Welcome to another look into the world of Hurricane Nancy. In this edition, Nancy asks the question: “We the people believe we can buy our way out of anything. Who’s kidding who???”
Be sure to visit Hurricane Nancy here!
Old Man on Campus. James Burns. Burns Comics. 2023. 51 pp.
I’ve been a longtime admirer of the comics work by James Burns. I fondly recall his book, A Life Half-Forgotten. Here is my review. Burns often delivers a fun mix of the curmudgeon and sly humorist that I find very appealing and I believe you will too. In this new graphic memoir, Burns stumbles upon the fact that, through a special program, residents of the state of Georgia over the age of 62 are eligible for free college tuition. Burns, being from Georgia and not someone to pass up on a good deal, jumps at the chance to be Joe Cool in School again–but this time he vows to do it better as an older and wiser student. What could go wrong, right?
Well, the good news here is that nothing goes terribly wrong, although there are a number of painful/awkward moments as Burns powers through a rather protracted “old man returning to school” adjustment period. It seems for quite a long time that all young eyes are on him, passing judgment and ready to ridicule him. And perhaps not everyone was as hospitable as they could have been. But, most likely, the lack of connection is simply universal. Burns is ready to admit that the college scene today, with everyone plugged into their phones, isn’t exactly warm and inviting.
All in all, Burns appears to be a good guy just trying to get along and enjoy college at this point in his life. And it’s not like he’s not open to new trends. In more than one instance, he is fine with embracing the zeitgeist and invoking a sensitivity to his own “white male privilege,” perhaps a little more than necessary but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. I’m just not so sure that he needs to feel apologetic that, as a big strong young man, he wasn’t quite so vulnerable to being taken advantage of as a hitchhiker in his youth. Anyway, Burns appears to be, by the end of this story, on the right path. This is a very engaging look at one man’s initial struggles to fit in. Ultimately, Burns acts as a guide in this story about his new college life. He might be old but he’s young at heart or he’s simply managed to find his way and he can get on with his college experience.
When we think about pop culture matters, and we seem to do this nonstop, how often do we bring together Marvel Comics superstar Stan Lee and infamous killer Jack Ruby? No, this is not a trick question. Having given careful study to the last two books by Danny Fingeroth, one on Stan Lee and the most recent on Jack Ruby, I make my own connections. Read my review of the Ruby book here. As is my want, I do my best to dig deep and I believe we ended up with a lively and informative interview. My many thanks to Danny Fingeroth for being so gracious and willing to go with the flow. For those who are perhaps new or unfamiliar with comics, Danny Fingeroth is known for his work as an executive editor and writer at Marvel Comics (Spider-Man, Avengers, Dazzler). He is also known for being a cultural historian. His books include Superman on the Couch, Stan Lee: A Marvelous Life, and his latest title, Jack Ruby: The Many Faces of Oswald’s Assassin, published by Chicago Review Press.
Stan Lee. Jack Ruby. Of course, there’s no direct connection and yet the two share this: both men were Jewish; both men were raised in troubled households. both men were Americans and patriotic in their own way; both men created larger-than-life personas; and both men grabbed the world’s attention. Each had their own set of strengths and weaknesses. One succumbed to his failings. And the other blossomed from his talents and skills. There is no intersection where the two had anything to do with each other beyond sharing the same colossal stage of notoriety. Both became pop culture icons: one could bring a smile to your face while the other was a grotesque figure that managed to both repel and intrigue.
I posed some questions to Danny Fingeroth specifically on the Jack Ruby pop culture phenomena as well as the fact that here he was with a book on Ruby and a book on Lee. I invited him to connect any dots. And, as the saying goes, we were off to the races. The conversation inevitably focused in on Stan Lee, as well as it should. My goal was to find a middle ground, a way to balance both Lee and Ruby, which Fingeroth, an excellent raconteur as well as an excellent listener, tuned into right away. We cover a lot here and our conversation demonstrates we could have gone on talking. Maybe we’ll just need to revisit topics and bring in new ones for next time. For now, I even managed to include some discussion on Fingeroth’s writing run on Darkhawk, a fan favorite from the ’90s (relaunched in 2021).
