November 24, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Denis Kitchen may be exhibiting at MCLA Gallery 51 as a cartoonist, but his importance in the world of comics goes far beyond his artwork — it’s just that he loves drawing.
Kitchen is a literary and art agent, as well as a book packager for various publishers. He began his career as an underground cartoonist and, later, made his name as one of the most important publishers in the comic book business with his company Kitchen Sink Press. He is also the founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
This year saw the release of two books, including “The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen” from Dark Horse, and Kitchen’s participation in, both as co-curator and artist, “When Comics Went Underground,” a show at MCLA Gallery 51, which is on exhibit through Nov. 28.
Kitchen began his art career in the 1960s, spurred on by a love of old humor comics — he was particularly influenced by Harvey Kurtzman — as well as the politics of the times. Although alternative style cartoons and comic books are common nowadays, the underground comic scene hadn’t exploded by the time Kitchen began drawing and selling his work, largely because it was waiting for him to become a central organizing principle for the efforts that would lead to national recognition.
“It was hard to not be political then,” Kitchen recalled during an interview this week. “It seemed to me, and to a good number of my cohorts at the time, expressing ourselves through the vehicle that was most comfortable, which was comics, was the course we took.
“I think we were semi-conscious of the fact that comic books prior to that had been strictly entertaining. I guess there had been a handful of educational comics, but for the most part, comic books were assumed to be a juvenile medium and weren’t taken that seriously. Undergrounds gave us a platform to reach our peers in an easily accessible manner, kind of weirdly paralleling underground newspapers that were also proliferating at the time.”
Kitchen co-founded an alternative weekly in his home state of Wisconsin, contributing to that while doing his comics. Out of college, he had an inclination to become a gallery artist — he was enraptured with surrealist work — but comics began to take hold of his life and offer the kind of creative control that any artist seeks.
“What I liked about comics was the complete control of it,” Kitchen said. “It’s one of the few — maybe the only communication arc — where you can do it all yourself. If you want to be a filmmaker, it’s damn near impossible to make a movie yourself — and the bigger the movie, the more people, the more money, the more obstacles. But a comic book, you can write it, pencil it, draw it, publish it yourself, distribute it yourself — and I did all those things at a time when there was no place for a self-published comic to distribute itself.”
Without an official mechanism for distribution, he had to create one, and it was a foundation built on top of his own two legs.
“When I started in the late ‘60s, literally I was dumb enough to actually go and look up the periodical distributors in the Yellow Pages,” he said, “and I took some meetings and realized what a babe in the woods I was. I also found out what a crooked business it was. I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time, which was, literally, I paid to have the comics printed with the local printer, and I went around to every shop that I thought might be sympathetic, from used bookstores to head shops, which were the most obvious ones, and university bookstores and a local drug store.”
Kitchen sold his books on consignment and found each week as he went back to check on the stock that the comics were selling much better than he imagined they would. Unexpectedly, he made some money and found satisfaction.
“I actually did quite well doing that in the first summer,” he said, “so that made me feel like clearly there was a market, and people liked my stuff, and I didn’t need anybody else.”
Other people needed him, though. He continued to publish his own work until other cartoonists sniffed out his business acumen and begged for help. One of those was Robert Crumb. As his skill as a publisher created a thriving situation, the cartoonist in him began to get the short shrift.
“I remember saying naively, ‘Why not? Two’s as easy as one,’” Kitchen said. “At that fateful moment, I became a publisher, because suddenly I was responsible for them, and I had to pay them. I did business before I had really consciously planned it or prepared for it, and so as that grew, my being at the drawing board shrank, and that was the tendency for some years. I deluded myself for a while that I could be both, but the truth is, the business, like most businesses, is all-consuming if you let it be.”
Kitchen didn’t give up drawing; he just pursued it far more casually, taking the opportunity to express himself privately even without a cartooning career. For the last two decades, much of his creative output saw its release at production and editorial meetings at Kitchen Sink Press.
