Pulp Fiction #2: The Man of Steel Turns 80!


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On April 18, 1938, National Publications presented Action Comics #1, showcasing typical comic book fare of the era like master magician Zatara, sports hero Pep Morgan, and adventurer Tex Thompson. And then there was the red-and-blue suited guy on the cover…

Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men… who can change the course of mighty rivers… bend steel in his bare hands… and so on and so forth! Eighty years ago tomorrow, Superman made his debut and changed the course of mighty comic book publishers forever. An immediate hit with youthful readers, Superman headlined his own comic a year later, spawned a slew of superhero imitators, became a super-merchandising machine, and conquered all media like no other before him!

Wayne Boring’s Superman

And to think he came from humble beginnings. No, not the planet Krypton, but from the fertile…

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Mini Kus! Round-Up : “Nausea,” “Collection,” “Master Song,” And “Resident Lover”


For fans of international “art comics,” there’s no more exciting package to receive in the mail than the latest four-pack of minis from Latvian publisher Kus! — you never know what a new batch from them will have to offer, but you can be certain that, one way or another, it’s going to be challenging, thought-provoking, idiosyncratic stuff, so solid is the Kus! track record. And so, with their latest quartet hot off the presses, then (printed, as always, in full and lavish color on top-quality paper stock and featuring heavy cardstock covers), now would pretty much be the perfect time to give ’em all the once-over, would it not? Why don’t we do just that —

Nausea by Abraham Diaz (Mini Kus! number 63) is a wild ride through the socio-economic gutters of Mexico City, infused with a hard-edged immediacy and vulgarity that the lazy might call “punk,” but is probably more accurately described as “nihilistic.” The narrative is linear enough after a fashion, but definitely scattershot, and the same can be said of the art, which certainly calls to mind the early-career works of Gary Panter and Lloyd Dangle, but with a decidedly more dangerous undercurrent. Diaz has been plumbing these sorts of depths for some time in woks like Suicida, and shows no signs of “mellowing out” when it comes to depicting the underside of the underside of the underside of his home city. A visceral gut-punch that’ll leave you reeling — and, frequently, laughing in spite of yourself.

Collection by Pedro Franz (Mini Kus! number 64) is an emotive series of images, with accompanying text, that sees the noted Brazilian cartoonist/fine artist filtering a series of melancholic reminiscences of various childhood injuries through the lens of another set of memories — those of the racks n’ stacks that once populated expat Mexican artist Ulises Carrion’s quasi-legendary Amsterdam books/art/comics shop Other Books and So. Of the four offerings under our metaphorical microscope today, this one is admittedly the most difficult to get a firm “handle” on, so personal is Franz’ vision and methodology, but it more than returns the investment of time you’re willing to put into it by revealing new depths not only of the work itself, but of your own reactions to it, with each successive re-reading. My best advice? Try feeling, rather than thinking, your way through this one and see if the at-first-glance oblique connective tissue holding it together becomes less so as you absorb not only the cartoonist’s offerings, but the intent behind them. This is a comic that may very well mean something entirely different to each reader.

Master Song by Francisco Sousa Lobo (Mini Kus! number 65) is a strictly-formatted (four panels per page) character study of a complex, no-doubt-emotionally-damaged young nanny in London who harbors anti-Semitic views and a deep passion for the risible novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, and if that sounds like a combination for internalized conflict of the most harrowing sort, well — it is. Emily, our protagonist, isn’t what one would call a sympathetic character by any stretch of the imagination, but Lobo does a masterful job of making you feel her emptiness and longing as she seeks fulfillment of her jumbled fantasy life by means of anonymous bar hook-ups that are, of course, doomed to disappoint. The simplicity of the cartooning and text in this comic stands in stark contrast to, while simultaneously drawing out, the depth of the painful self-examination Emily is constantly drifting into/out of, and the clinical dispassion with which she analyzes her own existence is at once disconcerting and, somehow, logical. A work of sparse and haunting beauty delineating a person’s near-complete sense of estrangement from their own life that raises a million probing questions, the most prominent for this reader/critic being — how does one process an alienation so deep-seated that one is even alienated from it? Sosa is a Portuguese talent that I admit to having been unfamiliar with previous to this, but I will be eagerly hunting down whatever works of his I can find in the very near future.

