Gunning For Hits. writer Jeff Rougvie. artist Moritat. color/lettering Casey Silver. Image Comics. Portland. 2019. Collected trade, $16.99.
David Bowie has been the subject of a number of comics over the years but nothing quite like this. The character of Brain Slade is the thinly-veiled stand-in for Bowie in this unusual mashup/satire of the music industry and crime fiction. The creative team behind this book is as compelling as this quirky thriller. Writer/music producer Jeff Rougvie is brash and larger-than-life. Artist Moritat seems to strike a similar pose. And Casey Silver, in charge of lettering and coloring, rounds out the bad boy trio. Just the right guys for the job. As I learned from Silver, during an interview, Moritat fits the bill as the mysterious dark figure, the guy at the bar creating intricate drawings of fire-breathing dragons on a cocktail napkin. As for Rougvie, this guy actually lived the whole rock star lifestyle and has survived to turn it into comics. It was Rougvie who created a significant Bowie CD box set. In fact, it was Rougvie who invented the whole CD box set format to begin with. So, this book’s authentic vibe is well-earned.
The tangled web of power and fame.
It is no spoiler here to say that the book involves a lot of guns and a lot of shooting. The premise is that music producer Martin Mills is leading a double life that gets in the way when he’s put in charge of seeing his favorite rock legend, Brian Slade (the fictional stand-in for David Bowie), make a comeback. Set in the 1980s New York City music scene, the gritty world of show business meets the crime underworld when Mills must confront his checkered past. Caught in the crosshairs is Brian Slade. As push comes to shove, it seems that a dead Slade might be more valuable to all concerned than a live Slade. The drama involved is something Bowie would have approved of. This is a wonderful fly-on-the-wall look at the tangled web of power and fame. The music industry and the crime world have plenty of that. If you’re looking for something completely different, then a crime thriller starring David Bowie should satisfy you. Well, it’s not exactly David Bowie, but close enough.
Power chords and power plays.
So, tough guy narrative meets tough guy artwork. Moritat delivers with gestural and pared-down work that evokes urgency and overall chaotic/neurotic energy. This is a fun and rollicking book full of power chords and power plays.
Be sure to visit the GUNNING FOR HITS site right here.
Gentlemind: Episode 1. written by Juan Díaz Canales and Teresa Valero; art and color by Antonio Lapone. Published by Dargaud (France) Presented by Europe Comics. 2020, 88pp. Digital.
When Print Was King!
Think of Gentlemind as a comics version of Mad Men, set in the 1940s. The hub of activity is New York City, center of media and entertainment. And the specific activity is one woman’s goal of transforming a middling men’s girlie magazine into a platform for social commentary, literary and artistic excellence. Listen to the guys talk in their bullpen at the offices of Gentlemind, circa 1940, and they could be men talking today:
“I’ve seen you doing stand-up in the clubs in the Village, Bert. You have a gift. We want you to write a few jokes for each issue.”
“Written jokes aren’t funny. Either you tell them, or you draw them.”
“Hey, Mosky, how bout drawing something other than women?”
“I can’t draw anything else.”
Another time and place from which we can learn so much.
New York is a funny city, in a lot of ways still championing a dry and sly wit perfected over generations by the trendsetting creatives of the moment. This is a story about what is was like back in the day, in a golden era, when writers and artists of all stripes pushed boundaries while also navigating a world dominated by an elite patriarchal class. Enter Navit, a woman with a self-confidence in all things, intellectual, sexual, and emotional. This is Navit’s journey as she goes from a love affair with a struggling artist to the mistress of a playboy billionaire to the leader of a brash new magazine in the heyday of magazines. Due to a fortuitous set of circumstances, Navit finds herself in charge of an old girlie magazine which she is determined to turn into something worthwhile. Navit begins by having real women express themselves about what they think of men, a refreshing and quite revolutionary idea in 1940.
An old girlie magazine is confronted with opinions from real women.
