Today's Online Commentary & Diversions (with one carried over from yesterday's post-less day):
• Review: "Normally I wouldn’t put in a spoiler warning for a few blog notes, but this is a special case. I’m going to be talking about Love and Rockets: New Stories #3, which contains what is arguably one of the best comics stories ever... It’s so easy to take the Hernandez Bros. for granted: they’ve been around so long, put out work regularly, and often use the same characters. So the temptation is to just think that they’re a stable public resource, like the library or a museum: they’ll always be there and we can ignore them for years, checking in on them only when we need to. But really, these guys are among the best cartoonists who have ever lived. Like Seth, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and Kim Deitch, they are constantly pushing themselves to do better work, and are now at a career peak. We need to give thanks for this, loudly and publicly." – Jeet Heer, Comics Comics
• Review: "Really, it’s hard to know what to make of [Norman Pettingill:] Backwoods Humorist, the first time you flip through its lovingly-curated pages. [...] I fell in love with it almost immediately, first caught completely off guard by the amateurish art in a book compiled by Fantagraphics. Why, precisely had the publisher chosen to compile these works in such a beautiful volume? There is, however, something disarmingly bewitching amongst Pettingill’s grotesque caricatures of country life. [...] In the great scheme of 20th century art, it’s difficult to imagine that Pettingill’s work will ever be regarded as much more than a somewhat high profile curiosity. For those seeking to discover an utterly fascinating body of work, however, that curiosity is certainly worth the price of admission." – Brian Heater, The Daily Cross Hatch
• Review: "Greg Sadowski and John Benson did a superb job on this collection of early 1950s horror stories [Four Color Fear]... In addition to Greg's attractive design throughout, he delivers meticulous, pixel-perfect restorations... There are 25 pages of fascinating, informative notes by both Greg and John. [...] This book is like time-traveling, a document of an era. [...] This will stand as an important reference work that should be shelved alongside David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague." – Bhob Stewart, Potrzebie
• Review: "...Mome 19... is the best volume of the series so far. [...] Josh Simmons' 'White Rhinocerous Part 1'... is short, makes sense, is funny: great comic. The rest of Mome 19 doesn't fall apart on the job either... But the real prize here is DJ Bryant... Alongside a group of contemporaries who possess some of comic's most innovative talents, he chose refinement. It fucking worked." – Tucker Stone, The Factual Opinion
• Plugs: "Fire & Water... is a look at the life and body of work created by Bill Everett, the man who created the Sub-Mariner - the character upon which Marvel Comics would be built. [... In] The Sanctuary [Nate] Neal uses a cave-dwelling tribe to explore themes of communication and language and reveals himself to be a master storyteller. [...] Ding Dong Daddy from Dingburg... is the newest collection of comics legend Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead comic strip. In this volume — Joan Rivers, Charles Bukowski, God, riboflavin, and more! Surreal and absurd yuks abound." – Benn Ray (Atomic Books), Largehearted Boy
• Plug: "...[I]f you’re in the mood for some dazzling, filthy violence then perhaps Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit Volume 2 is... up your alley. It’s got CF the barbarian from outer space on the cover, dripping in blood and wearing nowt but pants." – The Gosh! Comics Blog
• Plug: At Comix 411, Tom Mason, profiling Leslie Turner, Roy Crane's successor on Captain Easy, notes "For those interested in the origins of Captain Easy, you can’t do better than Fantagraphics Books which is reprinting Roy Crane’s classic strip, starting at the beginning."
• Almost Plug: The 1930s "Human Centipede" image that Mark Frauenfelder Boing Boinged today happens to be found in our book Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes
A lot of catching up to do with this batch of clips & strips — click for improved/additional viewing and possible artist commentary at the sources:
• A couple of things Bill Griffith has recently shared on Facebook: the rejected first draft of the home screen for the Zippy Comix iPhone app, and a "lost" Wacky Packages design that Bill says is "almost sacrilegious"
• Review: "Remember that kid in school? The one with the pen sketchings on the back of his Trapper Keeper full of wicked violence and jagged lines? Ever wonder what happened to him? Well, he's Johnny Ryan and he's all grown up and making some of the most in your face comics today. Prison Pit is something you have to experience to believe. An artistic achievement in storytelling (most of the pages are wordless) on a pure guttural and simplistic level. Highly recommended for those of you who like a bit of dirt and grit with your comics." – Mark L. Miller, Ain't It Cool News
• Commentary: "My sit-down read of this Captain Easy volume is really the first time I’ve devoted much time to actually digesting the narrative of Crane’s work — and the first time I’ve really read and enjoyed an 'adventure' strip (unless you count Segar’s Popeye)." – Ben Towle
• Analysis: At The Manga Curmudgeon, David Welsh uses a sampling of critical reaction to Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories to examine "the notion that the creative work of women, particularly when that work is created for women, is critically undervalued."
