THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/31/10 – Human War! Robot War! FORMAT WAR!!)


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Last week I picked up another fine artifact from the centuries-spanning Fantagraphics empire, this time on the sound recommendation of Milo George – Doofer: Pathway to McEarth, a magazine-sized 1992 comic book primarily written and illustrated by the late Paul Ollswang, working with Taft Chatham & James Carpenter, all authentic “Oregon Hippes,” goes the back of the book. I’d say they don’t make ’em like this anymore, but they barely made ’em at all back then, unless I’ve missed some rich vein of socio-political-sci-fi satire-by-way-of-’60s-underground-homage-by-way-of-early-20th-century-Sunday-funnies running circa the Image Revolution. This actually might be the all-around least fashionable comic of ’92, which naturally makes it an eminent candidate for revisitation.

And what a strange and compelling thing it is: an ostensible prelude to a four-issue miniseries titled McEarth, Fast-Food Planet (never published in any form, as far as I know), the book compacts a hodgepodge of verbally fussy, philosophically digressive pun-laden strips from as far back as 1982 with a text-heavy comics ‘documentary’ on the mundane-fantastical Doofer, OR, from the pages of Fantagraphics’ own Graphic Story Monthly, sealed up with radio commentary from high above space-time and cruised-through by town mayor Obie Jacoby, a possible Ollswand stand-in. We’re told with winning prescience that by far-off 1997 an “information revolution” had united Earth into an interconnected mind that somehow got collectively dumber, and a tipping point was reached with the introduction of “Google-Ooh’s”(!!), the advertising jingle for which became a terrorist weapon capable of holding a listener forever in its catchy thrall, not very much at all unlike the titular amusement of the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest.

But while Doofer is likewise dense with concern for the overload of manufactured narratives that is its parodic future, it’s more than happy to hang above the real strife, positioning itself as a fond, scatterbrained account of something that used to bedevil blinkered humans as well as less pliable funny animals, like fast-talking heron Slocni and ex-Weather Underground pup Rube, who grow misty over the revolutionary potential of the ’60s while under educational film surveillance. They seem even older, in that Ollswang (who credits Carpenter with “all of the difficult drawings”) works in a mannered, cohesive style suggestive of some lost-to-time gang of Hearst players dragged into a twilight of crosshatched silhouette. And dig the lettering!

As I mentioned above, nothing more was seen of Doofer, although Ollswang put out two issues of a separate series titled Dreams of a Dog with Rip Off Press, along with various anthology contributions and small works. I can’t say the saga had much (really any) time to take off, but what we’ve got is endearing in its off-handed ambition wedded to a distinctly regional flavor and, sure, a definite nostalgia for things, cast more as fuzzy recollections from well outside of dictated history. So, out of style.

Now for some current well-hyped selections. “It’s gonna be okay – & everything is going to be made completely out of electricity!!

It Was the War of the Trenches: Incidentally, I have all those old copies of Graphic Story Monthly – bought ’em strictly for Jacques Tardi, whose Léo Malet adaptation Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge was serialized therein. You can make a good ongoing project of collecting the random Tardi pieces scattered to the four winds – few artists possess dual OG certification with RAW and Heavy Metal, but that’s how long and hard publishers have been trying to break Tardi in with North American audiences. This 120-page, 7.75″ x 10.5″ hardcover is part of Fantagraphics’ latest crack, soon to be bolstered(?) by Luc Besson, here compiling & completing one of the big ‘how has this not been compiled/completed?’ projects for anyone that’s read Drawn and Quarterly: a human patchwork of WWI service, perhaps the artist’s keystone work, composed intermittently between 1982 and 1993. Samples are here, and background info is here; $24.99.

High Soft Lisp (Love and Rockets Book 25): Elsewhere in convolution – aw, never mind me, I just haven’t kept current on my Love and Rockets formatting. This is the newest of Fantagraphics ‘classic’ line of tall(-ish), thin(ner) softcovers, an all-Beto book collecting short stories featuring the character Fritz (also of Chance in Hell, Speak of the Devil and The Troublemakers) from bits of Luba’s Comics and Stories and Love and Rockets Vol. 2 that haven’t otherwise been compiled into the recent Luba hardcover, along with a dozen new pages to tie it together at 144. Preview; $16.99.

Penny Century (Locas Book 4): Meanwhile, brother Jaime enjoys another 240-page entry in the short(er), fat(ter) line of catch-up-quick softcovers which you can promise yourself to, body and soul, in the hopes of an eventually comprehensive reading experience. Contents include the 1997 Maggie & Hopey Color Fun special (defiantly presented in black & white) and bunches of Love and Rockets Vol. 2, but my heart belongs to the 1996 miniseries Woah, Nellie!, a leaner-than-usual action piece adoringly dotted with monolithic images of lady wrestlers in action – it’s like a superhero comic of the period, only just perfectly different enough. Preview; $18.99.

