Among board games, I was always intrigued with the idea of Clue but never played it. I did see the 1985 John Landis movie version and remember being entertained. Clue, which was first released in 1949, always struck me as strange and erudite, compared to the far more popular Monopoly, first released in 1935. Now, cartoonist auteur Dash Shaw has created a 3-part Clue comic book series. All in all, I think Clue: Candlestick, published by IDW and available on comiXology, falls neatly into place with other works by Dash Shaw. It doesn’t matter if Shaw is a fan of the game. What matters is that Clue is an opportunity to do something interesting with comics.
You can tell from these examples that Shaw is having fun interpreting the game as an artist. That said, he also seems to get into the spirit of the game too. He turns Clue into part of his world and the reader, in turn, gets immersed in this hybrid of art and popular board game.
Dash Shaw does a wonderful job with playing with storytelling elements while also keeping the Clue narrative in play. It’s a fun balancing act; and similar, on some levels, to how pop artists related to consumer culture. It helps the creative process if artists remain as open as possible with their subjects. Of course, it depends upon the project, but there is much to gain by remaining flexible. And, as for Clue, who doesn’t like a good mystery?
The third and final installment of Clue: Candlestick is available as of July 17th. You can find it at IDW and comiXology.
Alay-Oop by William Gropper, introduction by James Sturm, published by New York Review Books, 209 pages, $24.95.
A growing interest in the origins of comic art—a subject that could direct the reader toward cave paintings but more logically offers twentieth century precursors—has prompted the return of long-forgotten names like Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel, and just as naturally, reprints of their work. These notables and others peaking before the Second World War favored wood-cuts over drawing on paper, and also favored an art form now known familiarly as the “wordless novel.” It’s a fascinating memory corner, full of biting social criticism, but so different from the famed agitational cartoons, or for that matter, mural art of the New Deal period, that any common ground is little understood. Reader, meet William Gropper.
We can say many useful things about Gropper the artist, but for our purposes, there is every reason to start with Alay-Oop. It is a simple tale of a trapeze artist so muscular that she may not be beautiful in any classic sense, but she is admirably limber, a skilled and daring performer. She is wooed by an older and rich, plump opera singer, with throngs of fans of his own. He takes her out (with her own acrobat-partner in tow), romances her and persuades her to marry. A few pages of her dreaming, heavily erotic in symbolism, shows us that she is willing, and her swain promises her the skies. Her rather handsome fellow acrobat is, then, left out in the cold. Soon, she has beloved children but a troubled marriage. She finds her way, she reaches her way through her acrobatic skills, to her own version of a happy ending. This is a memorable Strong Woman Story, and may (as the introduction suggests) reflect the strength of Gropper’s own real life mother character, when his father, an autodidact intellectual, let the family down.
A May-December romance. Will it last?
Now, back to the Gropper famous in his own milieu. Communists and Popular Front sympathizers, together numbering into the high hundreds of thousands from the mid-depression to the beginning of the Cold War, would recognize Gropper’s work in a minute. His famed and ferocious “Bank Night” drawing, with the fat capitalist landlord reaching into the slums for grotesque profits, alone memorably identifies both the artist’s skills and his temperament. Personal testimony: Recovering from a day at a pre-induction Army physical in 1966, I was driven by famed Yale University peacenik Staughton Lynd out to stay the night with a Jewish chicken farmer. There, on the kitchen wall, was a famed Gropper print, with ugly Senators, most likely Dixiecrats, at a US Congress hearing, yawning with unembarrassed tedium at the social crisis of the Depression. That was the first Gropper that I ever saw.
Alay-Oop evidently comes from a different place if definitely not a different artist. Gropper himself had actually attended a radical art school, with giants like Masses magazine artists like Stuart Davis and Dada /Surrealist avant-gardist Man Ray. Instructor Robert Henri personally escorted young Gropper to the 1913 Armory Show that introduced modernism to the backward US intelligentsia. The young man had the talent and connections to make it as an illustrator in a grand era for newspaper illustrators—but was bounced from a commercial staff job as too radical.
