*Strange how I never have the time I swear I'm leaving space for.


Hotwire Comics #2

Here is Greenwood Vol. 1 (of 9)

Very close to having a new column to upload. Very close.

*Very diverse -


Kids of Lower Utopia: Of Softdoor Scout Finnagain and Daffodil Dash Eleven (Vol. 6, No. 1): A 90-page, $21.00 release from artist Toc Fetch, he of photoreal visions and many kind words. I do believe it's been out for a good while outside of Diamond, and it's also online, as are all of Fetch's comics, it seems. Powered by a 2006 Xeric grant; unless I'm very wrong, Fetch is the only artist ever to recieve two of those (he previously won in March 2002 for The Tenacious Facts of Life of a Noman, Toc Fetch). I bet it's nice to hold in your hands.

Casanova Vol. 1: Luxuria: Matt Fraction's & Gabriel Bá's comic, finally available in softcover for the low price of $12.99. Everyone in the world has already spoken; the first 28 pages are online. No more thinking.

Amulet Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper: The 208-page color debut volume of Flight creator/editor Kazu Kibuishi's new ongoing fantasy series for Scholastic, promising to mix Miyazakian visual wonder with an '80s kids' fantasy movie type of narrative. A pair of young siblings must save Mom from a vast labyrinth in their new home's basement, with a little help from great-grandpa's titular deluxe item. Much preview, for those in want. Certainly the tip-top mainstream release of the week, at the color Bone price point of $9.99 (hardcover also available at $21.99).

Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq: Drawn & Quarterly is publishing this, a 224-page hardcover collection of watercolor illustrations by painter Steve Mumford, the result of several trips to the title city in 2003 and 2004. Preview here. It'll probably look real nice at 12.5" x 10" for your $34.95.

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang: Your oddball release of the week - a facsimile edition of the February 1922 issue of America’s Magazine of Wit, Humor, and Filosophy, a spicy digest of jokes, poems, commentary, and enough "racist, mysoginistic, anti-Semitic, and otherwise offensive material" that publisher About Comics has seen fit to give us due warning. Created and edited by Captain Billy Fawcett, which theoretically explains why the comics world is interested. Only $5.99 brings it home to your loved ones.

Narcopolis #1 (of 4): A publisher-creator pairing that seemed somehow fated - Jamie Delano writes a miniseries for Avatar. Jeremy Rock is the artist; he's done a few short pieces for Avatar, but I think this is his first extended work. It's the toe-tapping tale of a fellow named Gray Neighbor who one day gets the idea that he's supposed to be striking 'horrorist' blows against the mythic megalopolis of drugged apathy in which he lives, the sort of place where philosophy and religion double as a tasty state-run beverage line. This could get intolerable fairly quickly, but it's worth a look. Preview here.

Black Summer #5 (of 7): I guess the superheroes hit the military some more.

Madman Atomic Comics #6: Colorful people in odd adventures. This space quest is already kinda tiring. Pretty. Looks like this.

Batman #673: Oh, this is the one where Grant Morrison elaborates on those Batman bits of 52 that kind of drifted off to nowhere. Those itching for further All Star Superman mirroring will want to make note of April's Batman R.I.P. storyline...

El Diablo: I'm tempted to buy anything with Danijel Zezelj's art in it, and I'm sure that'll include this Vertigo collection of a 2001 Brian Azzarello-written western miniseries, even though Zezelj's b&w album work tends to be sharper than his art for miniseries like this. Doubtlessly that's because he's guiding his own hand in the former, although the use of color plays a role in sapping the impact too. His is a fine-tuned style, the particulars of which don't respond well to the typical restraints of DC or Marvel (although I did think José Villarrubia's work on Desolation Jones was complimentary). Still, watch me flip.

Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters #1: And not a moment too soon. Can it be long?

Tomorrow never knows.



The guy who did The Flames of Gyro created a 312-episode webcomic over the course of six years and nobody told me.

*This makes me really happy. It could be the oldest news in the world, but you're gonna hear about it again.

Jay Disbrow was a latecoming Golden Age comics artist, having signed on with the S.M. Iger Studio in 1950. He worked on books like Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, then moved on to some pre-Code horror work with Star (Ghostly Weird Stories) and educational stuff with Gilberton (Classics Illustrated Special). But it wasn't until 1979 that Disbrow made history.

BEHOLD, an era's dawn:

As far as anyone seems to know, this was the first original comic book published by Fantagraphics. Occasionally you'll read newspaper articles or whatnot hinting that it was Love and Rockets, or something like that, but readers of this site hold the truth within their hearts. Valgar Gunnar, man... he's truth. Look at that fucking rocket ship. It's blasting off into the future of comics. Over the course of 32 b&w magazine-sized pages, Gunnar roasts the machinations of villainy like strips of meat skewered on a rotisserie, slathered in the cucumber sauce of justice. All is wrapped in the pita bread of romance. More here.

So imagine my surprise and delight upon finding Aroc of Zenith, a webcomic Disbrow produced weekly from January 9, 2000 to December 25, 2005, in the style of a vintage Sunday newspaper adventure strip. This is great for several reasons, not the least of which is that an artist of Disbrow's generation even made such extensive use of online publishing to release such a large body of work to the public. Also: the guy who did The Flames of Gyro made a 312-page webcomic. You need nothing else. Read forever.


The Boys' Club (revised)

Here is Greenwood Vol. 1 (of 9)

(this review was my first piece of comics criticism ever to appear in print, gracing the pages of The Comics Journal #269, July 2005, the special shōjo manga issue; as always, the formatting is different here, along with some grammar and paragraph breaks)

It's strange to be confronted with a book as simultaneously cute and shopworn and silly and gently perverse as Here is Greenwood, which began serialization in the popular bi-weekly shōjo anthology Hana to Yume (also home to popular titles past and present such as Please Save My Earth and Fruits Basket) in 1986, ultimately filling 11 tankōbon compilations with material by 1991.

Our protagonist is 15-year old Kazuya Hasukawa, who's heartbroken with his beloved older brother Kazuhiro for several reasons, not the least of which is that he's just married the love of Kazuya's young life, an unconscionable act by a father figure. More tellingly, Kazuya is also upset with his erstwhile male role model's choice of life path: Kazuhiro has opted to become a nurse, a gut-churningly feminine position. "And a young man's ideal crumbled into dust," muses Kazuya, as he exiled himself from his home to live in a dormitory at prominent Ryokuto Academy, a place named Greenwood, the title oft used for nests of bandits and villains in literature and song.

Accordingly, a pair of suitable bandit-villains soon confront Kazuya; head resident Mitsuru and student body president Shinobu, both handsome and charismatic and oh so pretty. Actually, all of the boys in this book are oh so pretty, though there's nothing in the way of fan service or explicit sexuality - just cute guys staring up with their dewy eyes and tousled locks and musing or grinning or looking soulful.

Yet there's an undercurrent of spice to writer/artist Yukie Nasu's book as well, kept at a unique low-intensity; the book is always falling back on whimsical humor, allowing the target audience of young girls to giggle and maybe think a tad deeper. Kazuya is shown to his room, only to find a perky pink-haired sprite of a girl named Shun waiting for him - his new roomie, despite the alleged all-male status of Greenwood. All of the usual initial embarrassments and nervous curiosities soon follow, until Kazuya gets a little too curious and notices that Shun actually fits in quite well with the boys, where it counts the most. Kazuya is apoplectic, and Mitsuru, Shinobu and Shun are delighted - this is but the first of many pranks to be played, yet also the first step toward the breaking down of Kazuya's traditional worldview.

Greenwood plainly subscribes to a different perspective: despite her additional features, Shun is regularly referred to as 'she' or 'her,' which is plainly the way she likes it. She seems to be largely popular. Elsewhere in the book, Mitsuru is trying to bumble around the halls of the dorm during a blackout, and encounters a pair of male supporting cast members in a romantic clinch. A humorous sweat drop appears on Mitsuru's brow, but that is all, save for some affectionate joking later on. All the while, Kazuya reevaluates the wisdom of promising to never go home again, as he feels himself becoming simpatico to the re-written rules of masculintiy that haunt the corridors of Greenwood; virtually no pages are set in the classroom, but lessons are indeed learned.

