Comics Comics Issue #1

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Edited by: Timothy Hodler and Dan Nadel Designer and copyeditor: Jessi Rymill Editor-at-large and co-founder: Frank Santoro Contributing editors: Ben Jones, Laris Kreslins, Mark Newgarden Publisher: Laris Kreslins Advertising Director: Jesse Locks (916) 548-7716 Published by Lime Publishing in association with PictureBox Inc. Editorial Address: PictureBox 75-22 37th Ave., #135 Jackson Heights, NY 11372 Business address: Lime Publishing 13104 Colton Lane Gaithersburg, MD 20878 Comics Comics is published bimonthly by Lime Publishing and PictureBox. Copyright © 2006 PictureBox and Timothy Hodler, all rights reserved. All content is copyright © its author or authors. Now available! Comics Comics merchandise: Comics Comics posters: Own a 13x19" full-color poster of Jessica Cioicci’s Comics Comics cover! $10 (U.S.) $15 (CAN) $20 (elsewhere) Comics Comics T-Shirts: Ciocci’s logo on a cotton shirt! Pledge your allegiance to comics! $15 (U.S.) $20 (CAN) $25 (elsewhere) SALES OF COMICS COMICS MERCHANDISE HELPS FUND THE PRINTING OF THIS PUBLICATION. COMICS COMICS ISSUE PDFS ALWAYS AVAILABLE ONLINE.

Welcome to the first issue of Comics Comics. This magazine aims to document contemporary and past comics from a pluralistic, affectionate, and critical standpoint. Many of our contributors are cartoonists themselves, and are in a unique position to offer their personal takes on the medium. A goal of Comics Comics is to shine a light on corners of the medium that we feel are underexposed (such as the work of Jessica Ciocci) and to examine the work of more celebrated artists (such as Wally Wood) from new angles. We’re also interested in the comics library, and to that end feature book reviews that span the whole history of the medium, from the obscure and out-of-print to the popular and widely available. In each issue we will feature reviews, essays, and interviews, as well as more unusual features—and, of course, comics from our contributors. This debut issue includes profiles of two of our regular contributors, Matthew Thurber and Paper Rad’s Ciocci.) Please let us know what you think by contacting Comics Comics will continue to change and grow, and we hope you enjoy the process. —Tim and Dan Books and sites by our contributors: Bill Boichtel Jessica Ciocci and Paper Rad Pig Tales, PictureBox Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs, PictureBox

When pressed by some idiot reporter, the Dali Lama concluded that World War II helped “protect the rest of civilization and democracy but that other violent action has no.…“ Oh well, forget art comics about that vs. terrorism by last part: the narrator as In today’s transcribed by global paper rad village, terrorism is a horrible plague. Perhaps it’s the last primitive cry of the animal origins of our species. As the world, and Americans, fight the morally just war against such dark terror, one must examine the battlefields—for they might be in your backyard. Or hallway.

But there is that word—experimental—perhaps the cornerstone of the American way of life. Why, America itself was George Washington’s Brilliant Experiment: one part freedom, two parts morals, and a dash of independence.

[Pause for laughter]

For too long the American way of life has been eroded by Fundamentalist values. These bizarre non-western practices have to be ended. And what better battlefield to choose than:

Today’s terrorism stems from Fundamentalist Backward thinking, like “men are better than women,” or “certain humans are better than others,” and these retarded values are perpetuated by actions and rules. Beware: These actions and rules are the opposite of Democracy; they threaten the American Way. America thrives on our freedom, our passion, our intelligence, our ingenuity. America’s technological institutions foster experimental breakthroughs in medicine, computers, space, and the list goes on.…

So, how do I put this? …The leaders of global terrorism —the Taliban, Osama, … —they hate experimentalism. An enemy to experimental values is an enemy to America. We must vow to crush the terrorist resistance to experimentation. But, as I said before, the battlefields of terrorism are in our own backyards. That’s right: The enemies of experimentalism could be sitting right next to you. That is why today I announce a new battle in the War on Terror.

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The irony is that the 9/11 of comics came when Art Spiegelman used that Photoshop filter in his 9/11 book. Are you kidding me? I mean, do you call that experimenting? Do you think that’s helping? Honestly.... Did you even play with any of the settings? [Pause for laughter]

The world of comics!

In cooperation with Interpol and NATO I would like to announce the new mostwanted-terrorist list: At the head of this list are, of course, Scott McCloud and Matt Madden for their role in producing antiAmerican-experimentalist comics that at face value claim to be furthering the cause, but in their hearts are festering with fear, self-loathing, and animalistic dark hatred.

The lines are clear: You are either with us or against us.

Oh, and don’t get me started about the term “art comics....” How dare you....

You are now wanted dead or alive if at any time you subscribed to X-Men. I will not distinguish between terrorists and the publishers that distribute these terrorists. I declare Top Shelf the burka of comics. Furthermore, Drawn & Quarterly is now on

[Improv] [Laughter]

Raphael Lyon Dan Nadel Art Out of Time: Unknown Visionary Cartoonists, 1900-1969, Abrams Mark Newgarden We All Die Alone, Fantagraphics Gary Panter Jimbo’s Inferno, Fantagraphics

mark newgarden’s gag corner “We’re working on technology that allows corporations to digitally quantify individual human suffering.”

Frank Santoro Chimera; Cold Heat; Incanto, all PictureBox Matthew Thurber Carrot for Girls, PictureBox

“Hi, I’d really like to talk to somebody about subscribing to the New York Times right away please.”

probation until they comply with the extradition of Tom Devlin, so that he may fulfill his campaign promises of publishing “comics that don’t suck,” such as Maggots. The liberal commie-bastards that have sold our country short must be held accountable for Frank Cho.