“As the publisher, I had to take part in all of them, and most of them were dreadfully boring,” he said. “I used to have this tablet — standard writing tablet — in my hand, and I’d get bored and flip it over to the chipboard, the thick stuff at the bottom, and I’d have typically a Sharpie marker and a Uniball pen and I’d start doodling.
“Those began evolving — those three unique pieces: the chipboard, the Sharpie and the ballpoint — and I began doing these elaborate, surreal drawings. I was still listening to the meetings more or less, but I would get carried away with these things and maybe half finish, or sometimes flip it over and continue.”
Those drawings finally made it into the public sphere with the release of the book “Denis Kitchen’s Chipboard Sketchbook” in August.
With his work resurfacing on the printed page, Kitchen acknowledges that some of his earliest work may be lost on some people, functioning as windows to a bygone world.
“I literally don’t know what to expect a younger reader to make of it, whether they’ll be baffled or what,” he said. “I expect some contemporaries will get it because they maybe read it the first time around or there’s enough familiarity, but I think there are probably enough younger generation people out there who are curious about what came before, just like hopefully most of us are. If my grandmother was a flapper, I’m curious about the flapper era.”
Kitchen isn’t looking at it all as a cap to an older career, but as a new part of a continuing one. At 62, he sees himself as young enough to forge ahead with his cartooning work, drawing inspiration from his good friend graphic-novelist Will Eisner, who drew up until the week before he died in his late 80s.
“Nice thing about cartooning is, unless you get palsy or poor eyesight or something, your physical skills can allow you to keep doing what you do way, way into old age, whereas you can’t say that about a lot of professions,” he said.
The one problem is that he’s not giving up his other businesses to pursue cartooning — once again, Kitchen’s enthusiasm for being busy has brought him full circle in more ways than he had expected.
“I’m in the same conundrum as before, which is that I think my ambition is outpacing my artistic proclivities,” he said.
June 22, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Age of Dinosaurs #3 (Dark Horse)
One of the most beautiful comics in print, this penultimate issue of Ricardo Delgado’s new paleontological epic continues to follow the mass migration of various dinosaur species. Fraught with the violence of nature and the fury of the journey, Delgado’s story unfolds in a total silence that keeps the narrative unfolding on the dinosaurs’ terms and not the readers’. Delgado was an animator on “Wall-E,” but the visuals here are more intimate, and any anthropomorphism comes off as a delicate touch.
Crogan’s March by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press)
In the previous volume creator Schweizer investigated political order versus chaos as a human struggle in a pirate setting. In this new book he tops his previous effort with a tense French Foreign Legion adventure that asks questions about war, borders, bravery, class, prejudice and the tentacles of history. Even with the heavy themes, it’s a lot of fun. With a whimsical but detailed European style of cartooning and an accessible scholarship, this series deserves a lot of attention outside the comics world.
First Wave #1 (DC Comics)
Superheroes with nothing but their fists and guile to help them defeat crime — oh, and a stylish 1940s period adventure to propel them — root around a mystery that will no doubt gather them together in the end. Doc Savage and The Spirit dominate this issue, but Rima, the Jungle Girl, does make an appearance, as do the Blackhawks and Batman — it’s all shaping up to be a fun romp. The beauty of this book is that it does recognize the absurdity of superheroes when placed in a real world setting, but doesn’t allow that inescapable fact to hijack it into silliness — and still the humor is there on the page.
Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallero (First Second Books)
Teen fantasy fiction legend Yolen picks up where Minx Books left off with this comedy romance that unfolds precisely before bursting into all out wonderment. Aliera is an up and coming fencer, as well as a high school student with no self-esteem for her social skills. Her game is thrown out of whack by a crush on her lab partner in science class, but as the story progresses, little chips in the walls of her safe world begin to appear — and like many other a teen trapped in a coming of age tale, she finds her place in the universe is far less mundane than she thought. A great one for teen girls with promise for future stories. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 24, 2010 § Leave a Comment
As Neil Gaiman’s other — and I would say better — half, artist Dave McKean has mastered many visual forms, including film. He directed 2005’s “MirrorMask” and has a well-established career as an illustrator and photographer.
