Jack The Radio: Creatures is a comic that you’ll definitely want to take to heart during these challenging times. It’s coming to you by George Hage, his band, Jack the Radio, and songs that have inspired comics and pinups from 30 of the top illustrators and colorists from around the world. The book is published by A Wave Blue World and is based on the band Jack The Radio‘s new album Creatures. It was written by singer/guitarist, George Hage and features cover art from Matthew Allison and interior art from Tommy Lee Edwards, Khoi Pham, Aaron Conley, Jorge Corona, Alexis Ziritt, Núria Tamarit and many more. Among the many notable things you’ll find in this comic is something that you may not notice. Our main character could literally be anyone. Basically, Jack (or Jackie?) the Radio is a skeleton, with no overt reference to race, gender, creed, color, or anything else. So, yeah, let’s embrace this uncanny character, just trying to survive, much like you or me.
Guest Review by Paul Buhle
American Daredevil: Comics, Communism and the Battles of Lev Gleason. By Brett Dakin. Toronto: Chapterhouse, 2020. 242pp, $24.99.
Lev Gleason is a storied figure, a part of the history of comics production and comic art that had yet, until this fascinating volume, to be told in any detail. A personal saga, a business history, and a detective story by a great-nephew pursuing a disappearing world: we have here a tasty package. For those interested in the popular culture angles of the American left, this makes an especially intriguing addition. A minor baron of the pulp world, Gleason supported left causes of all kinds by determined fundraising, meanwhile publishing a left-of-center imitation of the Readers Digest and even consulting the Daily Worker on how to win more readers.
During Gleason’s prime years of comics, the end of the 1930s through the middle 1950s, comics themselves were outselling any other periodical except the newspaper, and doing so with a market mostly (if by no means entirely) under 20 years of age. Gleason helped create this market through keen salesmanship and an eye to design. His very own comics, for reasons other than politics, would lead in part to the….suppression of comics, a genre denounced and hated by the elite. His best-selling Crime Does Not Pay series (1942-55) could not be described as the most garish or violent of comics, but the outright sadism of the criminals, the “headlights” looks of the dames, this and more was unmistakably—popular! If never as popular as war and its perpetual American glorification in and out of comics.
But let’s start at the beginning. The author, a contributor to distinguished journals like Foreign Affairs and The Guardian, had to learn about his great-uncle second hand. Lev died before Dakin was born. He learned only by his own research that Lev was the grandson of a prominent supporter of abolitionism in the border states of Kentucky and Ohio—not a small or even very safe thing to be. In family lore, Lev himself was the left-leaning financial dynamo who made a fortune and lost it. Also not a small thing.
A Bostonian mustered out of the Army in 1919, Lev wanted to make money (he had at least one ex-wife to support) and went into the magazine business as an advertising manager for a kids’ publication. He took his experience to New York in 1932, and became an advertising manager at Eastern Color Printing, an auspicious spot. Eastern actually did the printing of most of the Funny Pages of the big East Coast papers. Gleason has at least a solid claim, if not the only existing claim, to have invented the comic book format: 64 page booklets full of comics.
Far from over-the-counter, these were first sold to corporations as give-aways. But Lev and his friends convinced Eastern to let them try selling the pamphlets at newspaper outlets, starting in 1934. The dime comic was born or rather pre-born, because only a year later did a comic appear with all original material rather than reprints from the newspaper comic pages.
As the earliest editor of Tip Top Comics, Gleason made his first and most spectacular blunder: passing on the strip by a couple of young Jewish guys from Cleveland, called Super-Man. You could say this error cost him millions. In charge of Superman, he might have avoided the dreadful cheating of the artist and scriptwriter by the comics corporations.
Gleason pressed onward and Silver Streak Comics appeared just in time for the comics’ Golden Age, helping to make it possible. The soon-to-be-famous artist Jack Cole came up with a dreaded character, The Claw, and action scenes hinted at one of Gleason’s favorite motifs in the years to come: the scantily clad maiden, obviously in trouble but also somehow tempting (psychoanalytic critics would describe comic books as faintly masturbatory).