“I’ve stopped work on my failed screenplays in order to concentrate on my failed graphic novels.”

I’m standing outside a small vinyl-sided house in suburban western Massachusetts. The leaves next door haven’t been raked in forever, and somewhere nearby is a decaying 1973 what’s Chevrolet, wrong with just waiting to be miss piggy? fixed. It’s inside the world not the of comics obvious comics cover place artist jessica for the ciocci by raphael home of lyon a woman who has spent the last few years trying to morph ALF and Miss Piggy. Or maybe it is. Jessica Ciocci is probably the most self-effacing and reclusive member of the three-person group Paper Rad—the sometimes band, sometimes comics-and-video collective, all-the-time Web site and installation posse. Stepping into her innocuous-looking home, I’m greeted with an explosion of spraypaint cat prints, dolls, spaceships, and Slinkies. A Chipmunks side-project record featuring “Shirley, Squirrely and Melvin” fights for space with videos including Roboformers and The Wild Puffalumps, and the 1983 Time-Life multi-book set Understanding Computers, not to mention a collection of fluorescent nail polish. All of this sits casually next to a Los Angeles gallery catalog, the complete works of William Blake, and a GameCube controller. If there is anyone to blame or congratulate for this pile, it is Ciocci. Her eye for the stuff of the American scream has filled this house with the sorts of things we wade through, even as we have been led to believe that somehow the New York Times “Style” section or Artforum drive our culture. They don’t. The real engines are the dollar store and the note passed in class, and Ciocci knows it. For her, these tiny scraps are the most revealing bits of the culture: “When you

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see amateur work, you see the mistakes a professional would try and cover up—like when a person’s homemade Web site has a JPEG scaled up incorrectly. That’s the kind of stuff we like. It’s acknowledging that there are these unspoken rules about how you are supposed to do something—and when you break that rule you are acknowledging that the rule exists.” A recent zine of hers, Pig Tales: Hello Bitch, Yes Pig No, is dedicated to Ciocci’s terrifying and hilarious Piggy/ALF character. In one panel it reaches out into a sky of mysterious raining blobs. Are they chocolate drops, oil-food, or shit? No matter—the creature shoves them into her mouth, stuffing herself. We see this character over and over again as it changes into and out of a never-ending series of late-eighties jumpsuits and hairstyles—appearing on one page as a strange repetitive drawing and on another as a complex piece of embroidery. The stories describe particularly female adolescent compulsions toward food, body image, parties, secrets, and fashion. They fit in perfectly with the rest of the zine: found love letters, middle-school-style “hot lists,” and a crossword puzzle (cribbed directly from a Garfield coloring book) that contains only the letters F, A, and T. It’s the ease of jumping between image, photo, and story that’s drawn Ciocci to

the zine form, and ultimately to the comics medium inside it. Ciocci doesn’t “really” consider herself a comic artist. “Collector” or “anthropologist of the vernacular” might be more appropriate. She draws like a child or a scientist might: identifying a character and then re-imagining it over and over again. For artists like Ciocci, whose work belongs to a tradition of traded photocopies and handmade covers, these comics are less about stories than shorthand for a type of alternative distribution. These comic-zines stand in for an intimate means of travel, a devotion to an alternative infrastructure often marked by a certain apocalyptic humor, attention to outsider art, local preoccupations, altered states of mind, and travel to fantastic realities. They are simultaneously limited editions and affordable, independent, and accessible. They can be crass and ugly or sublime and beautiful, but above all they tend to be unmistakably sincere. “My mom said that what we are doing is really innocent, that there was something good about this positive energy,” she says. “I feel like it is the same kind of energy as when you are a kid and drawing—it’s just about sharing something awesome with people.”

Tall, gangly Matthew Thurber, Brooklyn-based artist and Comics Comics contributor, is both a compulsive spinner of yarns and an inveterate doodler. I’ve been reading his comics and gazing at his king of lint: drawings an interview with for a few matthew thurber years now, by dan nadel and as they accumulate they yield more and more pleasures. Matthew is one of the few contemporary cartoonists who makes me genuinely curious about his thought process. His stories and preoccupations obliquely link to one another, and always hint at future territories and ideas to discover. I’m constantly left wondering, “Now what?” or “Where next?” and am then pleasantly amazed when Matthew hands me a new little pamphlet, and it tells me what and takes me there. What follows is a brief conversation about the backdrop to all these stories.

handmade packaging influenced my minicomics. I would like to hand-color everything. Donald Barthelme, I love as a writer because of the dead-on pastiche humor, but also he puts together stories like collages and mixes up his own life with dream and media. The Sun City Girls are some of my favorite living authors, too—the amount of different approaches they take, and the density of their spoken texts, and the sarcasm and aggression. They are endlessly surprising. The album Dante’s Disneyland Inferno is a masterpiece of psychedelic narrative. You have a great affection for nonsense language and drawing—how do you think this style of communication works on a viewer? What effect does it have on you? Is it related to Roussel and other avant-garde dudes? Sometimes I think it’s more important to go as far as you can with an idea that you can’t explain, or images or a story that you can’t really rationalize or justify. You have to keep