Written by Juan Díaz Canales (Blacksad) and Teresa Valero, this is an utterly charming, as well as challenging story that will leave the reader wanting more. There’s a whole subplot involving the disparity between rich and poor and the virtue of ethics that really powers the narrative, bringing up many issues. And that’s all a good thing since this is only the first installment. While our heroes, and the setting itself, are thoroughly American, the sense of style and elegance embrace a European sensibility. And that vibe, in turn, is influenced by such American film noir classics as 1945’s Mildred Pierce, about a woman’s struggle to the top. You can also throw into the mix the influence of Seth, a Canadian cartoonist who has perfected his own take on comics noir. The artwork by Antonio Lapone taps into this quirky vision. His characters have an ethereal cartoony quality about them. They are ghosts from another era while also very much alive on the page. This is a wonderful treat for the reader to experience another time and place. A time well before much of what we take for granted. A time when print was king. A time when “men were men; and women were women” but everyone seemed to be very much in the dark as to what the other most desired. It wasn’t always sex. In fact, it was often a higher calling of some kind: a simple desire to be entertained and enlightened by a story. If all this sounds like too much to ask from a graphic novel, then I’m here to tell you it is one of the things that a graphic novel does best: explore the meaning of life. This one does it better than many out there.
Those “Mad Men” from 1940a New York City.
There are numerous exciting titles to explore at Europe Comics, your hub for all sorts of wonderful European comics (translated in English, of course) in a convenient digital format. Visit Europe Comics right here.
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Michelle Goldberg, in the NYT podcast, The Argument, said something that put the first five months of this year into stark perspective. She said that 2020 started off like 1974 (an impeachment crisis), quickly became 1918 (a pandemic), turned into 1929 (economic crash), and is now 1968 (massive urban unrest).” What next? Protest will continue. We all can look to John Lewis on how to cause some “good trouble.”
The death of John Lewis reverberates and can’t help but provide guidance. Here is John Lewis in his own words: “I learned from Rosa Parks and from Martin Luther King Jr. I found a way to get in the way. To cause good trouble. Necessary trouble.”
Here is a review I did back on August 28, 2013 of the first installment of MARCH, the graphic novel that John Lewis created with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell:
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is today, August 28, 2013. It is one of the most inspiring moments in American history and all of history. It will only grow in stature and significance as time continues its own march. The United States of America was desperately lagging behind in full self-awareness as a nation when it received an opportunity for collective clarity. It was a beautiful, gentle, and energetic plea for understanding. There were marches before and after this distinguished one. Progress would still take time. His words would still be dismissed by some. But, on that day, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a nation. He gave a speech. He spoke of a dream.
We continue to remember that moment, and that movement, in new ways. One shining example is “March,” the new graphic novel, published by Top Shelf Productions, written by Rep. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, and drawn by Nate Powell. “March: Book One,” the first part of a trilogy, has already gained critical and popular acclaim. It has made it to the number one spot on The New York Times bestsellers list for Graphic Books. The creation of this book is inspiring in itself. Congressman John Lewis is a perfect guide. He was an active participant in the civil rights movement right from the start. He is the last surviving dignitary who gave a speech during the March on Washington. And he’s a wealth of knowledge and goodwill. The “March” trilogy gives us a front row seat to the civil rights movement in America through the eyes of Mr. Lewis. The story is framed all in one day, January 20, 2009, the day of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. It’s an ambitious project that reads quite smoothly, just as if Mr. Lewis was there to tell you the story in person.
The script seems to embrace a cinematic pace. The main character is recalling his life all in a short span of time with each recollection triggering an extended flashback. It is left to Nate Powell’s storytelling ability as a cartoonist to bring out aspects that gel with the comics medium. You see this in the various ways that Powell plays with text and composition like when he has a favorite passage from the Bible run across a silhouette of young John Lewis: “Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” And, of course, the distinctive drawing style of Nate Powell takes over. We easily become immersed in the intelligent and caring ways of this boy who is compelled to preach to the chickens on the family farm. In due time, the young man’s compassion becomes refined and focuses on the social gospel, the idea that church principles can guide social justice.
Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, published by F.O.R. in 1956
It is a dangerous world that young Lewis must navigate. There is constant humiliation and intimidation. You could easily be killed, just like 14-year-old Emmett Till. But a violent reaction would not be the answer. The key was passive resistance and keeping faith. There were various techniques to learn in order to outwit one’s attackers with the prevailing goal being to draw out your enemy’s humanity. We find an actual comic book pamphlet of the time laying out the Montgomery Method that worked so well for Dr. King and his followers. It is a satisfying comics reference within a comic. It was an inspiration for the young John Lewis. And it’s a compelling link to the past to this contemporary look back.
It will be great to see the whole trilogy. It’s so important for new generations to have something contemporary in order to help them hook into history. The civil rights movement is really relatively recent history depending on how you look at it! This book and “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” make a big difference. The United States of America has a lot of wounds that are still healing and we still have a lot to learn and relearn. It’s this book and that movie that provide essential hooks for young people, give them proper context, help them appreciate when they hear on the news that our voting rights as a people are, even today, being compromised. You can’t put enough value on a book like “March” and more power to Top Shelf Productions for publishing it.
“March: Book One” is a beautiful book. It is a new way to honor and understand what has come before us and be inspired for what lies ahead. It is a 128-page trade paperback and is available for $14.95 (US) print and $9.95 (US) digital. Visit our friends at Top Shelf Productions here.
The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz
The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz. By José Alaniz. San Diego: Amatl Comix, an SDSU Press imprint, 2020. 128 pp. $18.99.
The college newspaper has a long tradition as an incubator of exciting talent. The Daily Texan, at the University of Texas, is a prime example, home to such notable alumni as Berkeley Breathed, Chris Ware, and Shannon Wheeler. Jose Alaniz’s The Phantom Zone first appeared as a comic strip in UT’s Daily Texan in 1992-1993. Now, imagine a book that not only collects some of the best work Alaniz did at UT but also provides a look at later work, including comics and scholarship. That is what you’ll find in The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz.
The Phantom Zone, circa 1992
This book is a very special treat on many levels. For those of you interested in the process of creating comics, and storytelling in general, this book is invaluable. As for me, I’m compelled to share this with you for a number of reasons. First, I feel a great connection to Alaniz simply for the fact that we’re both Mexican-American. We’re also of the same vintage but, more than just being part of the Gen X crowd, I had my own comic strip, Danny, running in The Daily Cougar, at the University of Houston in the late-80s. In my case, one of my characters was ripped off by another cartoonist and appeared in The Houston Post for a while. And then life moved on. I’d always been heavy into liberal arts, ever mindful of an uncertain future, but always faithful to my art. I made the big move to Seattle in the early-90s seeking a receptive creative home base. And so did Alaniz! Fast forward all these many years, and Alaniz found himself befriended by many of the same cartoonists in the community I was a part of. Small world! I have to say all this because Alaniz speaks to these similar building blocks. It’s also a big world too because I’ve never met Alaniz. Now, I hope that can be corrected. This book has proven to be such an awesome introduction!
The Phantom Zone, circa 1998
If José Alaniz had never kept up with creating comics, he would still have much to be proud of and satisfied with. Today, Alaniz is a professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. Mr. Alaniz is the author of Komiks: Comic Art in Russia as well as Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond. Both titles break new ground in comics scholarship from two very distinct approaches. Alaniz spent a good bit of time in Moscow and concluded that the Russian culture did not have much of any connection to comics so he investigated. Alaniz also found it intriguing how mainstream superhero comics explore issues of disability, death and dying and that led to him writing on that. Along the way, Alaniz probably missed creating comics on an ongoing basis. Once you’ve experienced the constant pace of creating a daily comic strip, at a significant level, it never leaves your system entirely. You have this compulsion to express yourself on a regular basis. The act of regularly creating comics gets under your skin. It is very intimate and intense. And it can metamorphosize into all sorts of other forms of self-expression: prose writing, including fiction and journalism, and engaging with other media as well. You are an exhibitionist, liable to walk around naked down the street if given half a chance. But the comics medium is a very specific thing and it has a way of calling back those who have participated at deep level just like a certain mistress may hold sway over a past lover.
