"Flopsy! Charlie got my fucking leg!!!"

Unfortunately, nothing quite that interesting is uttered in

Apocalypse Meow Vol. 1 (of 3) by Motofumi Kobayashi

I guess there was some dark corner of my heart that was hoping “Apocalypse Meow” (originally titled “Cat Shit One“ in its Japanese production), should it fail to be an insightful slice of anthropomorphic historical military fiction, would at least turn out to be some jaw-dropping disasterpiece of tasteless camp, with its bunnies and kitties fighting the Vietnam War. The art I saw online (in gorgeous color) emphasized action and explosions, and there is plenty of that in the new digest-sized book from ADV Manga (minus the color). But reading the story in English, in a large dose, reveals only a competently written if extensively researched series of action combat tales, with the occasional character-driven diversion. With bunnies and kitties (and Soviet bears and Japanese monkeys and Chinese pandas and French pigs) .

In his postscript, Kobayashi mentions that he decided to do a war story with animal figures simply because he was bored with the Vietnam story he was working on at the time for Combat Magazine, and he had long fancied the idea of plunking rabbits into a serious war epic. The anthropomorphism is occasionally used to interesting effect, like when an enemy sniper is revealed to be wearing a necklace of severed bunny ears. Some historical figures are rendered in animal form, as is a very well-know execution photograph. But mostly the story proceeds in typical action format, albeit a format pumped up with technical footnotes, a ton of military jargon, and even lengthy text interludes on the history of the conflict. Obviously Kobayashi has done his homework. But there isn’t much lasting effect from the story itself, a series of vignettes featuring Perky, Rats, and Bota, members of a ’Roadrunner’ reconnaissance team taking on missions along the Cambodian border. Perky is the respected leader, Rats the hothead, Bota the nervous one. They get into trouble, stuff blows up, and they live to fight another day. There’s also an R&R trip to Saigon and a peek inside the mind of a conflict-weary Viet Cong, but the battle is never far away. And just as the battle absorbs our cast’s lives, it’s prevalence in the story absorbs the effect the animal figures have; there’s only so many times a fuzzy rabbit can say “Gook” before the effect dulls, and there’s simply not much else done with the stylistic choice.

It’s pretty swell action, all things considered. The art is good, with highly detailed military hardware, authentic-feeling backdrops, and towering, lovingly rendered fireballs. Given the highly technical (though dramatically repetitive) nature of the stories, I couldn’t help but feel that Kobayashi was approaching the work as if building a model kit, pasting every perfectly detailed part together into a sterling, inert creation. Ironically, the bonus feature proves to be the best story in the book. It’s a fragment of the Vietnam story Kobayashi was working on prior to switching to the present animal adventure. His human characters are realistically drafted, although there’s some sameness in their facial features. It’s a meditation on ’expendable lieutenants’, as a young West Point grad tries to establish his authority before a new platoon, despite his total lack of combat experience and the resignation of his men to inevitable chaos. It’s a moody, emotional story, and I wanted to see what would happen, while given the evidence presented elsewhere in the book I’m pretty sure Perky and company will continue to wreak handsome, accurately-presented havoc, cottontails wiggling all the while. I hope they show some more life in the process.

Scrapbook by Adrian Tomine

Really not too much to say on this one. The book’s divided into three sections. First up is comics: eighty pages of little-seen (and sometimes never seen) shorts from various publications, including a lot of stuff from Tower Records‘ Pulse Magazine. Many of the stories are from early in his career, so the tone is closer to Tomine’s minicomics than his later work; for those who enjoyed the humor in “32 Stories”, this will provide a welcome second helping. But even later strips from Entertainment Weekly and Giant Robot provide welcome amusement, a relief from Tomine’s rigorous explorations of emotional paralysis, predominantly the content of his current work in “Optic Nerve”. There are also fragments of stories that later got substantially altered on the way to print, and even two versions of the same story, for us to compare. The second part of the book offers a generous helping of Tomine’s commercial illustration work, including movie review illustrations, posters, album covers, and more. Finally, we get a generous sampling of Tomine’s sketchbooks, filled with detailed portraits and breakdowns. Fans will obviously want this book; the comics alone could have filled a whole separate book, but here we get obscure works, an art showcase, and a peek at the preliminary workings, all under one cover.

Handy Hints to Help:

*Now here's something I hadn't known. I was over at Comicon and noticed that one of the banners was advertising a brand-new third collection of Rick Veitch's "Rare Bit Fiends", his series of dream-based comics. It's called "Crypto Zoo" and appears in the August Previews for pre-order. But when I click on the banner for more info, it takes me to Veitch's website, which hasn't been updated in over a year. Curious. Rare Bit Fiends is a cool book, and you should check out the first two collected volumes, "Rabid Eye" and "Pocket Universe".

*As many of us already know, Internet petitions always work. There has never in the history of Internet science been a petition that has failed to deliver on its promise, which is why you should sign this "Seaguy" petition, to ensure the production of future volumes. The text of the petition is spot-on, and Seaguy needs to continue his quest! I loved the first Seaguy mini, as you can see.

*I'll have a longer post later tonight on the film "Napoleon Dynamite" (world's most generic story, but pretty damn funny) and Adrian Tomine's "Scrapbook", which I had thought was just a sketchbook/commercial art showcase, but also features a towering 80 pages of never before collected comics, plus additional strips in sketch form! Short version: Tomine fans need this.


Detour to Prose Valley

I encountered Hoobastank’s “The Reasontwice on my drive to work today.  Bad omen, like crimson clouds at dawn.  I hope it does not upset the many adventures I have planned for the day.  I wish I had a review of a good comic ready to counteract the evil force of whiney Top-40 slop rock, but a review of a good prose book with a connection to comics will do just as well.

Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea by John C. Gallant and Seth
A slim, beautifully designed book, its fuzzy green and black cover depicting a lonely shore, far off in the distance.  It’s Prince Edward Island I suppose, since that’s the setting for most of John Gallant's short, potent childhood memoir.  Gallant’s son will prove far more familiar to readers, and may indeed be the sole reason behind checking the book out in the first place: Seth (birth name: Gregory Gallant), designer of Fantagraphics’ monstrous “Complete Peanuts” project, and creator of “Palooka-ville”, the comics series from which his collections “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken” and “Clyde Fans: Book 1” (all of which are published by Drawn and Quarterly, along with the volume under consideration here) have derived.  Seth contributes a short comics introduction to this volume too, and provides the occasional illustration, but it’s the collection and presentation of his father’s notes that forms his main duty.

I say ‘notes’ not to take away from the book’s impact; it’s quite well written, with a good eye for expressive detail.  But structurally it really is a collection of short (often very short) reminisces, proceeding in semi-chronological order, mainly focusing on Gallant’s childhood of extreme poverty.  Seth notes in his introduction that the project was fueled by a desire to record the stories his father used to share with him in a more permanent format.  The final work succeeds in preserving the feel of oral presentation; the prose is highly conversational, the stories occasionally repeating details from one another, like each chapter is a separate, passing conversation we’ve been privileged to listen in on.

Seth mentions that he found the stories his father used to tell him exciting, and only later realized how sad they could be.  I suspect most readers of this book will be approaching it as adults, and the bleakness will be instantly evident.  There is hunger in these stories.  Danger.  Some of Gallant’s siblings die before their childhood is over.  And anger.  Anger at being given unpleasant tasks to do by virtue of being one of the older able-bodied children in his home, anger at the aloof and uncaring Church which has seized his devout mother’s soul, and anger at the very absurdity of being fathered into life itself by a man with no way (and seemingly little desire) to provide anything beyond the act of conception.  But this anger does not absorb Gallant; it drives him to find a better way of living.

And that’s what is most engaging about the book.  The eel hunting and berry picking and the rabbit traps and the homemade fishing poles.  The engagement with the land, which is the real provider here.  The story of Gallant’s ultimate escape is told quickly, almost as an afterthought, which much of the book’s short space is devoted to vignettes of business and amusement and the other elements of survival.  The impact is that the very existence of the book itself, and an author present to write it, acts as the story’s denouement.          