DAN NADEL: Where were you born and raised? MATTHEW THURBER: In Washington state. I grew up on Lummi Island near Bellingham. How do you think that affected your particular approach to narrative? The environment was conducive to imagining things. I spent lots of time in the woods and on the beach acting out stories. I played D&D with friends and made movies and skits. I think being in a small community bounded by water where you knew everyone might have had an effect. Your writing style strikes me as somewhere between Ben Katchor and a 19th-century inventor, and the drawing harks back to the graceful cartoon figurations of Kim Deitch, Justin Green, and others. Tell me about your influences. I have so many: Alfred Jarry, with the science of “imaginary solutions.” His philosophy seems to me about imagination superseding reality. His writing is very specific and very hyperbolic. I truly admire the band Caroliner, who recreate a very personal version of the 19th century with their fluorescent scrobbly visual sensibility. Their

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yourself interested. I enjoy reading stories or comics that contain the surprises of a dream. And I think that as a writer you can keep your mind open that way. I guess nonsense can be liberating or can lead the way to fresh ideas. I have sketchbooks full of “nonsense. Your preoccupations tend toward the obscure, but not willfully so. You’re able to make very articulate stories about rather difficult topics, like lint, horses, or David

Bowie. Are these the products of fleeting daydreams, or are you deliberately addressing certain themes over and over again? I don’t think these topics are any more difficult than anything else on Earth. They are just things that I am interested in for one reason or another. For instance, Mr. Colostomy, the horse, developed out of a fondness for visiting Aqueduct Racetrack. Sometimes the story will just be generated from some weird words that popped into my head. That’s what happened with “Lint Vexation”: The words popped out first and suggested a story about lint, but I tried to go in another direction with this parachuting character. Then the story seemed to be veering off toward being about soot, but in the end I had to bring it back to lint. The primacy of words is sort of a Raymond Roussel method. Everything has to tie up and be circular in the end. I don’t know if methods like this directly address any themes—it’s more like finding a nourishing little stream and building a beaver dam in it. What ground would you say you are trying to cover in your comics? I guess I find mythology pretty nonstop interesting. Carrot for Girls was about myths: punk myths, Hindu myths, time traveling. I want to create a kind of pantheon of characters and continue to draw them and see how they evolve. I’ve been interested in reincarnation for a while: What happens to the souls of reincarnated cartoon characters? I seem to keep coming up with supernatural stories or ideas, but I think they are really about matter or materiality or something. But on the other hand, I live in New York, and I am surrounded by women with plastic-surgery eyes and gross Wall Street suits and NYU students and Mexican dudes. Sometimes I feel the need to get back into my own world and environment. So maybe I need to start somehow layering the fantasy onto the real world. And I just want to figure out how to write funnier comics, more interesting comics, more readable stuff. And put some more sex in there, too.

Wally Wood once created a little document for his assistants called “22 Panels That Always Work.” It demonstrates various poses and angles he used to spice up his stories; examples “exogden include treme close whitney, wally up,” “white wood, and the ben day, frozen moments dark foreschool of ground,” comics by “down dan nadel shot, cast shadows,” and so on. Each of the panels advances the plot but has no conventional internal life of its own. Meant to be a cheat sheet for drawing comics, it’s also an accidental manifesto for a type of comics-making embodied by Wood and his colleague Ogden Whitney: what I call the Frozen Moments School of Comics (FMSC). The FMSC treats the medium as a collection of still images strung together for maximum effect, formal storytelling technique be damned. Unlike, say, the dynamic cinematics of Harvey Kurtzman, the epic, fourth-wall-breaking action of Jack Kirby, or the design-driven noir layouts of Will Eisner or Jim Steranko (all which guide, push, or

ing the action,” but rather observing from a supposedly safe distance. Wally Wood, who drew everything from The Spirit to MAD to Daredevil during a career that ran from the late 1940s until his death in 1981, was vastly more popular than—though apparently just as tortured as—Whitney. When creating his late-period stories, Wood rendered those 22 “panels that always work”—with the help of his studio assistants—into solid, perfectly defined, and lushly inked images. His 1965–67 superhero series, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, is perhaps the best example of this approach. In his drawing, Wood uses fine rendering and a detailed sense of place to delineate the worlds of intrigue into which the artist sent his heroes—which is not to say they are expressive comics. Despite their evocative lines, the drawings, once trapped in panels, become images designed to signal “drama” or “suspense” to the reader, and little else. These are studiously un-dynamic comics: Even action sequences are kept at a stark distance with compositionally well-balanced panels that are safely removed from the viewer. And, interestingly, he repeats his setups again and again. All of this, however, adds up to compelling viewing: I’m fascinated by the tension between Wood’s luscious rendering

The emptiness of the work, though, is exactly the crux of the FMSC: These generic people, safely enclosed in their impenetrable frames, are us. When Whitney employs one of his signature full-face, dead-center close-ups, it works because these distinctively blank characters, their faces twisted into expressions unmistakable as “shock” or “happiness,” and so on, are totally available for us to project onto. And Wood, by trapping his vibrant drawings in static compositions, allows for moments of real contemplation

moments of interchangeable plots told with his gestural ink lines, his curvaceous women, his upright men. His world. Ogden Whitney is a bit different. His career ran from the late 1930s through the late 1960s, confined strictly to B- and C-level comic books. Wood, though repetitive, repeats only himself, and does so with drawings so lushly appealing as to make the viewer forget he’s already seen them. Whitney, however, appears to assemble his panels from clip art. His figures repeat poses from one page to the next, and have none of the surface charm of Wood’s rendering style. His signature motifs include two or three generic figures on a blank ground—floating in space; and close-ups of horrified, but utterly unmemorable, faces. These close-ups are terrifying: children, adults, old men, whose heads fill the frame, inked with as much anonymity as possible. There is nothing distinctive about his drawings or framing. There is real tension in Wood’s work; there’s none in Whitney’s. It’s emotionally flat on every level. Whitney, in

and empathy. All these actors in Wood’s and Whitney’s work, all set in space, are there to be gazed at—not moving at or away from you, just caught in their actions: observed, dreamt about, waiting. Wood and Whitney created comics that are slow-moving hallucinations, powerful sequences of images that are open for us to explore, but never to enter.