In the collection of his short narrative work “Pictures That Tick” — published by Dark Horse Books — McKean shows himself to be the master of many forms, including storytelling. The book gathers numerous stories of various length that unfold with both a poetic obscurity and a personable humor.
McKean opens not with a story — at least not a fictional one — but with a professional testament that doubles as poetry.
The words examine his creative life beyond comics and then ruminate on what seems to be the primal urge in all of us to create some form of them.
McKean speaks of snapshots arranged in a photo album in sequence for the purpose of telling a story. That , he explains, is a personal form of comics.
From there, he segues into the beautifully wrought allegorical fairy tale “Ash,” which likens one dark strain in a child’s life as a root that will grow into a mighty tree of depression and dysfunction. What McKean addresses is not just the idea of seizing control over your life, but also taking control of your own story. The story urges readers to image how each plot thread will wind through the years and seize the moment when editing — or, in context of the story, pruning — is in order.
It’s a beautiful beginning and, when coupled with his opening statements, a chance for a storyteller to lay out the collusion between art and life in personal circumstances. What follows are a string of intensely mysterious pieces that walk the line between poetry and parable — indeed many of them do have the quality of a tale that a wise man on top of the mountain might tell.
But McKean hinted at all this in the book’s preface, where he presents a version of the Book of Genesis as if it were written by Spike Milligan — or maybe Russell Hoban doing a “Riddley Walker” shtick.
It’s an exercise to disarm the sacred and replace it with something not only cockeyed, but also mysterious. This is largely thanks to the accompanying photo-collage work that shows the space between heaven and earth as more of a cluttered, antiquated type of Hell than anything else.
It’s this beautiful and skillful illustration work that binds the book together. McKean leaps from medium to medium in the visual work with the same precision of the movement of ideas that inhabit his tales. He doesn’t stick to one style and seems eager to do exactly what any individual story demands — from spare pen and ink to dense paints and beyond — often incorporating photographs.
“Some Like Dawn” uses atmospheric but straightforward photography, while the haunting “Your Clothes Are Dead” utilize the photos for abstract collage imagery. Collage is a major part of McKean’s work, functioning as a form of art-school jazz for his visual expression and even manifesting in painted works such as the darkly absurd “Yol’s Story.”
That is the beauty of McKean’s narrative work: Simplicity and clutter march hand in hand to create a chaotic order in the fiction, borne of the abstract poetry that flows out of him.
As such, McKean is the purest collaboration embodied by one guy. Words and pictures, in his case, are entwined, and this combination tells stories in the unknown language that exists between the two.
December 29, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Amulet 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse – Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic)
Creator Kibuishi certainly borrows from modern archetypes — Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in particular, as well as the films of Miyazake — but he is not content to let his own creations wallow in a bath of influences. Instead, his science fiction/fantasy epic for young readers leaps off the pages thanks to the natural quality of his storytelling — and having the story center around a cool girl character like Emily certainly helps. Kibuishi has so far skipped the lame supernatural fetishism and overwrought romance that taints too many young adult efforts, preferring story, character, and imagination in an exciting dance.
Ball Peen Hammer – Adam Rapp and George O’Connor (First Second Books)
Ball Peen Hammer moves from the dark allure of post-apocalyptic science fiction into an unrelentingly grim realm populated by unexpectedly noble characters — all rendered with an animated beauty by O’Connor’s hand. The stereotypes are turned inside out, victims of their own personal failures, as humans face a monumental and deadly challenge — and at the center is the sad and too easy decision to exploit children and in the process not only kill hope but create heaps that stand as sad reminders of moral failure. As depressing as it sounds, that’s what makes it worth recommending.
