It's still tomorrow somewhere!

*Here we go, another new column - this one explores my impressions of one Tony Wong, a legend of Hong Kong comics, and how his Jademan Comics line of the late '80s and early '90s projected his unique image. Enjoy!



The passion has taken me.

*I'm cooking up the next installment of my column for tomorrow (yes, tomorrow), but here's a little online shopping update for those interested.

A while ago, PictureBox began offering John Vermilyea's and Frank Santoro's Cold Heat Special for sale at their site. All well and good, but you might recall me mentioning a second Cold Heat book from my SPX post. Well, get ready for the satisfaction that only a completist can know, because Chris Cornwell's The Chunky Gnars: A Chocolate Gun Tribute is now available here. Think of me in the afterglow.


Well, the list came out as usual.

*I never seem to understand what sleep's all about until it's left me again.


Northlanders #1 (new Brian Wood viking project, coming soon)

Alex Robinson's Lower Regions (this is totally not a cute dungeon-crawl comic; it is actually a photo-perfect guide to all things below Alex Robinson's waist)


Column #13 (concerning the godly hands of Black Jack, Osamu Tezuka's famed medical hero - #14 should be along in shorter order)

At The Savage Critics! Which didn't have any of my short reviews up, because there wasn't a damn thing I bought in pamphlet form last week that inspired 300 words worth asking people to read!

That's not a slam or anything - I liked The Umbrella Academy #3 just fine, but it pretty much held the pattern as usual; nice use of complimentary panels while swinging back and forth between action locations, though. Is that a good term? I'm talking about where something happens in one panel, and the next panel seems to 'react' to it, despite it depicting something happening in a different location - keeps the action flowing, and Gabriel Bá is a careful enough artist to not let it get confusing.

Similarly, The Programme #5 provided the usual mix of stiff gesture and vivid tableaux, the script hectoring and declarative, but sometimes funny. The cell phone bit with the President was good.

*Remember, remember, the end of November means Thursday comics in the USA. The last time I went into a local shop looking for new funnies on a post-holiday Wednesday, the owner pulled a bat out from behind the counter and cracked me right across the head using both arms. I began this website soon after.


The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories: Sound the alarms! It's a new Fanfare/Ponent Mon manga release! Lay down your $21.99 as soon as you see it, 'cause you might never see it again. And it's a Jiro Taniguchi book too, a 240-page collection of six stories pitting humans against the harsh wilds, first published in 2004. Preview here. Expect immaculate storytelling and environmental rhapsody.

A Treasury of Victorian Murder Vol. 9: The Bloody Benders: Rick Geary's newest document of doom, now in dandy $9.95 softcover form, for those who want their Benders bloody, but thrifty as well.

Little Sammy Sneeze: The Complete Color Sunday Comics 1904-1905: And in contrast with 'thrifty,' we've got the latest release from Sunday Press Books, that lavish outer limit of our vintage reprint Golden Age. And god, who doesn't want a 96-page, 11" x 16" hardcover compilation of Winsor McCay's classic, printed in a unique manner to simulate the actual setup of a period newspaper page, with a blazin' full-color Sammy on one side of every page, and an appropriate partial-color bonus comic on the back. Thus, in addition to what's in the title, you'll also get the full run of McCay's Hungry Henrietta, and samples of Gustav Verbeek's The Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo and John Prentiss Benson's The Woozlebeasts. More info here. Your bank account will probably be happier without that $55 clogging it up.

Dan Dare #1 (of 7): Being the start of Virgin Comics' revival of the British comics icon, from writer Garth Ennis and artist Gary Erskine. I've noticed Virgin making it a point in their house ads that Ennis isn't going to be inclined toward excess with this one, which actually isn't that unique; his 2006-07 Wildstorm project Battler Britton similarly woke an old UK property with a gentle jostle rather than a kick out of bed. Interestingly, the apparent starting point of this new Dare series -- seeing the retired hero chafing against ugly domestic politics -- is strikingly similar to that of Grant Morrison's famously bleak Dare of years back (with artist Rian Hughes), although I suspect this one will play out as far more a contemporary politics-aware adventure comics epic. Six pages are here. I'll be looking for it.

World War 3 Illustrated #38: Facts on the Ground: Top Shelf presents another 104 pages (8 in color) of political comics sure to inspire whispery détente. Featuring a damn good-looking piece by Peter Kuper on his stay in Oaxaca, Mexico, Kyle Baker's Special Forces, and others on Hurricane Katrina, global warming, immigration, Iraq, and much more. Full contributor list and preview here.

Popgun Vol. 1: This is a new comics anthology from Image. I have no idea what it's about, but it does call itself "the ultimate graphic mixtape" and apparently "crosses the protected borders of every genre, fulfilling the desires of anyone hungry for the pungent taste of creativity." Well! The lineup does look decent enough, mixing a whole bunch of Image creators with some new folk - any new Brandon Graham is worth a glance, at least. At 400 full-color pages for $29.99, the financial gamble isn't that big either.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #8: In which the series' first storyline draws to a grand close -- or at least stops at a point somewhat amenable to collected edition cutoff -- with the introduction of writer Frank Miller's new vision of the Joker. One can only imagine how that might turn out. Meanwhile, writer Grant Morrison gives us The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul part 4 (of 7) in Batman #671, and I can't wait to see how it drives.

Casanova #11


Madman Atomic Comics #5


Speak of the Devil #3 (of 6)


Foolkiller MAX #2 (of 5): They are... other comics I continue to buy.

Doc Frankenstein #6: God damn, it's been just about fifteen months since #5 hit the stands. You'd swear the writers had a movie to direct or something. But for those itching after more Wachowski funnybook action, with the art of Steve Skroce, this issue will bring to their eyes the long-awaited origin of God. He was a nerdy mop boy down at the local gym...



I Um Back

*Another fine Thanksgiving for the books. It was tough herding all those turkeys into my family's waiting mouths, but few efforts are matched with such reward. How about a quick review?

Alex Robinson's Lower Regions

I'm actually in the middle of answering an email right now, and lo and behold, one of the questions therein is what I think of the comics of Alex Robinson. It's gonna be a disappointing response on that front (which is to say, even more disappointing than my responses usually are), since Robinson is one of those artists who've managed to slip right between the cracks of my reading. He's like Howard Cruse or Mark Kalesniko in that way - I just haven't quite gotten around to all of them.

So this little book, a 56-page, mostly wordless b&w production of Top Shelf (priced at $6.95), gets to be my first sustained exposure to Robinson's work. I suspect many readers will take it as a lark, a funny side-project in anticipation of Robinson's next 'big' book, 2008's Too Cool to Be Forgotten; it's cute and slapsticky, and very fast. It looks like this. I don't think I could mount much of a case against that notion.

But it's worth noting that the presence of action-fantasy genre stuff isn't what marks the book as so minor; in the last few years, artists as varied as Kazimir Strzepek (The Mourning Star), Brian Chippendale (Ninja) and Chris Forgues (Powr Mastrs) have all released differing works redolent with fantasy adventure tropes, all of which take different approaches toward building up their worlds and telling their stories. Alex Robinson's Lower Regions, as the title might suggest, functions mostly as an extended gag, albeit an affectionate one towards simple sword-swinging, dungeon-crawling tropes, with monster housecats and armored orcs alike getting sliced and diced in gory fashion by a pretty girl with a big axe.

It's a very boyish book, loaded with goopy violence, cheesy sensuality and what strikes me as a playful eagerness to push buttons - Robinson can't quite resist getting his warrior babe into a wet kiss with some sort of devilish succubus, which then grows increasingly aroused as Our Heroine stabs it over and over with a knife, until a wave of lil' critters erupts climactically from her bloody chest cavity. And when in doubt: impale a wicked little kid on a jagged pike! Of course, Robinson's visual style is too dabbed with cartoon flourish for anything really icky to register; the reader can rest assured from page #1 that corny ol' true love wins the day in the end.

As I mentioned, it's pretty cute, and Robinson's art is well-suited to the task - he even tosses in a few instances of formal play, like a nasty thing casting a spell that drifts out above his head as the heroine charges him, stretching across the gutter into the next panel to melt her weapon before she can 'reach' him, in-comic. A little more of that might have had the book sticking in my mind a lot longer. As it is, it's workable enough disposable entertainment, if also forgettable to the extent that I feel I ought to read something else entirely before I can really say I've read Alex Robinson.


Man, Jog... didn't you, like, have a column on some site?

*A holiday pie is here for your teeth - a new column. This time, the topic is Dr. Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack, and special holiday pictures are provided, one of which acts a political joke that virtually nobody outside of the US will understand. Go me.