You could say that he found a place for himself, an eager audience intense if not commercially helpful, at the Liberator and New Masses, two beautiful magazines that attached themselves to “the New Russia” without quite being overwhelmed by politics. By the early years of the Depression, Gropper’s work was overwhelmingly agitational, with the Daily Worker its largest outlet. Alay-Oop may be the first suggestion that his heart belonged elsewhere, at least in part.
What inspired him to comic art? Belgian Frans Masereel was so famous in Europe that leading novelists wrote introductions to his classic woodcut works. Back in the US, Lynd Ward’s mordant God’s Man sold wildly, far beyond the art crowd that seemed the intended audience. Hugely popular funny pages artist Milt Gross published what some regard as the actual earliest comics novel, He Done Her Wrong (1930), a satire on the soap opera-like American adventure novel. Alay-Oop appeared in that same year, but can only be described as a genre of its own. If it has successors, they come generations later.
James Sturm, who wrote the Introduction to the volume under review but co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, suggests we are not likely to find out. In his style, Gropper was not austere like Masereel or Ward, nor satirical like Gross. He was aiming for something else, and that may be a reason why the book got lost so quickly and easily. Gropper himself moved toward a very different and unique high point of his artistic career: the opportunities opened by the New Deal. Muralist for the Works Progress Administration, popular book illustrator, artist of a folk-lore map of the USA (with little figures representing various traditions), Gropper the erstwhile revolutionary was “discovering America” in his own terms, and good at it. He had also become, for the moment, also a considerable painter, mostly of the social themes around him, and remembered from his impoverished youth.
Much of the remainder of Gropper’s life seems to have devoted rather less to leftwing causes, and rather more to painting, but also to making a living as an architectural artist, where he achieved a certain distinction. After the Second World War, with its artistic high points of sympathy for the Russians and anti-fascism generally, his opportunities but perhaps his political eagerness as well, were seriously restrained. His grandson is quoted in the introduction as saying that grandpa was not all that political—which is about what an old man would tell a kid in the 1950s. All this nevertheless suggests that Alay-Oop reaches out toward something elusive, but that is hardly a criticism of any artistic creation.
The book is certainly successful in itself, with a line of drawing, as Sturm suggests, so fresh and fluid that it looks like “the ink is still wet” (p.10). We also hear from his grandson that Gropper, drawn to vaudeville and the circus, admired performers as more honest and more fully human than politicians. Perhaps we need no further guide. Anyone can search through Google Images and admire the breadth of Gropper’s work. It would be good to have an anthology that gives us a sense of them.
Paul Buhle, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left, has produced a dozen comics.
The cartoonist Typex presents a comics biography of the artist Andy Warhol that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. If you thought you knew Andy Warhol, then read Andy: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. This is quite an ambitious and fascinating biography, a work of art in and of itself. Typex delivers such a detail-rich account in this 562-page book and leaves you wanting more! He does this by keeping to a crisp and finely-tuned and organized narrative. We go from one period of time to the next, evoking the quotidian while distilling the essential. In the process, the reader is treated to a behind-the-scenes look at Andy Warhol’s personal and professional life.
Andy Warhol meets Edie Sedgwick
An inquisitive cartoonist like Typex is not one to be easily satisfied with a standard comics biography, especially for such a towering figure in art and pop culture as Mr. Andy Warhol. Love him or hate him, Warhol has left a significant mark on the culture and, if not for never fully recovering from a murder attempt and a botched up gallbladder operation, he would have remained active that much longer. He would have found a way. That is what this book is all about: finding your way even when you might seem, like Andy Warhol, to be the most unlikely person to do so.