I didn't go to the Prom this year, seeing how I was out of town for part of it anyway and I couldn't possibly find a Stormtrooper Hobbit Tuxedo on such short notice.  Other did attend and kindly recounted the action.  Perhaps my favorite thus far is The Beat's detailed analysis.  Chris Allen as a nice article over at the Galaxy, and Ian Brill has quite an in-depth multi-part piece, which you can work backwards from starting here.

Found at the lair of Mr. Warren Ellis is a link to the full story regarding a certain scuffle you may have heard rumors about.  Laurenn McCubbin of "XXX LiveNudeGirls" and "Rent Girl" relates the news, and offers some dismaying (if not completely unexpected) news of the long road manga still has ahead of it before being accepted by some industry folk as more than a passing fad.  A 'fad' that's been present in drips and drops on American shores since at least the early 1980's, I might add; it's only recently that it's broken through to bigger financial success, but it's been present for quite a while.  It just seems so absurd that we're breaking off into not only 'mainstream' and 'indy' camps (those two are absurd enough... you really really can like "Seaguy" and "Quimby the Mouse"), but a third 'manga' camp, despite the fact that Japanese comics cover ground found in both of the other two groups!  The segregation of manga often seems based on nationality and presentation, not the contents of the books themselves.  There are content arguments too, yes, but those are exactly as silly as similar arguments to make about other types of comics.  There is formula in Japanese comics, oh heavens yes, just like there is formula and sameness in American comics.  But I really really promise, cross my heart, that "Phoenix" and "Gyo" and "FLCL" and "Flowers and Bees" and "Revolutionary Girl Utena" and "Planetes" are not very similar books, save for presentation and national origin, yet MANGA keeps getting thrown together, as if everything was identical.  Pricing issues and the benifits/detriments of the digest format are perfectly germane topics for debate, but we shouldn't let format act as a barrier to our engagement with the content itself.  Of course, there's probably a similar perception issue regarding people who only buy Japanese comics as to how they view American comics.  There are works from both nations that should appeal to the same people, though.  And I think perception is a big issue preventing that appeal from taking hold.  

Crap.  What a ramble.  None of that even covered most of the stuff McCubbin wrote about: the refusal to acknowledge the approaches that some Japanese comics take in regards to homosexuality.  I guess I just want people to accept Japanese comics as simply comics, with a fair amount of crap (as comics produce) and a good deal of diversity (as comics keep working towards).  Putting all of them in the Manga Drawer will do little good.

Thank you.  [/obligatory 'manga' rant]   


Attention! Compelling Comics News!

This, my friends and allies, is the quote of the week:

"When The Advocate was interviewing me about The Mirror of Love they asked me what they describe as the Advocate question they ask everybody and I said “No I’m not! But I will admit to being curious.” Also my hallway and landing is the gayest thing anyone has ever seen. It is gay in every sense of the word."

- Alan Moore

Full version of the rock and roll comics insight here (found on the Pop Culture Bored).

In other news, my gas station got in new "Hubba Bubba MAX" chewing gum.  I have not seen Hubba Bubba in a long time, and I can only assume that the nostalgia craze has spread directly from comics to bubble gum.  But what really lit my matches was the MAX label.  I know what that means from my readings of Marvel Comics: MATURE CONTENT.  Imagine walking home from a hard day's work, looking only for some delightful chewing adventure, hoping for a ray of sunshine to glaze your overcast life, and POW!  Discussion of mature themes issues forth, rather than natural and artificial delight!  You can bet I wrote a strongly-worded letter to my local news alliance, and then they sent me a fart in an envelope and I died.  MORAL: the strawberry/watermelon flavor is yummy.


The notice arrived just now.

I thought it’d be a better day tomorrow; it’d rained for fucking days this week, but the red skies gave me rise those short hours ago, snapped those images of perfect sugar mornings back to attention in my head. Oh what shit! An omnibus of idealizations, fancied to the point where I really believed it for a while. Like I could pick leaves off of trees and they’d taste like mint, and the breeze would clear my head, and gently dictate the order of my day. But a new dictation has arrived, and the truth has replaced the dream, and I’ll thank them for it. I’ll thank the General when we’ve obtained the security we’ll need for thanks to have purpose. Fuck.

I don’t even know if we’re fucking related.

My name is Nutty Smallnuts.

And I am prepared to kill. 


THIS WEEK IN COMICS is short because I have no money and little of interest came out.

Planetary #20

I’m sure it’s a product of the wait between issues, but "Planetary" just never seems long enough in serialized from. It didn’t help that this recent two-part story (concluding here) consisted mainly of our heroes standing around a computer monitor and narrating while we get swooping vistas of a vast alien spacecraft. John Cassaday is certainly up to the challenge, whipping together swarms of alien life, the residents of this recently-formed ecosystem. Of course, the real point here is to debut/confront the final unseen member of The Four, one Jacob Greene. There’s some good buildup and then… well, it’s about what you expect, really. The dislocated, overgrown organs were a nice touch. The other focus of the storyline is the continuing evolution of Mr. Snow’s personality, and his means of doing battle with Mr. Greene suggest an increasing determined (desperate?) disposition. I still like the book, and I really can’t hack the long wait for collections, although they’re probably a more satisfying way to experience the series.

And that’s all I got, because I am short of cash. All I really wanted to check out was the new “Metal Hurlant” and maybe the new “DC Comics Presents”, but I’m kinda losing interest in the creative teams.

Huh. I just started poking around Wildstorm’s website looking for “Promethea” info, since we’re all on the topic of seldom-released books I can’t held but read in monthly form, and the solicitation for #31 is only two sentences long, one of which urges us to pick up issue #32 when it comes out. Is that some sort of ‘meta’ thing related to the story? Would any of us be interested in the penultimate issue of a story and not the final issue? Curious.

What else came out today… a “Venom v. Carnage” mini (why don‘t they just start putting random years from the 1990s in the copyrights too while they‘re at it?), a new “Rogue” ongoing (I’ll just have to catch up around the anniversary issue #50 that it will no doubt reach) and some huge “Avengers” thing. They are now Disassembled, which is a bad sign because they will need organization to compete in today’s fast-paced superhero world, and messiness is a killer. Captain America should make a flowchart or something. Maybe they’re saving that for the climax of the story: a lacerating Powerpoint presentation. That would be really cool, and it would beat the pants off of whatever is planned for the end of "Identity Crisis" like putting Ace the Bathound to sleep or Dr. Light reuniting with Dr. Wiley and getting Gutsman to bugger The Flash.


The Onion is apeshit for comics.

This will neatly render my update to the post below totally redundant, but two comics features in one issue is enough for an all new post.  The Onion AV Club (always one of the more comics-friendly entertainment sites) has a lengthy interview with James Kochalka here, and a glowing review of Dan Clowes'"Eightball" #23 here.  Be sure to check out my own Eightball thoughts in case you haven't, then gorge yourself on Sean T. Collins' Giant-Sized Eightball Discussion Link Omnibus.  Hell, I might as well mention the AV Club's funny review of the "Catwoman" motion picture and, just for the hell of it, dredge up their delightful Dave Sim interview since I found it entertaining.  Strive forward Onion - FOR COMICS!

Let's review some stuff and say things:

A few books to keep an eye on:

Sam Hiti’s “End Times - Tiempos Finales”, volume 1 in a projected 9 volume series, according to Hiti’s website.  Xeric winner, apparently only available through Hiti’s site or at conventions, 128 pages, two colors, $10.  The preview images look interesting.  Folks at MOCCA liked it, folks at San Diego report growing buzz conditions.  I’ll have to look into this, and you should see if you want to as well.

"Flight Vol. 1", a 200+ page $20 anthology book coming soon from Image, has suddenly begun popping up all over the place.  It’s by a group of young cartoonists and animators; future volumes are already in the planning stages.  They’ve got a nice site, with two of the book’s stories posted and three more to come; both feature polished, colorful art and lightly humorous stories (one of them is by Derek Kirk Kim, who’s won both a Harvey and an Eisner this year).  Some of the tiny images of other stories suggest different tones, however; the project certainly looks tempting, and I’m glad Image is taking a shot on a big anthology series.

RabbitHead by Rebecca Dart

Let’s not sugarcoat this.  “RabbitHead” is a short read.  It’s wordless, 24 pages (some of which contain a ton of white space), and $4.95.  It’s worth the money. 