Clockwise from immediate left: Odgen Whitney; Whitney; Wally Wood; Wood; Whitney.

fact, is so anonymous that he is instantly identifiable: he is the ur-generic artist, unmistakable in his blandness and, counterintuitively, totally hypnotic. In 1960s romance comics like My Romantic Adventures and Confessions of the Lovelorn, fantasy titles such as Adventures into the Unknown and Unknown Worlds, and his most famous ’60s assignment, Herbie, Whitney created thousands of unforgettably forgettable images: an encyclopedia of the generic.

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even shove the reader through the narrative and dazzle him with the formal possibilities for picture stories), looking at the work of the FMSC is like peeking into the window of a model home: It’s clean, politely arranged, and ready for someone to give it life. It offers no narrative nudge, no prompt or hook—just a clean view. FMSC comics are careful to maintain the illusion that the reader is looking in on the panels, not participating in them—not “feel-

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and his chilly distance. Maybe it’s hackwork, but I like to think that this tension, combined with his repetition, is a testament to Wood’s obsessions. I imagine him creating the moments he witnessed in his head—moments of heroism, romance, danger, and horror that he put down on paper in the concrete language of figurative illustration. Dynamism, formal play, and design were irrelevant to the task. What’s left after his transcription is a pristine window into Wood’s visions: frozen

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Discussed in this essay: The Dick Ayers Story, Volumes 1–3 By Dick Ayers [Mecca Comics, $17.95]

Memoirs of an Invisible Man: Dick Ayers on Life, Art, and Comic-Book Crooks by Timothy Hodler

Last year saw the publication of one of the most remarkable autobiographical comics ever written, and almost no one read it, or even heard about it. Brought out by a small company best known for reprinting nostalgia comics, wrapped in rather bland, cheap-looking covers, and saddled with poor distribution, it’s no wonder that very few press outlets found this publication worth covering. All the same, for those interested in the history of comics (or the art of autobiography), these three volumes of memoirs from veteran cartoonist Dick Ayers are a genuine, if unpolished, treasure. Dick Ayers has been producing comics for more than 60 years. In 1942, while still a teenager, he began drawing a comic strip called Radio Ray for an army newspaper. He went on to create the original Ghost Rider (the Lone Ranger– style Western gunslinger, not the Nicolas-Cagewith-flaming-CGI-skulland-motorcycle version we know today) and drew such popular characters as Sgt. Fury, the Rawhide Kid, and the Human Torch. He may be best known for his long collaboration with Jack Kirby, during which he inked some of the most popular and acclaimed Silver Age Marvels, including a long run of The Fantastic Four at its creative peak. Ayers is now in his eighties, his prime drawing years are long past, and it’s a shame he wasn’t able to find an outlet for personal work before now. It’s hard to describe the unique qualities of The Dick Ayers Story without making it appear to be an Ed Wood–style cult in the making, a project “so bad it’s good.” (Though it must be said that anyone going to the books with camp laughs in mind will have no problem finding them.) The drawings are crude, and the characters almost always depicted in histrionic poses, as if in the depths of super-heroic fury or triumph, even when they are simply answering the telephone or working on a typewriter. The dialogue is clumsily


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written, with the same jokes being told over and over, and in one case, even repeated verbatim in two consecutive panels. Standard chronological order is ignored, often for no apparent reason. The stories go back and forth in time, seemingly at random, as if Ayers got up from the drawing table, forgot where he was, and then sat down a day later to begin his story again without checking what he’d already drawn. Sometimes the reader isn’t given crucial information. For example, in Volume 1, Ayers presents one of his ill-fated young romances. Between two pages about his struggle to sell a humorous comic about teenage jazz fans called Chic ‘n’ Chu, he has inserted a single page showing himself dancing with a woman named Agnes, who has not appeared anywhere previously. The page (and the relationship) ends with Agnes telling Dick she can’t get serious with him, as she shares his “dreams” and “vision,” but not his “views on religion. We are much too different.” We are never told what these religious differences are, and the subject has not been covered earlier in the book. Nor does Ayers return to it. This is not the only time we’re left with a mystery.

Yet, over time, these flaws have an interesting, complicated, almost modernistic (though probably unplanned) effect. As the pages flip back and forth through time, adding a half-remembered conversation here and circling repeatedly back to a particular problem with an editor, they gradually begin to create something like comics as stream-ofconsciousness. The reader starts to feel like he’s truly inside Ayers’s mind, catching only glimpses of important events without necessarily knowing what makes them important, remembering different aspects of the same people at different times. This has a disorienting effect, unlike the usual, more structured memoirs we’re used to. It’s akin to what’s

felt by most of us when we try to remember our pasts. At least one-fifth of the book is devoted to Ayers’s compulsive, mantra-like listings of the number of pages he’s recently been able to draw, and how much he’s been paid for the work. At first, these repetitions seem silly, but as the context deepens, they gather force and credibility. For a freelance artist raising four children, without health insurance, and working in an industry rife with exploitation, keeping constant track of assignments and page rates is a survival trait. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the psychological toll of financial insecurity so well captured. Yet Ayers clearly loves cartooning, and presents himself as unable to find any other suitable work. In the army, though offered a job as a radio mechanic, he chooses to become a draftsman, with a lower rank and salary, just for the opportunity to draw. He’s accepted into Cornell on the G.I. Bill, which could have set him on the path to lifelong financial security, but instead he opts for art school (despite the fact that he suffers from color blindness). Later, he turns down a job assisting a powerful television producer because he fears it will sidetrack him from art. Unfortunately for Ayers, the industry wasn’t as devoted to him as he was to it. From the beginning of his career, Ayers wants to create his own comics out of whole cloth, penciling, inking, and lettering his own pages, but he almost never seems to get the opportunity. He resented Jack Kirby for what he considered under-rendered pencils, and even suspects that Kirby may have stolen assignments from him. Later, when Marvel realizes there’s just as much money to be made reprinting his old work (without repaying him for it) as there is

