Some new and different things, respectively.

Comics Focus #1

My efforts to find the new issue of “The Comics Journal” may still be in vain (I’ve gotta check back at Borders) but I noticed the first issue of this new comics magazine sitting on the new releases shelf; upon closer inspection, this appears to be a relaunch of an older publication, although there’s no information on any previous incarnations in the publication itself save for some oblique references in the letters column and an opening editorial, and I can’t find anything on the topic online. It’s English in origin, released by Soaring Penguin, 96 pages and a little wider than digest-sized. The publisher is a Mr. John Anderson, and the editor is Will Morgan. David Lloyd does the cover art, which captured my eye, despite the fact that the font used for the text of the cover apparently has exactly the same look for the lowercase 'i' as it does for the lowercase 'l', which makes Lloyd‘s first name appear as ‘Davld’. This would not be the last presentational gaffe.

Clearly it’s interviews that make up the heart of this publication. What looks like the most interesting continuing feature to me is “’Nuff Said”, a transcription of interviews conducted on the eponymous (and currently on hiatus) New York comics-centered radio program by Ken Gale. This issue’s subject is Ted Rall, interviewed in 1997, and it‘s interesting to hear from this very vocal political cartoonist in the middle of the Clinton Era. After some biographical info, the politics of the talk are mainly kept to that of corporate malfeasance. In contrast (though still related to business), a lot of space is devoted to discussion of editorial cartooning itself, and the steady shrink of the editorial cartoonist‘s place in the newspaper world, a situation which I don‘t believe has improved much in the past seven years.

Lloyd’s interview is a very casual affair, a discussion over dinner with two interviewers. The “V For Vendetta” artist goes through his early work experiences, his current projects, and gets a little bit into his theories on comics art regarding the use of backgrounds and detail. It’s a good chat, if rather short and with a briefly confusing moment where one of the speakers appears to be misidentified, a definite problem in a three-person talk. There’s also a nice bibliography given. Two additional short talks are included, one with Joe R. Lansdale and the other with Harvey Pekar. Both are fair enough, giving broad overviews of both talents, with short plugs for upcoming works.

The rest of the magazine is left to columns, many of them review-focused. There’s a formal short review section by various critics, pretty wide in scope and mostly well-written, as far as the limited space allows. There’s then a regular column by a Mr. Joss O’Kelly which focuses for this issue on nonfiction comics, with a large number of books given extremely perfunctory commentary. There’s a far too short overview of a fascinating Italian comics called “Rat-Man” which started out in the late 80’s as an affectionate parody of (mostly Marvel) superheroes, only to be later picked up by Marvel Italia to serve as an official Marvel humor book in Italy for a while (complete with plenty of real Marvel Heroes acting utterly silly) before that particular House of Ideas branch closed up shop and the book returned to more veiled parody. It’s a great story, but one that can just barely be surveyed by space constraints, leaving a curious sense of grateful frustration.

I couldn’t help but notice that each new feature seems to be given its own letter font; one column will appear in large, tall letters, another in entirely boldface. And yet certain articles will share the same (or at least a very similar) font, for seemingly little reason. I suppose this might be to establish each writer as a unique ‘voice’ but it gives the publication a hodgepodge quality, a tossed-together feel. The use of graphics is similarly arbitrary. There are different bits of clip-art used for each article, at least at first (a chunky envelope image surrounding the page number for the mail section, a giant Texas symbol used for the Lansdale interview, etc.), and I began to suspect that maybe the intent as to make each article a self-contained design entity of some sort. But then halfway through the magazine the graphical switching abruptly stops and a bullseye symbol is used as something of a unifying image, even as the fonts continue to change from article to article. It makes the publication look sloppy from a basic design standpoint, and these problems are compounded by the above mentioned errors, and an even bigger one I haven’t gotten to: near the end of the book, a page is set-up out of order. The page numbers look correct, yes, but the text that was supposed to go on page 94 is pasted onto page 96, with the text of pages 95 and 96 plopped onto pages 94 and 95 respectively.

There is some good material in this magazine; the interviews are well-conducted, for instance. Some of the reviews are fairly insightful, if often short. But it’s the lack of depth to some of the other features (even features that engage me) that hurts the book, and a dodgy design aesthetic and several distracting errors bring the affair down even lower. Perhaps this publication has some potential, but it’s not yet worth the six US dollar cover price at all.

Street Angel #4

Now this is a shift in tone. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Our Heroine spends the entirety of this issue searching for food in dumpsters, chatting with her homeless friends, and trying (unsuccessfully) to retain some measure of dignity. There are no fights (save for another thrilling chapter on the inside-front cover saga!), and only one reference to Street Angel’s action prowess. What we get in return are some gorgeous images of urban rot, with the typically peppy “Street Angel” introduction (“Orphaned by the world, raised by the streets…”) broken up into small captions, impotently dotting several full-page splashes of finely-detailed ruin, of total powerlessness. It’s rather majestic, and demonstrates how far Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca have come in only four issues.

The gently episodic plot still features moments of humor, but it’s a calmer, more rueful character-driven humor than the gonzo action of earlier issues, with a nicely gruesome impact point at the very end. In a way, it reminded me of the occasionally somber interludes in “Flaming Carrot” where the titular man of action would wander through sleeping factories and dying steel mills, burbling poetry all the way. This issue only strengthens the connection between these two books, though Rugg and Maruca are working on a more dense and gritty visual level than Bob Burden ever did.

Next issue sounds like a return to the more established “Street Angel” tone, given the title “Afrodisiac”. But this issue doesn’t provide much in the way of truly jarring distraction; Rugg and Maruca handle the more somber feel quite well, and wisely highlight an aspect of their young title character that may have always been present kept under the surface: her pride which one would naturally imagine to be powerful inside the world’s greatest homeless skateboarding martial arts master. So while readers picking up the book expecting fights and wild laughs might be disoriented, I think the shift is handled well (certainly better than the oft-overcooked melodramatics of another generally fine rollicking fight book, “The Goon”). This book remains up among my current favorites.