I’ve been following the work of Ray Hecht for years now and it has been fascinating to see him develop as a writer, artist, and now as the leading force behind this collection of short works in comics. Hecht is a devoted and creative explorer trying to make sense of the world. The goal for this book is to make some sense of Taiwan, a country many of us know very little about other than it being forever threatened by China. The main service this book provides is to offer up some slice-of-life vignettes from a variety of artists at various stages in their careers.
Panel excerpt from “Walks & Talks,” by Patty Hogan and Todd Allen Williams
Every comics anthology is a delicate ecosystem that is cared for and nurtured into existence by its editor. I’m happy to say that Ray Hecht has delivered a charming and enlightening book. This is a mellow and easygoing journey, seven stories in all, written and drawn by eight contributors. Instead of dramatic epiphanies, you’ll find more of a contemplative vibe: observations on the struggles to fit in and to simply survive. There is plenty of common ground to be found here among life and work issues. In many ways, it’s the very act of dislocation that seems most compelling and the overriding theme. And sometimes that’s really all we need: some signs of life and shared humanity.
Panel excerpt from Ray Hecht’s “How Not to Get Your Scooter License in Taiwan.”
In the case of Ray Hecht’s contribution, the theme is dealing with the tensions of isolation during lockdown. Hecht’s solution was to finally get his scooter license so that he could drive around within the allowed perimeters where he lives in Taiwan. It’s a very honest and funny story and another fine example of Hecht’s sharing of his expat experiences.
Art by Fabienne Good
Among other contributions, Fabienne Good offers up some lively illustrations for her piece, “An Island of Inspiration,” which is just the sort of clean and idiosyncratic style that buoys the whole discussion. Well done work by all involved! Seek this book out. It can be your new travel companion and guide whether or not you might be thinking about your own visit to Taiwan.
TidalWave Comics has an amazing track record of delivering concise and compelling comic book profiles and you have probably come across some of them. This latest 22-page comic book on the legendary punk band, The Misfits, is part of its popular “Orbit” comic book series focusing on personalities who impact the world. And, if you know anything about this series, then you know that it can masterfully get down to granular details while always mindful of the big picture. As I read through, I was blown away by the fly-on-the-wall perspective and steady pace.
Straight outta Jersey!
The story opens on a living room scene, circa 1977, in Lodi, New Jersey, as told by the second bass player, Jerry Caifa. The LP pressings have just arrived and Jerry is none too pleased to see that the order has printed his last name when he expressly stated to only use his first name. And the narrative just keeps moving. The guys painfully realize, as they catch a Ramones show, how much they need a dedicated frontman on guitar. They find one. More players follow. More adjustments follow. They discover how well they’re doing leaning into horror.
Intrigue in the studio.
And then, one day while browsing a thrift store, they stumble upon the idea for the band’s mascot, that world-famous skull. Bigger shows right around the corner, just before a few more detours and going down rabbit holes. But this kind of rise to the top is always one step away from burning down in flames. Writer Joe Paradise smoothly covers all the drama, particularly how songwriter Danzig managed to pretty much hijack the whole Misfits brand along with the credit and profits, at least for a while. A court case finally decides in favor of the rest of the band to continue as The Misfits. But it hardly ends there as our story proceeds. Artist Martin Gimenez perfectly evokes all the ups and downs with an urgent vibe running through his artwork. This is a great comics tribute for hardcore fans and newbies alike.
There are so many wonderful independent bookstores and comic book shops and, with your support, they will survive and thrive. I have had some of my best memories in bookstores and in comic book shops. So, can we include both of these outlets in the same discussion? Do comics and books mix? Well, I should hope so after all these years. A bookstore and a comic book shop are two very different scenes with a good amount of common ground. It’s even possible to blur the distinctions. Any opportunity to work together is a good thing: the promotion of literacy; crossover business; nurturing community.
Kramers in Washington, D.C.
The market demands that all retail business adapt or die. The internet taught us that long ago and Covid has brought home the point in ways that we’re still dealing with. But, no doubt, business is picking up with in-person activity having made a resounding comeback. Over the years, bookstores and comic book shops have borrowed from each other in order to remain attractive and relevant to customers and that just needs to continue. Even full-on cooperation is possible! For instance, it’s not totally uncommon for one shop owner to refer a customer to a competitor, be it bookstore or comics shop, when a shop owner does not carry a title but knows of some other place that could. And conversations between local business are always a good idea.
Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle
Let’s break this down a bit. I can better describe to you what is going on with a prime example of how you can combine it in one venue, the boutique comics bookstore! We can compare two Seattle landmarks here. First, let’s look at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. Fantagraphics Books has been a publisher of alternative comics, zines, books, and graphic novels since 1976. In 2006 they opened their first retail space, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in the heart of Georgetown. Stop in and pick up the latest offerings from comic heroes like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Chris Ware and peruse their impressive collection of old, new, weird, rare and out-of-print publications. This retail space takes it all to a high level of excellence with a very tidy and inviting atmosphere, truly a world-class selection, and consistently high caliber art shows. Any indie bookstore would love to try to emulate this amazing store. Yes, it is a comics shop but it’s just as much a bookstore. What you won’t find here is your latest issues of comics singles as you would in a traditional comics shop. Nor will you find a big stash of vintage comic books. At least not what your typical comic book collector is hunting for. As I say, this is a boutique comics bookstore–and one of the best!
Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle
The other great Seattle landmark is Elliott Bay Book Company, which is more of a big deal sort of thing you include when strolling along on an urban jaunt. This is a wondrous bookstore experience. From this bookstore, we could compare it to Powell’s Books in Portland or The Strand in New York City, or Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi–well, we could go on and on. These type of bookstores tend to be extreme in scale, either tiny and esoteric or monumental and gregarious–more often the latter. I’ll focus back to Elliott Bay as I have a long history with them as a customer and admirer going back to their days in the heart of Pioneer Square. One thing that they’ve always been great about, among so much, is a dedication to the comics medium. This store made it a top priority to be an expert on as many subjects as possible. Early on, before the book industry as a whole created a “graphic novel” category, Elliott Bay was hip to it. Fast forward to the present, at their new location on Capitol Hill, this bookstore can easily lay claim to being a prime location for readers to get in on the best in graphic novels at close to the same level of a dedicated boutique comics shop. Add to that a first-rate lecture space in the basement level with some of the best readings you will find in the city.
Local Heroes in Norfolk, Virginia
Finally, we can consider what it all means. Consider Local Heroes, in Norfolk, Virginia. Here is a shop that has many of the qualities of a higher end boutique comics shop while also very much a traditional shop with an impressive line-up of the latest single issues and its finger on the pulse of what is most current across a broad spectrum of options: everything from manga to superheroes to more niche graphic novels. It’s not easy to get this right and Local Heroes is, by far, one of the best examples of this you will find. From here, we could venture off to other exceptional venues, amazing spots like Isotope in San Francisco or Million Year Picnic off of Harvard Square or Quimby’s in Chicago. Back to focusing on Local Heroes, I can tell you that the staff are truly exceptional with their customer service and knowledge. It’s a pleasure to browse the finely-curated shelves. Nestled within the hip Ghent neighborhood, this comics shop offers something for everyone, mindful of a wide variety of potential readers. This is a store that appreciates the endless possibilities that comics and graphic novels have to offer. This is a store engaged with the reader, no matter who it is or what the subject or genre. Because, in the end, a good story can come from anywhere. That’s definitely something any bookstore or comic book shop can take to heart. No doubt about it, comics and books do mix–there is really no other way for the continued survival of independent bookstores and comic book shops. Go visit one today!
The time has come to start spreading the news. My graphic novel, George’s Run, will be out soon. It is in the March edition of Previews, and you can find it here. The book will become available as of May 12, 2023, published by Rutgers University Press–and I could not be more thrilled. If you’ve ever set foot in a comics shop for any significant amount of time, then you’re aware of the monthly Diamond Comic Distributor Previews catalog. Each catalog provides previews of comics and graphic novels that will be available in the next couple of months. The issue for March, which comes out on February 22, features items scheduled to ship in May 2023 and will have my book in it. This is a big step towards getting the book out into the world! And, for a comics fan, it’s a huge big deal.
This is the book for any fan of comics, pop culture, and great stories!