Apprently, Here is Greenwood occupied an unsecured place in Hana to Yume, as Nasu cheerily announces only on page 145 that the series has finally been picked up as a continuing feature. And one can instantly feel the pull of more standardized plots and story types; the very first chapter in "commemoration" of Greenwood's regular serialization is the old 'mysterious character befriends the leads and turns out to be someone famous' yarn. There's also a cute girl -- anatomically correct this time -- who tries to hand a Valentine's Day gift to Kazuya only to find herself constantly thwarted, and a mysterious woman with a dark interest in Mitsuru. The former plot is sweet and genuinely sad, the latter less compelling.

But both make one yearn for a return to the gender twists of earlier chapters - not literal gender swaps of a Ramna 1/2 sort, but a subtler and easygoing alteration of what masculinity means, albeit in a universe of bishōnen looks and comedy pranks. There's a scene late in the book involving a woman with an interest in young boys. "I want to caution you all against becoming a woman like this!" barks Nasu's author's note to her reading girls. But in her shōjo universe, she's already altered what boys can become, and it seems to be for the better as far as the book is concerned.


Capers of a hundred flavors.

Hotwire Comics #2

This will be out soon. It's a $22.99 softcover anthology from Fantagraphics, 136 pages in b&w and color.

That doesn't quite make it a 'Fantagraphics anthology' in the manner of MOME, mind you - the latter series' editors, Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds, respectively serve as Fantagraphics' co-publisher and marketing director, thus reinforcing the position of MOME as a 'house' anthology. In contrast, Hotwire Comics -- formerly Hotwire Comix and Capers -- is edited and designed by Glenn Head, an outside party with prior connections to the publisher, most pertinently his work (with associate editor Kaz) on the 1990-93 anthology series Snake Eyes, which provided an increasingly broad, visually resplendent tour of then-current alternative comics across its three volumes.

It's a different environment now, and Hotwire is a different anthology. As Head remarked to Douglas Wolk at Publisher's Weekly in 2006: "There's a great deal of humorless, pedantic stuff; there's not that much of a kick to it. The cheap, vulgar side of comics that's disappeared - I really wanted to bring that back. That's what I was into." And Hotwire very much dresses the part - its 9" x 12" size and glossy exterior gives it the feel of a large, heavy, bathroom-ready magazine, the antithesis of the reserved, smallish, quarterly review-type MOME (or the hulking color burn of a Kramers Ergot). Then again, I don't think you need to hold anything in your hands to pick up the difference between

or even


All the stuff underneath that cover doesn't sit easily, though. Excluding all the humorless and pedantic stuff Head refers to above, Hotwire still has an extremely broad base of comics to choose from, and it's unwilling to settle on just a few; as a result, it's an oddly jangled, conflicted book for one with such a seemingly clear mission. It does feel a bit like an old underground anthology, one in which, say, the likes of Kim Deitch and Richard Corben might rub shoulders for the simple purpose of getting some wild comics up and and onto the page, regardless of individual approach.

But it's been 40 years since that time, and different species of alternative comics have had decades to develop on their own, without so much need to band together as a collective Other - putting this kind of anthology together today risks tonal incoherence from multiple specialized, incompatible parts. I realize I'm getting theoretical here -- many readers simply pluck out the parts they like from anthologies anyway, confident that the whole is by its nature scattershot and prone to varying quality -- but I do think that individual stories can be lifted higher by a strong arrangement among others, and that too much discordance (or sameness) can detract from isolated pieces.

Regardless, Hotwire flails amidst approaches, many of which can be sampled here, like a long-lost underground jam tumbling though a time warp, ripping loose bits and pieces of RAW and Weirdo in mid-plunge before crashing through an issue of Blab! to break its fall. It can be striking. At one point, Craig Yoe presents a homage to Tijuana Bibles in his colorful, Griffinesque freakout style, basically a visual poem or song, filled with sexually suggestive cartoon figures spurting repeated exclamations. "It's not the good duck artist!" "Don't B uptight!" "It's the good fuck artist!" "Feel so right!" Neither duck artists nor fuck artists could sign their work, of course; Yoe suggests the joinder of high and low cartooning through shared anonymity, all while a beret-wearing dude nervously stares at the action from behind, via rips in each page.

Right next to that is a page of Mark Newgarden's dour, precise anti-gag cartoons (with captions by English comic Simon Munnery), immediately followed by another one of R. Sikoryak's literary/comics mashups, this time a Little Nemo take on The Picture of Dorian Gray, cleverly exploiting Winsor McCay's fancy for panel-by-panel gradual transformation in charting the off-panel antics of lil' Dori. Then it's off to a Jonathon Rosen juxtaposition of 3/4 page wordless illustration, isolated narrative text and complimentary narrative via diagrammed sketching - it's like every recent argument against stolid art comics (no drawing chops! no storytelling! no humor!) all showing up at the same party, and it turns out that some of them would sort of like to kick each other's asses too.

I haven't even gotten into the swathes of pure illustration -- you're looking at David Paleo above, although there's also some nice Danny Hellman and Stephane Blanquet stuff too -- or the various humor bits, ranging from the aforementioned Newgarden/Munnery gags (killing humor with visual irony) to Ivan Brunetti's geometric dirty jokes (creating humor with visual contrast), to a Johnny Ryan Sin City parody featuring Frank Miller eating Mickey Spillane's shit with a spoon, and Marv breast-feeding a living pistol, muzzle to nipple. Did I mention Chris Estey's & Dave Lasky's fragmented, allusory tribute to Mick Jones of The Clash?

I'm tossing these pieces around to give you an idea of how random, even haphazard the anthology gets, in spite of its focus on lively kicks and popping eyes. That's not to say some of those parts aren't perfectly fine - I also liked Mary Fleener's effortlessly funny and appealing anecdote about being stuck in a car on unwanted drugs with a 'friend' who's prone to pulling over for dealing on the way home. I wish I'd liked Mack White's contribution more, since he's an old hand at grounded stories of rare, building verve, but all he's got is a simplistic demonstration of Old West entertainment-as-history whitewashing, complete with compare-contrast filmstrip segments.

Of the 'new' artists, the most prominent is Tim Lane, who provided the cover art and no less than three stories - Fantagraphics is planning a hardcover collection of his short pieces (Abandoned Cars) for this May. His rich, heavy style, highly reminiscent of Charles Burns is just the sort of thing you'd expect to headline a book of Hotwire's mission. It's eye-catching, lending itself well to the isolated images of a two-page dream comic, or crucial moments of dramatic or surreal impact.

But his writing is less assured, his characters' incessant narration sometimes toeing the line between plainspoken grit and possible proofreading error (one balloon and two captions in one panel - "Holy shit!" "Said Marty, and started laughing. I guess he didn't know what else to do." "Then I seen the gun on the floor as the carny split for the door."). A five-page story ambles distractedly through a character epiphany, and a seven-page opener for a serial chokes its detailed caricatures with rolling waves of stylized dialogue before settling into a steady beat - my impression from this book is that he's a talented illustrator who's got a ways to go in narrative comics, although I'd sure like to see him keep going.

His stories' vivid, hamstrung nature can be taken as a model of Hotwire the package - of visual power, but unable to collect itself into a stronger whole. Even the broadest contours of its identity become fuzzy at times; I don't know what to make of the presence of an eight-pager by the underappreciated Carol Swain, welcome as it is. Working in soft colors and expressive ink scratches, pencil details left in, Swain builds a wistful yet omnious fable of reading as sickness, and good books falling from the sky, only for their words to drift away with the wind. It's quiet, meticulous, and frankly indistinguishable in character or tenor from something that might pop up in MOME, or Chris Ware's Hott Picks 2006-07.

It's good enough to look for, though, as may be this book's other bright, isolated pulses.


Let's wish this weekend away, huh?

*I had the holiday off, and spent most of it driving down a long road with the blazing sun in my eyes while tilted forward from migraine-induced nausea - I only wish I'd done something fun to justify the symptoms, but no. All that following an unusually go-go-go weekend; all I posted review-wise this whole week was a TCJ piece on the prose biography Wally's World. On the plus side, at least I have a bunch of things half-written and ready to go for the next week...

*So let's get to looking at that.


The Comic Eye: This is a 160-page anthology of comics about comics (or comics creators, or comics readers), $12.95 from Blind Bat Press. I don't know much else about it, but there's a Dave Sim cover, and I'll probably flip through any comic with Dave Collier, Bernie Mireault, Michael T. Gilbert, Fred Hembeck and Rick Geary in it. Details here.