The book was originally produced as a minicomic, with a few hundred copies produced.  I first head of it when The Comics Journal ran a review of the minicomic, hyping it up quite nicely (and that’s one of the reasons why I read the Journal: exposure to new comics I’d have probably never heard of otherwise).  I soon learned that Alternative Comics planned to issue their own edition.  Alternative is in a bit of a financial bind at the moment, and they could use some purchases; RabbitHead is exactly the sort of book that should have a shot with a larger audience, and Alternative is just the sort of publisher to take the plunge on such an interesting project. 

On first flip, the book seems like a cute little gimmick.  The story begins with small panels proceeding side-by-side in the center of the otherwise blank pages, like postage stamps set up side-by-side.  An anthropomorphic rabbit girl clad in fantasy adventure garb sets a flower down by an empty grave, in a cemetery of cross-like powerlines.  She mounts her mighty steed (an exceedingly odd elephantish thing) and spits.  The spit divides into two droplets, and the comic itself then branches off into two further lines of comics, above and below the main action, which follows the results of both droplets striking the surface world.  Strange beasties grow.  Their own stories progress, and branch off too.  At the center of the book, seven sideways stories fill the pages, covering a wide range of adventures.  Then, the stories begin to fold upon themselves, until we are left with one strip again by the end, the conclusion of our rabbit heroine’s journey.

What elevates RabbitHead above mere diverting formal trickery is the excellent sense of a functioning world at the book’s core.  It’s not so much as new stories beginning with each branch, it’s like the blankness of the page is a curtain, slowly drawn back a few inches with each branching, then cruelly replaced at the story’s (stories’) conclusion.  Most of the stories follow wild animal monsters, more subtly humanized than the rabbit protagonist herself, as they go about their business, usually involving eating and being eaten.  The feel is similar to Mat Brinkman’s “Teratoid Heights”, like we’re being granted a glimpse into the weirdly familiar ecology of a fantasy world.  I also picked up traces of Jim Woodring’s wordless “Frank” material, especially in the more spiritual aspects of the action.  The creatures in Dart’s world are a bit more distinctly humanesque then Brinkman’s, a bit closer to Woodring’s primal cartoon symbols.  There’s some good humor, like a psychedelic plant inadvertently inspiring an evolution in a puppy monster, whose enlightenment is brought to a very sudden end.  Or the stick monster that spends the entirety of his storyline searching for his lost skull.  And then there’s the twin monsters, one small who retreats to a hole to calmly carve his own flesh for supper, the other large and ravenous for any outside nourishment.

And despite the humor, the book is also a lot grimmer than either Brinkman or Woodring’s work.  Our rabbit girl herself encounters the most human-like of all the creatures in the book.  Her story (the literal center of the book as well at the emotional center) is physically surrounded by tales of the wild kingdom, eating and hunting and dying.  But humans are capable of crueler acts, violence beyond that which is needed for survival.  We live in the natural world and mirror it.  We affect it.  And is it only our capacity for additional cruelties that separates us from it, in a philosophic sense?  That is the question I derived from this quick little book.  But it’s the sort of work you’ll want to keep, to revisit every so often.  Dart’s art is well suited to her task, crafting fine little compositions in her tiny panels, making every weird monster seem functioning and alive.  The cover image is gorgeous, suggesting the exotic and foreboding world inside.  I’ll be on the lookout for future visits.

Shorter Works by Ron Rege Jr.

I haven’t read “Skibber Bee-Bye”, Rege’s ‘big’ graphic novel.  He seems to be one of the more divisive artists around, and maybe that book is the source of the controversy.  From the work I’ve read of Rege’s, I’ve been quite satisfied.  He’s got a great sense of page structure, and I find his drawing style to be cute and appealing.  Simple, yes, but absolutely not sloppy.  It looks totally different then James Kochalka (UPDATE: who has just been interviewed by The Onion AV Club), but I felt the same sense of confidence coming from Rege, a certainty that his style will convey just what is needed.  Look closely at Rege’s trees, his buildings.  Nothing is wasted.

Boys” is a 24-page floppy from 2000, written by Joan Reidy, who attended Rege’s school in the grade below him, and the two later began a letter-writing correspondence.  The book is composed of one-page strips, all of them revolving around a female character’s interactions with boys.  They’re amusing, and unfailingly cute (even during the many explicit sex scenes), and Rege knows exactly how to pace the gags.

 A bit more variety can be found in “Yeast Hoist: Can Music Make You Cry?” a 64-page book from 2003, which Rege wrote mostly himself.  It’s the 11th installment of a whole series of projects Rege has been working on, and it collects a number of different short stories.  Here is where Rege’s talents at page design really shine, as he examines a photo he took on a trip to Italy, and imagines the rest of the countryside beyond the borders of the camera frame, but within the panel frame.  The stories mostly boil down to observation or interior meditation: all the better to emphasize Rege’s world of the page!  There’s also an odd sequence near the end where a friend of Rege’s describes his sleeping environments over several weeks, and Rege dutifully illustrates each scene.  The many resultant images of sleep (or lack thereof) do however fit in with the book’s preference for quiet time.          


Forthcoming Comics! New Review! The Cinema!

Coming Soon (Or Already Present)

It figures that right on the New Comics Day for which I am absent the new releases explode with activity like they’d just been waiting to cut loose once free from my starchy gaze. Fucking comics. As if to piss in my sores just a little bit more, my local shop had two books that Diamond’s list claims aren’t out until Wednesday ready to go now: the new full-color “Sock Monkey” original hardcover “Uncle Gabby”, which appears to be a full comic rather than an illustrated prose story like the last hardcover, “The Glass Doorknob”. I love my Sock Monkey like I love my white blood cells, but this one had to wait.

The other early bird was the final “Cerebus” phone book, “The Last Day”, which I already own in floppy form, but I really want to read Sim’s annotations, which have graced the last three collected volumes as well. He’s incredibly thoughtful and thorough with his analysis of his own work, and I’m always interested in hearing such rigorous discourse from a creator. Lots of technical info and amusing anecdotes too. Naturally, portions of Sim’s philosophy will not be embraced by many (any?) readers, but I’ve always found Sim’s thought processes, as worked out in text, to be fascinating. The book itself is uneven, as much of later Cerebus is, with too much space devoted to repetitive slapstick gags, and some pretty wild plot twists tossed out and promptly brushed aside (but hey, life continues for everyone else after you’re dead, and so does the story of Cerebus). But the action is smartly confined to a very small physical space, with the occasional lapse into the aged bastard’s mind, to emphasize the final, private world the title character inhabits. The visuals are immaculate, with layout, background, character, and lettering perfectly cohering into a singular impact. I can’t imagine the book looking as good with any single element replaced; they create a total visual entity with unparalleled smoothness. The very ending of the book is pretty splendid, a fittingly ambiguous and downright wistful send-off for the 6000-page epic. I hope there’ll be more works in comics as ambitious, and I hope Sim and Gerhard don’t stay away from the art form forever.

Last Weeks's Reviews - Today!

Catching up on stuff I actually picked up from last week, I read the “normalman Twentieth Anniversary Special” by former Image publisher Jim Valentino. I think ‘familiar’ is the best word to use in description: the lead story is a rambling satire of today’s comics, but there’s nothing terribly fresh, no gag we haven’t already heard some approximation of online already. FLASH! Retailers only cater to fans of established franchises with little attempt to diversify! ALERT! Certain fans are easily swayed by hype and ignore story content! URGENT UPDATE! Edgy creative teams make radical changes to characters only to have the status quo promptly restored! The book also seems to be under the impression that caricatures of noted comic pros are inherently humorous, with little need to connect them into some satiric thrust. Also included is a reprinted story taking on Hollywood (guess what: they’re all greedy rip-off artists!) and a handy normalman bibliography (with a technical problem that appears to have stripped the text of apostrophes). I recall the last normalman book (the Megaton Man team-up) as being much more lively.

That “Gongwandon” review is still coming, as soon as I get my thoughts together. I’m also really excited over “RabbitHead”, by Rebecca Dart, which I will cover tomorrow, along with some other stuff.


