by Dan Nadel
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Ok, there were some real material benefits of MoCCA besides the aches and pains described below. I picked up two excellent comics (and some other really good ones, but these stand out).
First, Knitting For Whitsun by John Bagnall. Bagnall is a British cartoonist who has been around since the ’80s. He tells particularly English stories with a smooth, sinewy line that’s somewhere between psychedelic and, as he puts it, ‘musty’. His attention to the particularities of Englishness brings to mind vintage Kinks songs; it’s all in the carefully chosen details and dry, bemused wit. He has some fine features, like “Disappearing Phrases”, about exactly that in British culture, as well as reprints of weekly comic strips that, Ben Katchor-like, examine Bagnall’s urban English terrain. Bagnall has something to say and a lived-in voice that makes these tales a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.
And second, Kim Deitch was sitting down the row from the PictureBox booth selling his wares and dispensing wisdom. I picked up a copy of BANZAI!, a 1978 title by Deitch and underground peers Roger Brand and Joel Beck. Kim wryly told me that he’s the only living artist of the three; Brand and Beck apparently both lived a bit too hard for their own good and passed away in 1985 and 1999 respecitvely. Anyhow, this comic book contains a couple of stories by each artist. Deitch’s central piece is a hilarious romp about a porn store robbery and features one of his more arresting images (it involves a bullet and a blow up doll). Beck’s stories are amusing anecdotal yarns, but the real surprise here are Roger Brand’s two stories. Brand was an assistant to Wally Wood and it shows. One story, “In More Innocent Times” documents Brand’s youthful excesses in Berkeley in fine lined Wood detail. Another story, “The Longstain Taint”, is a Faust-like story of compromise rendered in thick brushstrokes reminiscent of (that other icon of comics) Harvey Kurtzman’s best 1950s work. It’s compelling reading and Brand seems engulfed by it. The stories are verbose and densely rendered, reeking of a kind of desperation you don’t feel much anymore. They read like stories that had to come out. I never thought much of Brand, but these two tales make me want to explore him a bit more. I often forget that much of the underground was about telling stories of all kinds and packing as much into a short story as possible. It’s a ’50s comic book model, rather than than a literary one; constrained by the boundaries of the comic book genre at the time. The ambition was in the work at hand, not the career. BONZAI! is a great glimpse at some fine work by the still-top-of-his-game Deitch and two underground talents that never quite made it.
Finally, I got to spend some time with PShaw, the Boston-based cartooning enigma. I highly recommend all of PShaw’s comics (particularly his Strings book), and was lucky enough to have a look at his original art as well. His meticulous lines and ink washes are miracles of cartoon imagery. We hope to feature him further in an upcoming issue of our little mag.