Daredevil, of this book’s title, was for years Gleason’s meal ticket. A handsome agent of derring do, he could punch Hitler in the face (even if no one was doing so in real life) without raising a sweat. But to make the comic work big, Gleason had to buy a “few million pages of pulp” on a promise of turning the comic around in a couple weeks in 1941. With several more of the artists and letterers destined to become famous in the business, especially Charles Biro, they did it. Daredevil was a smash hit.
But this was only one side of Gleason’s inclinations. The Popular Front oriented Theater Arts Committee (TAC) had made a name during the 1930s, bringing elements of progressive theater to ordinary audiences, but it re-blossomed along with other such entities in the antifascist war years. Gleason raised thousands of dollars for the TAC as he did for the Joint Anti-Fascist Rescue Committee, and a large handful of others, most of them destined to be placed upon the Attorney General’s list of “subversives,” despite most having actually ceased operation or even existence during the years shortly after the War.
Gleason had also published Friday, a popular magazine that set out in 1940 to gain part of the booming magazine audience, but did not have the advertisers to survive a single year. More important, he published Reader’s Scope (1945-49), a lively, pocket-sized, leftish version and would-be rival to the ubiquitous Readers’ Digest, with condensed versions of articles from the liberal press. Salute (1946-48) aimed at the returning GI, was no success. There were still other unsuccessful magazines, proving that he had ideas, probably not quite the right time for them or the financial backing, but he pushed the antifascist, reform and anti-racist message forward.
Amidst all this, Gleason lived rather palatially in suburban Chappaqua, New York, until the middle 1950s. Publishing a liberal daily (New Castle News) to combat the local conservatives, entertaining guests of all kinds, he traveled regularly to the city with or without his family for what one could properly call anti-fascist popular culture. He was a personality of his place and time, as anyone could see. And then it fell apart.
Pursued by the FBI, Gleason also bravely fought the threatened repression of comics that was coming in the wake of the Red Scare. Indeed, the charges made against the Reds and comics were surprisingly similar, out of the mouths of rightwingers: Jews were corrupting Christian youths. You could say that William Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, faced the same enemies, but of course, Bill Gaines was an honest (Jewish) liberal without the dangerous political connections. Gaines turned the generalized collapse of the comic industry into the vast triumph of Mad Magazine. Gleason had no such backstop, at least not in publishing.
A real estate salesman in Upstate New York, living with his family in a small house, he was cut off from a sparkling social life. These had been shut down by McCarthyism anyway. Gleason survived for a while. He died in 1971. A year earlier, in a message to fellow Harvard graduates, he embraced the civil rights and antiwar movements that respectables shunned, evidently celebrating the renewal of the American Left.
Author Brett Dakin purses this part of his great-uncle’s life by driving around, talking to old people, and by checking FBI documents. It’s a change of pace for the book, but welcome in its highly personal tone. Dakin is a family member looking for roots, like so many others. He found the most interesting great uncle that almost anyone could find. I wish I had someone like that in the family tree.
Paul Buhle is the rare leftwing scholar of comics. He is coeditor of the Paul Robeson comic, to be published in October, and drawn by Sharon Rudahl.
The Necrophilic Landscape. by Tracy Auch (Morgan Vogel). 2dCloud. Minneapolis, MN, 2015, 32 pages, $12.
Why did you release The Necrophilic Landscape as you did, with the color removed and the title changed?