Typex is most interested in subverting any Warhol hagiography and bringing Warhol down to a human scale. Perhaps influenced by the books he chose for reference material, Typex often tamps down Warhol’s reputation in favor of depictions of him munching on Hershey chocolate bars and lusting over young men. No doubt, Warhol was a highly idiosyncratic individual but he was nobody’s fool and a workhorse. Scant mention is given in Typex’s book to Warhol’s contributions to art history. Typex acknowledges Warhol’s commentary of consumer culture but rather reluctantly. Very little is said about Warhol’s landmark use of serial imagery or his revolutionary use of silkscreens. Warhol made art history, after all. That is a major accomplishment and it sort of gets a bit lost in this otherwise marvelous book. You can say this book is not where you go for art history lessons, per se. This is a book decidedly about a scene or a set of scenes. Then again, it’s what’s happening in those scenes where you find the most interesting art.
Adding to the level of interest Typex has for his subject is how he’s presents his work. He has full page and two-page spreads to evoke the energy and mayhem of various moments. And, for much of the book, he keeps to a nicely packed grid format, nine panels per page. He goes that extra mile by anyone’s standards with including a program guide of notable players from each time period. In fact, Typex is just as concerned with the characters surrounding Warhol than simply Warhol himself. That could account for the somewhat slim analysis of Warhol’s actual career and work. You have to find a way to balance it all out and properly address Edie Sedgwick, The Velvet Underground, Valerie Solanas, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the countless followers all in search of their own fifteen minutes of fame. It is Valerie Solana who ultimately stands out among the pack with her unhinged grasp for fame and attempt on Warhol’s life. And it is Basquiat who breathes new life into Warhol just as the two of them are nearing the end.
Warhol was driven and he also had a lot of help from his evolving network of colleagues, mentors, and a myriad of aspiring artists, dreamers, and party people. The Andy Warhol phenomenon did not happen overnight nor did it exist without various setbacks. Andy Warhol was neither god nor monster. It all comes back to the fact he was driven. He had the skill, the intellect, and the resources to actually make art history and, despite any naysayers, that’s exactly what he did. Typex explores this ambition as he sees fit while also demystifying the man and his times. Overall, this is quite a fascinating read to be added to other notable books on one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. In the end, I believe Andy Warhol would have approved of this book.
Typex is a Dutch illustrator and graphic novelist. A graduate of the Amsterdam College for the Arts, his work appears in many nationwide newspapers and magazines. He has illustrated numerous children’s books and has published some of his own. His graphic novel biography, Andy: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol, is published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. He lives in Amsterdam.
French Comics Association
You can see Typex this weekend if you’re in the D.C. area and this event happens to fit into what you’re doing. Typex will be there as part of the invited guests touring with the French Comics Association. The FCA will be taking part in this weekend’s American Library Association Conference. Okay, if that makes sense, then congratulations, you are a true Typex fan and well above average in every way.
Wonderful things often take place in the world of alt-comics. I’m talking about when a bigger publisher lends a hand to help a smaller publisher. A case in point is the graphic novel, Jeremiah, which joins AdHouse Books in promoting and distributing and One Percent Press in publishing this remarkable work. There are quite a few gems out there among indie comics and Cathy G. Johnson proves that wonders never cease. Johnson’s work has a beauty that looks effortless and pure. In the span of 160 pages, she mesmerizes the reader with her gentle yet powerful watercolor comics.
“You are not a child.”
This is the story of Jeremiah, a young man who seems to be a blank slate with no past or future, just a country boy out in the middle of nowhere. Jeremiah may seem pretty simple and, in a lot of ways, he is. But he also has his own set of complex desires. Johnson masterfully rolls out a narrative pared down to its essentials while brimming with ambiguity and mystery. Just what is the relationship between Catie and Jeremiah? Perhaps a handyman can help sort through an accumulation of despair and confusion.
A boy’s desire may consume him.
Johnson conveys emotion in her artwork in a very direct and economical way. She can evoke years of longing and melancholy with just the right amount of lines and wash. Poor Jeremiah. He’s still just a boy and his mounting desire may consume him if he doesn’t free himself. Johnson practices the subtle art of restraint in telling his story; and, in the end, it all comes out when Johnson is ready to release the floodgate.
Lost among the corn fields.
For more details, be sure to visit Cathy G. Johnson right here.
