Sunday, May 28, 2006

In the News: "Comic Wars"

Almost missed this one: Last Monday's Hartford Courant ran an article entitled "Comic Wars: Cartoonists Take Potshots at Each Other, But it's All in Fun" (22 May 2006). The article discusses the habit some cartoonists have of mentioning or featuring other cartoonists in their work; in this case, the catalysts were Stephan Pastis ("Pearls Before Swine"), Darby Conley ("Get Fuzzy"), and Rick Stromski ("Soup to Nuts").

The author of the article, Bill Weir, has written a number of comics-related articles for the Courant, and I've been honored to be quoted in a couple of them. This time he e-mailed me about the topic, and I mentioned a few other such cross-over "feuds." Perhaps that's where Bill got the idea to speak with Bill Griffith ("Zippy the Pinhead") concerning Griffith's mutual love-fest with Bil & Jeff Keane's "The Family Circus." In any event, in the illo above I've highighted one instance where the Keanes have slipped a Zippy cameo into (in Weir's wonderful words) their "preternaturally wholesome world." (Hey, Zippy and circuses are a perfect fit - why'd I never think of that before?)

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Lynda Barry = Cruddy-est Funk Queen of the Universe, Ever

Whenever I have a pressing "To-Do List," I always seem to gravitate towards #2 on that list, not #1 - no matter how much I want to do #1.

#2 on my list right now - the thing the last few posts here have covered - is the revamping of But I do have another, more pressing issue. (OK, maybe I've got more than one "more pressing" issue at present, but I do what I can.)

But #1 - ahhhh, #1. For the Comic Art & Comics area of next week's annual meeting of the Popular Culture Association, I proposed an essay entitled "'Whenever Possible, Be the Unexpected': Approaches to Lynda Barry's Cruddy". If you haven't read Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel, but you love poetically written, well-characterized, unflichingly dark but absolutely hilarious fiction - and you have a strong stomach - Cruddy is your book, hands down.

Check out Cruddy's entry - you can read the first chapter or two there. Then read chapters four and five at the Simon & Schuster website. That'll give you a small taste of what's to come. (You don't even meet the cream of the character crop, the delightfully well-spoken "Suzy Homemaker," until about 2/3 of the way in.)

What's that? You don't know about the sublime cartooning genius of Lynda Barry? The creator of the #1 Poet, Fred Milton: Beat Poodle? Well, what are you waiting for?

OK, this post served its purpose; now I'm ready to get back to work on that essay!

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cartoonists Cover the Classics

An advertisement in today's New York Times Book Review alerted me to this series of "Deluxe Edition" Penguin Classics, featuring covers by a stellar line-up of cartoonists:
I'd already heard about the Candide, but the others were news to me. These are books which should grace everyone's shelves anyway; and these covers add gorgeous, graphic icing on some top-choice literary cakes. Time to update those wish lists!

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Saturday: BTPBHITP Activism

As reported Thursday by Editor & Publisher, Saturday, April 1 sees a very special event: "We Come to Praise Bush, Not to Ridicule Him", a service of The Center for American Blogress.

A group of patriots calling themselves the "BTPBHITP Committee" - the acronym stands for "Back the President Because He Is the President" - are posting editorial cartoons in support of President George W. Bush, as a counter-measure to the bad press he usually receives from "old media." View the tributes here.

The event was mindermasted - er, masterminded - by cartoonist and hostess-with-the-mostest Elena Steier. America needs more patriots like you, Elena!

The GWB Icon above appears by the courtesy of Elena Steier, as well as, presumably, via its own divine will.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Stars, Crosses & Stripes"

The "Gene" described at left is not me. I don't have that kind of fortitude; I've begged and sworn plenty, for far less cause.

That image is only the tiniest portion of a "gallery comic" entitled "Stars, Crosses, and Stripes" by cartoonist and teacher (not to mention friend) Christian Hill, prime mover behind Kameleo Comics. You can view the entirety of the piece here, and read a review of it, by Derik A Badman, at Comic Book Galaxy.