Old Edinburg, Dead and Gone!
The Phantom Zone is an intriguing title for a comic strip. It seems to harken back to a good 0ld-fashioned adventure comic strips by such greats as Milton Caniff. Add to it the fact that Alaniz is playing with issues of youth, identity and culture, and it’s easy to try to draw some comparisons to the, by then, well established alternative comics scene of the time. Love and Rockets, the comic book series, and leading alt-comics title, by the Hernandez brothers: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario, would undoubtedly have been known by Alaniz. It is asking a lot of any young person to try to live up to such giants as Milton Caniff and the Hernandez brothers but many an aspiring cartoonist is compelled to give it a go. Once you’re in the thick of doing a regular comic strip, all bets are off. An overriding worldview kicks in and guides the cartoonist. Comics can be a great equalizer since it cuts deep, ignores any fuzzy boundaries between high and low culture. Suddenly, Archie Comics and Popeye must be given their due, honored and respected. Academics traditionally would thumb their nose at the likes of Jughead and Brutus and dismiss these clowns as “drivel.” And, of course, they’d use such an arcane term to add to the sting. But a true cartoonist, someone actually writing and drawing in pursuit of something artful, they know the true value of such legendary characters. And so Alaniz bravely entered the fray. Soon, he had something brewing, riding upon the shoulders of too many other cartoonists to mention. It is fascinating to read the early college efforts and then compare that to later work revisiting the same characters.
From that experience, it was onward to further exploration in creating comics. Pivotal in this process, as Alaniz shares, is his taking part in monthly informal get-togethers with various cartoonists at a local Seattle cafe. Prior to the pandemic, each gathering was an opportunity for cartoonists to draw up comics that were then collected and printed into an ongoing anthology known as, Dune. I’ve often been invited but I never attended, mostly because it conflicted with my job. But I’ve had countless interactions with most of these cartoonists. As many of them can attest, I’ve been at the forefront of many comics events which they happily participated in. Some of the most notable cartoonists from this scene include: Max Clotfelter, Marc J. Palm, David Lasky, Greg Stump, Seth Goodkind, Jim Woodring, Eroyn Franklin and Megan Kelso. Again, I can’t stress enough how valuable this book can be to anyone interested in the comics medium. It all began for Alaniz with a youthful creative impulse and just look where it took him. Overall, The Phantom Zone comic strip does a decent job with carving out something in the auto-bio tradition. What is truly most compelling is the life that José Alaniz carved out for himself.
BRAVE NEW WORLDS, your local comics shop in Philadelphia, has reopened, following all COVID-19 protocols, as of June 5th. At Comics Grinder, we salute all of the amazing local comics shops keeping it real. Henry Chamberlain, your host and fearless leader, has taken it upon himself to ask this basic question: “What do you recommend these days, especially with Covid in mind?” Of course, folks can get creative and take the opportunity to answer that however they choose. It’s understood that it can depend upon who you ask and when you ask. Here is what BRAVE NEW WORLDS has to say:
Once & Future by Keiron Gillen and Dan Mora
Recently we’ve been really enjoying “Once & Future” by Keiron Gillen and Dan Mora, “Something is Killing the Children” by James TynionIV and Werther Dell’Edera “Wonder Woman Dead Earth” by Daniel Warren Johnson Jeff Lemire and Kevin Walta’s “Sentient” from TKO “Strange Adventures” by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan Shaner,….
Low, Low, Woods by Carmen Maria Machadoand Dani
Low, Low, Woods by Carmen Maria Machadoand Dani, Thor by Donny Cates and Nic Klein,…
Silver Surfer Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore
Silver Surfer Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore, Doomsday Clock vols 1 & 2 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank,…
House Of X/Powers Of X (Hardcover)
House of X/Powers of X by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, and R. B. Silva, Hellboy Omnibus by Mike Mignola et al, Box Brown’s titles. Anything Junji Ito.
BRAVE NEW WORLDS carry a wide variety of comics, game cards, graphic novels, children’s books, Gundam model kits, action figures, Hot Toys figures, Sideshow statues, back issues, t-shirts, posters, board/card games, and many collecting supplies. BRAVD NEW WORLDS have been selling comics, games and toys in the Philadelphia area (Philly and Willow Grove) for over 30 years!
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.
“Getting Good,” artwork by Rich Tommaso
This is a fun and upbeat work. One fine example is “Trouble,” based on a song about perseverance. Hage’s script is complimented by art by Jorge Corona and color by Jean-Brancois Beaulieu. One of my favorites is a story about the down and out, “Getting Good,” artwork by the legendary Rich Tommaso. Each story has a quirky vibe and it all adds up to an impressive showcase of talent and a unique mashup of music and comics. There is much to enjoy and be inspired about here. If I did feel compelled to align our main character with a background, my own Mexican heritage is telling me, literally screaming at me, that Jack the Radio is part of Dio de los Muertos–but we can discuss that some other time. In fact, I’d be honored to draw up such a comic for Hage anytime. All in all, this is fun stuff. This is a perfect all-ages comes and a welcome addition to your current comics reading.
Jack The Radio: Creatures is available as of June 24th and is also available on the band’s website, www.jacktheradio.com/store so do check it out!
The Necrophilic Landscape. by Tracy Auch (Morgan Vogel). 2dCloud. Minneapolis, MN, 2015, 32 pages, $12.
When I learned about The Necrophilic Landscape, it struck me as something that I needed to become familiar with. As an indie cartoonist, I was saddened to learn about the death of Morgan Vogel, someone who was at the forefront of creating avant-garde comics. That’s not an easy thing to do well. Yes, anyone might try but few truly succeed. I had posted how Morgan Vogel reveled in using pen names. Vogel credits The Necrophilic Landscape with the pen name, Tracy Auch. And then she goes one better and pretends to be the editor of her own work. Consider this brilliant literary prank which you can find quoted on the 2dCloud Instagram:
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.”
Indeed, it’s good to have some background going in. Now, buckle up, this is going to be a deliciously bumpy ride. Okay. Comics can be many things. When someone casually picks up a comic and dismisses it for being, for example, “disjointed,” they are really missing out. To say a work is disjointed sounds impressive and authoritative. It’s the most used dis in academic circles and usually means the reader did not even bother to carefully read the work. Anyway, I just mention that because so much gets batted around by neurotic experts, insecure gatekeepers and pathetic tastemakers, jetsetters, and knee-jerkers. It’s an ugly world with a lot of ugly people. But a lot of good people too, no doubt, so let’s take a look at a little book that comes out smelling like a rose. I turn your delicate attention to The Necrophilic Landscape.
Page excerpt from The Necrophilic Landscape
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.
Page excerpt from The Necrophilic Landscape
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.
Impact Comics, which lasted only 5 issues, would be memorable if for only one story. As Greg Sadowski, the forgotten fan-biographer of artist Bernard Krigstein suggests,”Master Race,” a mere eight pages and scripted by Al Feldstein (Mar., 1955), is the masterpiece of anti-fascism but also of comic art design and execution. It enters the mind of the Holocaust survivor as he discovers, tracks down and wreaks revenge upon a human monster within the bowels of Manhattan’s subway system.
How could this humble popular art carry the weight of serious modern art, so serious that it escapes the then-current cult of abstract expressionism? This is the story worth telling.
Impact Comics (1955) may be viewed simply as a technical triumph of popular might. The story lines are taut, the art is crisp, and if we were to choose a single outstanding feature, it might actually be the coloring work of Marie Severin, master craftsperson of the field. We might also view Impact within a broader context.
MASTER RACE, original first page, March, 1955.