We all experience bullies in one form or another–you just can’t escape them. Collectively, many of us are dealing with being bullied by the President of the United States. It is a phenomena many of us (I would really like to say ALL of us) hope will never happen again. Donald Trump has been a bully for decades. He was the model for one of pop culture’s most infamous bullies, Biff Tannen, from the Back to the Future franchise. Well, Paul Constant channels Biff Tannen in his script for a very funny and refreshing new comic book, Planet of the Nerds, published by AHOY Comics.
AHOY Comics? you may ask. I know. It’s new and it’s made a lot of promises that it has attached to its name: A is for Abundance. H is for Humor. O is for Originality. And Y is for YES! AHOY founder Hart Seely is a former newspaper man and he’s serious about wanting to provide something substantial to the comic book market. So far, it does look good for AHOY as they have hit the ground running with a nice mix of titles: The Wrong Earth finds a superhero and supervillain trading places; High Heaven gives a chronic complainer his comeuppance; Captain Ginger is an all-out cats-in-outerspace adventure; and Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror is sort of a revisit to Tales of the Crypt. Part of the next wave of titles is Planet of the Nerds. All these titles share a really fun format that includes the feature story, a background story, plus a surprise grab bag that can include prose and even poetry.
Chad pummels Alvin Ad Infinitum
Getting back to Planet of the Nerds, this first issue packs a wallop thanks to the upbeat script by Constant as well as the impressive work by the rest of the creative team which includes artist Alan Robinson and colorist Felipe Sobreiro. The opener finds our bully, Chad, center stage as he pummels Alvin, a hapless fellow high school student. Chad is as stereotypical a bully as you’ll ever care to find. And Alvin is as stereotypical a misfit as you’ll ever see. And perhaps therein lies a wonderful opportunity to play with some well-worn tropes. Will Chad just keep whomping on Alvin? Will Alvin just keep being a doormat? It is a pure dichotomy, a Zen-like premise, a perfect paring of yin and yang. Constant breaks things up by having Chad’s two allies, Steve and Drew, act more human than henchmen. And the initial setting for the story is the late ’80s complete with all its excess and naivete. One of the best lines in this first issue is from Jenny, Steve’s girlfriend, who sweetly mocks his naturally meek demeanor: “If a man in a brown van tries to give you candy, just say, ‘No!'” Ah, nostalgic young love! The art by Robinson and the colors by Sobreiro conspire to provide just the right retro look reminiscent of the work of Ed Piskor.
Cover artist David Nakayama
Suffice it to say, everything is set for a rollicking good adventure. It will be no spoiler to say that this is something of a time travel story. AHOY says as much in their promo copy. And there is definitely a Back to the Future vibe going on here. The future in this case is our own era, a time that would leave any kid from the ’80s doing double takes. Chad, the ultimate nerd hater must come face to face with a world where, as we’ve heard so often, the nerds have won. But have they, really? I don’t know that this comic will fully answer that question but you just never know.
Planet of the Nerds #1 is available as of April 17th, published by AHOY Comics. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.
MURDER is an intriguing new graphic novel series that will have you thinking twice about animals. It is written by the team of husband and wife, Matthew & Brittany Loisel. Art by Emiliano Correa. Lettering by Micah Myers. In all respects, this is quite a compelling work in comics. I have to admit that when I first took a look at it, my mind quickly went to the classic song, “Meat is Murder,” by The Smiths. I’m sure that the Loisels knew they would need to bring their A-game to a subject vulnerable to earnest polemics. So, yeah, the animals rebel and the meat industry is put on notice but it is all done with quirky style.
Meat industry put on notice!
One issue in and I am left curious for more. The narrative has a nice natural pace. We don’t know too much about our emerging cast of characters–just enough to be lured in. I’m intrigued by the one standout human in the bunch. We see him in a two-year flash forward going by the name of The Butcher of Butchers. He makes for a colorful vigilante. We start off by seeing him befriend a little baby chick.
Chicks and humans don’t mix so well.