I will leave you here with one of the most fascinating collisions of pop culture energy that I have come across. This is from the May 1967 issue of Esquire magazine. Jack Ruby had passed away earlier that year and so the gloves were off and the time was right to examine, through the surreal lens of comics, some of Ruby’s activities shortly after the Kennedy assassination based upon the Warren Commission Report. The kicker here is that this comic was illustrated by none other than the King of Comics himself, Jack Kirby! As Stan Lee would say, “Enough said!”
I certainly hope you enjoy the video podcast, just one click below. These things don’t make themselves. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes hard work, a true labor of love. As always, your loyal viewership, LIKES and occasional COMMENTS are very welcome and appreciated. That said, I find all the material here quite compelling to say the least. As Fingeroth himself is ready to point out, the magnitude of these subjects, namely Stan Lee and the Marvel Universe and the tangled web of conspiracy theories behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy add up to stimulus overload! We take these colossal subjects one step at a time in order to make some sense out of them. And that is why, dear friends, books like the ones by Danny Fingeroth are essential reading. For me, as a storyteller and a journalist, this interview was quite a treat.
Lastly, I asked Danny if there was anything else he’d like to add for now. And he asked if I’d share with you JewCE, the Jewish Comics Experience, in New York City, November 11th and 12th, 2023. It is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get one more comic-con fix before the end of the year. You can see an impressive lineup of talent, including none other than comics legends Frank Miller, Trina Robbins, and Jules Feiffer, just to name a few.
Eerie Tales From The School of Screams. Graham Annable. First Second Books. 2023. 368 pp. $22.99
Graham Annable is a magical artist who can conjure up little masterpieces seemingly by just a fast swirl of gestures. I’ve seen him at work and he’s devilishly good. And I’ve kept up with him, going back some twenty years. This is an artist who truly lives and breathes his work. So, when I stumbled upon a brand-new Annable collection, a collection of ghost stories no less, I had to see it and then share it with you!
Graham Annable’s training is in animation. It’s that background that landed him steady storyboard jobs and has kept his drawing chops, and precise timing, in tip top form. You see that professional polish throughout this book. In fact, as I gave myself over to this immersive read, the characters (and creatures) came to life for me over and over again. This book is intended for middle grade kids but the level of sophistication you find here makes it a delight for any age. I’m talking about the level of Tomi Ungerer. It’s definitely not generic stuff. It has a special heart and soul to it.
Once I read the first story, “The Village That Vanished,” I was hooked. The collection of stories here is framed around a classroom show-and-tell. Each kid is expected to go up to the front of the class and share their most eerie tale. And so it all begins with two characters overlooking a cliff, attempting to find a village that seems to have literally vanished. Before too long, the two surveyors, or whoever they are, stumble upon an old man in a cottage. And the old man proves to be quite an odd duck with a strange tale about fish people who live nearby. What unfolds is one of the strangest and most engaging bits of comics I’ve read in a long time.
Annable is a master of capturing just the right movement, gesture, and expression. His characters are lanky, languid long-lost relatives of Buster Keaton. They move in a certain way; stare back at you, and at each other, in a certain way. There are very pregnant pauses in Annable comics. And there are very melancholic and enigmatic moments too. Plus lots of silly surreal fun. You really can’t beat that. It’s perfect for this Halloween season or anytime of the year for that matter.
One last note here from the publisher: “From the director of the Oscar-nominated movie Boxtrolls comes a middle grade horror anthology that will leave you holding onto your blankets for dear life! Perfect for fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps!” Indeed, I could not have said it better! Ages 8-12 will definitely love this book and, as I say, there’s really something here for all ages, starting around, say, around age 8. Don’t want to get too spooky earlier than that. Anyway, as I suggest, this is more along the lines of thoughtful spooky. This is the good stuff of good nightmares.
Whatever you do, don’t make waves unless you’re okay getting wet. And keep the aspidistra flying! What on earth am I talking about? Well, here’s a comic with some rather puffed up characters, at some afternoon tea party, chattering away about some nonsense. I don’t begrudge them their good fun one bit as they provide some light entertainment. Enough said.
