The Pirates and the Mouse author Bob Levin tracks down the El Dorado of comics, a lost collection of unpublished strips by 190 of the world’s most important cartoonists, including Will Eisner, Vaughn Bodé, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Arnold Roth, Bill Griffith, Ralph Steadman, Don Martin, Gahan Wilson, Jeff Jones, Guido Crepax — even William Burroughs, Tom Wolfe and Frank Zappa! The comics were assembled in the 1970s by Michel Choquette (creator with Neal Adams of National Lampoon’s Son o’ God comics) for a book called Someday Funnies, which never saw print. Levin and Choquette reveal for the first time the whole catastrophic story of what might have been the comics anthology of the century.
Also in this issue: Sean T. Collins interviews Skyscrapers of the Midwest’s Josh Cotter; Noah Van Sciver's cartoon interview with King Cat's John Porcellino; our classic comics section features Myron Waldman’s Eve, with an introduction by Mark Newgarden; our usual smattering of insightful and incisive columns; reviews of Kramers Ergot 7, The Times of Botchan, Chaykin, Clowes, Tezuka and many more!
THE TRUE STORY OF HOW MICHEL CHOQUETTE (ALMOST) ASSEMBLED THE MOST STUPENDOUS COMIC BOOK IN THE WORLD
Issue No. 299 of The Comics Journal [in-stores August 2009, premiering at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con] unearths a long-lost treasure: Way back in 1970, satirist/editor Michel Choquette conceived a mammoth anthology of new comics from all over the world by just about every cartoonist imaginable circa 1970 (as well as such unimaginable cultural icons as Federico Fellini and Frank Zappa). All of the contributors were to riff on the 1960s, creating a comics snapshot of that decade, but the project kept growing in ambition until it reached a scale that scared off its publishers. Today, bookstore shelves are filled with comics collections and graphic novels, but in 1970, there was no Watchmen or Persepolis. Even Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer-winning Maus had yet to be published. To publishers of the time, Choquette's dream book was an enormous folly and one by one they backed out of negotiations, leaving Choquette, who had spent all his book advances traveling the globe enlisting contributors, to disappear into relative obscurity.
But by the time publishers had gotten cold feet, Choquette had already assembled an astounding array of comics contributions from 190 of the most influential comics creators and cultural figures of the 1960s and '70s, including: Jack Kirby, William Burroughs, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, Arnold Roth, Don Martin, Michael O'Donoghue, Ralph Steadman, Tom Wolfe, Wally Wood, Bill Griffith, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gahan Wilson, Moebius, C.C. Beck, Vaughn Bodé, Harlan Ellison, Shary Flenniken, Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, Russ Heath, Doug Kenney, Patrice Leconte, Chris Miller, Denny O'Neil, Roy Thomas, as well as the aforementioned Fellini and Zappa. It was a legendary compilation of the comic art form that would give heart palpitations to anyone who ever loved comics or was alive in 1970, but no one has seen it all except for Choquette.
Comics Journal writer Bob Levin tracked Choquette down and discovered that this long-lost El Dorado of comics still exists in storage. In an epic article, Levin follows Choquette's path across continents and countries as the would-be anthologizer encounters a cultural Who's Who of the '60s and '70s (Salvador Dali! Gloria Steinem! Jann Wenner! Jorge Luis Borges! Bianca Jagger!), collecting art that will, in part, see print FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER in the pages of this issue.
TCJ #299 also features an interview with SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST creator Josh Cotter, a gallery of MYRON WALDMAN AND EVE strips with an introduction by Mark Newgarden, essays by Noah Berlatsky, R.C. Harvey, Matthias Wivel, and the usual assortment of reviews (KRAMERS ERGOT 7!), news and criticism from the best writers-about-comics in the field.
THE COMICS JOURNAL #299 [August 2009] • 208 pages • $11.99 U.S. • ISBN 978-1-60699-147-3
• Review: "...Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1939-41 pulls together some of the goofiest, most innocent, most violent superhero comics ever penned... The forematter (a lovely, insightful, nostalgic essay by Jonathan Lethem) and the afterword (a collection of bibliographic and historical notes on each strip) make perfect bookends for the hot stuff in the middle. This is pure and unadulterated Id, the kind of thing that inspired a moral panic about the corruption of the young. It's every bit as potent today." - Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
• Review: "Miss Lasko-Gross takes us into the skankiest basement makeout sessions of our teenage despair in [A Mess of Everything]... Her fictional stand-in figures out how to work the system and achieves redemption through beautifully ugly comics that aptly capture the darker hallucinogenic melodramas of teenage geekdom." - Richard Gehr, The Village Voice
• Review: "[A] wild and woolly collection of pre-Superman supermen... As Jonathan Lethem notes in his introduction, our appreciation for the bizarre otherness of these characters in retrospect suggests that our contemporary icons might well appear no less 'totally opaque and infinitely awkward' to future readers." - Richard Gehr, The Village Voice (same link as above)
• Review: "Rory Hayes was nuts. I mean, really, truly insane... Hayes was tapping into a rich vein of paranoia and insanity that was truly disturbing... Rory Hayes work has the authentic voice of a true outsider artist, a genuine madman in a world full of posers... Where Demented Wented... is a fascinating collection and well presented. Recommended." - Colin Upton, Inkstuds
• Review: Poopsheet praises Petey & Pussy by John Kerschbaum, noting the "deeply weird cast" of characters, the "unpredictable plots in which everybody winds up humiliated and covered in one horrible substance or other, which is just what they all deserve. All this is, of course, very, very funny. John is a ninja of comedy timing," and a story moment that "makes you happy to read comics."