from commissioning something new, Ayers sues the company, and suddenly all of his freelance contacts dry up. Only much later, after being forced to work as a security guard in order to support his family, does he finally get a meeting with another publisher, who tells him it had gone all around town that

he’d had a nervous breakdown and wasn’t reliable. (Ayers never directly accuses anyone of spreading the false rumors, but there aren’t too many plausible suspects.) When, in the late ‘80s and under new management, Marvel asks Ayers to create a new Ghost Rider graphic novel, he remarks to editor Jim Shooter, “This is my first contract with Marvel, Jim—it’s always been a gentleman’s agreement.” The book isn’t all gloom and doom, though—far from it. There’s at least a laugh a page if you’re in the right mood, and not all the humor is unintentional: A promotional appearance at a nudist colony and a collaboration with J.J. Sedelmeier on a comic version of SNL’s Ambiguously Gay Duo are particularly funny. Ayers is not ashamed to portray himself as a fool or at moments of weakness, though he’s so open and good-natured that it isn’t always clear if he’s aware just how revealing he is. (When Ayers, without embarrassment or self-effacement, draws himself waiting by the window for days, looking for the postman who may have a social-security check for him, it’s genuinely heartbreaking.) These comics don’t go as deep as Justin Green’s Binky Brown strips, and they don’t show the artistic virtuosity of Crumb’s best autobio work—to pick just two prominent examples. However, unlike many recent autobiographical comics, this book burns with Ayers’s passion to get it all down, to tell his story, not to quit now, despite the risks of looking foolish, and despite the decline in his technical prowess. That may be the greatest single virtue of the book: Ayers’s earnest openness, his apparently genuine grasp at creating real art, supporting his family while doing what he loves—his drive to make it all matter. Rarely has that admirable ambition been so movingly portrayed.

• Gene Ahern, The Nut Bros. • Batman • Mark Beyer, Amy and Jordan • Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy • Bill Griffith, Art Spiegelman, eds., Arcade • Al Capp, Li’l Abner • Nicoli Cuti, Moonchild • Kim Deitch • Mike Dormer, Hot Curl • Will Elder, Mad • Chester Gould, Dick Tracy • Jim Grube, CARtoons • V. T. Hamlin, Alley Oop • George Hansen • Rory Hayes • George Herriman, Krazy Kat • Terry Johnson • Jack Kirby, Captain America • Jesse Marsh, Tarzan • Rex Maxon, Turok Son of Stone • Michael McMillan, Terminal Comix • Pete Millar, Drag Cartoons • Mutt and Jeff • Futzie Nutzle • Sad Sack • E.C. Segar, Popeye • Gilbert Shelton, Wonder Warthog • Superman • Yasuji Tanioka • Basil Wolverton, Powerhouse Pepper • Tadanori Yokoo • Zap • Bob Zoell

The List: Gary Panter’s Favorite Comics

The list never ends............. I tried to limit myself to formative stuff— especially stuff I was into early— things that fired my imagination.


comic reviews by bill boichtel, Timothy Hodler, dan nadel, mark newgarden, frank santoro, and matthew thurber

Amy and Jordan By Mark Beyer [Pantheon Books, $21.00] The great 20th-century comic-strip recipe of partnership and pain may have been born with Mutt and Jeff in 1908, and it may have died in 1996 with Amy and Jordan. Throughout their comparatively brief and troubled lives, Amy and Jordan themselves died entertainingly and often, to the convulsive laughter of the late, lamented weekly strip’s devotees. Unfortunately, this fat novelty-formatted compilation seems to have died as well (non-promoted by its publisher in 2004, only four copies left on Amazon today)—yet another typical Amy-and-Jordan disaster, because on every level, these are easily some of the finest, funniest, and most chillingly realistic comic strips ever made. Like Bud Fisher’s primordial daily strip duo, Amy and Jordan are an odd couple: mysteriously and inextricably bound together in a dance of selfabsorbed folly and mutually assured destruction. And like players in a Beckett ensemble, Amy and Jordan invariably persist despite it all—or at least they did until Beyer regrettably abandoned them due to his few fickle papers’ increasing lack of commitment. Amy and Jordan’s legion of admirers still nostalgically swap the couple’s death and disaster scenarios like rare, coveted trading cards—from the sudden spontaneous snapping-off of Jordan’s hand while inexplicably perched atop a ladder to Amy’s guilt-inducing infestation of “worry worms.” Guilt, broken glass, infection, plague, puffy disembodied heads, and badly spoiled plans are all part of the recurring stock company in Beyer’s theater of sublime misery. As Jordan typically understates in one episode, “Random chance and poor decision-making have teamed up to make my life miserable.” Beyer’s original endgame for Amy and Jordan was to let the strip literally waste away, the last episodes printed fainter and fainter with each passing week until the final episode, which would be virtually unreadable. The artist has honed this sort of acute cartoon agony into a virtual trademark, and


