Sunday, March 07, 2010


My latest review is up at the Ulysses "Seen" website. Feast your eyes on some gorgeous art by one of my favorite cartoonists, Steve Ditko!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Review at Ulysses "Seen" - Asterios Polyp

My review of David Mazzucchelli's stellar graphic novel Asterios Polyp was posted today at the Ulysses "Seen" website. While you're there, check out cartoonist Robert Berry's essays on making money off of webcomix, his musings on Paris, and, oh yeah - Ulysses "Seen" itself, Berry's ambitious and lyrical ongoing adaptation of James Joyce's monumental novel Ulysses. It's early enough to get in on the ground floor of Berry's work, so dive in and find out what Stephen Daedalus and stately, plump Buck Mulligan might really have looked like! And watch for more musings from me on the blog there as time passes, too.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Flashback Friday: La Teigne review

We're back with another "Flashback Friday," in which I unearth a bit of older, pre-blog work I've done. A practice of "ArchaeoloGene," if you will.

This week we present an orphaned review originally written for a proposed book entitled Read This Comic. A collection of reviews and original comics & illustrations from the (then) amazingly prolific -- and international -- members of the comix@ discussion list, RTC sadly never made it past a dummy sampler which intrepid editor Tom Furtwangler printed and distributed at SPX in 1998. I can't recall why the final book never materialized; my guess is that "real life" (whatever that is) intruded on all of the participants.

In any event, here's my contribution that appeared in that sampler. (I have a memory that I had another one ready to go, as well; I'll have to see if I have a version archived somewhere.) I have no idea if this comic is even in print anymore; I doubt there was ever an edition published for the North American comics market. Publishers, this is a little gem that deserves to be seen on these shores (hint, hint!). So, without further ado...

La Teigne
Thierry Robin

b&w, 112 pages, paperback
Tohu Bohu - Les Humanoïdes Associés, 1998
ISBN 2731613033

This six-chapter mute story concerning the adventures of a short, cufflink-wearing demon really surprised me with its depth. ("Mute" in the sense that there is no dialogue or narration, just sound effects -- oh, and the laugh reprinted below.) My trusty Oxford-Hachete French Dictionary defines teigne as a "real [or "nasty"] piece of work," and that's just what this little demon appears to be when we first meet him.
Chapter One offers energetic, kinetic frenzy, as the demon destroys everything he comes across, either by stomping it to bits with his feet or by lobbing an ever-increasing number of skull-shaped grenades. The end of this first eight-page section, though -- showing the demon looking with sadness over the ruin he has caused -- signals the possibility of actual emotional depth, something of which the story's "Milk & Cheese"-esque mayhem doesn't initially seem capable.

Chapter Two introduces the demon's foil, a shmoo-like loafer: spongy, sedentary, and smiling, he's (it's?) the very antithesis of our "hero." Robin shows a real knack for visual characterizaton in this chapter, as the demon's facial expressions run the gamut from glee to contemplation, from deviousness to dejection, deceit, and, finally, despair.
The rest of La Teigne plays out this tale of "irresistible force meets immovable object" in a variety of fashions and over a broad range of settings, including a goofy, disturbing, and oddly prescient dream sequence; a portion reminiscent of Aliens' Ripley in the exoskeleton; and an O. Henry-esque[*] ending which, among other effects, will make it impossible for you to look at Watchmen ever again without snickering.

Who would have thought that a wacky little book like this would end up as a meditation on compulsion and begrudging admiration -- and (almost) love? La Teigne is a very rewarding silent "read," and I found that it got even better with re-readings -- always a good sign.

[*] By sheer coincidence, today, September 11, marks the 147th anniversary of William Sydney "O. Henry" Porter's birth.

Images © 1998 Les Humanoïdes Associés

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Friday, October 13, 2006

"See You in the Funny Papers": New York Times on "Masters" Exhibit

Thanks to The Queen of Everything for letting me know about "See You in the Funnypapers," a review of the current "Masters of American Comics" exhibits currently running at the Jewish Museum in New York City and the Newark Museum in New Jersey. The article was written by Michael Kimmelman and published in today's New York Times.

Along with the lengthy and positive review, you can also view a slideshow of art from the exhibits, as well as the "Close Reading" of Jack Kirby's work which I wrote about here earlier.

Pictured: The cover to the companion catalog, "Masters of American Comics."

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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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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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Monday, April 25, 2005

New York Times' Comics Forum: Keeping the "Mess" in "Message Board"

As Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter rightly notes, the New York Times Book Review's April 24 piece on comics does read like something out of the past - why the Review devoted so much space to this type of superhero-influenced review is a bit puzzling, especially given its recent coverage of Spiegelman and Satrapi and David B., among others. (Note: Registration required to view any Times links. Don't want to register? No problem!)

What's also puzzling - no, more like extremely disappointing - is the Times' new Readers Forum on Comics. I spent an hour or so making my way through the posts there, and oh my Lord - if you think (as I do) that the "wheat/chaff" and "thoughtful poster/moron" ratios are usually pretty low on comics-related message boards, try slogging through this one. I had naively assumed that the Times On-Line would attract a more contemplative, erudite, and open-minded audience. Stupid, stupid Gene...

The Forum opened April 16, to coincide with the Times' preview of Will Eisner's The Plot; unfortunately, it also coincided with a revamp of the Forums as a whole. So a large part of the first week's postings are written by Forum regulars who are angry that the previous Forums on Shakespeare and Nabokov, for example, were "replaced" by the Comics Forum. From what I can tell, it's not a "replacement" so much as a "restructuring" and an unfortunate bit of timing; but these folks in general can't seem to tell their post hoc from their propter hoc.

What we do get, however, are the predictable laments about the end of civilization. And also some fairly ignorant comments about Eisner's The Plot, from considering it a joke to questioning the need for any such book in the first place to - I'm being serious here - calling Eisner a Spiegelman clone. And of course, the ever-popular "expert opinion":
Look at that guy at the top of the page, pretending this is about "literary" comics like Maus, as if there were more than about five of them.
To be fair, there are some knowledgeable defenders of the forum. For the most part, though, even those who do know something about comics rarely get past recommending Sandman or "more sophisticated" superhero books. I like Sandman and Watchmen, but I wouldn't consider either of them to be good "gateway drugs" for the curious but clueless would-be comics reader.

I realize that a message board can only be as good as the people who post in it, and I suppose I have no real right to complain about the Times forum, since I haven't contributed anything myself. But seeing the small-mindedness and petty carping there only reinforces my opionion of message boards as places generally to avoid. I've occasionally found useful info at places like the Comics Journal boards, but then we're back to the whole "wheat/chaff" thing...

If anyone knows of any good comics-related discussion boards - forums where people actually pay attention to other's ideas, and where, come to think of it, people actually have ideas - I'd love to hear about them.

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