Michael Allred's Madman Vol. 3: This is the last of Image's softcover collections of Allred's spandex back catalog, focusing mainly on the back half of the 1994-2000 Dark Horse Madman Comics run, a good chunk of which actually concerned itself with revamping and filling out a story Allred had begun in his 1990-91 Grafik Muzik series at Caliber, material which also formed the basis of the 2000 Christopher Coppola film G-Men from Hell, stripped of Madman entirely.

The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Vol. 3 (of 3): Rounding up Books 8-10 of the Pat Mills/Kevin O'Neill creation, with O'Neill himself returning to do the honors for the final episode. Also featuring David Roach, John Hickleton, Henry Flint, Chris Weston and others. It will run you $29.99 in US Earth monies.

The Complete Terry and the Pirates Vol. 2 (of 6): Rounding up 1937-38 installments of the Milton Caniff creation, in deluxe hardcover style. It will run you $49.99 in Jupiter passion notes.

Tales of the New Gods: The Countdown to Final Crisis reprint train keeps on steaming, this time with a 168-page, $19.99 collection of stories culled from Mark Evanier's & Steve Rude's 1987 Mister Miracle Special, John Byrne's 1997-98 Jack Kirby's Fourth World project and Walt Simonson's 2000-02 Orion ongoing, brimming with guest art by Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Art Adams, Erik Larsen and many more. The 'grabber,' though, is doubtlessly a previously unpublished Mark Millar/Steve Ditko (!!!) collaboration (with Mick Gray), first commissioned for the back of the Simonson series. Hey, is Eddie Campbell's story in here?

Speak of the Devil #4 (of 6): I really loved the final page of issue #3. Then I looked at Dark Horse's solicitation for this one, and it kind of ruined the effect. If you're in the same boat, you might as well look to the preview for a point-by-point resolution to the cliffhanger - I'm sure Gilbert Hernandez has more in store for later.

Jack Staff Special #1: Also from Image this week is a one-off issue for Paul Grist's admired, intermittent superhero series, positioned to attract new readers for a monthly push; issue #14 of the regular series is due next month, with several subsequent issues supposedly already complete.

Superman Confidential #11: And in other superhero scheduling news, this is the final part of that Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale story, last seen in issue #5. UPDATE YOUR LOGS.

The Punisher MAX #54: Concluding the next-to-last storyline of writer Garth Ennis' character-defining run, with latecoming fixed series artist Goran Parlov (and it'll be interesting to see what he does after the end of the Ennis run; I'll certainly be looking for it). Ennis also has Dan Dare #3 (of 7) out this week from Virgin.

The Order #7: Your Fraction for this week.

Army@Love #11: Your Veitch for this week.

Legion of Super-Heroes #38: Your Shooter for this week.

Astonishing X-Men #24: I stopped reading this after its (terrible) second storyline ended in September of 2005, and I'm kind of amazed (astonished, even!) that this is only the twelfth issue to appear since. Still, it's worth noting that this is the final Joss Whedon/John Cassaday issue, so anyone waiting for the inevitable hardcover collection won't have long to go now. EDIT: Well, I had no idea that this actually wasn't the last issue, only the last regular issue; this final Whedon/Cassaday chapter of the ongoing will actually end in a cliffhanger, to be resolved in the one-shot Giant-Sized Astonishing X-Men #1 sometime down the pike. Thanks to Jonathan L. Switzer for the correction. Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi will be taking over the title (or some variation thereof) next.



Yesterday's post... NOW!

*I went to get some fast food yesterday; one of the managers told me I look like Harry Potter. That's not the first time that happened, nor the first time I've even mentioned it happening on this site. I'm just posting it as a helpful reminder for whenever you read anything I write - I LOOK EXACTLY LIKE HARRY POTTER. I don't try; I guess I just do.

And I don't mean Daniel Radcliff either. I'm talking Harry Potter, right off the front of the books. Never forget.

*Golgolicious Dept: I enjoyed this recent essay by XyphaP on Golgo 13; it's nominally a review of the first volume of the current (soon ending) VIZ run, but it goes to some interesting places with creation of the work. And in other Duke Togo news, Daryl Surat (of Anime World Order) advises that the next issue (#5) of Otaku USA will contain a feature article (written by him) on our favorite ellipses enthusiast; I think it's due in February.

*Oh, I saw Cloverfield, the new giant monster movie, recast as survival horror through the use of ground-level hand-held cameras. Several visual cites to 9/11, since a video society can 'cite' its national calamities without much aesthetic distance. Very slight; it sort of suggests deeper themes, only to do nothing beyond tossing itself toward the power of love and the human toll of disasters and whatnot. The characters weren't particularly well-developed enough for that to work; the CGI-augmented 'reality' wasn't forceful enough to quite land the terror of the situation. As a result, I got kinda antsy around the eightieth scene of people running in a blur while screaming other characters' names; could have been more. Decent monster design, though.


Wonderful words from our past.

*I'd like to take some time out today for a few pearls of wisdom from Mr. Coulton Waugh - teacher, Dickie Dare artist, decorative mapmaker and student of comics history. In 1947, he wrote a seminal book on the status and impact of the comics form, titled simply The Comics. It was focused mainly on newspaper strips, but the very last chapter took a special look at a still-recent social phenomenon:

"We had better add comic books to the list of important discoveries made in the world in the last ten years. This hurts many people; it doesn't seem possible that anything so raw, so purely ugly, should be so important. Comic books are ugly; it is hard to find anything to admire about their appearance. The paper - it's like using sand in cooking. And the drawing: it's true that these artists are capable in a certain sense; the figures are usually well located in depth, they get across action... But there is a soulless emptiness to them, an outrageous vulgarity; and if you do find some that seem, at least, funny and gay, there's the color. Ouch! It seems to be an axiom in the comic book world that color which screams, shrieks with the strongest possible discord, is good. Even these aspects of comic-book art are mild and dull when contrasted with the essence of it: the layout, the arrangement of ideas; and that goes, too, for the ideas themselves."

Waugh goes on track the history of the comic book, enthusing over its potential for as "the most influential form of teaching known to man," while lamenting the dominance of "super-screamers" on the stands; so-called 'hooded' superheroes are compared to the Ku Klux Klan (which instantly brings Rick Veitch's Brat Pack to my mind), so diametrically opposed to the orderly, established processes of law they are, although elsewhere in the book Superman is conceded to be perhaps the most worshipped and adored national figure of the day, leading into a short burlesque of WWII-era public delight in superheroes ("This is it; here is the one who will do a job for us. Yippee! Get crackin', kid; sock that Japanazi in his yellow slats..."). A general sigh of relief is puffed in the direction of the genre's decline in favor of teen and funny animal comics:

"These human torches and hornet men seem to have little connection with the sound values which the American people, generally speaking, strive for; and it seems that the people, in a number of ways, have been gradually making this clear to the publishers."

Hell yes, motherfucker. Waugh is also bowled over by the rise of clean learning comics, delightfully identifying one locus of startling progress as M.C. Gaines' Educational Comics (let's just call it 'EC'), a veritable phoenix of mental nourishment risen from the ashes of sensationalism. But not every man and woman of that time was hopeful for comics. As the editorial page of the Burlington, Vermont Daily News put it, quoted by Waugh:

"Every once in a while this paper gets literature promoting 'wholesome' magazine comics to wean the younger idea away from the lurid picture magazines portraying murder, mayhem, thievery, conspiracy, intrigue, cannibalism, barratry, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and felonious assault.

"The promoters would like to have us say something pretty about the 'wholesome' magazines, which offer the lives of 'real' heroes supposedly as laden with deeds of inspiration and derring-do as the best efforts of Superman.

"Somehow we don't react. This writer in his brattish days grew fat on a diet of scalps, knives in the back, Indians biting the dust, blood-curdling screams at midnight, slinking and sinister Chinamen, haunted houses a-clank with chains, and all the other paraphernalia of the old-time thriller, which certainly needs take no back seat for Buck Rogers or the Phantom.

"The leading sequence in the current 'wholesome' outing is a pictorial life of Franklin D. Roosevelt. We have a good deal of respect for F. D., but Mr. Roosevelt can't leap a thousand feet into the air and bring down a warplane with his bare fists. Superman can."

A lot of questions jump out from that. For example: did the editor mean maritime barratry or judicial barratry? And has a comic ever contained both types? I guess the latter might naturally follow the former, although it could go the other way too.

Anyway, it's a worthwhile book to get ahold of. Waugh is a colorful and often very funny writer, and engages with a wide variety of strips from the half-century preceding his text. Being an early wide study of comics, the book carries with it a real, almost starry charge of enthusiasm over the potential of the medium, and a certain unpredictability of analysis; a recurring concern for the favor of "illustrational" art over looser styles remains pertinent today, if unique for its context.

