A 16-minute video documentary of Hans Rickheit from 2005 has just recently been posted on Facebook. At his blog, Hans provides background information, apologia, and a photo of a real-life squirrel machine (warning to the squeamish: complete with carcass) given to him by a friend at his Squirrel Machine signing in Cambridge, MA.
Online Commentary & Diversions, now with more Tonya Harding than ever:
• Review: "Occasionally, there are works of art or literature that defy simple classification. The brain breaks upon them like waves and they give up different secrets with each tide but never all the secrets and never all at once. These creations challenge as much as they entertain and ask for obsession as toll on the road to understanding. The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit is just such an enigma. ... Surreal, gorgeous, and both satisfying and confounding, The Squirrel Machine is a hypnotic, occasionally repulsive, always entertaining, and wildly creative graphic novel. It does not invite rereading so much as demands it, and each encounter reveals new and different details and interpretations. This book is a wonderful mystery, a basket of questions, a wealth of enigmas, and it looks utterly arresting every step of the way." – Christian Zabriskie, Graphic Novel Reporter
• Opinion: At Comics Comics, Dash Shaw has an interesting proposal for colleges that teach comics: "Instead of hiring teachers based on their achievements (and many of the current teachers are geniuses, no doubt about it), hire people who previously worked for many years in a now-defunct house style. Someone who drew Archie for years and is now selling their originals at Comic Con? Hire them."
• List: At Robot 6, Sean T. Collins's top 6 "deeply creepy 'alt-horror' cartoonists" includes Renee French ("her frequently deformed (more like unformed) characters and hazy, dreamlike, soft-focus pencils recall [David] Lynch's unnerving debut Eraserhead with its dust-mote cinematography and mewling infant thing"), Hans Rickheit ("It just so happens that his 'normal' is grotesque and harrowing to the rest of us"), Al Columbia ("It's as though a team of expert [animation] craftsmen became trapped in their office sometime during the Depression and were forgotten about for decades, reduced to inbreeding, feeding on their own dead, and making human sacrifices to the mimeograph machine, and when the authorities finally stumbled across their charnel-house lair, this stuff is what they were working on in the darkness") and Josh Simmons ("one of a very few comics creators still capable of shocking... doing serious, dangerous work")
• Review: "West Coast Blues is a brilliant story, and Manchette was a phenomenal writer of the modern world, putting others to shame at times. Just that simple, really. This is a book that can’t be reduced to familiar genre markers." – Brian Lindenmuth, BSCreview
• Review: "Bruce Paley tells his tale with no frills and no holds barred. ... The book is at times quite funny and other times terribly depressing, but it is never dull and I found it hard to put down. Carol Swain’s artwork fits the mood of the book well. It’s fairly simple but it hits all the right notes and evokes the right emotions. I was completely unfamiliar with her work prior to this book, but I’ll keep an eye out for her in the future. ... I found this book to be incredibly compelling in its own laid back sort of way. ... There’s no shortage of books out there about the 1960’s and ‘70s, but this one felt a lot more personal than most. Paley’s words mingled with Swain’s artwork so perfectly that you almost felt like the guy was sitting across the table from you, sharing a beer or two and swapping stories. If you’re interested in that era or you just like a good autobiography, I’d give Giraffes in my Hair: A Rock 'n' Roll Life a shot." – Chad Derdowski, Mania.com
Blurbs, "Babe" and big bucks in this episode of Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Review: "The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book features two full-length stories, 'The Leaking Cello Case' and 'John Wesley Harding.' Both stories start off in the every day then morph into oddball mysteries that never go quite where you expect them to. As odd as some of the capers and misadventures get they are always conveyed with a kind of casual, deadpan poker face that manages to make them all the more believable. ... The art is a curious mix of cartoonish realism, and the city of Cape Town is vividly portrayed... Red Monkey Double Happiness Book is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read for the mystery/crime comic fan looking for something a bit different than the harder noir stuff that seems to dominate these days." – Brian Lindenmuth, BSCreview
