Dollar Binging

Spider-Boy Team Up #1
Amalgam Comics, June 1997

Hawkman Comics #12
DC Comics, Feb/Mar 1966


Spider Boy Team Up  1997  1Spider-Boy Team Up #1

Probably the last of its ilk, Amalgam Comics will be known as the final example of Marvel and DC co-publishing anything. The 12 one shots that made up this line were all amalgamations of concepts of both companies, complete in single issue stories, and a couple of them stood out.

The story here, penned by “R.K. Sternsel”, is obviously an amalgam, I’m guessing Roger Stern, but thats all the thought I’m going to put into it. While “Stern” does a decent job of hitting all the right notes of this sort of thing, including a horseshoeing in a bit of the Christmas Carol, I’m giving him extra points for the five hundred or so of the Legion of Superheroes look a-likes and their catchy names, keeping it moving yet inventive and fresh for this usually mind wiping of exercises. All the different costumes gave a great new jazz too, but that was up to-

Penciller Ladronn, with some great embellishments by Juan Vlsaco. These two were working themselves up to quite a frenzy previously in Cable, but here they are fully ensconced, full steam ahead, with an inventiveness and attention to minute detail that Geoff Darrow would poop his pants about.

This 20 page pablum, packed with a dense, continuously moving and bright script by “Roger Stern”, and the offspring of Ladronn and Vlasco at the peak of their collaborative powers make this one a steal at a buck. Smoke some weed and read this.


Hawkman  1964  12Hawkman #12

While a lot of the Silver Age hasn’t aged well, Gardner Fox, one of DC’s sci-fi writers itchin’ to write comics in his spare time, lays out the usual paces in this 24 page, 3 chapter melodrama, its once again it’s the work of the visual end, Murphy Anderson, to pull the weight needed here for me to be able to finish this.

Fox has pretty much stretched out your basic superhero plot, complete with holes, not much story development (I don’t think this was a prerequisite in the 60’s), but given just enough characters and action to keep Anderson busy.

And busy he is. Every panel of this eye candy is beautifully rendered with what can only be labeled some of the most graceful human figures to grace a comic book. While backgrounds are not common in action scenes, when an establishing shot is needed, Anderson shows why he is one of the masters of the silver age. We would be so lucky to look like the macho Katar Hol and the gorgeous redheaded Sheyera. In their masterful poses, they make humans dressed like hawk people a normal and wonderful thing to witness.

Call me an old reprobate, but there is so much drawing here that I think most modern comics artists would puke if they knew how much time and effort was spent on this. Hawkman stories are generally a snooze, but our fearsome duo flying around in their wonderfully designed costumes and masks is worth the buck alone.

You CAN Go Home Again: The Collected Mister Miracle

The Collected Mister Miracle
By Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Trade paperback, collects the miniseries #1-12
DC Comics, 300 pages, 24.99

Well, I hope you’re already familiar with the wondrous, yet tough story of Jack Kirby’s lifetime in comics. Filled with a near endless catalog of many of the standards he created that we now take for granted, Kirby’s legacy is that of the ultimate shaper of superhero and adventure comics in general. A lifetimes worth of effort, invention, and aesthetic success made Kirby the “king” of comics, inspiring generations of younger artists to emulate and grow from his example.

The later years weren’t great to him in his chosen career, but still, in his dealings with real life publishers and their relationship to creators, Kirby continued to be a ground breaker, and continued his demonstration of how to be a comic book creator in the modern business world, a beginning primer for those who would come later.

After his decades long experience with Stan Lee and Marvel comics, Kirby decided to jump the fence and work for DC, the “other” company of any size in the comics business. Now while he still hadn’t established any microcosm of ownership over what he created, DC had the sense to let the King of Comics off the leash a bit to fulfill ideas and their gestation in a way he wasn’t able to before.

Hence was born Kirby’s Fourth World. Kirby’s limitless imagination, and his lifelong fascination of gods and mythology were able to manifest themselves in short runs of the titles New Gods, Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, and the most popular, Mister Miracle. Within these works, Kirby created an entire new pantheon of heroes, battling for power, and the extermination of any that got in their way, whether by purpose or accident. The infinite war between the opposite planets New Genesis and Apocalypse gave him a landscape for what would be Kirby’s last great comics invention.