A swift glance into the coming age...

Northlanders #1

This is a new ongoing series from Vertigo, set to debut in two weeks. Brian Wood is the creator and writer. It's about Vikings.

It'd do you well to check out the official site; there's already some content up, including promo materials, a partial bibliography of research sources, a reference photo, and links to preview art (scroll down) and various interviews (here's a detailed one). Still, the premise is easy enough to summarize for now - Vikings; their exploits. Each storyline will stand alone, with unique characters and settings, and rotating art teams. The first volume is eight issues long, and features the drawings of Italian artist Davide Gianfelice (in his English-language debut, I believe), and the colors of Dave McCaig.

This first issue suggests a very straightforward affair, I daresay almost exactly what you'd expect from a Viking comic written by Brian Wood in the broad adventure mode. There's youth chafing against established structures, the specter of fearsome politics, and an immersion in fringe living. Lots of heavy beatings handed out by excellent fighters too; it reminded me a little of The Couriers, only with swords and shields, a glaze of history's gravitas, and man-of-action dialogue somewhat awkwardly pinned between solemn/hot-blooded warrior speak and modern cadence.

The plot itself, set in 980 AD, involves Sven, a proud commander of the Varangian guard of Constantinople, a real-life mercenary klatch of Scandinavians hired to fight the worst battles for the city's Byzantine populace. Like a callow youth from the sticks gone off to live in the big city, Sven has tossed out the old gods and embraced 'civilization,' the visual shorthand being his well-groomed hair and chin tuft. But soon enough (page four), he learns that his wicked Uncle Gorm has stolen his birthright and enslaved the people back home under a rule of fear, so he heads back to the appropriately-named Grimness Settlement in the Isles of Orkney to take back the family fortune.

Troubles await, but none that you wouldn't expect. If there's any overriding problem with this first issue, it's that absolutely nothing is presented to distinguish the book from any other story involving a long-missing hero returning to reclaim his rightful stuff from a false rule, save for the historical setting, kept firmly as backdrop for now, and the presence of Wood's favored themes, sunk deep into blandly conveyed archetypes and routine travails. Hell, there's even a bit where Sven finds a child's doll laying around outside the house of his birth, reflects on the nature of time's passage ("This is just the trash of someone else's life, a character from an old history."), and tosses the toy into a bazing fire. It's that type of story. Did I mention the sultry, cunning-looking woman from the past? Or the local bow-toting mystery girl with her eye on Our Hero?

I can say that Gianfelice offer some decent, straightforward visuals; the preview above contains all the action for the issue, and it comes off nicely enough, although I'd prefer a little more layout abandon with the sword-swinging. Clear storytelling, though; a very unobtrusive style, which I expect will convey Wood's scripts with little fuss and some grit. I do hope there'll be more energy to come all around, maybe some elaboration on Sven's vague, roguish set of traits - Wood may be playing toward a sense of isolation among those who believe themselves at the fore of culture, when let back into the wider, slower world they can't ignore, and I think that might prove to be something.

As of now, I can only say this issue will probably not irritate those already looking forward to it, and will do little to press wary or nonplussed sorts toward deeper attention. It kinda sits there.


I didn't have time to look at the internet yesterday and that's a SIN SIN SIN

*Very fast.


Betsy and Me (see below)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier


All Star Superman #9, Wolverine #59

My Inner Bimbo #2 (of 5)

All at The Savage Critics!

*Very quick.


Betsy and Me: A Fantagraphics collection of Jack Cole's 1958 newspaper strip. Review here.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 3 (of 4): Aw, you don't need money. This one takes us up to issue #10 for The New Gods, The Forever People and Mister Miracle, while presenting #146-148 of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. As always, a $49.99 fee is exacted.

Perla La Loca and Beyond Palomar: The third volumes of Fantagraphics' new softcover Love and Rockets collections. The Jaime book (Perla) takes us right up to the end of the Locas hardcover, but be on notice that the Gilbert book (Palomar) actually compiles his two 'big' storylines of the day that were not included in the Palomar hardcover, Poison River and Love and Rockets X. Just so ya know.

New Tales of Old Palomar #3: Also out from Beto and Fantagraphics this week, featuring two stories - I got this at SPX weeks ago, and had totally forgotten that it hadn't been officially released. Oddly, there don't seem to be two other Ignatz books to accompany it.

Reptilia: Being IDW's virgin foray into manga, a done-in-one, 320-page, $14.99 presentation of a 1966 Kazuo Umezu horror serial. Look for the Ashley Wood cover. Preview here. Apropos of nothing, the other day I saw PictureBox's release of New Engineering sitting in the manga section of Borders, right by Naruto... where it belongs!!

Grendel: Behold the Devil #1 (of 8): I can't say I've ever been all that dipped into Grendel as a comics saga, but I'm sure creator/writer/artist Matt Wagner's return to the Hunter Rose incarnation of the character with this miniseries will catch a few eyes. Preview here.

The Goon: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker: Likewise, I can't say I've kept up interest in Eric Powell's brainchild, but here's the first original graphic novel to come from the concept, a 128-page hardcover for $19.95, concerning the title character's backstory. Looks like this.

Gødland #20: Hmm, I was wondering where this went. Image also has Madman Vol. 2 ready to go in softcover, collecting #1-11 of the old Dark Horse series, and Flink, a new Doug TenNapel graphic novel.

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #3 (of 6): Buying.

Groo: Hell on Earth #2 (of 4): Gee, Dark Horse is busy this week.

The Programme #5 (of 12): Buying, possibly regretting.

Army@Love #9: Veitching.

Blade of the Immortal #131: An era ends this week, as Dark Horse pulls the plug on perhaps the final 'major' manga series to be serialized in the pamphlet format prior to collection. But don't fret, Hiroaki Samura fans - you can still be friends on the bookshelf.



To Blaze Forever

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

Oh, this one tears me up. At times, it's writer Alan Moore's most purely entertaining book in years, despite being often deeply frustrating. It's a grand statement of Moore's cherished themes, amplified past the threshold of distraction. It boasts some of artist Kevin O'Neill's loveliest work ever, yet... well ok, there isn't much of a downside involving O'Neill. It's actually his contribution that levels the book out a bit more than otherwise would.

Let's start off with a few quick notes. If you're the type that finds Moore's various approximations of period writing styles to be cloying, whether via adorned prose, or his scripts for the fake old comics that tend to dot his sequential works - please, do not read this book. You may well take your own life, and I'd hate to have your blood on my hands, True Believer.

Also, it'd be a bad idea to expect a full-fledged League of Extraordinary Gentlemen opus from this book; there is a proper Vol. 3 coming up, and this is not it. Despite its 208-page length, this book's aim is less 'tell a ripping yarn' than 'tell about ripping yarns, with an enthusiastically tugging yarn doled out in the gaps.' I'm talking about structure, not so much theme.

Indeed, to longtime Moore readers, the thematic implications may not seem all that different than usual. After all, so many (but not all) of Moore's 'big' works -- Marvelman, Watchmen, From Hell, Promethea, Lost Girls -- are skillful arrangements of familiar characters, archetypes or historical personages, which act to tease out latent, novel aspects of cozy fictions, all while suggesting broad truths about our world's relationship with them. This operation, I think, is the source of Moore's disappointment with works like Batman: The Killing Joke. As he remarked in George Khoury's The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore (Pg. 123):

"That in terms of what I want from a book from my writing, yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged, and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn't really relate to the real world in any way."

Even the likes of Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? acted as a farewell to the old Super-tropes of yore, and a demonstration of how applying the slightest mote of onrushing superhero realism to those devices would result in bloody mayhem. Moore's run on Supreme was kinder, and more active, studying the old Superman devices as a means of reclaiming the goodness of the prime superhero from obsolescence. I doubt its influence on All Star Superman,which even borrows the structure of its first twelve issues, can be overstated, although Grant Morrison's transformative eye and willingness to soak himself in genre affection makes him the better man for the job (plus, he has all Frank Quitely all the time, while Moore had a handful of Rick Veitch pages flailing in a bog of Extreme, Maximum, and/or Awesome house art - no contest).

All of this leads us to the good League, and the present volume.

Really, LoEG might be the perfect platform for Moore's continued interest in how fictions relate to us, and indeed, how fictions are alive. In selecting fictional characters from popular literature, idealizing the oft-hidden traits of some, and facing them off against nightmares and echos of the real world's concerns, Moore matches up classic adventure with what such adventures say.