• Reviews: At Vice, it's time for another installment of "Nick Gazin's Comic Book Witch Hunt":
"Name a funnier comic than Popeye. Wrong, idiot, there isn’t one. Not only is Popeye the best ever, but this volume of Fantagraphics Popeye series is the best one yet. Oh yeah? Name a better one. Wrong. ... Like most great strips, Popeye has a strong philosophy. That philosophy is the world’s full of crooks. I wish there was a real Popeye to enforce some sort of rough fist-justice but I’m pretty sure there’s no justice and there’s certainly no Popeye, just crooks."
"The original [Prince Valiant] was a giant Sunday page with some of the greatest illustrations ever done. The colors in the latest reprint series are so superior to those in the previous printings that the old ones might as well have been in black and white. This shit is tremendous. ... Get this book or I’ll get you."
"I keep waiting for the quality of the comics in these [Complete Peanuts] books to take a sharp downturn but it hasn’t hit yet. ... So many personality types that I find in adult life were first found in these comics."
"Jason returns with another really good comic [Werewolves of Montpellier]... Jason uses just a few lines but his aesthetics are super superior and he can express intense emotions with simplicity."
"...[T]he art and colors [in Captain Easy Vol. 1] are mind bogglingly beautiful. It’s like Darger. Beautiful candy-colored lunacy."
• Review: "Dungeon Quest: Book One offers an interesting and amusing read, full of lots of laughs about youth and nerd culture, with a surprising layers of sardonic social commentary folded in for good measure." – Jordan Magill, San Francisco Book Review
• Review: "By the 1980s, however, the anti-establishment sensibility of the underground comix had been replaced by a faith in just 'do-it-yourself' — making your own 'zines,' and that sense of independence is what [editor Michael] Dowers praises [in Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s]." – George Elliott Clarke, The Chronicle Herald
• Review: "...Jim Woodring's Weathercraft creates a fantastic alternative universe. ...Woodring constructs a nightmarish tale in which Manhog falls victim to the villainous depredations of the all-too-aptly named Whim and the spells of the witchy pair Betty and Veronica. Those unfamiliar with the Woodring dreamscape may want to pick up The Frank Book collection as a primer, but the stand-alone Weathercraft requires no real prep work — just an openness to disturbing, id-derived imagery." – Cliff Froehlich, St. Louis Post-Dipatch
• Review: "Although King of the Flies... is anchored in a sharply delineated but deliberately generic suburbia, the book plunges us into an often violent, always profane environment that recalls David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Using multiple narrators, the book is an intricately constructed series of interlocking short stories that acidly etch a disquieting portrait of modern alienation and unease." – Cliff Froehlich, St. Louis Post-Dipatch
• Review: "French master Tardi gives an infantry-level view of World War I's meat-grinder carnage in grim vignettes that primarily keep tight, telling focus on the stories of individual soldiers. ...[It Was the War of the Trenches] deserves a place on the top shelf of graphic lit." – Cliff Froehlich, St. Louis Post-Dipatch
• Review: "Reading Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches, I realized just how short most American war comics fall in portraying the reality and horror of war. ... Tardi brings every ounce of his talent to the task of trying to articulate the sheer horror of this war. And while he doesn't flinch once, neither does he resort to trite 'war is bad' or 'good versus evil' oversimplifications. He merely puts you directly in the soldiers' viewpoint and then tries to relate their experiences to you. ... It's a raw, uncompromising, devastating book, and, I'm kind of sad to say, unlike anything that's been published on these shores." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Review: "...St. Louisan Tim Lane's Abandoned Cars, one of 2008's essential comics, has recently been reissued in paperback with two variant covers that vividly recall the lurid pulps of the 1930s." – Cliff Froehlich, St. Louis Post-Dipatch
• Review: "It can sometimes be hard to get a grip on what Jason is going for in his stories, since even when he approaches a familiar subject, he takes a strange angle and dwells on the types of moments that wouldn’t normally receive focus in these sorts of tales. Werewolves of Montpellier goes even further afield... Leave it to Jason to dwell on the awkwardness of the 29 non-full-moon days of the month in which the werewolf has to pass as a normal human." – Matthew J. Brady, Indie Pulp
• Review: "What I think is most interesting about [The Best American Comics Criticism] is that in his choices of pieces, [editor] Schwartz is laying out a theory of lit comics. It's a theory that rings very true to me. Part of this theory goes that as literary comics grew, they made necessary a reevaluation and relearning of certain classic comics." – Robert Boyd, The Great God Pan Is Dead (via The Comics Reporter)
• Profile: Steve Duin of The Oregonian talks to Patrick Rosenkranz about assembling The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective: "With rare access to Holmes' journals and sketchbooks, Rosenkranz succeeds in giving readers access to the cartoonist that Holmes denied his closest friends. And he succeeds because of a compulsion, born 45 years ago, to understand the world in which these artists moved 'and how what happened in their lives affected their work.'"
