularly with regard to graphic novels and manga. And more, of course, much more.
But before over-viewing the totality of our contents this time, here’s an announcement we hope you’ll read and heed: Gene Colon, comic book artist of great repute and longevity, has been diagnosed with liver failure. Medicare covers the majority of his bills, but since his family does not have any insurance whatsoever, his prescriptions have been eating a hole hundreds of dollars deep. Bill Cole took it upon himself to ask for help for Colon. Send any donation, large or small, to help defray expenses as a way of expressing appreciation to one of those who helped make our industry and art what it is today. Send to: Gene Colon, 2 Sea Cliff, Sea Cliff NJ 11579.
And now, here’s what’s here, by department, in order:
NOUS R US
Good news for comics and graphic novels at the BookExpo America in Los Angeles, market still strong for graphic novels and getting better at attracting younger readers, Gil Thorp gets new artist, DC’s Trinity, reinventing icons, for the first time comic book sales benefit from movie box office, Islamic Hooligans bomb Danish embassy in Pakistan, the tricks of memory in Ten-Cent Plague and elsewhere
GARFIELD STARTS THIRTY-ONE
Frank Miller Talks about His Spirit
CRL Likely to Get Expanded Display Space at OSU
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Glamourpuss, Some New Kind of Slaughter, Justice League: The New Frontier, The End League, and Lobster Johnson and Loveless end
COMIC STRIP WATCH
Dazzling Verbal Comedy
Ann Telnaes Gets Animated
Art Bouthillier Gets Political
Ed Stein and Editorial Freedom
Forthcoming Books, including Campaign Editoons
William Messner-Loebs Back at Work
Reviews of The Arrival, Golden Age Sheena, Vol. 3 of Terry and the Pirates
GRAFIC NOVIL: Blue Pills
New Book on Disney
And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this lengthy installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu—
NOUS R US
All the News That Gives Us Fits
Attendance was down somewhat at the recent BookExpo America in Los Angeles, and rumors about manga giant Tokyopop’s “restructuring,” laying off 39 staffers and cutting back on future releases, although true, did not, apparently, dampen altogether the continuing enthusiasm among the bookish for comics and graphic novels. Calvin Reid at PW Comics Week reported that Diamond Book Distribution vp for marketing, Kuo-Yu Liang, said the show was “absolutely great for us.” Ditto at Viz Media, according to its publicity director, Evelyn Dubocq. Of course, they would say that: consider the sources—“marketing” and “publicity.” But Reid said traditional book publishers were eagerly showing off their new comics projects and graphic novel imprints, strenuously implying that the future looks, still, as bright as the immediate past, despite the sagging economy and the dubious financial health of a couple of major bookstore chains. Even Tokyopop put a good face on its plans, saying, in effect, that its shift in focus intended to take advantage of the emerging opportunity in digital and comics-to-film developments. As final testimony to the power of the graphic novel in American publishing circles, this year’s show featured a first-ever Graphic Novel Breakfast on Saturday, the day officially dubbed “Graphic Novel Day,” offering numerous panels and workshops on the topic.
The ICv2 Guide to Graphic Novels (no. 55, Fall 2008) puts a happy face on its projections for the future. Annual graphic novel sales totals continue a steady climb. Beginning with 2001, the soaring totals are (in millions): $75, $130, $195, $245, $295, $330, and, in 2007, a whopping $375, to which can be added library purchases of another $30 million. In the last year, the growth patterns of bookstore sales and comic shop sales were roughly the same, “a substantial change from the pattern in the early part of this decade when bookstores grew much faster than comic shops.” Accounting for much of the growth is the burgeoning number of graphic novel titles, up 22% in the last twelve-month, with manga, 46% of the releases in 2007, accounting for much of that growth; “American genre” was second with 37%. Although the sale of periodical comics declined slightly in the first quarter of 2008, graphic novel sales rose 5% in the direct market—“a slower rate of growth than in 2007, but still positive,” the Guide notes, adding, “The growth of graphic novels sales in the ‘kids and tweens’ category is one of the most hopeful signs of all since it indicates that the younger generation is gaining familiarity and ease with the graphic novel/comic book format.” And “sales of non-manga titles have been gaining ground in the bookstores.” For more in this vein, see Book Marquee below.
The San Diego Union-Tribune,
like many newspapers, anticipated the return June 16 of Garry
Trudeau’s Doonesbury, which has been on sabbatical for the last month or so, and asked its
readers to help choose which strip will be dropped from the paper’s
line-up to make room for prodigal. In suggesting which strips should
be considered for axing, the paper delivered the briefest of
critiques on three candidates: Judge Parker (we have Mary Worth and Rex Morgan, M.D.;
do we need three soap-opera comics?); Wizard
of Id (Brant Parker and Johnny Hart are dead, and Hart's signature strip, B.C.,
now done by his family, would remain); Cathy (enough already). ... “The Boondocks" tv show's second
season is now available on DVD, reported Editor
& Publisher. Fifteen episodes are
included on the 3-disc DVD, including the two that were banned in the
U.S. for insulting Entertainment Network. The set also includes audio
commentary and video introductions by creator Aaron
McGruder and others, behind-the-scenes
featurettes, interviews with voice-cast members, and more. ... Gil
Thorp, the comic strip about a highschool
football coach and numerous sports, got a new artist on April 7,
whilst the strip is celebrating its 50th anniversary year. Rod Whigham,
who succeeds Frank McLaughlin at the drawingboard, has been working at his craft for at least 25
years, reports E&P, in comic books and commercial illustrator. His graphic novels include Lightrunner, an sf
adventure he co-wrote, and a 145-page adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The strip, created by Jack Berrill,
was named after baseball great Gil Hodges and Olympics champion Jim
Thorpe; it is written today by Neal Rubin,
a Detroit News columnist.
In the halls of corporate creativity, such as they are, various popular culture icons of the last century are about to be dusted off and made-over somewhat for consumption in the 21st Century, says Brooks Barnes at the New York Times. “Warner Brothers hopes to reinvigorate and reimagine Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo through a new virtual world on the Internet,” Brooks writes. Even Mickey Mouse is supposed to be “tweaked” into modern times. “He needs to evolve to be relevant to new generations of kids,” said Robert A. Iger, Disney’s CEO. The trick, however, is to retain enough Mickey heritage amid the innovative to hold on to the loyalty of legions of fans in generations other than the present 8-15 age group. One way is to keep the character the same but change his/her surroundings. In any event, all the innovators hope to avoid the disaster that befell Barbie’s Ken when he sprouted a pierced ear and earring and set off a brand crisis on a global scale.
“More Americans identify their primary occupation as artist than as lawyer, doctor, police officer or farm worker,” said Sam Roberts at the New York Times. According to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2005 “nearly two million Americans said their primary employment was in jobs that the census defines as artists’ occupations—including architects, interior designers, and window dressers. ... Another 300,000 said artist was their second job.” Like Jimmy Durante said, “Everybody wants into the act.” “The only artists whose ranks declined since 1990 were, as a group, fine artists, art directors, and animators, to 216,000 from 278,000.”
The current issue of Playboy is finally catching up to the Superhero Summer on the Big Screen with a short 3-page article on this summer’s crop. The same issue also offers a 4-page piece about Marilyn Monroe as a model for pin-up painter Earl Moran, illustrated with photographs of Monroe and reproductions of the corresponding Moran paintings. Cute. ... In a new book, Tintin and the Secret of Literature, British novelist Tom McCarthy employs such high-priced literary theorists as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man to see if Herge’s stories of the boy adventurer qualify as “literature.” Recommended by the Los Angeles Times, and I’m going to get a copy, but I am prepared to skip lightly over what has always seemed the unnecessarily dense deliberations of Barthes and company to get to McCarthy’s conclusion.
