My Return From Wonderful Oz

*Vignette Dept: I had worn my best suit for the big meeting. Twentieth floor of the tall building in the center of the city, casting its mighty shadow down onto the hot dog and egg roll vendors. I had made extra certain that I’d brought enough pens to take plenty of notes, and that my cell phone was turned off so nobody would think I was a twit in the middle of the proceedings. My tie was red and properly wrapped, and I had not spilled my personal pan pizza on my lap at all on the way over. I was ready to make a splash.

The elevator fired me upward. Two minutes ahead of schedule, I bounded into the secretary’s office. I had arrived there even before her, so I looked casual as she walked in, and greeted me.

Hi there!”


She paused.

Has anyone ever told you that you resemble the… ‘Harry Potter’ character?”

I smiled, and told her that yes, I had heard that, and also that I shared my birthday with the character and his creator.

Ha ha, that’s something!” she said.

She went to shuffle her papers, and I turned and gazed out the city below me, through the office’s picture window.

*Aw, c’mon Frank Miller and Jim Lee, this is only neat when it happens in issue #1 and you don’t announce it beforehand via press release. And of course, that famous Shaolin Cowboy sequence was also longer and, er, by Geof Darrow. And it didn’t actually fold out, though I hope Burlyman is making big plans for the trade. Now that I think of it, Darrow would have been a fine artist for All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder - you can probably draw a line from Miller’s feverish scripting style in Hard Boiled (where I believe a quarter or so of the lead character’s dialogue was “Jiminy Crickets! I gotta reach th’ wife and kids!”) to this new project.

That press release is also notable for being rather vague - is the 6-page foldout going to be subtracted from the 22 pages of story in the issue? Or is the book going to be extra-sized? I wonder if a whole bunch of ads are going to appear on the opposite side of the foldout, if the former option is elected. Still, I do notice that the Dynamic Duo are apparently in the midst of parking the Batmobile, so there’s still hope that my dream of the two of them not getting out of the car until the last issue before the Neal Adams switchover may come true.

Crickets #1

As you know, this is Drawn and Quarterly’s latest pamphlet-format series, a solo showcase for Sammy Harkham, mastermind behind the deservedly beloved Kramers Ergot. ‘Winter’ appears on the cover above the issue number, suggesting a hopeful quarterly release pattern. Right up front (well, on the inside front cover), we’re informed that this particular issue is going to be a little unique - it’s devoted entirely to launching the title’s ongoing serial, Black Death, while subsequent issues will feature standalone stories to augment the presentation of additional chapters.

Also on the inside front cover we get a variety of self-portraits of the author, including visions of him as a werewolf, as a grinning skull, and as ‘buried’ (a squinting pair of eyes, natch) - this and the back page recommendation of Mario Bava’s 1963 filmic horror anthology Black Sabbath (not to be confused with Bava’s 1960 opus Black Sunday, which is very good) suggest an obvious genre influence saturating the outer parameters of the book, and the story fragment on display upon the pages in between seals the deal. It’s way too early to say anything about this story in an overarching sense with very much certainty, but Black Death is at least horror-flavored as it stands, if not straightforwardly a horror comic.

Composed essentially of two sequences, one set in daylight and one at night, this opening salvo introduces us to two strange characters - a mysterious and apparently unkillable man who needs to find a place called Liadi, and a Golem that happens to be sitting around in the forest and latches onto the fellow as a sort-of companion. The first vignette opens with the unstoppable (but far from impenetrable) mystery fellow, pant leg aflame and chest bared, being pursued by swarms of unfriendly arrows (which, amusingly, hardly ever seem to hit the ground), several of them already sticking out of his back, legs, and arms. What’s great about the sequence is how Harkham stages it, almost everything happening in a fixed-view longshot, the technique highly reminiscent of Chester Brown’s in-panel visuals in Louis Riel, though Harkham applies it to an all-out action scene, complete with mighty leaps and narrow escapes. One would expect a notion of detachment, perhaps even ironic distance from the genre trappings of the scenario, to rise from such a visual scheme.

But the results are still disarmingly effective; much of the credit has to go to the creator’s special way with character art - their eyes but simple circles, hands and feet pudgy blobs, yet every movement natural and recognizable human, Harkham’s characters are fine wordless actors thrashing through an airy world, and when Our Hero (?) leaps off a cliff and smacks his face off a tree branch on his way down, it’s a good laugh. That goes double for the wonderful bit of cartooning that introduces the Golem, a snake slithering out of a tree and down the creature’s unfeeling face and torso, apparently reviving him by stimulating his (unseen) forehead word engine. As he proceeds to chase a nearby chicken all around the forest, we get an immediate impression as to the archetypical gentle soul of the dumb, powerful thing. It never speaks a word, but we know what we need to know. Naturally the two meet, one prone to blackouts due to the arrow driven through his left eye, the other unable to say a thing. Both of them appear to accept their odd situation without much question - what else can one do?

In the second sequence, they have presumably become attached to one another (or maybe just one-to-the-other), and wind up attempting to procure food from a pair of traveling mortal folk, to a predictably disastrous result. Violence is always the first reaction to apparent monsters, and some ‘monsters’ just don’t know their own strength anyway. Viewed from a purely plot-evaluative standpoint, the whole issue is actually nothing whatsoever that hasn’t been covered by thousands of iconic scraps of spook media from the past - and yet, one only needs to read through the pregnant declarations and expertly-divvied beats of ‘silence’ that punctuate the conversations between Harkham’s traveling mortal folk to feel that they’re enjoying something individual. Incomplete, yes, and wearing its visual influence on its sleeve (Harkham's prior Poor Sailor, at least in its Kramers Ergot 4 incarnation, also sported plentiful Brown influence in its occasional isolation of panels in a sea of white page) but very much its own worthwhile thing.

I have to wonder if Harkham plans to really push the angle of 'comment on human affairs' that horror works so often seem to traffic in - surely it’d fit right into Harkham’s current body of work, the (arguably) deluded, striving characters-of-little-means in Poor Sailor and Somersaulting (from Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 3) maybe attaining a new, physical impediment in the form of Black Death's abnormal beings. Is Liadi something worth finding? And is there any hope of finding it? That's the intrigue in this story, and I was left eager to see where the author takes it in future installments - even if it's not a totally unique thing, it's original as a work in execution.