Batman/Doc Savage Special (DC)
Brian Azzarello pens an alluring vignette like something out of the ’70s Brave and the Bold, with strong stylized artwork by Phil Noto. He captures Batman in his younger days and dealing with the authority figures of the time — hence pulp fiction legend Doc Savage slumming in Gotham City as a diversion. In all truth, nothing much happens here — the adventure is basically dropped by the heroes — but this story mostly serves as a prelude for the upcoming First Wave comic, which will feature great DC Implosion characters from Justice Inc. and Rima the Jungle Girl, among others. The tone here is just right — serious but not overwrought, dark but not posturing — and it bodes well for the upcoming series.
Best American Comics 2009 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Charles Burns sets the tone for this year’s edition with a compelling essay that recounts his artistic and professional development as a journey through comic book collecting, where each tangent is a revelatory moment in his embrace of groundbreaking creativity. That he’s mirrored this volume’s selections in the same way is no accident. Easily one of the best in recent years, among the highlights are: Dan Zettwoch’s fictional history of a Church cartoonist’s newsletter; Peter Bagge’s comical slice of pre-Revolutionary America, and Dan Clowes’ attack on film critics and movie fetishists.
Breathers 0-4 (Just Mad Books)
If you want to read the best science fiction comic around, don’t look in any of the obvious places — Breathers is a self-published work by Wisconsin resident Justin Madson that concerns a gritty world of tomorrow that isn’t so far removed from today. In Madson’s scenario, the air we breathe has been infected with a virus for the last 40 years and people use stylish respiratory masks called “breathers” to stay alive. Madson weaves the tales of several people together in a series of shorter entries that create a wider tapestry of this future. Some are concerned with their own problems wrought from the situation, while others grapple with larger one — is the virus even real? Check it out at Madson’s website.
Cancer Vixen – Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Pantheon)
Suffering through breast cancer will get my sympathy — and my appreciation for bravery and chutzpah in the face of it — but it does not automatically mean I will think the graphic memoir of your experience is readable. In full disclosure, I couldn’t actually finish this book, so grating is the voice and narrative, and so amateurish and plain awful is the artwork. I read several reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing something, with the full intent of going back and reading the rest, but everything I encountered only cemented my reaction to this book. In contrast to what a good memoir should be, the narrative is manipulative rather than honest. Marchetto takes great pains to control our impression of her by compiling pages and pages of how successful and admired she is before we even get to the cancer. I understand that she does not want her readers to define her as the woman with cancer and have that image be our lasting impression, but then why bother to write a cancer memoir? The reader should be given a chance to discover her best qualities as she fights cancer, not have them dished out in an attempt to circumvent any impression we might have of her as a non-fabulous person with cancer. I bailed out at the diagnosis after having been pummeled by almost a hundred pages of constant bragging Also, I’m really tired of artists who who look as if they are relearning their entire craft starting with kindergarten level work when they go digital — it made an irritating story unbearable. This is a low point to the usually high standard of Pantheon’s output.
Ganges #3 (Fantagraphics)
Kevin Huizenga’s Every Man Glen Ganges faces a sleepless night and what unfolds is a mix of incoherent night rambling and time-passing mishap. Huizenga delivers a quiet tour de force that shows confident cartooning that thrills through its ease and craftsmanship, rather than stylizing the hell out of anything. His Ganges stories function as the American equivalent to Michel Rabagliati’s Paul stories, documenting a normal life with a sharp eye and a penchant for gentle revelation.