Hey, it seems Mr. Darren Aronosky is the director of the upcoming “Watchmen” flick. Not too good a sign for me; Aronosky’s last film, the painfully overrated “Requiem for a Dream”, is as close as I’ve ever seen to a flawless example of excessive STYLE buckling the knees of a potentially decent film. There was some pretty nice acting in the thing. Movements were made in the direction of interesting themes (drugs are but one deadly American addiction among many, and not all of them are socially unacceptable). But then there’s the big conga dance vision, the Acme anvil style falling title cards, the tricks and splits and dazzles and sound distortions. I thought it got kind of silly. And by the end, where the horrible price is paid by each and every character, it just became immensely annoying. The film had zero dramatic payoff for me because the utilization of its visual style was so slapdash, often working directly against what I perceived to be the film’s intent by distancing me from the characters and plot, upstaging them with a bitchin’ camera tricks show. And yet the film seemed so utterly convinced of its Importance, bearing The Cold Truths About Life. Bah!

Ah hell… the kid’s only done two movies (I think I recall liking “[insert Pi symbol here]”). Maybe a quick immersion in Moore and Gibbons’ fearful symmetry will inspire him to control those ADD impulses a little more.


The Contours of Artificiality (the pretentious title for my SPOILER-LOADED Seaguy review)

I was worried about poor ol’ Seaguy for a while. Issue two of Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s three issue mini was absolutely lightening-paced. Action in the sea, tragedy in Atlantis. It seemed so random, so haphazard. I thought that the book would close on a hustled note, another case of too many ideas too quickly, not enough room, the very pages of the book quivering under the strain of the ideas they carried. I was somewhat wrong. But ‘somewhat’ is enough to recommend “Seaguy” as one of my favorite recent miniseries.

So what does ‘somewhat’ mean? Well, issue #3 ends with a caption urging fans to demand a sequel (Morrison has said in interviews that he’d like to produce two future miniseries with the same cast). From what I can gather, Seaguy did pretty well in sales as far as Vertigo minis go, although the absence of recognizable brand characters likely robbed the book of “New X-Men” numbers. A trilogy is not out of the question, I don’t think. I’d be nice, since the current Seaguy saga leaves a ton of room open for future action. But it does so in a careful way, covering its themes quite nicely. It’s a very complete work (with genuine bookend scenes!) that still demands future additions. A tricky balance to manage, but I think Seaguy does it.

At its heart, I saw the book as a commentary on current superhero comics (dominated by non-adventurous interests), with enough depth to hit upon a general complacency in the (American? Western?) public. Certainly the superhero satire in issue #1 is tough to miss, and others have highlighted the good bits better than I can. Needless to say, the contented, aimless superheroes of ‘our world’ are fine with their ‘thrill rides’, which take them only in circles. The young suffer from vague depression, or maybe simple ennui. The war is won, society is great, and there’s no need for the old guard to upset their cushy lives, even with the occasional meteor strike. But it is no longer enough for Mickey Eye (Our Stand-In for every carefully advertised comfort we can name) to cash in on the public, nor maintain their bliss. They want to own the very means of human sustenance, an Ultimate Food, a living organism that can be all three squares, midnight snacks, drinks included. But Xoo would rather live on its own, thanks. Seaguy is a little like Xoo; he wants is to prove himself with a thrilling quest, catching the gal and netting the glory and finding purpose beyond what is provided to him. Both want to live on their own.

Issue #2 begins the real quest. It seemed so random, as I said before. Seaguy and his best pal Chubby storm Mickey Eye’s aquatic stronghold and Xoo eventually sinks the operation in a mad rage. Quick as a flash, Seaguy winds up in the ruins of Atlantis, where long-dead machines (actually another source of sustenance, this time for Atlantis itself; you can‘t control your source of life in this world, it seems, although you can own it) fuck everything up really good. Is it a revelation? An exploration of the dangers of adventuring? It’s a bit more.

Issue #3 takes us to the moon, where the mad Moon Mummy, once the greatest ruler of ancient Atlantis, demonstrates the problems with uncontrolled adventure. This guy actually destroyed his world in pursuit of eternal fame, a real immortality (despite the fact that he also seems to be literally immortal!), and now he needs a hero to help him out with an absurdly stupid, self-absorbed task. The Moon Mummy, in this way, is a type of classic superhero villain, using his power and influence not for justice or the betterment of the world, but for masturbatory ego play. No wonder he’s still after the retired heroes of yore! But Mickey Eye is on the moon too (told ya it’d fit together!), building more amusements, and swiftly erasing all trace of past adventures, in favor of safe, controlled excitement. No large-scale messy operatic conflicts here! The good and bad sides of such old styles are swept away in favor of good exciting neatly packaged fun. They call the Moon Mummy senile, but he understands the loss here. Of course such resistance to modernity is madness to Mickey Eye! They have Death (or some substitute) in their employ! Life and death action provided! Buy a delicious snack when you’re done! Thrills! Classic superhero gear is stupid! Old! And they’ve been watching our hero the whole while.

But what about Seaguy? They get him too in the end. Or do they? No matter what, Seaguy has taken the first step toward changing the stifling order: he had mapped the extent of Mickey Eye. The action on the Moon, and the action on the sea. He knows how far it extends: they can’t pretend to be so benevolent to him anymore. But wait! They wiped his mind, right? An all new pal, right? The book is repeating itself, and the end is the beginning is the end, correct? The Ghost of Chubby urged him to never forget, though. Look at the final page. Seaguy winks at us, and picks opposite color (black) than what he used at the start of the saga (where he only exploited Death‘s color-blindness by using Death‘s black pieces - Seaguy was white). And the sitting positions are reversed now. Death’s face cannot be seen at the end, while Seaguy beams with confidence; in issue #1, we couldn’t see Seaguy’s face, only Death’s relaxed leer. Hey, maybe it means nothing. Maybe Mickey Eye just did a super-swell job of reorienting the young fellow’s mind. Maybe the sequel will come out and Grant will prove me wrong. Even so, there’s another difference on that final page from its bookend at the top of the quest.

No Xoo today.” Xoo is all sold out. And yeah, Mickey Eye now owns the moon, if you’ll look upward. But they can’t own life itself. And now a living pirate foodstuff is on the loose. They’ll ignore it (“Beastly”) of course. But the spirit of life is underneath them now. Under the sea. Seaguy saw the extent of their control, and even if he can’t remember it, he at least affected it, put a crack in the armor. That’s something, enough until the sequel.

Did I mention the book is goddamned hilarious? My favorite bit is in issue #3, in which we suddenly learn that everyone has been speaking Esperanto the whole time. An artificial language, naturally, but one intended to unite the world in common understanding, free from politics and control. All the heroes spoke it. I guess Mickey Eye hasn’t got the language yet either, though I’m sure they’re working on it.  We'll have to wait and see. 


Eisner action climax!!!

Hey, look!  Awards!  Handed out Friday, as reported by The Pulse!  We all like awards!  I will comment like this.  You can also get the full list of noms here.  As a special bonus, you'll find out that I really haven't read as many comics as I should have.  I'll try to be helpful anyway. 

2004 Eisner Award winners:

Best Short Story - "Death," by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, in The Sandman: Endless Nights (Vertigo/DC)

I sort of liked this one when I first read it, but the two plots really shouldn't have literally met by the end.  It would have been a stronger story if the 'past' and 'present' stories had been allowed to comment on each other on a strictly philosophic level.  Bringing them both together felt forced, even contrived.  I recall Russell's art being very nice, though, and it was certainly one of the stronger stories in the anthology, for what it's worth.  Lapham's "Matrix" story was the only other nominee I'd read.  It was pretty decent for that particular anthology, which leaned very heavily toward ALL OUT ACTION RARGH.  Ironically, I thought Gaiman's (prose) story was the best in that book, being one of the few to actually explore some of the more interesting possibilities within the Matrix, in a direction I wish the film sequels had gone in.  And I just know I'm gonna regret holding off on "Same Difference and Other Stories"...

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot) - TIE - Conan The Legend #0, by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord (Dark Horse), The Goon #1, by Eric Powell (Dark Horse)

"The Goon" is now an award-winning comic.  That is wonderful.  It's great fun, with each issue delivering gory action and good humor, with often splendid art.  I'd have gone with issue #5 myself, which, for a special surprise, featured no ads and tied many of the seemingly random plot threads together, but hey, might as well go with the introduction.  That thinking may have gone against fellow nominee "Giant THB 1.v.2" which was neat, but was part of a lengthy continuing story.  I really ought to start reading "Finder", which everybody seems to like...