In Vol. 1, the League was assembled. What a great idea - a real literary Justice League! In which direction might their hitting go? Well, they're sent to fight off a typically wicked racial 'other,' although the real threat rose from within polite society. In the even-better Vol. 2, Moore delightfully spun around and smashed the League to the ground. You see, really the idea was a totally awful one, since a super-group of such diverse influences and powers couldn't possibly work together without immediately falling out killing one another, especially when faced with a grave threat. Fanciful science ideas are shown to carry the charge of modern destructive force. It's a short step from germs killing the Martians to germs tactically deployed on the field of battle.

But Moore's hope is always that the positive traits of popular literature will rise to the top, embodying our best impulses, and taking us closer to godliness.

That last notion is made bold text in this book, which I again caution you is not a proper third volume; it's a fancy resource book that explodes the premise into a very large story, summarizes a number of smaller stories the creative team are never going to get to otherwise, teases at full stories coming later (ooh, just like in World War Hulk!), and has a primary story going on between all the info dumps. Careful readers already know of the many Leagues throughout history - here, Moore places them against the backdrop of mighty cosmic tinkering with human affairs, in the hopes of bridging the gap between the mortal and the beyond. All aspects of the human condition are embodied in these fictions (since everyone in this series is someone, if you know what I mean), and their world's struggle is a struggle for our souls:

"Not thou alone, but all humanity doth in its progress fable emulate. Whence came thy rocket-ships and submarines if not from Nautilus, from Cavorite?

"Your trustiest companions since the cave, we apparitions guided mankind's tread, our planet, unseen counterpart to thine, as permanent, as ven'rable, as true.

"On dream's foundation matter's mudyards rest. Two sketching hands, each one the other draws: the fantasies thou've fashioned fashion thee."

So relates a plainspoken chap from the book's self-congratulatory finale, which is rendered in 3D, so the fictions can jump out from their Ideaspace headquarters with a special message for YOU.

On the way there, Wilhelmina Murray and Allan Quatermain, both now forever young, attempt to snatch the titular Dossier -- you bet your ass we get to read the whole thing -- from the clutches of rotten 1950s English political control, and spirit its League-centric contents off to safety. These walking ideals of old times are pursued by avatars of secret violence and Empire: Bulldog Drummond, young Emma Peel, and the horrible "Jimmy" Bond, who's got a brilliant metatextual scheme for self-preservation brewing.

There is little that is original about this book in terms of simple construction. It can best be compared to one of those Cerebus volumes that mixed comics and text, with the text acting as an item in the comics - Jaka's Story or Rick's Story, for example. Dave Sim would often present the prose as blasts of a particular character's (naturally biased) worldview, contrasted with the omniscience of the comics bits. Moore takes this approach and melds it with the pastiches of old comics and texts he uses in his other works - as such, the Black Dossier accounts for many viewpoints, many styles, and many fonts and paper stocks (credit to Todd Klein), all of it primed to provide a history of the imaginary world, all while Mina and Allan run away from things in modern comics style.

The problem is, Moore wants way too much. He wants to have a story, and he wants to dump lots of information. The latter wins handily.

I'm not saying the prose or vintage comics sections of this book are a slog; I'd estimate the stuff averages one good laugh every two or three pages. Hell, the insert Tijuana Bible may be the funniest thing Moore's written in forever, even though it lapses so far into parody that it loses credibility as a item from the LoTG world. Sadly, Moore's presentational ambition also runs headlong into publishing reality - references are made to a record that just ain't there, and you're given the option to cut open naughty pages that are already well-trimmed, thank you. Perhaps you can take the knife to the Absolute Edition?

Also fine is an extra-smutty Fanny Hill sequence that emphasizes the League as one of Extraordinary Fucking, and a marvelous mash-up of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Lovecraft's Cthulhu. I even got a horselaugh out of Moore's berserk approximation of 'beat' writing, if only because I couldn't believe it was actually included (I recommend reading it aloud). All of these little segments also act to fill in the details of what the various Leagues have done throughout the years, and there's some obsessive joy of cataloging to be had.

The 'main' comics bits fare a good deal worse. It's as if being forced to co-exist with these historical supplements has had a bad influence, since many of these pages are choked with trivia; an early sequence, seeing Mina and Allan unwind in an apartment, is almost shockingly clumsy in its tumbling, clattering din of minutiae. Earlier LoEG books, perhaps by virtue of being official chapters in a story, were able to balance the easter eggs with character work and smooth storytelling; here, Moore's drama is sadly inert, despite being loaded with chases and escapes, in that it must stumble across sticky waves of allusion.

Luckily, Moore has Kevin O'Neill (and colorist Ben Dimagmaliw) to better distinguish the pieces. Just as Moore adopts many voices yet remains himself, O'Neill takes on a variety of illustrative forms across the many segments, giving '50s kids comics and Elizabethan margin drawings some unified distinction. But he's also adept at calming himself as the scene switches back to Mina and Allan, snapping away from period pomp to period grit. As always, his sense for just the right amout of detail is keen, tossing in some extra shadows and wide-brimmed hats to bring out the omnious mood of subterfuge. He also really hits on the dank and lived-in environs of '50s England, subtly conveying the coarseness of modernity as fictions grow crueler.

You can make this out from Moore's mélange too - note how the Leagues collapse more rapidly and attract more dangerous sorts the closer we get to our present. Clearly someone feels humanity's imagination is on the wrong path, which bodes ill for an upcoming 2008 setting. But for the first time in this series, Moore's characters seem like little more than intellectual game pieces to be moved around. At least Mina and Allan have the last two books to feed off of in terms of character; little is done with them here beyond a few affectionate snuggles, and their travails could be those of any blank, vaguely old-timey characters.

Of the new crew, only Moore's Bulldog Drummond registers as a lively, fully-formed character, a bigoted, reactionary bastard that nevertheless carries a deep reservoir of respect for friends and kin, and can be moved to anger against the cunning and thrillseeking nihilism that's poised to usurp his own sense of two-fisted honor in a nation's dashing heroism. There is also some power to Moore's Orlando, that multi-sexual immortal, whose masculine side finds itself more and more addicted to warfare as a recurring thrillpoint in human history, counterbalancing the oceanic sensuality of his feminine aspect. A clever extension of Lost Girls' thrust, but Moore seems content to merely suggest it for now. Maybe in League 3?

Yeah, it does get you a little excited as a preview. A $30 one. It occurs to me that Moore might have been better off keeping this project scaled back to an Official Guide sort of thing. I very much liked the pure treatise of that last issue of Promethea, after all, where story was of no concern. But here, Moore wants it all, and he can't quite grab it. His studious impulse sends his storytelling reeling, and while I like to study too, I also think a saga of sagas-as-humans embodying the human saga ought be more human than this. Moore has long ago taught me the things I should expect from words and pictures.



Betsy and Me

This can be a sad, sad book, if you want it to be.

It's the latest in Fantagraphics' invaluable line of archival projects, a self-contained, 120-page softcover, priced at $14.95. It collects the apparent surviving entirety of a newspaper strip by Jack Cole, the creator of Plastic Man, a pre-Code crime comics icon, and a famed early Playboy gag cartoonist. It was the project Cole had just begun drawing when he killed himself, on August 13, 1958.

Some might deem it impossible to separate this strip from the circumstances surrounding its short lifespan. I'd agree, to a point.

Surely Fantagraphics would be remiss, here in the Golden Age of reprints, to not load this book up with historical context. Hence, right up front we have a 23-page essay by R.C. Harvey. Derived in part from an installment of Harvey's Comicopia column in The Comics Journal (#216, Oct. 1999), it provides not only an introduction to the strip, but a short, heavily illustrated biography of Cole himself, hitting all the expected career highlights. It does an especially nice job of detailing the various transformations of the artist's visual approach, from 'bigfoot' one-pagers and realist crime tales, to the synthesis of the two with the exploits of Plastic Man.

Harvey opines that the key to Cole's original Plas is that he's a fundamentally sane man that contorts himself into mad shapes to confront the innate insanity of the lawless life, the cracked viewpoint of crime conveyed through Cole's gag-happy art - it's a very different take from most modern incarnations, which isolate the character himself as madness incarnate, illustrating to my mind the tug of war between long-lived, idiosyncratic concepts and the desire for coherency in the continuity-heavy, shared-universe superhero comics of recent times. Cole's careful blend of styles defined Plas' whole universe, but the shared universe had to compromise by preserving the Cole's approach only inside Plastic Man himself, forcing him to act as all his world's law and order, its sanity and madness. Talk about changing shape.

