I'd like to take a rare personal moment here on Flog for a public service announcement: I walked away from this with a few minor scrapes and bruises yesterday. The other guy's OK too. Wear your seatbelts, folks.
This is also to explain why we've been relatively quiet the last couple of days as I've been taking some time off and to let you know we might miss posting some news and announcements in our usual timely-ish fashion for a little while as I try to catch up.
A novel of the Jazz Age, The Big Town is the story of a failed businessman whose dreams of prosperity hinge on the secret proposition of a millionaire industrialist and a dangerous relationship he finds with a poor orphan girl chasing love in the great American metropolis.
Harry Hennesey’s hopes of success, both in his household and the world, have driven him to sell his home in an Illinois small town and take his chances in the big city. He rents a room in a run-down hotel. He deals in wholesale items scavenged from yard sales and close-outs. One night at a movie theater downtown, he meets a teenage flapper named Pearl who latches onto him and won’t let go. For several years now, Harry has threatened his marriage and self-esteem with innumerable infidelities. Now he finds himself falling in love with a girl less than half his age. But that’s not all.
Charles A. Follette, chairman of the board of the American Prometheus Corporation, comes to him with a slick proposition: find Follette’s missing niece, and the road to riches shall be his. Soon, though, Harry discovers a darker secret to the identity of the missing niece and what lies behind the urgency for her detection. It’s this revelation that leads him to a closer examination of what it means to the life he’s known since the birth of his children and that life he believes awaits him if he can only reach the top of the ladder.
Harry’s story in The Big Town is set against a fantastic backdrop of an archetypal 1920s American big city. We see speakeasies, sanitariums, skyscrapers, and a glittering Gatsby-like party high atop the metropolis. Lost in his own moral confusions, we watch Harry try to reform his young lover and uncover the secret of her own past in a small canal town miles beyond a city where gangsters murder ordinary citizens and everyone seems to have a get-rich scheme as the Roaring ’20s come to a thunderous close. The Big Town evokes a lost era through language and flamboyant characters reminiscent of Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Ring Lardner, etc. Yet it’s also eerily relevant to our own time with its study of the role of business, crime, morality, and love in our lives.
Advance Praise for The Big Town:
"Monte Schulz's The Big Town exposes decadence, wealth and consumption in Jazz Age America as spiritual myopia — where desperate, haunting characters hinge their lives on impossible dreams. This lyrical, gripping novel is as close to 1920s America as it gets, and penned with such frightening realism that the chaos of a bygone era erupts from its pages." – Simon Van Booy, award-winning author of Everything Beautiful Began After
"Bold and stirring, The Big Town is a big walk through the dark side of Jazz Age America, a place where temptation and violence were only a breath away. A finely-textured tale of moral ambiguity told with gripping realism that richly evokes the sights and sounds of an era defined by gangsters and Gatsby." — Persia Walker, author of Black Orchid Blues
This week's comic shop shipment is slated to include the following new titles. Read on to see what comics-blog commentators and web-savvy comic shops are saying about them (more to be added as they appear), check out our previews at the links, and contact your local shop to confirm availability.