Sadly, this new direction for superhero comics didn’t catch on, and Kirby was later forced to create new series to replace them as the sad fate of cancellation prematurely ended the star spanning tales of the New Gods. A sad fate indeed, as those of us comics readers that were enamored with them were forced to give up our addiction to this tale, and follow the newer exploits of books far less interesting and forced to work within the framework of positive sales potential.

Mister Miracle, perhaps the most likable of all the New Gods, enjoyed a pretty good run, despite its hokier humor that grasped for readers beyond its reach. The main characters, Scott Free and Big Barda, given at least a semblance to an ending with their marriage in its final issue.

Years later, Kirby attempted twice again to capture the essence of what he was seeking, but age and a diminished set of abilities left two attempts lacking, and in my utter disappointment, I decided not to acknowledge their presence within the canon at all.

Recently though, hotshot writer for DC Tom King decided to take a crack at it, along with formal narrative artist Mitch Gerads, bringing a more modern sensibility to the proceedings, yet hoping to provide some sort of conclusion to this winding, truncated saga.

The modern approach King takes here brings on the added baggage of a domesticated and introspective Scott and Barda, continuing the humorous attitude to the entire affair, mimicking Kirby’s as well. Also brought to the fore are the more common depictions of violence, sadly a given these days in modern comics. He still keeps it tight and moving, along with scenes of intense beatings the characters take in their involvement in war. Also noticed here is the constant respect King brings to the characters and their situations. It seems like we haven’t missed a beat here and it seamlessly segues from the last of the Kirby ideas for the strip and bringing them to a sense of logical conclusion that Kirby wasn’t able to.

Kudos also to artist Mitch Gerads, whose formal approach visually here, while drastically differing from Kirbys, accomplishes an entire spectrum of events within the confines of a repeated nine panel per page grid, the polar opposite of Kirby’s bombastic, page filling graphics. But while the approach is different, the absolute respect for his subject and the perfect visual look is in every panel. While I’ve had a lotta beef with the horrendous depictions and manipulations of filler artists doing Kirby characters over the years, few have come close to capturing the likeness and seriousness needed to keep the proceedings convincing here.

It shows off wonderfully all its characters in a manner that just picks you up and takes you along without a doubt or suspicion of anything but love and respect for Kirby’s concepts and bringing them together for a fun final ride. It also gives me hope for current comics. While I don’t quite have the cynicism required for what seems part of the checklist in modern action comics, it didn’t push me away either, and worked well when comparing the goals of the two eras these versions of the New Gods were written in.

So rejoice, ancient comics reader! It seems as if there are actually comics that can be invented with grit, cleverness, and visual craft that not only pushes aesthetic boundaries, but entertains you as well! There indeed is hope for tomorrow. And I think that’s the way the King of Comics would of wanted it.

I, René Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB Vol. 2: My Return Home

Phew! After the finish of volume one, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than his survival. That it would take five long years in captivity with the Germans and his need to be reunited with his wife comes through painfully here in this stories final year. It had been a long tough slog so far, but the last months journey with the Germans using pows as bargaining chips, as the war was begrudgingly winding down.

Continuing his three horizontal panels per page layout, Tardi relentlessly shows us mile after mile of the endless marching his father and his fellow prisoners were forced to take to keep them in the German’s hands. The panoramic panels with their endless dreary landscapes, depicting repeated multiple views of marching prisoners, keeps our eyes moving, an amazing balance of artistic choices and historical respect.

Tardi nails the effort, demonstrating its hardships, not to mention the grit needed for those captured, enduring continuous attacks on their health, mental condition, and their dignity as human beings. It is unforgiving in its repetition and continuous fight to live till the next day. The sheer zig zagging of their journey at the end an exclamation point to their struggles, and the madness of their march.

But survive some of them did. The long, resisted finish of the German army and its eventual disintegration is portrayed brilliantly as witnessed by the POWs and their reactions. Germany owed a terrible price after the war, and those left alive did whatever they could to see them pay for it.

Around this time, Tardi introduces slight, tight, spots of color to illustrate the slow, begrudging emergence of hope from our tale. Just bites of color here and there, not enough to spoil us, but just enough to demonstrate that color still exists, just not as much is around as before.

A completely somber and non romantic story, I was reminded of a time in my youth when I asked my father if World War Two was anything like the spirited romantic ideas put into my head by the movies and media here of what life was like stateside during World War II.

He responded. “Yeah, in some ways it was, unless you lost someone that didn’t make it home”.