Cole didn't stop his development there; his comic book lines perspired into ink wash girlie gag panels for low-down digests, then faded entirely with those famous Playboy watercolors, although he doodled some playful b&w portraits too. It was like he had a new universe in store for each endeavor, or at least a fresh break with the past readied for each go, and Betsy and Me marked yet another visual change, this time for the lucrative word of syndicated newspaper strips. As you can see from this solicitation page, Cole adopted a 'modern' animation-influenced style, occupying a sort of middle ground between the shrinkable simplicity of Charles Schulz's Peanuts and the graphic boldness of Gene Deitch's Terr'ble Thompson.

There's 90 pages of the stuff in this book, including material drawn by Dwight Parks after Cole's death. A number of Sundays appear to be missing, and only two color samples are included - Cole's Lambiek page has a third (scroll down). The reproduction quality varies, with some of the Parks strips looking particularly rough. The legal indicia notes that some strips were taken from scrapbooks at the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library; I suspect this collection is as complete and smooth-looking as possible.

Certainly this small body of work reads nicely. The furious antics of Cole's humorous comic book projects are absent, replaced by a likeably farcical tone. The strip is narrated by Chester B. "Chet" Tibbit, a proud husband and father that simply cannot help but tell the reader all about his family, especially his genius son; much of the in-panel action flashes back to show us what Chet is telling us about. Cole employs an interesting use of words and pictures, often inserting drips of Chet's narration in-panel as unique graphic elements to supplement the usual word balloons (as seen here), reinforcing the 'storytelling' conceit.

Sometimes, Chet's rose-colored words directly contrast with the less beauteous facts of the story. At other times, the pictures act as cartoon symbols for what Chet is narrating. Hell, sometimes Chet just tells us stuff that Cole is already drawing. Even this approach sometimes achieves an odd visual beat through word/picture replication, although it also tends toward redundancy. In its best moments, the strip's construction achieves real graphic power. Take a strip set at the son's birth. When a maternity nurse whispers "It's a boy" into a sleepy Chet's left ear in panel #1, the center of his face cleaved vertically by the panel gutter, the same words explode out of his right ear in panel #2, his whole (right-sided) face awake, the "IT'S A BOY!" expanding the panel to double size.

I don't know how long Cole could have kept such an approach up. Parks sure didn't seem to know what to do with it - as carefully as he mimics Cole's drawings, his constructions fall squarely into show-and-tell territory. He also lacked Cole's sometimes nasty sense of humor - one early strip is based around Chet & Betsy (his wife, she of the title) cooing over their baby, as their landlady confides increasingly horrible secrets to them. "Oh! My poor back is killing me!" "To think - my own daughter is a fence!" "Jim beat me with a coal shovel last night!" Chet's narration assures us that she was just buoyant with the new baby around. Even a simple drawings of a crowd jostling into a theater under a big sign reading "MOVIES ARE BETTER THAN EVER" carries a nice satirical edge. Cole could have gone places with just that.

But, we'll never know. The book doesn't let you forget that.

That's because books like this, when lavished with the care that's standard for the Golden Age, are never just containers. They select a tone, and apply it to the collected work. Their design, their educational features, their being directs the reading eye into a mist of history that soaks the vision.

Chris Ware's fragile panels on the covers of Drawn & Quarterly's Walt & Skeezix books broadcast Gasoline Alley's sensitivity; coupled with the many photos of Frank King and his family, and Jeet Heer's probing, studied essays, a sense of wistful delicacy and private depth prevails. In contrast, Jacob Covey's design on Fantagraphics' initial Popeye hardcover brims with big images and loud colors and asskicking - with that die-cut cover, Popeye might as well have punched your goddamned face right through the motherfucking book, because that's the kind of party E.C. Segar throws. In a wry and learned way. Jules Feiffer's & Bill Blackbeard's essays accordingly focus on bad behavior and popular history.

Betsy and Me, the book, is distanced and quietly mournful. Adam Grano's cover design places Cole's bright characters against a buff-shaded background, their bodies framed by a red rectangle, as if we're looking at a photo of people that long ago went away. As I mentioned above, Harvey's essay covers Jack Cole in abridged cradle-to-grave style, and the grave gets much attention in the end. Why did Cole shoot himself? In running down the possibilities, Harvey draws a logical comparison between the idealized-realistic narration-visual aesthetic of some of the strips and the possible secret pain underneath Cole's life. Just as Chet adored his wife and beamed at the birth of his brilliant son, Cole's marital life was strained, and he and his wife could not conceive a child:

"The burden of it was finally too much for Cole to bear: that last argument with his wife on the day of his death no doubt dismantled whatever pretense had sustained him, a pretense that his comedy in the strip had taught him was fallacious and therefore silly - and laughable. He could no longer stand to see himself as the butt of the joke.

"We'll never know for sure. The mystery remains."

So hypothesizes Harvey. With this reading in mind, certain strips take on double meanings. The sample included on the book's back cover illustrates, in cartoon symbols, the sheer joy Chet feels upon the birth of his child. Exploding like a nuclear bomb. Soaring like a jet. Growing to the size of a skyscraper. What did Cole imagine? Surely Fantagraphics wants us to wonder. A strip depicting Chet's learning that his loving wife is pregnant ends with the weeping man exclaiming "My Betsy!" on his knees with his eyes clenched shut before the knitting woman, a halo over her head and an angel's wings out her back. It's the most tragic thing in the world.

But, it's also fizzy and romantic, and sentimental. And I think there's a risk with a book like this, an admirable and informative book, to let the sadness behind this material permeate everything, so strongly is it broadcast by the collection's contours. This isn't a sad strip; it's sometimes very funny, and often lively in its fascination with words and pictures, and always interesting with its peeks into the urban-to-suburban culture of some young families of the day. It doesn't need to be viewed as a loss, or an unwitting suicide note in funnies form, to paraphrase Art Spiegelman. It can be, and I'm glad to be given the chance, but it doesn't need to be.

It's up to the reader. The reader can easily excerpt a work as tiny as this away from its surrounding presentation. Look at the comic as a comic. Enjoy its life. Know the history, but don't let its sad details paralyze you with morbidity, or satisfy you with only the doomy 'importance' of it. That will do this work no favors. That will make it seem only tinny and futile, while its mechanics are sweet and engaged. You'll get to the end and think: "Why so little? Why so quick?" You'll know, but that needn't defeat the aspect of joy that got Cole up to the apex to begin with.


Linkz, while I work on reviewz...

*I put half of this in yesterday's comments section, but it'll do better up here for OMG NEW RELEASE WEDNESDAY - Alan Moore explains it all concerning the new LoEG book's delays and the troubles of Wildstorm, then gets into the philosophy and future of the League. Several laffs included.

*Apparently, Pantheon is going to publish an original graphic novel by David Mazzucchelli in the Fall of 2008. It's titled Asterios Polyp, and it's about what happens in the life of an academic author and unproductive architect after he's struck by lightning. That's some good news for me.

And it's only one of five new books the upscale publisher has planned for this time next year. I suspect I'll like the Chip Kidd-edited Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, which will present some long-forgotten '60s Batman manga from the pages of Shōnen King, with a new essay by writer/artist Kiro Kuawata. And I'm glad to see that I Live Here travel journal project is finally coming out, new comics by Joe Sacco and Phoebe Gloeckner(!) included.

Also due: that long-coming expanded collection of Art Spiegelman’s Breakdowns, and David Heatley's My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down, which was initially slated for a different publisher. All of America's bourgeois will be taking note of these comics while sipping martinis spiked with the tears of children, so be sure to stay on top of things!


Back to a kind-of regular pace...

*Oh man, this weekend killed my posting. For the record -


Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Vols. 1-2 (another one from the pages of The Comics Journal)

MW (new Osamu Tezuka release; yes Dick, I would call it a lesser work, but there's pleasures nonetheless)

And not a peep at the other site. But that will change.

*It's all the latest books -


Palestine: The Special Edition: A new, 8" x 11" Fantagraphics hardcover edition of Joe Sacco's first longform work of comics reportage, a 288-page delving through the nation of the title. A thick stack of notes, sketches, reference photos, plus a new interview with the artist brings the total length up to 320 pages. For $29.95, it's surely going to be the most handsome way into this material.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier: Friendly reminder to my international readers - as of now, this new Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill book, the final twitch of the Wildstorm-owned ABC line, is only being released to the United States. You'll just have to rely on friends swallowing copies wrapped in condoms, then entering your nation inconspicuously. And let me tell you, if they didn't have enough trouble getting it down, this 208-page, $29.99 hardcover will prove even worse coming out. The story concerns Mina Murray's and Allan Quatermain's adventures in 1950s England, as they research Leagues throughout history and evade sinister forces. Featuring charts, maps, 3D glasses and a bonus smut comic; a friend of mine with ready access to a copy tells me that comics and prose are thoroughly mixed throughout, as if the text bits in the back of the last two volumes have now invaded the story proper. The themes at play are also apparently of a piece with Promethea and Lost Girls. This will sell copies.