"Stars, Crosses, and Stripes" is a verbal and visual meditation on war, sacrifice, family, pride, and more, providing much food for thought - especially in these times. I would describe its design as "extremely and appropriately clever," but clever seems too trivializing a word in this context. "Stars..." proves a powerful reminder that "Comics" and "The Funnies" are not synonyms.

Way to put that theory into practice, Christian - thanks.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Congratulations, John Canemaker!

John Canemaker (author of the magisterial Winsor McCay: His Life and Art), along with co-producer Peggy Stern, just accepted an Academy Award for his animated short film, "The Moon and the Sun: An Imagined Conversation". Congratulations!

Be sure to check out, where you can learn much more about this most important voice in animation scholarship, including the publication information on his staggering output of books and articles.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Yoe! Here's the Love!

What better day to start a blog called "Arf Lovers" than Valentine's Day?

That Craig Yoe, he's no love-struck fool; he's in love with comics for the long haul, as his series of "art+comics" books, Arf, makes abundantly clear. Arf Lovers promises to pass along new comics curiosities every day; and, as Craig himself is one of the most curious folks I know, I'm sure we won't be disappointed.

Arf Lovers previews both the first book in the Arf series, Modern Arf (index at and the newest entry, Arf Museum; from the on-line preview, it looks like we need this one on our shelves here right-quick. With treats like never-before seen Yellow Kid paintings; a true-life comics story by Mort Walker concerning Roy Lichtenstein; Art Young in Hell; and the debut of Craig's new character, Mr. Smart-Ass, Arf Museum is bound to be another kornucopia of kwality.

Craig might not yet have covered Victorian Valentines in Arf, but it's probably only a matter of time. Given Arf Museum's section on "gorillas and damsels in distress," I'm sure he'll be interested in just whose job it was to "lead apes in Hell"...

Above: Portrait of Craig Yoe by the late Kelly Freas.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Past Shame Rises from the Grave, Zombie-Like, to Taunt Me Again

Ah, the World-Wide Internets: Where information never dies, it just gets a new URL.

I should have known that no matter how many times I glowingly name-check Tom Spurgeon and his essential Comics Reporter blog, it would only be a matter of time before he got around to re-posting his scathing review of the only mini-comic I ever produced. He's been adding lots of his old reviews to CR, but I'd hoped that this one (which he wrote for an on-line column entitled "You Send It, We'll Review It") was obscure enough to escape his notice; ha ha on me. Herewith, a few select quotations from his review of my very own Gene Gene's Comics Machine #1 [Aug. 1997]:
This is a good comic of the type by people who have no business doing comics...

The nostalgia doesn't really go beyond tedious recollection...

Kannenberg fails on all sort of craft levels he doesn't even pretend to engage...
And that's not including this tidbit, which I was gonna use on the cover of GGCM #2 (fortunately never produced): [S]adly, he's no cartoonist.

I kid, I kid: To be fair, the review's a bit more balanced than the above quotes (all genuine!) might suggest; and to be honest, Tom's critiques are really pretty much dead on the mark. I did the comics in that mini [A] to see what it was like to make comics, and [B] mostly as contributions to a certain Wombat-themed zine (mentioned in Roger Sabin and Teal Triggs' essential Below Critical Radar: Fanzines and Alternative Comics From 1976 to Now).

Even though it didn't lead to fame or fortune, or even to talent, making GGCM increased my interest in - and enthusiasm for - the comics form. I'd thought a lot about comics as a reader; but stepping behind the curtain for the first time, I got to think about comics as a creator, like all those dozens (at least) of decisions that need to be made per panel, or what story "beats" are most important to illustrate, or even how hard it is to draw somebody sitting in a chair. (The astute reader will note that there are no chairs in GGCM #1.)