Jack Ruby: The Many Faces of Oswald’s Assassin. Danny Fingeroth. Chicago Review Press. 2023. 352 pp. $30
You enter a hall of mirrors once you dig into the many facets of the assassination of President Kennedy. We are now at the 60th anniversary mark, November 22, 1963, of the murder and there is no letting up on this mystery of mysteries. The case is closed, and yet it’s not. Enter Jack Ruby to make the rabbit hole go deeper. Who was he and what did he want? Danny Fingeroth, known for his work at Marvel Comics as well as his celebrated and critically acclaimed writing (Stan Lee, A Marvelous Life) has set his focus upon Ruby, a man who has remained both in the spotlight and in the shadows.
Jack Ruby, if you have any thoughts on him to begin with, does not exactly cut an attractive figure. He’s not famous. He’s infamous. What to make of him? Despite his less than stellar, and more unsavory, appearance, like it or not, Ruby was there at the precise moment in time to murder Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of murdering a president, and Ruby instantly made history. He’s more the sort of character you are repelled from than attracted to but he’s also a mighty train wreck baked into one of the greatest horrors and spectacles of modern times. I’m not sure if getting to know Jack Ruby helps us better understand some elements of the Kennedy murder or helps us come to terms with it. Ruby is another nut to crack and a pretty big one at that. What Fingeroth does is try to seek some clarity about this man by bringing out his humanity. Fingeroth presents the reader with a man who could be both good and grotesque. If only his life had taken a different turn perhaps he would never have been anywhere near Lee Harvey Oswald.
What emerges from Fingeroth’s narrative is a Jack Ruby who, and perhaps this is a bit of a shock, we can relate to. Much of what Fingeroth uncovers for the reader is a life full of twists and turns in a struggle to find a place in the world. Jack Ruby had some potential. But he squandered it. Sometimes it was bad luck. But, more often than not, Ruby leaned into a mean streak that would ultimately carry him to his tragic destiny. The most intriguing discovery that Fingeroth makes is Ruby’s friendship with a true American hero, Barney Ross. For someone so obsessed with being close to celebrity and being associated with it, to find that Ruby and Ross enjoyed a genuine connection going back to childhood is fascinating. In a sad and odd way it shows a lighter side to the dark figure of Ruby. The truth is that Ruby had a side to him that was full of good intentions and, more importantly, of grand idealism. What strikes me about Fingeroth’s book is that he ends up painting a portrait of someone who was indeed fully capable of having the will and motivation to make a point of being at the right place at precisely the right time. So, in a sense, Fingeroth makes a strong case for Ruby acting alone on that fateful day in Dallas, just as Oswald is being transferred from the Dallas police over to the state of Texas authority.
Ruby was not a simpleton thug. That is essentially what you learn from reading this book. This is a fascinating read that sheds new light on one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood figures in this tragic time in American history. Fingeroth masterfully relates to the reader the life of a man, the choices he made, the struggles he endured, the depths he would let himself succumb to. Yes, he was also most assuredly a jerk who mistreated people and who forced himself on anyone he could every chance he got. But he wasn’t a simpleton thug. In that respect, he shared a fair amount of the same traits as Lee Harvey Oswald, another man who, had he taken a different turn, would never have been anywhere near his own fate on Dealey Plaza.
The Bund was a phenomenal uprising of people doing the right thing at a critical time when it was needed most. This graphic novel, or history, (call it whatever you like! It’s comics!) runs with its theme right out of the gate with a sense of urgency that embraces the reader all the way through to the very last page. Think of The Bund as a coalition, a movement, people power at its best. It was there to help people in need, people who happened to be Jewish and living by a thread. Let’s focus on the region, as it could not be more relevant. This is what was known as “The Pale,” what is now Poland and Ukraine. Let’s focus on the era. This is circa 1900 to 1940, covering Tsarist Russia into World War II. The Bund was a Jewish labor resistance movement that pushed back on its oppressors, namely Russia and Nazi Germany; and that cultivated and celebrated a Jewish identity, specifically in nurturing the Yiddish language and tradition. This book provides a history and insights into The Bund. And, if it makes you think of Bundt cake, you are on the right track: a metaphor for a strong and sturdy collective.