• Comic-Con: At About.com: Manga, Deb Aoki gives a quick report from the Moto Hagio Spotlight Panel at Comic-Con 2010, with a promise of more to come: "...Hagio-sensei charmed the audience with her self-effacing wit and matter-of-fact responses to questions..."
• Review: "This all-ages-friendly tale opens with a comical but sincere note of existential angst, but Billy ultimately discovers his orientation in the world through his relationships with others. ... The tale itself frequently veers toward the lunatic, but if it skirts the surreal it does so precisely by taking the kinds of unfettered narrative turns that characterize the best children's literature. And like those books, Millionaire's [Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird] creates a safe space for exploration that remains grounded throughout in a humane sensibility that quietly makes itself known by showing, not telling." – Publishers Weekly
• Review: "...[Temperance is a] twisted allegory... Relying heavily on pencil shadings to establish mood, Malkasian's restraint of line results in vividly drawn but still complex characters: homely Minerva is both desperate and resourceful, Pa appears both menacing and pitiful, and addled Lester retains his fundamental courage." – Publishers Weekly
• Profile: "It’s easy to toss around the word 'genius,' especially when it comes to comics. We all have our favorites and we all like to think ours are the great ones. But one look at Roy Crane's work and anyone can see that he definitely was worthy of the 'genius' tag." – Tom Mason, Comix 411
• Profile: "Among the many innovative cartoonists published by the Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, Michael Kupperman is surely one of the most original. ... In 2005, Kupperman hit his stride with the comic book series Tales Designed to Thrizzle, of which No. 6 has just appeared, to the delight of Robert Smigel and other fans." – Benjamin Ivry, Forward
• Review: "Over the last few decades, Jim Woodring has been drawing a series of wordless, blissfully cruel slapstick fables, set in a world of grotesque entities and psychedelic minarets: half unshakable nightmare, half Chuck Jones cartoon filtered through the Bhagavad Gita. Weathercraft... flows so smoothly and delightfully from each image to the next that it’s easy to ignore that it has its own idea of sense, which may not jibe with anybody else’s." – Douglas Wolk, The New York Times
• Review: "For those who find the work involving enough, Weathercraft will resonate with them on some emotional level — there's moments that unnerve, moments that touch — and while it is an immersive experience, the comic, especially in its hardcover form, operates most like a testimony of events. It's a comic, through and through, but it hews closer to a religious tome than it does a Love & Rockets installment." – Tucker Stone, comiXology
• Review: "It’s better to experience Woodring’s work than to try and understand it. Weathercraft focuses on Frank’s frequent nemesis Manhog — a representative of humanity at its morally weakest — as he goes through multiple stages of degradation on his way to almost achieving a higher consciousness. The humanoid mongrel Frank hangs around the edges of the story with his loyal pets, but Weathercraft is mainly about how Manhog — and by extension the reader — sees how sick, freaky, and beautiful the world can be… [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "Megan Kelso is best known for elegant, small-scale comics... with a historical or memoiristic bent. So it’s surprising and wonderful that Artichoke Tales, her first novel-length work, is the sort of world-building fantasy story that comes with a family tree and a map on its endpapers. ... Kelso’s ligne claire artwork is consistently sweet and airy, depicting blobby, dot-eyed characters whose body language says as much as their words. The approach provides a likable surface for a story with much darker and stickier depths, about a land whose cultural heritage is rotting away in the aftermath of a civil war." – Douglas Wolk, The New York Times