Laura Hudson at PW Comics Week reports that, at long last, comic book publishers’ ambitions for the funnybook-movie tie-in may be bearing fruit. Despite the financial successes of movies about Spider-Man and X-Men, box office bonanzas haven’t translated into comic book sales. “But,” she goes on, “the recently released ‘Iron Man’ has proved doubly successful: it’s not only earning hundreds of millions in ticket sales, it’s also pulling off what most superhero movies never found a way to do”—it’s selling a lot of comic books. The problem in the past, say various industry observers, is that superhero comic books usually have several on-going titles, plus numerous paperback compilations—altogether a glut daunting to a reader coming fresh from the movie to the comic book rack. For the “Iron Man” movie, though, Marvel launched two brand new Iron Man titles, both good for jumping on: Invincible Iron Man, a continuing series, and a mini-series that will soon (November) be a graphic novel, Iron Man: Las Vegas. While this maneuver is apparently encouraging the transfer of interest from the movie to the comic book character, it also has a long-term complicating effect: more titles about individual characters. And we already have too many, as witness the erstwhile explanation for the failure to attract movie-goers to comic book readership. After the next Iron Man movie, will Marvel introduce two more “new” Iron Man titles? And so on, ad infinitum?
A show of black and white drawings taking a jaundiced view of life in Iran opened in New York last month at the Asia Society and Museum. The artist was not Marjane Satrapi but Ardeshir Mohassess, a 60-year-old cult figure whose blend of humor and reportage depicted Iran before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Said Karen Rosenberg at the New York Times: “The drawings have a fanciful yet descriptive line quality, comically exaggerating facial expressions while giving full weight to bullet holes and severed limbs. Some of the meanings may be lost on American viewers, but the artist's deep suspicion of religious and political authority comes across clearly.” Entitled "Ardeshir Mohassess: Art and Satire in Iran," the show opens at an auspicious time, “given Iran's high profile in the American political debate during this presidential election year.” ... Islamic Hooligans, meanwhile, did their customary share in keeping their so-called religious views in the news, expressing their opposition to cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by exploding a bomb at mid-day near the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing as many as 8 and injuring 24. One of the notorious Danish Dozen cartoons of 2006 was recently reprinted in Denmark where police had arrested three men linked to a plot to assassinate Kurt Westegaard, the cartoonist who drew Mohammed with a bomb turban.
I still haven’t read much of David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book
Scare and How It Changed America. When I do get around to it, I’ll be reading it for the insights into the comics-making business provided by persons Hajdu interviewed. I’m already sufficient warned off his central theme—namely, that the funnybook “scare” of the mid-1950s was of epidemic proportions capable of changing America forever. Few things are. And I was there then, and I don’t feel changed much by the infestation. But recently at www.thoughtballoonists.com, one of the proprietors, Craig Fischer, was provoked, perhaps by the same skepticism that prejudices my opinion of the Hajdu book, to question whether, as one of Hajdu’s critics, Bart Beaty, claims, the EC Comics staff, in the person of editor Al Feldstein, ever contacted Fredric Wertham for help in navigating out of the maelstrom the Senate subcommittee hearings had left Bill Gaines’ books in, a sensational eventuality if such a contact actually occurred. Beaty is the author of Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, which does much to rehabilitate Wertham’s reputation as a moral, liberal advocate, but his claim for contact between the psychologist and the publisher seems more in the character of Hajdu’s sensationalism than scholarly research. Fischer approached Feldstein on the matter, and Feldstein gladly responded, and the exchange, consisting of Feldstein’s responses to Beaty’s allegations, was dutifully posted at length at the website. Feldstein, not surprisingly, decisively denies that any such contact was ever made. So much, you would think, of Beaty’s acumen as a researcher if not his veracity in general. But no, turns out Feldstein was wrong: the contact took place, and in a subsequent post, Beaty produced a letter Feldstein had written Wertham’s wife about a telephone call on the matter. Confronted by this irrefutable fact, Feldstein back-peddled creditably: “Obviously, my memory chips at 82 (going on 83) are, indeed, rotting, and your copy of my letter to Mrs. Wertham was quite a shock to me because I had neither remembered calling or writing her. But obviously, I did just that.” His memory jogged, Feldstein thinks the magazine he sent to Wertham for comment was the first issue of one of EC’s New Directions titles, Psychoanalysis, the choice of the title being, in itself, something of a “snide needling” of the good doctor. You should read the whole extravaganza at Thought Balloons. My point in bringing it forward here is to remind us all that human memory is, perhaps, not infallible—that, in fact, the further away from a remembered event we get, the more what we remember is our previous memory of the event rather than the event itself. Maybe my memory of the sensations of the 1950s is similarly skewed. And maybe Hajdu’s recreation of the scandals of those days is more accurate than I’d supposed. But I doubt it.
Years ago, I read Wertham’s sensation-mongering book, Seduction of the Innocent, and wrote a lengthy report about it, which appeared, first, in the Comics Journal, and then, later—in March 2007, in fact—in our Hindsight department, “Wertham Revisited.” At the time, I didn’t think he was a fiend incarnate; I thought, merely, that he was a lousy scientist and researcher. I turned to Wertham again on another occasion, March 2006, asking: “If Good Comics Can Have Good Effects upon Their Readers, Why Can’t Bad Comics Have Bad Effects?” This is the conundrum that is faced by anyone who defends comics by saying that good comics have social value, they have some beneficent effect upon youthful readers. If that’s true, then Wertham was right: bad comics have a bad effect. My attempt to untie this knotty matter also appears in Harv’s Hindsight, under the title just cited.
GARFIELD STARTS THIRTY-ONE
E&P reports that on June 11 Universal Press
Syndicate posted an interview it conducted with cartoonist Jim
Davis as the 30th anniversary of his Garfield strip nears. The strip launched June 19, 1978, in just 41 newspapers
and now appears in more than 2,400. E&P quotes some of the Q&As, as follows:
Did you ever consider another name for Garfield other than the name
of your grandfather?
Here’s a little-known fact about Garfield: when Davis wanted to take ownership of the strip, he bought it from the syndicate that owned it, paying real money for the rights. Next week, we’ll reveal more facts about Davis and the fat cat in Harv’s Hindsights, where we’ll commemorate the beginning of Garfield’s thirty-first year by reprinting an interview I did with Davis for Jud Hurd’s Cartoonist PROfiles in June 1988; it appeared on the eve of Garfield’s 20th birthday. The title of the article presently slipping by your eyes, by the way, is deliberately chosen to avoid the word “thirty,” which, among newspaper folk, signals the end of something—usually the end of an article, but we newspaper types are a superstitious lot and don’t ever run any needless risks.
AND: Some of us remember when Scott Kurtz was going to revolutionize the
syndicated comic strip business by syndicating his online strip
himself, offering it without fee to any newspaper that would publish
it with his URL. Kurtz makes a living selling merchandise on his
website, and he figured he could afford to give away the strip if it
provoked readers into visiting his website. Kurtz had a few takers,
but he eventually abandoned the plan because the editors of his
client papers kept insisting that he make small changes in the milieu
of his strip. No one needs that many kibitzers; syndicates protect
cartoonists from a plethora of editors. Kurtz didn’t have time
to mess any further with the messiness and shelved his plan. For the
time being. That was in the fall of 2005, and so far, I haven’t
heard anything about a plan to revive the idea.
Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at http://www.rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research Bibliography, maintained by Michael Rhode and John Bullough, which covers comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes dessinees and related topics. It also provides links to numerous other sites that delve deeply into cartooning topics. Three other sites laden with cartooning news and lore are Mark Evanier’s www.povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s www.DailyCartoonist.com, and Tom Spurgeon’s www.comicsreporter.com. And then there’s Mike Rhode’s ComicsDC blog, http://www.comicsdc.blogspot.com For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s http://www.strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.