192-page full-color 7.25" x 10.25" softcover • $24.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-511-2
"Before there were knockoffs of MAD-the-magazine like Cracked and Crazy... there were a whole lot of knockoffs of MAD-the-comic-book, like Whack, Nuts, Eh, Unsane... This John Benson-edited anthology collects work from a bunch of them." – Douglas Wolk, ComicsAlliance
"On the historical side, Fantagraphics brings us The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD Inspired Satirical Comics ($24.99). KC’s working on a review that we’ll have for you shortly [since posted here – Ed.]." – Joanna Draper Carlson, Comics Worth Reading
"I was well aware of the number of imitators that attempted to capitalize on Kurtzman and company’s success early on, but didin’t know much more than that. Were any of these comics any good? Hopefully this book will let me know." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
"Editor John Benson follows up 2010′s excellent Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s [John Benson provided editorial consultation and contributed to the back matter for Four Color Fear, but the book was edited by Greg Sadowski – Ed.] with The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD-Inspired Satirical Comics, culling choice bits from humor magazines by Atlas, Charlton, Harvey and the like; $24.99." – Joe McCulloch, The Comics Journal
"The success of MAD Magazine lead to a number of 1950s knock-offs. This book collects some of the of the finest examples of non-MAD parody comics, featuring work by Jack Davis, Will Elder, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, Bob Powell, and many more. Portzebie!" – Benn Ray (Atomic Books), Largehearted Boy
104-page black & white 6.5" x 9.25" softcover • $16.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-485-6
"And readers that missed out on Thomas Ott’s 2005 collection of wordless works can now enjoy a softcover edition of Cinema Panopticum; $16.99." – Joe McCulloch, The Comics Journal
"Love reading comics but find all the words a drag? Then Thomas Ott's wordless, gorgeous and haunting scratchboard horror stories are just the thing for you." – Benn Ray (Atomic Books), Largehearted Boy
"I assume this is a new edition of the Thomas Ott, in which case I already have it. If you don't, those books tend to hold up really well over time." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review:Pitchfork gives the Listen, Whitey!companion album an 8.0, with Stephen M. Deusner writing "Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Listen, Whitey! The Sound of Black Power 1967-1974 -- the album and the book, both representing many years' research by historian Pat Thomas -- is how they portray a music in flux: Artists such as the Watts Prophets, the Original Last Poets, Shahid Quintet, and Marlena Shaw were only just realizing the potential for cross-genre synthesis and for radical political statement through music.... Thomas is interested in depicting Black Power music at street level rather than playlisting the most popular songs of the era. ...[B]y focusing on the range of music inspired by this movement, Listen, Whitey! allows so much of the confusion, outrage, anger, emotion, humor, and even optimism of this music to resonate anew."
• Review: "I had always meant to read Love and Rockets, but it might be possible that I've given myself a gift by waiting until I'm at this point in my life. My reading now, in my 40s might be more nuanced, and less surface than having read them 20 years ago. I'm going to recommend the series. There is an element of sexuality, but not sexism. And there's an element of Bohemianism as well. However, I guess Love and Rockets is like a complicated wine: what you taste at first isn't the taste that lingers as you look a little closer." – Catherine Schaff-Stump, Writer Tamago
When MAD became a surprise hit as a comic book in 1953 (after the early issues lost money!) other comics publishers were quick to jump onto the bandwagon, eventually bringing out a dozen imitations with titles like FLIP, WHACK, NUTS, CRAZY, WILD, RIOT, EH, UNSANE, BUGHOUSE, and GET LOST. The Sincerest Form of Parody collects the best and the funniest material from these comics, including parodies of movies (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From Here To Eternity), TV shows (What's My Line, The Late Show), comic strips (Little Orphan Annie, Rex Morgan), novels (I, the Jury), plays (Come Back, Little Sheba), advertisements (Rheingold Beer, Charles Atlas), classic literature ("The Lady or the Tiger"), and history (Pancho Villa). Some didn't even try for parody, but instead published odd, goofy, off-the-wall stories.
These earnest copiers of MAD realized that Will Elder's cluttered "chicken fat" art was a good part of MAD’s success, and these pages are densely packed with all sorts of outlandish and bizarre gags that make for hours of amusing reading. The "parody comics" are uniquely "'50s," catching the popular culture zeitgeist through a dual lens: not only reflecting fifties culture through parody but also being themselves typical examples of that culture (in a way that Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD was not).
This unprecedented volume collects over 30 of the best of these crazy, undisciplined stories, all reprinted from the original comics in full color. Editor John Benson (who wrote the annotations for the first complete MAD reprints, and interviewed MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman in depth several times over the years) also provides expert, profusely illustrated commentary and background, including comparisons of how different companies parodied the same subject.
Artists represented include Jack Davis, Will Elder, Norman Maurer, Carl Hubbell, William Overgard, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, Al Hartley, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Hy Fleischman, Jay Disbrow, Howard Nostrand, and Bob Powell.
Casual comics readers are probably familiar with the later satirical magazines that continued to be published in the '60s and '70s, such as Cracked and Sick, but the comics collected in this volume were imitations of the MAD comic book, not the magazine, and virtually unknown among all but the most die-hard collectors. For the first time, Fantagraphics is collecting the best of these comics in a single, outrageously funny volume.