Morgan Vogel: “The Necrophilic Landscape” was composed in 2010 and then shelved after being rejected for a grant. At that time the author was influenced by gothic and genre literature such as Melmoth the Wanderer and The Devil’s Elixirs, or Edogawa Ranpo’s Detective Stories. In my personal work I try to avoid nostalgia in the use of these generic references to male authors. I was asked to edit “The Necrophilic Landscape” and turn it into something suitable for release. I chose to foregoround a theme that was only partially worked out in the original, that is– that the narrative takes place in an almost entirely male world. The most obstructive editorial decision I made was to remove a central passage which contained the original’s only depiction of sex or a female character. The printed version of the book is more disjointed as a result of this decision, but it seemed to me that the only explanation for the narrative’s total mystification of sexual reproduction could be that it takes place in a fantasy world that contains only men and male children. The change in title reflects my critical distance as an editor and was meant to refer to a concept employed by a feminist theorist I like of a male drive towards necrophilia (versus female ‘biophilia’). I believe the color was removed because scans of the original artwork were not available.”
Morgan Vogel’s life was cut short at the age of 34. By all counts, Morgan Vogel was the real deal: a bright light of creativity with a genuine sense of humor. A lot of works in comics, whether mainstream or alternative, barely register as worthwhile. The trouble, as I say, centers around a disrespect for the comics medium by various guilty parties. But dig around, and you find this. The key thing here is a sharp and subversive mind at play. The drawing looks crude but, in fact, it has a power to it. Gary Panter comes to mind. The writing seems dense at first but it has a way of disarming you. What you’ve got is a surreal poetic nightmare.
What you have is a work that employs the same kind of energy you can find in, say, the best contemporary painting or experimental theater. The actual narrative is about an all-male world in which sexual reproduction doesn’t exist and the primary class division in society is between men and children. So, heavy stuff but also an intriguing framework to explode upon the page, to explore the body and soul. And, amid the dark, there is some wonderfully light humor as in a scene showing how the children manage to outwit the men by disguising themselves as adults. The solution is as easy as something out of an early comic strip. One kid stands on the shoulders of another kid and they cover each other up with a big overcoat. Voilà, instant adult.
If this were a movie, it might be unwatchable but, thankfully, it’s a comic. There simply are things you can do in comics that you can’t do anywhere else. Lots of depictions of body horror can be uniquely finessed within comics and so it goes here. Top it off with the sort of melancholy you’ll find in a good Russian novel, and you’re all set and ready to go right into a morbidly happy oblivion. This book gets all the stars I can give it. I guess that’s five, right? Strange. Loopy. Totally radically authentic. Talked about in smart circles but hard to find unless you know where to look. Simply put, this is the Maltese Falcon of indie comics. Seek it out.
I’ll leave you with a parting thought. What makes me a good guide into the world of Morgan Vogel? Well, you can take your pick amongst a number of good souls. As for me, I happen to be someone who paid the price of admission into the indie comics community. I’ve experienced it in all its many facets and, I can tell you, it all can amount to a good kick in the teeth or a most rewarding loopy detour depending upon how you look at it. Believe me, I have nothing to prove. I choose to look at it as a natural extension of what I do creatively and I understand it within a broader context of all sorts of artistic endeavors. I just think that Morgan and I would have gotten along.
For more details on The Necrophilic Landscape and an impressive assortment of cutting-edge comics, visit 2dCloud right here.
Confederate statues are being removed, including that infamous Robert E. Lee statue, the one at the center of the tragedy in Charlottesville in 2017. What is essential to know is that these Confederate leader statues were not erected immediately after the Civil War in 1865 but were installed years later, during the era of Jim Crow. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s research, the biggest spike was between 1900 and the 1920s. Lost in the shuffle is the question of what happens to these statues once they’re “removed.” One Lee statue in Dallas was removed in 2019 only to be sold to an unknown party. In 2017, New Orleans removed a total of four Confederate statues including one of Lee. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that the monuments represent a “sanitized” view of the Confederacy. Landrieu added that they were erected years after the Civil War ended by people who wanted to show that white supremacy still held sway in the city. The cost of removal was over 2.1 millions dollars. Some of the factors in that huge price tag involved public safety and security but that still seems to be a steep price to pay. And, again, what exactly should be the end result to all of these statues? That’s a very good question.