Comic art, comic book art and narrative, must be amongst the most improbable subjects in all of art history. Or perhaps this was true until the recent rise of comic art studies in college courses, online journals, and Comi-Con panels bringing together living artists with aficionados. But never, since the rise of the fan world and press, has the comics field been without its own small legion of self-taught scholars and devotees, going way back to the early 1950s. In this small world grown surprisingly larger, EC publications have had a special place of honor. EC war, science fiction and above all humor publications brought traditional comic book art to its apex and….edge of demise. Impact, with only a handful of others, remains or rather retains in its best stories, a treasured sample of what might have been.
The longer backstory will be familiar to most readers, and can be noted briefly here. Comics publisher Max Gaines’s sudden death in 1949 threw his mini-empire into the hands of his widow and son. The younger Gaines, to his own surprise a shrewd and driving businessman, hired some of the great talents of the field, including of course Harvey Kurtzman, destined to transform the field of printed humor with Mad Comics and, more famously, Mad Magazine.
By the early 1950s, time was truly running out for EC comics as constituted. Congressional investigations and the imposition of the Comics Code would drive the most lucrative EC genre, i.e., horror, to the wall, and with it the whole venture of EC comics. Perhaps television would have swallowed up the field soon enough anyway? We do not know. But millions of readers, not all of them under the age of 20, were reading and buying comics of a wide variety so long as they were available, with print runs often in the hundreds of thousands.
EC became known, through nearly all its lines of merchandise, for “snap” endings, the surprise on the last page or even in the final panel, carrying the message of the story at large. Strikingly unlike its competitors, EC also had an unusual propensity for what might be called social themes. Its Sci Fi line featured the world of post Atomic war destruction, or space travel revealing some weakness—less often, strength—in human nature. (Some of the best story lines were adapted, or swiped, from Ray Bradbury.) Military history offered something almost unknown in other companies’ war comics: the tragedy faced by civilians in both sides, and the horror that might be found in the eyes even of the victorious American patriots.
Artist Bernie Krigstein taps into the zeitgeist of an anxious era.
In the “Age of Anxiety,” when psychoanalysis was said to have replaced Marxism or any other social reform theory as a favorite pastime of intellectuals, EC actually had its own short-lived Psychoanalysis Comics. But seen carefully, psychological issues penetrated all of EC’s lines, as soldiers, space travelers and even perpetrators of murder seemed terribly troubled, driven by urges that they finally could not control.
Bill Gaines evidently viewed the creation of Impact as a kind of bracing mechanism against the end of his little empire. Al Feldstein, the all-purpose editor also taking over Mad Magazine from Kurtzman, who resigned in 1956, was the hard-driving editor seemingly willing to take on anything, and make Impact as nearly perfect as he could. The determination by writer (often enough, Feldstein himself) and artist, shine through in one way or another on nearly every page and every panel.
ShockSuspense (1954), the earliest entry in the then-new Impact series, was closer to horror comics with violent and sometimes supernatural stories. It was also more politically dramatic, now and then. A KKK-style lynching story of Southern life substituted a bosomy white dame for a black man, but dealt heavy blows to violent prejudice. Another story showed a redneck crowd beating to death an actual veteran who did not take off his hat to salute the flag because…he was blind.
Most of the Impact under review stayed closer to the hard-hitting, small films and often live television drama of the time, where a rising business executive realizes the more rottenness of the world he has entered, or the frantic striving for domestic happiness in the suburb leads to bitter alienation and heavy drinking. The protagonists here are cheating themselves and others of happiness, cutting corners in business and life, or even by accident of some childhood trauma cutting themselves off from adult fulfillment. What remains the most vivid, in the “snap” ending, is that uncertainty of life itself in the supposed paradise of modern consumerism at its apex. And the possibility, if not perhaps likelihood, that wrong-doers will get their punishment in one way or another.
Steven Ringgenberg’s Foreword offers us a general picture of the publication within EC’s frantic efforts for life, Grant Geissman’s Introduction expertly guides us through the intentions of Gaines and Feldman as they marched through the bi-monthly schedule toward something that, as it turned out, was only a prelude to the fabulous success of Mad Magazine.
Excerpt from MASTER RACE, known as “The Citizen Kane of Comics.”
It would be almost inside baseball to note that Jack Davis, among the most brilliant of all Mad Comics artists, did all the front covers of the series, or that he was joined in the stories themselves by a distinguished crew of George Evans, Jack Kamen, Graham Ingels, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall and of course, Bernard Krigstein. And of course Marie Severin, who was also the last of the EC bunch to live well into the 21st century.
Only those who went on to Mad Magazine, foremost Orlando, were to gain much recognition. Krigstein, who led the failed effort to unionize the field of comic book artists (publishers bought off the best talent and threatened to fire everyone else) during the early 1950s, became an art teacher and painted for his own pleasure, mostly landscapes.
Thus did a genre and its makers disappear. But not without leaving behind a legacy of sorts, and a print item to be repurposed for the next generations. Impact was first reprinted by Gemstone Publishing in 1999 and here, by Dark Horse, presented again in fine form with fresh introductory and explanatory material.
Year of Zines! Publishing funded in part by Regional Arts & Culture Council and patrons of Pateron, 2020. 224 pages. $12.
What is a zine? Many people have never heard of one or only have a vague idea. A zine is not necessarily a work of comics, although it often includes some form of comics. A zine is often a personal work running for a certain amount of pages, typically a dozen or two dozen. And a zine is cool but it’s not meant to be cool. It just is. If you try too hard to make one, it will show. If you gravitate too quickly to the zine scene without any prior knowledge, it will show–but that’s okay. Zines are intended to be the opposite of the big glossy corporate magazines. Any original zine artwork is usually only at a functional or even crude level. Zines are often ironic and sarcastic and have a rough and gritty aesthetic. Zines tend to be small, modest, the size of a pamphlet or brochure. And they are usually self-published. If they are not, then they’re published by a co-op or non-profit. But zines are most often the work of one person, usually someone who finds themselves misunderstood by a general audience, actually enjoys working alone, and yet is also welcoming like-minded souls. You dig? Blogging and zine-making share a lot of overlap! Alrighty then. With that said, let’s take a look at a wonderful book all about zines, and a collection of zines to itself, Year of Zines! by Sarah Mirk.
Panel excerpt from YEAR OF ZINES!
Another thing you need to know about zines: the creator is often immersed in one particular subject or theme per zine. Zines take dedication. Zines can sometimes seem obsessive but that’s part of the charm. Think of the fanzine. Now, in case you haven’t heard of them, fanzines are one of the most celebrated forms of zines. These tend to be home-made dedications to a beloved pop or movie star or any cultural phenomenon. This tradition goes back to the dawn of fandom. The most common trait of fanzines is a collage of cut-up photos from various magazines that have been re-arranged within the curated pages of the zine. It’s so punk. It’s so DIY. Before the internet, if you were searching for a platform to express yourself, you most likely found your way over to zines. You figured out some basic layout techniques and made your way to your nearest Kinko’s. Okay, now Sarah Mirk is hip to all this and a whole lot more. Zines today are not dependent upon runs to the local print shop. Zines can be virtual but, at the end of the day, zines are zines and a printed copy stills exerts its own power and energy. Print is not dead, and don’t you forget it! You see this in what Sarah Mirk has done with her own work with zines. She gets it. Zines share a bit of the same vibe as spoken word with their direct and concise narrative. Mirk understands that a good zine requires focus and specificity. If you start a zine on the theme of “not caring,” then you stick with it and see it through to resolution, just like a masterful comedian sees through a precisely-timed bit of comedy.
Panel excerpt from YEAR OF ZINES!
Of course, zines can cover virtually any topic or subject. Literally, if there’s something you’d like to discuss, then a zine could be a viable platform for you. And, yes, it’s true: no prior experience in the creation of zines is required or expected. You don’t have to worry about prior writing experience or drawing experience or whatever. And the most serious of subjects are open for discussion. In my own experience with leading workshops, I have always stressed that the most important thing is to focus on what you need to say and the rest will fall into place. And so it is in this book. Sarah Mirk is basically talking about her life, all the things she’s dealing with, and the world-at-large. That provides a pretty broad canvas. In her book, she tackles such subjects as gender, privilege, boundaries, finances, the environment, and much more. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that no one owns the zine scene. Zines are for everyone and Sarah certainly embraces that egalitarian spirit.