THE SPIRIT OF FRANK MILLER
In the just circulated Comic-Con Magazine of the Comic-Con International in San Diego, Frank Miller, one of this summer’s special guests at the Con, was interviewed about his progress, so far, in creating Will Eisner’s Spirit on film. Asked what the difference was between doing comics and doing film, Miller said: “The big difference is the number of players involved. Cartooning is a wonderful exercise in solitude.” Later, in answer to another question, Miller said: “One of the many connections between Eisner and me is our deep love of New York City. ... And the movie really is in many ways a love letter to New York City.” Having brought his own Sin City to celluloid, does Miller feel different about turning another creator’s work into film? Miller said his Spirit film is, “I believe, really true to the intent of Eisner’s Spirit. It’s not a slavish monument built to the comic strip. The old guy would come out of the grave and kill me like that. It’s what I believe that young Eisner might just have done with the brand new toys of today.” Miller picked a relative unknown to play the Spirit, Gabriel Macht; why? “One of my preconditions coming onto the project was that we find someone who was not well known to play the part. ... My model, in a way, was Chris Reeve’s Superman, meaning some actor I’d never seen before who I got to meet as Superman. ... In my office I had a quote from Raymond Chandler hanging over my desk, which said, ‘He is the hero. He is everything.’ This sort of story is really a piece of architecture where everything’s built to portray the hero. At the center of it has to be one hell of a performance, and I really think I got it out of Gabriel.” He got it out of Gabriel? What did Gabriel do? Miller continued: “I think that Will would be happy that we made some of the decisions we did and made The Spirit more of a man of this time, a more haunted figure, surely, but still the working man’s hero.” The coolest thing on the film? “I think it might just be seeing The Spirit flip through the air like a little boy and slide up the roof of one side of a water tower, stumble and then slide down the other side like a kid playing in the snow. I think that’s a very Eisner-esque moment. The fact that we got a take with a stumble in it made it The Spirit.” Admirable sentiments and ambitions, no question. But I worry that Miller hasn’t Eisner’s sense of humor. Eisner’s Spirit stories, for all their grit and shadow, had a sense of humor—which bred a sense of proportion—always just below the surface. Where is it in any of the Miller oeuvre? The most encouraging thing about Miller’s helming this project is his insistence on wearing a scowl in every photo taken of him. That shows a self-deprecating sense of humor. Let’s hope he can get it on film.
READ & RELISH
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” —H.L. Mencken
“The Current Occupant [George W. (“Wiretapper”) Bush] tossed Nazis into a speech recently, something he rarely does since it only reminds people of Dick Cheney.”—Garrison Keillor
“Take the high road. There’s less traffic.”—Leonard Pitts, Jr.
“Luck is the residue of design.” —Branch Rickey
“Naked means you ain’t got no clothes on. Nekkid means you ain’t got no clothes on and you’re up to something.” —Lewis Grizzard. “And barenekkidwimmin are a joy to behold and savor.” —RCH, Boy Girlie Cartooner
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” —Oscar Wilde
“It’s safe to assume that by 2025 guns will be sold in vending machines but you won’t be able to smoke anywhere in America.” —David Sedaris, who is trying to give up smoking.
Footnit about the World’s Largest Collection of Original Cartoon Art
With the acquisition of the holdings of the International Museum of Cartoon Art, the Cartoon Research Library at The Ohio State University will archive the largest collection of original cartoon art in the world— more than 450,000 pieces, including drawings from all genres of cartoon art (comic strips, comic books, animation, editorial, advertising, sport, caricature, greeting cards, graphic novels, and illustrations), display figures, toys and collectibles, and works on film and tape, CDs, and DVDs. OSU has, for some time, been exploring ways to increase the exhibition capacity of the CRL beyond the walls of its tiny reading room—a greater imperative now than ever—and the arrival of the IMCA collection is a considerable incentive to hasten the usual bureaucratic processes. As lately as Opus 223, I’d fervently hoped that this would happen, and I’m happy to report that, according to CRL curator Lucy S. Caswell, the IMCA imposed a condition upon the university: OSU must provide suitable display space in the form of a permanent exhibition gallery. And the university is at present proceeding with all due deliberate speed to secure appropriate space.
As I pondered these matters in Opus 223, I’d also muttered under my breath (or just “over” it) about the curiously “restricted” nature of such special collections in the nation’s university libraries. While it’s highly desirable that materials like original cartoon art be preserved in facilities designed expressly to preserve them from the ravages of the elements and drooling afficionados, the preservation results in restricting access to those materials: the materials must be kept in a controlled environment not usually open to casual passersby. That means the materials are not, generally speaking, visible to the public. Scholars and other interested parties can gain access by specifying the materials they’d like to view, but arrangements must be made in advance so the facility staff has time to dig out the material. This seems “restrictive” to me, but in a wider context, it’s not. Or, at least, it’s much better than the alternatives: works of art either squirreled away in some fan’s private collection, forever hidden from public view, or stored in the vaults of a museum and removed for display only once or twice a lifetime. Lucy Caswell emphasizes that the CRL is a library, not a museum. And it functions like a library, keeping materials preserved but also permitting interested persons to see original art upon request. You can’t check it out and take it home like you can a book, but you can see what you want to see if you know what it is. As I say, much better than the alternatives. And with the advent of permanent exhibition space, the circumstance at CRL will be even better—the best we can achieve, I ween, in an imperfect world. A gallery in which can be regularly mounted different displays of original art will permit those among us who don’t know, exactly, what we’re looking for to find things we never knew existed, a fisherman’s delight.
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being too mysterious or cryptic. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.
Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss no. 1 is not so much a comic book—it isn’t even a “story”—as it is a collection of Sim’s tracings of Alex Raymond panels from the Rip Kirby comic strip. Sim tells us that he set about trying to learn how to do “photorealistic” pen portraits of pretty girls, using the sensational women of Raymond’s Kirby as his models and inspiration. After warming up with tracings of Raymond girls, he ventured out on his own, producing his own “photorealistic” pictures by tracing photographs of toothsome women. All of this artwork Sim pieces together, stringing it along on a frail text which explains what he’s doing. Amusing but not engrossing. It’s an admittedly self-indulgent extravaganza. Sim’s drawings are good but not that good: they’re not yet Raymond. He has trouble rendering women’s lips. But this issue is worth buying for the pair of panels on the last page in which Sim contrasts an “original” Raymond with the version of it that was produced for distribution by King Features in which Raymond’s fragile thin lines are fattened up, turning delicate feathering into unsightly blotches. Instructive. But not at all suspenseful.
Some New Kind of Slaughter by mpMann and A. David Lewis is a handsome book that explores are least three, perhaps four, different versions of diluvian myths from around the world. We meet Noah, eventually, but to get to him, we go partway through a couple other flood stories and bump up against what appears to be contemporary America, perhaps on the verge of Katrina. Lewis’ drawings are simply rendered, crisp line art nicely colored in muted earthy hues. The suspense originates in the possible parallel being drawn between modern and mythological flooding; the book’s title is pregnant with implication. The central characters are mostly cutouts of one-dimensional mythological figures, and there’s no episode that’s resolved within. Too bad because the book is so attractive visually.
The inaugural issue of DC’s Justice League: The New Frontier from Darwyn Cooke is a three-part effort. In the first, Superman goes after Batman, who is described as an outlaw; Wonder Woman gets them to team up instead of scrapping. Superman is overtly portrayed as a savior (Christ-like) figure. In the second story, Robin reforms street rodders. And in the third, we have Wonder Woman and some feminist rant, drawn by J. Bone, who manages a deft caricature of Hugh Hefner, a high point in the book. At the end of the book are several pages of sketches for the animated version of The New Frontier. Self-contained stories inherently undermine suspense, but their function is to foster the kind of affection for the characters that will bring us back for more. Cooke and Bone are, in themselves, enough to bring me back. But I can’t tell whether this “Special” is a one-shot promo for the animated film or the first of a series.
Dark Horse’s first issue of The End League by Rick Remender and penciled by Mat Broome with inks by Sean Parsons is an almost satisfying introductory book. The episode is the opening sequence, which is largely expository, in which we learn that the End League is a band of superhero do-gooders in spandex who survived the Green Event, an environmental catastrophe inadvertently caused by one of their number, now their ostensible leader, Astonishman. The Event created the Magnificents, mutants motivated chiefly by greed and desire for power. Astonishman, who narrates most of this tale, hopes to find Thor’s hammer, which, he apparently believes, will enable him to establish some sort of Resistance. Thor, however, is apparently dead. The food supply in the blighted planet is controlled by a villain with the admirable name Dread Lexington, whom we meet when the End League raids a storage area to obtain food. Suddenly, Thor appears, reincarnated by the evil Lexington, who now controls the Norse god. The issue ends suspensefully as Thor bellows a Hulk-like threat: “Thor kill puny humans!!” Apart from the laughable evocation of the Marvel monster, the cosmology here, while ingenious and provocative, is a bit complex, and the effort to explain it all in one issue of a comic book results in too much talk and too little progress. Still, the concept is promising. Broome’s drawings, inked by Parsons, who models figures by dappling them with splotches of black shadow, are a little on the effete side—facial features too delicately etched for my taste, for example; but it is a matter of taste, not competence. Wendy Broome’s colors, on the other hand, obscure more than they reveal. In common with many colorists who work with computers, she has let the colors get too dark. It’s easy to do, as I’ve observed before, when the picture you are looking at is “lit from behind” as the computer screen computer lights its colors.