The Good Neighbors 2 – Holly Black and Ted Naifeh (Scholastic)
Spiderwyck co-creator Black continues her coming-of-age fairy-style saga as our heroine Rue starts to find her otherworldly family is beginning to take a toll on her friends, the resident Scooby Doo gang, and also that her mother isn’t as helpful as she’d hoped. Black’s first foray into the graphic novel format makes what is the now standard supernatural YA adventure more kinetic than most. and yet toned down in the histrionics and dramatics departments in such a way that grown-ups will have fun with it as well as teens. I confess that I’ll be glad when the supernatural wave in teen fiction dies down and a more open field of subject matter exists again — and also the standard plot of a kid hits a certain age and discovers he/she is secretly a wizard/vampire/fairy/spy/whatever becomes less overused — but Good Neighbors is at least agreeable in its use of these newly-minted chestnuts.
Insomnia Café – M.K. Perker (Dark Horse)
It isn’t a perfect work, but Turkish artist M.K. Perker’s stylized surrealist suspense tale — his American writing debut — has a lot to recommend it. Kolinsky is an expert on rare books whose shady past sends him on a downward plunge in the world, sleepless and at a job he hates. When he becomes involved with a coffee shop girl, he gets the opportunity to hide from his problems even as they snowball without his attendance. All is not as it necessarily seems, though, and Perker investigates the manifestations of that very concept from the eccentric to the unhinged. Perker is definitely one to watch.
Little Mouse Gets Ready – Jeff Smith (Toon Books)
If you’ve never considered that a children’s book about a mouse getting dressed would charm you into giddy happiness, you might want to pick this up. Combining the sweetness of old style Golden Books with a modern twist of a punchline, Smith has crafted a fun and funny little sequential picture book here — and Toon Books never disappoints, anyhow.
Skin Deep – Charles Burns (Fantagraphics)
Charles Burns offers a glimpse of what might happen if EC Comics existed today with three tales of intrigue and absurdity in this softcover reissue from the 2001 series collecting his early work. A master of the unearthly atmosphere — David Lynch has nothing on him — Burns unleashes tales of a man transplanted with a dog’s heart, a failing marriage with an alarming secret, and, best of all, an evangelist’s son’s encounter with God and his path to millions because of it. At once cautionary, creepy and curious, Burns is consistently one of comics’ deepest thinkers.
3 Story – Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)
In this somber and beautifully realized tale, Matt Kindt recounts the life of a real giant as seen through the eyes of the three women most important to him — his mother, his wife and his daughter. It’s Citizen Kane meets Gulliver’s Travels. As with Super Spy, Kindt’s styles are multiple and thoroughly accomplished, as is the depth of the biography that measures the perception of a man by the opposite sex. It is an area of mystery where expectations can outgrow and overtake the self that lurks within. In this book, Kindt comes up with a protagonist who is truly as big as the author’s ideas.
Trotsky: A Graphic Biography – Rick Geary (Hill and Wang)
Geary, one of the best practitioners of the non-fiction comics form, tackles the life of Communist thinker and leader by examining his ideas at a time when such radical naivete seemed like just the answer to oppression. Though it’s hard to say that Trotsky comes off as likable, Gear isn’t afraid to present the harsher side of the man in a fight for his own principles and some level of government fairness towards ordinary human beings, even when it involves executions of peasants who refused to fight in the revolution. A person like Trotsky is unlikely to exist again — we’re less tolerant of intellectuals and anyone with foibles — but Geary does a fantastic job at bringing the era to life.
Wasteland Vol 5 – Antony Johnson, Carla Speed McNeil, Joe Infurnari, Chuck BB, and Christopher Mitten (Oni Press)
The originally invigorating Wasteland series suffers another sidetracking setback — Vol. 4 with its foray into nomadic dog tribes was irritating enough. In that, the main characters and their stories were largely relegated to minor purposes, leaving them tied up for the duration of the story. In this volume, four flashback stories are presented, filling in details of the post apocalyptic word and leading up to the stories in the first volume. The problem is that no matter how well done these stories are — and they are extremely well realized, particularly with Mitten’s stunning color work on the final story — they are mostly superfluous. A nice time passer but I hope Johnson will get back to what made this series truly interesting. To that end, I highly recommend the first 3 volumes of the series if you haven’t read them already.