• Review: "South African comic book writer/artist Joe Daly’s Dungeon Quest: Book One takes a hilariously askew look at the madness of fantasy quest games. ...[R]eaders with a high tolerance for absurdity and a healthy sense of humor about the subject matter will probably love what's on offer here." – Matt Staggs, Suvudu
• Review: "Watching [Wally] and his equally gangly, geometric cohorts stretch and sprint and smash their way across Hensley's brighly colored backgrounds and block-lettered sound effects is like reading your favorite poem — or even... Wally Gropius itself — as translated into a language with a totally different alphabet. ... And wonder of wonders, the book finds its own way to be really funny amid all these highfalutin hijinks..." – Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
• Review: "[Wally Gropius] has quickly become one of my favorite graphic novels. ... The comic is too odd to be described as 'commentary.' It seems far more synthetic than parodic: it blends recognizable influences into something truly new... The plot of Wally Gropius has been described as surreal or random, but it’s coherent and far more complex than I first thought... The book is an encyclopedia of cartoony facial expressions and bodily gestures, and should be studied at the CCS as such. WG radiates a real sense of joy, of 'cartooning unfettered.' ... Hensley is one of the best, and most idiosyncratic, writers of text in comics." – Ken Parille, Blog Flume
• Review: "[Daniel] Clowes isn’t as zany as he used to be, so there’s a void to be filled here, and Wally Gropius does that ably: The hardcover collects Hensley’s Gropius stories from the anthology seriesMome (with a little extra material thrown in), and his immaculate, vaguely ’50s style owes as much to Mort Walker, Archie Comics, and other vintage teen-humor strips as it does to Clowes. ... [Grade] B" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "...Captain Easy follows a mysterious agent-for-hire as he travels exotic lands, battling bad guys. ...Crane’s art is stunning, combining simple cartoony figures with richly detailed backgrounds in clever, colorful layouts. It isn’t even necessary to read the dialogue or captions to follow the action; just scan Crane’s dynamic lines, which make every panel look like a unique work of pop art… [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "I was pretty excited when I found out that Fantagraphics was publishing an anthology of The Best American Comics Criticism. ... Editor Ben Schwartz did a great job selecting pieces that comprise a vibrant narrative of the industry. From graphic novels with literary aspirations to comics about capes, the breadth of content in here is really fantastic. ... But of all the essays in the book, only one is written by a woman. That’s a big let down." – Erin Polgreen, Attackerman
• Plug: "Drew Friedman is the master American caricaturist of our time. Not only are his portraits of the famous so realistic, they induce double takes, but he also captures truths about personality and draws out (pun intended) the funny in everyone." – Michael Simmons, LA Weekly
• Plug:G4 drops a nice mention of "the ongoing and lovingly assembled Complete Peanuts series" in their review of the Snoopy Flying Ace game for Xbox 360
• Interview:Comics Comics' Nicole Rudick sat Al Columbia down for his most candid and revealing interview ever: "So, yeah, I can still draw Pim and Francie. They’re a lot of fun to draw. Almost too much fun. You start to get intoxicated working on them. It’s like, 'This is too much fun. This shouldn’t be allowed. This shouldn’t be legal.' I always put it aside because it just gets me too . . . they’re very intense and fun and maybe fun upsets me."
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater concludes his conversation with Gene Deitch: "I hate the term '2D.' That’s bullshit. They put us in that category. They say they’re making 3D. They’re not 3D. What Pixar does is not 3D because it’s shaded. The screen is flat. It’s a flat picture. It’s just an illusion."
• Profile: Taylor Dungjen of University of Cincinnati student newspaper The News Record profiles U of C faculty member C. Tyler: "You might say Tyler is a proud American. You might even call her a patriot. She says she is a liberal hippie chick who supports American troops."