Dark Horse’s 5-issue Lobster Johnson mini-series set in the 1930s by Mike Mignola with drawings by Jason Armstrong concluded without our seeing the protagonist’s face. The McGuffin is a power suit invented by Professor Gallaragas, who is kidnaped with his beauteous daughter by a fiendish Dr. Waxman, who wants to know the secret of the suit. The suit, meanwhile, is on the body of Jim Sacks, who joins Lobster Johnson in pursuit of Waxman in the hope of rescuing Gallaragas and the beauteous Helena. By the time Sacks catches up with Waxman, the brain of Gallaragas has already been separated from his skull and stored in a vat, submerged in a languidly bubbling liquid. Lobster Johnson and a band of cronies (reminiscent of Doc Savage and his crew) come dashing over the landscape and rescue Helena, but Sacks and the suit get blown up. Then the Nazis show up. The Nazis always show up in a Mignola story. I’m not sure, actually, that the last book in the series wraps things up entirely. The fiendish villain is still on the loose, for instance. But Lobster manages to blow up the submarine with the Nazis on board and rejoins his cronies in the woods at water’s edge. Besides, we are devotees of Mignola’s endeavors because of the artwork, not the stories, which are always festooned with so many supernatural trappings that no real sense can be made of them no matter how hard we try to bend the pretzel. Armstrong is an admirable substitute for Mignola in the visualization department. He draws more in the style of Jordi Bernet than Mignola, but to Bernet’s grit Armstrong adds a healthy helping of Mignola’s solid black, and the result is entirely engaging, spooky and thoroughly foreboding. Much of the action transpires without words, so the art carries not only the atmospherics but the narrative, and Armstrong manages both with elan. Lobster Johnson is masked throughout by a flyer’s leather helmet and goggles, the skull-clinging headwear peculiar to the decade, but if we don’t see his face, we see him in action and come to admire his persistence in the face of death-threatening violence on nearly every page. Menace and danger lurk—loom!—everywhere. A tantalizing text feature in some issues gives the ersatz “history” of a noir crime fighter, the Lobster, complete with illustrations. Looks like Lobster Johnson to me. The series is properly viewed as an introduction to a character that Mignola will bring back again. And again, I hope—with Armstrong in tow. Among the flashes of brilliance herein is Mignola’s willful disregard for the need to recite the origins of his character. If a character is interesting enough, we don’t care how he originated; in fact, keeping the details of the origin out of sight—but hinting at them, as the text feature does here—is better, more evocative, than trotting out the tedious details, which almost always, it seems to me, fall short of being as interesting as the character is fascinating without them. Bravo.
With no. 24 in June, Brian Azzarello’s Loveless reached its last issue, and I can’t say I’m any the wiser for it. The last three issues, all illustrated by the matchlessly evocative Danijel Zezelj, tell three separate stories set in the 1930s, two about convicts, one about horse racing. Issue no. 21 ended the post-Civil War track of tales about brutal racism and the destroyed but enduring marriage of Wes Cutter and the rape-ridden Ruth in the heartless frontier town of Blackwater, drawn in a completely different manner by Werther Dell’Edera. I’m too dense to see the connection without reading all 24 issues again, but betrayal, heartbreak and hopelessness seem to be the only unifying themes, relieved, occasionally, by vengeful violence. What do we expect from the author of 100 Bullets? Music and roses? Azzarello’s storytelling is hypnotic: he holds our interest even though we suspect, now, that he will take us nowhere near understanding. And each short story—each issue of Loveless—stands alone as a haunting performance. Worth the trip even if I don’t know where it’s taken me.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
In May, the International Tattoo Convention was held in Prague. I’m sure there’s a companion convention for tattoo removal devotees but I haven’t heard any official announcements.
Earlier this month, in Whitehaven, England, the world gurning competition was held. “Gurning” is the “art of making grotesque faces,” traditionally accomplished while sticking one’s head through a horse’s collar. The horse need not be present.
In downtown Milwaukee, a bronze statue of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli as played by Henry Winkler will be dedicated on August 19. Winkler and other actors from the “Happy Days” tv show (1974-84) are expected to attend. I never watched “Happy Days,” an oversight in my popular culture education that I’ll doubtless regret all of my days.
The Men’s Dress Furnishing Association has disbanded. Once a vibrant group of 120 members, it has dwindled to 25. The MDFA is the trade association for necktie manufacturers, and its membership is evaporating because American men no longer wear neckties. According to a Gallup Poll, only 6 percent of Americans now wear ties to work; in 2002, just six years ago, 10 percent did. I can understand that: when I started working at the computer in my home office, I stopped wearing a tie. I have a lot of ties, but none of them go with pajamas.
Bookseller Michael Seidenberg refuses, apparently, to be discouraged about the book market, despite an experience he had some years ago while selling books as a street vendor. “A couple stopped,” he is quoted in The New Yorker (June 2) as saying, “and the man asked his girlfriend, ‘Do you want a book?’ She said, ‘No, I already have a book.’”
In San Francisco, as reported in The Week (April 18), a community group launched an initiative to re-name the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Facility the “George W. Bush Sewage Plant” on the grounds that the name would provide the Current Occupant with “an appropriate and enduring legacy.”
In Germany, you can buy the Barack Obama doll for $29. Limited to 999 copies, the doll is wearing a black silk suit and a black, not tan or olive, face. Looks nothing like the man.
COMIC STRIP WATCH
The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping
Cartoonists are frequently guilty of purely linguistic feats for the appreciation of which we don’t always need the pictures. When Mike Peters’ Mother Goose accuses Grimm of drinking from the toilet again, Grimm denies it, saying: “I’m waiting for the keester bunny”----conjuring up an image that borders on the obscene (but hilariously so). Grimm’s unsavory habit finally persuades the Old Lady to take him to Cartoon Rehab, where he’s taken in hand by Dr. Phil. ... Michael Fry and T (no period) Lewis take us behind the scenes at the Over the Hedge comic strip factory in Dzerzhinsk, Belarus, where the labor is cheap because, we see, it consists entirely of legions of small children drawing the strip. “We have no choice but to use child labor,” RJ explains, and Verne elaborates: “Only their tiny fingers can draw in the microscopic boxes the newspapers give us.” The next day, RJ and Verne wind up the tour: “Next time you read our strip and feel like you wasted 8.438 seconds of your life,” begins Verne, “think of the little people, like artist Nicoli here, who make this strip possible—.” “And send him a beet,” finishes RJ. A beet? Well, it’s a Russian kid. ... Crankshaft in Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’ strip of that name makes a keen observation as he stands in line for a security check at the airport: “We’re lucky the shoe bomber didn’t hide the bomb in his underwear.” ... In Brian Crane’s Pickles, Opal says Earl is a “meanderthal.” “Don’t you mean NE-anderthal?” asks her friend. “No,” says Opal, “he’s a meanderthal—someone who walks slowly and aimlessly.”
Words nearly alone commit other shenanigans, too. Frank and Ernest ponder postage stamp costs and express gratitude for the “Forever” stamp that can be used forever, regardless of rate changes in the future. “That’s a relief,” says Ernie, “—last time the rates changed I got confused and put on too much postage and my letter overshot Chicago and went all the way to Pittsburgh.” ... In Jimmy Johnson’s Arlo and Janis, Janis is murmuring, “I think I’ll putter in the yard ... I might plant herbs this year...” To which her lovin’ hubby says, “Are you talking to yourself?” “Well, I don’t know,” says Janis, “—you tell me.” The perfect put-down. ... And in Jef Mallett’s Frazz, the janitorial genius, Frazz himself, is criticized by Mrs. Olson for trying to cram too much into his day, saying, “You’ll schedule yourself into an early grave.” “Here’s how life works,” Frazz says, “—the more you pack into it, the longer it gets.” Mrs. Olson: “Life is like making a sausage?” Frazz: “But more pleasant to watch.”