After reading Rene Tardi’s survival tale in comparison, the opposites of the wars experiences stand still from the shock of their contrasts. While Prisoner of War isn’t a gross, graphic depiction of the brutal effects of war, but it succeeds greatly in relating to us what mans inhumanity to man can look like. The marching was torturous enough, that they did it scrounging for clothes, food, and sleep throughout it all feels hopeless and devastating.

Comic books can make the mundane spectacular and the fantastic banal. Tardi’s work here runs the distance of Rene’s life while a prisoner of war, using all his tools in service of the truth, showing what human beings are capable of. The quietness of the narrative is amplified with a sad gracefulness, and benefits being transferred to the language of comics in Tardi’s hands.

Prisoner is essential reading for anyone interested in exploring the infinite capabilities of the human spirit, both good and bad. Also included at the books finish are a journal of Jacques Tardi’s trek through northern Europe retracing his fathers steps, a much “enjoyed” demonstration in “real” time.

Tardi depicts his fathers journey keeping a narrative distance, yet lets through a sliver of passion on his fathers behalf. Four years in a concentration camp, followed by nearly a year of relentless, painful marching. That anyone survived this is a miracle, and Tardi shows us how it was done.

Crisis of Infinite Comics: Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #1-6

Tempest

Hmmm…where to begin?

Perhaps itʼs better to start at the end.

Alan Moore, perhaps one of the most influential comic book writers of our era, has for some time now announcing heʼs calling it quits. After listing his last few works in comics, he sums it all up in the latest and final LEOG story.

While Moore has certainly had his share of controversy within the comics world, his writing sometimes compared to mere “genre” writers, has transgressed that merely by being perhaps the greatest of all comics genre writers. Whatever direction heʼs taken, you can be rest assured that it will be the most clever, detailed, and at the least, obsessive approach taken to developing fascinating themes for comics. No half assed dips into the pool for Moore, itʼs either full boat involvement in his subject matter, with enough incorporation of concepts to make any other creator of comic tales feel helpless, witnessing an artist taking over completely his chosen subject matter at a level far beyond the capability of most others.

LEOG, which started as an elaborate tribute to stunning fictional characters plucked from various English literary works, spun together in a super team effort made all the more interesting due to their positions in fiction as monsters, failures and oddballs, their anti humanistic paths now working together to prevent cataclysmic disaster. Their ultimate place among humanity and itʼs price are also touched upon as well.

The first two LEOG stories were detailed, shocking tales with world changing outcomes, with the protagonists hardly suited for the lofty goals upon which they were now summoned. Moore then wraps the stories in resolutely English themes, using only characters and most situations with their founding in English literature and fiction.

Over time, his LOEG tales then took on a more distinct route, parlaying formal aspects of comics, bending his characters and the narrative, along with the reader, on a journey that must be really studied to be understood and appreciated, making you work to discover and perhaps understand why he was creating it in the first place. You are bound to Mooreʼs narrative, helpless yet willing to go wherever it takes you, comfortable or not.

This final tale, bringing us up to date chronologically and formally, is an utter distillation of all things metahuman (nee superhero) comics over the last 75 years that have been wrought upon us. Its blending of stylistic nuances, outrageous fictional characters, the inevitable team up of the heroes, all brought up for display, tells us the final fate of these types of venues, using perfectly the tics and tropes of the comics themselves to display his thesis/journey.

The grand motives of superhero comics and their heights and fallacies are all here to behold, to enjoy their miracles, yet at the same time, point to a larger vision, a demonstration of how they work, and the bases they touch upon their way to the most mega fantastic of conclusions. Perfectly linear in its progression, there is perhaps every cliche in the book used here in service of the homage, using as many types of comic approaches seamlessly incorporated into a mass narrative to enjoy and drive you crazy with its scope of ambition as well as the reserve not to take any of this too seriously. An amazing balance is achieved here between contrasting goals.

It’s also a tale not for the simple comics reader weaned on a sugar fed, monthly pulse short attention span of pablum, either. Only the mature and well travelled comics reader will spot most, but probably not all, of the winks and nods shown to its audience. There is a lifetime plus of the superhero genre on view here, and while it’s not necessary to have an encyclopedic knowledge of such things to “get it,” the well-read comics fan will be able to dig deeper and catch on more than the novice.

In this narrative, Moore brings nothing less than the totality of English and American comics history, dozens of literary references, approaches from golden age comics to the Watchmen, and a blazing framework brought together by Shakespeareʼs Tempest, no less. Donʼt be scared to venture here though, as while you may be googling or wiki-ing things you donʼt recognize, you are not penalized for doing so.