Artist rebel Banksy offers an option byway of a recent removal of a statue across the pond, that of Edward Colston in Bristol. Colston was a 17th-century slave trader that was responsible for having transported over 80,000 enslaved individuals between 1672 and 1689. This past Sunday, protestors took down the statue of Colston from its pedestal, located in the center of Bristol, and sank it to the bottom of the Avon River. Banksy proposes to keep the infamous statue but repurpose it. As Banksy states on Instagram:
“What should we do with the empty plinth in the middle of Bristol?
Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t.
We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.”
Sounds like a very good answer. Of course, taking a sledgehammer to these statues is another option. New Orleans Mayor Landrieu led the way with the removal of his city’s four statues. Other cities followed, including Baltimore, Austin, and Durham, North Carolina. But where did these statues end up? The New Orleans statues are kept, to this very day, in some old shed in an undisclosed location.
Crash Course. by Woodrow Phoenix. Street Noise Books. Brooklyn, New York , 2020, $16.99.
Woodrow Phoenix provides a compelling case against the automobile in Crash Course, a work in comics. This is an excellent example of the power of the comics medium. Phoenix masterfully distills his argument into images and concise text that engage the reader. Phoenix drives home the point that cars are a devil’s bargain. Whether you own one or not, we all have to live with them, the price to pay for civilization. Phoenix filters brilliant facts, examples and accounts into an artful framework that ensures it will resonate and be retained by the reader. This is what the power of comics, and the world of visual storytelling, is all about. Cars! So easy to be seduced by them. Cars! So easy to be killed by them. Cars are easily turned into weapons, by accident or intentionally.
Our life with cars is indeed complicated. We’ve become so dependent upon them. Our daily routine, our everyday environment, is dominated by cars. Phoenix keeps his narrative streamlined and accessible. There are no abrupt detours. Phoenix provides a smooth path as he presents facts and commentary, both thoughtful and artful. It’s quite literally a smooth path as all humans have been eliminated from this narrative. We’re just left with empty streets, parking lots and freeways. Phoenix really gets into the head of the reader and provides some priceless observations like this: “Drivers get frustrated when pedestrians fail to behave with appropriate gratitude and deference for being allowed on a street. Pedestrians should not dawdle. Pedestrians should cross streets as quickly as possible. Hurry up. Run. Listen, it’s for their own safety.” Mix this with some cold hard facts: “City planners and traffic engineers are responsible for our entire transit environment. But in practice that means one thing. ‘Providing roadway conditions that contribute to smooth and efficient traffic flow. Flow. Flow is what it’s all about. Keep the traffic moving. A wide, clear, straight street is a good street. But people on foot or on bicycles barely register as traffic. They are slow, erratic, unpredictable, inconvenient impediments to flow.”
As an avid pedestrian, I was really taken with this book. I prefer to walk. I like to take long walks, barefoot when possible. I’ll do my best to find some peace and time for reflection during a walk but usually not for very long. Soon enough, I’ll be interrupted by whatever I have to do next involving a car. Either it’s a car idling in a carport on the verge of pulling out. Or a car at a stop sign with the driver taking a phone break. Or a crosswalk that may or may not be acknowledged. When I was a kid, I saw this brilliant animated short that depicted a world completely run by cars, or at least that’s what it looked like to the intergalactic visitors observing Earth. That’s how I feel sometimes: the world is run by cars and we humans are only grudgingly tolerated. Woodrow Phoenix would appear to agree. However, it was a bit of a shock to discover at the very end of this book that Phoenix not only owns a car, he owns a sporty Mini Cooper One. Well, life is complicated. Phoenix didn’t have to reveal that but I’m glad that he did. I understand.
Crash Course: If You Want To Get Away With Murder Buy A Car is a 208-page fully illustrated trade paperback, available starting August 4, 2020. For more information, visit Street Noise Books right here.