Download and read a 14-page PDF excerpt (6.1 MB) which includes the Table of Contents.
• Plugs: Cynthia Clark Harvey of the Phoenix New Times looks at "Noteworthy Graphic Novels by Women," including C. Tyler's You'll Never Know — "The first two installments of Tyler's wonderful trilogy, a memoir about her father's WWII soldiering and its effects on her family, were on best and award lists. I liked Book 1 and loved Book 2, leaving me on tenterhooks for Book 3..." — and Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons — "...as I look at O'Connor's early cartoons, I'm sure I'll be thinking: What if she were working today? What if she'd been able to fully express her literary vision with her first love, comics? What if Flannery O'Connor wrote Wise Blood as a graphic novel? Imagine that."
• Review:VICE's Nick Gazin looks at some of his favorite strips from The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984: "There's this one where Schroeder actually tries to communicate his understanding of beauty to Lucy. Of course Lucy doesn't really care about his inner world, she's just a groupie and wants the idea of Schroeder. It answers the question of what would happen if Schroeder actually gave Lucy the time of day. This is a moment where it seems like Sparky is really opening up to us about his own personal ways of relating to women, falling in love with distant princesses. It also harkens back to that scene in Citizen Kane when a guy mentions that he never forgot a beautiful girl he saw crossing the street decades earlier."
• Review: "Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 1 by Robert Crumb — This is a newly revamped edition of the inaugural volume, featuring some new, (I’m assuming) just discovered art... The real discovery here is the Jim and Mabel story, as Crumb is able to wring an amazing amount of depth and characterization from this seemingly simple story of a surly twenty-something woman bringing lunch to the elementary school kid who’s got a crush on her. As raw and awkward as it is at times it’s also rather poignant and shows how skilled he was at an early age." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Review (Audio): Washington, DC (and environs) comic shop Big Planet Comics also has a podcast and call Kolor Klimax: Nordic Comics Now "one of the best anthologies I've ever read" on the Feb. 24, 2012 episode (review starts at 35:40; thanks to KK editor Matthias Wivel for the info)
• Plug: "Having read and reread and rereread the previous Nancy strip collections and nearly committing all their contents to memory, having some new (relatively speaking) material to enjoy really is a treat." – Mike Sterling, Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin
• Book Reports: For a fresh critical perspective, check out the student reviews of many graphic novels published by us and others collected at the Graphic Novels Reading Rainbow blog (and the accompanying photos and illustrations can be a hoot too)
Sorry this slipped through the cracks last week, everyone!
Last Wednesday's comic shop shipment included the following new titles. Read on to see what comics-blog commentators and web-savvy comic shops are saying about them (more to be added as they appear), check out our previews at the links, and contact your local shop to confirm availability.
336-page black & white 8.5" x 8.5" flexibound softcover • $24.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-360-6
"This is lovely material, lovingly presented, as satisfying a production-style execution of a strip collection as I've seen in a long while. And that's not exactly a category light on well-executed books." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
"A big fat square brick of Ernie Bushmiller's poker-faced masterwork. Fantagraphics has had this on the schedule for eons; good to see it finally coming out!" – Douglas Wolk, ComicsAlliance
"I’ve never really delved into Ernie Bushmiller’s iconic creation before but I know there are plenty of folk who consider it a near-Zen masterpiece and I’m curious as to the effect sitting down with a sizable block of Nancy strips will have on me. Perhaps my third inner eye will finally open!" – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
"If you didn’t see it last week, gird your loins for Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945, presenting the Ernie Bushmiller classic from materials scanned mainly from the collection of Dan Clowes, who provides an introduction..." – Joe McCulloch, The Comics Journal
"The new @fantagraphics Nancy collection is so goddamn funny I can barely handle it." – Secret Headquarters
"There are other new comics out today, too, I guess, but I don’t know why they bothered." – Mike Sterling
And hey, designer extraordinaire Jacob Covey just finalized the two — yes, two! — covers for the book. That's right, because we're crazy, we're publishing the book collection with two different covers, evenly split 50/50, so you have a choice of the cow creamer above or the bunny candle below. Amazon isn't going to let you choose, so if you have a preference you'll need to either pre-order from us or pick it up from your local book shop when it comes out in June.
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