What is very exciting to me about this graphic novel is how it is put together as a vehicle to educate while also mindful of keeping the reader engaged. The artwork is pared down to the essentials, for the most part, with the added artistic flourish where needed. I can’t stress enough how important it is to include some personality even in the most straightforward graphic storytelling. If an artist is capable of it, well, go to it. Clearly, Michael Kluckner is in command of a compelling and expressive line.
The individuals behind this book are a creative dream team. The goal here is to provide an entry point, a doorway, into further study or a highly accessible overview. That is what this book does with Sharon Rudahl leading the way as the author. Rudahl is a veteran cartoonist, to say the least, who intimately understands what the comics medium can do. Rudahl is many things, including a passionate activist, along with the book’s esteemed editor, Paul Buhle. In fact, Rudahl and Buhle have a long and productive professional history, highlighted by working together on the Yiddish anthology, Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, published by Abrams in 2011. So, one can see this new book as a continuation of what was achieved with that landmark anthology.
The overriding theme to this book is how The Bund reached out and put itself in the places it needed to be, achieving time and time again the “hereness” that was so desperately called upon. The Bund was HERE! It met the moment, did what it could, and now lives on in spirit. Here we have a book introducing readers to the leaders of The Bund, such as Pati Kremer and Bernard Goldstein. For the first time, we have a concise visual narrative of this highly significant Jewish history. All in all, this visual narrative encapsulates essential history that will inspire new generations. This graphic history meets the moment in its own way, and helps return The Bund to the here and now.
George’s Run. by Henry Chamberlain. Rutgers University Press. 2023. 226 pp. $27.95.
Guest review by Paul Buhle
I leapt at the chance to write my foreword, what came to be called “A Historical Portal,” in Henry Chamberlain’s graphic novel, George’s Run. Now, with some time to reflect upon it, deeper and more personal observations come to me.
The Twilight Zone offered me proof positive—to this future editor/publisher of a little magazine dedicated to demonstrating the significance of popular culture—that a generation had been more than enriched by it. George Clayton Johnson, a writer for the show, as well as Star Trek, had a lot of insight to deliver, and Henry Chamberlain was the one to winnow it out and to illustrate it.
Astute critics of American cinema have often remarked that the Star Wars series of blockbuster movies, beginning in 1977, marked the return of films but also chunks of television shifting from serious social themes of the later 1950s to later 1970s, back to the Outer Space version of cowboys-and-Indians, with the “Indians” now aliens, some of them friendly (aka “on our side”) and others dangerously hostile. Many critics observed, after the 1999 Star Wars feature, The Phantom Menace, that “African Americanism,” aka Minstrelsy, had been transformed into amusing-looking aliens with humorous talk or behavior. The source of this gloomy transformation might be attributed to the world cinema market for action films or some other external cause, but it is hard to avoid the consequences for Hollywood-produced films as art or cultural/political statements. The social movements of the 1960s shook up Hollywood and created a socially critical audience whose favorite films came and went, in the following decade or so. M*A*S*H, their TV equivalent, was by the end of the century the most “re-run” of all shows and also held the most “peacenik” sentiments. It counted.
In this light, The Twilight Zone looms as a late, major statement of a different era. Rod Serling was a serious and important figure in US culture, a critic and artist who after trying various professions and skills, radio broadcaster to television writer, created the most important television drama in the era when television had a monopoly on media attention.
It was a moment when live television drama, vibrant and often socially critical despite the Blacklist and cultural cold war, hard shortly before reached its peak with a half-dozen theatrical-style shows, just as it poised to rushed production from New York to Hollywood. The Twilight Zone could not have worked as live drama, but it had the dramatic quality of what had gone before. Even in melodrama and seemingly far-fetched plots, the acting was serious. The show was showing something and saying something, working urgently to open up minds. At the right place and time, George Clayton Johnson found himself and helped make television and pop culture history.
George’s collaboration with Rod Serling occupies a central place in George’s Run. But the meeting of George Clayton Johnson with Ray Bradbury offers us something from the comic that retains all its meaning, six decades later. Bradbury (a museum bearing his name and artifacts, in my wife’s hometown of blue collar Waukegan, Illinois, opened last year) stands for a starkly different view of science fiction and its role in opening minds. His stories, adapted to EC Comics shortly before the massive wave of repression, offered readers a glimpse of the horrors ahead if the atomic/nuclear arms race were not halted but also a glimpse of aliens and civilizations that had something to teach the self-proud human race. Farenheit 451 along with a large handful of short stories best realized the social criticism made by a raft of science fiction writers, including some others who knew George well.
That George went onto Star Trek is logical, as part of the trajectory of a fantasy writer’s life. But there is much more. The world of fan publications and fan events can be traced back to networks of amateur (unpaid, mostly unpublished) writers who traded their own mimeographed newsletters as early as the 1920s. Sci-Fi fans gathered here, virtually, and then in person by the middle 1960s, trading publications directly, meeting and partying with authors as well as each other. “Trekkies,” a much-discussed phenomenon, led in time to comics events, later to Comic-Cons and all the regional events of today, sometimes grand but most often with self-publishers in the booths, chatting and selling copies to whoever the passers-by they could convince.
The subject of Star Trek itself remains, for many fans and scholars, important and bears symptoms of the richer mix of American popular culture emerging at the moment of its production. This brings us to the topic of the Other, a theme that endlessly drives discussion. Yes, Leonard Nimoy started in Yiddish theater; Spock is culturally Jewish without a doubt. And Uhuru is a staggeringly beautiful African American woman with all the sexualized implications, even if hardly acted out. And so on. But these, considered seriously, are minor notes. George Clayton Johnson’s scripts quietly urged viewers to ponder the fate of humanity within the cosmos, to get off the pedestal of human-centeredness and come to grips with terrestrial reality.
George’s Run bears all this meaning and so much more. But there is one more, albeit indirect, connection too delicious for me to leave out. Rod Serling called upon the blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson—before being purged from Hollywood, he had scripted the 1951 Oscar-winning A Place in the Sun—to help develop a crucial subplot that most viewers have taken in subconsciously. The humans are now allowed to speak. But when the human played by Rod Taylor asks to speak, the Chairman of the Tribunal interjects, “the exhibit is indeed a man, therefore it has no rights under ape law.” Those outside the definition of having the right to speak, cannot be allowed to speak, for fear that they will bring down the system. It was a plot that could easily have been taken out of Berthold Brecht’s Life of Gallileo, including the responsibility of the scientist to speak up against the threats facing society.
Such weighty considerations would have been thought, only a few decades ago, as being properly far beyond the scope of anything resembling comic art. Now, at last, we know better. Henry Chamberlain has given us a gift in George’s Run. Let us use it well.
Meet Nick Abadzis. He’s a guy who has basically been a cartoonist all of his life, in one form or another, or maintaining that connection one way or another. Making comics, worthwhile stuff, is never a simple cakewalk. Success in comics, on the professional level, involves persistence, passion and a bit of luck.
Nick got his name on the map, at least in the United States, with the publication of his graphic novel, Laika (First Second). It is the story of the first Earthling (dog) to be sent into outer space. Laika was launched into Earth Orbit aboard Sputnik II on November 3, 1957. The story of this Soviet dog cosmonaut is poignant to say the least and certainly just waiting to be adapted into a thoughtful and inventive graphic novel. Laika went on to in win a number of awards, including the coveted comics industry Eisner Award in 2008 for Best Publication for Teens.
Nick chats about the early days, circa 1980s-90s, going back to his first major work in comics, Hugo Tate. It’s a story that grows darker and more interesting as it unfolds. You won’t easily find it in the States without a bit of digging but that may change soon enough. Nick thinks it might be due for a revisit and reprint. Remembrance of things past led us to the glory days of British comics and comics journalism as exemplified by Escape magazine, founded by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury.