In Darrin Bell’s Candorville, Susan slips and says she loves Lemont, then tries to deny that she said it. This dilemma has been brewing for months and has become somewhat acute because Lemont is about to marry (as Susan puts it) “the evil mother of your love child.” ... Meanwhile, in Rob Armstrong’s Jump Start, the youngsters of one of the families learn that they are not “half-black” or “half-white” but that their “heritage is a lush landscape of Cherokee, Irish, Jamaican, Italian, German and Nigerian”—that is, with relatives on every single continent. Dunno where Armstrong is going with this, but it promises to be interesting.
QUOTES & MOTS
“A thief believes everybody steals.” —Edward W. Howe
“A lot of people mistake a short memory for a clear conscience.” —Doug Larson
“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over.”—Edna St. Vincent Millay
“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.” —Ring Lardner
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
In a move that shows just how much animation is impacting editorial cartooning, says Dave Astor at Editor & Publisher, “Ann Telnaes ended her print syndication.” Starting June 2, Telnaes, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner, increased the number of animations she does every week for WashingtonPost.com from two to three, “adding a Monday one to go with her Wednesday and Friday ones,” reported Astor. "I decided to end the print syndication mainly for time reasons," Telnaes told him. "When the Washington Post asked me to increase the animations, I realized I couldn't realistically do both since I do all the animation myself. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to take the next step in editorial cartooning.” When I pursued the subject with her, Telnaes said it was only print syndication with the New York Times Syndicate-marketed Cartoon Arts International that she’s giving up: “I’ll do occasional print editorial cartoons, like I do for the Guardian [in England] and my weekly one for Women’s eNews—and any other opportunities that come up.” With the Post asking for more, she said, “it seemed like the time to make a change. Who knows what will happen down the road? Whenever I speak to art students, I always tell them that while they should have a specific goal in mind, not to be so inflexible that they ignore other avenues that open up along the way. Heck, if I had stuck to my Disney pixie dust art school days, I would never have gone into editorial cartooning.”
While ruminating last time about animated editorial cartooning, I opined that the movement that animation supplies ought to help make the political point of the cartoon—it should not, in other words, be simply movement for the sake of movement. And Telnaes, whose initial training as a cartoonist was in animation, gives us example after example of just how it should be done. You can find these instructive instances by visiting www.anntelnaes.com, where, if you can click on the Washington Post animations, you’ll be transported to the paper’s website, and if you scroll down a screen’s worth, you’ll see where you can click on Telnaes animations, and that will take you to her current production, which is followed, down the screen, by an option to examine archival material, too, wherein you’ll discover, as I said, ample examples of the use of animation in making political commentary with moving images.
If you look at the animation for 6.06, f’instance, you’ll see in Obama’s changed facial expression his realization that Hillary as his running mate would bring him somewhat more than he might have bargained for: it’s the change in Obama’s expression that is the point-making motion in the animation. Incidentally, Obama shows up blue in all of Telnaes’ cartoons of him, and when I asked her why, she said: “It has nothing to do with the fact he’s black. He just strikes me as a Sinatra type rat packer—kinda cool. Blue is cool. It’ll probably change if he becomes president and the weight of the office turns him gray,” she added with a grin. In 5.30, a bunch of dogs, yapping and lunging at the leash, make the point about the official White House response to McClellan’s book. McCain’s presumed reluctance to deploy GeeDubya to help raise funds is vividly illustrated by the movement in the cartoon for 5.28. The role of Cindy McCain in her husband’s campaign is perfectly demonstrated by the action that concludes the cartoon on 2.22 (if you want to dip that far back for a good example; and why not?). The movement in “Patriot Games” on 5.07 makes the point that the flag lapel pin competition is a game of one-upsmanship that is absurd to the point of ludicrous. Finally, my favorite in the current batch, is the comparison in 5.14 of the news media’s coverage of the rising gas prices to the coverage of the cost of the war in Iraq. Without the cacophony of the animation in the first part, the impact of the second part is largely diminished.
Elsewhere: Art Bouthillier, one of the last surviving full-time freelance magazine cartoonists, is, apparently, giving up the ghost. Or, at least, he’s doing some regular cartooning outside of magazines: he’s started contributing editorial cartoons to the Whidbey Examiner on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. One of these times, I’ll re-publish in Hindsight the article I did for Jud Hurd’s Cartoonist PROfiles about Bouthillier’s heroic tenacity in practicing the profession he loves. For the moment, perhaps it’s enough to note that he kept at it for over 25 years, adhering rigidly to a production schedule that accounted for every day in the week despite the steadily dwindling market for gag cartoons. When he became a father and his wife became the regular 40-hour-a-week breadwinner of the family, Art stayed at home and babysat his infant daughter. But he kept on cartooning, batch after batch, week in, week out, working nights mostly. “When do you sleep?” I asked him. “Whenever the baby does,” he said. Champion.
When researching the story last time about Ed Stein’s Denver Square strip, published only in the Rocky Mountain News, we came across a few bon mots about the editorial cartooning profession and its present state. Here’s what Stein told Michael Roberts at Denver Westword about his endangered species: "More and more, you've got managers of newspapers who aren't news people and publishers who are so afraid of offending anybody," he says. "And what does a cartoonist do? He offends people. That's his job. And he doesn't cover the news, either—so that's a double strike against you." Actually, it's more than that at many publications these days, Roberts continued. “Faced with declining revenues and dire budgetary projections, plenty of newspaper supervisors looking for positions to cut have settled on cartoonists for the aforementioned reasons, plus the easy availability of [alternative] syndicated fare. As such, the number of full-time cartoonists is in severe decline. A century ago, as many as 2,000 illustrators had staff gigs in this sketchy profession. But now, according to Sacramento Bee cartoonist Rex Babin, who's also the vice president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, the total is under a hundred, even if freelancers being paid enough to make a living are included. [Actually, as we reported recently, the actual spring 2008 number is 101 full-time staff editorial cartoonists; but that’s still a smaller number than twenty years ago.] The Rocky is a major exception, employing not one, but two staff cartoonists: Stein and Drew Litton, who specializes in sports. Moreover, Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple says, ‘I don't see that changing,’ despite the continuing pressure on him to do more with less. In his view, ‘There's a real need in this community for regular local cartooning, because a lot of editorial cartooning looks at national and international issues. Having Ed and Drew allows us to do much more skewering of the powers-that-be in this community, and I think that's valuable.’
“Stein shares this opinion,” Roberts went on, “despite the detrimental effect it's had on his earning power. A Texas native, the self-described ‘newspaper rat’ attended the University of Denver, and during his years at the school, he fell in love with the city and its rich editorial-cartooning history; during the '60s, Paul Conrad and Pat Oliphant each won a Pulitzer Prize while drawing for the Denver Post. ‘By the time I graduated, by God, I was going to be an editorial cartoonist,’ Stein recalls. ‘So I raced right out, and nine years later, I got a job.’ The year was 1978, and he gladly accepted the Rocky's offer despite the disconnect between his ideology and the typically conservative one espoused by the paper. ‘I'm not in line with the editorial page very often,’ he allows. ‘But they've been hands-off and very supportive. You hear horror stories about cartoonists having to fight with editors to get their voices heard, but I've never had that problem.’
Why It’s Not a Good Idea to Elect a President Whose Family Fortune Is Oil-based
Overheard during GeeDubya’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah:
GeeDubya: Well, now, Abdul, I gotta talk to ya about oil.
Abdullah: Yes, Georgie, I understand.
GeeDubya: My people—the voters—expect me to exercise personal persuasive power to get you to lower prices or produce more oil. That’s what they expect, that’s what I tol’ ’em I’d do, and so now I’m a-doin’ it.
Abdullah: Yes, Georgie, I understand.
GeeDubya: So—how about it? Lower your price? Produce more oil? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
Abdullah: You know what will happen, Georgie, if I do that.
GeeDubya: Well, yes. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
Abdullah: If we lower prices or produce more oil, your father and all your friends and relatives in the oil business—not to mention Darth Cheney—will suffer a small reduction in income. Nothing major, mind you, but no one wants to start losing money, right?
GeeDubya: Right, right.
Abdullah: And if everyone were to start losing money, eventually, your inheritance would be smaller. Now, we don’t want that, do we?