Wet Moon Vol. 5 by Ross Campbell (Oni Press)
Campbell’s ongoing series of graphic novels follows a loose group of industrial-goth art school students in a mysterious Southern swamp town. Based on his own experiences at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Campbell weaves a network of gossip, doubt, and confessions that creates a mystique of experience in those transition years between high school and adulthood. Campbell shows an uncanny respect and sympathy for every character who enters the story, which keeps it down to earth even as the strange feeling in the air begins to wrap mystery around the story in ways you can’t quite put your finger on, even as it careens into an wholly unexpected event.
Year of Loving Dangerously – Ted Rall (NBM)
Unapologetically frank memoir of the year Rall spent as — there is no delicate way to put this — a gigolo who traded his favors for a roof over his head and a bed. Not just one — multiple places of action and rest were his in 1980s New York City, and this maze of mattresses serves as a stellar travelogue to life at that place and time. If Rall comes off as a bit of a rogue, he’s a least one with an interesting tale to tell — a series of misfortunes that saw him kicked out of college and on the streets during one of the scariest times in NYC history to be a homeless person.
November 11, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Rendered in a grim and sketchy black-and-white, Guy Davis’ “The Marquis: Inferno” is an old-fashioned horror tale in the best sense of the notion — evoking the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Bierce, or more recently films like Ken Russell’s “The Devils,” as it uncovers its tale of obsessive retribution and the evils one must perform in the name of sanctity.
In 18th-century Venisalle — a made-up European city that serves as a psychological, as well as physical landscape — the church controls all, even the police. Despite its strong arm, the institution’s work is cut out for it — Venisalle is a capitol of sin, with vice lurking around every corner and sometimes right in plain sight.
Former Inquisitor Vol de Galle has taken it upon himself to cleanse the city by ridding it of devils — literally. Called to duty by Saint de Massard through a mystical — or, perhaps, psychotic — experience, de Galle dons a black costume, arms himself with mysterious weaponry and stalks the possessed amongst the populace, coaxing out the actual demons before putting an end to them.
Unfortunately for de Galle — or The Marquis, as he is known — it’s not the bodies of the demons that remain, but the people they possessed. With a stream of mutilated carcasses in his wake, de Galle is hunted by the church and police as a mass murderer, the ultimate evil in a city ravaged by sin. And the quest is not so simple for de Galle — so single-minded in his purpose is he that the truth behind his mission might destroy him faster than the otherworldly monsters he combats.
Davis’s story takes the idea of a superhero — particularly the obsessive, dark Batman archetype — and transplants it into a fictionalized historical situation that rings true. The authenticity of the presentation combines with the inherent surrealism of the same to create a surreal adventure of good versus evil that ponders the realities of either side.
Darting between de Galle’s apparent madness and informed righteousness, Davis presents a story of great horror that adapts the archaic trappings of its source material to great effect, from the inner dialogue that defines the adventures of The Marquis to the officious bickering of the church and police officials tracking him down.
What really differentiates the demons from the humans they seek to destroy really comes down to manners. When The Marquis faces any of these creatures, their straightforward proclamations about the way the universe works and the dark truth of The Marquis’ endeavors put them in an unlikely position of honesty, in contrast to the human authority that dances around the situation in favor of the decorum of social privilege. This is just one level to the remarkable depth that Davis brings horror, during an era where shallowness has almost doomed it more than any of the Devil’s minions ever could.
September 2, 2009 § 1 Comment
Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost (First Second)
Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies offers this super fun book introducing budding young cartoonists — that is, kids — to the language of sequential art. It’s not a boring how-to, though — they wrap the instruction around a knight’s quest to save a princess from a candy-hoarding dragon. Along for the ride is his teacher, a magic elf, who offers the knight cartooning instruction solutions to getting himself out of pickles. Hilarious and informative!