Our conversation also covered a bit of shop talk about the world of graphic recording. It’s not as simple and easy as just drawing pictures of a business meeting. But, if you are a particular kind of cartoonist, one who really knows how to pare down to the essentials and, most important, knows how to listen, you may have a future as a graphic recorder. That said, if you have the stomach for that, then maybe you have the stamina to pursue one graphic novel after another. I always find it a little amusing, perhaps even troubling, that some people think they might someday take up the goal of creating a graphic novel. Honestly, your odds are maybe better that you’ll follow through on writing a prose novel rather than a proper full length graphic novel. But live and learn I always say. Anyway, we have a bit of fun chatting about the curious world of visual storytelling.
Last, but not least, Nick provides us with a sneak preview of his new and forthcoming graphic novel project. It is about race and it has been years in the making. What began as an idea to explore the life of a mixed race couple evolved into a give-and-take discussion of how to expand the narrative. Initially, the book was inspired by the relationship between Nick and his partner, Angela. Nick is of Greek heritage; Angela is of African heritage. The editorial process took over. There were numerous discussions about combining the subject of race with immigration and that led to a number of drafts. Ultimately, the book came back to the original concept. This particular project evolved over the course of 14 years, about as long as Nick has been a graphic recorder. In fact, during the editorial discussions, he would graphic record them. Just goes to show you how important persistence and passion are in this business!
Find Nick Abadzis here.
There are a number of ways to experience Small Press Expo and the best is to be on the convention floor as much as possible. And, even better is to be an exhibitor and have your own table space. It can really be a lot fun. Sure, there’s a fair amount of waiting to see what will happen next but you just need to pace yourself. I kept telling myself I was on a mission that no one is going to appreciate better than me: “I am here to represent my new graphic novel, George’s Run, published by Rutgers University Press.” I had to convey that energy and determination. Each time I described my book, and gave my pitch, was a new opportunity. Each work of comics is an island unto itself which you are beckoning passersby to consider hopping upon.
I feel that it’s essential to be in the moment, acknowledge your table-mates, get to know them if possible, acknowledge your environment and everyone passing by, and certainly acknowledge yourself and your own comfort and well-being. I like to sneak in some time to draw in my sketchbook and that’s not only therapeutic but people often are curious and it can help strike up a conversation. Either that or people know right away that you’re not just a rep but the cartoonist! So, without further ado, I want to take a moment to acknowledge a few of my fellow creators. There are plenty more that I can share with you. This is a quick moment in time . . .
In this photo, you will see the following creators and contact info:
Sneaker Ghost by Jackie DeVito. Find it here.
Orts by Barrett Stanley. Find it at Radiator Comics.
Bruce Fort: Professional Bully by Bread Tarleton. Find it at So-So Press.
Bubbles #17. Find it here.
What I’ve Loved: Chapter 11 by Pam Wye. Find it here.
Precinct X99, Episode 2: Soft Toys. by Wren McDonald. Find it here.
I Owe It to My Parents to NOT Come Out by Richard Mercado. Find it here.
Empty by Jared Throne. Find it here.
Nickelodeon Guts by Sean Michael Robinson. Find it here.
Moonray by Brandon Graham and Xurxo G. Penalta. Find it here.
My Body Unspooling by Leo Fox. Find it here.
A big highlight for me, as it was for all of us at Small Press Expo, was Deb JJ Lee winning an Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent. Of course, Lee has many fans and she’s been around for more than a minute but the honor is highly significant. In fact, Lee cried when she went up to accept the award. For those new to Lee, this is the time to check out her new graphic novel, In Limbo, published by First Second.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring to your attention one of the hottest graphic novel releases for 2023: Naked: The Confessions of a Normal Woman by Éloïse Marseille (out November 7, 2023). This graphic novel presents a raw, tongue-in-cheek and refreshing look at sexuality in an engaging and entertaining manner that mature readers will appreciate. It is published by Pow Pow Press. The French edition is highly popular and we will soon have the English translation.
There is so much more that I need to share with you and I promise to just keep doing what I’m doing. I do my own thing regarding creating comics and I do my own thing writing about comics. See you again with more very soon!!
“Each work of comics is an island unto itself which you are beckoning passersby to consider hopping upon.”