GeeDubya: Well, no— ’course not. But I hadda ask, you know? (Chuckles good-naturedly)
Abdullah: Of course, I understand. But we’ll leave things pretty much the way they are, right? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
GeeDubya: Right, right. (Wink)
Glimpsing Forthcoming Works
In about a year from now, Abrams will publish Denis Kitchen’s The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, which, Kitchen told ICv2, is “a major coffee table-style biography and art book with loads of art that even hardcore Kurtzman fans have never seen.” With Kitchen’s landmark Little Annie Fanny books as ample indication of the sort of work Kitchen is doing, the Kurtzman tome will be well worth the wait. Also in the offing, ICv2 reports, this time from London-based Titan Publishing, “a series of books celebrating the life and work of Golden Age creator Joe Simon and his collaborations with comics legend Jack Kirby.” The first in the series, planned for release next spring, is Joe Simon: The Man Behind the Comics, an autobiographical tome, to be followed shortly by The Best of Simon & Kirby, “a deluxe hardcover,” and others. These enterprises, ICv2 observed, are ample indications of the “growing prestige of comics” that Kirby, Simon, and Kurtzman “are finally getting the sort of art book monographs that their careers merit.”
In October, DC will re-package some of Will Eisner’s Spirit stories about wiley women as The Spirit: Femmes Fatale, “a compilation,” saith ICv2's Graphic Novel Guide, “that should benefit from the hype leading up to the release of Frank Miller’s movie adaptation of the blue-gloved crime-fighter in January 2009.
From Drawn & Quarterly, according to ICv2, we may expect a 810-page autobiographical manga from Yoshihiro Tatsumi, creator of The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo and the forthcoming Goodbye, all in the gekiga style of manga. Tatsumi has been working on his autobiography for eleven years. ... The manga market is getting more and more competitive, saith ICv2's Graphic Novel Guide. Chip Kidd is putting together a Batman manga, Batmanga: the Secret History of Batman in Japan, a collection from the sixties in Japan, due in October; Vertical is bringing out an English edition of one of the “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka’s most popular creations, Black Jack, out in September; and manga-ka Yoshinori Natsume will make his debut in American comics soon with Batman: Death Mask, a 4-issue mini-series from DC in October. Herein, as Kai-Ming Cha reports in PW Comics Week, “Batman investigates his own past as the city of Gotham is terrorized by a serial killer who has ties to the martial arts training that turned millionaire Bruce Wayne into the Dark Knight.” Natsume got involved when he was looking for someone to publish his manga series, Togari, the story of a young man given the chance to escape Hell by battling evil. “I met someone from DC Comics,” Natsume recalls; “after looking at my series, he asked me, ‘How would you like to try doing Batman?’” At first Natsume was doubtful. “But then I reflected that in Japan, I made my mark with a series about a dark hero with a tragic past, done in a very shadowy style.” Eventually, the more he thought about it, he said, he felt like “you know, I might actually be able to do this.” His previous exposure to the Caped Crusader was with the Tim Burton movies, then Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Fantagraphics has acquired (and re-acquired) the rights to reprint two classic adventure strips—Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy and Prince Valiant. The latter, which FB reprinted previously in 50 trade paperbacks, will, this time, appear in hardcover with the quality of the reproduction enhanced. According to ICv2, the market for strip reprints is riper now than ever, quoting publisher Gary Groth about the sale of the Fantagraphics Peanuts project which sells roughly ten times better in bookstores than in comics shops. “Other collections with less mass appeal sell only four to five times better in bookstores, Groth said.”
Prompted by the success of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, Hill and Wang plans to issue two new graphic histories: After 9/11: America’s War on Terror and The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, the first reuniting the 9/11 Report’s team, writer Sid Jacobson and artist Ernie Colon; the second, by writer Jonathan Hennessy and artist Aaron McConnell. Jacobson and Colon worked hard to attain the “nonpartisan posture” of the original Commission Report on 9/11, but for After 9/11, “it is clear they had an opinion,” said publisher Thomas LeBien, quoted by Kate Culkin at PW Comics Week.
Daryl Cagle and Brian Fairrington, editors of the annual Best Political Cartoons of the Year compilation, plan to publish The Big Book of Campaign 2008 Cartoons in the fall, saith Editor & Publisher. Although it is usually presumed that political cartoonists can’t wait for another election year to come around, many of the inky-fingered brethren say editooning is harder during a Presidential election than at normal times: because all editoonists are looking at the same things, the same sound bites, the same gaffes, it’s more difficult to come up with cartoons that don’t just repeat what every other political cartoonist is doing. ... Will Tomorrow Ever Come? the first volume of a complete reprinting of Harold Gray's classic Little Orphan Annie, has been released by Idea & Design Works (IDW). The 368-page hardcover includes more than 1,000 strips from the comic's first three years, 1924-1927, during which Annie escapes from an orphanage, is adopted by "Daddy," and finds the dog Sandy. Now known as Annie, E&P adds, the strip is currently written by Jay Maeder and drawn by Ted Slampyak for Tribune Media Services.
William Messner-Loebs, who, back when I was a mere broth of a boy, was one of the stellar lights in the universe of fans who became professionals, has been hovering in the shadows for a few years, but in August, he will emerge with artist Andrew Ritchie to reveal the secret history of legendary author H.P. Lovecraft's book of forbidden knowledge in Necronomicon, a four-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios that tells the story of the book's creation. Interviewed by Shaun Manning, at ComicBookResources News, Messner-Loebs indicated that, even as presented in Lovecraft's original stories, there are some intriguing problems with the Necronomicon's origins. "It's described as being written by the ‘Mad Arab' Abdul Alhazred," Messner-Loebs explained, "and we think that probably that Lovecraft had some Hazards in his past family history. And so it was just sort of self-referential. Since Abdul is not a real Arabic name, I think Abdullah is the actual name. So I thought it might be interesting to actually have this particular ‘Mad Arab' be actually a mad Englishman who is wandering around, sort of like Lawrence of Arabia. It turns out that just about the same time as Abdul Alhazred was supposed to be writing the Necronomicon, Saint Boniface was chopping down the Thor tree in Germany, basically destroying the religious faith of a bunch of Vikings and other Germans. So [in my BOOM! miniseries,] I have a sort of German monk getting shipwrecked who eventually converts to Islam and is just wandering around just trying to find the meaning of life and poking in to all these places over in Yemen, like the Nameless City that Lovecraft talks about, where you're never supposed to look, and ends up writing all these things down. So that's one of the things I'm looking at in the book.”
Clearly, Messner-Loebs in no stranger to the world of Lovecraft, and his re-imagining the unimaginable sounds like a gas to me. "I was quite the Lovecraft fan when I was in college, and I was quite caught up in the whole Lovecraft school, of Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard," the writer told Manning. In addition to Necronomicon, he’s been keeping busy with several other projects. IDW Publishing will be reprinting his early and now nearly legendary b/w series, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAllistaire, which Messner-Loebs drew as well as wrote. I’m picking up a copy because I was not lucky enough back in the eighties to find all the issues of the series. Known for his lengthy tenure on DC Comics' Wonder Woman in the 1990s and, more recently, for his work with Sam Kieth on The Maxx, Messner-Loebs credits his benefactors at the Hero Initiative for landing him this unusual assignment, reported CBR News.
we had the comic book crash in the middle '90s,” Messner-Loebs
said, “I was sort of thrown out of work and I lost all the
books I was writing, and eventually lost my house. I became homeless
and had to go on welfare for a while. [Messner-Loebs and his
physically disabled wife, Nadine, lived in a motel for quite some
time, storing their worldly goods in a storage facility. The
situation was bleak when various elements of fandom learned of it and
rallied with some financial help.] Not only was Hero Initiative able
to give me immediate financial help, but they were able to find some
different jobs for me," like the online animation gig, he said.