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (Volume 4 of 6): And speaking of sure-to-be popular releases of this week, here's the 216-page latest from Bryan Lee O'Malley. This doesn't need an introduction, right? Scroll down for an 11-page preview here, and read a nice interview with O'Malley here. From Oni.

My Inner Bimbo #2 (of 5): And also from Oni... god, I do recall enjoying the first issue of this b&w Sam Kieth/Josh Hagler series (a sibling book to Kieth's Ojo), back when it first came out. One year and five months ago. Lots of anxious autobiographical touches in this story of an aging man's repressed feminine side springing to life; god knows it's a quintessential Sam Kieth premise.

Mark Millar's The Unfunnies #3 & #4 (of 4): Speaking of late, this week sees the entire second half of writer Millar's and artist Anthony Williams' Avatar miniseries -- new material last seen in March of 2004 -- plopping down onto the market at once. The first two issues bored me out of my skull, but I thought I'd make note of the damn thing actually finishing.

Meat Cake #16: I buy every new issue of Dame Darcy's long-running Fantagraphics series, and you should too. I have no clue what's in this issue. I bet it's great.

All Star Superman #9: God, they're all filing in this week. We're now into the final third of Grant Morrison's and Frank Quitely's run on this thing, and DC has apparently decided to stop giving out any plot details via solicitation. So, this issue: somebody hits Superman and he is hurt! Also be on the lookout for the JLA: Ultramarine Corps trade, which (finally) collects Morrison's standalone Seven Soldiers overture from the first three issues of JLA Classified, and tosses in his 1997 JLA/WildC.A.T.s one-off, for no readily discernible reason.

Wolverine #59: The other ongoing superhero book I'm getting this week. Hey, something about the Marc Guggenheim/Howard Chaykin team keeps me coming back.

Ultimates Saga #1: This is some $3.99 Ultimate Universe recap thing that's solely notable for the presence of the elusive Travis Charest on a four-page sequence; that alone will get some fingers flipping come Wednesday. Here's half the stuff, in uncolored form.

The Black Diamond #5 (of 6): Miniseries buying.

BPRD: Killing Ground #4 (of 5): Buying miniseries.

World War Hulk #5 (of 5): This was fun, but I'd kind of forgotten it hadn't ended. Now it has.

The Punisher MAX #52: Travels to facilitate further shootings.

Appleseed Vol. 1 (of 4, as it is): The Promethean Challenge: This is Dark Horse's right-to-left, digest-format redo of Masamune Shirow's unfinished sci-fi 'manufactured society' magnum opus, which he began in 1985. Anime has resulted. I kind of like Shirow's art from this period, just beyond the sloppiness of Black Magic, but not so obsessed with technical detail that it lacks warmth. Unfortunately, the smaller print size probably isn't going to do it any favors.

Remembrance of Things Past Part 3: Love of Swann, Vol. 1: Alright, I've made enough jokes about Stephane Heuet's comics adaptation of Proust that I might as well point you toward this brand-new 48-page volume from NBM, sporting a title so tortured the book may count as an honorary Countdown (to Final Crisis) tie-in. It looks like this.


I've barely been able to touch the internet all weekend...

*How can I make it up to you? Maybe with news that the final story of the final volume of VIZ's Golgo 13 will be the famous Bush vs. Gore Election 2000 Florida Recount adventure?

*No? Well, I can only pray that '60s live-action Astro Boy and his plastic muscles can make things right between us. The magic begins at about 1:25.

*And speaking of an upset Dr. Tezuka...


This is the new Osamu Tezuka release from Vertical, a done-in-one 584-page hardcover, priced at $24.95.

You'll know it from the usual Chip Kidd package design, although this one gets more striking the deeper you look. The dust jacket is black, white and purple, heavy on anxious, tightly-segmented graphic elements, with a good deal of space given to details from bodies. Underneath, the book's front and back covers are splashed with unbroken b&w images, symbols of horror and anger. I understand why discussion of Kidd's designs tends to focus primarily on his front covers -- that's what's meant to attract the eye to the shelf, after all -- but I appreciate the way his glistening and fleshy jacket arrangements give way to blunt, iconic materials below.

It fits the story, which sees Tezuka in full-throttle gekiga mode; English-language readers will quickly recall the similarly-toned Ode to Kirihito, released by Vertical last year. Tom Spurgeon compared that earlier work to the films of Sam Fuller, which I think is apt in more ways than one. Tezuka's early work, of course, popularized the extensive application of cinematographic techniques to the visual idiom of comics - sequences from his 1947 breakthrough New Treasure Island can seem revolutionary for their period, although they are also natural outgrowths from Tezuka's adoration of moving pictures and animated cartoons. They are like frames of film simply pasted down onto the page, with words drawn atop at appropriate moments.

Yet the later development of gekiga also had its connections to film. While Yoshihiro Tatsumi's snatches of urban grimace might be the most appropriate of the stuff to show off among high-minded connoisseurs -- provided they're in the mood for sewer babies and life-affirming bestiality (which I secretly expect from every comic I read) -- other artists of the stripe created startling genre tales that sat comfortably alongside other adult-targeted popular entertainments. Indeed, artist Takao Saito has claimed (in an interview included with Vol. 10 of VIZ's Golgo 13) that the famous Nikkatsu Company copped his stylings for their action movies, suggesting that it wasn't a one-way street gekiga was traveling on in its pursuit of "dramatic pictures" to stand apart from the Japanese comics then-mainstream.

As such, it makes some sense that Tezuka's MW comes fraught with suspense thriller machinations, lurid details, and cruel ambiguities. Serialized from 1976-78 in Shogakukan's venerable anthology Big Comic (home of the aforementioned Golgo 13), the story arrived as the gekiga essence became increasingly absorbed into the broader body of manga; actually, one can easily argue that the very fact of Tezuka's working gekiga at all symbolized the mode's mainstream assimilation, although it wouldn't necessarily go quietly. The book's dust jacket deems the work "willfully 'anti-Tezuka'," implying an effort on the artist's part to embrace an approach he'd typically fail to mix with.

In these stories, Tezuka's custom tonal blend of slapstick comedy, high melodrama and idiosyncratic philosophy is missing, and his artwork is more stolid and fussed-over, perhaps to suggest 'realism.' At times, it can seem that he's trying to stuff himself into someone else's idea of what a serious comic ought to look like, even to the point of subsuming his innate idealism into a nihilistic affection. This sort of thing wasn't exclusive to Tezuka's 'adult' works either - while the kid-targeted Apollo's Song (and even some episodes of Astro Boy) in the early '70s retained Tezuka's looser visual style, they also adopted cold and despairing perspectives on life. But what I find fascinating about these works is that Tezuka's personality -- his worldview -- always manages to somehow manifest.

Frederik L. Schodt's recent The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution included an excerpt from an essay by Tezuka, in which he confessed to shifting his personal aesthetic preferences to match popular tastes; from the rest of Schodt's book, it can be inferred that this was a symptom of Tezuka's unyielding desire to feel beloved by the public at large. Yet Tezuka also asserted that there were some things he'd never give up on, like his opposition to war (so, he'll do anything for love... but he won't do that). It is through this -- as well as Tezuka's uncanny command of the page -- that even stylistic digressions are undeniably his digressions.

All of this bubbles underneath the tale of MW, broadly concerned with a relationship between two men: Michio Yuki, a cunning social climber, and Iwao Garai, the most tormented Catholic priest in Asia. The pair first met back in the day when Garai was bumming around with a gang of dirty hippies, raising hell on a small island in search of utopia. What they (and the rest of the population of the island) found was death at the leaky business end of MW, an experimental gas "Nation X" had been developing for use in Vietnam, and storing on Japanese territory. From these subtle context clues, not to mention the presence of a Lieutenant General from the Nation X region of "Kentucky," and an edifying educational interlude on the history of US gas attacks in Vietnam, the careful reader can deduce that Nation X is, in actuality, Iran. The scoundrels!

Anyway, Iwao and a traveling preteen Michio, who'd been kidnapped by Iwao's gang for later ransom, are spared their doom by sheer chance. However, the gas still touched Michio, apparently burning away any trace of the boy's compassion or scruples. The Japanese government covered up the MW incident, and Michio grew up bad, caring not a whit for the commission of abduction, rape or murder; ironically, all of those crimes were things Iwao and his crew were capable of, back on the island, but Iwao became deeply remorseful after the MW incident, and devoted his life to saving dear Michio's soul, which (of course!) involved hiding his confessed sins from the law. He also became Michio's lover, and now he's wrapped around the younger man's finger as Michio's deeds become more and more brazen, yet increasingly logical in their connection to that fateful day on the island.