The little baby chick, by the way, can talk–and the do-gooder human buddy of his understands and casually chats with the chick. Who knew. Humans and animals, just like Doctor Dolittle, can talk to the animals! Well, in this story, it’s only this one human who can parlay with the pachyderms, if he were so inclined. For this guy, chatting with a chick is plenty for starters.
Start to think about it, and there are all sorts of critters talking to each other, and the occasional human, in books, movies, and comics. “Animal Farm” and “Watership Down” are a couple of my favorites. This comic gets a thumbs, paws and hooves up for willing to go out on a limb with a story involving a dog and a cat plotting their overthrow of humans while playing chess.
Frank Miller is back, baby! What a treat to see our Dark Knight master cartoonist returning to this long-awaited companion to his masterpiece, 300! As I like to point out, there’s nothing quite like having a masterful storyteller in charge of both the writing and the artwork. You have Greeks and Persians battling it out left and right, all following the vision of Miller. And, best of all, you really want to pick up this comic book in print form as it has a deluxe format. And it is colored by Alex Sinclair, the colorist for Miller’s Dark Knight Master Race, third installment of his Dark Knight Returns master trilogy.
Frank Miller returns to the world of 300 with this sprawling historical epic! Persian King Xerxes sets out to conquer the world to avenge his father Darius’s defeat and create an empire, unlike anything the world has ever seen. That is until the hardy Greeks produce a god king of their own, Alexander the Great.
This is an utterly gorgeous work, right down to the lettering. While he could be using a font, I doubt it. This looks like hand-lettering, and we’re talking very precise and professional–with the added bonus of the artist in full control of where he wants his text boxes to hit in relation to compositions and action. Miller offers up plenty of compelling action sequences, by the way. It is a pleasure to linger over how to arranges his military formations, often alternating between crisp details set off by silhouettes. There is a genuine urgency here, a joy of cartooning that brings to mind such happy warriors as Jack Kirby and Stan Sakai. I love this book and can’t wait for more.
Back to 300!
XERXES #1 is available as of April 4, 2018. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.
Caroline Sharp, aka superhero Chrysalis, has been put on administrative leave by Alpha 13. You see, there was this incident, where all sorts of things got blown up. It was no big deal. She just lost her cool, as she tells her therapist. In fact, Caroline has got a lot to say given that she’s been trying to kill herself ever since she was put on leave…and, as a superhero, she’s immortal. ETERNITY GIRL is a miniseries from the Young Animal imprint at DC Comics and it is easily one of the most engaging of new comic books.
Here is a comic that knows how to strike just the right balance with crisp writing that juggles serious issues and complex characters. And the main character just happens to be a superhero. We’ve gone down this road before but it’s always worthy of recognition when it’s done right. The script by Magdalene Visaggio (Kim and Kim) is so good that it all feels quite refreshing. And the art by Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) jumps off the page, with a lively spirit reminiscent of Curt Swan.
No Big Deal!
So, what do you do when you can live forever but you’d rather be dead? Quite a conundrum. And get a load of the featured villain: Madame Atom and The Night Terrors! Alright then! Turns out that Madam Atom may have a solution as to how Caroline/Chrysalis can kill herself. But who ever took advice from a villain? Sounds like pretty self-serving advice to me. We’ll just have to stay tuned to find out.
A perfect score: 10/10
ETERNITY GIRL #1 is available as of March 14, 2018. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.
What an honor it was to chat with Ted Naifeh at Emerald City Comic Con. He is one of a number of master cartoonists that has not gotten on my radar, due to my own limitations. This is The New York Times bestselling author of “Courtney Crumrin.” Oni Press has recently re-issued all its collected volumes. I give you a taste with a review of “Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things.” The humor ranges from pithy to laugh-out-loud. I can tell you that, as I scanned the books, along with original pages, I couldn’t leave without getting a fix.