So thanks, Tom, for reminding me about this little learning experience of mine. All's forgiven; in fact, everyone reading this should immediately purchase a book he co-wrote: Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book. And to any masochists out there: I recently found a small stash of Gene Gene's Comics Machine #1s, and they're still available at last millennium's cover price: one USAmerican dollar (Cheap!) or something in trade. Contact me, and I'll hook you up with the pain.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Black Ink Monday

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has declared today "Black Ink Monday":
Over the last 20 years, the number of cartoonists on the staff of daily newspapers nationwide has been cut in half. In the last month alone, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and a half-dozen other prominent papers), has forced out well-known and award-winning cartoonists at the LA Times and Baltimore Sun, eliminating their positions entirely. [...]
In an open letter to Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, AAEC President Clay Bennett recently wrote: "There are few journalists in a newsroom who can define the tone and identity of a publication like an editorial cartoonist does. By discarding those who make a newspaper unique, you rob it of its character. By robbing a newspaper of its character, you steal its spirit."

You can view 100 editorial cartoon protests at this page of the AAEC website.

Why should you care about this? Some might put it this way: "It's the First Ammendment, Stupid." Others might note that this "downsizing" trend is happening throughout America; as corporations continue their absorptions, mergers and monoplies, lining their CEOs' pockets by demandinge more work from fewer workers for less cash, the next position to be eliminated could be your own. Still others might take an historical approach, noting that editorial cartooning played an important role in the founding of this very country:

That, of course, is Benjamin Franklin's famous "Join, or Die" cartoon from the May 9, 1754 edition of Franklin's newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. It's considered the first editorial cartoon in what would eventually become the United States. By trampling on the editorial cartoon tradition, the Tribune Comany tramples on a fundamental piece of what makes America, America.

Here's a story about the recent acquisition of an original print of this cartoon by none other than Steve Geppi, President and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Comic Distributors. Insert your own joke about monopolization here...

Update: Curiously, there's nary a mention of Black Ink Monday in today's Houston Chronicle; after all the complaints I've heard in Houston about how "liberal" the Chronicle is, I was hoping to see some coverage. They didn't forget to include the Editorial Page's daily "Bible Verse," though. (Curiously, the Bible Verse seems to be just about the only portion of the paper not reproduced on its website. Hmmmm...)

Update Nummer Zwei: For more background on the reasons for Black Ink Monday - and to learn that editorial cartoonist Paul Revere understood the power of revision - check out this animated editorial cartoon by past AAEC President Milt Priggee. It takes a few minutes to watch/read, but it's worth it to get a sort of panoramic view of the current situation. And be sure also to read the enlightening essay "In Defense of Editorial Cartooning" by Chris Lamb (entry for December 9 at Daryl Cagle's blog). Thanks to the Ever-Amazing Elena Steier for telling Milt Priggee about the Blog Machine!

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Holiday Gift Suggestion...

Given that...

I have had a long interest in Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland," and

I grew up in Milwaukee, WI and read the Milwaukee Journal daily newspaper (nowadays the Journal Sentinel), and

The item pictured below is currently on offer at eBay

... I believe that my family and friends now know what to get me for Xmas.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ditko = Ditko

I first discovered cartoonist Steve Ditko's work in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man - or, more accurately, in Pocket Books' three-volume Spider-Man Classics series, published in the late 1970s. Technically, the first Ditko art I saw must have been in Origins of Marvel Comics- but the Pocket Spider-Mans gave me hundreds of pages of Ditko artwork, and I devoured them all, over and over again. Ross Andru was the current Spider-Man artist at the time, and I liked that work a lot; but the old books drawn (and often plotted) by Ditko were quirky, instantly recognizable, intensely felt: They were magic, and I couldn't get enough of them (or reprints of his early work on Doctor Strange). Fans of Ditko's Marvel-era work will be interested in the recent Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko volume, at right.

It wasn't until years later that I discovered Ditko's own, more personal work, on characters like Static, The Mocker, and - of course - Mr. A (you might still find copies of The Ditko Collection, with lots of Mr A., if you're lucky.) Ditko had become a student of Ayn Rand, and Mr. A. was the living embodiment of Rand's philosophy of "Objectivism": A is A. In Mr. A's world (and in Ditko's) there can be no moral grey areas; there is good, and there is evil, and there is nothing else. I think the icongraphy in the following image (from the Heritage Comics website) makes the stark argument quite clearly, itself:

While I find Ditko's personal work fascinating, I can't say that I could ever agree with it philosophically; I guess I'm too much of a grey-area kind of person. But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy Mr. A; it's clearly passionate, heart-felt work. How many commercial artists of any stripe are that willing to put their innermost beliefs down on the page, this starkly, with no apologies or hedging?