Pluto Vol. 8 (of 8): Funny thing about scanlations – like, the digital scans of Japanese language manga where they add English words? I read a bunch of this in scanlation form back in 2005, and maybe I just wasn’t observant enough, but I think I remember nobody ever mentioning Takashi Nagasaki, the ‘co-author’ (which I understand to mean ‘co-writer’ in the plotting sense) of this comic. Not that there’s a ton to say about him; as far as I know, he’s a longtime manga editor who hooked up with artist/co-writer Naoki Urasawa early in his career and subsequently went free agent as a ‘producer’ for mangaka in need of business and story advice. He’s contributed to some non-Urasawa titles, none of them available in English, I don’t think, so it’s tough to evaluate his impact on this particular work – but, at least I know he’s present. In the early scanlations, I don’t think he was even mentioned, in the way fansubs of anime typically don’t translate the names of most of the production crew. Viz has his name on the cover now, and I notice that the scanlations of Urasawa’s unlicensed ongoing series Billy Bat do credit him again with his writing contribution – what I’m getting at is that there’s more ways to affect the presentation of a comic than translation acumen. Just saying.

Anyway, Pluto is a lot like Whoa, Nellie! — no no, you’re not alone, I’m questioning my life’s trajectory too — in that it represents a striking and possibly accidental manifestation of ‘superhero’ style outside of specific genre confines – with Jaime Hernandez it’s all in the art, while Urasawa & Nagasaki capture the rhythm and thrust of super-serious, politically ‘relevant’ superhero comics as endlessly revision-prone. In case you don’t know, it’s a newer, ‘mature’ version of a favorite Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy storyline, juggling allusions to the war in Iraq as doomed, frowning  super-powered robots encounter suspenseful information and/or melodramatic scenarios. And make no mistake, Urasawa is absolutely peerless in serving up gotta-read-more cliffhangers and charged-up situations where characters can toss off a quick SOON THEY’LL ALL PAY FOR THEIR SINS before symbolic cracks form in the world and it doesn’t really topple over from its own profound self-seriousness, not unless you’re reading it for the second time or something, like, y’know, if you read a bunch of it in scanlations and this is your insta-karmic payback.

Luckily, I didn’t read that far, and I’ve found my enjoyment leveling out while Urasawa (and Nagasaki) can work the magic. Yet I’m still conscious of what Urasawa lacks in comparison to Tezuka — whom I’ve read a lot more by since ’05 — and that’s the go-for-broke eruptive passion that forced kids’ comics like Astro Boy into awkward displays of humanist preaching, with soppy, overreaching tragedy and slapstick laffs existing on the same page, tied together with ferocious, unmistakable art. Urasawa’s visuals are purely his own too, but he’s more of a placid facilitator of story information, which reinforces his role in canny augmentation of the original work, stripping out that goofy stuff and pouring reverence onto the tragedy and politics and coiling in his (Nagasaki’s?) own compulsion for emotional button pushing until we are forever sure that indeed – Shonen Manga is Serious Business. This is the last volume, so get ready to cry; $12.99.

Black Jack Vol. 10 (of 17): And here’s Vertical doing the lord’s work of releasing an unimaginable tenth 320-page collection of Tezuka’s other best-known creation, a moody miracle surgeon who cracks the oddest cases when the money’s right. Contains 14 more episodes; $16.95.

Note also that Vertical’s 2006 all-in-one edition of Tezuka’s very different, older-skewing Ode to Kirihito — a pulpy, Christly morality play concerning a mutating disease — is also seeing a new edition this week, albeit as two softcover books, each priced at $14.95.

Classic Pin-Up Art of Jack Cole (softcover): You may have missed this too, when Fantagraphics released it as a hardcover in 2004 – now these 104 pages of vintage Humorama digest illustrations won’t run you $78.99 new, if you believe Amazon sellers. Samples; $18.99.

The Creeper by Steve Ditko: Reprints! Specifically a 256-page Ditko-dominated color hardcover compiling pertinent materials from Showcase #73 (written by Don Segall) and Beware the Creeper #1-6 (mainly written by Dennis O’Neil, eventually pencilled with Jack Sparling) from 1968-69, plus 1st Issue Special #7 from 1975 (written by Michael Fleisher) and World’s Finest Comics #249-255 from 1978-79; $39.99.

Melvin Monster Vol. 2 (of 3): Reprints! More of Drawn and Quarterly’s John Stanley excavations in the usual (7 3/4″ x 11″ hardcover) format, this time presumably collecting Melvin Monster #4-6 from 1966-67. Samples; $24.95.

Vagabond Vol. 31: Manga is also reprints, you know! Although, this title in particular — sports manga superstar Takehiko Inoue’s lavishly illustrated comics adaptation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s account of the life of famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi — now has two generations of legal readers, those up in front with these original run Viz collections and latecomers working through the three-in-one VizBig editions. Nobody’s got a ton of time left – the series is currently up to vol. 32 in Japan, and Inoue has stated that the ending will arrive before the year is through, although an exact endpoint is not yet known; $9.95.

Gødland #31: There also isn’t a head-high stack of issues to go in this well-regarded Joe Casey/Tom Scioli cosmic adventure from Image, although I think the endpoint is more #36-ish than hammered down. Preview; $2.99.