And that’s where the point here lies. Moore has taken the lifetime of superhero comics and put them into one final, master, superhero crossover spectacular-stories the big two like to whip out every season, and not only present them in all their absurdity, but in an involving tale with the highest stakes available; the continued existence of the meta human genre, perhaps the greatest threat to our heroes ever imagined.

And succeed he does. While some may not have patience for where it goes, there is no denying this is a well thought out and conceived tale, showing both the polar duality of a great mythical end of times story with a poignant presence, a mature objective point about all these things that are both majestic and more than a little sad. That while we take such things seriously as comic fans, there can be no denying the overstated importance we give them as such, and the passes we give them when they suck and disappoint.

Moore swings from both sides of the pendulum, praising superhero comics goodness, their personal touches of life we experience when reading them, and in its finale, taking its rose colored glasses(or 3D, theyʼre in there too), and confronting the reader about the final realities about such things, while also comforting the reader with a respect for such things and the inevitable conclusion we have when weʼve taken them as far as we logically can.

It is within such parameters Moore demands respect for his chosen idiom as well as demonstrating its shortcomings and their conclusion; superhero comics have gone about as far as they will go. For such a well executed and convincing demonstration I can only make this tale of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (although the members are all women by this point), my swan-song in any kind of involvement with the modern superhero genre at all anymore.

For that Mr Moore, I graciously thank you, and shed a metaphorical tear for my innocence lost and the transformation of my childhood friends.

Before I tie it up, his longest collaborator, Kevin O Neill, delivers a masterful virtuosoʼs worth of cartooning skills, perhaps his best. O’Neill furnishes this endlessly inventive dense pack of info perfectly, with each panel composed to its fullest, with no wasted space and the latest version of Will Elderʼs “chicken fat” art style a feast for the eyes and the brain. Todd Kleinʼs lettering and Ben Digmagmaliwʼs coloring are wonderfully crafted yet almost unnoticeable, contributing more layers to the proceedings to make this a total artistic endeavor of a package. Creative examples of encyclopedic talent at this level are rare, enjoy them.

So this will most likely be the last modern superhero tale I will read because of this. Damn you Moore, for waking me up, but thank you as well, for showing me the sublime beauty of my earliest dreams, and the realization that itʼs definitely time to be moving on.

Blast From The Past: American Flagg #1

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Recently I spread the word on Howard Chaykin’s recent series on the history of comics from the inside, Hey Kids! Comics!, being a success for the seasoned comics creator. Within that review, I mentioned his earlier effort, American Flagg, which I believe to be his most successful creation. So lo and behold, here I am at one of the local comics shows, and what leaps into my hand but a copy of AF #1. Didn’t look like it had been read, was in a clean bag and a board, and was for sale for the bargain price of one dollar. Obviously an omen, I had to relive this older favorite of mine.

Chaykin, who’s made his rep depicting high adventure, lusty, cynical, violent hero types, perhaps like many creators, uses his leads as a portrayal of themselves as center actors, living through their characters. Howie is certainly guilty of this, but while his leading males are certainly bigger than life, they are also infused with an everyman sense of how outrageous their situations are, and a sense of indignation for being put there. Rueben Flagg, our protagonist, is an out of work soap opera actor replaced by a holographic projection, and finds himself working a crap job as a law enforcement officer at the local Plexmall, a microcosm of what future society holds for us, excesses and all. It’s midwest based, with the Plexmall inspired by suburban Chicago malls, with numerous local inflections sprinkled along the way.

To Chaykin’s luck and First publisher Rick Obdiah’s credit, Chaykin gets LOTS of leeway on mature content for a comic I could of sworn was on the newsstands. Flagg jumps right into the action, the basic plot and numerous characters introduced at breakneck speed to keep action in the forefront. While they may display a stereotypical slant to them, Chaykin’s self sense of interest leaves a fresh, spicy imprint on all, giving his actors a personal distinctiveness rare among comics, especially right off the bat here. The boundaries of good taste are also pushed a bit, with suggested sex, drugs, and continuous gang violence just the beginning of this ride.

While Chaykin is always on the forefront of narrative graphic panel composition, American Flagg displays an assurance of talent, a mature mastery of eye movement, composition, and the full integration of literal word messaging within the panels contents. Rare indeed are the experimental approach and the common sense of storytelling disciplines working in perfect tandem as they do here.

Yet another strength in Chaykin’s bag of tricks is is an ability to constantly invent costumes and clothing. The thought and detail here should be a visual lesson to any creator of what it takes to produce a multi layered, textural reading environment. This makes the comic repeatedly accessible, each new read revealing previously missed visual cues. I really didn’t notice the “ben day dot” effect till my second read, that gives the figures another easy to achieve level of depth, allowing Chaykin to focus elsewhere within the panel on other inventions.

Big kudos to “new” letterer Ken Bruzenak here, who’s skill at typography and design take Chaykin’s birthings to a new level. There are literally dozens of fonts on display here, encyclopedic in their numbers, yet fully clear with their intent and narrative focus. Flagg incorporates figure drawing, graphic design, and typography to a high level here, and it works just fine. Lynn Varley’s limited palette with its 64 standard printing colors is also a demonstration of what pros can do with skill and limited means. What both accomplish here without computers certainly paves the the way for later practitioners.

While one can quibble with Chaykins manish approach and overtly sexy derring do, it’s obviously what inspires him to do comics at this level in the first place. What he does with 28 pages here is a visual testimony of his skills, and a “restrained” approach for a wider audience. All of the actors here are likable, stylish, and leave a great impression with the reader, despite their role in the drama.

Like the fine arts, comics sometimes are so far ahead of their time, their true value not recognized until much later. This books mainstream accessibility along with its continuous sophisticated display of invention, form a perfect balance of commerce and creativity, easily placing it into my pantheon of favorite comic books.

American Flagg, now over 35 years old, still remains as fresh and different as the day it was published, a superior effort from one of comics modern masters. Quite the bargain at a buck, which was also its original cover price, by the way.

Hey Kids! Comics! – Howie Chaykin’s History of Comics

Heykids

Howie Chaykin, a writer/artist who’s been on the comic scene since the early seventies, has always been a bit of an outsider. While he’s done his share of the standard and not so standard mainstream hero fare, has generally exemplified his best work among the “anti mainstream” tendencies. After all, a guy’s gotta work, right? But it’s within those oddball, fantasy concepts he reveres and excels in.

Early on at DC, working on the Burrough’s revival Weird World series, the wonderful Sword of Sorcery adaptions from Fritz Lieber; the related creator owned Cody Starbuck from Gary Frederich’s Star Reach label; culminating here on his most successful creation (in my own humble opinion), American Flagg for First comics. About this time he matured, decided to push the envelope on “acceptable” comics, and went off on a series of outlaw concepts for the mature readers Vertigo line, did the nasty x rated Black Kiss series at Vortex, and stayed away from the big two, only dipping his feet in the water for the steady paying work. During a recent reentry into semi mainstream, he collaborated with writer Matt Fraction on the wonderful (but also not fer kids) Satellite Sam series at Image.

While all this time having both steady income and critical praise, he still kept that outsider, trend bucking cynic that picked scabs frequently off those with gentler tastes. Whether brought on by personal experiences or sympathetic attitudes towards his fellow creators, this history in comics has brought him to create Hey Kids! Comics!, a five issue history of comic books and the creators that brought them to life and suffered greatly for the experience.

Chronically depicting the lives of three comic books creators that spent their lives working within our favorite hobby, he covers lots of ground by splitting chapters by decades, showing the aging and growth of our protagonists and the world they inhabit, warts and all. It’s a good way to keep all the misery from overcoming us, done in several page chapters, each issue repeating the format while continuing the main story, as well as some of the more scandalous and heartbreaking tales from its history.

Chaykin spares no expense here in the lives of these creators, as they struggle to continue to earn a living, meanwhile watching the business grow and evolve around them, swallowing decency and mutual friends along the way. The comics business is shown by its soft underbelly, the stuff you didn’t want to know, but knew it existed. The many lives destroyed in its endless conquest for fame and the almighty dollar.

While a decent understanding of comics actual history will provide dividends to those who study such things, the synonyms of those depicted will entertain and horrify any reader. The industry whose products we loved for a lifetime had their origins in stories not far removed from EC horror comics of the fifties. Both sides of the coin are represented and contrasted, the wealthy publishers, the insane editors, and the mercilessly taken advantage of creators, adding up as entertainment for mainstream comic readers that probably didn’t even know they existed for the most part.

Chaykin is in his element here, ceaselessly parading it all for us, never withholding the sordid truths, the monetization of sex, the racism and ever present class warfare, all adding to our precious comic memories, unshielding our eyes from it’s mean and devastating truths.

