Archive for March, 2010

John Stanley Notebook


Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Little Lulu #19

Along with my friends Frank Young and Gail Singer, I just recorded an Inkstuds episode devoted to John Stanley. You can listen to it here.

And below are some excerpts from my John Stanley notebook:

 Stanley as Lulu. Month after month, Lulu had to improvise a story to please that pesky small-fry Alvin. Lulu was adept at spinning out burlesque yarns featuring stock characters – poor girls, kings, witches — and coming up with new scenarios for them to enact. Wasn’t Lulu’s plight the same as Stanley’s? He was on a story tread mill, he had to keep running to make the kids happy, there was no let up or relief for nearly thirty years.

Mummy as Enabler. Is it too much to see Melvin Monster as an allegory about child abuse? Melvin’s always under the threat of violence, sometimes death itself. His chief persecutor is his father, Baddy. The name says it all: Baddy equals bad daddy (a pun related to Blake’s nickname for the God of organized religion: Nobodaddy). Melvin’s mother, Mummy, is all wrapped up in the Egyptian manner. That means she has no eyes to see what is happening. She turns a blind eye to Melvin’s situation. That’s the way it often is with abusive families: one parent is violent, the other a blinkered or self-deceived enabler.


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The Problem with American Vampires Is That They Just Don’t Think


Thursday, March 18, 2010

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A few days ago Robot 6 directed me to probably my favorite piece of comics publishing hype in a while, a short interview with Stephen King promoting the new Vertigo series American Vampire—King is scripting a back-up feature for issues #1-5, his first-ever original work for comics (as opposed to the various adaptations of his prose over at Marvel). Specifically, I was fascinated by a short bit concerning the comic’s editing process and how it bumped up against King’s take on the form:

One example:Thought bubbles—those puffy, dotted clouds that were a staple of early comics—have been phased out. “I got this kind of embarrassed call from the editors saying, ‘Ah, Steve, we don’t do that anymore.’ ‘You don’t do that anymore?’ I said. ‘No, when the characters speak, they speak. If they’re thinking, you try to put that across in the narration, in the little narration boxes.’” So King happily re-wrote to fit the new style—though he still laments the loss of the thought bubble. “I think it’s a shame to lose that arrow out of your quiver. One of the nice things about the written word as opposed to the spoken word in a movie is that you can go into a character’s thoughts. You do it in books all the time, right?”

This is great for several reasons, not the least of them being the mental image of our ky?-level candidate folding his legs and meditatively accepting instruction; I mean, forgive the presumptuousness, but I think that Stephen King maybe, probably, almost certainly could just petition his editor for a special thought ballooning exception, but he won’t, because he wants to understand how comics are done. Indeed, King was brought on to the project after its initialization, and is duly credited below primary writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque on the cover, in keeping with a supplementary scribe’s status—by all visible indication, he’s going native.

But that got me thinking—which tribe? And what’s their damn problem with thought balloons (as I call ’em)? It’s helpful to take closer look at what’s being said, and—since the comic in question was released just today—what’s being done.

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Cleopatra (Sorta) Translated


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

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Tezuka’s Mushi Production produced a trilogy of adult animated features in the early seventies known as the “Animerama trilogy.” They’ve been floating around online for years untranslated until recently Cleopatra has been fansubbed and posted on YouTube. As the intro explains, it was based on a machine-made translation of the Chinese version and it didn’t make any sense and so they tried to subtitle it in a way that made sense even though they don’t know any Japanese. “Every attempt has been made to convey the original story as we assume it was intended. Though some artistic liberties have been taken to ensure the story makes some sort of fucking sense.” Pretty funny. It starts here.

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Comic Book Stores Notebook


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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Joe Matt's Beguiling days.

More notebooks:

My Favourite Shop. When comics-friendly guests are in town, I like to show them The Beguiling. I’ve given tours to Kent Worcester and Bill Kartalopoulos among others. Like a well-packed suitcase, The Beguiling contains more goodies than one can easily imagine being squeezed into so small a space. Tucked away in odd corners are the real gems, especially the frame original art, which includes McCay’s Dreams of a Rarebid Fiend page, a Krazy Kat Sunday, and a Jesse Marsh Robin Hood Sunday. In the book side of things, the genuine riches are the volumes that almost no other comic book store would think of carrying. The French language selection in particular must be unparalleled in the Anglophone world, and I’ve met people who have driven hundreds of miles to find bande dessinee not otherwise available. There is also a smaller but still impressive selection of Japanese books; and of course the English manga collection is dauntingly large. I love how some choice out-of-print books are mixed in with the new books. If you wanted to supplement the Fantagraphics Peanuts series with a dose of nostalgia, The Beguiling offers paperbacks by Holt Rinehart Winston and Fawcett reprinting Schulz’s masterpiece.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/17/10 – Sand, Fury, Ristorante)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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Art by Torajiro Kishi, from Devil #1

Isn’t it always? To your left is a panel from issue #1 of a mostly unheralded experiment in cultural interplay: Devil, a four-part, Dark Horse-published comic book miniseries created for the North American market by mangaka Torajiro Kishi and anime fandom favorite Madhouse Studios. Both entities are credited on writing and art, with Madhouse acting collectively, like in that one segment of the Batman: Gotham Knight dvd where everyone apparently had their names removed. Issue #2 is due this week, and from the looks of it I’m expecting more of the same prolix exposition and stilted dialogue — interestingly, nobody is credited with an English translation or adaptation — married to a distinctly flat visual style.