• Reviews: Andrew Wheeler rounds up a lot of books, including Willie & Joe: The WWII Years by Bill Mauldin ("Not just one of the best books of comics to come out last year, not even one of the best books to come out in 2008, but an excellent, essential, carefully-designed work of real historical importance and vital art... a great monument to one of the best cartoonists of the 20th century"; Petey & Pussy by John Kerschbaum ("Another one of those books that makes me laugh out loud and then feel guilty about it; this is probably offensive to many people, disgusting to more, but uncomfortably funny for nearly all of us... The stories are drawn in a tight, clean style, and are full of things I don't want to describe on the open Internet. I laughed a lot; I'll admit that"); Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville by Ted Stearn ("...like Mark Beyer's Amy + Jordan, only much better drawn and with a coherent story"); The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees by Tony Millionaire ("grotesquely gorgeous art"); and The Last Musketeer by Jason ("a wry and very entertaining story")
• Review: Stripper's Guide on Jerry Dumas & Mort Walker's Sam's Strip: "...one of the most delightful and intellectually daring strips that ever appeared in newspapers... And Fantagraphics has done it up in a perfect package. The reproduction quality is top-notch, and they've given us a superb bonus -- a section of annotations by Jerry Dumas and Brian Walker... if you are a comic strip fan and you don't have this book on your shelf then there is something really wrong with you. Seriously. Go buy the book."
• List: Ben Towle names some favorites from 2008 including Most Outrageous by Bob Levin ("...fascinating... a fantastic book..."); Petey & Pussy by John Kerschbaum ("What more can I say? This book’s #%&*in’ hilarious. Oh, I guess this: it’s also beautifully drawn."); and Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville by Ted Stearn ("beautiful")
• Review: For The Savage Critics, Sean T. Collins says The Last Lonely Saturday by Jordan Crane is "pretty much the best love story in comics form I've ever come across... It's an intelligent, moving, beautiful, terrific little comic."
• Review: Rob Clough says that Beasts! Book 2 "mingles myths, warnings, fairy tales, correctives, and genuinely unexplained phenomena and allows its artists to run with them. The end result is a consistently beautiful, lovingly assembled book that forms a kind of metacommentary on the entire notion of the fantastic."
• Review: The SF Site's "Nexus Graphica" says R. Crumb & David Zane Mairowitz's Kafka is "a terrific guide to Kafka's life and work — Mairowitz deftly sums up Franz' family/Jewish/pre-Holocaust European experiences and influences, and Crumb's heavy inkings lend the exact tones of darkness to recreations of both Kafka's life — and work." (See sidebar)
• Preview: The First Post presents a slideshow of images from Humbug, saying "the short-lived Humbug [was] an exquisite satirical work that, over its 11 issues, routinely equalled MAD in its displays of creative genius... providing a level of trenchant satire that was almost unheard of at the time."
• Preview: Bryan Munn, in "hyping" The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972, states "Now that two whole decades of Peanuts have been reprinted in the deluxe hardcover format published by Fantagraphics and designed by Seth, we can really get a sense of what a huge achievement this project is and will continue to be for a generation."
• Review/profile: The Oregonian says that Most Outrageous by Bob Levin is "The most challenging and thought-provoking book I read last year... unforgettable... among the great essays on human frailty," and discusses how the commercial success of The Complete Peanuts enables us to publish more challenging work
• Review: Brick Weekly says of The Lagoon by Lilli Carré, "Carré’s cartooning is purely excellent, evolving nicely from her earlier work and pulling you into a world of vividly drawn characters and lush environments" (scroll past the video game review)
• Interview: The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon found a video file of Jonathan Lethem interviewing Daniel Clowes at the 2005 MoCCA Festival; he can't remember where it came from but he's posted it anyway
We've been posting these as we've found them, but here's a (slightly OCD) alphabetical list of Fantagraphics titles and whose year-end lists that they've appeared on, for your handy reference. (Links will continue to be added as we find them.) Rankings appear in parentheses; no number means the list was unranked: