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Review: The Comics Journal #303

The Comics Journal #303

This is a very meta thing to be doing but here’s a review of a magazine that features reviews. Dating back to 1977, in its heyday, The Comics Journal was a monthly source of comics news and reviews, a trailblazer for the burgeoning field of comics journalism and criticism. It has always maintained a certain quirky attitude, consisting of a mix of features and topped off by a expansive soul-searching interview a la Playboy magazine, It mainly attracts those who consider themselves comics aficionados. In 2013, it ceased its print version, staying online, but now it makes its return to print with Issue 303. TCJ returns this month with new editors RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti.

Now, I go pretty far back. I have fond memories of picking up this magazine at Tower Records back in the day (circa 1995), usually with a recent release from Sub Pop Records. I also fondly recall a special dynamic, or synergy, at play between the magazine and its online counterpart that led many of us to the forums section that let you interact with subgroups within subgroups of people in the comics community. This was long before Facebook or social media as we know it today. I think the monthly magazine, as we knew back then, is still sorely missed. Towards the end of its print run, it came out less often and each issue covered a big theme and came out in different sizes. The consistency of a monthly had been lost. I think, in a perfect world, this latest return to print would do well to go back to that monthly format. Alas, with this latest #303, we’re seeing the start of a twice-a-year format. You might argue that TCJ is simply working with today’s print reality and is offering up a taste to a new generation of what is possible.

The showcase item in this issue is, of course, TCJ founder Gary Groth’s interview with a legendary firebrand, the satirist and children’s book author, Tomi Ungerer. For those of you unaware of Mr. Ungerer’s impressive career, I highly recommend that you read this interview and, before or afterward, check out the 2013 documentary, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough,” directed by Brad Bernstein. The title is one of Ungerer’s sayings, along with “Don’t Hope, Cope” and “Expect The Unexpected.” I interviewed the documentary’s director and its writer and the fact that Ungerer is a true force of nature was the overriding theme. So, it makes perfect sense for someone as outspoken as Groth to sit down and talk it out with someone as outspoken as Ungerer! It’s a match made in heaven.

From Ben Passmore’s story in Now: The New Comics Anthology #3, published by Fantagraphics

Among the various features to be found here, you’ll find them under such titles as “From the Trenches” and “Fair Warning.” For example, under the former is a think piece by cartoonist Ben Passmore, who shares his insights on the alt-comics scene from an African American perspective. And, under the latter, you ‘ll find an interview by RJ Casey with emerging comics talent, Fifi Martinez. The thing to always remember about TCJ is that its focus is a serious look at comics as an art form. That leaves little room, if any, for superhero comics, per se. What you’ll mostly find here is a focus on the independent artist-cartoonist. It does a heart good to see cartoonists like Passmore and Martinez provided with a platform.

Ultimately, TCJ remains what it’s always been, a valuable resource that is most appreciated by those who take the comics medium seriously. It’s a niche audience but a fiercely loyal one. In the new more fragmented world we live in, it’s all about niches. That is actually a very positive thing. And niches are supposed to attract outside readers too, right? You can only calculate so much as to how strong a presence you can make on today’s newsstands. For some special readership out there, it will be a great treat to see TCJ on a shelf. Newsstands aren’t going away anytime soon from such places as Barnes & Noble, specialty shops, comic book shops, and airports. TCJ might just want to make a real push into these venues and see how it goes. I asked about TCJ at my local B&N as well as the Pike Place Market newsstand, one of the granddaddies of newsstands. Neither place had ever heard of TCJ or had any plans to carry it. I asked around a couple of nearby comics shops. They heard of it but were not carrying it. This is TCJ’s return to print, right? Let’s see it out there in the real world.

The reality is that creating any kind of magazine, digital or print, is a big challenge. Everyone in the comics community is rooting for TCJ to make as big of an impact as it can. Those of us already in the choir, can keep singing its praises and wish it well. You can find your copy of TCJ #303 by visiting the Fantagraphics store right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comics History, Comics Journalism, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Gary Groth, Independent Comics, The Comics Journal, Tomi Ungerer

THE ALTERNATIVE UNDERGROUND art show at Scott Eder Gallery, Feb 1 thru Mar 9, 2019

THE ALTERNATIVE UNDERGROUND

If you live in or plan to be around the New York metro area, then consider visiting the Scott Eder Gallery for an in depth look at a variety of notable underground cartoonists from the sixties. This includes a number of names that are common to the comics community along with a number that will be newly discovered gems for gallery visitors. The show is entitled, THE ALTERNATIVE UNDERGROUND: Foot Soldiers in the Revolution that Forever Changed Comics and runs from Feb 1 thru March 9, 2019. The opening reception is Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, 5-9 PM. Scott Eder Gallery is located at 888 Newark Avenue, #525, Jersey City, New Jersey in the Mana Contemporary Arts Complex. From New York City, you can easily reach it from the PATH train.