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his gift for variation in the highly specific ways in which his lamentable creations are made to arbitrarily suffer is matched only by the virtuoso brilliance of his infinitely inventive designs. Only nature herself outdoes Beyer on both counts. —Mark Newgarden The Chuckling Whatsit By Richard Sala [Fantagraphics, $16.95] Richard Sala is another cultural magpie, stealing the best bits from pop culture to create a personal vision. This comic reads like the fever dream of someone who’s over-indulged in the trashier side of European pop culture: cat-suited female assassins and murderous cabals straight out of a silent Louis Feuillade serial; serial killers and diabolical torture devices from a Mario Bava or Dario Argento giallo film; all put together with a seemingly complex plot that is at heart as simple (and with meanings just as hard to pin down) as an Eastern European fairy tale. Sala is underappreciated, perhaps because his longer stories have all been serialized, and the extremely complicated twists and turns are hard to follow—when months go by between installments, and the identity of Aldo Ixnay or back-story of Doctor Vogardus are lost to hazy memory. Collected into one long graphic novel, the intricacies become easier to navigate, and it is quite amazing to see just how tightly plotted The Chuckling Whatsit really is. Very few cartoonists put in this kind of forethought and effort, and multiple re-readings deepen the appreciation. The story itself, which concerns sleazy journalists, crystal-ball mystics, sexy girls in safari outfits, berets, and eyepatches, a large, dark-clothed killer with a mask sewn from human skin, and many, many dark and buried secrets, is told through very simple drawings in a cartoony style, which gives the macabre proceedings a decidedly odd tone. Sala’s masterful use of atmosphere and mystery allow him to make some parts of his story genuinely frightening, an extremely difficult achievement in comics. (In movies, filmmakers can manipulate their audiences relentlessly with timing and cinematography, while comics artists are at the mercy of their readers, who can read at any pace, skip ahead to the most visually striking panel, and make themselves more or less immune to most shock tactics. Cats jumping out of closets scare no one in comics.) Most of the book is also very funny, and it’s surprisingly subtle at times. Keep your eye on the chuckling Whatsit itself, and those who possess it, and you’ll see what I mean. —Timothy Hodler

“Day by Day with Hopey: Saturday is Shatterday” By Jaime Hernandez Love and Rockets V.2 #15 [Fantagraphics, $4.50] A quarter century after its inception, it’s clear to readers of Love and Rockets that Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have been creating one long, continuous narrative in which every moment is nuanced by its connection to all those that have preceded it, and—at this point, in our expectation—all those that are still to follow. The lead story of issue 15, “Day by Day with Hopey: Saturday is Shatterday,” is a perfect example of this process. It features a sequence in which Hopey, along with her cohort Maggie—the center of Jaime Hernandez’s Locas mythos—goes to a nightclub to see a sold-out performance by Terry, her former bandmate. Because of her connection to Terry, Hopey assumes that she’ll be let in, but instead she is relegated to the status of a desperate fan trying to get the attention of the “star.” Then, suddenly, her archrival from high school, the rich-kid brat Julie Wree, glides through security, clearly now “in” with Terry, who once shared Hopey’s antipathy towards Wree. Hopey (and by extension, the reader) hasn’t seen Wree for years. This complex and dynamic relationship draws on 20 years of continuity but is delineated in just 16 panels over two pages that can be read in one minute. For longtime devotees of the series, this sequence triggers an emotional charge. Through a single appearance in a single panel after years of absence, Julie Wree represents the changes wrought by the passage of time. The last time she graced the pages of Love and Rockets was long enough ago, both in the lives of the primary characters and—crucially—in the lives of the readers, that she immediately triggers a cluster of associations from a time past and now lost. The rest of the story glows in the light of this emotion, leading the reader to the final epiphany in the last panel (the story is only six pages long). Hopey is asked by another girl who couldn’t get into the show, “So, what do you do, Hopey?” The reader is so connected to all the emotions that are flooding through Hopey’s pen-and-ink frame at this precise instant that it’s almost as though the question is being asked simultaneously of the reader himself, only he hears the question as, “Where did the time go?” and its echoes, “What have I done with my life?” and, finally, “Who am I?” —Bill Boichtel and Frank Santoro

Eve By Myron Waldman [Stephen Daye, out of print] When cartoonist Myron Waldman passed away this past February at the age of 97, he had been honored with the animation industry’s Winsor McCay Award, screened and fêted at MoMA, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and generally hailed as one of the last standing grand old men of the animated-cartoon business. His obituaries invariably linked his name with the famous theatrical series that he helped bring to life: Betty Boop; Popeye; Superman; Raggedy Ann; even Casper the Friendly Ghost. But there was a bit more to Waldman’s oeuvre than simply toiling as a creative cog in the wheel of the Max Fleischer studio and other cartoon machines. During the 1940s, perhaps seeking to advance his career beyond a then-troubled period in the animation industry, Waldman initiated several side projects for the printed page, including a short-lived Sunday children’s fantasy strip called Happy the Humbug, and a most peculiar and personal publication: a wordless love story called Eve. Created in the lonely after-work hours of the Fleischer Studio’s final Florida days, Eve reflects the homesick sentiments of a single, transplanted New Yorker. Eve was a distinct publishing anomaly in 1943 and, although it reportedly met with some measure of critical success, Eve was to be Waldman’s only book. Today Eve would automatically be slotted into the overcrowded and underwhelming “Graphic Novels” shelf, but in1943 there was little comparable in any bookstore. The brief vogue for wordless picture stories had passed, with perhaps the last popular attempt being Milt Gross’s He Done Her Wrong a dozen years earlier. Eve’s nutshell plot involves a depressed,