Aesthetically, one can say Chaykin here has some of his ticks that some readers may find off putting; his slight visual repetitions from one character to another and an expanding list of characters can make you work a bit to keep it all straight. I read each issue a couple of times, then blew through all five for a much more coherent and continuous read. The sheer cynicism on display here could turn off some readers, but its the subject matter here thats off putting, Chaykin’s talents only serve too well the stuff he’s depicting. For me, these ticks can be forgiven. After all, Howie is in his seventies, and he’s producing here an incredible tale- a sympathetic story thats incredibly sad mostly because it is real and the casualties are those we grew to love and admire in our desire for four colored fairy tales.

Chaykin only works with A-list talent, so kudos also to Wil Quintana’s rich, lively colors, and the never ending varieties of Ken Bruzenak’s lettering. Also assisting in his line up are several guest stars, helping him create the detailing that helps give the book life and it’s authentic touch, as well as back matter thats essential.

Despite whether you can stomach the details and the story, the utter lack of ethics or morals portrayed by those in charge that benefitted the most from them, there can be no doubt that (paraphrasing from the book) comic books are truly the ATMs of the media development industry these days.

Howie, you’re a tough read. But somebody’s got to do it, and while I’m sorry its you, you are the best fitted for it. Thank you.

More Formal Comics: Kevin Huizenga

Ganges #5Ganges #5; Fantagraphics; 2016; $8, 32 pgs; in print.
Ganges #6; Fielder Media; 2017; $8, 36 pgs; in print.
Fielder #1; Drawn & Quarterly; 2017; $8, 36 pgs; in print.

As far as results in mainstream comics go, entertainment is the number one priority, generally. But what if a creator(s) wanted to add something else to the mix? More extraneous content, such as a secondary, or plural purpose behind their intentions? Formal comics, as I call them, take into account a creator’s desire to go beyond simple entertainment. Such as adding a “profound” point, or perhaps displaying further inclusions into the author’s mind. Perhaps, dare I say it, comics providing an additional level of sensory experience?

Kevin Huizenga, what one could label a contemporary formal cartoonist, has been working for a number of years now, eschewing powerful fictional leads and situations, and produced some truly thought provoking work, with a talent that still entertains, yet seeks to provide another layer of humanism to the mix.

Initially in self produced “fanzine” formatted mini comics, Kevin has explored subtle questions about a variety of personal interests, pushing the expectations of comics in a uniquely different direction, while simultaneously giving himself aesthetic challenges to what comics depict, as well as attempt to reveal questions that puzzle him and provide impetus to produce comics, and test the mettle of his act of creation.

These examinations look toward the real and the imagined, the easily visible and experienced, as well as the realm of unreality itself. Whether it be a more traditional biographical approach, incorporating the side tracks and inroads towards non visceral, imagined, and theoretical reality as well.

His narrative approach, while seeming scattershot at times, reveals an artist that loves tangents, forks in the road as it were, to explore and develop as he goes along and discovers them, all the while keeping a touch of narrative approach to keep the reader on board. These little pamphlets have the physical ability to be both charming, intellectual, yet never entirely give up on the basic goal of comics themselves: to keep the reader reading, take them on a journey, and prove to them its an interesting journey in and of itself.

Now this approach can be fortuitous with success, or a disaster that leaves the reader lost, whirling in an undefined haze that ditches the needs of the reader for an egotistical self navel gazing mess that no one but the creator is interested in. For every rare successor, there are countless others that have left the witness behind in a surreal dimension that is neither interesting and fails utterly to come close to entertainment.

Yet, Huizenga’s craft level does this, submerging his personal context to keep the oddball topics accessible and even provoking. This is even reflected in his artwork that continues this approach, sublimating any type of recognizable style of rendering for a simple, basic, shape based set of visual icons that doesn’t bombard the reader with fancy visual tricks. It almost could be categorized as a non art type of visual, leaving no overt personality to interfere with the ideas he’s exploring.

Ganges #6

Such mundane topics as cohabitation, video games, sleep disorders, as well as fascinations with historical figures and events are all delivered with an almost generic method of depiction, yet the effect of page layout on the way your eye travels across the page are all done with the utmost care during this process, each with its own set of visual cues that the witness can grasp, and have fun with on this journey.