George’s Run has been years in the making. If you’re one of my loyal followers, then you already know that this book is about the power of storytelling, a special blend of it going back to pulp fiction, especially science fiction. I’ll keep you posted every step of the way. For now, if you happen to visit your local comic shops, ask them to check out my book in the March Previews catalog and seriously consider ordering some copies of George’s Run. Your support means everything to me!
Here I am debuting a mini-comic version of George’s Run at Short Run!
An early color version of a page from the book.
I love the promotional material put together by Rutgers. It sums it all up quite nicely:
George Clayton Johnson was an up-and-coming short story writer who broke into Hollywood in a big way when he co-wrote the screenplay for Ocean’s Eleven. More legendary works followed, including Logan’s Run and classic scripts for shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. In the meantime, he forged friendships with some of the era’s most visionary science fiction writers, including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling.
Later in life, Johnson befriended comics journalist and artist Henry Chamberlain, and the two had long chats about his amazing life and career. Now Chamberlain pays tribute to his late friend in the graphic novel George’s Run, which brings Johnson’s creative milieu to life in vividly illustrated color panels. The result feels less like reading a conventional biography and more like sitting in on an intimate conversation between friends as they recollect key moments in pop culture history, as well as the colorful band of writers described by Chamberlain as the “Rat Pack of Science Fiction.”
Here is more marketing material:
New Graphic Novel Traces the Origins of Pop Culture Through the Life of Eccentric Storyteller George Clayton Johnson
“George Clayton Johnson was one of the most brilliant and important writers of the 20th Century, creating classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, as well as co-authoring Logan’s Run and Ocean’s Eleven. George’s Run spectacularly and charmingly invites you on the amazing journey of his life and legacy, from 1929 through the Fifties and Sixties to 2015 and beyond. It’s a trip down Memory Lane via time machine and rocket ship—and it will definitely blow your mind!”
—Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion
George Clayton Johnson
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through the Twilight Zone (Rutgers University Press; May 12, 2023, 978-1-9788-3420-0; $24.95) is a mashup of gonzo journalism and whimsical storytelling with the overarching theme of how a group of writers influenced each other to create some of the greatest pop culture of all time. This is an exploration of self and creativity.
The reader follows cartoonist-journalist Henry Chamberlain as he seeks to reveal secrets and insights from a unicorn from a golden era. George Clayton Johnson was one of the greatest television writers of the 1960s. George showed up, as if out of nowhere, to command a significant place at the writer’s table for the original Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Co-writing the cult classic novel, Logan’s Run, was to be the cherry on top of a career that began, believe it or not, with George co-writing the story that was to become the original Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.
Henry Chamberlain is a cartoonist, artist and writer living in Virginia Beach, originally from Seattle. Henry regularly writes about comics and pop culture on his blog, Comics Grinder. He writes for other venues, including The Comics Journal.
ARCA. IDW Publishing. w. Van Jensen. a. Jesse Lonergan. 176 pp. $16.99
Welcome to your next favorite dystopian graphic novel. This is a devilishly good take on the one-percenters behaving badly trope. The focus is on Effie, short for Persephone. She is one of “the settlers,” the youth who are in servitude to “the citizens.” When settlers turn eighteen, they are promoted to something better, although it is unclear what that is. Earth, they’re told, had to be abandoned because of all the usual reasons and so everyone is on this spaceship heading towards “Eden.” But Effie isn’t buying it and it’s up to her to figure out what is really happening.
Things are not what they seem; they never are. The more twisted the reality, the more profound the journey to find out the truth. This is what makes Effie’s journey so dangerous–and compelling for the reader. From the very beginning, I was intrigued by all the heaviness hanging over Effie. Heck, the first page has Effie flying in a plane full of skeletons. She goes for the emergency exit, yanks open the door, and gasps for air when she’s flung out into outer space. It’s a nightmare but, her wide-awake world isn’t much better. Effie is constantly being monitored. People are disappearing. She risks her life every day for the chance to read a book. She’s not even supposed to know how to read.
