Archive for August, 2006

Shameless Spouse Promotion


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Thursday, August 31, 2006


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This is a pretty nice review:

There’s no question that it’s a strong candidate for best comic of the year.

And by the way: an actual, real live post will be made sometime before the end of the week, then I’m gone on vacation, and Dan will hold holds the reins.

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Late to the Party, I’m Sure


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Monday, August 21, 2006


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I’ve never read a single issue of Wizard or Comic Foundry, and after watching this, I have no plans to change my reading habits. All the same, if you don’t mind irrevocably losing eight minutes of your life to something completely and utterly pointless, it is hilarious. Ly depressing.

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Quick Triple Update


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006


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1. Speaking of the American Comics Group, the latest issue of Alter Ego serendipitously reprints more or less the entire contents of Michael Vance’s book-length history of the publisher, Forbidden Adventures. This is the most significant magazine event of its kind since the famous New Yorker Hiroshima issue! Well, maybe not, and I have only glanced at the contents so far, but this should definitely be a good resource for any Richard Hughes or Herbie fans out there.

2. Most everyone reading this blog probably already knows about the Penguin Classics that have recently been released with new covers by cartoonists like Chris Ware, Roz Chast, Seth, and the like. (I think Charles Burns’s version of The Jungle and Anders Nilsen‘s take on Hans Christian Andersen are the best so far.) Another similar, but lower-key, republishing effort is coming out from Small Beer Press, a generally reliable imprint run by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. Their Peapod Classics line is reprinting forgotten or obscure old fantasy titles with new covers by Kevin Huizenga. (I learned about the series from a post by John Scalzi.) They just released Howard Waldrop‘s debut collection Howard Who? This isn’t strictly comics, of course, but I thought it might be of interest to any Huizenga completists out there. And Waldrop’s a pretty funny writer, judging by the two or three stories of his I have previously read. (Fun fact: His novella A Dozen Tough Jobs, which retells the story of Hercules in the deep South, is related to the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? in much the same way that Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key is related to Miller’s Crossing.)

3. I got a copy of that Tom McCarthy Tintin book I wrote about a while ago. I’ve only made it through the first chapter so far, but it really doesn’t appear to be a satirical take on overintellectual criticism at all—just an honest-to-goodness example of it. I’m not giving up on it quite yet, but it may be a while before it makes its way to the top of my reading pile. I feel like a sucker for taking the Economist review at face value. British humor is so dry, you know.

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Return to Sender


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Thursday, August 10, 2006


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Speaking of Forbidden Worlds #132 — almost as much fun as the stories in this issue is the letters page.

For example, one M. Jay Marsh of Philadelphia writes in to complain about ACG’s new characters, the aforementioned Magicman and the other new superhero, Nemesis:

I’d like to review a couple of statements of yours. I quote: ‘Featuring regular characters is the simplest thing in the world to do, but it doesn’t lend itself to amazing stories.’ That was in reply to a letter by Paul Gambaccini in ‘Forbidden Worlds’ No. 110. Here’s a more recent quote of yours: ‘Fighting hard-hitting, power-packed and lightning-fast, ‘Magicman’ fits four-square into the format of ‘Forbidden Worlds’. Quite a change, eh? … But considering that featuring super-heroes is ‘the simplest thing to do’, it’s suprising you can’t do it successfully.

Marsh also comments on the similarity between Magicman’s powers and those of Nemesis:

…despite their different backgrounds, both of your new characters seem to have almost identical powers, such as becoming gigantic, overcoming enemies by hypnosis, etc. A little variety, please!

Writer/editor Richard Hughes responds to Marsh’s letter by fully admitting to bowing to commercial pressures in creating the superheroes (“We’d have had to be jerks not to climb on the bandwagon, and we did so.”), and shows his disinterest in the genre when answering Marsh’s second point (“You’ll find that all costume heroes share the major part of such powers”).

Another correspondent, Dennis Knuth of Augusta, Wisconsin, applauds the addition of costumed heroes, but asks that Magicman be modified a bit (“He should be given several limitations or it will be impossible to come up with a villain who can even pose as challenging”), to which Hughes responds much more favorably (“you’re oh, so right … Thanks for this valuable suggestion, which we will follow just as soon as possible!”).

I don’t know if the charm survives onto the blog page, and maybe I’m just a sucker, but I’ve always loved these kinds of supplementary materials in comics. As a kid, I had a book comprised entirely of letters written to the Batman comics, and I read it over and over again — even though at that time, I’d never read an actual Batman comic itself. But I loved hearing about all the mistakes in some issue I’d never read and never would, and poring over the drawings and diagrams some seven-year-old had made of Batman’s utility belt. Other people have written about this kind of thing before.

No real point here, except that I find the impending extinction of letters pages to be one of the sadder side effects of the slow, steady death of the old-fashioned “pamphlet”-style comic book.

Of course, the letters page is more or less dead already, even before the pamphlet goes. Maybe two or three of the big DC and Marvel comics still include them, and they’ve been almost entirely expunged from alternative comics as well.

But when I first discovered alternative comics, the letters pages were still going strong. Hate and Eightball were the best of all, full of rants, messages from other cartoonists, weirdo literary recommendations. I probably learned more about comics from the supplementary materials in Bagge, Clowes, and Hernandez than in any given issue of The Comics Journal.