Clever Tricks to Stave Off Death by Dave Malki (Dark Horse)
Utilizing vintage clip art as his visual weapon, cartoonist Dave Malki zooms past so many other cartoonists for sheer smarts and sharp dialog in this new collection of his “Wondermark” web comic. It would be easy to coast on the juxtaposition — Dickensian oafs talking about blogs is possibly funny without much effort — but Malki keeps injecting piss and vinegar intellect and observation in there. Someday, “Wondermark” will be used to sell Dolly Madison snack cakes.
Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)
Lemire’s acclaimed trilogy is collected in one book and begs the indulgence of anyone who missed it the first time around. Focusing on a rural Canadian community, the historical and emotional connections between a circle of current residents are examined through surrealism and psychology. It’s a jarring and haunting view of the hidden connections and a quiet work that benefits from the jagged visual imagery. Lauded outside of the comic book world and justifiably so, Lemire provides a bleak introspection that is related more to Ingmar Bergman than anything else in comics.
Long Time Gone #1 & 2 by George Cochrane (Mass MoCA)
It’s not often that an art museum puts out a comic book, but the Mass MoCA in North Adams breaks new ground with Long Time Gone, painter George Cochrane’s 24-issue epic foray. Capturing a day in the life via a netherworld where the conscious and subconscious collide, Cochrane references Homer and James Joyce as he pulls in the history of comics as his layout guide. For added layers, Cochrane collaborates with his seven year old daughter. I’ve never seen anything like it in comics — it’s one of the most visually rich creations in the form — and if copies of the actual comic disappear from the museum store, you can always read it page by page on the walls of the gallery.
Low Moon by Jason (Fantagraphics)
Dry and absurd as ever, Norwegian cartoonist Jason returns with an anthology featuring more of the verbally-spare cartoon animals that populate his surreal and depthful extended gag strips. The five stories within — on of which was serialized in the New York Times Sunday Magazine — offer up loss, despair, fear, mystery, rejection, humiliation and multiple other downers as played out by a bunch of lanky cats and dogs with stunned expression. The best stories include “Proto Film Noir,” in which lovers’ plot to kill the woman’s husband turns into some Sisyphusean cosmic joke, and “You Are Here,” an heartbreaking tale of irony that examines dysfunctional families by way of UFO abductions. There’s no other cartoonist with Jason’s somber deadpan and this serves as a great introduction to his work.
Marvin Monster by John Stanley (Drawn & Quarterly)
A great one one for the kiddies as well as the adults! The antidote to antiseptic childrens’ comics of the 1950s, but unlike EC horrors, this one meets the goody-two-shoes on their own level. The inspired creation of John Stanley, who otherwise found renown for his work on Little Lulu, Marvin Monster is a bit of dark tomfoolery with a smart edge about a young ghoul who doesn’t want to be bad. Unfortunately for monsters, bad is good — and his Mummy and Baddy want him to be very bad. Melvin mixes with the human world and contends with the absurd elements of the monster one in his quest get through life with as little gruesomeness as possible.
MOME Vol 15 (Fantagraphics)
The summer edition of this journal of intentionally obscure modern cartooning manages to be more pleasing than curious to those who might not be inclined toward the experimental — it’s a good introduction to short works from the other side. Particularly interesting are Ray Fenwick’s “How I Do It,” T. Edward Bask’s “Stellar” and Noah Van Scriver’s “True Tale of the Denver Spider-Man” all of which bring an edge of teetering and playful insanity to the anthology.
Second Thoughts by Niklas Asker (Top Shelf)
Pushing aside bombast and embracing quiet subtlety and emotional maturity, Niklas Asker takes the graphic novel into new territory, albeit an unassuming one. Like a small foreign film contained wthin a graphic novel, “Second Thoughts” follows parallel romances in turmoil, juxtaposing two different relationships with one love bird each flying its respective coop. A brief meeting in the airport sets into motion these two intimate investigations of doubt and change in love, unfolding with understanding and delicacy from Asker.