Quite a potboiler, and I haven't even gotten into the nastier details. Like the attack dog Michio keeps around for both protection and pleasure - commiscerating with the Beast is only one of several bits of Christian lore Tezuka doles out to juice things up. Or how about the poor girl who's been in love with Father Iwao since he taught her immobile legs to walk; we're told that only a terrible psychological trauma can harm her now, so three guesses as to what happens once Michio sees someone butting in on his valuable relationship with Iwao. Tezuka even rolls out one of his non-gekiga character designs -- Mr. Mustachio! -- for a small, crucial, painful role. Poor Mr. Mustachio. More on him later.

If Ode to Kirihito was Sam Fuller in tone, MW is very much Alfred Hitchcock, peppered with references to the filmmaker's work - save for the obvious influence of I Confess, there's an airborne attack straight out of North by Northwest, and a bit of unintentional corpse abuse (linking innocent to killer, naturally!) likely inspired by Frenzy, plus all the psychosexual homoerotic tension of Strangers on a Train made bold text.

As a suspense piece, MW is perfectly ok, and sometimes outstanding. The (then-timely) airline hijacking finale in particular buzzes with tension, and even had me laughing out loud at one particularly fine plot twist. But the work is also somewhat bloated - unlike with Hitchcock's carefully tuned clockwork pictures, Tezuka had serialization to deal with, and he sometimes dishes out plot complications he never gets around to addressing, solely to keep the reader hanging for another chapter. Characters (like, say, all the female ones) hang around for a while, then kind of get brushed aside. As a result, the book feels about 150 pages overlong, and haphazardly constructed. There's even some ugly visual continuity gaffes on top of it all, like a photograph that changes from end of one chapter to the beginning of the next.

It should also be mentioned that, to modern eyes, Tezuka's treatment of homosexuality comes off as rather embarrassing, if good-intentioned in its attempt to plead the case for society's acceptance. At nearly every opportunity, gay male desire is defined in terms of a man lusting for a slight, dainty fellow, so close to feminine that he might be mistaken for a true woman - in this way, Tezuka couches homosexuality as a sort of veiled heterosexuality, and one that handily ignores the effeminate/'female' attraction to masculinity in its own equation. The only exception is a howler of a sequence set in a sex club, wherein Iwao is besieged by toga-clad men choking out Jack T. Chick-worthy lines like "Why don't you try me out?" and "How would you like to share love with me?" and "It's okay! This is a secret club!" And never mind a lesbian surprise that'll send your retinas screaming for the back of your head.

But even under all that, Tezuka's strengths rise with little trouble. For one thing, restrained or not by subject matter, at this point in the man's career he was basically incapable of producing bad-looking art. The initial half or so of book's first chapter (which you can read here) is a concise lesson in building suspense visually; you can also see how Tezuka blends caricature into his taller, 'realistic' designs - he draws great hippies. A sequence of violence in the second chapter momentarily expands into a graceful, sketchy style to emphasize movement, while other sequences veer into near-photorealism when extra documentary impact is needed. Any panel in which we get a close-up of Michio's sweaty madman face is excellent, really playing toward the work's goofy thriller heart.

And as goofy as things get, the two primary characters are afforded some interesting dimension. For example, there's actually some tension in Iwao's character as to whether he's actually gay or not; he mostly seems deeply closeted, often identifying his attraction to Michio as a compulsion (they are bound by fate!!), or even a work of black magic, with devilish Michio transforming into a woman to tempt him. But all of Iwao's attraction to women seems borne of desperation too. Tezuka provides a great pair of conflicting flashbacks, retelling a possible early encounter between the two from both Iwao's and Michio's perspectives - it's telling that Michio's seems somehow less anxious.

As for Michio himself, Tezuka gradually builds him up from a horrible, mad villain, to a veritable Bizarro Astro Boy for a hopeless, irreversibly fallen world. He's an anti-hero in the purest sense, and his grotesque deeds ultimately carry a charge of retribution against the militaristic world Tezuka can never stand, although Michio will never admit to any motivation beyond amoral boredom. But seeing corpses piled high in a population center wasn't just Michio's and Iwao's island trauma - it was Tezuka's teenage wartime experience, and the artist's most crucial twist is that he keeps us hanging as to whether or not Michio knows well of how his actions might bludgeon a society torn between old-guard politicians and pompous/thuggish radicals into substantive change. Like Hitchcock, Tezuka invites us to identify with villainy, while also presenting a conflicted moral counterpoint (Iwao) to illustrate the difficulties with society's good graces.

However, with Tezuka, there's yet another way.

Poor Mr. Mustachio. Tezuka doesn't even draw him like the other characters - his squat, doodly form looks like it stepped right out of a children's comic from 1952. He's pigheaded, conservative, trusting in the good of the status quo, and in for a world of abuse. But he's a tough old drawing, and perseveres as a self-evident element of the old Tezuka existing in a 'dark' Tezuka world. Michio may be Tezuka's fantasy of a vicious fighter for the '70s, and Iwao an avatar for 'adult' nausea, but Mustachio no less than the old Tezuka spirit, still up and around, dickless but ready to stand and fight in an idealistic way. He won't succeed in the city limits of this book, but he'll be around again for when the public taste returns to meet him.


Ripening on the Vine

Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Vols. 1-2

(this review was first published in The Comics Journal #282, April 2007; as always, I've toyed with the formatting to match the rest of this site)

I couldn’t quite isolate the moment where Dark Horse became the publisher with a bit of everything, but that’s surely the way I see them now. One can hardly think of a relatively popular aboveground zone of comics interest that Dark Horse doesn’t have a toe dipped into, be it pamphlet-format action/adventure/fantasy, licensed comics, manga, original graphic novels, all-ages efforts - hardly a corner left unexplored. Most pertinently, there’s the classic reprints, of which there are also several different forms. As of this writing, there are already 14 volumes of $9.95 Little Lulu reprints out there, waiting to be snapped up in fat, compact softcover form.

And then, there’s reprint projects like this (or Magnus, Robot Fighter or Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom), which essentially mimic the format of DC’s Archive Edition hardcovers: 200+ page compilations of comics on slick paper for $49.95. It’s a popular format; the sheer number of these types of books that DC’s put out suggests that the form is quite financially viable, and it’s become almost a default style of reprinting for certain older superhero or action comics. I can’t say I’ve partaken much in these types of books myself - as the old saying goes, the only comic that’s too expensive is the one that’s not good enough, but I’m never quite ready to roll the dice on whether or not a reprint project will prove ‘good enough’ at such a price point. Hey, my wallet’s an awful coward.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Dark Horse’s Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years is a perfectly nice packaging of some perfectly sleek, entertaining cuts of ’70s adventure comics, albeit one that’s probably doomed to cut off the material from potentially delighting an audience outside of Joe Kubert’s and/or Tarzan’s devoted fans. And believe me, there’s still some immediate appeal tucked away in this work; Kubert took over Tarzan of the Apes with issue #207 in 1972, after the series arrived at DC from Gold Key, and there’s a palpable sense of enthusiasm behind the acquisition. Kubert wrote, drew and lettered most of the 18 issues collected in these volumes (a third and final volume has since been released), and there’s an unmistakable delight beaming from nearly every page, as if Kubert had found a setting and character perfectly suited to the sinewy texture of his art.

Each of these books presents a multi-part adaptation of one of creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ early Tarzan novels, and maybe the most prominent strength of these stories in present in those longer examples, as Kubert proves to be surprisingly canny to the many traps that lie in wait of comics adaptations of prose works. While no less reliant on extraneous wordiness than other comics of its day and publisher, Kubert’s Tarzan adaptations never become bogged down in the minutiae of scene or speech, and smartly balance the necessities of exposition with copious, agile sequences of activity. Indeed, Kubert grasps the moment-by-moment appeal of good pulp fiction, the kind of stuff happy to plant itself in the reader’s brain as they speed through their entertainment with as few hurdles in the way as possible. Crucially, the work never once slows down, packing each chapter with enough stuff that a reader of today’s airier, allegedly bookshelf-paced comics might glean a sense of supercompression, of skilled packing. That’s pleasing, and informative.