"They also lined up a couple of comic books that I did. So
they've been incredibly helpful." Recently, Messner-Loebs
attended the Motor City Comic Con in Detroit, signing and sketching
at the Hero Initiative booth, and, he said, "thoroughly enjoying
More of the Very Best Short Reviews
Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (128 9x12-inch pages; hardcover, $19.99), a graphic novel painstakingly rendered without words, won the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben division award for comic books last month in New Orleans, but Tan, 34, wasn’t there to receive the plaque: he was probably in his native Australia, where he works as a freelance artist producing award-winning picture books. In this one, he conjures the experience of a man who leaves his family and journeys to a different country to make a new life for them all. There, as he tries to find work and to become familiar with his new surroundings, he encounters bizarre and magical creatures in a surrealistic land, Tan’s metaphorical visualization of the haunting vaguely threatening strangeness that envelops an immigrant arriving in a new land. Drawn in what might be pencil, the photographically realistic pictures, printed in sepia, are thoroughly shaded in carefully graduated tones, giving the tale a soft-edged dreamlike atmosphere exquisitely appropriate for the fantastical world Tan’s protagonist must find his way through. At the end, his family joins him, and his young daughter starts out on her own exploration of her new homeland, finding wonders in every panel, and proceeds, as the young always do, to guide her mother. Beautifully done, and evocatively achieved.
Galaxy Publishing and Devil’s Due Publishing have achieved a unique milestone in comic book reprints with Golden Age Sheena: The Best of the Queen of the Jungle (142 6.5x10-inch pages in paperback; color, $18.99). In addition to reprinting nearly a dozen stories featuring the scantily clad jungle goddess from 1939 to 1951, the book publishes two versions of one story, the first initially published in 1946 in Jumbo Comics no. 93, the second, in 1951 in Sheena no. 12, with the object of showing how the temper of the times in the fifties resulted in censoring comics. The 1946 story was shortened by two pages, and while the most obvious censorship involved putting more clothes on Sheena (covering up her bare midriff), the censors most dedicated effort was devoted to removing from the original story any picture or incident that might give a young reader nightmares—a bloodthirsty wild boar, for instance, overt references to sacrificial death, and the like. Instructive. Equally informative are the opening pages which reprint Sheena “Sunday strips”: the Eisner-Iger shop made its living, at first, marketing so-called Sunday comic strips to foreign markets, implying that the strips had been previously published in the U.S. Eventually, Eisner and Iger converted these ersatz Sunday strips to comic book pages, Eisner cutting up the artwork and re-assembling the panels to fit a comic book format. It was this process that taught the young cartoonist a great deal about various storytelling techniques, as recounted in much more attentive detail in my book, The Art of the Comic Book, about which, you can read more here. The other aspect of the Golden Age Sheena to rejoice about is the publisher’s decision to shoot directly from old comic book pages, reproducing the color as it appears on those antique newsprint sheets. The result, here, is stunning color and faithful reproduction, much improved—by several light years—over the now ancient method of Theakstonizing, bleaching the color out of old comic book pages, then re-touching the remaining black lines, sometimes clumsily, and re-coloring the whole enchilada, usually with a garish palate. This one is the good stuff, kimo sabe, as close to the original comic books as you’ll ever see.
IDW’s third volume reprinting Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates is out (352 9x11-inch pages, b/w and color Sundays; hardcover, $49.99), and it, like its two predecessors, begins with an orienting essay by Bruce Canwell, associate editor of the IDW Library of American Comics, accompanied by rare photos and artwork culled from the Caniff Collection at Ohio State University’s Cartoon Research Library. Canwell also provides a brief discussion of the turmoil in China at the time, a suitable history lesson as background for the events that transpire in the strip. In this volume of 1939-40 strips, Terry meets the only girl of his own age that he will encounter in the Far East, April Kane, a syrupy Southern belle patterned after Scarlett O’Hara in the novel Gone with the Wind, which, published in 1936, had taken the country by storm; the movie would come out in December 1939, long after April had smitten Terry. April’s introductory sequence also includes a transvestite character called Sanjak, a name, Caniff always said, that he took from a small island next to the Greek island Lesbos, where the term “lesbian” supposedly originated. This coy convergence was the cartoonist’s way of signaling to those “in the know” the sexual orientation of Sanjak; but I’ve never been able to find an island near Lesbos named Sanjak. Probably I need a larger map. Terry also learns to dance in 1939: eager to escort April to the governor’s ball, he persuades the Dragon Lady to teach him. At the ball, the Dragon Lady’s plans to kill a rival go awry, and she takes April and Terry hostage, spiriting them off into the hinterlands with her guerrila army, which is soon besieged by the warlord Klang in one of the longer sequences in the strip’s run. Several other of Terry’s more picturesque characters are introduced in these years—Singh Singh, Raven Sherman (who, Canwell hints darkly, will cause a sensation in the next volume of the series), the petty crook Chopstick Joe (who Caniff never made much of, but his successor on the strip, George Wunder, turned into a major secondary personage), and Dude Hennick, based upon a college chum of Caniff’s, Frank Higgs, who, at the time of these strips, was serving with Claire Chennault’s famed Flying Tigers in China. “Dude” was Higgs’ nickname; Hennick’s was the name of the coffee shop where Caniff and Higgs and others of their crowd hung out. The perfect companion to the IDW Terry books, by the way, is without quibble or question my own biography of Caniff, which relates not only the cartoonist’s life but how Terry came to be and all the other relevant accouterments; our preview is here. (Or you can click on the cover reproduction at the left.) If the Annie series is anything like the Terry volumes, it’ll be an elegant addition to your library.
Beer is now cheaper than gasoline, so don’t drive—drink!
If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.
Republicans are not a political party: they’re a ruling class. Or they wanna be.
Dance as if no one were watching, sing as if no one were listening, and live every day as if it were your last.—Sounds like an Irish proverb to me, RCH
I was going to say, after I’d finished reading Frederik Peeters’ Blue Pills, that it was a cinematic graphic memoir (190 6x9-inch pages, b/w; Houghton Mifflin hardcover, $18.95), and “cinematic,” while accurate, wasn’t intended as unalloyed approbation. My first impression of the book was that it could just as easily have been a motion picture and that, as a detailed storyboard for a film, it wandered too far from the medium in which I was experiencing it. It was too much like a movie and not enough like cartooning. I still veer off in that direction every once in a while as I think about the book. For the most part, the story is a long conversation, sometimes a monologue, in which the pictures serve merely as illustration of the events or incidents being narrated by the protagonist. A movie could do the same. Narrative breakdown paces the action, timing the divulging of information that takes place in the captions and speech balloons; a movie could do the same. Pondering such metaphysical matters, I quickly arrived at the suspicion that we could say the same about almost all graphic novels. Are they all just low budget motion pictures? Do any of them exist as graphic novels because they could exist in no other medium? Some do. Allison Bechdel’s profound Fun Home, for instance, and Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s spirited Cancer Vixen; and probably Craig Thompson’s evocative Blankets. All sometimes achieve a tension between word and picture that creates a third narrative entity, precisely the function of “comics.” And then I remember the appearance in Blue Pills of a white rhinoceros and a long conversation the protagonist has with a woolly mammoth at the end of the book.
Subtitled “a positive love story,” Peeters’ autobiographical graphic memoir deploys a bad pun for the central dilemma of the book: the cartoonist’s falling in love with Cati, a woman who, he discovers, is HIV positive. His first reaction, which we applaud as it occurs, is that of a genuine lover: he doesn’t run away. On the contrary, he spends the night with her, their first sex together. Some of the story is about how he develops a relationship with Cati’s young son, who is also HIV positive. But much of the book is about how he learns to abide with the choice his heart has made for him—living with an AIDS-prone and therefore doomed woman who adheres to a daily regimen of medication, including the blue pills of the title. A friendly matter-of-fact doctor helps, convincing them both that Peeters has as much chance of catching the disease “as you have of running into a white rhinoceros on your way out of my office.” But then the rhino suddenly appears sitting behind them, signaling that they are scarcely reassured. So the doctor does some tests, the results of which eventually convince Peeters that he is reasonably safe. The rhino, however, follows him around for a while before disappearing forever, a good and healthy sign.
The final lesson is delivered by the woolly mammoth. An extinct creature, he has a special insight into the nature of life and death, or, rather, of life that always, invariably, ends in death. And he expresses this insight by quoting a series of wisdom-choked epigrams—such as: “Don’t ask for things to happen the way you want; be happy with wanting them as they happen”—Epictetus. Finally, Peeters comes to realize that he should simply live out his life and his love without thinking about the future —the future being the negative in a relationship with an HIV-positive person. The perpetual question in such a relationship is: when will the beloved die? The question focuses our attention on the future rather than the present. Peeters learns to value the present, the moment, day-to-day. At the end of the book, as he anticipates Cati joining him in Bangkok, he says, “for the rest, we’ll improvise.” He has absorbed the woolly mammoth’s lesson: “Be happy just appreciating in time the things that have an end.”