Now nearly every alternative comic is released as a graphic novel (in which letters pages would seem undignified), or comes out so irregularly that a letters page would be impractical. I guess the internet has taken their place, but it’s not the same.

It doesn’t matter at all, but I’m going to miss them.

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Recent Comics Reading


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Friday, August 4, 2006


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Sorry about the delay in posting — but for whatever it’s worth in return, the next issue of Comics Comics is shaping up very nicely.

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been reading recently:

Sloth, by Gilbert Hernandez
I liked this quite a bit, and it’s definitely one of his better efforts for a mainstream publisher. Not exactly Hernandez Lite, this is both far less weird than his Love & Rockets work and far more weird than anything else I’ve read from Vertigo. The story, which involves characters changing places, and revolving protagonists, is somewhat reminiscent of recent David Lynch films, like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. It’s definitely worthwhile, but seems like minor Hernandez to me; it also cries out for a second reading before I can really make sense of it and say for sure. Which I don’t quite feel up to right away, so make of that what you will.

Forbidden Worlds #132
This is the first non-Herbie ACG comic I’ve read, and it’s a lot of fun. If you like mindless fantasy comics, this is definitely worth checking out. This issue comes late in the game for ACG, after the company gave up its long resistance to the superhero craze and introduced Magicman. It’s pretty apparent that Richard E. Hughes (who apparently wrote all or most of the company’s stories using weird pseudonyms like Zev Zimmer, Greg Olivetti, and Ace Aquila, among many others) didn’t care to put too much thought into his hero, and basically allows Magicman to be capable of anything. In this issue, Magicman has to stop a gigantic, telepathic beast called Ancient Ape, and in the process he uses his “magic” to fly, throw rocks, start tornadoes, appear to transform into a giant snake, and at one point, he even summons the Frankenstein monster and Dracula to fight on his behalf! Pretty hilarious stuff. The other two stories in the issue are basically drawn-out one-punchline gags, that are so stupid and unfunny they come out the other side and become funny again. The effect is somewhat similar to what Rick Altergott achieves in some of his Doofus strips, though the art is not in any way comparable. Anyway, I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more of these.

Animal Man
I’m not exactly a Grant Morrison detractor, but I do find the near-constant and universal praise for him a little hard to take. All-Star Superman is admittedly fun, but it’s also pretty slight and I think its successes owe more than a little to the work of artist Frank Quitely. Seven Soldiers has some interesting ideas and concepts, but basically that seems to be almost all it has. It sometimes seems to me that Morrison just throws a bunch of concepts together and doesn’t bother trying to make any kind of coherent whole out of them, or think through all of the ramifications. That leaves a lot of work for his supporters, but they don’t seem to mind making the effort, so I guess it’s all okay in the end. But it would all go down a lot smoother without all of the near-messianic proclamations made by and for him, and I think his current hero status says more about the general state of “mainstream” comics than it does about the actual strength of his work. (Not that he’s bad, mind you, but that almost everything else is.)

Or anyway, that’s how I’ve felt so far, but I’ve never read most of the early comics he made his name with (Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and the like), and I thought I should give it a chance. This first collection of Animal Man is fairly enjoyable, and I’ll keep reading to see what he makes out of it. This collection includes “The Coyote Gospel”, which apparently is the most well-regarded early story in this series. But while the conceit of having a Wile E. Coyote clone represent a Christ-like martyr suffering for the sins of the world is kind of appealing, it doesn’t really make sense when you think about it for very long. The original Wile E. Coyote wasn’t very Christ-like in his motives or feelings, and if anything, like most comic figures, he represents base humanity itself, not the son of God. Not that this couldn’t be made to work anyway, but it doesn’t seem as if Morrison bothered to go through all the trouble of connecting all the dots, and just thought, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have Wile E. Coyote in a crucifixion pose? (The recent Superman movie displayed similar problems.)

But whatever — this is still early in the series, maybe it’ll all make sense in the end, and I’ll try the next volume with an open mind.

Short Order Comix #2
I must have heard of this before (I’ve certainly read some of the stories here), but I blanked on it when I saw this in a store recently. (Apparently Last Gasp is distributing it; maybe they found some old copies in a warehouse?) This is the second and final issue of a pre-Arcade anthology edited by Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman, featuring cartoonists like Joe Schenkman, Diane Noomin, Jay Kinney, and Rory Hayes. Some of this stuff is kind of dated, but Willy Murphy‘s parodies of newspaper strips hold up nicely, Hayes’s strip is reliably bizarre, and Griffith comes up with a good platform-shoe-with-goldfish-in-the-heel joke a good fourteen years before I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

The real standout story here, though, is Spiegelman’s “Ace Hole, Midget Detective”. It’s occasionally a little pretentious, but moments here are brilliant, like a panel juxtaposing a quote from the old Comics Code (“6) In every instance good shall triumph over evil… 7) Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited…”) with a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica. It also shows a real joy in the act of creation and innovation that has sometimes seemed lacking in Spiegelman’s more recent work. In any case, this story alone makes the issue worth seeking out.

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