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Seattle Focus: MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Once a toy has become an artifact of childhood, it has reached a very special place. For the purposes of this exhibit, a look at American toys spanning three decades, the focus is upon the joy and comfort these toys provided. The context is both simple and complex as viewers are invited to study the various exhibits from their own personal point of view. Did you have a happy childhood? If not, maybe a toy helped you along the way? Sectioned off into three decades worth of childhoods, there is plenty to recollect and reassess.

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is enjoying its West Coast premiere on display at MOHAI here in Seattle. Originating from the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit asks you to revisit many toys that, by today’s standards, would not be deemed suitable for children on many grounds, including common sense safety! Lawn darts, anyone?? Yep, we don’t see lawn darts sold in today’s toy market. They’re basically sharp steel projectiles. They’re not going to cut it, or rather, they ARE going to cut it! But, you see, lawn darts have a home here–on display only. Lawn darts are not subject to recall within the bounds of this exhibit. They are here to conjure up good lawn dart memories, for those who have them. And they’re also here as a subject for discussion. As much as this exhibit is a trip down memory lane, it also invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

What are your thoughts on Barbie dolls or toy guns? You’ll find them here ready for your marvel or scrutiny. The point is that you’ll find all sorts of toys, whether or not they pass today’s safety or societal tests. The overwhelming nature of childhood memory takes over. Countless kids loved their toys and now we have the nostalgia for yesteryear and contemporary perspective to guide us. You’ll find a lot of kids attracted to the exhibits. You’ll see lots of families with their toddlers, too young to appreciate any nuances but ready to grab at anything not secured. And then there are the adults who grew up in these respective decades. For them, especially, the exhibit features living room re-creations for each decade on view. For these viewers, the couch is right there to sit and go back in time with, alone or perhaps to share with younger family members.

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

Toys are certainly not easy to pin down. Toys resist being dismissed even if the originals are stored away or thrown away. Toys come at you from every direction. At a certain age, they define your leisure, your means of escape. They can become your world, your identity. They’re based upon all you think you know about the world whether from books, movies, television, just about anything. What does a choice in a toy say about a child? What does a toy say about the adult who chose it for the child? The adult who created it? The manufacturer that produced it? The country that embraced it?

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

One of the best examples of how toys can make a difference is the American reaction to the Soviet’s being the first in space in 1957 with the Sputnik satellite. That little object in space caused shockwaves in the United States. Toy makers would definitively enter the Space Age and Space Race. Hubley’s 1954 Atomic Disintegrator, right out of science fiction, was all well and good. But now was the time to step up a focus on science and technology. Amsco Industries responded in 1958 with the Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, “designed by missile engineers, tested in Cape Canaveral.” And, as the display makes clear, kids ate it up! There’s this priceless quote from the exhibit:

“How did I get interested in science and make it my life’s work? Kids in the late ’50s and ’60s could get toys that complemented that interest. My friends and I loved my Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile: Mix up some baking soda and vinegar, put it into the missile, put it on the launch pad, and pull the string. That baby could really fly.”

–Mike Smith, b. 1952, meteorologist

It was fun, as a discerning adult, to wander back and forth between the three living room areas: the wonder and innocence in the 1950s; the keen interest in science and exploration in the 1960s; and a full circle escape to wonder and innocence in the 1970s. It seemed like, after having landed on the moon, and the rise of the Vietnam War, Americans were ready to refocus. Instead of looking to actual stars, Americans were ready to go see the new blockbuster hit, “Star Wars,” entertainment with its roots in 1930s pulp fiction. They were also ready to buy all the Star Wars toys.

Hey, that's Han Solo's Millennium Falcon!

Hey, that’s Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon!

I have fond memories of the ’70s as a kid. And I recall seeing “Star Wars” in 1977, at age 14, at our local movie theater at the mall. It would not have occurred to me to buy all the Star Wars figures, let alone a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. But it was really nice to see the whole Star Wars set on display here at MOHAI. Any kid would have been thrilled to have owned them back then. But I’m sure that I owned a couple of figures. And I know that I went to see “Star Wars” more than once, despite the very long lines. I didn’t question any of it back then, although I was certainly old enough to do so. I was more than happy to accept it just as fun. I didn’t think about profit motives or the future of franchises or the American spirit. This brand new thing called “Star Wars” left you with a good feeling inside. And that’s the best thing any toy can offer.

TOYS at MOHAI!

TOYS at MOHAI!

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Childhood, Children, Comics, Education, Family, History, MOHAI, pop culture, Sci-Fi, Science, Seattle, Toys

Review: THE OUTSIDE CIRCLE

"The Outside Circle" by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

“The Outside Circle” by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

To tell a big story that resonates, you need to fit it within the framework of a smaller story. This is what Patti LaBoucane-Benson does in “The Outside Circle” as she addresses the Canadian government’s treatment of its own native people though the journey of one brave man. When you embark upon the process of building up a graphic novel, you make various choices along the way. One critical decision is setting the right tone and that is tied in with what kind of work it is set to be. It can be a little of A, B, or C, and ultimately it will be mostly one kind of graphic novel. “The Outer Circle” is chiefly an educational work with lots of room for artistic expression. It is a tale with many facts to bring forth. In this regard, Kelly Mellings does a great job of balancing what must be said with finding a way to say it in the most compelling way.

A tattoo that speaks volumes.

A tattoo that speaks volumes.

“The Outside Circle,” by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings, is a story of flawed and vulnerable characters who seem resistant to change and yet hunger for redemption. We explore what led Pete, an Aboriginal Canadian, to succumb to a life of crime and violence. One of the most compelling pages shows Pete after he’s being rewarded by the gang with a tattoo. Pete has just committed a crime worthy of acceptance by the gang members. However, the tattoo reveals the pain and sorrow of Natives under the Canadian government.

Rehabilitation and redemption through the Warrior Program.

Rehabilitation and redemption through the Warrior Program.

Pete must lose everything before he can regain his own dignity and sense of purpose. After a fight that turns deadly, Pete is sent to prison and his little brother, Joey, is placed into foster care. The act of Joey entering foster care mirrors the plight of Canada’s Aboriginals. The government’s solution had always been to separate the native-born children from their families and have them placed into foster care and go to special residential schools. These residential schools turned out to be run-down and poorly kept. The children were often neglected and sexually abused. The last school of this kind closed in 1996.

But a strong spirit may rise above the worst trauma. Pete is deemed worthy of a second chance and a good candidate for the prison’s “In Search of Your Warrior” program. It is the journey that Pete embarks upon that informs the rest of our story. Pete must find ways to break the patterns of violence and self-hatred. This is a moving story told with compassion through words and pictures. And it proves to be a excellent source of information and hope, another great example of the power of comics and graphic novels.

“The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel” is a 128-page trade paperback, in full color, published by House of Anansi Press.

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Filed under Aboriginal, Canada, Comics, Education, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Interview: Jennifer Daydreamer: Comics and Beyond

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer has been published by Top Shelf Productions and regularly contributed illustrations to the Seattle alt-weekly, The Stranger, in the late ’90s. In the course of a creative life, Daydreamer has seen her path take an interesting trajectory. I share with you now a conversation with artist and writer Jennifer Daydreamer on her new project, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe.” A Kickstarter campaign in support of a print run to the book is going on now thru August 28th. You can find it right here. She is the author. Full disclosure, I’m the illustrator for the book, and I contributed to the story. And she’s my partner.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin, Jen. We can jump in to the very beginning of the Mack Stuckey project.

JENNIFER DAYDREAMER: You certainly did contribute to the prose. There are details in Mack, plot points, character names and so forth, that you came up with. We are both illustrators but you were the instant choice of illustrator. Although I can draw fast, I don’t normally paint in quick thick brush strokes, the kind you do, and so I was excited about a real artistic collaboration with you. Probably our first. I think after you’ve been blogging for ten years, this has been the first time you have interviewed me. So, thanks!

What was the impetus to writing Mack Stuckey?

Well, before 2008, I could score a job pretty easily. I’m a creative type but I have a detailed part of my brain that does well with accounting. I actually enjoy accounting because I find it meditative and so for most of my career I have been able to do accounting work for my jobs. I was in a series of job layoffs. One, the company went out of business, the next, the company transferred my position out of state, another one I was a new hire and when they do layoffs, the new hires usually get cut first. In a nutshell, the book is about the economy and expressing my frustration about it, in a creative way. I just don’t want to spend my time venting at this point. I have expressed my employment dilemmas to my friends over the years. At this point, I’d rather be joking.

Illustration for "Mack Stuckey" by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration for “Mack Stuckey” by Henry Chamberlain

Jennifer Daydreamer quote

Where does it take place?

It takes place in Seattle. Poor Seattle. The inspiration to write the book is my need to express myself in regards to the economy and state of housing and living in our city with a disappearing middle class. The story takes place in 2014, by the way, and so, any uptick of the economy happening today, I hope is really happening. I digress. Seattle happens to be the fall guy, the theatrical back drop of the story and so, we make fun of Seattle. Specifically, Fremont. We venture into Ballard, Downtown, and the U District.

How so?

For one thing, I create a feud between Ballard and Fremont, either real or imagined. I examine the tension that I think exists between the two locales because when you want to buy something practical in Fremont, like pens and a pad of paper there is only one or two small places to go. There are no standard drug stores allowed in Fremont (I think from building codes) so you have to take your car or the bus or your bike and dip into Ballard for practical needs.

What else is the book about?

Well, we describe the book succinctly on our Kickstarter page! Basically, I created a love triangle between a woman and two men, representing the upper, middle, and lower classes. I don’t come right out and say that in the book, because that would be too explicit, but that is one of the themes. I think there is something for everyone in the book, if you like humor, a sexy romance, or interest in the local icons. I try my hand at what I call comedic erotica.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to in the last few years.

After drawing comics, I was inspired to write a screenplay because that imprint, what was it called?

Minx.

Yes, Minx, from DC Comics, asked me for some ideas. They cancelled the imprint. One of my ideas was for a dystopian novel about the separation between a guy and a girl and killing in the army, that someday I should write. They really did not like it, too macabre, and then Hunger Games comes out later. I remember believing them at the time that the story pitch is not good, so its a reminder to believe in myself. I wrote the screenplay for the humor submission that they did like. Then Minx was cancelled. I never had a contract, just a “that’s funny, I like that one.” So, I spent about a year studying how to write a screenplay and it took me about 1.8 to finish it, because it was my first screenplay.

Where did that leave you?

With one foot halfway in the door! It left me with one manager who switched companies and his job position and so he could not represent it. Then I found an agent who read it, she is known in the industry and so I felt lucky. She was encouraging. She said I needed edits and she gave me her manager contact and said to try and do edits with him and then resubmit it to her. But her manager nixed it. By the way, I respected how he communicated with me, as he got to it, read the script promptly and let me know his opinion. Everyone I submitted it to over a year’s time or so, was very nice, frankly. I know there is crap that happens in Hollywood, but, somehow, I felt encouraged by people in the business I was in contact with. Most did not have room or time to read it and some commented that my pitch was great and so to keep at it. So, I got my foot in the Hollywood door about an eigth of the way. A toe.

Interesting visual, one toe clinging to a door. But, seriously, it put you in an interesting situation. You were in the thick of transitioning from comics, moving beyond comics.

It was fun to try. I felt a cartoonist could get a foot in the door because comic book movies were taking off. I had an agent/lawyer to make some pathway, also, when I submitted, so I was not completely unprofessional and just cold called everyone. I think the writing contributed to writing Mack – the more you create the better you get. Mack has taken 2.5 years to write and I still have some details I want to round it out with. Its basically done. Besides those projects, I have spent a lot of time writing and sketching out a four book Young Adult Fantasy Series which I am eager to launch on social media. For this YA series, I really think a book agent, editor or editors and publishing company is necessary. You need help to keep detail accurate when you are world building.

After Mack, I have one very odd book, I have to get off my chest, then I will launch my YA series. I have spent a year on it. Its not complicated like writing a story but I am scared of publishing it, and so, I have to publish it. I’m scared as I have to dip into some religious and societal explanations. I had an out of body experience or an altered state from drawing my mini comics long ago and it was not until recently when I studied Jung in detail and some Jungian psychologists that I realized there is a biological explanation or a science explanation for it.

Lots of room to dig deeper.

Usually the explanation in our society, is something spiritual or “occult” and so I am eager to lay out my idea to disprove the occult notions, that there may be a more reasonable or logic based explanation. I have not completely ruled out a spiritual component. I think there is a spiritual component, I understand the shamanic explanation for something like that, but I think there is a middle ground, because the explanations from psychologists are so clear and sound. There’s compelling commentary by Oliver Sacks on YouTube (13.45). Maybe you can link the video for our cartoonist friends because it’s interesting if you draw comics.

Yes, consider it done. It will run right below these comments.

Great!

What Oliver Sacks has to say I am relating to my experience in the book. I think the brain is activated because of the archetypal nature of comics. What archetypal nature is, should be explained more but there is not room in this intervew to go into that kind of detail.

“There is another part of the brain which is especially activated when one sees cartoons. It’s activated when one recognizes cartoons when one draws cartoons and when one hallucinates them. It’s very interesting that that should be (so) specific.”

–Oliver Sacks

Are you still drawing comics? Where would you say you are today in relation to comics?

I love comics. I am following my heart and my heart wants my YA series to be prose – just words – and my illustrations. And so, no, its not comics. I would like to draw comics and be in anthologies, but there is no time at the moment. I am really focused on the projects listed above. I have the door open on comics, the door is not closed. Same with, you know, doing another humor book like Mack. When I was in high school I was the kid that made fun of all the teachers and drew riffs on them and passed them to my friends in class. I have a humor side and I have the side that loves to create long fantasy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One last word. We make fun of some drug usage in Mack but I don’t do drugs. I am a very very square cat when it comes to things like that. It’s important for me to be clear on this because I don’t like my out of body experiences nor my illustrations to be accused of being “drug influenced.” Because I think fantasy story and art is related to healing and I want to contribute to that. I want to explore more in the future on the connection to drawing comics and naturally based hallucinations.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Thank you, Henry!

Be sure to visit Mack Stuckey right here. To go directly to the Kickstarter campaign on thru 8/28, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Humor, Interviews, Jennifer Daydreamer, Kickstarter, Satire, Seattle, writers, writing, Young Adult

Cannabis and Comics: ‘The Circus of Reefer Madness’ Creator Interview; Kickstarter on thru 8/31

Circus of Reefer Madness

I bring to your attention a funny and thoughtful comic with a cannabis theme that I’m excited about. You can support the Kickstarter campaign running thru August 31st right here. The project’s creator, Jeremy Myers, has found a sweet spot for comics and cannabis fans alike with this mashup of humor, horror, and political commentary. Cannabis and comics do indeed mix, going at least as far back as the Sixties underground. Here is a new generation’s turn.

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Filed under Cannabis, Comics, Horror, Kickstarter, Marijuana, Satire

Short Run Summer School – Summer Schedule 2016

Short Run festival in 2014

Short Run festival in 2014

Our friends at Short Run are known for their comic arts festival but they have other wonderful events going on year-round. Consider their summer school schedule. I just took Megan Kelso‘s seminar on graphic novels. And I found that to be a very special treat. I like how she equates working on a graphic novel to playing with a big ball of yarn. How true. Even for an experienced cartoonist like myself, there is always something new to learn. I may end up taking some more of these classes if my schedule allows and, if you’re in Seattle, I highly recommend that you do the same. You can take a look at the remaining schedule right below starting with an essential Photoshop workshop led by James Stanton for cartoonists looking for tips on how to color their comics:

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Filed under Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Eroyn Franklin, James Stanton, Kelly Froh, Megan Kelso, Photoshop, Sarah Glidden, Seattle, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

Will The X-Men Survive Marvel’s Latest Mega-Event?

Death of X-Men

Guest column by George Brandes

In the heyday of the 1990s, the X-Men were far and away the most popular Marvel comic on the shelves. The animated series from the same era remains beloved by fans and the movies still consistently put up big numbers at the box office. But today, one place we’re seeing the X-Men less and less is in the pages of the actual comics. With the attention of the comics becoming ever more focused on reflecting the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has begun to look as though one popular franchise is being left behind, the X-books.

Unless you’ve been living under a particularly large rock, you know there’s been a bit of a clash of the titans concerning the ownership rights for Marvel properties between Disney and Fox. Fox has the rights to the X-Men and Deadpool while Disney (and subsequently Marvel) gets the Avengers and everyone else. Disney has apparently made nice with Sony, who have the rights to Marvel’s other flagship hero, Spider-Man. The latest iteration of the web-slinger appeared in the recent Captain America: Civil War while Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark will make his own appearance in Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. This reconciles the two once disparate cinematic continuities and their partnership is being reflected in the comics. Marvel continues to push new and exciting Spider-Man stories while experimenting with and expanding the character’s world.

Unfortunately, no such deal has been reached between Disney and 20th Century Fox. As a result, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the big-screen exploits of the X-Men remain at a noticeable arm’s length from each other. Even in the Avengers films with their inclusion of characters such as the Scarlet Witch, they’re careful to never specifically mention the world “mutant” lest they step on the toes of the films from Fox or recognize that mutants are even a thing in the MCU.

In the publisher’s latest relaunch with its All-New Marvel campaign, fans noticed a significant dearth of mutant-related titles, with the company instead choosing to focus more on the extraterrestrial Inhumans. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Marvel and Disney still have the film rights to a potential Inhumans movie while Fox retains its death grip on the X-Men franchise. It should also be noted that Marvel is no longer publishing The Fantastic Four as an ongoing comic, a property whose film rights are also owned by Fox. As a result of this impasse, Marvel has taken to slowly but surely erasing both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four from its merchandising as well.

The lack of X-books certainly isn’t because the characters are no longer popular. If anything, the X-Men are just as popular as ever judging by the money made at the movies. The mutants also continue to make their mark in video games, with three separate X-Men-themed casual titles among similar jackpot-based offerings online. They feature classic line-ups of characters that fans know and love while using the time-tested gameplay of a traditional slot-reel. These games work to expand the property’s reach to a much larger audience than would be possible through just the comics, or even the movies. Also, with the massive overhauls being seen throughout the X-verse, these games are one of the few places you’ll still be able to find the take on Wolverine that you remember from the original cartoons. The comics are now populated by Old Man Logan while the female mutant formerly known as X-23 now wears the Wolverine mantle.

If fans didn’t still connect with the mutants on a personal level, there’d be little incentive to use them as a draw for mass audiences. Clearly, there’s something larger at foot for their notable absence from the comics. The X-Men are obviously still a popular property, so it would be surprising to see the team disappear entirely from comic book pages. Marvel would be cutting off its nose to spite its face if they made such a move, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising given what happened to the Fantastic Four.

The X-Men have been a pivotal property in helping shape Marvel into the company we know it today, and they were also largely responsible for the modern day superhero film boom. While we would seriously doubt to see the mutants disappear completely, the future for homo superior has never looked more bleak. We can only hope that Marvel can reconcile with the property that helped to save it in its darkest hour.

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Filed under Comics, Fox, Marvel Comics, movies, Sony, Spider-Man, X-Men

Kickstarter: IT’S ALIVE! Needs Your Help to Publish The First Ever Collection of DOPE by Trina Robbins

Page from the graphic novel, DOPE, by Trina Robbins

Page from the graphic novel, DOPE, by Trina Robbins

IT’S ALIVE! is an imprint that specializes in bringing great comics, many out of print for decades, to new readers. IT’S ALIVE! has partnered with IDW Publishing to make these wonderful books available to you. However, the imprint’s founder and editor, Drew Ford, is still responsible to come up with the funds to publish each book. Right now, a Kickstarter campaign is going on in support of the first ever collection of a comic book adaptation by Trina Robbins of Sax Rohmer’s 1919 novel, DOPE. The Kickstarter campaign runs thru August 19th and you can support it right here.

Dope Trina Robbins comics

If this Kickstarter campaign is successful, IT’S ALIVE! will publish the first ever collection of Trina Robbin’s comic book adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s sensational 1919 novel, DOPE. The story centers around a talented young actress, who becomes fatally ensnared in London’s mysterious and glittery drug culture of the early 20th century. DOPE was both the first novel to speak openly about the world’s international drug trade, and the first story to center around the death of a celebrity by drug overdose. Robbin’s comic book adaptation was first published in 1981, serialized within the pages of ECLIPSE MAGAZINE (and later, ECLIPSE MONTHLY). The story started out in a black and white magazine, and finished up in color comic book. Since its initial publication, it has never been collected in any form.

Its Alive Press Drew Ford IDW

Trina Robbins is one of the best cartoonists in a long history of great comics art. DOPE exemplifies her distinctive vision. The campaign ends soon, August 19th. Jump on board here.

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Filed under Comics, Drew Ford, IT’S ALIVE! Press, Kickstarter, trina robbins

Review: SNOTGIRL #1

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

“Oh boy! It’s really been a while, hasn’t it? But it’s like they say: life is what happens between blog posts. Right??” That is “Snotgirl,” the new comic created by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung. Meet Lottie Person, your fashionista, your Holly Golightly with a blog. Not in a long while have a enjoyed such a pleasing mix of sexy and cute as with this new comic.

Holly Golightly with a blog

Holly Golightly with a blog

A comic like this almost writes itself. Thankfully, we have a thoughtful script by O’Malley and engaging artwork by Hung. When has snot ever been a recurring motif in a story about twentysomethings? Maybe it a comic strictly for kids, like Dennis the Menace or Peppermint Patty covered in snot. But not someone so poised and elegant as our Lottie! The poor thing suffers form allergies. So, she is never too far from a tissue. And those allergy pills don’t seem to be reliable.

I blog, therefore I am.

I blog, therefore I am.

If you are reading this blog post, chances are you write a blog of your own! We’re all doing it. Feels good, right? Or does it? You could say it depends on why you’re doing it. This is at the hear of this story. What makes Lottie tick? What if all her social media was suddenly withheld from her? Would she exist? And then there’s a surprise twist at the end of this first issue that lets you know for sure that all is not what it seems. Great first issue!

SNOTGIRL #1 is available as of July 20th. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Bryan Lee O'Malley, Comics, Comics Reviews, Image Comics

Review: THE FUN FAMILY by Benjamin Frisch

Fun Family

“The Fun Family” is the debut graphic novel by Benjamin Frisch. It is a satire of wholesome family comic strips with a decided focus on Bil Keane’s “Family Circus.” I think Frisch is a decent cartoonist but this work does not make me want to poke fun at family-oriented comic strips that are supposedly shallow and trite. No, instead, it makes me want to defend all comic strips, especially the masterful work of Bil Keane! That said, I do appreciate what Frisch is after here. He has set up an ongoing gag where he has the anti-Family Circus family crumble before our eyes. Meet the Fun family, they are not what they seem.

Frisch goes about his task with a good deal of precision. We are swept right into the family dynamics as each member recites what they are thankful for before dinner. We observe a hearty and classic nuclear family, all Ozzie and Harriet pleasantries intact. And then little junior picks up the phone and is given the news, via an automated message from the hospital, that grandma has passed away. This event triggers a downward spiral that just keeps going downward. This hits Robert Fun, the patriarch, especially hard. How can he continue to draw his world-famous circle-shaped newspaper comic strip celebrating the wholesome American family?

Perfectionist Robert Fun reveals his secret porcelain doll family to his son.

Perfectionist Robert Fun reveals his secret porcelain doll family to his son.