Reminds me of the sardonic wisdom in the joke about how to make God laugh: tell him your plans.
In any case, I finally decided that Blue Pills is brought to us, on many of its pages, by means peculiar enough to the cartoonist’s art that it qualifies as a graphic novel. It is, in short, somewhat more than just a storyboard for a motion picture. Peeters told Chris Barsanti at Publishers Weekly that he “attacked” the story “very quickly, without reflecting, without writing and without sketching, in total improvisation,” working, if I understand him correctly, panel-by-panel, page-by-page. That may account for the flatness of the book’s narrative, its steady, moment-by-moment cadence without much visual drama—no splash pages, few panels that deviate from the page layout’s six-panel grid. He did it by dead-reckoning, as the sea-going among us might say, going from one thing to the next in sequence without calculation of visual variations for dramatic effects. Peeters’ drawing style is reminiscent of Craig Thompson’s in Blankets—a supple brush that only rarely becomes dry enough to get clotted (as “dry brush” will do if not applied with great skill). If not particularly spectacular, the visuals are nonetheless entirely adequate to their purpose and, for the most part—except when rendering street scenes or the like—pleasing to the eye. That the visuals in a graphic novel should be “pleasing to the eye” seems a thoughtlessly vacuous criteria, but visuals that are not “pleasing to the eye” make reading the novel more difficult. Moreover, in most such enterprises, we are drawn in by the visuals so their attractiveness is scarcely irrelevant. The book is a thoughtful meditation on life and death and how love can bridge the time between, and it is expertly told by an artist who works with words as well as pictures, creating a meaning that transcends both.
NEW BOOK ON DISNEY
For seven years, beginning in 1974, Don Peri, a professor of popular culture in Davis, California, sought out and interviewed animators, voice actors and designers who had worked with Walt Disney during his studio’s heyday. Fifteen of those interviews have now been published by the University Press of Mississippi, one of my publishers, in Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists (274 6x9-inch pages, no pictures; paperback, $22; hardcover, $50). As a fresh graduate of the University of California at Davis, Peri met Ben Sharpsteen, a retired Disney director (“Dumbo,” among others), who was looking for someone to help him write his memoirs. Peri spent the next three years on the project (the results are in the Disney Archives), and Sharpsteen “opened all the doors” that introduced Peri to the others in this book: Dick Huemer, Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck), Wilfred Jackson, Marcellite Garner, Ken O’Connor, Les Lark, Ken Anderson, Larry Cemmons, Herb Ryman (who drew the first depiction of Disneyland), Jack Cutting, Harper Goff, Don Duckwall, Eric Larson (one of that core of animators who created the studio’s most famous works to whom Disney referred as the “Nine Old Men,” a joking reference to what FDR had slightingly dubbed the U.S. Supreme Court when they sabotaged some of the New Deal ), and Floyd Gottfredson, who, for forty-five years, drew the Mickey Mouse comic strip.
At his first meeting with Disney in 1930, Gottfredson told him he was interested chiefly in comic strips, and Disney said: “You don’t want to get into newspaper business. It’s a rat race.” Four months later, when Win Smith, who had inaugurated the Mickey strip, refused to write continuities for it, Disney called on Gottfredson, who reminded Disney of his earlier admonishment, saying he wanted to stay in animation. Disney asked him to take over the strip for a couple weeks; he’d find someone else. “After about a month,” Gottfredson recalled, “I began to wonder if he was looking for anyone. After a couple of months, I began to worry for fear he was going to find someone.” Disney’s name was the only one ever associated with the strip although Disney had proposed a joint byline in the 1950s; the syndicate, King, was aghast at the idea, so it died a-borning. By then, the rollicking adventure continuities in the strip had been abandoned in favor of telling a stand-alone joke every day. Gottfredson, whose first Mickey Mouse strip was published on his 25th birthday, May 5, 1930, retired October 1, 1975; his last Sunday Mickey was published September 19 the next year; the last daily Mickey was published on November 15, 1975.
Eric Larson got into animation by accident: he was interested in journalism—as he called fiction-writing for radio—and wandered into Disney’s, looking for help on a radio script. The guy he consulted offered him a job, but Larson said he’d heard animation was the “most mechanical business I know of, and I don’t think I want anything to do with it.” His recruiter responded: “I’ll promise you one thing: it will challenge any creative ability you have.” Larson made a life’s work of it. His first impression of Disney was: “Here’s a guy that can scowl better than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Sharpsteen tells how he got Ub Iwerks, Disney’s original partner, back into the Disney shop after he’d been trying to go it on his own for about a decade. Sharpsteen had a high opinion of Disney: “Perhaps the most outstanding thing about Walt was his eagerness to talk about the possibilities of a scene or a picture”—his capacity for extending and elaborating on an idea, making it a better idea. “The big story of Walt and his success is that he was determined to make a superior product; he was determined to give the public more for their money than they thought they had paid for. He could not do that without demanding the utmost effort from his people.” Elsewhere, Sharpsteen gives us a glimpse of the Disney genius: “Walt lived that business twenty-four hours a day. In the early days when we were making shorts, Walt was driving through town, and he was stopped by a cop who gave him a ticket. He returned to the studio, and he told us about it in a way that he did not think was very funny, but Walt always acted out everything that he said, and he re-enacted his conversation with the cop. Each time he told the story, it became funnier and his attitude changed, and before we knew it, we were making a Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Traffic Troubles’ .”
Sharpsteen said the most difficult thing about the notorious strike of 1941 was in implementing that aspect of the settlement that governed who must be retained on staff. “Walt had no hand in that process,” Sharpsteen said, “and he even joked about it to his people. He said, ‘We don’t know whether we’ll even have jobs when we get back there.’ [He was in South America at the time, on business.] He took that philosophically, the strike. He said, ‘Those men have a right to organize, they have a right to leave. But they don’t have all the rights. I have rights, too.’” Dick Huemer didn’t think a strike was warranted at Disney’s; he agreed with his wife, Polly, who said: “It wasn’t a factory. That was one place that didn’t need to be organized.” They blamed the strike, apparently with ample justification, on animator Art Babbitt: “He was a born troublemaker,” Huemer said. “I like the guy a little, you know. I have nothing against him, but that was his nature. He used to go around suing department stores on account of sales tax and stuff like that. Of all places, [Disney’s] was the least one that you’d think would be struck.” He compared the studio operation to the shop run by Rubens: “Rubens had a staff of about fifteen guys who were working on his paintings, and they were dedicated people. They were artists, they loved doing it, and that’s why they were there. And they knew that they were doing the right thing.” Precisely the situation at Disney’s before the strike. Gottfredson agreed that Babbitt “caused an awful lot of trouble. ... I attended some of his meetings because everybody did at the time when he was building up this union thing ... he was associated in some way with a pinko [communist] group at the time because this was his attitude. He was constantly quoting Marx and Lenin and socialism and the rights of these poor unpaid workers.” In the late 1930s and early 1940s, though, lots of American intellectuals, on the left particularly, were quoting Marx and Lenin; communism wasn’t universally perceived as a world-devouring demon until after World War II.
Walt Disney was not only a genius at what he did, but he was a puzzle—even to many of those who worked closest with him. And each of these interviews, as Herb Ryman observes, “is a little part of the puzzle, the jigsaw puzzle, that goes into the portrait of Walt Disney.” A good read with fascinating insights.
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Great Ebb and Flow of Things
In the last few weeks of her campaign as she sought to yank the nomination rug from under Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton demonstrated precisely the character traits that most emphatically disqualified her for the presidency. She stubbornly pursued a goal the achievement of which was rapidly becoming more and more impossible, a simple mathematical reality she refused to recognize. All the time, she clung to a hope that superdelegates could be persuaded to join her in her bubble of self-constructed reality in which she was winning the popular vote. For the past seven years, we’ve had quite enough stubborness in the face of contradictory facts and delusional so-called reality; we don’t need any more of the same.
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