"These lithe, sexy young people, if apparently made of flesh from the outside, have an empty look - one feels that a cross-section would show little inside their hearts and heads."

Nothing new under the sun...


A few words about words in a book.

Wally's World: The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Wally Wood, the World's Second-Best Comic Book Artist

(this review first appeared in The Comics Journal #282, April 2007; the format is different here, and I toyed with the punctuation and wording a bit too)

The best and worst thing about this book is probably its cover, a mournfully atmospheric panel taken from Dan Clowes’ Wallace Wood strip (as seen in his Twentieth Century Eightball collection) that unfortunately preps the reader for a deeper experience than they’re going to get from Steve Starger’s and J. David Spurlock’s text.

There is little doubt in my mind that an absolutely terrific book can be written about the life and times of Wally Wood, troubled, popular figure he was, but this volume is at absolute best a briskly-paced, occasionally bumpy diversion, composed for the most part as exactly the sort of era-by-era guided tour that probably springs to mind as soon as you think of the term ‘biography’ in the context of any notable figure. No particular species of innovation reveals itself upon reading.

Which isn’t to say that Starger and Spurlock don’t take the occasional stab at analyzing the complexities of Wood’s life and career; it’s just that their attempts at insight barely register above the din of chronology and focusing events, a structure unforgiving in its aptitude for surface-skimming across Wood’s childhood and arrival at EC and work on Mad and etc. Yes, we hear of Little Wally Wood and Big Wally Wood, the multitudes inside the man, but we mostly hear of broad accomplishments in art, and gradual personal failings. A bit of aesthetic criticism slips in, with comments about stiffness bowled over by breathless declarations like “At EC Wood had shown how beautiful clutter could be. At Marvel he showed us how beautiful simplicity could be.” The artist’s influences on recent and contemporary popular culture are dutifully rattled off.

Even the chronology gets a bit murky after a while, as bits of events repeat themselves in succeeding pages. The narrative often sidetracks itself to briefly impart the life story of half the notable figures that cross Wood’s path. An entire chapter is surrendered to recounting the myth and history of Finland, all for the dubious thematic punch of casting Wood’s cremation as a Viking burial at sea. It must be said that the sheer queasy impact of Wood’s later years manages to enliven the book in spite of itself, but that’s just more said about unrealized potential. Neophyte fans may get a nice overview, and die-hards will maybe demand a look, but too much more is possible.


I think I edited a Doctor Grordbort back at the law review...

*His citations expanded my mind.


Nog a Dod (containing many unknown works from Canada)

King City Vol. 1 (Brandon Graham continues)


Teen Titans: The Lost Annual (Bob Haney from out of the drawer)

at The Savage Critics.

*Very diverse time at the shops -


MOME Vol. 10 (Winter/Spring 2008): The newest edition of Fantagraphics' house anthology; nice Dash Shaw story, and a fine Tom Kaczynski interview. I reviewed it here, and Alan David Doane took a more recent look. And why not a big preview?

Insomnia #3 (of 3): Ah, poor poor Ignatz books; no more do you travel in threes, like deluxe pamphlet deaths. It's the end of the road for this Matt Broersma trilogy of interlocking noir stories, this one tracking an LA television producer's plunge into the desert in search of a missing woman. Here's some art, although I don't think it's from this new issue. Hey, did you know that Isomnia is a sequel of sorts to Broersma's 2002 book Hawaii, which has been released online for free? Give it a peek.

The Last Musketeer: I didn't know Jason (he of the recent I Killed Adolph Hitler) was going to have a new one out so soon, but I guess there's no rest for the wicked. It's another full-color, 48-page Fantagraphics softcover, priced at $12.95, this time concerning the adventures of the famed musketeer Athos, improbably still alive (and a destitute bum) in the 21st century, as he stands firm against a Martian invasion of the Earth, and journeys beyond the stars. Here's a full 1/6 of the book, and the cover is pretty awesome too.

Doom Patrol Vol. 6: Planet Love: I don't know why they didn't subtitle this thing Doom Force and Other Stuff, since that's what's in our hearts. Your $19.99 will net you the remainder of writer Grant Morrison's classic run on the title, unless you're counting that thing he did with Frank Quitely years later.

Doctor Grordbort’s Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory: This had better be porn.

Gyo Vol. 2 (of 2): Now available in the right-to-left $9.99 digest format. The first volume of Gyo remains my favorite Junji Ito comic, a perfect blend of campy sci-fi/horror ideas with noxious visual energy and just-this-side-of-serious pursuit suspense. I wanted the second half to be the greatest 'walking rotton fish' comic in all of history, but it wound up getting a little too silly (even for me!), meandering away from its catchy ideas for trips to an evil circus and the like. I hope this edition retains the bonus stories from the original, though; some fun stuff in there.

The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation: Now come on. How's the whole Book of Deuteronomy going to fit into only 224 pages, what with that decompressed manga storytelling I've read so much about in the news? I want every line of Deuteronomy in there, with nosebleeds and sweatdrops. Every one.

Bone Color Edition Vol. 7 (of 9): Ghost Circles: If memory serves, this is the one where Jeff Smith's project launches itself firmly into epic quest fantasy mode; $9.99 will buy you many hues. Meanwhile, in other funnies-4-kids news, the Lerner Publishing Group is dumping onto Diamond-stocked shelves no less than 11 entries in its Graphic Universe line of 48-page comic albums based on world myths and legends, with artists like Tim Seeley and Thomas Yeates involved.

Fell #9: Hey, this is back. Featuring hostage negotiation; still $1.99. Warren Ellis, Ben Templesmith. Elsewhere, Marvel puts Ellis' name in the title of Thunderbolts by Warren Ellis Vol. 1: Faith in Monsters.

The Immortal Iron Fist #12: It doesn't feel that long ago the last issue of this was out. Huh. As Marvel's solicitation remarks, "The kicking intensifies. The mysteries intensify."

Countdown Special: The New Gods: Yes, the title may aim to invoke the characters' current big-time Event tie-in, but this 80-page number is really a $4.99 sampler for those Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus hardcovers, collecting one issue each of Mister Miracle (#1), The Forever People (#1) and The New Gods (#7). Just think of all the money you can spend if you like them!

Groo: Hell on Earth #3 (of 4): Continuing the environmental cataclysm.

The Programme #7 (of 12): Continuing the nuclear cataclysm. There's a preview?

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #5 (of 6): Continuing the musical cataclysm. There's a preview!

Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons #2 (of 3): Continuing the cataclysm of the title. Hell, have a preview of that too.

Dark Horse Heroes Omnibus: Your oddity of the week - a 488-page, full-color memorial headstone for Dark Horse's early '90s experiment in fostering a work-for-hire superhero shared universe. Everybody had one back then; they were like slap braclets. Relive the magic of the original Comics' Greatest World and Will to Power maxiseries (both of which actually predated the 'Dark Horse Heroes' banner, but let's not get picky), while keeping your eyes peeled for the likes of Paul Chadwick popping up to lend a helping hand. Only $24.95, and Barb Wire lives again. Our eyes are witness to miracles so legion as to bear the whole novelty of sidewalk cracks.



Cat Juice; Concentrate

King City Vol. 1

By now, I suspect most of you recognize writer/artist Brandon Graham, he of the recent Oni comic Multiple Warheads. This is his other prominent release from 2007, a full-scale 192-page digest-format original, published by Tokyopop at the $9.99 price point. It's the first of at least two volumes.

The book has a bit of history behind it; initially announced in 2006 as one of several Tokyopop titles marked for exclusive release through the publisher's website -- you might recall enough controversy breaking out online that Minetaro Mochizuki's popular-among-commentators Dragon Head got successfully moved back into ready bookstore distribution -- King City was eventually made available to retailers through Diamond in 2007, and has just now appeared in chain bookstores through more typical channels for the start of 2008. As a result of this slow rollout, some have long ago read the book (indeed, Ivan Brandon recently named it the best comic of 2007) (EDIT: so did Abhay Khosla), but many more wound up with Multiple Warheads as their first exposure to Graham's work, myself included.