That latter aspect is what’s most interesting to me, and possibly to the creators. Kishi is best known (if at all) in North America for his full-color lesbian sex comic Maka-Maka, which picked up some good notices from Dirk Deppey (scanlated form) and Chris Mautner (2008-09 Media Blasters publication, two volumes). And while it’s tempting to observe that Kishi’s arrival on the American scene has transformed ladies kissing into smoking badasses and blazing guns and MUTANTS and VIRUSES and sperm! that makes! people! explode!, the artist himself has described the American comic book approach as “uniqueness in shadow and flattered colors,” in contrast to manga’s “detailing the lines.” Also:

I feel myself more as a creator than an artist. As a creator, I try to keep my focus on the message, and I change/adapt the style, depending the type of the story and the message… I believe that it is more important for the creator to have flexibility in his visual style in order to interpret and deliver the main theme and story of the project, rather than stick in one single style, or to try to protect some kind of ‘visual signature.’ Otherwise, I am afraid that the story itself may end up confined by my personality and patterns.

It’s worth going through the whole interview; I was especially piqued by Kishi’s decision to ensure that every issue has some conclusion to it, given that the ‘decompression’ often discussed a few years ago in collection-focused comic books seemed of a piece with action manga serialized in magazines. In necessitating rising and falling action as serving the story, in adapting his style to a ‘comic book’ approach, Kishi appears to associate broadly Western pop comics style with density, even going so far as to state that American comics are made for readers “who really want to get into the story,” which, from the tenor of the rest of his comments (and frankly the comic itself), relates visual compression with absorption – shadows and colors causing the eye to hang on the page, forcing consideration of the ‘text’ by non-writerly means.

Devil is still a pretty airy, fast-paced comic, though, and a very predictable story (so far) about a cigarette-smoking dude who doesn’t play by the rules in battling a terrible infestation turning people to monsters. As much as I appreciate Kishi’s perspective as looking in on American genre comics from probably a more visually-intensive scene overall, the experiential association I make is with the second credited author, Madhouse, which occupies a special historical place in appealing to a certain generation of anime viewers through accessible, violent works like Ninja Scroll and Wicked City, Yoshiaki Kawajiri pictures that still form the aesthetic basis for U.S.-Japan animated collaborations today — always lots of action, fantasy, even as anime in Japan becomes more and more of an ultra-specialized niche — and reflected a lot of the manga available in English translation at the time, sci-fi and shooting, often published by… Dark Horse.

In this way, the project is both up-to-the-minute and very old-fashioned, in both form and content, an every-issue-an-experience comic book comic that poses like the old anime that wagged the dog of manga. What nostalgia! What a letdown! You know who’s the target audience for this? People like me, exactly my generation of catholic nerds! I wonder if any of the Madhouse old-school are involved on that end? Like, maybe it’s Rintaro working in full script and the plot’s a huge allegory for the production of Yona Yona Penguin.

Hmm, I don’t think a lot of those last words made sense, particularly together. How about some other selections?


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Fanboy Dreamz


Sunday, March 14, 2010

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Yes, I was briefly excited by this news that David Fincher is in charge of a Heavy Metal film revamp (er, another one!). I sometimes think Fincher is great. Zodiac was a masterpiece. Then there was Benjamin Button. No one is perfect. In any case, there are a few oddities here: It’s funny to me that someone would be SO excited to make an anthology movie based on, I guess, the “idea” of an anthology that was last good 25 years ago. On the other hand, I kinda understand it — HM represents a cinema-friendly storytelling style and is ready-made content for CG-fetishists. Assuming this involves work like Arzach and RanXerox, as opposed to, oh, I dunno, Captain Sternn, it could be rather remarkable. Then again, Kevin Eastman was attached as director, too. So… oh hell. There was a period when Chris Cunningham was set to make RanXerox, which could have truly blown minds and would again make sense since Cunningham worked for Fincher on Alien: Resurrection Alien 3. The whole thing seems to have fallen apart, and while I once even saw some gorgeous production designs online, they seem to have vanished. Alas, I suppose I would just hope for some kind of blowback that sees a RanXerox, color-corrected deluxe edition published. Or the complete works of Sergio Macedo. Etc. Incidentally, here are Cunningham’s designs (under the name Chris Halls) for the unfortunately terrible Judge Dredd movie. This post is called “pulling a Frank.”