We comic readers generally all have this “stack” of unread comics we’ve accumulated yet not read, and when I recently purchased a copy of Huizenga’s Ganges #6, and discovered I had a copy of issue #5, they both fell into a two issue examination of the life and experiences of protagonist Glenn Ganges, a character I assume is a metaphor for Huizenga himself. Shortly after, I came across his newest comic, Fielder, that nicely rounds out a good reading challenge.

Ganges #5 explores many domestic topics including his relationship with Wendy, Glenn’s wife(?), their shared careers in creative art, the interaction of family members during a funeral that winds up with feelings of misplaced guilt that pretty much anyone could relate to. All of these topics work within the 12 page story, and despite its all over the place approach, comes off as linear and relaxed. The second, which begins as an overview of James Hutton, the originator(?) of modern geological theory, segues into an existential treatise on the passage of time, and how perception can completely turn around your view in an instant, all the while keeping its narrative focus and avoid being a didactical mess. It’s rounded out by a few pages of short bursts, comprised of little questions thrown at the reader to puzzle and explore.

Ganges #6 significantly ups the ante, utilizing almost the entire issue depicting reflections of Glenn’s perception of reality, seamlessly integrating a more complex set of visual tactics, dense packed with as many things as the brain can handle, yet it still comes off as a structured narrative, with as good a conclusion as we can produce in our own real time. All this and accomplishing a developed set of visual devices while still maintaining a non personal, simple drawing style that keeps the focus on its proceedings. Ganges #6 would have to be one of the more complex comic books I have ever read, yet keeps its identity as an accessible, entertaining exercise in its own right. Incredible.

Fielder #1

Fielder #1, the most recent, entertains, yet provides a half book length exploration this time putting forth his formal recreation of an abysmal third rate 60’s style adventure comic, breaking it down into pieces to examine its elements, and displaying their strengths and weaknesses for us to contemplate. The final set of short stories, one featuring Glenn Ganges and an overview of the mixing of sleeping and waking perceptions, features little reference to personal life pretty much entirely, and another more abstract video game interpretation of creation(?) round it out, except for the final tale, an unmistakable auto biographical foray in to Ganges life as an artist, takes a 180 degree turn as it is realistic, and cannot be confused with anything other than a mature cartoonist at the crossroads of his career and life. It comes off as somewhat melancholy, and discusses in length developments in his drawn work, and is purposely I believe depicted in as personal and realistic(?) manner as Huizenga has ever shown. While troubling, it may signify an end(?) to his previous approach, and sadly to this reader, an unknown sense of whether we’ll see him again. Nonetheless, Fielder #1 remains a solid example of what has come so far, and I really want to see what comes next for this impassioned, thought provoking artist that many can relate to, and of course, enjoy. I also noticed that the time it took me to read these three 32 page comics was just about 2 hours total. Try getting that much experience from three issues of the X-Men.

While Huizenga is not a simple read, he pays great dividends to the comic readers that will appreciate a road less traveled, as well as one that transcends typical storytelling methods for a greater reward, and perhaps an expanded view of what comics can be and achieve.

New Comics Wednesday

I got four.

Had lunch with a friend recently and afterwards went to a comic store with him. While nothing hit me on the the mainstream rack, the indies had me curious. So here, in no particular order, and possibly not as new as “this weeks long underwear books”, is a smattering of what caught my eye, and got me to purchase them.

Pope Hats #4,5– when I got home, I discovered I had issue 4 in my “stack”, so I read ‘em both. Hartley Lin, current master of short stories about everyday people with issues, goes with an anthology style of shorts in 4 with good results. A half a dozen quick narratives are the stomping ground, with a huge swath of characters and some poignant conclusions on them. While each has a distinctness of it’s own, it s in issue 5 where Lin lets his inner talents loose with a lengthy 60 page story all about his well realized Frances, a young lady who’s watched her bff/roomie move away for work, and now deals pretty much alone with her position as a law clerk at a huge firm. While I could say it’s a more complicated version of Betty and Veronica, the love he has for the fate of Frances is more than communicated with a warm, formal, cartooning style that nearly brought me to tears here more than once. I now love Frances, I just can’t help myself.

Black Hammer-Age of Doom #8– while I picked up this middle issue cold, I was still familiar enough with the concept and the group here enough to catch on to the endless reboot theme thats underlying here. While there’s not terribly much meat on this comic, Dean Ormstrom’s art carries it, along with just enough willingness on my behalf for patience to see where Jeff LeMire is going with this. On the edge of teetering from it’s own weighty premises, Black Hammer gives something for those too crazy or stupid to give up on superhero comics.