DRINK MORE WATER!
So, I hope you’re getting a sense of what a zine is and what a zine isn’t. And, in the process, you’re seeing that Sarah Mirk is a fine practitioner of the subtle art of zine-making. In fact, if you enjoy her collection of zines that she put together over the span of one year, then you’ll likely want to follow her other work and pursuits. One last thing, I’ll point out one more fine example. If you’re looking for a neat little collection of observations of growing up in your 20s, do check out Sarah’s zine, Drink More Water – Be More Honest: 30 Lessons from My 20s. In this zine, Sarah provides an irreverent look at everyone’s favorite decade, your glorious 20s! It’s a time when you might look your best without trying at all while also a time when you have a sinking feeling you don’t know if you’ll ever amount to anything. And then, enter your more sober and wiser 30s. Well, with that sobering thought, there’s so much more I could say about zines but I’ll save it for next time. I like what Sarah Mirk has done with this quirky and highly distinctive art form–and you will too. And I hope you will see how accessible and ubiquitous zines are. In a sense, this review, and certainly this blog, is a zine. See what I mean? You only need to go as far as the nearest desk and chair, or whatever is comparable, and try it out yourself.
The Eighth is a very impressive new comic book (now on Indiegogo) by Adam Lawson (writer/director of the YouTube Original series Escape The Night, and the gaming shows Tabletop and Spellslingers) and Lawson’s longtime collaborator, Jorin Evers. First, this is the premise: an epic adventure featuring twoteenagers, David Wells and Emma Adachi, who unlock a piece of ancient Sumerian armor, but mismanage its power and end up committing murder. Before they know it, they find themselves on a terrifying journey to change or destroy the world with no going back. Now, the goal of the current Indiegogo campaign is to collect all the issues of the comic book into a glorious 200-page glossy trade paperback. As Adam Lawson puts it:
For almost two years, Jorin and I have slaved away on the pages completing five of the eight issues and given away all of our free time. With your contributions, we can take this across the finish and deliver into your hands, in stunning glossy print, the 200-page story of David, the 8th and his misfit friends.
David & Emma
Taking a close look at the first issue in this series, I see a well-paced story that got my attention right from the start. Writer/creator Adam Lawson and artist Jorin Evers deliver a gritty story playing with teenage wasteland tropes that ring very true. David is the math whiz who is being raised by his mother and aunt. Emma is a teen who ran away from her foster family and lives in the same house with David. Things look pretty dire and bleak. But there’s something about both David and Emma that leaves the reader wondering. There’s that touch of strange that means everything. Infused with just the right doses of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy, this all adds up to a most unique and compelling story.
Out to save the world.
It will be up to David to see if he can rise to the challenge. As they say in scientific circles, the cat in the box is both alive and dead up until the box is opened. David makes the choice to open the box and find out. All along the way, the reader gets deeper into the action and more involved with the characters in unexpected ways. For instance, aloof and quiet Emma has got quite a steamy crush on David. The art by Jorin Evers brings it all to life with vivid energy. Lawson and Evers nicely set it up and then, bang, the reader is rewarded with a new twist on the superhero mythos. That twist is definitely there with just the right set of circumstances. Like any good thriller, it all comes down to being careful for what you wish for. But what’s the fun in being so careful, right? That’s the devil’s bargain that David and Emma will have to deal with. The promo material already alludes to a cosmic connection with Sumerian antiquity. Well, without spoiling anything, Lawson and Evers bring you a superhero story for a new generation, full of ugly truth and full of righteous fury. The Eighth truly feels like something new, a fresh take on superheroes, and that’s saying a lot.
THE EIGHTH has got just what you’re looking for in a story that’s not afraid to blast through the page. Check out the Indiegogo campaign right here. And you really need to check out the animated book trailer, only available by visiting the Indiegogo campaign.