Sgt Rock: The Lost Battalion# 1 – 6 (DC Comics)
Creator Billy Tucci weaves DC Comics characters like Sgt. Rock and the crew of the Haunted Tank into a real incident at the end of World War II. Rather than going for the existential quality of the classic DC war comics, Tucci brings the characters into a well-considered reality, filled with action, but also a hefty amount of characterization and analysis. It’s not quite Sgt. Rock as we’ve known him — he’s really only one character in a tapestry that reveals battle as a collaborative fury — but Tucci provides a solid war story of depth. A hardcover collection will be released in September.
Wednesday Comics #1 – 6 (DC Comics)
Armed with a clever marketing plan — a weekly newspaper tabloid format — and some first rate talent, DC ushers comics backwards and forwards at the same time. Boasting 15 one-page, serialized adventures, this is a delight from start to finish with several standouts — a Prince Valiant inspired take on Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth; Paul Pope’s primitive and exciting Adam Strange, a stylish Little Nemo style take on Wonder Woman, Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s old-fashioned Metamorpho, Kubert father and son tackling Sgt. Rock,and a dizzying split Flash strip — half superhero adventure, half dramatic romance comic as seen through the eyes of his wife. Are comics actually fun again?
July 20, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Author/artist Rick Geary has made a niche for himself creating non-fiction books for kids that center in on macabre history. He has deserved every moment of his acclaim with books that, even as they teach history, also study psychology and sociology in regard to criminal behavior and present the subject matter never as pandering and certainly never as clinical.
“The Adventures of Blanche” collects three fictional stories by Geary in which he employs the same technique as his non-fiction work for old fashioned, rollicking adventure.
Geary’s story follows Blanche, a talented turn of the century piano player just starting out her career. In the form of letters to her parents, Blanche’s adventures in the big cities of the world unfold, revealing a polite and intelligent heroine who does not suffer from the typical fictional anachronisms too often given to females in similar scenarios. Blanche is very much a girl of her time but a progressive one — this is a great girl hero who relies on guile and talent in her adventures.
Geary’s method is to have Blanche wrapped around real-life events that offer possibilities for adventure and intrigue. Blanche’s adventure in New York City uses the building of the subway as a backdrop for a mysterious science fiction conspiracy. Meanwhile, the beginnings of the film industry and labor disputes are covered during her stay in Los Angeles, and more science fiction is mixed with Soviet Russian intrigue and the Parisian intellectual world of Picasso and Eric Satie when Blanche visits France.
Geary packs a lot into each adventure — they’re a little over 30 pages each — while keeping a charming simplicity that moves the action forward. There’s a lot more to be said about Blanche, and I hope Geary considers telling us someday.
December 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
What the world needs now — and what it has been lacking for far too long — is a character who walks in the realm of the supernatural but doesn’t take it so damn seriously. You could never tell from most TV shows and movies and books and comics, but the supernatural can be pretty funny. Really funny, actually — but we’re moving through a period in American culture when darkness rules in our preoccupations, and the supernatural cozies itself with not only our spirituality, but also our notion of romance and rebellion. What’s funny about all that?
Thank goodness for the 1960s. Even as an era of political and social turmoil, popular culture’s obsession with ignoring everything that was wrong with the world created some utterly goofy delights, and this collection of “Nemesis” comics captures that silly, exciting era. The creation of comic book veteran Richard E. Hughes for the American Comics Group in order to capitalize on the superhero craze wrought by the Batman TV series — Hughes’ most famous work of the era was Herbie, the Fat Fury — Nemesis is a dead superhero in striped pants who regularly passes from the spirit realm to protect humanity. The cover of “Adventures in the Unknown” — in which the Nemesis stories were run — promised “gripping tales of suspense,” but it delivered light-hearted tales of fun, and that’s the key to its charm. « Read the rest of this entry »