Usagi Yojimbo #127: And then there’s the long-lived series, the old stock b&w ‘alternative’ comics still appearing when they can, funny animals and all – endangered species, as stated above, Dark Horse or not. New sightings are worth a mention, so know that this is a new Stan Sakai thing about a disgraced samurai who’s fated to kill himself upon completing a mission, a comic book of the type you can grab off the shelf for the purposes of a story that begins on the first page and ends on the last. Preview; $3.50.

RASL #7: This, believe it or not, also has something in common with Doofer – regional flavor. All those long desert vistas have given this Jeff Smith inter-dimensional thief comic some special character, in addition to airing out his style so that, combined with a (mostly) realistic human cast the whole thing takes on a strange post-Otomo teenager manga feel. This is another ‘secrets revealed’ episode, I think, and the last before the second big ‘n tall softcover collection this May; $3.50.

Prelude to Deadpool Corps #5 (of 5): A Deadpool comic among Deadpool comics, notable for sporting the yet shiniest incarnation of guest artist Kyle Baker’s CG model work, which is reminiscent to me of (fellow animator) Richard Corben’s digital-and-otherwise experiments in the same area; $2.99.

Heavy Metal May 2010: The lead feature of this issue is the fourth and most recent album in the Regulator series by Éric Corbeyran, Marc Moreno & Éric Moreno — can’t say I’m familiar at all — but I suspect the real draw will be a short piece by Milo Manara, apparently unrelated to any future editions of Borgia — his “Pope’s a dirty fucker” series with Alejandro Jodorowsky — or the already near-mythical X-Men – Ragazze in fuga, a Chris Claremont-abetted effort to realize the absolute zero of superheroine cheesecake. I hope this shows up in English, since it might’ve changed science; $6.95.

My Life with Charlie Brown: Your non-comics book of the week… I didn’t expect this to be a weekly feature, there’s just a lot of stuff out there. For instance: a 144-page University Press of Mississippi collection of “autobiographical articles, book introductions, magazine pieces, lectures, and commentary” by Charles M. Schulz, edited by M. Thomas Inge to form a memoir from many directions; $25.00.

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5 Responses to “THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/31/10 – Human War! Robot War! FORMAT WAR!!)”
  1. Matt Seneca says:

    I’m interested to see whether this Creeper book is the first move by DC to “own” the Ditko work in their company’s history (those “Action Heroes Archives” were too expensive and confusingly branded to really count), or just a random character-focused one-off collection like they put out occasionally. It would be pretty cool to get Hawk & Dove or Shade in hardcovers at some point — but I guess only time and the sales of this book will tell.

    For anyone who might be curious about the material, this is my take on the original run of Beware the Creeper:

  2. Jacob Covey says:

    You’re kind of awesome Jog. Joe. Whatever.

  3. nrh says:

    This is mildly embarrassing to type, but when I was in High School I remember getting the enormous Fantagraphics catalog in the mail, back when they included the entire warehouse and not just their published items. Eros stuff too. Anyway, there would be reams and reams of fascinating books you never heard about anywhere else…Jablonski (“Empty Skull”), Sinner (at least four or five issues), and Doofer, for which the description didn’t even seem to make sense. And now it’s all on sale for about a dollar an item on their website, or something. Sign of the times.

  4. Ha, I remember those – I got the Kitchen Sink catalog too by dialing the number out of my friend’s copy of The Crow… I still get mild flashbacks looking through stacks of old alt comics (when I can find them)…

    There were five issues of Sinner, plus a story in Prime Cuts (#4)… that was a funny series, since they printed the stories in order of continuity rather than order of publication, so you’d get the really early stuff (like distracted, melancholic Sin City yarns, given the high-contrast style) bumping up against the really uninhibited panoramic freakouts that came to define the series… Casterman put out a two-volume complete collection in 2007, for any French-capable readers out there, or publishers that can stand to lose a few shirts… Joe’s Bar from Catalan (’87) is related and also good…

  5. Taft Chatham says:

    Hi Joe,
    Glad you liked “Doofer” (though I never much liked that title). Ollswang was the cartoonist responsible for the older stand-alone strips included in “Doofer,” but I did the vast majority of the writing (80%?), including most of the lettering. Jim Carpenter is responsible for some of the more detailed elements of the illustrations, but wasn’t involved in the writing or overall visualization.
    The title Ollswang and I most often used was “Tales of McEarth, Fast Food Planet,” and as you may have guessed, we had a lot of material that never made it to the public.
    Our main problems were two: money and time. Paul produced drawings very slowly and supported himself by his commercial artwork, so the McEarth stuff, though planned out far into the future, was essentially a sideline. Carpenter’s involvement was partly the result of Ollswang’s slowness, as was my lettering (clearer and more readable than Ollswang’s, but not nearly as beautifully idiosyncratic).
    Paul did lots of drawings for the Northwest Comic News (’89 to ’04) a paper I published for several years, and aside from being my best friend he was a wonderful cartoonist. He knew he had a congenital heart defect and was told he probably wouldn’t live much past 50. He didn’t. I miss him terribly, even now.
    Again, I’m glad you liked our stuff. Feel free to ask if there’s anything you’d like to know about Doofer or Ollswang.
    Taft Chatham

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