Best Serialized Story - Gotham Central #6-10: "Half a Life," by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (DC)

I have managed to read none of the nominees here.  Yes, not even "Mother Come Home", although I've read issues #1 and #5 of "Forlorn Funnies" (loved the former, heavily mixed on the latter).

Best Continuing Series - 100 Bullets, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (Vertigo/DC)

Best Limited Series - Unstable Molecules, by James Sturm and Guy Davis (Marvel)

Nope.  Didn't like this one at all.  It felt like an attempt to cram each and every shopworn 1950's cliche into a huge sack, which was then beaten about the head and neck of the FF.  Some of the insights were pretty good (Invisible Woman as the unseen housewife) but they were conveyed through only the most oft-retold era highlights possible (Sexual repression!  Youth rebellion!  Science serving the shady government!  Racism!  Yipes!).  It made an interesting essay, but not a very involving story.  And the only other nominee I kind of read was "Global Frequency", which had a nice issue #1, and then steadily declined in unassuming action-movie quality until I dropped it following #4. 

Best New Series - Plastic Man, by Kyle Baker (DC)

I also haven't read "Sleeper".  I am a sinner of great volume.

Best Title for a Younger Audience - Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge, by various (Gemstone)

Good ol' "Uncle Scrooge".  Not much into the newer stuff, but the Barks material is timeless stuff.  And don't get me started with Floyd Gottfredson's "Mickey Mouse" stuff, which hooked me on comics forever at a tender age.  I had no idea the stuff was half a century old.  Does this book have Barks in it?  I don't know.  I do know that "Peanutbutter and Jeremy's Best Book Ever!" was damn fun stuff as well.

Best Humor Publication - Formerly Known as the Justice League, by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, and Joe Rubinstein (DC)

I am so poorly read.  Soooooooooooo poorly read.

Best Anthology - The Sandman: Endless Nights, by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, P. Craig Russell, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Frank Quitely, Glenn Fabry, Milo Manara, and Bill Sienkiewicz; co-edited by Karen Berger and Shelly Bond (Vertigo/DC)

But the anthology itself was a mixed bag, aside from the almost-there Death story and a pretty rad Despair story which a bunch of people hated, but I found to be a nice kick-in-the-gut, aided tremendously by Storey's art and McKean's arrangements.  The rest of the book wasn't quite there.  Dream was fun for fans, I guess, although it felt more like a taste of future 'past Endless' stories than a story itself.  A lot of it was just 'meh', although the art was quite good throughout, and the book was handsomely designed (by McKean).  I'd maybe give the two Dark Horse books a slight advantage, although both varied wildly in quality (as most multi-writer anthologies do, granted).  Now "D&Q 5", I've been meaning to get to... 

Best Graphic Album - New - Blankets, by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf)

Ok.  I'd have given it to "The Fixer" or "Persepolis" myself, both of which I found to be far more absorbing, but not too much to say here.

Best Graphic Album - Reprint - Batman Adventures: Dangerous Dames and Demons, by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and others (DC)

Wha?!  Ok, I'm gonna have to defer to The Beat here, and agree that "The snob vote got split".  I haven't read "Batman Adventures" and I'm sure it's a very nice book, but there is no way it's better than a full decade's worth of Jim Woodring's stunning wordless work, or the staggering emotional force (and perhaps a more focused force) of "Quimby the Mouse" (and people accuse Ware of being chilly and detached, hiding himself behind a wall of style... the scene with Quimby slowly disassembling the bed had to be one of the most intense moments I've read in last year's comics).  Those two alone make for a formidable choice.  And "Palomar" is another huge collection of years and years of often fine work.  And "Louis Riel" is reportedly a fine historical series.  But... that's the problem, isn't it?  I can't choose only one of those.  Not easily.  And I bet the judges couldn't either, and when push came to shove, very few Batman votes took down the other divided factions. 

Best Archival Collection/Project - Krazy and Ignatz, 1929–1930, by George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics)

No argument.  I adore "Krazy Kat".  It's Fantagraphics' other great classic strip project.  You need to hear Krazy's voice.  The strip's got a killer learning curve.  But once Krazy can talk to you as you read him/her, it fucking sings. 

Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material - Buddha, vols. 1 and 2, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)

A very big project, and I like what I've seen, although I'm behind (missing Vol. 3 and 4).  I think it's a solid choice.  Clearly some would say "Persepolis" is a more significant work, but I think Tezuka's wild brew of history and adventure and sometimes jarring comic energy will prove to be quite vital itself over its 8 volumes.  Certainly "Phoenix" has not let me down (well... Yamato was sort of weak, I'll concede).

Best Writer - Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea, Smax, Tom Strong, Tom Strong's Terrific Tales (ABC)

Given the nominees here, I think Moore's "LOEG 2" (an improvement on the original in every way, save for pacing, with some truly surprising character evolutions and an even darker sense of satire for the era's fictional universe) and "Promethea" (a wildly self-indulgent but equally entertaining work, finally ushering Moore's career-length fascination with the revisitation of story archetypes to its logical conclusion - nothing less than a spiritual worldview based on tellings and retellings of countless layers of tales) easily qualify him for this year's prize.

Best Writer/Artist - Craig Thompson, Blankets (Top Shelf)

Best Writer/Artist - HumorKyle Baker, Plastic Man (DC); The New Baker (Kyle Baker Publishing)

I don't know.  I flipped through the new "Plastic Man" series and it didn't grab me at all.  Is "The New Baker" more interesting?  I know "Bone" never quite reached the heights of its first few years, but it was always a beautiful book, and the story never felt really bad, just a bit tired.  I liked the final issue a lot, but that stuff couldn't be factored in for this year's awards anyway.  Ah hell.  I'd hand it to Tony Millionaire, whose new "Sock Monkey" issues were smoking fuck good.  Especially Vol. 4 #1, which was funny and cute while being so deeply, deeply sad.  And that doll, sinking, sinking... but that's just me.

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team - John Cassaday, Planetary, Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth (WildStorm/DC); Hellboy Weird Tales (Dark Horse)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art) - Jill Thompson, "Stray," in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings (Dark Horse)

Best Coloring - Patricia Mulvihill, Batman, Wonder Woman (DC), 100 Bullets (Vertigo/DC)

Best Lettering - Todd Klein, Detective Comics( DC); Fables, The Sandman: Endless Nights (Vertigo/DC); Tom Strong, Promethea (ABC); 1602 (Marvel)

So the last issue of "Cerebus" was March 2004, which would make next year's awards the one where they give Sim the gold watch, right?  He'll deserve the award, though, since he's probably the best letterer anywhere.  Some of the sound effects in those 2003 Last Day issues were beyond belief... 

Best Cover Artist - James Jean, Batgirl (DC), Fables (Vertigo/DC)

Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition - Derek Kirk Kim (writer/artist, Same Difference and Other Stories)

Yep, I gotta check this book out...

Best Comics-Related Periodical - Comic Book Artist, edited by Jon B. Cooke (Top Shelf)

Best Comics-Related Book - The Art of Hellboy, by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

I was gonna throw out a question as to the validity of sketchbooks in competition with prose books about comics, but you know what?  I'm not sure if anything good would come of it.  The Best Graphic Album Reprint category is almost as big a jumble with recently collected miniseries going up against decade-spanning collections.  I'll just say that I found the "Acme Novelty Datebook" to be a very telling book on the creation of Chris Ware comics, and I value that a lot.  Each judge will differ, of course. 

Best Publication Design - Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, designed by Chip Kidd (Pantheon)

Against the gaudy foil map of Quimby?  No Sir!

Judges’ Choices: Otto Binder, John Stanley, Kasuo Koike and Goseki Kojima

Voters selection: Al Capp, Jules Feiffer, Don Martin, Jerry Robinson

Sigh.  No Floyd Gottfredson.  I mean, the others deserve it too, but Floyd's close to my heart, man...


Nothing like a nice long update-free trip to scrub myself clean of whatever few readers I had ever retained. I promise, devoted friends, that I will stick to my blogging on a far more regular basis (like daily) for the immediate future.