Thanks to a post by Dr. Chris R. Tame on the Ditko-Kirby email list, I was happy to learn about the following article:
"The Illustrated Rand", by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 6.1 (2004): 1-20. (Download a PDF version of the entire article here.)
The article, part one of two, catalogues Rand's cultural influence by listing some of the scores of academic journals, magazines, televsion shows, and more media which have quoted or mentioned Rand's work. Unfortunately, the bulk of the article is little more than a list. There's precious litle analysis here, although there may be more extended discussions in part two, which I haven't yet read. We don't even learn if most of these mentions are positive or negative, informed or throw-away.

The largest section of the article by far, however, is devoted to Steve Ditko and Frank (Sin City) Miller (pages 8-12). While the section includes several meaty Mr. A quotes, we still don't find much in the way of analysis. I'd love to learn more about how Objectivism plays out in Ditko's work: How accurately does his work embody the philosophy? Does Ditko's thought expand on, embellish, or even contradict Rand's? Again, perhaps I'm asking too much of an admitted "overview" article; but if anyone out there knows of more critical looks at Ditko's pesonal work, I'd love to hear about them.

And since I haven't mentioned it yet, the premiere website for Ditko is Blake Bell's Ditko Looked Up. Watch for Blake's Steve Ditko: Mysterious Traveller, a biography forthcoming from Fantagraphics. I'm sure that Blake's book will get into the questions I've asked above - and more - with relish.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Comic Book Artist's Will Eisner Tribute: Some Things are Worth Waiting For

Thanks both to a phone call from pal The joey Zone and the fine folks at the Will Eisner Discussion List, I learned yesterday that the long-awaited Will Einser tribute issue of Comic Book Artist magazine was now available in finer comics shops.

Eisner, who passed away January 3, 2005, was one of the most important and influential cartoonists this country has produced, with a career spanning the growth of the modern comic book. From his 1940s creation of the newspaper comic-book insert, featuring The Spirit, to his later kick-starting the "graphic novel" movement in the 1970s, and beyond, Esiner's impact on comics can't be overstated. Rather than go into detail here, I'll point you to his website's short but comprehensive biography. More information about Eisner may be found at my; watch for even more there soon.

Kate and I caught a glimpse of the issue at one of Houston's Bedrock City Comics shops, and believe me, this looks like a true "must-have" for anyone interested in Eisner's work or even in comics in general. It's chock-full of interviews with - and essays & artwork by - dozens and dozens of cartoonists, writers, editors, publishers, friends, students, disciples, and more.

Full disclosure: Thanks to editor Jon B. Cooke's prodding, I've got a page-long essay in this tome myself; I also helped out a bit in the editing department, for which I was amazed to learn that Jon rewarded me with the title "Special Contributing Editor." Yowza!

I'll post a more in-depth review once I've received my own copy; but I wanted to alert folks here about it now, since it's sure to disappear from the shelves quickly. At nearly 200 pages (including several gorgeous color sections) for only about $15, it's a steal - or a sound investment, depending on your temperament. Pick up a copy at your local comics shop, or order on-line via Top Shelf Comix. And several books written, edited, or worked on by Messr. Cooke are available via

Above: Dave Gibbons' beautiful, respectful cover to CBA v2 no6.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Read It: Interview with Steve Bissette

SwampyGood friend Steve Bissette (creator of the late, lamented life-of-a-T.rex comic book series Tyrant, editor of the late, lamented horror-comics anthology Taboo, and penciller of the second "golden age" of Swamp Thing, amongst many other kwality kredits) is featured in a big ol' interview at iBrattleboro. He talks comics, movies, and more, including info about his new gig teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies and his somewhat-controversial opinion concerning the pernicious effects of the first (original) Star Wars movies on a generation. There's lots more where this came from, too; check out MyRant, his blog, for musings far and wide. (Today he used the adjective "downright anus-puckering," so you know it's good stuff!)