Mickey Rat Comix by Robert Armstrong

 

What If? by Joel Beck

 

Casserine

 

Women at Work!!! by Daniel Clyne

 

Pro Junior by Dave Dozier

 

Smile by Jim Mitchell

 

Rev. Jeremiah Moses by Grass Green

 

Jesus Learns a Thing or Two by Frank Stack

 

Trina Robbins self-portrait

More details from Scott Eder Gallery:

When the Underground Comix movement is discussed, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, and Gilbert Shelton come quickly to mind. But the revolutionary break from mainstream comic books in the late ‘60s, leading to graphic novels and today’s vital independent scene, was comprised of numerous other artists. Many seldom get their due. Scott Eder Gallery is proud to present some of the largely unsung pioneers like Joel Beck and Frank Stack, both of whose comix significantly predated ZAP. Other featured artists are Bob Armstrong (Mickey Rat), Sharon Rudahl, (Wimmens Comix), Dan Clyne (Hungry Chuck Biscuits), Wendel Pugh (Googiewaumer), Mike Roberts (Bizarre Sex), and other foot soldiers active in the broad and groundbreaking underground comix scene. Discover or rediscover the idiosyncratic styles of more than twenty outspoken and bold cartoonists whose work remains surprising fresh a half century after the psychedelic fervor and anti-war chants swirling around their era have faded away.
Interview with gallery owner Scott Eder:

If you’re interested in comics or would like to take the opportunity to see firsthand some of the exciting trailblazing art that has influenced today’s boom in indie comics, then be sure to visit Scott Eder Gallery.

 

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Denis Kitchen, Phil Yeh, Robert Crumb, Scott Eder, Scott Eder Gallery, The Sixties, Underground Comics

Tacoma Focus: Destiny City Comics & Arts Festival on February 16, 2019

Destiny City Comics & Arts Festival on February 16, 2019

If you are in the Tacoma area, do plan to visit Destiny City Comics & Arts Festival on Saturday, February 16th, from 2-8pm, located at 218 St Helens Ave. This will be an intimate comic arts festival gathering of a dozen or so local creators.

The following are just a few samples of the poster I created for the show making the rounds. While this show is in Tacoma, our neighbors in Seattle are certainly welcome. So, here are some examples of my canvassing around Seattle with at least one landmark clearly visible!

Long Live Destiny City Comics!

The Comics Journal #303

The special guest is RJ Casey editor of the long-awaited new edition of The Comics Journal #303 from Seattle publisher, Fantagraphics. I definitely look forward to the return in print of the venerable publication that has a long history of covering the comics scene. Pre-order your copy of The Comics Journal #303 right here. And visit the journal’s website right here.

For more details, visit Destiny City Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Destiny City Comics, Fantagraphics, Tacoma

Ten Favorite Comics Published in 2018

THE BEST COMICS OF 2018

The Comics Journal is an essential source for reporting on and discussing the comics scene. I am honored to be included in its annual Best of The Year in Comics feature. You can see my list highlighted below. And you will be amazed at the vast selection of suggested reading from various notable critics, creators and publishers. Take a look at this year’s Comics Journal feature right here.

Amongst the Liberal Elite by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly

1. AMONGST THE LIBERAL ELITE  by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly (Powerhouse Books)

To be able to take a popular column made up of clever repartee and turn it into a graphic novel is quite remarkable.

Prism Stalker by Sloane Leong

2. PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong (Image)

For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Ms. Leong apart. If the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In this ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe and integrity.

Berlin by Jason Lutes

3. BERLIN by Jason Lutes (D&Q)

This is the omnibus we’ve been waiting for, the complete Berlin! It has been twenty years in the making and looks wonderful all in one place.

Art Comic by Matthew Thurber

4. ART COMIC by Matthew Thurber (D&Q)

Mr. Thurber actually works out his satirical narrative to such a precise degree that it reaches a peak of whimsical perfection.