It couldn't be a finer time to be a Fantagraphics fan as we have three major book releases scheduled to land in comic shops this week (with scuttlebutt that some shops may have received them last week). Read on for blogospheric descriptions and reaction:
104-page black & white 7" x 9.75" hardcover • $19.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-340-8
"Anecdotal as this is, I’ve heard absolutely nothing but good things about this new Jim Woodring project, a 104-page return to his signature Frank character, although the story itself focuses on damned, slovenly humanoid swine thingy Manhog as he taps into strange cosmic powers. As it was before, expect Woodring’s excellent command of physical comedy (and his story pacing, which always seems to denote improvisation but never dawdles or rambles) to segue from the pliable bodies of cartoon figures into something mythic and transformative about mysteries lurking just behind the atmosphere." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"The all-new Weathercraft is my book of the week and would be my book for most weeks, frankly." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
64-page full-color 10" x 12.5" hardcover • $18.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-355-2
"...Tim Hensley... mix[es] and sampl[es] elements in a self-evident way for a gleeful result, though this artist takes it so far that individual character poses seem exclusively isolated from long-forgotten humor comics and pressed into the service of a patchwork ideal of a ‘teenage’ comic (teenage-as-a-genre), possibly going down as the most striking of the original MOME serials once the goats are culled from the sheep. Here’s the collected edition, a 10″ x 12.5″ hardcover album, 64 color pages, almost all of them pretty to very funny. Yet it’s oddly difficult to describe Wally Gropius in more specific terms, but know that it’s about a rich boy and a determined girl and their courtship, and how prolix borrowed comic devices can build into something distressing indeed." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Tim Hensley’s sly satire of silly ‘60s kids comics is an amazingly accomplished, spot-on imitation of the look and feel of those books, but with a sharper edged and heavier weight. One-part Archie Andrews, two-parts Richie Rich, Wally Gropius isn’t the German architect (although he’s often confused for him), but is rather a teen rock star bazillionaire." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
114-page 10.5" x 14.75" full-color hardcover • $39.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-161-9
"...an anticipated-by-many contemporary reprint project collecting Roy Crane’s influential Sunday spin-off from the comedic daily strip titled Wash Tubbs back when it started in 1924, but had since itself become an adventure-toned showcase for the Captain Easy character. Edited by Rick Norwood, with a vintage (1974) foreword by Charles Schulz and a new introduction by Jeet Heer..." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"The best adventure comic everywhere; Crane's clean, thought-out action scenes are a tonic for all those confused superhero fight scenes out there today." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
As always, complete details and extensive previews of each book can be found at their respective links. Bug your local comic shop to make sure they have them in stock before smashing open your piggy bank.
Roy Crane is one of America’s greatest cartoonists and Fantagraphics is embarking upon an ambitious reprinting of his best work, beginning with his gorgeous adventure strip — Captain Easy.
Crane created the first American adventure strip — before Hal Foster’s Tarzan and Prince Valiant, before Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, before Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon — and quickly established himself as a master of the comic strip. Begun in 1924 under the eponymous title Wash Tubbs, within four months it moved from a gag-a-day strip about a girl-crazy young grocery store clerk to an adventure strip when Wash Tubbs embarks on a treasure hunt. Captain Easy was introduced in 1929 and began starring in his own Sunday page in 1933, which begins our first volume of Captain Easy.
The first of six volumes contains the earliest Sunday pages from 1933 to 1935. In his first adventure, Captain Easy visits a lost city, battles pirates, dons a deep-sea diving suit to explore a sunken ruin in search of treasure, and everywhere he goes, he finds beautiful women — a lost princess, a pirate queen, a savage woman in need of` “taming.” A romantic adventurer from a less politically correct age, Captain Easy is a Soldier of Fortune whose bravery and daring are exceeded only by his Southern gallantry.
Crane created the template for the adventure strip, combining adventure and humor in a Bigfoot cartooning style that perfectly conveyed the tongue-in-cheek tone and light-hearted thrills that kept readers on the edge of their seats. As comics historian Brian Walker put it, “the artist’s patented visual storytelling technique blended humor, drama, heroics, and pretty girls.” Crane’s Captain Easy influenced virtually every cartoonist who followed him — from Chester Gould (Dick Tracy) to Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) — and even Hollywood’s adventure movies starring the likes of Cary Grant or Errol Flynn adopted Crane’s tone of two-fisted, good-natured derring-do. Citing Crane’s influence on comics, the artist Gil Kane once said, “Superman was Captain Easy; Batman was Captain Easy.” According to comic strip historian Richard Marschall, Crane was “a master not only of storytelling but of the art form, developing expressive techniques and a whole dictionary of conventions and signs for future comic strip artists.”
The first volume of Captain Easy also features a selection of Crane's original color guides, a biographical and critical introduction to Crane and his work by comics scholar Jeet Heer illustrated with rare Crane art, a preface by series editor Rick Norwood, and a foreword written by Charles M. Schulz for the 1974 Luna Press Wash Tubbs collection.