But neither of those were anyone's first chance to get acquainted anyway. As it often goes, Graham is one of those 'new' cartoonists who've actually been publishing work for well over a decade. He's created pamphlet-format miniseries for such early OEL manga specialists as Antarctic Press (October ¥en) and Radio Comix (Universe So Big). He's contributed short works to the venerable Heavy Metal. He's been part of the famed Meathaus group of visual artists (see also: Farel Dalrymple, James Jean, Tomer Hanuka, Dash Shaw, Becky Cloonan) since its beginning. He's had one collection of stories released by Alternative Comics (Escalator), and two albums of smut released by NBM (Perverts of the Unknown and Pillow Fight).

And few of those projects are solitary - the cast of Multiple Warheads first appeared in a porn short, then showed up in the title story of Escalator, before finally moving on to their own series. Escalator also sported a returning character from October ¥en, and a story set in King City, which was intended to launch a six-issue miniseries. It didn't, and the content of that story is not the content of this book, although several of this book's main characters can nevertheless be glimpsed walking the streets of that earlier collection, not yet selected for primacy.

As such, it's perhaps easier to view Graham's work as more a flowing stream than a set of islands. Most of his works share similar enough approaches -- young people walking comfortably yet hesitantly through a fantastic world, hanging around with friends and fussing over current/prospective/former romantic partners, with a softly detailed sci-fi plot going on at the margins -- that newer projects seem like redefinitions of older ones.

In this way, a project from 1996 like October ¥en, which bisected plot threads of a robot on a mission into a pocket dimension and a 'furry'-type alien reluctantly going to a party, isn't all that different from 2007's Multiple Warheads, although the interactions between young people and the sci-fi adventure stuff have been integrated, with the latter acting mainly to compliment the former with allegorical weight or novel urban decoration.

If anything, Graham's work is even more a chronicle of day-by-day youth living then something like Powr Mastrs, in that his comparatively straightforward visual and narrative style keeps the focus on narrated thoughts and supple human forms. If the likes of C.F. and Brian Chippendale operate as a redefinition of 'underground' fantasy comics, Graham blends his own considerable underground influence with the popular clarity of various manga, resulting in a less alien display.

And while King City may not be the newest of Graham's projects, it is the most sophisticated in terms of construction. Graham notes in an Afterword that this first volume alone is nearly double the size of the longest comic he's ever done, but he shows little hesitancy in execution - indeed, King City may be the most successful adoption of popular shōnen (or seinen-on-the-edge-of-shōnen) manga pacing by a Western artist I've yet come across.

The chapter-by-chapter give-and-take of many popular manga often strike me as a product of Japan's unique serialization scheme, one that Western artists don't have access to; as a result, some English-language 'manga'-style projects seem lumpy or start-and-stop in comparison. This is not a problem for Graham, whose work flows as quickly and smoothly as anything read from the opposite direction. It helps that Graham has a firm grasp of page balance (and inter-page balance), carefully playing light against dark and crowded panels against wide views. His sense of page design is quite good too:

Notice how the bridge in panel #1 'transforms' into legs in panel #2, the shadows of those legs drifting into the sky of panel #3, where the stylized direction of the train mimics the tilt of the bucket in panel #4. In this way, the reader's eyes are guided smoothly down the page, with the out-in-out-in viewpoints of the panels first reinforcing the strength of the lead character, feet firmly planted on the train like iron girders, then emphasizing the speed of his travel what with whooshing clouds and a bent trajectory and the rocking bucket.

The book is full of good visual concepts of that sort, which the expanded length of the digest format allows for - there's perhaps less lived-in environmental clutter than Graham's other works (not to mention less 'underground' flourish), which I think compliments the work's status as a 'manga' type of comic one would expect from Tokyopop. This isn't to say that Graham's in-panel work is any less diverse with influence -- there's a great little bit where two characters confront a street gang called the Owls, perched on streetlights and ledges like in Taiyō Matsumoto's Tekkonkinkreet but clad and silhouetted in a very Mike Mignola style, and I wouldn't have expected such a mix to work so well -- but its mechanics are more distinctly inclined toward the fast, light reading I associate with a lot of manga.

But now I'll cop to being more taken with the visual execution of the book than anything else. The story concerns a young King City spy and lockpick named Joe, who's just gotten back into town from completing his training as a Cat Master. As everyone knows, cats can adopt different attributes -- drill, parachute, fire-breather -- when injected with Cat Juice, and a skilled Cat Master can thereby accomplish a lot for himself.

It's a concept somewhat reminiscent of Paul Pope's THB (speaking of East-West fusion), although Graham is more inclined to play up the cartoonish, elastic possibilities inherent, with the cat in question often acting like a mascot or sidekick, while Joe wanders around with his pal Pete (a good-natured lump in a Dumb Donald cap, involved in shady business) and pines a lot after his lost love Anna. Dirty work is going down, and the plot simmers while characters shoot the breeze, encounter funny and imaginative technologies, and indulge in wordplay, only for action to crop up at the end.

This is often a very boyish comic, infatuated with gadgets, delighted by cool fights, pining over the enigma of girls, and mixing protectionist impulses with nervous arousal. That's not inappropriate, given the kind of manga it looks and feels like, but I did find myself wearing out as character development and plot strands continually led to nowhere unexpected. Graham is talented at crafting intimate conversations or scenes of friends hanging out, but the 'big' moments he inserts are comparatively obvious and rather banal (guilty blood money scattering in the rain!), and the plot's big threats at volume's end are mostly dull (being a bad organization with eyes throughout the world and a Lovecraftian thingy), if enlivened a bit by Graham's enthusiastic grip on action and movement.

And considering the amount of space given over to romantic longing, the female characters are shallowly developed. There's a sexy & mysterious yet dangerous woman who acts sexy & mysterious yet dangerous, with plenty of breast and butt emphasis in the panels. There's a 'furry' alien girl who exists solely to get Pete's moé flowing, her possibly awful fate positioned here as nothing more than an emotional beat upon which to define the male character - hell, she doesn't even get to speak English, translated or otherwise, but she does get to balance strawberries on her nose like a sexy seal of some sort (was it Miyazaki that remarked that moé is like wanting a girl for a pet?). Anna gets the most definition, in that she's apparently a 'main' character, but her arty quirks and frowny worries don't amount to much, particularly when her boyfriend gets a detailed zombie-fighting body horror world-building subplot all his own.

But this is only volume 1, and there's plenty of time to work with these characters. Graham's visual skill is formidable, and his ideas are good; he's great with places and fleeting dialogues, and he knows how to pace a comic. These are considerable strengths, and I doubt he's near the end of his growth. In a way, it's good that I have the later Multiple Warheads in front of me, because I know Graham can pull a short story together into a pleasing, breezy whole. He's not yet done with this longest work, so there's reason for confidence.


Lil' Post

Nog a Dod

(this review first appeared in The Comics Journal #279, Nov. 2006; as usual, the formatting is slightly different here)

The back cover of this chunky little tome helpfully describes its contents as “Somewhere between comics, psychedelic notebook doodles and fine art.” That’s about as good as I could do, even though it leaves out the poetry and restaurant reviews also found therein. Certainly one shouldn’t get their hopes up over the prospect of page upon page of briskly surreal, winsomely molded comics storytelling, the type that editor Marc Bell has become noted for; more often the book is given over to the pleasures of simple drawing and composition, a plethora of artists filling their pages (and one another’s) as if compelled by curious forces to create till blood spills from underneath their fingernails, and then create more with that.

Nog a Dod acts as a chronicle of a decade of so (1995-2005) of work by an extended klatch of Canadian artists, arranged so that little chronological mapping of the work is possible without taking notes; it’s thus demanded of us that we appreciate the work in terms of interrelated aesthetic, with editor Bell often deliberately stacking works that may or may not seem akin to one another. This makes sense, as several of these artists -- Bell, Peter Thompson (of The Chronicles of Lucky Ello), Jason McClean -- sometimes literally remake or draw atop one another’s work, or slice up prior works to paste them together into new pieces. Bell offers intermittent commentary to keep things semi-cohesive, but he’s fighting an uphill battle; his introduction confesses that he could fill a whole second book with stuff he left out, and you’ll probably feel a supplement is necessary just to have a fuller grasp of the scene.

Ah, but it’s quite a scene at times. As intermittent as the book can be in its showcase, you’ll probably fall in love with something, whether it’s Scott Evan’s color-drenched photography, Tommy Lacroix’s beautifully itchy puzzle piece collages, or the gorgeously rounded Woodringesque iconic mindscapes of Owen Plummer. It’s bound to be frustrating, as you’ll only want more of what you liked, but there’s something to be said of cumulative effect - by the time you hit the hundredth indexed cover to some minicomic or tiny project you’ve not heard of, the book seems like some sprawling price-stripped catalog to an alternate dimension’s pamphlet industry, and the shock of realizing the world isn’t so small after all might be this thing’s best trick.