Windowpane by Joe Kessler

5. WINDOWPANE by Joe Kessler (Breakdown)

In a fit of petulant bravado, Mr. Kessler will take a gob of primary colors and fling them like a bolt of lightning. A blast of these harsh basic colors will blow up some characters to bits. Others will be saved for a proper decapitation. All in a day’s work.

The Furnace by Prentis Rollins

6. THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins (Tor Books)

This work does indeed compare favorably with the best of the original Twilight Zone. That’s a tall order but this is an exceptionally unique work. I don’t take such comparisons lightly and I have no problem striking down false claims that occur quite often. So, yes, this is the real deal with its finely modulated pace and attention to detail.

M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder

7. M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder (Insight Comics)

This is one of the most unusual and mysterious comics I’ve ever read.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora and Barroux

8. ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux (Bellevue Literary Press)

Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.

The Dead Eye and The Deep Blue Sea by Vannak Anan Prum

9. THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum (Seven Stories)

There are more slaves today, well over 40 million, than at any time in human history. A new book, a graphic memoir, by Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony.

The Winner by Karl Stevens

10. THE WINNER by Karl Stevens (Retrofit)

Mr. Stevens is engaging in the fine old tradition of presenting a portrait of the artist and having the reader take of it what they will. In this case, there is much to take and much to celebrate.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Grinder, graphic novels, Henry Chamberlain, Lists, The Comics Journal

Review: TUMULT by John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy

Tumult by John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy

Every Hitchcock film features someone out of their element. My favorite Hitchcock character is the dapper ad exec Roger Thornhill, played to the hilt by Cary Grant, in North by Northwest. In the new graphic novel, Tumult, we have another ad exec type minus the charm. Enter Adam Whistler, a thirtysomething bratty wannabe artistic filmmaker. Writer John Harris Dunning and artist Michael Kennedy concoct a delicious brew of noir mystery with their Hitchcock-inspired graphic novel, published by SelfMadeHero.

Morgan, is that you?

This is a story of a man steadily getting in over his head. First, he has an affair with a teenager that destroys his marriage. Then he proceeds to destroy his career just as it looks like he’s about to land the film project of his dreams. He seals his fate when he has an encounter with a mysterious woman that he can’t let go. Her name is Morgan. Or is it Leila? Or Pretty Princess? The improbable suddenly becomes probable as Adam falls into a downward spiral. Subplots help to lighten and darken the narrative as needed. Adam has a friend who is endlessly reciting his opinion on macho-themed movies. Morgan can’t break free of Dave, an unsavory and persistent troll.

A fool in the making.

This is Mr. Kennedy’s first graphic novel and Mr. Dunning’s second. His previous one is Salem Brownstone. Dunning also set up the prestigious exhibition, Comics Unmasked, at the British Library. No doubt, Tumult would fit right in with that. Kennedy commands the pages with a bold and brash style, both exuberant and precise. His striking color choices compliment his powerful linework. I have to hand it to both gentlemen. It encourages me as this is just the type of offbeat stuff that I both write and draw for my own comics. And it is definitely my preferred choice of comics to read. I’ll bet it might be yours as well.

A touch of the littlest hobo.

Tumult is a 184-page full color hardcover published by SelfMadeHero.

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Filed under Alfred Hitchcock, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noir, SelfMadeHero

Review: THE BEATLES IN COMICS, published by NBM Graphic Novels

THE BEATLES IN COMICS, published by NBM Graphic Novels

We all have our favorite Beatles story or moment. There are so many to choose from: Ed Sullivan, the Maharishi, Yoko Ono, and so on. The Beatles in Comics, a new anthology from NBM Graphic Novels, does a wonderful job of sorting out fact from fiction and proves to make a great Beatles keepsake. You can see it as an ultimate scrapbook as it’s everything a Beatles fan would want to include in a tribute and then some.

From “Scrambled Eggs” to “Yesterday”

There are so many iconic landmarks along the way. Take, for example, the story behind one Beatles pivotal song, “Yesterday.” Paul McCartney says that he had a dream that gave him the melody. It was only much later, about a year or so, that he finally gave it lyrics. Until then, it went by the name, “Scrambled Eggs.”