Mr. Naifeh has a dapper style with a touch of steampunk. I refer to his writing and drawing of comics–and to the man himself. Naifeh brings to mind a number of masters of a certain stripe of gothic horror, like Edward Gorey, Mike Mignola and Roald Dahl. Ask Mr. Naifeh to name an influence and he’ll get even more specific, like fellow cartoonist, Phil Foglio. Our main character, Courtney Crumrin, follows in this tradition of deliciously witty work.
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Childhood is meant for children. Adults don’t totally get it, as far removed as they are. They may have even sugar-coated the whole experience in syrupy nostalgia. It is left to the kids to navigate the often scary, if not utterly dangerous, terrain as best they can. So it is for Courtney. In this first volume the reader gets to see her begin life at Crumrin manor. Her social-climbing and spendthrift parents eagerly take up the offer to be live-in caregivers to a wealthy but highly eccentric old relative, Great-Uncle Aloysius. Little do they know that the old man has supernatural powers, is as healthy as ever, and simply finds them useful for his own designs.
“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things”
The sense of dread and wonder is palpable as Naifeh has little Courtney navigate through wealthy brat bullies at school; and various hobgoblins lurking in every corner at home. Naifeh’s quill is precise with his depictions. Readers will quickly find themselves immersed in the narrative. The scenes with Courtney battling, and then bargaining with, a goblin are particularly creepy. Naifeh is spot on with his balancing and blending the otherworldly with harsh reality. Sometimes, you cross a goblin and you simply don’t come back. But, if you’re made of just the right stuff, it’s the goblin who is put on notice.
“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things” is published by Oni Press. For more details, visit Oni Press right here.
Emerald City Comic Con provides so many opportunities to meet exciting talent. Case in point is Terry Mayo. He is currently on tour in support of his comic book, THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS with Alterna Comics; and his upcoming comic book, DISPOSABLE LEGENDS, with TPub Comics. If you’re going to ECCC, find Terry Mayo at the TPub booth, #1606. The TPub booth features all sorts of goodies, like the ongoing series TWISTED DARK.
THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS #1 is a post-apocalyptic 6-issue comic book series from Alterna Comics. The creator and writer, Terry Mayo, describes it as “Mad Max meets Stranger Things.” We are midway through the series at this point so I’m catching up here. I can report that the first issue definitely sets the tone and proves to be a most enjoyable read.
When the Apocalypse hits, it comes down to survival of the fittest. Mayo plays with that concept with fine results. Think of this as having a bit of a Walking Dead vibe to with the focus being on one family clan in an alternate San Diego set in the future. You’ve got sophisticated government drones constantly hovering around and monitoring citizen activity. You’ve got a population that has been devastated by a mysterious plague. And you’ve got a civilization that is a mix of high tech and a throwback to another time more in tune with primal animal instincts.
THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS
What’s so great about going to cons is stumbling upon little gems like this comic. I am always on the lookout for something that has just the right quirky offbeat factor. If something is just a historical saga, for instance, it becomes a much harder sell for me to be convinced I should take the time and effort to say anything about it. In the first place, where is my motivation? If a creator is a bit of a prima donna, again, I need a reason to overlook that. The list goes on. My time is valuable and so is yours. With that said, I like what Terry Mayo is doing here.
I will start to wrap this up by just emphasizing how essential it is to have some sort of hook in a work of comics. I don’t know how some readers are attracted to some of the stuff that for me, and for more careful readers, looks like it has been stripped of any shred of humanity. My hunch is that most readers are sometimes willing to take something for what it is and then just move on. What I think a comics publisher like Alterna Comics does best is to keep to a core of authenticity. I kid you not, people sniff that out.
Overall, I look forward to seeing the collected trade to THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS. I think the whole creative team here should be proud of themselves. The artwork by Lucas Romero definitely has got a real deal human touch and goes a long way into getting the reader involved. Colors by Christopher Hall are spot on with the moody atmospherics. Lettering by Brandon DeStefano fits in exceptionally well into compositions and enhances the genuine and organic feel to this comic.
Rating of 10/10
THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS is available at comiXology right here. For more details, visit Alterna Comics right here.