The truth about wine and its grip on a man.

*Wait for it.


Golgo 13 Vol. 12 (of 13): Shadow of Death (with more of my all-important thoughts on anime)

The complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay (hey, that's how it's printed)

and some thoughts on the old movie Videodrome.

Nothing up at any other site, although I'm working on several posts for this week...

*A lot of things I didn't know existed until right now -


Teen Titans: The Lost Annual: Yep. Someone 'lost' it for close to half a decade, I guess, as opposed to DC simply refusing to print this final work by the late Bob Haney, venerable DC scribe, aided and abetted by penciller Jay Stephens & inker Mike Allred, with Nick Cardy on the cover for extra period kick. The original Titans blast off to save JFK from trouble, and here's how it looks in b&w. Laura Allred will color the final product. This was supposed to be an Elseworlds one-shot back in the day, but now it's a $4.99, 64-page pamphlet that no doubt takes place on Earth 29 or thereabouts, in case the Arena calls.

Hickee Vol. 3 #4: Another issue of the pamphlet-format Alternative Comics humor anthology, this time with a 'crime' theme. Contributor Graham Annable has some stuff up, including a list of artists involved. A mere $2.95.

Black Hole: The Charles Burns body horror viral teen sex community graphic novel, finally in softcover for those who only want to pay a full cover price of $17.95. If I recall correctly, just about every Best Of comics list written in English in 2005 topped off with either this or Epileptic (mine included); I'm kinda glad for the diversity reflected in the 2007 crop. Also out this week from Pantheon is Jenna Jameson's Shadow Hunter #0, a twenty-five cent introduction to the gaiety and merriment of the person hunting Jenna Jameson's shadow, which seems kind of weird but you can probably get a comic out of it.

Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History: This is the new Harvey Pekar project, with art by Gary Dumm, and I do suspect the title says it all. Featuring additional contributions from real radical activists of the time. It's 224 pages from Hill and Wang, priced at $22.00.

Heavy Metal, March 2008: Noteworthy in that the feature presentation is a rare done-in-one album: Lola Cordova by one Arthur Qwak, a non-linear account of a prostitute's exploits in space that seems to have won some acclaim in its original French edition. Click around that website; nice-looking work.

Manga Sutra - Futari H Vol. 1: Oh, this will be one to watch. Serialized since 1997 and still going strong (Vol. 37 was released in Japan just last month), Aki Katsu's popular romantic comedy/sex guide is now in official English, ready to be plopped out by Tokyopop in 384-page bricks for $19.99 a pop. And don't underestimate the sex; being a chronicle of the fantasy and physical lives of a... novice married couple, Futari H supposedly gets about as close to flat-out porno as a manga can without being kicked out of the general-reading anthologies. I hear it promotes good morals and happy relationships too, so you might want to bring a copy to church.

B.P.R.D.: 1946 #1 (of 5): All of the creative team save for creator/co-writer Mike Mignola is taking a break for this story, set well before any of the main characters are in play. Joshua Dysart (of Swamp Thing and Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril) co-writes, while Paul Azaceta (of Grounded) draws and Nick Filardi colors.

The Goon #20: Wait, I'm sorry. Jenna Jameson's Shadow Hunter #0 is published by Virgin Comics, not Pantheon. What a humiliating mistake. I've been drinking too much of this teaberry wine I bought off a bunch of hippies the other day. It's got artificial flavoring! What the fuck kind of bullshit hippies were they?! Artificial flavoring. I bet they take off their long hair at the end of the day and they're wearing stifling corporate suits on the scalps underneath. This is a new issue of an Eric Powell comic Dark Horse is publishing.

Infinity Inc. #5: "'The Influencing Machines of Metropolis' — Finale! As The Influencing Machines continue to induce madness, Nat and Lucia are forced into a deadly and ugly beauty pageant, and Erika and Gerome must face their own demons in time to stop a villain of devastating super-powered insanity." Man, that sounds like a nice Peter Milligan comic. Too bad it's two issues away. This one wraps up the first storyline.

Wolverine #61: Aw, I totally lost track of what was going on last issue. Someone from somewhere showed up, and my heart stopped? Maybe Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin will make everything clear in this, their last issue. Chaykin will next be teaming with Matt Fraction (!!) for a two-issue run on Punisher War Journal starting with #16, which is the one after the issue due this week. Then it's on to that WWI aviation MAX miniseries with Garth Ennis. Speaking of temptations and artists I like, Chris Weston has issue #1 of The Twelve this week, featuring a bunch of WWII-era superheroes and writer J. Michael Straczynski.

Youngblood #1: You may exhale. No, it's not the one where they're all fighting a battle royale across the dimensions, nor the one where they're all fighting a supervillain team based on popular UK comics writers. Those comics are as lost as your youth. This comic is as present as your bones. Writer Joe Casey and artist Derec Donovan bring the sucker home to Image, and it looks like this. Be forever.

Amazing Spider-Man #546: I read in the news that Spidey kisses a girl right on the lips in this issue!!! Confirm/deny?!??



Ay, there's the rub.

The complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay

Of Winsor McCay's many comic strip creations, I know of only one that had a proper 'ending.'

A Pilgrim's Progress, which began running in The New York Evening Telegram on June 26, 1905, concerned the misadventures of one Mr. Bunion, a fretful man in a top hat who's doomed to forever carry around a black valise labeled "DULL CARE," in evident (and likely Masonic) recognition of his worried internal state. Each episode saw him cook up another method for disposing of his hated burden - maybe burning it, or sinking it, or giving it away. But dull care ruled his life inside and out, and no allegorical confrontation or literary slapstick could save him.

It all came to a head on December 18, 1910, at which time Mr. Bunion adopted his most direct tactic: confronting his very creator, 'Silas' (the pen name used by McCay for his Telegram work of the time), and coercing him into not drawing the comic anymore. Nobody's dead cat came up in the ensuing conversation; indeed, most of the talking was done by Bunion, the character, flattering his author with praise for his hit-making ability while confiding that the strip's "laughter through tears" approach was flying over the heads of too many readers.

Silas eventually relented, although it was clear that Bunion could never actually lose the valise; he could only carry away from the eyes of the public. Bunion said his goodbye, urging Silas not to give in to "crude comedy" - the final panel saw him plodding off into inky blackness of cancellation, as Silas watched from the lighted portal to his office.

It's a bracing, funny and melancholic ending, wholly unpretentious yet disarmingly sophisticated, and deeply, almost dizzyingly self-aggrandizing. Reading it is revealing - about McCay himself, about his perception of his readership, about the editorial feedback he was probably getting, and about his affection for his creations as troubled souls. In a 1905 essay that ran in the Telegram, McCay denied being a funny man or a 'humorist' - he just couldn't keep comedic aspects out of his drawings of serious things, and thus his reportage became 'humor.'

The essay, by the way, was all about the creation of McCay's longest-running strip, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, which ran from 1904-13 in various papers in various forms, and even under various titles, with different foodstuffs called out as the potion of nightmares. Rarebit (as I'll now call it) is the one where each episode sees the world go mad on someone, only to have them wake up from their dream in the final panel and vow not to eat before bed again. It's also the subject of the book I'm reviewing today, and you might be wondering why I haven't mentioned much about it yet.

That's because my fascination with the book runs beyond the Rarebit strip itself, an inclination readily promoted by the tome.

Being the six-year labor of writer/editor/publisher Ulrich Merkl, a medieval illustration expert and art historian, The complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay is a sprawling thing indeed. Hell, its very title goes through three variations before you're even into the text. It's 464 pages (144 in color), 17" x 12" in hardcover landscape format, and limited to 1000 copies only. It costs $133.00, after US shipping, and your best bet is to order it direct.

As the title indicates, it does collect all 821 Rarebit episodes known to exist, although be aware that the actual complete collection is on a dvd that comes included. This effectively shifts the burden of comprehensiveness away from the book itself, leaving it free to act as an idiosyncratic critical compilation of McCay themes and motifs, albeit one that happens to feature hundreds of full Rarebit episodes at their original publication size, in good (if somewhat variable) quality reproductions.