The Beatles meet the Maharishi

Another example is the famous trip to India to confer with the Maharishi. This portion of the book is a prime example of how each segment is built up: some introductory notes, some actual photos and reference material, and then the comics. Each section has a different cartoonist at the helm. The whole volume is utterly remarkable in how it seems to effortlessly manage to substantially cover everything from the band’s initial formation all the way to their inevitable breakup.

The Beatles in Comics is a 224-page full color hardcover published by NBM Graphic Novels.

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Filed under 1960s, Comics, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, pop culture, The Beatles, The Sixties

Review WINDOWPANE by Joe Kessler

Windowpane by Joe Kessler

One of the first pages from Joe Kessler’s Windowpane, published by Breakdown Press, shows a wandering dog searching for food and finally finding a baked pie sitting out on a windowsill. There are splotches of color overlay on some of the blue line art. Welcome to a most experimental work in comics. Kessler covers various themes: childhood trauma, alienation, sexual dysfunction, and religion. Everything is a bit off kilter and on edge. What could be better for this kind of work, right? Well, this kind of work can often fall short and not measure up. But, in this case, there’s a lot to like even if it seems that things don’t always add up as the general reader might expect from the comics medium.

Like any artist, Kessler wants to challenge the reader. For instance, he enjoys the harsh use of basic colors. He also likes tossing his characters from one situation into another. He has them suddenly running away from things. He has them hurting each other. Then, in a fit of petulant bravado, he will take a gob of primary colors and fling them like a bolt of lightning. A blast of these harsh basic colors will blow up some characters to bits. Others will be saved for a proper decapitation. All in a day’s work.

There goes that iguana.

Quieter moments will serve for such scenes as an iguana forcing its way into a sleeping woman’s mouth.

It’s pretty wild stuff. Not for kids. Mature content abounds. All in all, this collection of sordid tales is quite fun, original, and worthwhile.

Windowpane is a 272-page full color soft cover. It collects new and previous work by artist Joe Kessler. You will find here reprints of Windowpane issues 3 and 4. This collection is published by Breakdown Press, based out of London.  Visit Breakdown Press right here. And be sure to visit Mr. Kessler right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Art, Breakdown Press, Comics, Europe, European Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Joe Kessler

Review: GYPSY OMNIBUS from Insight Comics

GYPSY OMNIBUS from Insight Comics

A lot of you out there are familiar with Batman: The Dark Prince Charming, the collaboration between DC Comics and the French comics publisher Dargaud. It was the first time that many Americans got to see the masterful artwork of Enrico Marini. And now comes along another amazing Marini work, with writer Thierry Smoldered. Gypsy Omnibus is published by Insight Comics, an imprint of Insight Editions. It is available as of December 4, 2018. Gypsy is an excellent example of the adrenaline-fueled mega-adventure European comic book. Gypsy was originally published in 1992 by Dargaud Comics and reprinted in English in the pages of Heavy Metal. Its futuristic Mad Max edge hasn’t aged a bit.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the world of Gypsy has it all: planetary highways, the coronation of a young Russian Tsar, the resurrection of a Mongol army on the trail of Gengis Khan, an all-powerful multinational corporation that controls all earthly transport—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! In the middle of all this, we have a Gypsy truck driver who, fortunately, knows how to look after himself.

Enrico Marini (Desert Star, Raptors, Scorpion, Negative Exposure) is an artist steeped in all the old school ways. All the artwork, including the coloring, is done by hand. Drawing, and painting, on paper sturdy enough to handle ink and watercolor, Marini provides a robust feast for the eyes. Colors get to play and expand beyond their the usual perimeters, spreading even into the word balloons. This hands-on approach compliments the gritty narrative. It’s not overdone. It’s purposeful.

Thierry Smolderen launched a career writing comic books in the mid-1980s. He has since won multiple awards for his graphic novels and is recognized as one of the leading specialists in the history of comics, having published several essays and articles in journals like Comic Art or the International Journal of Comic Art. His passion for comics is in full evidence in his script for Gypsy.

Gypsy Omnibus is a 368-page full color deluxe edition with slipcase. It is available as of December 4, 2018. For more details, go to Insight Comics right here.