The best of Kubert’s single-issue stories capture the same feeling, tearing through their 20 or 18-page allotments like more a furious recounting of events than a casually-told tale, and all the better for it; a Burne Hogarth collaboration in Volume 1 is particularly pleasing in this way, as Tarzan accidentally stumbles into a land of giants (there’s quite a lot of mysteriously undiscovered cities and wonders in Tarzan’s immediate area, it seems), meets up with an enlightened tribe, faces off with a giant ape, a giant lion, and an evil, tiny hunter, learns the secret for growing large, witnesses a brief allegory for power’s corruption, fights several wild human giants, tussles with an even more gargantuan ape on the wing of an aircraft piloted by a pretty girl - I find it difficult not to get caught up in the cockeyed escapist momentum of it all, since characters almost never stand still, constantly leaping and twisting or evidently preparing to do so.

It’s good, energetic work, as prone to sudden waves of violence as the animals that populate the title character’s world, constantly lunging into irrational fighting from pure instinctual kick. If you’re going to do Tarzan, it might as well feel like that. But I can’t help but thinking that this presentational format is a bit heavy for the work inside. The image presentation is decent enough, in that there doesn’t seem to be any significant loss in clarity of line. Be on notice that there’s digitally restored colors at work, from Sno Cone Studios, based on Tatjana Wood’s original hues, though there‘s mercifully little overt computer augmentation of the image (I think I caught a little digital texture in a passing cloud and a lick of flame in Volume 2). As such, the image sometimes seems antiseptically clean in the way that modern simulations of period colors tend to be; my personal preferences probably run more toward yellowed pages, especially for works this unabashedly pulpy, but I trust the archival aim of this particular brand of reprint values cleanliness as godliness.

But does it really represent the flavor of the work? Call be ignorant of the demands of the comics business, and blind to marketing strategy and the value of branding, but a stack of fifty-dollar hardcovers just can’t seem to accurately convey the immediacy of the comics they contain. There’s a genuine amusement to these stories, and a velocity of exuberance that’s hard to deny, but pulp of this sort seems primed most for pulp, not the spotless, costly plane of the archival page. Like me, I suspect that many curious or half-curious sorts wouldn’t have the wherewithal to take a chance on books like these, unless they absolutely knew they loved Joe Kubert or whatnot, and that’s too bad, since these comics really do hold disarming pleasures primed to catch the passing fancy of the contemporary, casual reader. I’ve said it before in this publication, but we live today among a multiplicity of fine reprints of fine comics from many fine years, and more and more they position themselves as accessible and inviting to random onlooker. I’m not saying these books aren’t inviting, but their accessibility is muted a bit by their very fan-targeted, costly nature. That doesn’t undo the work itself, but it’s a little too bad.


Always a clump.

*Lemme set this up -


Mineshaft #20

The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution


Special Forces #1 (of 6)

Batman #670

At The Savage Critics!

*Right into it -


Azumanga Daioh Omnibus Vol. 1 (of 1, I expect): Yeah, I have no clue why there's a "Vol. 1" in the title, since there's no way this doorstop's 686-page length isn't collecting the four-volume whole of Kiyohiko Azuma's much-loved high school gag strip, unless they're blowing up the art to one strip per page or overloading it with extras or something. Fans of Azuma's later Yotsuba&! might be a little put off by the much simpler visuals and... well, the gag strip format (with a few full-page comics sequences). But there's a genuinely sweet, affecting look at campus friendships that builds up across the whole, and Azuma's character shtick does get pretty sublime after 200 or so pages.

The Art of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Watercolor Impressions: Another one of those lavish Studio Ghibli Library tomes from VIZ, this time a 12" x 9" compilation of sketches and concept illustrations from the manga and anime incarnations of Hayao Miyazaki's brainchild. I do believe the creator/writer/artist/director himself is responsible for many (all?) of the included pieces, so it'll make for a good showcase of Miyazaki's sometimes glossed-over skills at pure image-making. It's 204 pages for $34.99.

The ACME Novelty Library Vol. 18.5: So, anyone remember back in 2002 when Chris Ware and Dark Horse put out a Rusty Brown Lunchbox? The main thing I recall about it was a very long and acrimonious thread on the Comics Journal's message board about how Ware was 'cashing in,' which nevertheless led to someone suggesting that the lunchbox was so carefully detailed that nearly counted as a sub-issue of ACME (the included minicomic probably didn't hurt). Well, it seems Ware and Drawn & Quarterly have taken those words to heart, because the $32.00 ACME Vol. "18.5," which delightfully arrives before Vol. 18, is actually a portfolio of four Thanksgiving-themed variant covers Ware did for The New Yorker last year, plus an online image, all reproduced at 15" x 20" on heavy paper. Bonus 16" x 11" comic included. I really don't have that kind of money to fling around, although I do own that lunchbox...

Big Questions #10: The Hand That Feeds: Also from D&Q, the latest chapter in Anders Nilsen's panorama of life among the humans, birds, and others. I can't say it'll be a cinch for new readers to jump into, but the series does boast Nilsen's most assured storytelling.

Groo: Hell on Earth #1 (of 4): I swear, that fucking title cracks me up every time. Anyhow, this is the new Groo series, a global warming spectacular, from the usual Groo crew. It looks like this.

Alex Robinson's Lower Regions: Ah yes, a well-chosen title says a lot. This is a new Top Shelf project from the creator of Box Office Poison, a 56-page, $6.95, near-wordless dungeon-crawl comic in b&w.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6 (of 6): At last. One of the fun things about the various Hellboy universe books is that while the different series mostly stay out of each other's way, the letters pages basically presume that you read every single Hellboy thing ever, so they wind up acting as a kind of all-purpose Hellboy news outlet. Which means recent pages have seen editor Scott Allie and others apologizing profusely over how late this thing is, again and again. Their pain ends tomorrow!

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #3 (of 5): In the midst of buying.

The Immortal Iron Fist #10: Upon the plains and plateaus of purchase.

Infinity Inc. #3: In the shadow of ongoing series in flower.

Criminal #10: Within a budding grove... of heart-pounding action climax to the current storyline!!!!

Omega: The Unknown #2 (of 10): Let's see how deep this homage goes.

The Order #4: Jesus, lots of stuff from the men of Iron Fist this week.

Robin #168: For the record, this and the next issue will be written by Peter Milligan as part of the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul weekly Bat-crossover. Milligan recently wrote a sort of overture to the crossover with his Batman Annual #26, and it was pleasantly workmanlike in the way Milligan's efforts tend to be on what I've read of his low-ambition superhero outings. I'll probably wait until I'm at the rack itself to figure out if I'm gonna buy it.

Lucha Libre #2: It took me until I physically began flipping through issue #1 of this Image series to realize that it's an expansion of a Jerry Frissen/Benoit "Bill" Boucher story from Humanoids' short-lived 2002-04 revival of Metal Hurlant (issue #13, to be exact). Tracking the comedic exploits of a masked wrestle gang -- and featuring a variety of artists working on different stories -- each slightly oversized issue contains 48 full-color pages of stuff, much of it on the edge of manga/anime influence in the French-language comics scene. Glossy, slick.

Eden: It's An Endless World! Vol. 9: I'm behind on this series perhaps to the point of no return, but you never know what the future holds. I know some of you are still following Hiroki Endo's sci-fi ongoing, and it does still look pretty, even when focused on serious men talking, in and out of armored suits.

Cairo: Going by Dick Hyacinth's field guide, this new 160-page hardcover Vertigo project -- from writer G. Willow Wilson and artist M.K. Perker -- looks to land firmly in the Magical/Mythological genus, what with a large cast of characters encountering a spirit underworld and a gangster-magician and all. Here's how it looks.

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born: I've been liking Sean T. Collins' post series on reading the troubled whole of Stephen King's saga, a nice mix of analysis, quick impressions, and descent-into-madness frustration. Here is a hardcover comic struck from those books.



That Diminutive Mechanism

The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution

This is a $16.95 book from Stone Bridge Press, published this past summer. I (barely) found it at my local bookstore, tucked away into the manga section; it's only slightly wider than a typical manga digest, so it fit in quite easily. Don't let your eyes skim over it.

I doubt there's any native English speaker out there more qualified to write this sort of book than Frederik L. Schodt. Manga honors students will recall Schodt being the first to bring the good news to bookstores with his landmark 1983 overview Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. Already active in manga translation while the English-language market for the stuff remained nascent, Schodt soon became noted for his work on translation projects rich in history, such as The Four Immigrants Manga, a 1931 made-in-America project from San Francisco's Japanese community, and high in complication - I can't imagine the migraines something like Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface must have inspired.