Indeed, its first 137 pages -- nearly 30% of the total -- are devoted wholly to analytic and explanatory material, much of it the result of Merkl's own study. He's very much inclined toward getting down the facts; unlike many other McCay compilations, this one presents a clean guide to exactly when and where the strips ran, and why they were running there. He also strives to detail McCay's career, highlighting all of his major creations (including the Bunion strip detailed up top; the final episode is included in its entirety), along with many of the bedeviling minor ones, all of them dressed in years of production, episode counts included. There's writings by McCay himself (including the essay I mentioned above), peeks at the inspirations behind the strip, comparisons to other works, and many large illustrations.

Even moving into the strips themselves, the mania for information continues. Everything is numbered, cross-referenced, and double-checked against prior strips. Constantly, images from other sources (comics, prose, film, etc.) are provided to compare with the Rarebit episodes, especially Little Nemo in Slumberland, which Merkl frequently posits as a design-heavy recipient of Rarebit ideas, devoid of the encyclopedic social concern of McCay's forays into adult dreams.

But Merkl doesn't just pay homage to an encyclopedia - he very nearly creates a complimentary one. Long stretches of those opening 137 pages are spent laying out McCay's favorite recurring motifs, and explicating on how they might relate to his life and his times. The book's design and production, by Andrea & Khaled Taha (collectively: Beduinzelt), blows countless panels and details up to giant size and garishly highlights important bits in yellow or red as Merkl's text cooly catalogs instances of, say, small men contrasting against large women, and wonders aloud as to the possible origins of such in McCay's marriage.

The approach as a whole can be exhausting, and may even prove distracting as to one's reading of the comics themselves. Certainly I felt a bit relieved when the spot color work stopped with the main presentation of the strips. Merkl's insistence on bringing up seemingly every possible thing McCay's work might have inspired across the whole of 20th century culture does get mildly silly, although some of it can be oddly persuasive. I do wish someone had cooked up a way to free the dvd from its case without ripping the back endpaper.

And yet, I do appreciate the character of the book, its one-man-show mania for achievement. Merkl does use other contributers -- Dr. Jeremy Taylor offers a long, fitfully interesting piece on the 'archetypal symbolic aspects' of the work, while Alfredo Castelli presents both a short critical essay on McCay's approach and a fascinating visual tour of prior and subsequent dream-focused comics from around the world -- but the work mainly beams with his own enthusiasm, however odd as it might get at times. Granted, many large books of comics come from small sources, like the Sunday Press Books line of deluxe reprints, but this one forgoes presentational distance for a paradoxically eccentric accounting that zips over, above, around, and sometimes through the work of its devotion.

I might have felt differently without that dvd - some might yet consider Merkl's work intrusive, and wish they'd just gotten all the cartoons in printed form. I enjoyed the book very much for what it truly behaves as: not a simple collection (that's the disc, although there's a big ol' Word document on there too), but a massively detailed person-to-person tour of one man's collection, with all the comments and asides one might expect from such an immersed host while showing off so many works in such fine form. And mark my words, with the cartoons themselves, Merkl does get the presentational basics down just right.

It's not just a major contribution to the availability of McCay's output to interested (if spendy) readers, but a work of gleeful, damn-the-torpedoes-this-is-my-book scholarship. Not all of it's compelling, but its many details have a way of sticking in your head, and you may find its side roads as intriguing as the main path. I can't just say 'give it a shot' at its price, but I do think McCay die-hards will find much to like.


To Have and Have Not

Golgo 13 Vol. 12 (of 13): Shadow of Death

You might have gotten word by now that this year will see the debut of a Golgo 13 television anime series, although there's few details out beyond the fact that the project's actually happening. That'll be enough to stoke anticipation though, since even a modest endeavor of the sort will nonetheless constitute the most extensive adaptation of the material to a filmic art - the current total stands at two live-action films (Golgo 13, 1973 & Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, 1977), one anime film (Golgo 13, aka: The Professional: Golgo 13, 1983), and one episode of an anime OVA (Golgo 13: Queen Bee, 1998). Unless you count those comics on video.

It can seem odd that there hasn't been more, considering the enduring popularity of the character and the seeming ease with which the concept might fit into a one-off or ongoing project. But a hint might be found in creator Takao Saito's own displeasure with filmic adaptation:

"Whenever there's talk about making a movie, I always oppose it. Because if my concept can be done in a movie, then there's no need to draw it as a gekiga. Gekiga and movies express things in a completely different way. Gekiga are not fit for movies."

That's from his interview in the back of Vol. 11 of this English-language series. It's not a common attitude to run across.

But then, it's not common to see a direct heir to the gekiga tradition still kicking and shouting today, after what will very soon be 40 years of uninterrupted publication. Perhaps the anniversary prompted Saito and company to look around at the very faithful recent adaptations of Osamu Tezuka's works, and opt to finally give it a shot. I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect these television episodes will be close translations of manga stories, as I believe was the case with the 2004-06 Black Jack television anime. Yet, with roughly 500 manga stories published and no end in sight, there will still be an element of choice at play. If this new anime indeed goes the route of direct adaptation, it will be something to see which stories make the cut.

For example, the current VIZ-published North American run of the manga, which is compiled, edited and adapted to English by Carl Horn, has leaned heavily on tales steeped in factual, political detail specific to the times in which the stories were created; I doubt many of those will make the cut to anime, if only because a continuing television series (as opposed to a winking survey of a long manga series) would otherwise have to confront the fact that its lead character is somehow not in his 60s as of the present day. It would be sort of interesting if Duke Togo aged over the course of the series, actually, but I think everyone involved would find it much easier to set the show in a specific time period, or (better yet!) just do away with historical specifics entirely.

But even that leaves a ton of wiggle room. If I've learned anything from reading thousands of pages of this comic, it's that a lot of different tones can come through, and not all of them will be conductive to anime airing.

This particular installment of the current VIZ run, released just the other week, illustrates the conflict. I very, very much doubt that the upcoming anime will see anything like the book's second story, The Dark-Skinned Sniper (Story #83, April 1974), if only for the sake of market sense. The plot concerns Duke's hiring by a desperate Vietnam veteran for the purposes of wreaking havoc on a powerful Mississippi politico, who ruined the man's POW buddy over signing some anti-war documents at the behest of the Vietcong and -- even worse! -- commiserating with a black man.

The target happens to be holed up in the most racist town in all the United States of America, so Duke opts to fall in with ineffectual local minority radicals while catching rays and popping Methoxsalen (of Black Like Me fame). Meanwhile, the police run around barking racial slurs, tossing black informants down flights of stars, shooting an innocent Japanese auto rep to death and covering up the murder, and generally being racist boobs. An important plot moment centers around Golgo 13 showing everyone his penis, and the mercenary nature of Our Hero is affirmed in that he leaves the racist structures and legal inequities of the area in place as he leaves.

This is just the sort of story I think can only come from a popular culture unconcerned with international reaction. Oh, Saito and his writers are willing to study the situation, sure. They always are. But there's also a distinct air of Visit Exotic America about the story, one that glamorizes its purported danger to non-whites in certain parts of the US - look at that poor Japanese soul, shot to death without a second thought! The Japanese reader is invited to live through Golgo 13, bedding a black woman and 'becoming' black for a while -- and even showing those tragically impotent black radicals how it’s done while remaining stoic, man! -- all while (kinda) standing for justice without having to fuss over the details of living in the area.

It makes sense, for a bit of Japanese escapism steeped in a comics solitude. Could Saito Pro have thought very much about Americans reading this stuff in 1974? That's unlikely. Today, what with the dates carefully positioned at the ends of the stories, and the backmatter happily logging all of the money Golgo 13 must have made over his 40 years of jobs, fully aware of the character's almost absurdly long life, we can read this story as a grabby selection from a long manga history.

But the anime will be beholden to the present, and it will exist in a time of no solitude at all. The Japanese anime industry has become increasingly reliant on foreign licensing fees and the like for sustenance, with attention paid to action-heavy co-productions with US entities, like The Animatrix, Afro Samurai, Highlander: The Search of Vengeance, and the upcoming Batman: The Dark Knight. This isn't to say that ideas critical of the US wouldn't be considered -- you'll hardly find a more anti-US anime plot than that of the semi-recent Queen Bee -- but I suspect as touchy a subject as race in America, particularly when tackled in as indelicate a manner as Golgo 13 dressed in sophisticated blackface to shoot da baddies, would be quickly deleted from consideration. There is history in presentation, but there is immediacy in adaptation.