Resident Lover by Roman Muradov (Mini Kus! number 66) is one of those comics that almost manages to leave me at a loss for words — almost. I’ve read this through eight times now, and came away more impressed each time. Ostensibly a story about love that conspicuously never mentions love once, it’s actually something far more than that — a study of duality, symmetry, and identity (or lack thereof) that poses the same query a more youthful version of myself was floored by in the early-days Tears For Fears single Change, “Where does the end of me become the start of you?” Muradov’s cartooning is a mass of beautifully-balanced contradictions : rich yet austere, symbolic yet literal, mechanical yet organic, static yet fluid —- it’s no wonder that this Russian “import” now based in San Francicso has seen his work featured prominently in everything from The New Yorker to Vogue to GQ to The Paris Review. Visual poetry gets no more poignant and absorbing than this — prepare to spend hours poring over its mysteries and magnificence.

Once again, then, our friends at Kus! have outdone themselves with perhaps their strongest slate of new offerings yet, and the only thing better than buying each of them is buying them all together for the bargain price of $19 — with free shipping to the US! No need to hem and haw over this decision, get off my website now and get over to https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/29745014/mini-ku-63-64-65-66

 

“Is The Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman” : Here Comes Box Brown To Save The Day


Don’t look now, but it appears as though Box Brown is making a concerted play for the title of “Best Biographer In Comics” — and he’s doing it by telling the life story of a guy who held a title of his own, that of “World Intergender Wresting Champion.”

Yup, dadaist comedian Andy Kaufman is back under the media microscope in a big way, and it makes all the sense in the world that the cartoonist who chronicled the exploits of Andre The Giant and the history of Tetris in his previous volumes for First Second (who also publish his latest) would be the guy to do it. Kaufman’s never really left the spotlight entirely, of course — his tragically early death, combined with his singularly bizarre (and I mean that in the best possible way) career are more than enough to ensure that his legend will always carry on — but detailed looks at the man behind such memorable characters are Latka Gravas and Tony Clifton have been few and far between. Academy Award-winning director Milos Forman gave it his best shot with Man On The Moon nearly twenty years ago (the title being taken from R.E.M.’s song about Andy — which also never seems to go away completely), but despite a stellar starring turn from Jim Carrey, who absolutely inhabited the role (or should that be roles?) of Kaufman, I think most would agree that the film didn’t quite manage to pierce the veil of its own subject. And so now it falls to Brown to humanize this most alien of talents, and with his graphic novel Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, he (spoiler alert) manages to do it — at least to a greater degree than has been done in the past.

The fleshing-out of important members of “Team Kaufman” such as writing partner/Tony Clifton fill-in Bob Zmuda, girlfriend Lynne Margulies, and manager George Shapiro go some way toward answering the books’ titular question for us, as does a more-than-cursory examination of the future comic’s early years and of his relationship with his family throughout his life. Brown being Brown, though, you pretty much know going in that one particular aspect of Kaufman’s career is going to get the most attention — his turn as a pro wrestling bad guy.

Cue some rather curious side-bars — such as Brown devoting something like 15 pages to a re-telling of the career of Kaufman’s main “nemesis,” Jerry “The King” Lawler , as well as a relating of the history and minutiae of Memphis regional wrestling in general — that very nearly run the book off the rails, and yet things come back together more or less just in time to prevent your interest from waning, even if it is rather curious, to say the least, that Brown spends more time on the Kaufman/Fred Blassie one-off video Breakfast With Blassie than he does on Kaufman’s entire five-year stint on Taxi. Go Figure.

Still, for every lapse in judgment like that, there’s at least one strong choice that Brown makes to ensure that your faith in his storytelling abilities never wanes. He makes it clear, for instance, that yes, Kaufman’s entire “thing” was an act (or, if you prefer, a series of acts), and shows enough of the comedian away/apart from his various ingeniously-constructed personas so that readers finally have a fairly solid handle on where Andy ends and, say, the “foreign guy,” or the misogynist wrestler, begins. This takes a deft touch, to be sure, but the disarmingly straight-forward script is aided in no small part by Brown’s smartly minimalist cartooning that draws special attention to differences in body language, facial expression, etc. that let you know when various “switches” are “flipped.” No one will ever accuse Brown of having a hugely varied repertoire as an illustrator, but his rote and basic forms and figures carry a degree of nuance that their ostensible “simplicity” wouldn’t necessarily be assumed to be capable of conveying. There’s also something of the frank and absurd to Brown’s style that fits this material perfectly — as if something utterly unique unto itself is being communicated in a visual language we can all understand.