overweight, sexually frustrated typist who escapes her cold and alienating NYC routine to seek warmer ground on a Miami Beach hiatus. The cute, rough drawings betray the author’s Betty Boop roots, and the book has the breezy unlabored feel of a hastily sketched cartoon storyboard. It all goes down rather easily and lightly yet something in Eve reverberates: Waldman’s simple, unpretentious, perhaps autobiographical, girl-meets-boy saga hits a dumpy, fragile, emotionally naked note of the sort that hasn’t really been broached in comics until more recent days. Maybe Eve’s time has come. —Mark Newgarden Golden-Age Science Fiction Treasury By Reed Crandall, Wallace Wood, Jack Kirby, et al. [AC Comics, $29.95] None of the stories in this anthology will ever be praised for subtlety, but most of them show a vitality and spontaneity that are sorely missed in current genre comics. The book is basically what the title says it is, though the contents lean more toward space opera and science fantasy than hard science fiction. These were the days, for example, when a book called Thrilling Science might feature the living embodiment of Mars, God of War, possessing the spirit of an alien creature in an attempt to provoke violence. That same story also features a fountain filled with oil instead of water, for no good reason other than to allow the hero, “famed lecturer and space explorer” Dick Warren, to create a giant climactic inferno to drive off alien villains whose only weakness is fire. That’s a good example of the narrative sophistication involved here, perhaps best (or worst) represented by Jack Kirby’s “Solar Legion,” with a plot that can be wholly summarized thus: Ruthless pirate Black Michael destroys space ships with “deadly rays,”

until Adam Starr fights back, finding Black Michael’s hidden base on Pluto (no detection work is shown; he simply finds it), and destroying it with a bomb! Hooray! But it’s the art that’s the real attraction here, with beautiful black-and-white work by Crandall, Wood, Joe Orlando, Bernie Krigstein, Al Williamson, H.C. Kiefer, and many more. There’s a sort of primal energy in much of the imagery, the sleek spaceships, strange Yoda-like utterances of alien creatures, the wolf-headed demons, and giant octopi. Most of this was created when the influence of Flash Gordon was still supreme, with the capes and costumes to prove it; only Wood, Kirby and (sometimes) Steve Ditko seem interested in new ways of depicting the future. (Though Wood’s best SF work came later, in the EC years, even here he is creating cluttered, “lived-in” spaceship interiors, pioneering the look that shows that “the future will be old,” which most people credit to much later films such as Alien and Star Wars.) Flaws aside, there are genuinely interesting (even depressing) subtexts to even some of the most hackneyed stories, such as Thornecliff Herrick’s “The Lost World” series, in which the 1977 Earth has been overrun by aliens, robots, and mutants, and only a small band of humans, led by bare-chested Hunt Bowman and his lovely girlfriend Lyssa, survive to remember the glory days of man, and fight desperately to restore them. In most of the stories, rock-jawed heroes conquer the future, bringing with them the American Way. Here, the future conquers us. —Timothy Hodler Griffith Observatory By Bill Griffith [This out-of-print edition by Last Gasp; Fantagraphics edition, $4.95] This comic-book collection of Bill Griffith’s classic syndicated newspaper strip (first


publishe in 1979 and since reissued in an expanded version by Fantagraphics) reminds me that comics can actually be intelligent and sophisticated. I know we’re already supposed to believe that by now, but have you ever read Persepolis? If so, you see the problem. Point is, people should be taking a cue from Griffith: He’s smart but not smug, clever but not pretentious, funny but not mean. And he’s never turned into a prick. Plus, he actually has things on his mind that exist outside of his own brain. He has articulate, interesting thoughts to express—an exceedingly rare trait in comics. These one- and two-page strips are meditations on such topics as “Street Crazies,” “Media Addicts,” “Punk Rock,” and other still scarily relevant subjects. Griffy always comes at them from the perspective of an intelligent, bemused observer—he’s a humanist forever trying to understand and empathize to comic effect. These strips work well as comics partly because the drawings are funny and expressive, conveying as much in their nuances as the sentences they surround. But their structure is just as important: Griffith paces the strips like gags. In “The Rednecks,” for example, he pauses after his initial exposition for a handful of silent panels that end the narrative with a comically elegiac feel. Very few cartoonists have figured how to compose these sort of one-page non-fiction strips—either they’re too thin on information or overpoweringly dense. Griffith’s contemporary, Justin Green, is a master of the form, but there are few others. Today, Griffy still leads the way with his masterful Zippy—the last truly great daily comic strip on the planet. But check out this floppy comic book for a glance back that still represents a way forward. —Dan Nadel

National Waste 6 By Leif Goldberg [Self-published, $7] Leif is always finding new ways to make generous, beautiful books in a DIY fashion. His latest is a rainbow of printing techniques, from silkscreen to offset to etching, reproducing scratchy, loose, and perfect drawings. It’s all about craftsmanship. The results of doing it the hard and rewarding way seen here might compel you to jump into the recycling bin along with your mini-comics. The stories and drawings in this book have a strange mood, angry but also full of good humor. The dialogue is always funny, and words float through the book, riddling and punning, happy-seeming enough to perplex the reader. As in Grimm or J.J. Grandville, animals are equivalent to humans, and are used to discuss morality. Nature takes its vengeance, keeping the robot-head humans in check. A foreign diplomat is eaten by hungry rats; a giant bird invades a futuristic assembly to harvest heads for its “stick spaceship.” It’s all part of the universal ecosystem, the gruesome fairness of nature. National Waste helps level the playing field between humans and the Earth. If the Earth is done for, there’s always space! In the end of the book, a man is warned by a (different) huge bird at his windowsill to “get out of Rome.” He sets off on a journey through glowing, pulsating landscapes toward an ultimate void. Meanwhile, his pet cat has journeyed into an interesting cat subculture, drinking at a cat bar, and performing on a cat stage. I am glad there are avenues of escape from National Waste-land. It gives you hope that you might hear the calling of the big old bird yourself someday! —Matthew Thurber