• Review: "...[T]he appearance this week in bookstores of Hans Rickheit’s comix masterpiece, The Squirrel Machine, is a genuine milestone in the... artistic business of reconciling one’s inside to one’s outside, so much so that I must confess that I am truly taken aback by Rickheit’s entire effort, in the best sense of the word. This carefully constructed tale... strikes me as being one of the few original works of art that I’ve seen published in North America over the last two decades, on a par with the better work of Dan Clowes or Charles Burns. ... This is not a tale for the squeamish nor is it a tale for the literal-minded; it is very much a bravura performance in the tradition of Surrealism, or Fantastic Art, or even Symbolism... In short, strongly recommended!" – Mahendra Singh
• Feature: Matthew J. Brady presents "12 Things I Learned from Supermen!" including "In these stories, disbelief must often not only be suspended, but strung up and mercilessly whipped, then drawn and quartered"
• $$$: Via The Beat, somebody sold a mint slabbed copy of Albedo #2 (1st appearance of Usagi Yojimbo) on eBay for $5100, making it possibly the most expensive Fantagraphics comic ever sold (corrections welcome); Stan Sakai comments on his LiveJournal
Holy smokes, there's no shortage of Online Commentary & Diversions today:
• Review: "...Prison Pit... is nothing less than a continuous, no-holds barred, violent assault on the eyes. It is literally one god damned, bloody fight scene after another... The book's genius lies in Ryan's sheer nerve and imagination in setting up these battles; he constantly ups the ante in the most bizarre and inventive ways possible. ... Ryan's love of body functions goes into full gonzo mode here. ...you've got a book where body horror extends far beyond the repulsive into the truly sublime and inspired. ... Despite the gore, or perhaps, because of it, Prison Pit is a fantastic, accomplished work." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Review: "Page after page [of The Squirrel Machine] features one of the brothers traversing through some odd, off-kilter landscape, either out in the woods, or, more often, in their home. Between the floorboards and walls seem to exist an endless array of paths and rooms, each cluttered with an endless array of junk, machines and the occasional disturbing, inexplicable oddity. The end result resembles more of an old-style adventure video game than a comic. It's Myst, directed by David Cronenberg." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6 (same link as above)
• Review: "Perhaps what makes West Coast Blues so captivating is how well it highlights the similarities between film and comics, while simultaneously showcasing its own unique ability as a graphic novel to capture the noir aesthetic through word and image. ... Not unlike many noir films, West Coast Blues is replete with car chases, hit-men, drinking, guns, and the occasional salacious scene. All of this is set in Tardi’s straightforward drawing style which is a good fit for the almost matter-of-fact, unsentimental manner in which violence, sex, and life in general are met with during the course of the book." – Sara Cole, PopMatters
• Review: "Most comic strips today, especially those that are humor strips, often avoid topical subjects. Schulz embraced the topics of the era. They may date the strip, but it never leaves them outdated. ... Schulz was also not afraid to carry on-going storylines for several days or in some cases, even a couple of weeks. ... [The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974 ] also features all the favorite subjects like Linus’ annual wait for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’s trip to Summer camp, and Sally’s letters to Santa Claus. This is why Peanuts is the greatest strip ever!" – Tim Janson, Newsarama
• Review: "Jason seems to delight in building firm plots, only to swiftly tug them out of sync. The resulting offbeat dynamic is punctuated with deadpan verbal, narrative and graphic punch lines, which pin the stories down at the same time that they suggest grander meanings. 'Where am I?' asks a prisoner. 'I think I'll do some gardening,' says a murdered man. 'Which way?' a son asks his father in 'You Are Here' — the heartrending emotional core of the collection [Low Moon] — as they search for his mother on a barren planet. Each line and frame could mean nothing or could mean everything in this quiet, gripping book." – Becky Ferreira, The L Magazine
• Interview: Jason speaks frankly about Low Moon with Becky Ferreira of The L Magazine (different link than above): "Low Moon, the story, wasn't long enough for a book of its own, so I had to include some other stories to fill it out. They were just ideas for shorter stories I had lying around. There wasn't meant to be any thematic unity. Death, I guess, is a repeating theme. People die a lot."
• Interview: Tommy Hill of the Columbia Daily Spectator talks to The Comics Journal assistant editor Kristy Valenti about comics criticism and The Importance of Comics: "I teach my interns that nobody cares about them and their feelings and their dog when they were 8; while their experience and perspective is valuable, it’s just a jumping off point to get at bigger things."
