Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tales from the Green Scrapbook: Howard the Duck

Let's begin our tour of The Green Scrapbook with its very first entry:

Please, please, PLEASE forget the monstrosity that was the 1986 "film"; the original Howard the Duck comics were little gems of science fiction, social satire, and sincerely twisted humor. In other words, they made perfect sense in the cultural mindscape of the latter 1970s.

I didn't record the date of this article from The Milwaukee Journal; but it must have appeared sometime after June 6, 1977. That's the start date for Howard's short-lived newspaper comic strip (based on the comic book), which, as the story noted then, "is syndicated in close to 70 daily newspapers." The article covers ground now familiar to Howardians, from rumors surrounding the spotty availability of the book's first issue to Howard's 1976 presidential campaign (see a "TV news report" here).

It takes but a click to embiggen the image...

I vividly recall buying one issue in particular: Number 16 (September 1977), "Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing." It's quite possible that the newspaper article might have piqued my interest. But more than that: How could an already-enthralled eleven-year-old comics collector resist the cover-blurb "Special Once in a Lifetime Album Issue!"?

I hadn't read any Howard comics until that time, and this one definitely wasn't the best introduction one might hope for. The book's story content wasn't available at press time, so writer Steve Gerber substituted a lengthy, head-trippy meta-essay in which he and Howard discuss storytelling in general, comic books in particular, and pretty much everything else during a cross-country trip. (Readers are reassured on page 1, though, that the previous issue's story -- featuring a last-page appearance by the villainous Dr. Bong -- would resume in the next issue.)

The book is laid out in two-page spreads, each with a "chapter" of text and an illustration by one of a number of artists. Example the first -- a meditation on the Grand Canyon:

And example the second -- The "obligatory comic book fight scene":

I had no idea what to make of all this.

But I held onto the book -- somehow I knew that there was more there than I was able to grok at the time.

Sadly, Steve Gerber passed away only a couple of months ago. (For a sense of how valued Gerber's work has become, see Tom Spurgeon's overwhelming list of tributes.) New of his death prompted me to re-read his run on the Duck as collected in The Essential Howard the Duck. Holy cow, this stuff was fantastic! Fun, bizarre, messed-up, ridiculous, and, yeah, thoughtful, at least in funny animal genre-busting, assembly-line, mainstream comic book kind of way. Are there embarrassments along the way? Of course. But overall the satire bites more often than it merely gums. And issue 16? By far, the best "full-in" issue of any comic book, ever. Hardly filler, it's chock-full of intellectual vitamins, emotional minerals, and all-natural visual flavorings.

There's so much more to say -- I haven't even begun to explore the bravura artwork by stalwarts like Gene Colan, Val Mayerik, Frank Brunner, and even Carmine Infantino. Or the non-Gerber revivals. Or the lawsuits. Or Gerber's return to Howard. Perhaps another time...


I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Tales from the Green Scrapbook. Next time: A prose portrait of The Man, with an illustration that angered me so much I threw the newspaper across the room before I ran to grab the scissors...

Cover images from the Grand Comics Database.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hartford Courant on Lisa's Death in "Funky Winkerbean" - with Commentary

Regular newspaper-comics readers are likely aware that Lisa, a character in Tom Batiuk's popular and long-running strip Funky Winkerbean, died this week from a relapse of cancer - today, in fact. Unsurprisingly, the story has garnered lots of media attention. Apart from the regrettable (although expected) litanies of "This is just horrible, my funnies should be funny" reactions from many readers, the majority of these stories have wisely focused on Batiuk's decision to use the storyline - and subsequent publication - to raise money for cancer research with the establishment of Lisa's Legacy Fund. (Click here for more information on the fund.)

Today's issue of the Hartford Courant features a very good, somewhat longer-than-usual article on the event. Courant reporter (and longtime phone-pal) Bill Weir contacted me yesterday for my opinions, and I'm happy that Jesse Leavenworth, the article's writer, found some of my comments useful.

You can read the article, "A Comic Strip for a Cause," along with a PDF of today's installment of the strip, here. And in case you've missed the strip, you can always read the last 30 days of it courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

This image comes from today's Courant story.

Labels: , , , , ,

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?)

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rita Update: Fuzzy Fotos

Of course, as soon as I went outside to take a couple of pictures, the wind and rain picked up, so I had to snap these pretty quickly. Here's our house:

Please to note (through the unfocused photography) the expert application of cardboard boxes over the windows. Without a ready supply of plywood, this was the best we could do. In the event of an actual hurricane, how much good would the cardboard have done? Dunno, really; once the city gets back to "bidness," we'll get some proper plywood.

And here's the only real damage we can see around here:

The folks in this house were darned lucky the tree fell toward the street, not toward their house.

Comics Content: In honor of my fuzzy photo skillz, we are proud to present Get Fuzzy for your continued amusement.

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 23, 2005

Rita Update: Keep Off the Dirty Side...

Here in Houston, it's currently sunny and only 79 degrees - an oddity here, especially this week, where we set record high temps (around 100 F) the past couple of days. These relatively "pleasant" conditions won't last much longer, of course, although they could linger a bit longer today than we had first thought. Hurricane Rita has slowed a bit, and it's also moved a bit further north/east, towards the Texas/Louisiana border. (Like Louisiana hasn't suffered enough lately...)

I'd never before heard of - or at least paid attention to - the idea that hurricanes have a "clean side" (east) and a "dirty side" (west). The fact that the hurricane is tracking east appears to be good news for Houston and Galveston (though bad news for those areas further up the coast). We'll still have lots o' rain and hurricane-force winds, but the idea right now is that we might get by with a bit less intensity than we'd thought even yesterday. Again, more as we know it...

Comics Content: Seeing as how our newspaper wasn't delivered today (not that I'm terribly surprised or upset), here's a link to the Houston Chronicle's comics section (nearly four pages' worth - quite a lot, really).

Labels: ,