Van Jensen (Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern) knows how to write a slow burn story with a propulsive bite. Jesse Lonergan (Hedra, Planet Paradise) has a loose and lively drawing style. Together, they bring to life a quirky and moody sci-fi thriller. Everything about this story gives off a disturbing and muted vibe, like you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, finding out secrets you shouldn’t know. In this low-key and understated world, Effie is queen. She is a very reserved person forced to push back, and bit by bit, in a quiet and determined way, she gets closer to her would-be killers. Like any good work of science fiction, you get hooked in by the weird kid in the corner who nobody notices, until they need a hero.
A few notes on the art. I’m really pleased to see Lonergan having fun and experimenting. He spills over all the action, including the atmosphere, into various panels in unexpected and creative ways. There’s a moment when a glass full of eyeballs (don’t ask) is knocked over flinging eyeballs that bounce from panel to panel. This approach is part of Lonergan’s signature style and he does it very well with bookshelves, crowd scenes and things that go boom. The color is also applied in a dreamy and spacey way (soft watercolors that glide and pop) that compliments this more loose and fluid way of drawing. Nathan Widick brings home lettering and design that is spot on. The final results are fantastic and a joy to take in. I’d love to have him help me with my next comics project.
Science fiction means a lot of things. Often, we’re working with a vocabulary, both written and visual, going back to classic 1950s pulp-style science fiction. This book is in that spirit and turns it on its head. Effie is a classic sci-fi hero, unlikely and unassuming. But she’s not a shrinking violet. She’s more of a lone wolf. Leave her alone unless you need her. The best science fiction is not just about the future, robots and time travel. No, the best science fiction is about people. Readers want that; they hunger for it. This is a clever dystopian graphic novel following the rhythms of a bookish lone wolf. And remember, she’s not even supposed to know how to read. The elites don’t have a clue who they’re messing with. But now you do.
ARCA is available on July 11, 2023. You can pre-order it here.
A quick and apt description of the comics created by Sammy Harkham would be “painfully honest.” While this sentence alone may not mean very much to the vast sea of potential readers, it will resonate with many, not only the comics aficionado but the general reader. This particular work is at the masterpiece level when it comes to full-length graphic novels. Fans and critics alike have been patiently waiting for the various parts they’ve read published elsewhere to all come together and so here we go: a story about Hollywood, its underbelly; in fact, the exploitation scene of the 1970s. Our anti-hero, Seymour, working at one of these cheap movie studios and patiently waiting his turn, has been promoted leaving him in charge of his own movie. This level of responsibility, and relative notoriety, easily consumes him threatening an already shaky relationship with his wife, Ida.
Over a decade in the making.
Like any worthwhile graphic novel project, this book has been many years in the making. The bulk of the book was created in installments and appeared in the author’s own self-published comic book, Crickets, as well as his legendary ongoing comics anthology, Kramers Ergot. Anyone who seriously follows the indie comics scene will at least be aware of Sammy Harkham. Diehards will closely follow his every turn. And, for the vast majority of readers, this will be the first time they are exposed to this work.
Oh, Little Piglet!
Harkham’s cartooning style is a classic approach in the great tradition of working from reality and paring away to the essentials. This style fits in with great comics from the last century like MAD Magazine. It’s a very readable style that embraces personal moments between characters. We see Seymour and Ida, over and over again, at their best and worst. We certainly see plenty of Seymour at his worst. The stage is set early on with the big hint that Seymour doesn’t appreciate his wife and maybe the same goes for Ida. We proceed waiting for the other shoe to drop. The whole business with exploitation movies may as well be one big MacGuffin compared to what happens to these two. Harkham makes us care over and over again.
Hollywood, then and now, has always been a tough business.
Hollywood looms large over everything. That can’t be denied. Seymour is in the storytelling business, even if it’s a very small and cheesy slice of it. Maybe he just needs to be a part of it, a way to live forever. It’s more than half way into the book before there’s any mention of why Seymour does what he does. He claims to love horror movies. Even the cast he’s directing admit they love rock bands more than movies. Maybe Seymour loves the movie-making process more than just movies. That remains a question. Seymour himself remains a question.
Kvetching and kibitzing at Canter’s Deli.