• Plug: "You Are There...: More beautiful Jacques Tardi, a seminal work in comics for adults in the French-language market and a first-paragraph mention work for both Tardi and writer Jean-Claude Forest." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Plug: "[You Are There] is a strange, wordy, spicy satire, seeing a man struggle to live on the walls surrounding land stolen from him; maybe it's best to see for yourself." - Joe McCulloch, Jog - The Blog (read the rest of his blurb for some interesting background info on the book)
Late nite link blogging for your Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Review: "You wanna talk about a gateway comic? How 'bout handing this sucker [Ganges #3] to anyone who's ever had trouble falling asleep? The whole thing is dedicated to nothing more or less than reproducing the mental and physical sensations of insomnia. Ironically it's Huizenga's most action-driven comic this side of Fight or Run or the video-game bits in Ganges #2. ... Combine it with one of the most effective uses yet of the Ignatz series' two-tone color palette--here a cool small-hours blue--and the experience is almost tactile, as though you're physically tunneling through the mysteries of your own mind." – Sean T. Collins [ed. note: I swear I'll have the issue up for presale on the website next week]
• Review: "No one is safe in Al Columbia’s world. Not the kittens (they get decapitated) nor the children (they get baked into pies) nor the bunnies (they carry scythes). Correspondingly, no one is innocent. Grandmothers are evil, grandfathers are greedy, and trees grow baby heads instead of apples and oranges. What a wonderful world it is. That’s not an entirely ironic evaluation of Pim & Francie, a collection of sketches, strips, stills and other valuable ephemera from the mind of Columbia (creator of the 1990s cult classic Biologic Show). The twisted narratives and characters are presented so deftly — with such humor and visual panache — that their wrongness becomes right; and thus is the singular charm of Al Columbia." – Molly Young, We Love You So
• Review/Profile: "Earlier this year, Fantagraphics gave readers the opportunity to encounter [Harvey] Kurtzman’s creative energy in complete form by reissuing a boxed collection of Humbug, his short-lived but monumental periodical that began publication in summer of 1957. It’s Humbug that functions as the spiritual father for magazines such as National Lampoon, Spy and The Onion, among many others, but there’s something invigorating about it because of its vantage point in the supposedly stodgy and bland 1950s. Coming out of that decade, Humbug really did break new ground." – John Mitchell, North Adams Transcript
• Review: "Even though Woodstock casts a large shadow on the cover of Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974, it’s Peppermint Patty who should get star billing. Not to take anything away from Snoopy’s yellow-feathered avian sidekick – who does make several appearances through the hardcover tome – it’s just that Patty eventually gets the brunt of character development attention, while Woodstock exists as the perfect foil for Snoopy. ... Also of note is Schulz’s repeated use of standard gags (Lucy pulling the football from Charlie) along with a few new ones, including the consoling 'Poor, sweet baby.' Because of his tendency to keep running gags contained within a year’s span, it makes a trade collection work better than with most comic strips." – Christopher Irving, Graphic NYC
• Review: "What quickly becomes clear is that the graphic novel is a particularly apt form for inhabiting unconventional characters, and very few do this as well as The Squirrel Machine. Wielded skilfully, images are as expressive as words, and occasionally more so. Rickheit's drawings convey the boys' tortured feelings of persecution, elation and curiosity — as well as their uncouth creative urges — in a succinct and often gruesome way. Rickheit's frames vary from the cluttered to the stark, and his ability to pack detail into four square inches is rivalled only by his ingenious use of white space. ...The Squirrel Machine convinces anew that a picture is worth a thousand words." – Molly Young, Intelligent Life
• Interview: For Marvel.com, Sean T. Collins talks to Strange Tales contributor Tony Millionaire: "Just as you called, I was reading an old collection of THOR... It's funny: 'I say thee nay'? I didn't realize that was such a popular phrase."