A style as no-frills as Brown’s is also highly adaptable, and so whether Kaufman is portraying Elvis, Latka, Tony Clifton, or Lawler’s foil in the ring, the panels transition into each role nearly as seamlessly as did the comic himself. At the end of the day, though, Box Brown’s greatest triumph with Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman lies in the fact that, perhaps for the first time (and thanks, no doubt, to the assistance and participation he was able to obtain from the late performer’s family, particularly his brother, Michael), he finds a way to show Kaufman  — at every phase of his life and career, from his earliest years to his ascension of showbiz’s heights to his painful final days — as his most complex and compelling character of all : himself.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/11/2018 – 02/17/2018


This has been an eventful week full of tragedy (yet another school shooting), triumph (Black Panther), and everything in between, has it not? And somewhere in between the grieving and the glory, there was even time for comics, so let’s talk about those —

Brian Canini remains as busy as always pursuing his various and sundry idiosyncratic cartooning visions, and recently found time to send me issues three and four of his superb ongoing mini-comics series Plastic People, which so far bears all the hallmarks of being his best work yet. Part dystopian sci-fi, part character study, and as of now — a murder mystery to boot? Clearly Canini’s spinning a lot of plates with this title, but so far pulling it all off perfectly. I don’t know how lengthy a narrative he’s pursuing here, but from all appearances he’s playing a “long game,” and after spending the first couple eight-page installments on “world-building,” the main thrust of his story is starting to come into view. The scene of the discovery of the dead body that comes to take center stage is downright Lynchian in its execution, what with one seemingly important event dovetailing into another, entirely unexpected and more consequential one, and the dialogue at the morgue that follows it a joy to read, equal parts procedural and personal. His art on these issues is equally strong, minimalist angularity that presents a foreign-yet-familiar future Los Angeles with a kind of “street-level” uncomplicated dynamism. About the only thing you could wish for from this comic that you don’t get is more pages, so absorbing and immersive is the tale being told here, but if you buy all four (and at just $1.99 each, why wouldn’t you?) and read them in one sitting, there’s that problem solved. I’m hoping he’s able to stick with a fairly regular production schedule on this one — I know, I know, easier said than done when you’re balancing your small-press publishing with a “real life” — because I’m pretty well hooked here and would love to be able to count on a predictable dose to mainline into my eyeballs. I know I’ve talked this series up in the past, but goddamnit, I’m going to continue to do so until you’re sick of hearing me talk about it. Do not pass this one up.

Also arriving in my package from Canini was the second issue of his full-color mini Blirps, another series of one-pagers starring his anxiety-riddled robot (I think, at any rate) monsters. These are always worth a chuckle and the concept seems like one that might have some commercial “legs” to it, as the set-up for each gag strip is simple yet infinitely applicable to any number of socially-awkward situations. I get a kick out of the deadpan humor here and could see this being a fairly successful Adult Swim-style animated short series — or, hell, maybe even being used as the premise for a line of greeting cards. You never know — but, again, I do know that this is well worth your two bucks and, as with Plastic People, is available from Drunken Cat Comics at http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

Rachel Scheer is a full-time schoolteacher/part-time cartoonist based out of Seattle, Washington whose work I confess to being unfamiliar with until an envelope from her containing a couple of her mini-comics arrived in my mailbox the other day. Her drawing style is simple, but expressive, and lends itself equally well to scenes of fluid motion or static, single-panel illustration, and in Cats Of The White House we’re treated to plenty of the latter as she and writing collaborator Danny Noonan provide a series of brief-but-fun bios of some of the felines who have shared 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. along with their more-well-known human servan — sorry, “owners.” This is great little book for kids, cat-lovers, or both, and you may even pick up a tidbit or two of useless trivia along the way. Hell, I never even knew George W. Bush had a cat — or maybe I did, and I was just trying to forget it along with everything else about his presidency? Plenty of story and art on offer here to make it $3.00 smartly-spent.

The Scheer comic that really knocked my socks off, though, was The Hanukkah Fire, 1992, a family history wherein she traces the circuitous path her forebears took from Europe, though the little-known Jewish ghettos of Kobe, Japan and Shanghai, China, and all the way to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Bronx. Her use of old family home videos as a framing device is a simple-but-ingenious springboard for this deeply personal tale that touches on topics ranging from religious/cultural identity (or lack thereof) to the transition into adulthood and an examination of why we keep certain family traditions going while letting others fall by the wayside. Quietly poignant, highly literate cartooning delivered in a disarmingly simplistic style that manages to convey an awful lot of emotion with a minimal amount of fuss and muss, this is one of those comics that I’ll be re-reading again and again over the years. It’s available (along with Cats Of The White House and Scheer’s other self-published comics, which I intend to check out) for $4.00 from the cartoonist’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/RachelComics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

And I think that’ll about do it for this week, but next week’s Reading Round-Up is already pretty well set in stone given that the newest four-pack of minis from our Latvian friends at Kus! Comics just showed up in the mail today, so I’ll hope to see you back here in seven days for a look at what promises to be another superb quartet of books from eastern Europe’s finest publisher.

It’s Love, Part 4


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today is the day that we all celebrate a wonderful thing called love!

Valentine’s Day is not easy for everyone.