It was a pretty nice trip. I ate breakfast one particular day at a place called Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Diner or something. It was very nostalgic. I ordered my breakfast whiskey and the pleasingly costumed waitress regaled me with analysis of why slavery was necessary for the survival of the Nostalgic Old South’s economic infrastructure. I thanked her and ordered silver dollar pancakes. Typhoid then broke out in the smoking section, which really upped the authenticity factor; fortunately, I was prepared for such a situation with memorized selections from the latest Marvel solicitations. I shit you not my dear pals, upon hearing the latest and greatest information on countless white-hot upcoming epics in the making, not only was every trace of disease driven from that jolly house, but the elderly actually became young again, and every dog within five blocks gained the power of speech. I have already stolen their insights, and will pass them off as my own without further notification. Score two more big points for team comics! I was so pumped from my good deed, I spent the next eight hours playing "Target: Terror" at a nearby arcade, and then my wife divorced me.

Ha ha! Just kidding, gang! I never married.

So. Comics this week. Didn’t buy them yet, but I will tomorrow. I’m (obviously) not at the big Comics Gathering this weekend, so I’ll be deprived of all the awesome books out there. Fuck. Well, I’m gonna have some thoughts out on Tom Herpich’s "Gongwanadon" some time tomorrow, and hopefully some reviews of new comics I’m catching up on. It seems like a pretty quiet week; lots of talk about "Identity Crisis", which I have no desire to read, but I've done the next best thing by following the coverage online. From what I can gather, it’s all about villains raping beloved family members, right? How will this continue? Won't the rapes grow increasingly outlandish after seven issues? Can the creative team maintain suspense? And didn’t Alan Moore have this beat pretty much covered back in "The Killing Joke"? And hey, he’s not only a lucky alum of the recent New York Times comics bonanza, he’s also "one of the world’s finest writers" (and he gives a pretty sweet interview, although this one is as much about politics as comics, for those with allergies).  Hey, that reminds me: a new issue of "Tom Strong's Terrific Tales" is just out!  That means 6 to 8 whole pages of new Alan Moore!  YES!

Right. So, lots of comics content coming real soon.


See you in less than one week...

I'm gonna be without Internet access for about one week.  I actually started keeping this thing a bit earlier than I expected (or I simply never plan ahead: U-Decide), and I'm pretty glad I had some time to get my sea legs, because the Internet is like a large body of water, only with comics reviews and commentary instead of jellyfish and plankton.  So I'll be back this Saturday, and we'll all enjoy the rush to catch up on all of the things I missed, like "Seaguy", and I'll announce the BIG PROJECT I'm planning (oooooooooh).  Stay safe, everyone.


Can YOU find the hidden "Identity Crisis" joke in these assorted thoughts???

* Best line of the weekend, from Paul O’Brien’s review of issue #1 of the new "Books of Magick" series:

"Another Vertigo title based on a concept from the Neil Gaiman archives? Why, there must be a vowel in the month."
* Nick Hornby’s column in the July issue of "The Believer", which I flipped through on the newsstand upon discovering that it was indeed a new issue (damned similar covers), features several comics reviews. Hornby liked "Y: The Last Man", marveling at the dirty language in what he refers to as "a proper comic book". He also gives a very fast positive recommendation to Dan Clowes’ "David Boring". I wonder if that’s the first Clowes book Hornby has read? Only because that’s probably not the one I’d recommend to start with. But most importantly, the very same issue features another swell one-page strip by the great Michael Kupperman. Anybody who has not purchased a copy of "Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret" and subsequently had it bronzed upon committing each strip within to memory must attend confession and remedy the situation at once. It’s one of the very few comics that literally made me laugh until I cried.

* Anybody out there in comics-related Internet land happen to know why the third issue of Grant Morrison’s run on "Spawn" (that’s issue #18) appears to command such a high price? I was visiting my local shop and I plucked the first two issues of Morrison’s arc out of the quarter bin. I then looked around for the last issue, since I can’t stand to read only parts of arcs of back-issues I collect, and I found it for $10!!! And I looked online and discovered that Spawn #18 tends to cost quite a bit more money than the average issue. So what happens? Is it a MILESTONE EVENT that ROCKS SPAWN TO HIS CORE? Will the Spawn universe NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN? Does someone’s wife die in a horrible manner? I must know, but I don’t really want to pay more than cover price to find out.

Man. Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim. All of them have worked on Spawn. Man. I was more of a "Savage Dragon" kid myself.



I have reclaimed my precious Batman book from the vulgar custody of my smarter-than-the-average foes. I cannot divulge the details of my glorious victory; suffice to say in fifteen years my procedures will have become the status quo, and I pray in advance for the passing of decorum. Now - comics!

Batman: The Order of Beasts

Sadly, there was no Mr. Bear among the membership of the title gentlemen’s club. Too Russian for the story’s fine gentlemen, perhaps? Uncomfortable memories of Full House on the part of the creators? Aside from this glaring omission, the book stands as one of the more successful Elseworlds titles I’ve read, placing Batman soundly in the tradition of classic literary and pulp detectives and personalities. He’s even compared to Sherlock Holmes; we are not told if the Master Detective is a real or literary sleuth in the book’s world, but I’d bet on the memory of a very real Sherlock still being fresh in the minds of England’s public in the 1939 of the book’s setting. This is the sort of story where Batman politely converses with the police, sipping tea and discussing clues. It’s a young man underneath the cowl, insecure and eager to please.

The plot involves a young Bruce Wayne traveling to England to broker an exclusive sugar transportation deal, anticipating turbulence in typical supply lines due to increasing Nazi aggression. Young Master Wayne does not care for bully tactics, and he is prepared to fight back. The older men of England, however, the rich and powerful, they are eager to appease. A secret society reveals itself, where gentlemen gather dressed as animals in tribute to ancient pagan rituals. Their purpose is to honor the traditions of a finer day, unsullied by the war and disappointment of the twentieth century. But strange murders soon begin, questionable politics are unearthed, and children’s nursery rhymes are cited among the clues. I won’t spoil the mystery, but Batman quickly discovers that these old men are really children, cowering into dress-up fantasies of ‘better’ days, indulging in silly parties (scantily-clad ladies a must), and generally putting their heads in the ground as fascists lurk around, leaving a weird mix of nursery-rhyme and divine providence to run amok.

The book is co-written by Eddie Campbell and Daren White, and fully painted by Campbell. Soft colors are used for daytime and interiors, while Batman’s night world is heavily grey, with sparing use of other hues. Campbell certainly seems to be having fun, gently playing up the absurdity of the ‘pagan’ rituals. On a side note, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Boar (that is a boar, right?), who spends the entire book doing nothing but sitting around and looking ridiculous, until he finally just takes the damn mask off; it must’ve been too heavy. There’s an action climax among giant bells, a generally listless romance with a young singer for Mr. Wayne, and deadly lemons. I also suspect there may be several literary allusions that I’m missing. It’s an engaging book, fun and sharp. The $6 price is fine for 48 lovely pages of art, and the story is worth your time.