Schodt's subsequent forays into manga popular scholarship have mainly focused on filling in gaps in the English conversation; he is eminently qualified for this, having been reading Japanese comics -- in Japan, and in Japanese -- since the form's 1970s golden age. His 1996 Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga provided an info-rich tour of seemingly everything in the manga world that Schodt found interesting at the time: the old and new avant-garde; anthologies aimed at young mothers; anthologies aimed at pachinko players; the sunny neighborhood of ero-guro; finance manga; military fetish manga; autobiographical sex manga; literal cult manga (as in manga produced by the AUM Shinrikyō cult, which gassed Tokyo's subway system in 1995, killing 12 commuters); and much more.

There was also a lot of stuff in there about Osamu Tezuka. Schodt is even more qualified to be writing about him, seeing as how he served as Tezuka's English-language interpreter for many years, and worked since 1977 to get the man's magnum opus, Phoenix, released in English letters; VIZ's North American release of the core material just wrapped the other month, so it's been quite a project. Oh, and Schodt also translated Dark Horse's 23-volume Astro Boy manga project, putting him in an even more specifically adept position.

However, the book Schodt has written may disappoint readers hungry for something more comprehensive; breezy and factoid-laden, it sometimes reads like an extended introduction to a work several times its 248-page size, even while keeping the subject matter confined to Astro Boy. That's not to say there isn't a lot of vital information and fine insight on display - as is evident from a glance at the Bibliography page, there's no lack of Tezuka-related writing published in Japanese, and Schodt's access to these secondary sources no doubt provides a perspective on the topic lacking from English-only study. But the cursory biography of Tezuka that emerges from this look at Astro Boy left me wishing for the 'overwhelming' treatment Schodt mentions in his Introduction as accordant to works seeking to grasp the full life of Tezuka.

The book's title suggests Schodt's intent; I don't think these "Essays" have been published separately, so the designation serves mainly to warn of the jumpy trip ahead. The Introduction, Afterword, color illustration gallery and various appendices take up a decent amount of space, but the meat of the book is eight essays, each focusing on a different aspect of Tezuka's life with his most fondly remembered creation.

The first piece offers a cook's tour of festivities held all around Japan in honor of the character's April 7, 2003 in-story date of birth (since it fell on a logistically troublesome Monday, most of the fun actually happened on the 6th) as a sort of introduction-after-the-Introduction. We then dive way into the past to examine the 1951 genesis of the Astro Boy manga (Japanese title: Tetsuwan Atomu, or "Mighty Atom"), as well as Tezuka's start as a teenage manga artist shortly after the end of WWII, and indeed his early life in general.

Each new essay creeps forward in time: the design and style of the manga; the 1963 debut of its television anime adaptation (and the start of 'anime' as we know it today); the show's fame in the US; the works' science and real-world impact; the works' themes and their later development; and their ultimate legacy within and beyond Tezuka's body of work.

It's a workable structure, and Schodt writes with enthusiasm and clarity, although the book as a whole can't quite choose what it wants to be. It's conceived as a set of essays, although the individual pieces hold little singular impact, obviously working off of a building impact. But taken cumulatively, there's several instances of repeated information, with certain factoids introduced several times over the course of the book, as if the essay are also meant to split apart. Coupled with a bouncy (if logical) year-skipping progression, the book sometimes reads as cursory, scattered, and in need of tighter editing. Individual parts shine, but they don't really cohere.

I realize I'm sounding awfully down on things, so let me reiterate: this is a worthwhile book, filled with information that all Tezuka readers will want to know, and gratifyingly keen on exploring the bonds that join Astro Boy the work(s) to Osamu Tezuka the man. This is no hagiographic poem, although it'd be easy to craft such a thing around Tezuka (the God of Manga! a medical doctor! an award-winning pianist! he could read a 300-page book in 10 minutes! he only slept three or four hours a day!).

Rather, Schodt presents Tezuka's virtues in a way that his arguable flaws -- a bottomless hunger for public affection, a relentless drive for perfection, working his assistants and employees to the bone, thundering into bad business decisions, casting aside various personal ideals for cultural immediacy -- seem naturally extrapolated. A comparison to David Michaelis's recent Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography might prove worthwhile for those who've read both.

Schodt is at his best when sprinkling facts from sources otherwise inaccessible to the English-only reader onto his own analysis to form detailed riffs on momentary themes. His account of Tezuka's wartime youth is fascinating and instructive, as is rundown of the factors that birthed the Astro Boy manga - many typical manga genres of the time had been supressed by occupying US forces as redolent with militarism and medieval thinking (no samurai, please!), so the time was right for a gleaming, sci-fi future of a technologically powerful Japan, and a superhero (American-inspired!) that would fight for the peace mandated by the Occupation.

Later, Schodt shows how the Astro Boy manga (which ran initially from 1951-68, but continued intermittently through 1981), reflected changes in Japan's politics and Tezuka's own life. There was even -- gah! -- a grim 'n gritty phase of sorts, to match the days of student protests. At times, Tezuka seemed to tire of his relationship with his most popular creation, occasionally dismissing it as his worst work - for a man who produced so many varied stories, the continued public focus on an episodic, somewhat repetitive kids' comic with origins in his early career must have chafed.

But it stayed close to him, always - Schodt repeats the irresistible rumor that Tezuka had planned to merge a final Phoenix story with the Astro Boy cast, perhaps concluding his most personal work with a final statement on the manga he was best known for. As Schodt reports, when Naoki Urasawa pitched the idea for Pluto to Macoto Tezuka (Osamu's son, head of Tezuka Productions, and a director of various live-action & anime projects), it was initially turned down, and only accepted later under the proviso that it not be beholden to simple parody or homage. It seems to be truly like Tezuka, you must be unlike him.

There's plenty more. I haven't even gotten into the book's intriguingly negative perspective on the business of anime, and Tezuka's role in maybe retarding it from the beginning (the reliably sassy Hayao Miyazaki pops in for a quick slam). Or its wistful peek at Tezuka's short-lived international fame following the sale of the Astro Boy anime to the US, including an invitation to move to London and work on 2001: A Space Odyssey. These snips of experience will leave you wanting more, much more, but even the push through what's here will tease a gleam of value.


One of those low-internet weekends...

*More posts coming later today. For now, have a cartoon. And a warning.


Early Efforts

*Edifying Reads Dept: I've been having a good time with the new Frederik L. Schodt book, The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution, which is out in bookstores right now, cleverly published only slightly wider than a typical manga digest, so booksellers can easily hide it away to be forgotten. I'll probably have a full review up tomorrow.

I've already learned a lot of new things about Tezuka. For example, did you know that Tezuka had created something like 2000 pages of comics prior to his 1946 professional debut, drafted throughout his wartime adolescence? I sure didn't. Among them is an unpublished longform work titled (via Schodt's translation) Until the Day of Victory, an experiment in influences both artistic and political.

Political in that Tezuka was exposed to much nationalistic fury as he came of age. Artistic in that he really loved American cartoons and comic strip characters. So naurally, the work bears these twin forces out by chronicling a war fought between Japanese and American cartoon icons, splashed with the violence the young artist no doubt saw very often while working in Osaka, threatened with whippings as he drew manga while on the factory shitter, and narrowly escaping death in bombing raids. He was roughly 16 years old.

All that conflict turns up on the page. A handy sample image depicts what looks to be the vintage Looney Tunes pickaninny stereotype 'Bosco' happily marching around his bomber, arms full of incendiary payload. "Jap houses are made of wood and paper, so this oughtta be enough to turn all of Tokyo into ashes!" declares the lovable talk-ink kid, as related in the vernacular by Schodt. I never liked Bosco in those Nickelodeon reruns, but yeah... Tezuka pegs him with firebombing Tokyo, its loose, blobby population standing in stark contrast to ultra-realistic architecture.

Even bigger names wait to join the fight - we're told that elsewhere in the story, no less than Mickey Mouse himself strafes Osaka, having no doubt picked up a trick or two from the Air Pirates. Meanwhile, popular Japanese character Fuku-chan takes the battle to America's very heart, by striking a terrible blow against a most beloved landmark: the home of Maggie & Jiggs. Which explodes. So much for the Irish Sweepstakes.

Schodt leaves us hanging at that point, and a thousand questions remain. Does Popeye launch his muskles overseas, or stay to defend the home front? Where does Happy Hooligan stand? Does the Captain plan retaliation, and do the Kids know? Which side did Augustus Mutt bet on? Who would win in a fight: Superman, or Norakuro the fighting pup? Is the ending anything like Suehiro Maruo's Planet of the Jap, only with Daddy Warbucks getting beheaded instead of General Douglas MacArthur? The list goes on and on.

All I know is that somebody needs to petition to crack open the Tezuka vault and bring this bad boy home. We don't need Dororo. We need this. For history. For comics.