I’ve been carving a little niche of some kind for many years and sometimes wondering where it all will lead—but I do know. I just mean that, push comes to shove, I will occasionally feel obligated to account for my actions. From time to time, all of us indie creative types must ask, “Why are we all doing this?” Indeed. We do it because it’s rewarding in its own right. As we progress through life, I think a lot of us out there begin to think we’d better be a little more respectful of our own work/worth. Why not? It makes sense. That brings me to this post, a look at Morgan Vogel, a remarkable talent now gone all too soon.
From time to time, I feel compelled to define/explain what I do and this blog is a very good place for that. What I want to share with you right now is a little moment in time, because that is mostly what this blog does, filter through, and grind out some truth. Today, I bring up to the surface a remembrance of a young artist who recently passed away. Morgan Vogel, a name many of you will not know. But she fits the bill for the type of curious creature I hold in high esteem. Morgan was a determined artist. To die at 34 is truly heartbreaking. She was only beginning. I want to direct your attention to a tribute posted by Austin English over at The Comics Journal. Austin English runs Domino Books, a fine online boutique of comics and zines and he’s quite an authority on the indie zine. Austin leads a moving tribute that gives me confidence that Morgan’s legacy is safe and won’t be forgotten. Here’s Austin’s introduction:
Morgan Vogel, a cartoonist known for her distinctively intelligent work, went missing on April 8th. She was found dead Sunday, May 24th, at age 34. While her body of published work was small, its effect on those who read it was immeasurable. Her comics in anthologies (she appeared in Weird Magazine, Smoke Signals, Suspect Device, Tusen Hjärtan Stark, But is it…Comic Aht? and more) were often the stand out piece of the volume in question. The Necrophilic Landscape, a solo masterpiece published by 2dcloud in 2015, is one of the most stunning works of comic art in the last decade. Her recent self published zines, Valle and Nightcore Energy, were beautifully drawn and upsetting to read, a divide that appears in so much of her art and became more pronounced over time.
Morgan was a favorite cartoonist of mine and many others. Her work was, at once, cruel, funny, forgiving, un-affectionate and, most of all, incredibly perceptive. She often zeroed in on personas that people (in much of her work, artists specifically) constructed for themselves. She would at first offer a satire of these poses, but within a few panels, a more moving–and therefore devastating–portrait of the subject would be revealed. The maturity of her expression, the avoidance of an extreme of anger or acceptance but instead a complicated and upsetting synthesis of the two, was achieved with a precision that I rarely see in comics. Many of my favorite artists make work that, on a superficial level, seems confrontational, but at heart is urgently humane—Morgan’s work, to me, got at this better than most. When I wanted to start a magazine about comics, including Morgan’s work in whatever way possible was one of the highest priorities, because of the nature of her views on art. She wasn’t interested in style or gestures of sophistication, but instead on the true implications embedded within peoples art. In one remembrance below, a quote by Morgan is repeated: “I cant think of any other way to love except through artwork or some other medium that is public, loving everybody is easy, when you have an actual commitment to a thing or to somebody then it gets more complicated than I can handle.” A belief in the power of art often gets a lot of lip service, but for many artists of consequence, it is a real and specific thing. Morgan, I believe, was one of those artists.
Morgan’s work was well known to her peers and to many readers, but because she worked under so many pseudonyms (I originally knew her as Caroline Bren, then as Tracy Auch, later as Hennessy, and finally as Morgan or Morgan Vogel), the entirety of her output remains a tangle. I think this is, in part, how she wanted it. But I also know that she was an avid reader of this website and focused much of her thinking on cartoonists and cartooning history. There are no doubt people reading this with feelings about the form that mirror Morgan’s. In spite of her resistance to clarifying her body of work, attention and discussion of it seem important to fulfilling the belief she had in the medium. I think Morgan’s high standards for cartooning were often met most precisely by her own art. It’s hard for me to imagine an artistic achievement equal to that.
The Necrophilic Landspace is 32 pages, 7.75 x 9.25 inches, 1 color risograph, $12, available at 2dcloud.