Everyone in this comic within a comic is drawn in the old-fashioned spit polish style of a family comic strip except all vibrancy has been replaced with a certain strangeness. The artwork is keyed down, all the characters either look lifeless or ugly compared to the original Family Circus characters. You think that family fun is the norm? Frisch tells you to think again. It’s an undeniably intriguing concept for a graphic novel. The narrative weaves its way through showing up how families are not perfect and how quack counseling can make matters worse. We also have an interesting mirroring of events going on as little Robby follows in his dad’s footsteps and creates his own successful family comic strip.

This is a well-constructed graphic novel. No real argument there. And the humor may hold up for some folks. As for me, if feels like Frisch is hammering away at something that is not exactly all that subversive as that is clearly his goal. The Simpsons series, reveling in family dysfunction, has been on TV for nearly 30 years. It is common to ridicule a tepid and disingenuous slogan like, “family values.” So, I can’t back down on feeling compelled to support Bil Keane’s life work, now continued by his son, Jeff Keane. What’s next? Are we going to bash Hank Ketcham and Charles M. Schulz? Surely, I ask this with tongue in cheek. It’s not that I can’t take a joke and I do believe that Frisch is capable of telling a joke.

Great satire is great satire. You just know when it comes together. All you need to do is read Mad magazine and read how it has cleverly satirized family comic strips over the years. In the case of “The Fun Family,” the point is made about family dysfunction in a didactic fashion that may prove to be too much of a good thing. That said, you may be alright with the tone to this book. I definitely look forward to more of Frisch’s work. How about a satire on this satire? Now, that could prove to be very interesting and Frisch could prove to be just the right cartoonist to take that on.

“The Fun Family” is a 240-page full-color softcover graphic novel. For more details, visit Top Shelf Productions right here.

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Filed under Bil Keane, Comic Strips, Comics, Humor, Satire, Top Shelf Productions

Review: DARK PANTS #3

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

I am a big fan of Matt MacFarland’s DARK PANTS series. You can read my review on the previous two issues right here. The third issue is now out and it follows Phil, a teenager in Silver Lake, California, circa 1988. As Matt described to me in an interview, each new issue focuses on a different time and place in the Los Angeles area. The motif is a mysterious pair of black jeans and the sexual awakening they trigger in whoever wears them.

Page from DARK PANTS #3

Page from DARK PANTS #3

For our hero, Phil, life has been hell as he struggles with his sexuality. Phil is navigating in a very oppressive environment. The last thing he wants to consider is being gay. But, once his fate crosses paths with those alluring dark pants, he gains enough confidence to explore his options a little bit. MacFarland is relentless in his depiction of Phil’s inability to be true to himself. It seems as if his embracing his truth is filled with nothing but pain. Gradually, MacFarland hints that Phil may ultimately find pleasure but it sure won’t come easy.

Reading DARK PANTS #3

Reading DARK PANTS #3

The easiest thing that Phil can rely upon is his imagining having sex with teen heartthrob John Stamos. It’s a pretty funny and sobering fact. Phil thinks about it and he knows he likes it. But he’d rather hide. Things come to a head, so to speak, when Lisa, his supposed dream girl, lures him away to a bedroom. It’s his big chance to prove he’s not gay to his confused and frustrated self but all he can think about is…John Stamos. As for Lisa, she will have her day. It looks like she is the subject of the fourth issue set in Eagle Rock, California, circa 2016.

No matter how empowering those dark pants are, they are no match for an awkward teen. Phil is simply ill-equipped to harness his new raw power. He makes some progress but not quite what he might have expected. MacFarland’s drawing and writing is highly accessible. He immerses the reader in the inner turmoil that his characters are going through. With just the right touch of humor, MacFarland offers us stories of missteps of the heart that will stay with us.

Matt MacFarland Los Angeles

If you are in the L.A. area this weekend, be sure to see Matt MacFarland on Saturday, July 16th, from 5-7pm at the Los Angeles County Store in Silver Lake. Find out more right here.

Find Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Gay, Independent Comics, LGBTQ, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Sex