This is the first installment of . . . Pop Culture Super Sleuth . . .
“I’ve been a blogger for almost as long as I’ve been a cartoonist. And then I became a pop culture super sleuth . . . “
I’m building up steam on this new project. And maybe a little shy. You’ll have to tell me what you think. The character isn’t necessarily me, per se, but a sort of alter ego. It’s fun and it’s all possible in the wonderful world of comics. Am I right? You betcha, I’m right!
To say that J. Webster Sharp is a visionary comics artist is a very good place to start. I was immediately intrigued by what I saw of her work on her Instagram and I knew I’d need to take a closer look. Having read the last five of her works in comics, I can confidently say that this is someone who tapped into something special early on and continues to blossom. Jemma’s latest book which I’ve received is Fondant #2, and it is easily her most powerful work. This is in-your-face stuff, delving into deep psychological and sexual issues, and bringing to mind such artists as Phoebe Glockner and Renee French. I applaud what she is doing and would like to share a bit of what I’ve observed.
If I’m really being honest, I am fascinated by Jemma’s daring and inventive play with the theme of feet. I’ve always been interested in feet on various levels, not the least of which is as a subject for art. So, it’s nice to see a fellow artist on the same page. Jemma certainly confronts the foot theme from a wide variety of vantage points, spanning from cadavers to tortured cathartic acts. Like much of what she does, feet are rendered in such a way as if encrypted within a larger psychological landscape–especially with her distinctive pointillist style. If you scan the pages too quickly, you might miss a lot. And, if you linger, it can be a combination of unsettling and satisfying. Yes, it pays to be honest. I do so love feet, particularly depicted in unusual and provocative ways. I’m sure there’s a number of stories behind each of these depictions. I like what I see from this very honest and daring artist.
What is so impressive to me about Jemma’s latest book is how she reached a point where she was ready to just completely let loose. This book is totally wordless and confidently so. There’s no need to explain anything. You simply don’t need any form of text to accompany an image of breasts with teeth instead of nipples. That pretty much speaks for itself. The rest of the book plays with more body horror as well as various other surreal imagery involving exotic animals, bondage and strange lab experiments. It’s all quite unusual, fascinating and thrilling. If you enjoy work of a more adult nature, then this is for you. Obviously, this is highly charged work that is unafraid to be, at times, more dark and challenging. But it’s not simply shock value that Jemma is after. Like Phoebe Glockner and Renee French, the work of J. Webster Sharp is invested in cultivating mystery and wonder through finely-crafted work. As I suggest, you will be rewarded for taking the time to linger upon a page. You may even find that you like what you see more than you realized.
BANG! published by Dark Horse Comics, writer Matt Kindt (MIND MGMT), artist Wilfredo Torres (JUPITER’S CIRCLE), colorist Nayoung Kim and letterer Nate Piekos. Issue 2 out on March 17, 2020.
Dark Horse is doing very well with its comic book series BANG! John Shaw, its main character, must be America’s favorite barefoot tough guy since Die Hard‘s John McClane. Yeah, there’s a real foot thing going on here so you can file this under “Comics with a Foot Theme.” John Shaw is credited with sensitive feet and described in the book like this: “He’s barefoot. They never hear him coming.” And he even has a pretty good plot to work with: he’s the guy staying one barefoot step ahead of the terrorists in order to stay alive and possibly save the fabric of reality. Matt Kindt has always been a creator who works best with offbeat stories and this looks to have checked all the boxes on weird compelling adventure.
The first printing of BANG! issue 1 sold out ahead of publication, following widespread press attention and endorsements from Keanu Reeves and some of the comic book industry’s most respected writers and artists. Issue 2 of BANG! is on sale from Dark Horse Comics on March 17, 2020.
There’s a wonderful interview by Dick Cavett with Orson Welles in which Cavett asks Welles to reveal his secrets to filmmaking. Welles delivers an answer spiked with mystery and simple honesty. Welles claimed that everything you need to know about filmmaking can be learned in about an hour. In other words, the basics are accessible. It’s a question of what you do after that! With Welles, you had a masterful storyteller and an artist of great vision. Filmmaking becomes just a means to an end. And so it has for Quentin Tarantino many times over. He’s had a bumpy ride with accusations of lifting from other movies including lifting the entire story for Reservoir Dogs from a Hong Kong action movie from the ’80s. In his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it seems safe to say that Tarantino displays the strengths of a seasoned director.
Pitt and DiCaprio out to defend what matters.
Tarantino the king of retro, has been around long enough to see his own career turn retro. A lot of Millennials were either too young or not even born when Pulp Fiction first came out in 1994, chock full of vintage pop culture references. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino can bring to bear his retro obsession with mature grace. Tarantino is now, like Welles, a director with well-honed themes and obsessions, everything fitting him like a perfectly well-worn leather jacket. And that’s a huge part of what is going on in this movie: a love letter to a bygone era. Just consider the first scene set in Hollywood’s legendary Musso & Frank Grill. If there is one place that represents Old Hollywood, when actors could still be glamorous stars, that is the place. But change is in the air. It is 1969 and a number of factors have cleared the landscape, including television. The fatal break with the glorious past would arrive on the night of August 8, 1969 with the mass murders by the Manson Family. It is that turning point to which all concerned are converging upon. The two main innocent bystanders are a couple of Hollywood fixtures: aging leading man Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman/handyman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The obsession with retro is fully satisfied here.