October, when kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall, but Online Commentary & Diversions goes on and on:
• Review: "If the world of alt-comics feels appealing but intimidatingly vast (what doesn’t these days), MOME is the perfect place to start. ... The volume is thick, slick and printed in what looks like Technicolor. An anthology is only as good as the sensibilities of those who compile it, of course, so it’s worth noting that a subscription of MOME equals four issues per year of work culled from the depths by an outfit that not only has keen vision in such matters, but also a stake in finding the very best. What’s not to trust?" – Molly Young, We Love You So
• Review: "...[Locas II,] the latest collected chunk of the (mis)adventures of locas Maggie and Hopey (and the occasional 'loco,' like Ray, the consort of sexy Frogmouth -- does it seem like a good soap opera yet? -- and their sprawling, recurring cast of compelling, sometimes hard-to-figure supporting characters) all brought me squarely back to Los Angeles. In the 80s. ... But returning to L&R, even sporadically, isn't simply an exercise in nostalgia. ...[W]hat's ultimately compelling about the L&R saga is the way the characters change over the years. ... So it's not just a [madeleine] cookie from our past, but something still fairly warm from the oven." – Mark London Williams, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Review: "There is such a relentlessly fervid, even crazed, sheen to all [Fletcher Hanks's] work, that you can't look away. ... Hanks seemed nearly demon-driven in these stories of constant fighting, killing, betrayal and revenge. The panels are often cramped, and the color schemes are nearly incandescent, and you're not sure whether to liken the rawness of it all -- elastic, rubber-boned physiognomies included -- to listening to a record by Fear, circa 1980, or watching a half-dressed man shouting on the corner." – Mark London Williams, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica (same link as above)
• Review: "Tardi's intricate, cartoony, and beautiful art perfectly expresses Forest's ideas and words. The humorous You Are There masterfully satirizes French society and politics unlike any comic before or since." – Rick Klaw, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Plug: "It always amazes me how [Kevin] Huizenga can take everyday moments, like, in [Ganges #3], trying to get to sleep, and turn them into extravagant, elaborate displays of cartooning genius." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Interview: At Comic Book Galaxy, Alan David Doane poses 5 questions to our favorite Associate Publisher, Eric Reynolds
• Profile: "Comics creator Hans Rickheit's new graphic novel, The Squirrel Machine, is a stylish and surreal tale of brothers dabbling in the forbidden unknown. ... He lives in Philadelphia, but his work pulls from the style and antiquity of 19th Century New England. 'The objects, places, and people from that time period in New England grabbed my imagination," Rickheit says. 'I find them visually more interesting than modern trappings, modern buildings. And they're more fun to draw, because they're just so ornate.'" – John Seven, Worcester Magazine
• Review: "[The Squirrel Machine is a] darkly disturbing, brilliantly drawn story... B&W pen and ink drawings elucidate complex machines and Victorian-era architecture in baroque detail, while surrealist imaginings take turns for the truly repugnant. Sexual perversion, putrefaction and serial-killer style artworks are all ornately portrayed, as are the buildings, shops, horse-drawn carriages and crumbling mansions of a 19th-century small town. The story, while told primarily in pictures, includes a stilted and formal dialogue that only adds to the perversity. ... Though not for the faint of heart, this obscure tale will offer rich rewards to the right kind of reader, one who appreciates grotesque horror, angry mobs and the creative explosion of a repressed Victorian sexuality." – Publishers Weekly
• Review: "In this memoir [Giraffes in My Hair], [Bruce] Paley openly shares his stories of the '60s and '70s, and by the end you'll feel like he's a long-lost uncle. ... At some point, this book will probably become a movie, but I suggest you check out the uncensored version with [Carol] Swain's great artwork, which sets the scene perfectly. It's a miracle Paley survived to tell these anecdotes, but I'm glad he did." – Whitney Matheson, USA Today Pop Candy
• Profile: Joe Heller, editorial cartoonist for the Green Bay Post-Gazette, talks to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tirdad Derakhshani in a syndicated article about the influence of Prince Valiant ("The release of Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938, the first in a new series of gorgeously printed, hardcover Valiant collections from Fantagraphics Books, served as a bittersweet reminder of the century-long rise and eventual decline of a great American art form, the comic strip"), with accompanying video
• Onomatopœia: Stephen Worth at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog presents a great Basil Wolverton rarity: an article Wolverton wrote for the Daily Oregonian in 1948 titled "Acoustics in the Comics." Learn the difference between "SCHALAMPF!" and "PFWUMPFPH!" (It's a re-run, but still worth a look)
• Things to see: Is Steven Weissman (a) prepping for Halloween, (b) inventing a new superhero, or (c) hoping to get cast on the next season of Project Runway? Whatever it is, I like it