House Amok #5 – one of those favorite Vertigo replacement series from Black Crown, Chris Sebela manages to take a fast paced crazy family story with likable characters and just about kill all the momentum he built in the first four issues. Not the ending I wanted, but Shawn McManus’ great cartooning helps digesting this mess immensely. Decent first four issues, though, the train wreck that composes issue 5 kills it.

Lodger #2 – Another Black Crown book, noir styled authors Maria and David Lapham relate a story here about a nomadish guy that gets involved with certain peoples lives, mostly for a bad ending for them. Lapham’s experience with down trodden folks and a love for depicting real violence give this one a convincing tone, and makes me curious for another.

All in all, not bad. Makes me want to try it again sometime. The threat of walking into a comic series cold was balanced by enough talent, and for the exception of Black Hammer, the ability to read a copy of something and get a warm fuzzy feeling while experiencing comics again, enjoying the random issues.

New Mainstream Visions: Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Snagglepuss

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles

DC Comics, issues 1-6, or collected $16.99 tp

When considering indie comics, the unexpected is always hopefully expected. When given few constraints, indies can explore paths unthinkable to the person next to you; I guess that’s why they call it art.

But when considering mainstream commercial comics potential, there’s not a lot a writer/artist can work with. The main goal of acceptance with widespread success along with the added baggage of a wholly already defined concept can curtail even the cleverest of minds. Really, how many new Batman stories can be there to tell after 75 years? The best of commercial writers are lucky and skilled enough to surf the demands of the publisher’s needs, yet bring something extra to the table unique to their sensibilities. Mark Russell seems to respond well to this challenge, taking a simplistic concept and giving it more complex textures.

In the relatively short period of time Russell has worked for DC, he has invigorated not only a forty plus year old property –Prez, the story of America’s first teenage president, but also taken the horns on DC’s recent push of their stable of Hanna Barbera cartoon properties as well. His ridiculous amount of success with the Flintstones mini series (with artist Steven Pugh), demonstrated not only could he keep Fred and his cohorts interesting, he could also infuse them with a modern sensibility while examining society, incorporating the animated cave man’s aesthetics along with an updated look at todays foibles. Not only did these provide more entertainment than a hundred superhero comics, but more to the point, took a commercial assignment with highly defined limits and turned it into something fresh, new, and original for today’s readers.

Whether due to this success or just good luck, Russell grabs some more work from DC on their continued push of the HB cartoon characters with Snagglepuss, a character far down the line in terms of popularity from Fred Flintstone. Much to DC’s credit, they gave Russell incredible room to stretch his legs here, reimagining SP (Snagglepuss) as the famous American playwright Tennessee Williams, his struggles surviving in the foreground of 1950’s government investigations of un-American activities to punish him not only for his unorthodox approach towards his art, but using his homosexuality as a tool against him in the public eye.

So how to take this seriously because Tennessee Williams is drawn as an upright pink feline cartoon character? Well, Russell concocts a solution of cartoon animals coexistence with normal “human” looking people, as per demands of the necessities of the comic, with a preconditioned acceptance on our part to go along with it. While I think their contrasts are a bit jarring to be fully comfortable with, I can’t deny Russell’s success in portraying his story in such a compelling manner that it easily smooths out the rough spots of such acceptance, and keeps us fully on track with the narrative, making me want to pursue it to its conclusion. He is also able to seamlessly weave in many real life people (along with other Hanna Barbera characters) into actual historical events, giving the simplistic cartoon characters a sympathetic weight formerly unimaginable.

Artist Mike Feehan is to be credited with a disciplined approach in depicting this shared animated/real life universe, carefully keeping the cast distinct from one another and constantly identifiable. Colorist Paul Mounts brings his usual bright, garish approach to his pages, but here in this “animated” universe, his palette is much more comfortable in its surroundings, adding a visual layer of bouncy electric life to the proceedings.

Here we have quite the successful balancing act, where a writer gives the publisher the goal of a favorable commercial tie in comic, but also a controversial tale, rife not only with convincing cartoon characters, but also a well researched telling of important current history along with a biscuits worth of social vetting and political examination-whew! Sadly, the comics inevitable rough ending (it is based on Williams, after all), is countered by the solemn acceptance of it’s cast, with the promise good things can follow. Which is pretty close to how it generally works in real life. Quite the feast indeed for a comic named Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles.

Russell continues to impress here, with all three of his first forays into commercial comics writing must reads against all odds of them being so. May he have many more.

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