Above: Swamp Thing illo by Steve, as featured at the website for Henderson State Library's Stephen R. Bissette Collection

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Rita Update: As Yet, No Drizzle (But Plenty of Thrizzle)

Well, the house has had its hatches battened (thanks, Alex!), and here we sit awaiting Whatever Comes Next. So far, so good: Rita's now downgraded to Category Three and seems to be headed for the Texas/Louisiana border - i.e., to the east of us, even further than we'd thought this morning. Yes, it still will be nasty, but not as nasty as it could have been. We sit here now, around 6:30PM, watching DVDs and beginning to cook dinner, waiting for the first signs of rain. So far, not even a drizzle.

Drizzle... drizzle... Thrizzle! I've been meaning to post a review of the funniest comic book I've read since Michael Kupperman's manic, inspired Snake 'n' Bacon's Cartoon Cabaret - this new book, not surprisingly, is also by Kupperman (aka "P.Reeves"): Tales Designed to Thrizzle. Besides starring such old favorites as Snake 'n' Bacon ("Ssssss" "Wipe me with a paper towel to remove excess grease") and the Manister (who "has a most unusual power: the ability to assume the shape of a bannister"), it also boasts a page-and-a-half discussion of Shakespeare (where else will you learn the secret of "Shakespeare's Gold"?); Jesus' half-brother, Pagus ("Ha ha ha ha ha ha! All for me! All for Pagus!"); "Uncle Billy's Drunken, Bitter Guide to the Animal Kingdom" (self-explanatory); and so, so much more.

Fortunately, in a nod to our ever-increasingly "What about the children?" culture, the book also divides its contents into an Adult Section, a Kid's Section, and an Old People's Section. Of course, the kiddies need to jump to page 11 to avoid soiling their psyches - and unfortunately, the pages aren't numbered. ("All [kiddies] for Pagus!")

The art features a slick "woodcut-cum-clipart" style, and I'd love to highlight a bit more of it here. But seeing as how my scanner is now unplugged and waterproofed, I'll just direct you to this site, featuring some older examples of MK's art. Go ahead, click: you know you can't resist the thrill of experiencing "Funky Obsessed Detective Robot" and "Underpants-on-His-Head Man." Also, don't miss the always-essential Tom Spurgeon's review of Thrizzle and this interview excerpt from The Comics Journal.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program, "Waiting for Rita," already in progress...

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Enormous Nemo in Slumberland!

I've long been a fan of Winsor McCay, one of the most acomplished cartoonists of the early 20th century and a pioneer in animation, to boot. I'm so much of a fan, in fact, that one chapter of my dissertation dealt specifically with McCay. "Little Nemo in Slumberland," undoubtedly his best-known comic strip work, has been hailed by readers and critics for decades, leadingto severalreprintings. But none of these collections, no matter how carefully selected or produced they might be, have managed fully to convey one of the most impressive aspects of the comic: McCay's exploitation of the entire newspaper page to produce both stunning, expansive vistas and delicate, detailed miniature images - often on the same page. Until now.

This month saw the publication of Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays (Sunday Press Books, $120), a book so absolutely stunning in every detail that it literally left me speechless. Editor Peter Maresca has produced what can only be called a labor of love: a hardcover, full-scale collection of 110 "Nemo" pages, commemorating the strip's centennial. Yes, full-scale: a full 16x21 inches, the original publication size. (At right you can compare the book's scale to the Dover "Little Nemo in the Palace of Ice" reprint collection, itself a deluxe, over-sized paperback.) The book also contains informative essays by editor Maresca, along with brief essays and comments from comics historians like Bill Blackbeard, R.C. Harvey, art spiegelman, Thierry Smolderen, John Canemaker, and more. (Full Disclosure Dep't: The book's only potential "flaw" is the presence of two brief essays by yours truly. In all seriousness, it's an incredible honor to be included in this volume; thank you, Peter, and extra-special thanks to e-mail pal Miron Murcury, for making this happen!)