No, I think broader, more political stories will be considered (again, if direct adaptation turns out to be the way), material like this volume's Shadow of Death (Story #105, March 1976). It's a pretty arty piece for a Golgo 13 exploit, from the early pages of a CIA bigshot's head kept constantly obscured by word balloons or put just off panel to as to emphasize his powerful distance (oooh, just like Chris Ware does!), to the climactic philosophical conversation held between Duke and a KGB doppelgänger he unwittingly follows to a chemical weapons facility in Palau, a place with US/Japanese history. As the two walk, they find bones of Japanese soldiers lining a once-sealed cave, and discuss the nature of their jobs; while the KGB man is fascinated by death, Duke's heart is only set on accomplishment, whatever the result.

It's a familiar approach -- confronting your lead character with a mirror so as to draw out his traits -- and it mixes well with Saito's uniquely positioned, amoral character. It also clings to the political character of the story, casting its critique of US treaty-breaking dirty work as the catalyst for a showdown between the ideologies of killers, the passion and the dispassion. It's this sense of abstraction that lets the content land quietly; it would be prime material for adaptation even without its copious mood or ready-made suspense. Expect more of that on your screen in the months to come.



Whatever Happened to the New Flesh?

*OMG Let's Edit Over and Over Dept: Tom Spurgeon is back online, but it seems he took down an interview with Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics that was up there when I first posted this morning, probably so he doesn't murder us all with his backlog of fine content. You'll have to take my word for it that the chat let loose some good news: Olivier Schrauwen, of the excellent My Boy, will have a new 15-page story in MOME Vol. 12. Oh wait, now it's up again.

Granted, Vol. 10 isn't even out yet, but there's no sense in dawdling with the anticipation...

*I watched a movie the other night: that friendly old favorite Videodrome. Which I'm now going to spoil, since it's been a quarter of a century and all.

One of writer/director David Cronenberg's signature works, it's your garden-variety tale of a thrill-seeking television executive who grows a transmogrification vagina in his chest after watching an underground snuff broadcast developed by a media theorist as a means of prompting the next evolution of humankind but co-opted by the military-industrial complex as a honeypot with which to convert moral undesirables into programmable mutant assassins which nevertheless conquer death itself to live as post-human beings of pure media.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, 'they' being Cronenberg himself - just as the austere interplay of skin and ink in Eastern Promises has fully replaced that guy striking Dragonball Z poses and peeling his face off at the end of Scanners, so has the low-key viewer complicity tweaking of A History of Violence supplanted the full-bore, no-prisoners assault on metaphor that was the director's 1983 opus. I'd forgotten how goofy Cronenberg could get in those early works. Like, 'James Woods in a torture chamber whipping a television set' goofy. On the other hand, the final confrontation at the eyeglasses trade show is right up there among my favorite Cronenberg scenes, and it's no less outrageous.

If anything really jarred me, it was the distinctly parodic tone to some of the early, 'normal' scenes, such as a talk show roundtable on violence in the media in which Woods and co-star Debbie Harry wind up flirting over the Freudian implications of Harry's red dress while another guest appears only via a television set propped up on stage because he's far more real as a broadcast anyway. It goes without saying there's no relevance at all to such a theme in an environment where people 'communicate' by posting monologues-as-essays into the ether from behind adopted fantasy names that come to replace their birth names in primacy among select societies. Every time someone calls me "Jog" to my face I feel a vagina growing in my belly as well. A happy one. Did I mention the part where James Woods inserts a handgun into his tummy? Such is the subtle power of this film.

Parts of the movie do get a bit creepy. There's a total aestheticization of self-harm going on, from 'cutting' to suicide, and Cronenberg doesn't even try to couch it in terms of masochism or anything. But then, that's part of the film's provocation, I suppose - the New Flesh will render notions of 'harm' obsolete, and possibly erase the concept of human morality from the lexicon, and that's suggested to be a really good thing. But there's always terror surrounding the transformation; if Cronenberg's continued fascination is with mutation, the anxiety of the Self and the individual's relationship with society, he always hits on the pain in moving from one phase of being to the other, which I think is what keeps his films humming with human concern, and maybe accounts for their continued popularity.

It's a sly film. It really flatters genre fans, placing their interests in fantastic and extreme content on the direct current to evolution, while making sure the real dastards are those who make real weapons to do real harm to others, outside of the movies - note the scene in which Woods' magical stomach transforms an evil assassination briefing videocassette into a hand grenade, literally fused to a villain's hand. And if that type of visual pun isn't enough, just try and count all of the nods toward viewing on display: eyeglasses, doors, mirrors, cameras, screens, everything. The film's themes surely work better when you see it on your own television, and accept Cronenberg's invitation to watch along with Woods and grow into something new by shooting yourself in the head like they do on tv, if you're not too disgusted.

Oh, unless the whole movie is really about a dying madman of excess conjuring the world’s most elaborate rationale for his terrible taste in entertainment; that ambiguity is left open, and (even better!) it doesn't feel like much of a cheat. It's just more worry over the next step, freezing the uncertainty over the New Flesh into our very Old Flesh bodies. I may be more real to you right now than I would be in person, but I scratch my ass all the same.

I watched the Criterion dvd, so there's lots of extras too. I always like seeing how odd films get marketed, and the Videodrome team seemed to have split their chances between a typical horror-type trailer and a Blondie exploitation fan-favorite 'New Wave' trailer, powered by the mighty Commodore 64. The US posters had a quote from Andy Warhol comparing the film to A Clockwork Orange, which seems both really right and really wrong. My favorite was a UK newspaper spot that played the old dueling reviews game, urging viewers to make up their own minds. Except, all the 'bad' quotes were of the "BARBARIC ATROCITY UNLIKE ANYTHING I'VE SEEN" style, which the ad people must have known was as good as a rave for the likely audience...


Shorter Than Expected

*Not that I'm upset.


This site was dominated by -

Best of 2007 Adventure Parade

While another site was hit by -

column #15 (concerning the lessons learned by Sunday Press' recent Little Sammy Sneeze: The Complete Color Sunday Comics 1904-1905)

Legion of Super-Heroes #37 & The Punisher MAX #53

Batman #672

And that site was The Savage Critics. And that car held the boy's own parents!!

*New stuff out on Friday again in the US. Not too much that catches my eye; this may be the lightest week I've seen in the better part of a year (er, last year). I do notice there's a ton of manga coming. Or maybe it just seems like a ton since there's not a lot else? I've heard a few nice things about Kazune Kawahara's High School Debut, but shōjo romance is really not my thing...


Gravel #0: Warren Ellis, however, has a decent week coming. Marvel's got a new issue of his Thunderbolts, plus the debut of Ultimate Human, a four-issue Ultimate Hulk/Iron Man miniseries he's doing with Cary Nord, and Avatar has issue #4 of the ongoing Doktor Sleepless. And then there's this ongoing series for William Gravel, a 'combat magician' character Ellis has been writing for nearly a decade across various short series under the Strange Kiss or Strange Killings banner. It's also been a long collaboration, since Avatar mainstay Mike Wolfer has been aiding in the writing while providing the art. Gravel, however, sees Wolfer primarily tackling the writing (from detailed Ellis treatments) while Ellis' Crécy cohort Raulo Caceres provides the art. As with Ellis' Black Summer, this #0 issue actually appears to be the proper first issue, only shorter (16 pages) and cheaper ($1.99) for promotional purposes. Preview sprinkled around here.

Lucha Libre #3: More good-looking stuff sprung from the brow of Métal Hurlant. Now I just need to track down a copy of issue #2...

The Black Diamond #6 (of 6): Concluding the AiT/Planet Lar miniseries. I'd like to see where this goes.

Omega: The Unknown #4 (of 10): Always worth a look.

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #5 (of 5): Like clockwork, this Hellboy universe series wraps up just as another one, the new B.P.R.D. (a flashback side-story, with art by Paul Azaceta), preps to begin next week. This wasn't exactly the richest of Mike Mignola stories, but it's been a diverting tour of pulp fiction tropes, and last issue saw some particularly striking use of Dave Stewart's colors on Jason Armstrong's lines. February will bring the next 'character' miniseries, Abe Sapien: The Drowning (art by Jason Shawn Alexander), while Richard Corben and Duncan Fegredo prep their returns to the core series later in 2008.

JLA: Kid Amazo: Oh, this is that JLA Classified story that Peter Milligan wrote. I haven't heard many good things about it, but you know I'm always willing to give Milligan second (third, fifth) chances. Seems oddly inexpensive at $12.99, so it might be worth rolling the dice.