Margaret Qualley and her bare feet.
Another hallmark of any Tarantino movie is his love for a salty, dark and raw sensuality. It is in every one of his films. In Tarantino’s case, he seems to best evoke that vibe whenever he manages to share with the viewer his fascination with feet. He is not the first director to make that relatively offbeat choice. You can go back to such film legends as Luis Bunuel for that. To his credit, Tarantino is simply being true to his own quirky passion as well as mining for something original and provocative. It’s all interconnected: his foot fancy and his love for B-movies and throwaway culture. He seems to be challenging the viewer to find art in unexpected places. And, with age one hopes comes some wisdom. Compared to his overindulgent examination of Uma Thurman’s feet in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Tarantino appears to have restrained himself enough to use his obsession like a painter to a canvas. A scene that manages to display the soles of Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) feet while she’s in a movie theater must have been challenging and seems perhaps only a bit contrived. Another scene that has one of the Manson Family members (Margaret Qualley) with her bare feet resting on the dashboard and firmly pressed on the windshield comes across as more natural and provides that spot on Tarantino touch. The unique appeal of feet and B-movies may not seem to add up to much and yet perhaps a mystery remains, a nearly indescribable appeal. That’s the stuff that dreams, and movies, are made of.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
And no Tarantino movie would be complete without his ultimate obsession: righteous fury! Remember, this is a love letter to everything that Tarantino holds dear to a once wondrous Tinseltown. If there is a dark force that needs to be dealt with in order for truth and beauty to survive, then you know Tarantino is going to unleash the remedy. In this case, the hippie culture with all its navel-gazing sense of entitlement and self-righteous angst is anathema to a more refined and disciplined era. To see a new generation that is not only not up to the old standards but doesn’t care is pretty heartbreaking for Tarantino. But for that movement to be weaponized is the last straw and that brings us to the fight that Tarantino is more than willing to engage in.
Twilight Zone. Star Trek. Logan’s Run. George Clayton Johnson was a big part of it all. This is his story. Welcome to GEORGE’S RUN, my tribute to the legendary storyteller.
I created a graphic novel all about George, his work, and his times. There was no clear destination in mind other than it needed to be done. I foresee a printed book in one form or another at some point. For now, I roll out a webcomic. A work of alternative comics such as this can definitely benefit from going through the webcomic process even if it receives little obvious fanfare in that state. This is a rather strange and quirky tale as much a story as a story about stories. These pages will further reward upon a second and third contextual reading, I believe, what with the observational bits, factoids, and unexpected detours. All the more reason to see this inevitably in a proper book format.
For those familiar with what I’ve been up to here at Comics Grinder, you’ll appreciate that this announcement is a pretty big deal. That graphic novel project I’ve been referring to all of you is finally making its way into the world as a webcomic. I have loaded up some pages to kick things off and will continue to update accordingly. I will do my best to keep to a weekly schedule. The plan is to update the site every Wednesday. You can find updates here at Comics Grinder as well as enjoy the distinctive webcomic experience at the George’s Run website right here.
It all began with my podcast interviews. You can check out some of my conversations with George over here and over here. I concluded that George’s life story had to be turned into a graphic novel and I’m just the guy to do it!
George Clayton Johnson
If you are a fan of pop culture in any form, this is for you. If you enjoy a fun and quirky tale, this is for you. The best thing is that no prior knowledge is required. You don’t have to know anything about science fiction or the golden age of television or how writers sometimes work together to spin tales like magical little elves.
Prepare to embark upon a journey with a wizard storyteller into the mysterious past and onward into the marvelous future.
George keeps on running!
Okay, that’s my pitch. I know many of you out there are cheering me on. Do drop by and visit the George’s Run webcomic and just say hello. As always, I will keep you posted on the progress of this very special project as it evolves as a webcomic and ultimately finds its way into print. You know, this is something of an open letter to anyone interested in seeing where we can go with a book. Any literary agent or publisher is welcome to contact me. That said, self-publishing has evolved to such great prominence and tangible clout. The bottom line is that, like a film, a novel, a poem, whatever it is, there’s something about being able to take in a work as a whole so I’m excited about seeing this through and ultimately having a book version. Thanks for your support and I’ll continue to do my best.
Taking a global view, there’s isn’t a hotter book right now than “Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya. It was originally published in Arabic in 2011 by Dar Onboz. And it has been recently translated into French by Éditions Denoël. This is a gorgeous book and it is only a matter of time before there is an English translation. In the meantime, I would encourage you to seek it out now and get ahead of the pack. If you enjoy the convenience of Amazon, you can find it right here. Let’s take a closer look.
The setting: Beirut, Lebanon
Over years, I’ve enjoyed a number of comics in languages I don’t know well or at all. For example, you don’t have to know French to enjoy the artwork of Blutch or Tardi. And so it is with the artwork of Mhaya. He has a wonderfully sensitive and expressive line punctuated by his use of China black ink wash.