Kim Deitch - Appreciation and Review

The Stuff of Dreams #2
Kim Deitch is one of my favorite cartoonists in the whole fucking world.  He was an active creative force on the 'underground' scene, back in that halcyon comix era, though he was never in "Zap".  His stories are finely tuned fantasies, steeped heavily in earlier pop cultures, especially early animation.  His longer plots often seem to wander about from one odd circumstance to another, but there's perfect cartoon sense behind it.  Let's say a father arrives home, suspicious of his teen daughter.  And with good reason: she's going out dressed as a clown, literally.  Floppy shoes, face paint, etc.  Naturally, the father decides to dress like a clown himself, which leads him to a secret revolutionary group of angry young clowns, which spills over into an orgy, with his girl in attendance, which results in a police chase, which concludes with everyone achieving immortality as icons of the revolution.  Right on!  And that's not counting the recurring characters.  You get the feeling that all of those Miles Microft (Psychic Detective) adventures might just fit together to form some insane biography, or maybe a timeline of American pop distraction, full of swamp potions and silent adventure films and robots on wheels.  His shorter stories are loaded with fun gags, eye-catches, ribald laffs.  His art is instantly recognizable, a bright animation world filled with delusional misfits, strong women, mental institutions, and Waldo the cat, a nasty little bastard with a wild, biblical origin.  He's also a spiteful will to creativity, the debauched and untamed soul of cartoons, moving and otherwise, presiding over "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (written with Deitch's brother Simon), a hardcover collection of the most important moments in the life of Ted Mishkin, animator, and the industry that surrounds him.
"The Stuff of Dreams", with two of its three issues available, shifts the focus to none other than Kim Deitch.  It's a series of tall tales, essentially, with Deitch attempting to indulge his passion for collecting through Ebay and flea markets, only to become embroiled in some sort of historical mystery.  It's a natural extension of Deitch's earlier focuses; his storytelling has always been enchanted by earlier pop artifacts, now Deitch is physically pursuing bits of prior amusement.  The first issue of the series won the 2003 Eisner for Best Single Issue or One-Shot.  The second issue is even better.
The key strength of the series is Deitch's simultaneously absurd and authentic use of history.  The plot of #2 involves Deitch coming into possession of a strange cat costume, which he discovers was used as the hero's disguise in an obscure silent serial, "Alias the Cat".  The plot of the serial was also adapted into a daily adventure newspaper strip that ran at the same time, a slight departure from the prose adaptations that accompanied many serials of the day (a large portion of which no longer survive).  Deitch reads the comic, and begins to draw strange parallels between the serial and local news.  An absurd yet bafflingly credible plot evolves, including Vietnam protests, Henry Ford, golden sewage, 'furries' (and oh yes, there is a sex scene), and much more. 
The plot isn't always air-tight; I'm not totally sure how the film serial, the comic strip, and certain other events could be synched up quite so well.  And some may complain about the uniformity of Deitch's art style: the newspaper strips look pretty much like the real world action (although I loved the shading effects for the 'color' strips).  I don't mind it.  The series is, after all, about becoming immersed in history, about loving the past, about loving people who love the past, about its influence on the present, about fiction becoming real, about believing that comics can become flesh.  That is the stuff of dreams, and the enthusiasm infects.
Both issues are readily available.  Each stands alone, for the most part.  It's a great way to try Deitch's brand of comics.  If you like it, you'll want "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", plus the earlier short story collections "Beyond the Pale" and "All Waldo Comics".  There's the extended weekly strip collections "Hollywoodland" and "A Shroud for Waldo".  And there's more, uncollected stuff in Fantagraphics' defunct anthology title "Zero Zero", stuff in "Little Lit", and so much more.
Deitch's work continues to evolve.  It may never stop.  Anytime is the best time to check him out. 

Your afternoon's suggested reading:

I have been assured by my top agents that all of the cool kids will want to read this very witty exploration of the nature of the 'graphic novel' by Eddie Campbell, whose recent Batman book I have yet to liberate from the pestilent grip of those horrid bears.  Located at Heidi MacDonald's The Beat, a swell stop for all the latest word. 


This post is totally connected to comics

So I plunked down ten hard earned dollars for the new Polyphonic Spree album, "Together We're Heavy".  I had already narrowly missed seeing them live this summer; they had begun opening for David Bowie shortly after the show that I had attended, where I was treated to the smooth, similarly titled stylings of the Stereophonics.  They were above average for an opening band at a 'big' show, in that they captured my attention and distracted me from purchasing overpriced drinks.  The average opening act at this sort of show will only offer a pleasant
accompaniment to your journey to the portable pee pee hut, putting a spring in your step as you herd yourself along to pick up a $17 pretzel or an official pin. 
Anyhow, the next time I heard of the Polyphonic Spree, it was through this game.  Having already wasted a solid portion of my childhood clicking a mouse at pixels insetead of discovering life, I was entranced by this little three screen quest.  It's absurdly easy, naturally, but it's a promotional thing.  You're not supposed to get flustered or anything, or you run the risk of forever associating the band/program/potato crisp behind the game with difficulty and frustration.  Just imagine if you encountered a promotional game in the old-school parser style, where you'd guide your little hero with the arrow keys over to a door and you'd have to type "Open door" and the game would respond "I DO NOT UNDERSTAND" and you'd continue with "Open the door" "Door, open" "Open the door, Paul" "The door: open" and "FUCKING HORSESHIT" before you realized that the game did not recognize capitalization.  I know the only thing I'd be able to think of at that band's show: "Mother of god, it's those capitalization fuckers."  Although 'The Capitalization Fuckers' is a pretty sweet name.
So I completed the game, and I was treated to a big sample of the band's music; they've got quite a talent for crafting tunes that instantly camp out in your head, even if the whole thing sort of sounds like the sort of music you'd hear played under a commercial for a local amusement park.  I'm convinced that one of their future videos should just be footage of happy families riding carosels and dancing in circles within tepid wading pools, cotton candy in hands.  It won't be a big departure considering that one of their current videos involves a shimmering fantasy forest populated by gleaming giraffes and other shining beasts.  It's on the DVD that comes free with the album.  Unfortunately, the DVD relies a wee bit too much on "Light & Day", a rapturously joyful pop number that sharply decreases in rapture after the third or so consecutive listen, which doesn't stop it from being featured on both the disc's videos, in one of the two live performances, and under the interview segment.  By the time the band began striking up those opening melodies in front of a shouting Japanese crowd I was aching for some other band, Sigur Ros let's say, to drop from the sky and put a stop to the madness with martial arts, although Sigur Ros' fighting style would probably consist of abstract gestures that give the suggestion of fighting, much like how their lyrics aren't actually words.  They'd still kick ass, and Japan would be wowed.
But it's a good album; it's really not all happytimewhee bombast all the way.  Some of the orchestrations are quite gentle.  I personally like the ten-minute opus of Section Nineteen (When The Fool Becomes A King) and the gradual fade of Section 20 (Together We're Heavy).  It's dreamy stuff when taken in small enough doses.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that a full-length preview of the new "X-Force" by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld is here.  Because after putting Milligan and Allred's "X-Statix" to bed, you knew they'd be heading back in time.  Might as well go all the way and bring back Rob.  Say, did you know that issue #2 of Liefeld's original "Youngblood" miniseries had a cover price of $2.50?  I sure do, because I recently bought all four issues of that delightful opus, plus issue #0, plus the issue of "Brigade" the story's ending spilled into (sans Liefeld's art), for less than the $2.50 cover charge of one issue.  I look forward to purchasing this new "X-Force" book sometime in 2016 for a similar value, but it was sure nice to post the first issue in advance.


Eightball #23 - SPOILERS!!!

A whole bunch of this stuff I posted and discussed with folks on the TCJ board here, and I’ve tried to make a bit more sense of my ramblings. I liked the book a lot at first, and I like it better the more I think of it. It didn’t sport the instantaneous slap of euphoria that issue 22 provided, I must confess, but there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in these oversized pages.

It’s a superhero story, as you’ve no doubt heard. What impressed me about the book was the highly focused use of Andy’s superpowers in regards to his growing perception of the world, and how he acts on those perceptions (and as Sean has already stated, the story is very much filtered through Andy’s eyes). Both of the superpowers on display in the story act as a means for Andy to enforce his sense of justice, but in different ways, though always beneficial to him. One of them, the enhanced physical strength, indulges his bodily urges ("I'll be damned if it didn't feel pretty good."), and the other, THE DEATH RAY, makes his problems literally disappear. A far more elegant solution, and I found the Death Ray to be vastly more telling in terms of character development (which probably shouldn‘t come as a surprise, since the big words on the back cover scream THE DEATH RAY)! Andy's growing maturity is shaped through his observations and experiences he encounters throughout his youth. But unlike the rest of the world (the non-superhumans), Andy becomes an adult without any physical barricades against acting on his perceptions; there is almost nothing to stop him from doling out the justice that he feels the world needs. Only his own mental state prevents total indulgence. As a result, Andy (who loves structure, perhaps as a reaction to the instability and hypocrisy of the world he views as a teenager) feels free to act unlimitedly on his personal philosophy. He always knew he was destined for big things! All his life's tragedy has forged a savior of consistency! Ah, but Louie, poor old kid. The Death Ray won't fire when he pulls the trigger (such is impotency). He can't even make killings 'pop' out of his mind, much less the physical world. The kid’s a bit of an ass, and he seems fond of living vicariously through Andy (those occasional silver-age fantasy sequences are mutual as I read it... Louie is casting himself as Andy's sidekick as much as Andy is casting him), and yeah, it was his idea to kill that guy, but Louie's gotta live in this world, not above it. Note that after Andy receives the Death Ray, he becomes far more dominant. He immediately cuts his hair and delivers a rousing speech in favor of honestly, integrity, and loyalty, and his hand is even over his heart so we know he's extra goddamned serious! And with a power that can remove any problem, he has truly become the enforcer he wants to be! At this point, Louie still holds some pull, but everything changes after the killing. Tellingly, Andy delivers a speech on the same page as the killing about a former friend who grew up to be a different person and abandoned him. And after the killing, Andy (superhuman) tells Louie (human, having human doubts) that Andy will be the boss of this Dynamic Duo. That's how it goes in The United States of Andy. ‘Superhuman’ just means ‘above the humans’ sometimes.