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Filed under Batman, Comics, Dargaud, DC Comics, Enrico Marini, European Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Insight Comics, Insight Editions

Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Cover art by Ed Piskor

Stan Lee (1922-2018). News today that comics legend Stan Lee has passed away. There will only ever be one Stan Lee in the comics industry. You will hear that today and in the days and years to come. As a kid in the ’70s, I have fond memories of the iconic figure of Stan Lee. He was the guy leading the Marvel Comics Bullpen. He was the guy who was always yelling out, “Excelsior!” He was part salesman and part creative genius. This, in no way, takes away from the collaborative work he did with such greats as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. At the end of the day, Stan Lee was Stan Lee, a force of nature and an integral part of Marvel Comics and comics in general. May he rest in peace.

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Filed under Comics, Comics News, Marvel Comics, Stan Lee

Seattle Focus: Jason Lutes and BERLIN

Megan Kelso with Jason Lutes

Cartoonist Jason Lutes was in Seattle to talk about the new book that collects his comics series, Berlin. It took place at The Elliott Bay Book Company, November 8, 2018. This event included a conversation with cartoonist Megan Kelso. It was co-presented by Short Run.

Berlin is a monumental work in comics. Few cartoonists will come close to such an achievement–and it couldn’t have been created by a  nicer guy. What came across, over and over, during this talk is the fact that Lutes is very accessible and down to earth. That open approach plays into part of what makes his landmark work so special. It all began when teenager Jason Lutes wanted to make sense of a documentary about the holocaust he was suddenly exposed to in a high school history class. The teacher for that class was an alcoholic who made no effort to hide his struggles. He literally set up the movie for his class and left to get a drink. That abrupt and careless action ultimately triggered an in depth exploration of Weimar Germany through a creation of an expansive work in comics that would take 22 years to complete.

#ProtectMueller march in Seattle on 8 Nov. 2018

It was not lost on anyone during Lutes’s talk related to the dismantling of the German government of the 1920s that concerned citizens, just outside on the streets of Seattle, were protesting Trump’s own inroads into dismantling the U.S. government. Timing is everything. That Thursday night book talk directly coincided with protests across the country in support of protecting the Robert Mueller investigation after Trump installed a loyalist as acting Attorney General of the United States. Details are everything. If you follow the characters and the rich narrative of Berlin, you can’t help but get an eerie sense of having a mirror held up to the past and to the present.

Cartoonists holding each other’s works: Jason Lutes with David Lasky

Authenticity is everything. What is so appealing about comics by Jason Lutes is the solid storytelling. That involves a dynamic use of the comics medium: a crisp consistency in step with strategically placed visual elements that are pleasing to the eye and move the story forward. A quick example: I was standing in line to get my copy of Berlin signed and I made a point of poring over each page as I flipped my way through. Right around the midpoint, there is a page made up of wordless panels showing a mysterious figure in a row boat. He reaches the shore to find what looks like a vicious snake. He picks it up by its jaws and overpowers it. That same character reappears in the book as does the snake, both providing just the right doses of symbolism as well as pure entertainment. It’s important to note that, while Lutes referred to vast amounts of research and reading, he also fondly recalled the influence of key works in pop culture. Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel about Weimar Germany, by Alfred Döblin, holds as much importance to Lutes as his viewing of the original Star Wars movie as a kid. Altogether, what you have in Berlin is an honest look from an individual processing and distilling at a meticulous level.

Cartoonists Revisit: Jason Lutes with Jennifer Daydreamer

For many in the audience that night, it was an opportunity to revisit a respected work and commiserate with a friend and colleague. Seattle is a lightning rod for countless creative people and that includes a high number of independent cartoonists. There’s a certain sensibility to the alt-comics artist with Jason Lutes being a prime example. As he discussed in his lecture, it was Seattle that he gravitated to in the 1990s. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lutes moved to Seattle and worked for the comics publisher, Fantagraphics. He subsequently worked for the alt-weekly, The Stranger, just as it began publication in 1991. During this era, Lutes became part of a group of cartoonists that went on to form an integral part of the Seattle comix scene. That group included some members that were in attendance that night: Megan Kelso, David Lasky and Jennifer Daydreamer. It was a treat to have part of the gang together again on such a special occasion.

BERLIN by Jason Lutes

Berlin, the complete collection, is out now. It is a 580-page hardcover published by Drawn & Quarterly. Jason Lutes teaches comics at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Berlin, Comics, Comix, David Lasky, Donald Trump, Drawn and Quarterly, Elliot Bay Book Company, Germany, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Jennifer Daydreamer, Nazi Germany, Nazis, Seattle, Trump, Weimar Germany