Seymour’s story is about a young man who must do something. If it isn’t making movies, then maybe it would be making comics. Throughout the book, we see him following his passion of making something of himself. He doesn’t really know all that much about movies, about women, about the world around him. All he really knows is that he must do something. One epiphany may lead to another but, while you’re busy living your life, it can look like one big mess. And it is a mess. As Ida puts it, “Even at its best, life is just really annoying.” In the end, Ida and Seymour are an immature young married couple who can’t afford yet to fully appreciate each other, themselves, or even their child. Such is life and Sammy Harkham manages to strike the right chord with each and every painfully honest key.
Is it worth turning your life upside down for five minutes of faux wisdom?
It’s funny how a story that spans a few weeks can take fourteen years to complete. Such is the nature of bringing to life a fully-formed comics masterwork. If you are among the select number of comics aficionados who have diligently followed this story as it came out in issues of Crickets, and think you’re done with it, I encourage you to read the whole thing through now in its collected form. It may not be as you remembered it. Maybe it’s not, at its core, a story about storytelling. Well, that’s only part of it. After giving this a read from beginning to end, I stand by my interpretation that it’s a steady and deliberate look at callow youth trying to make sense of it all. It’s certainly not only about Hollywood ambition. If it was, Harkham wouldn’t have devoted an entire issue of Crickets to Ida’s sudden detour, her visit to see her parents in Auckland.
Portrait of a Young Couple.
This story is exploring the existential crisis we all must confront. Is Seymour going to find salvation in the movie business? Unless he’s really serious about seeking out what is most artful in the horror movie genre, then maybe he’s just as likely to move on to other pursuits. But, at this particular point in time, movie-making is his thing. What is it that matters most to Seymour? Even with his movie passion supposedly locked in, he would be hard pressed to articulate what his priorities are. Other readers will have their own opinions. This is one of those special graphic novels that genuinely invites its own book club! Who knows, maybe Blood of the Virgin will ascend to that most coveted of heights: spoken in the same breathe with Maus and Persepolis. It’s that good!
Blood of the Virgin is now available for pre-order. The Pantheon collected edition comes out May 2, 2023.
We are nearing the end of another year and it’s time once again for some sort of list of the best work out there in comics and graphic novels. I truly find these lists useful. I know that various things often don’t fit neatly into annual recaps and such. Works are generally years in the making, often coming out in different editions, spilling over into more than one year of promotion. That said, lists are a way to pin things down and are fun to go back to and compare what you thought then with what you think now. I gather some choice titles. Sometimes a Top Ten will suffice. January is a good month to take stock and jump back into last year’s pile (so many titles are latecomers). It works this way: November through February bleeds through a mad rush of marketing into a slower season for contemplation and planning for the new year, a good time for reviewers to pull out a few more titles that were hot during the last year. Here is a Top Twenty-Five list of comics that made it onto my radar during 2022.
Alright then, a comic that begins with a chimera popping into existence. And all the character can think is to conjure up another one? Nice and weird. I love it! Welcome to another installment of Endswell. The last time we picked this series up I did a recap of the first three issues. Number 4 is an all-out cavalcade of wonderful nonsense. Let’s take a closer look.
Endswell is a comic that I find goes well if you don’t worry about how it ends. You just enjoy it in the moment as anything can and will happen and, before long, it’s done and all ends well! It’s a whimsical journey we’re on and I’m okay with that. I think one can learn a lot from its decidedly irreverent approach, whether or not you’re an aspiring cartoonist yourself.
Now, there is indeed a story going on here about a family estate involving a farm with assorted intrigue attached to it. And each issue follows a series of vignettes from various moments of family history from a different member of the family. In this issue, we’re looking back at a version of the author as a lad.
I am going out on a limb perhaps but I think what Morey is doing is a kind of pure comics where a reader can step in at any point, on any page, and have a bit of fun, without concern over the plot. I don’t think all comics are capable of that, not even all comic strips. Comics should lend itself to this, for sure, and it does. I’m just impressed whenever I see a fine example of crisp and clean work like this playfully working with the medium. As for the actual narrative, of course, follow along closely and you’re rewarded with a surreal family drama.
Hang on and dig deeper, and you realize that Morey has indeed created what I’m calling a “pure comics environment” where it seems anything can and will happen. I mean, to complete my point, where else but in such a loopy and fertile space can you give rise to philosophical pondering over the quality of life? Bravo, Mr. Morey on some compelling comics!