But it's the careful attention paid to the comics themselves that really recommends this book. Each strip has been digitally "remastered," if you will, from original newspaper tearsheets, all with the intent of reproducing for us moderns the experience of reading these strips as they originally appeared 100 years ago. The effort has paid off handsomely, to say the very least. I've read all of the strips here before, some of them literally dozens of times; but seeing them again in this book was like discovering brand-new territory, an oasis in a desert you'd never before realized you inhabited. To be able to linger over these images, absorbing all of the minute details in the drawing and the often amazing subtleties of the coloring, is a luxury I'd never dreamed of. I can't begin to comprehend all of the technical issues Maresca had to confront to produce such an exquisite volume; but whatever he went through, it was more than worth it. And I'm far from alone in my opinion; be sure to read these testimonials as well.

Fans of comic art the world over owe him a debt of gratitude which none of us can ever repay individually. A book this significant belongs in every library in the land. (Perhaps libraries have shelves large enough to hold the book - I don't!) If you're a bit strapped for cash but want to experience this book (and you know you do), beg, urge, cajole, pester, or otherwise convince your library to order a copy. You'll thank them, you'll thank yourself, and readers with exquisite taste will thank the library for at least another 100 years. Oh, and while you're at it, be sure to pick up one of the spiffy 2005-2006 15-month calendars for yourself.

One last thought: I've included "Little Nemo" in many of the courses I've taught over the years. After explaining to my students that the original printed pages were about twice the size of the Dover edition, I've confessed that I truly envied the strip's original readers - especially the kids of, say, six years old - who had the privilege to almost literally "fall into" Nemo's world, who could have their entire field of vision filled with McCay's imagination. Today, reading Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays, I finally felt like I was six years old.

Update, 22 September: Parts of this review are now posted at the Sunday Press website, under "testimonials". Wow, great company to be in!

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Weird Tales of the Ramones

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know; there have been a zillion Ramones repackagings, but the newest one is a must-buy for both Ramones fans and comics fans. Three CDs come jam-packed with 85 nuggets of sonic gold, and the DVD contains the video compilation / mini-documentary "Lifestyles of the Ramones" along with about half-a-dozen clips not on that original VHS release - 18 videos in all, including "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," designed by Dan Clowes. (Just wish someone knew how to spell "Spider-Man"...)

Oh, yeah, there's also a 52-page comic book overflowing with graphic goodness, with comics by Bill Griffith, Mary Fleener, Xaime Hernandez, Sergio Aragones, Fly, Carol Lay, Jordan Crane, Rick Altergott, Johnny Ryan, Lorna Miller, and more more more! Wayno contributes a couple of Archie Comics-inspired pinups of Johnny and Joey, plus an ad for "Sea Markys" that is to die for. Tim Hensley's one-page "origin" of the Ramones a la "Prince Valiant" is a true thing of beauty. The project's beginnings as an illustrated book of lyrics survives as a Dr. Seuss-inspired set of pages by Scott (Dr.) Shaw! And that's still the tip of the iceberg; we've also got an EC Horror- homage (down to the Leroy lettering!), but done in 3-D (complete w/glasses); and a commemorative postcard honoring Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee. "And more," of course. Let's hope this book is remembered when it comes time for the Eisner and Harvey awards...

Gabba gabba, you must accept this set into your home or hovel this instant!

Top to bottom: Comic front cover, William Stout; comic back cover, Steve Vance; box inner-sleeve illo, John Pound (for the authentic look that drives the kidz wild.) For more detailed images, you just clix the pix.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bizarro-World MAUS Action Figure?

When I saw this toy in a Target store recently, I thought that I had fallen into a strange, parallel universe, one in which Art Spiegelman had not only licensed action figures based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning MAUS but also approved Mecha-like re-interpretations of the graphic novel's characters. Here we see what appears to be the Mecha-Vladek Spiegelman figure; unfortunately, the packaging did not indicate if this Vladek comes equipped with jacket-tossing or bits-of-wire-collecting action...

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