A map for some context.
You will get much of the gist of the narrative by simply following along our main character, Farid Tawill, a typical office worker from Beirut. It may be evident from what you see but, just in case, this man’s world has been turned upside down. On his way home from the office, he finds that the apartment building where he lives with his family has disappeared. Further along his search, he finds his whole city as become alien to him. Like a character out of Kafka, or from an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” our hero appears to be in an alternate reality.
Front cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya
Alienation is a favorite subject in art. Edvard Munch’s “Scream” series, first begun in 1893, is the most famous example. And it comes as no surprise that, over a hundred years later, we find Munch quite relevant–feel compelled to add more to the discourse on disconnection–and see how the world has forged some pretty heavy links. It’s not lost on Mhaya from his vantage point in Beirut.
Back cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya
Mhaya wants you to feel the surreal quality to his homeland. He has stated that he gained a lot of insight from the photojournalism he grew up with: the urgent black & white news photos during the Beirut civil war in the ’70s and ’80s help to inform his moody ink wash artwork.
Page excerpt from VLAT
How much more absurd can life seem to be than to live in a perpetual war zone? No wonder Mhaya has an obese Batman character chasing our hero down the streets.
Page excerpt from VLAT
What Mhaya has done with this book is set up a vehicle upon which to comment upon the absurdity of life, weaving back and forth from the specifics (his own experiences, views, and concepts) and the general human condition. This is what any great novelist, filmmaker, painter, etc. does on some level: set the stage and then perform. It is certainly a process well suited for a graphic novelist.
Page excerpt from VLAT
So, you can see that you can do very well from just reading the images. Yes, you do want the text. In fact, you do need the text. But we can live with just the images. We see the little hooks that motivate the artist: everything from a close-up of a mangy dog to a close-up of a woman’s pretty feet. This or that panel do not just appear out of nowhere. The dog is a symbol of isolation. The feet are a symbol of release.
Page excerpt from VLAT
It appears that our hero is forced to confront his life in every which way possible: philosophical, emotional, sexual, intellectual. He is not just in an alternate reality. He is in a place that forces him to experience a heightened sense of reality. His choices, what he learns, what he survives, will determine his fate.
“Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya
And here I am commenting up a storm and I’m only relying upon the pictures! Well, it makes total sense that this book went first with a French translation in order to make the natural progression to being part of the prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival. And now English readers can’t wait to join in. The loose translation in English to this book is “City Neighboring the Earth.” I look forward to that title in the near future.
“Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya, is an 88-page hardcover, black & white with tones, translated into French by Éditions Denoël. Find it at Amazon right here.
An adult style from the Marvel x Havaianas collection. Courtesy of brand.
Havaianas, the world’s favorite rubber flip flops, has combined forces with Marvel Comics to launch a new collection of flip flops, Marvel x Havaianas, featuring some of the world’s most iconic super heroes.
A Spider-Man adult style from the Marvel x Havaianas collection. Courtesy of brand.
This limited edition collection is Marvel’s first official flip flop collaboration and includes six unique men’s, women’s and kids’ styles. Some of pop culture’s greatest super heroes, including Captain America, Spider-Man and Iron Man, are highlighted in bright Havaianas colorways and designs as part of the collection. The diverse variety of styles and sizes offered allows Havaianas the opportunity to tap into and celebrate Marvel fans of all ages for the first time.
A Captain America & Iron Man adult style from the Marvel x Havaianas collection. Courtesy of brand.
The collection will launch tomorrow (March 30th) exclusively in Havaianas’ U.S. concept stores, as well as online at havaianas.com. The kids’ styles retail for $19, while the adult versions go from $26 to $30.
Roy made himself comfortable by the fireplace. “You should get on with sharing your findings on those Earth Runners.”
“You’re right,” I said, “Now’s a particularly good time, don’t you think?”
“Well,” Roy nodded, “anytime is a good time. Now is a very good time. I’d add it to your burgeoning holiday gift coverage.”
“You’re right! No time to lose! I mean, considering how many people are still not aware of Earthing, tapping into the earth’s healthy energy. Thomas Jefferson’s regular morning routine was to dunk his feet in ice-cold water. He knew his feet were portals to jump-starting his mind and body. I can’t help but think that, if Jefferson tried on a pair of Earth Runners, he’d quickly pick up on the craftsmanship and design and would wholeheartedly approve! And when it comes to Earthing, Jefferson would have been a big fan too.”
The Girl in the Cafe and an Ionized Environment
Art and fiction by Henry Chamberlain
She sat at her regular table on the second floor of her favorite cafe. It was the same old crowd. It was a steamy summer day. She had the whole world before her. There was the Space Needle right out the window to keep her company. She made herself comfortable. She wiggled her toes. Someone was overheard saying, “An ionized environment really helps.”
David, a new assistant at Comics Grinder marched right into the offices of CG. He had a rather sheepish grin on his face. I wasn’t sure what to make of his quick familiarity. Like past friends of CG, he had a treat for us to consider. But he wasn’t going to give it up until he gave me a little grief. “Alright then,” David said, “you have a thing for feet, don’t you?”