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Xaime’s faves


Saturday, March 13, 2010

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Since it’s saturday and nothing is going on across the internets, I thought I’d link to this:

Jaime Hernandez’s favorite Criterion Collection films.  

Maybe this is old news, but it’s new to me.  Love his one line descriptions for each film on the list.


E-Z Post #Infinity


Friday, March 12, 2010

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A Pile of Kirby Originals for Fumetto

A few odds and ends today.

1) Via Sammy H., artist and Frank-favorite Kevin Nowlan has posted a couple of interesting accounts of learning the craft of storytelling.

2) Patrick Ford passed along these choice passages from Jim Amash‘s excellent Alter Ego interview with Jack Katz, covering Kirby and Mort Meskin.

Katz on Kirby at Timely: Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day. You know how I learned to ink? Jack sat me down one day, He said, “This is what you do.” He took one of my drawings, and he inked it with a brush. I’d never seen inking that good in my life. I said, “Jack if you could ink so good, why do you let—?” He said, “I don’t have the time.” He said, “This is what I want you to do. You apply the blacks like this. This is this is what you do with your camera angle to make the background stand out. Jack would fill in all kinds of black areas in the background. As an inker, I don’t think there could have been anybody better if he had done his own stuff himself. One of the things they had in the office was the Sunday Hal Foster Tarzan strips, almost from it’s inception…everyone in the office was using them for swipes. Kirby never used swipes. I’m being very straight about that. If he did it was for reference, I never saw him erase anything either. Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.

Katz on Kirby and Meskin:

Jack represented a boss who was handling a very unusual art form. He was very much in command. The only one who could say stupid things to him was Mort Meskin. Mort had a window seat. He’s say, “Get up!, Get up!” and a girl would be walking around in a bathing suit. And Jack would say, “Would you sit the F**k down.”This happened almost every day. One day Mort brought in some pornographic toys, Queen-sized fake breasts. He shows them to Kirby. Jack says, “What are you doing?” Mort puts the breasts on the floor and starts jumping up and down on them. Jack told him to stop, and get back to work. Mort said, “I can’t because I had a date with a disgusting pig, and I’m taking out revenge.

Katz on Kirby and the War:

Jack was involved in horrific situations where he had to do the ultimate thing. He wasn’t ashamed, but he felt deep regret over the fact that he had to kill people. When he talked to me about these things, his eyes were very deep in the past. It was extraordinary. Sometimes I noticed him staring out the window, and from the look in his eyes it was apparent that he was reliving the war.

3) And finally, I really enjoyed this account of Kirby’s war experiences from Jack Kirby Collector 27, as posted by early biographer Ray Wyman. Like Jeet, I think Kirby’s war experiences are crucial to his output and kind of underplayed in contemporary accounts of his life.

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Speaking of Brian Boyd


Thursday, March 11, 2010

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Drop everything! Brian Boyd has a long article about comics, available here. It ranges from the Yellow Kid to In the Shadow of No Towers. I’m a bit skeptical of Boyd’s turn to evolutionary criticism (for a balanced look at the subject, see Michael Berube’s take). Still, he’s a brainy guy and worth reading. For more on Boyd and comics, go here and here.

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Toth’s Phallic-Sensitive Staging & Other Notes


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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Excerpt from Toth's Man Of My Heart

Toth’s phallic-sensitive staging. A 1950s romance comic, one that features a stereotypically weepy woman crying over her love life, is normally not where you would expect to see a commentary on erectile dysfunction. Yet take a look at “Man of My Heart,” (New Romance #16, June 1953 and illustrated by Alex Toth, author unknown). The story is about Pris, a young woman torn between two lovers: Jim Foster who is a long time friend her own age and the much older Dan London, a distinguished gent and friend of her deceased father. Like the knights of old, Dan and Jim compete for Pris’s love by trying to best each other in an athletic competition. Take a look at the key climatic tier on the final page where Dan gallantly explains why he’s bowing out of the competition. “”There’s no compensation for real youth … or the complete sharing of the things you two alone can have!” Dan says in the last panel of the tier. Toth has carefully cropped the panel so that we don’t see Dan’s face, only his torso. He’s wearing a bathrobe with the cords dangling down. Off in the bottom right-hand corner of the panel we see the outline of Pris’s face with an eye lash, an eye brow and part of her hair and an earring. But we can’t see her eyes and have no sense of what she is thinking. Dan’s incompletely viewed body is contrasted with Pris’s incompletely viewed face. The discordance between body and face underscores the theme of sexual incompatibility. Is there any doubt that Toth is underscoring the point that as an older man Dan won’t be able to sexually satisfy Pris? Aside from this, the story is overloaded with phallic symbols: a cane, swords, tennis rackets, a long cigarette holder. The story is both post-Freud and pre-Viagra. Derik Badman offers another reading of the story and more excerpts here. The whole story was also reprinted in Alex Toth: Edge of Genius Vol. 2.


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