As we all know from Mr. Shakespeare, the course of true love never did run smooth.

Are you feeling hopeless this Valentine’s Day?  Maybe these vintage romantic comic book covers will help!

Don’t worry.  Love always wins.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” (February 1986, written by Alan Moore)


The Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House stands in San Jose, California.  The home of Sarah Winchester, construction began on the house in 1883 and continued nonstop until Sarah’s death in 1922.  The result was a gigantic and maze-like mansion that was built without any master building plan.

Because Sarah was the widow of the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arm Company, it was rumored that her mansion was haunted with the ghosts of all the people who had been killed by a Winchester rifle and that, because new ghosts were always arriving, Sarah had no choice but to keep adding extras rooms to the house.  Those legends served as the inspiration behind the new horror film, Winchester.

However, Winchester is not the first time that the supposedly haunted mansion appeared in popular culture.  In the 45th issue of Swamp Thing, Alan Moore took readers on a trip to the Winchester Mystery House.

Swamp Thing #45 was a part of the American Gothic storyline.  For 13 issues, John Constantine led Swamp Thing across America so that he could witness and sometimes battle modern versions of classic monsters.  In the larger DC mythology, the events in American Gothic were due to the first Crisis on Infinite Earths.  (While the rest of the DC Universe was worrying about whether they would live on Earth-1 or Earth-2, a South American cult was planning on using the crisis as their opportunity to take over the supernatural dimension.)  In reality, American Gothic was an excuse for Swamp Thing’s writer, Alan Moore, to indulge his interest in both the occult and contemporary affairs.  The Winchester Mystery House and its connection to gun violence was a natural subject for Moore to take on.

Entitled “Ghost Dance,” the story begins with two couples, David and Linda and Rod and Judy, arriving at the long abandoned Cambridge House.  While David fills everyone in on the history of the mansion and the legends about the ghosts, Rod openly flirts with Linda and makes jokes about The Shining.  Though the name may have been changed, the Cambridge House is drawn to look exactly like the Winchester House.

It does not take long for the four of them to get separated and lost inside the mansion.  Rod starts to make love to a nude woman who he thinks is Judy until her wig falls off and he discovers that she is actually the ghost of Franny Mitchell, who was shot in the head by a scorned lover.  Rod flees and, after opening a door that would have led to a room that was never actually built, he falls to his death.  Judy dies when a herd of bison, all killed by a Cambridge Repeater Rifle, burst out of a closet and trample over her.  After seeing two long-dead gunfighters reenacting their final gun battle, Linda faints while surrounded by the blind-folded spirits of people who were executed by shooting squads.  As for David, he goes mad as he watches the spirits of everything ever killed by a rifle march through the house.  It’s all the ghostly rabbits that finally cause him to snap.

Towards the end of the issue, Swamp Thing finally does show up, long enough to save both David and Linda and to send the spirits back into the chimneys of the Cambridge House.  After Swamp Thing leaves with John Constantine, Linda finally regains consciousness and tells David that she wishes he had died instead of Rod.

Sometime later, David visits a gun shop and buys a Cambridge Repeater of his own.  Feeling less alone now that he has a gun in his hands, David says he is going back home to see Linda and it is inferred that at least one more ghost will soon be moving into the Cambridge House.

Though controversial when it was first released, “Ghost Dance” is one of the high points of Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.  At the time, several readers felt that the issue was too blatantly anti-gun and there were the usual complaints about the story’s violence and sexual content.  Moore was one of the pioneers of the idea that comic books, even ones that featured “super heroes” (or swamp things), could deal with real issues and mature themes and that’s what he did with this story.  Whether you agreed with his opinions or not, the unapologetic approach that Moore took in Swamp Thing was always far more interesting than the safe, middle-of-the-road approach taken by most of the other mainstream comics of the era.

Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 (February, 1986)

  • Writer: Alan Moore
  • Letterer: John Costanza
  • Inker: Alfredo Alcala
  • Penciler: Stan Woch
  • Colorist: Tatjana Wood
  • Cover: Steve Bissette and John Totleben
  • Editor: Karen Berger

Halloween Havoc! Extra: The Mind-Warping World of EC Comics!


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William M. Gaines’ graphic and gruesome line of horror, crime, and science fiction comics helped turn America’s youth into mouth-foaming, homicidal Juvenile Delinquents until they met with a horror of another kind – Dr. Fredric Wertham and the U.S. Congress! These beasts effectively destroyed EC through censorship and propaganda, ending one of graphic arts’ most creative eras. But EC still lives in the hearts and minds of horror fans everywhere, so here’s gallery of ten spine-chilling covers from the Golden Age of EC Comics! Spa Fon!

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