All of this ties in to Andy's dream, I think. Note that a seemingly random panel is included at the end of the page on which Andy first uses the Death Ray, depicting Andy in bed surrounded by the evil white clouds from his dream (which come later in the story... I only picked this up on a second reading). The dream depicts Andy's grandpa eating the white fruit from the evil tree outside Andy's home. Slowly and with great pain, he fades away. This seems to reflect his grandpa's painful senility, which Andy must live with each day. White clouds (white like the fruit) then invade Andy's room, and he must struggle to beat them back. Outside his room, it is all white. The color white seems to be tied to the decay of stability in this way; if Andy leaves his room, he is swallowed by white. (K. Parille on the TCJ board also pointed out that the clouds resemble cigarette smoke, indicating anxiety about Andy’s powers). In his next dream, he has sex with his grandpa's nurse, the person who tries to maintain the stability of his grandpa's life. Andy respects her so much, he cannot even see her naked. All of it serves to reflect Andy's love of stability, his fear of disintegration and change. Near the end of the book, it is revealed that Andy’s one true friend is in fact Sonny, a fellow man of fixation, who simply could not see a reason for life without his true and destined love. Andy's own preoccupation continues to the point where he remains fixated on Dusty and the nurse's affairs long after they're out of his life. Even after Louie's death, Andy maintains that he was always a better man than him (perhaps recognizing his role in Andy's own development), although Andy also mentions earlier that Louie is not an adult, while directly after the first killing Andy considers himself capable of making tough 'adult' decisions... and naturally, Louie's attack on Andy, the betrayal, leads to Louie's demise. And note that Louie maintains that he's not going to hurt Andy (I suppose not much more, considering he's already hit him with a rock) while Andy tells us that he knows Louie wants to kill him. Makes you wonder how much 'self-defense' was really involved. Ah, but with Louie dead, Andy can idealize him like he does Dusty (Andy has to squint while hiding in the bushes to see her the proper way when he and Sonny visit her) and others. Really, Andy only stands for his own brand of loyalty and stability, but hey! He can make shit vanish! He'll always be able to justify his own perceptions with powers that can erase any problem. Many interpretations of the story can arise from such circumstances. Is it all a commentary on fantasy? A commentary on superheroes? Andy, like a certain famous webslinger, is driven to aid those in need, to take responsibility for his great power. But Clowes suggests that one’s sense of ‘responsibility’ can potentially act as more of a mask than any costume, hiding one’s own insecurities far away, heading off any threats to one’s own perfect little private world, while really accomplishing little to benefit the world as a whole. Clowes only provides three endings for Andy: the status quo, self-annihilation, or the annihilation of everything else. Hardly the dawn of an age of Marvels.

The art is excellent throughout, with subtle shifts in color and line signifying giant emotional shifts. The prior issue of Eightball occasionally seemed like an attempt to cram the visual history of comics into a single story; the visual shifts here are far less overt. The relationship between Andy and Louie felt highly authentic to me, fortunately; a lot of this material would fall flat if the characters didn’t ring true, but they did, and I found myself strongly reminded of people from my own youth. The insecure posturing, the imagined agendas… ah, youth! Good wry wit too (not only does smoking make you look cool, but now it makes you super-strong). And an excellent back-cover gag involving the book’s price. Yeah, I tried to peel that sticker off.


All of the comics I got this week:

Sadly, I did not get my copy of Eddie Campbell's "Batman: The Order of Beasts" because a significant portion of my local shop's shipment was kidnapped by bears and never reached the shelves. It will take a few days for my shop to gather up the necessary amounts of honey and berries to meet their outrageous demands; if we fail, they'll bend the corners on all of the pages all at once so every time we flip through the book the corners will get jumbled and everyone will lose. Wish us luck.


DC Comics Presents: Mystery in Space #1
: This is actually #2 in a weekly series of 8 specials, teaming up all manner of writers and artists to create short stories based on clever old DC cover art. It's all in the name of honoring the late Julie Schwartz (and making money).

First up is a frantic romp by Elliot S! Maggin (as the credit reads), with art by J.H. Williams III (of "Promethea" fame). I can't say I'm terribly familiar with Adam Strange, nor his friendship with Elongated Man. Sue Dibny, however, is very much alive in this story, thank you very much! Our intrepid trio accidentally lose some of Adam's bitch-ass alien gear to officials from the Republic of Swazeria, who waste no time in selling the swag to terrorists in exchange for a nuclear goodie bag. Meanwhile, Adam must save the weather of Rann from the forces of evil. There are also jokes about a donkey and an un-ironic use of the term 'bejeebers', which wins the story a few extra points on my scorecard. Everybody sort of just runs around for the whole thing, but it's very attractively laid out, with the last page neatly framing the denouement with melancholy.

One Mr. Grant Morrison scripts the next tale, with fine art by Jerry Ordway (pencil) and Mark McKenna (ink). It's cutely titled "Two Worlds", since the story really does operate that way: not just on Earth and Rann, but as a story and a separate commentary contained in captions (which are helpfully colored with a self-conscious dot pattern). The captions sort of narrate the story, but constantly digress into musings on the romantic fantasy of the Cold War (A Glorious Space Race), as opposed to the reality of Vietnam (Politics and Ballistics), and the hopes that the era's comics created for the 21st century, which couldn't be supported by the reality of the times, "A holy pulp fiction future trampled in the unholy rush to get there," as Morrison expounds. The readers of these books are thusly torn between worlds, just like Adam on the cover. Meanwhile, the actual story finds Adam captured by the USMC, who are under orders to fabricate a motivation for war with Rann, creating all the justification needed to seize some resources and ensure some big profits for all the right people. Gracious! Which world issue could Mr. Morrison possibly be commenting upon?! I must admit I was a bit more taken with how similar the plot for war here is to the famous conclusion to "Watchmen", where an unknown alien foe is used to manipulate world opinion. It isn't really a 'riff' on Watchmen, so to speak, since the plot here hinges upon an identifiable, accessible foe, while the thrust of Alan Moore's conclusion was that nobody would quite know how to strike back against the faux invasion, thus shocking the Earth into cooperation without the actual threat of any violent retaliation. I just found it to be curious, that's all. And when brought together, the commentary and story portions of the work do create an oddly powerful sensation, with the dream for the future surviving even as it's tarnished by the complexity of physical living, which is fortunate since neither would work quite as well divorced from the other (the story in particular). I also loved the run-on sentence style of thought balloons; the small moments and throwaway gags are maybe the most memorable parts of all.

Cripes that was long.

The Punisher #9: YEAH! This'll flush out our system! It's part 3 of the current arc as quite a few Irish gangs fight each other. Motives are revealed, faces begin to fall off, there's torture and blood and general mayhem, although the story is already beginning to feel a little too stretched out. The scene in the diner where one villain’s casual racism unexpectedly bites his ass was almost worth it all, though... anyhow, guilty pleasure city.

Dearest Internet:

Please cradle my new blog in your mighty arms and bring me success and joy in all of my comics blogging endeavors. Also, bring me mountains of gold. But don't drop the gold right on top of me or anything, Internet, for I have seen "Wishmaster" and I know how these things go. One second I'm asking for a pony, and before I know it all of my friends and loved ones are victims in some pony-related disaster! Well I'm too sharp a safety razor for you, Mr. Internet, so you'd better just plop that gold right here in my leisure chambers, nice and easy! Wha... what?! NO! All of my comics have turned to gold! Now I can't even read them, much less blog about them!!! AND I'VE LOST MY EYES BUT I CAN STILL SEE!!!