The Stuff of Dreams #1-3 By Kim Deitch [Fantagraphics, $3.95 each] Like R. Crumb, Deitch takes much of his inspiration from pre-1950s comics and animation, turning nostalgia into something unique and personal. Also like Crumb, he’s one of the few underground cartoonists who has managed to keep his edge, and is currently producing work at least as good as, if not better than, that from his salad days. If Deitch hasn’t been quite as successful saleswise, it may be a result of just how unique and personal his work is: His depictions of down-on-their-luck assistant animators, drunken entrepreneurs, drugged-out hasbeens, and the (possibly imaginary) living cartoon character Waldo the cat takes some getting used to. And he’s never quite caught the zeitgeist the way Crumb has; instead, he seems to belong to a time of his own. His stories are open-ended and never-ending, creating a visionary world bigger than any particular issue or book. When you finish “A Shroud for Waldo” or “Boulevard of Broken Dream,” you feel as though there was always more to be told, if only between panels. His art at first seems to be a crude, half-remembered version of old, obscure, but somehow primal cartoons; his incredibly intricate and detailed panels and amazingly inventive layouts soon reveal a keen mind behind the seemingly chaotic mimicry. Deitch’s greatest gift may be his storytelling ability, very evident in the series under review—each issue revolving around a piece of memorabilia, “the odd and the beautiful,” and the secret history buried behind it. In the first, a seemingly mundane flea-market find (a stuffed cat doll) leads the reader through oceanic voyages, complete with shipwrecks, Waldo-worshipping island natives forced

into doll-making servitude, and an exploding volcano. Later installments get even more bizarre, as Deitch convincingly blends eBay auctions, discovered newspaper archives (complete with old, recreated comic strips), and a ghost town once populated by breadmaking dwarfs into some of the most impressively surreal and beautiful legends ever drawn. Deitch is a master, and you haven’t truly experienced what comics can do until you’ve read him. —Timothy Hodler Swimini Purpose By Brendan McCarthy [Artist’s edition, £25 (UK only)] Brendan McCarthy is one of the most incredible artists of the last 20 years, but you’ve probably never heard of him. He is, to my mind, the most talented of the loose group of British artists who emerged in the 1980s that includes Brett Ewins, Philip Bond, Jamie Hewlett, and Shaky Kane. McCarthy combines a Day-Glo aesthetic with concrete, thick-lined cartooning and a storytelling sense just to the left of Jim Steranko on the coherence-meter. His drawing, coloring, and cartooning anticipates the new, genre-based psychedelica that’s been bubbling underneath the surface of comics for a while now. His comic book Paradax! (written by Peter Milligan) stars the eponymous Warholian superhero—an ironic take on the genre from 1987, before irony was fashionable. Paradax is a mildly depressed guy—without superpowers—who drinks beer and watches TV with his hot girlfriend. The book is rendered with McCarthy’s signature hallucinatory flair, combining under- and over-ground in figure and palette. But McCarthy’s comics, including the remarkable Rogan Gosh (1992), are apparently

just a small part of his work, as his recent monograph, Swimini Purpose, proves. It’s a collection of paintings, sketches, fragments, movie production work, and animation highlights and lowlights. (He seems to have spent much of the last 10 or 15 years doing mostly anonymous film and animation design work.) McCarthy has really done it all, and maybe that’s the problem. The book itself is a junk heap with little organization (no index or chronology, for example) and even less design sense: There’s too much to look at and nowhere to rest. There are remarkable psychedelic paintings and collages here, and some fine drawing. But, surprisingly, there’s not a single complete comic story in the whole book—just excerpts: precious breadcrumbs from a remarkable artist with a completely out-of-print bibliography. And while Brendan’s designs for films like Coneheads and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as his own unmade features are, um, “interesting,” I wonder what the book could have been if it’d been edited and assembled by someone other than the artist himself. Perhaps someone else could have sussed out what really makes McCarthy work and shown it without the visual and organizational distractions that hamstring the present volume. But until my own missing gospel arrives in the form of a collection of McCarthy’s comics, Swimini Purpose will be my testament. —Frank Santoro Vortigern’s Machine and the Great Sage of Wisdom By James Jarvis and Russell Waterman [Amos Novelties, $20] James Jarvis, the British illustrator and toy designer, recently said that this 48-page story is his take on a Tintin book. It’s a fitting

comparison. This is his Tintin if Tintin were dreamy and ambivalent instead of focused and ambitious, or prone to experiencing psychic and metaphysical phenomena instead of being a strictly empirical detective. This first episode in a proposed multi-volume series follows Rusty, his dog Dworkin, and his pal Wiggs. Rusty is kind of a dork, prone to wearing a tea towel as a bandana to impress the local hoods-who-are-really-dorks. Of course, in his dorkiness, Rusty is in fact much cooler than the hoods-who-are-really dorks because dork beats cool every time, a central message of this book. Anyhow, Dworkin swallows Wiggs’s keys, and so the boys appeal to a local mystic, Mr. Vortigern, who, after noting, “Ah, the eternal debate: Dogs, discerning or dumb?” sends the boys to a parallel dimension where they meet hippies, fall in with a primitive tribe, and learn some important lessons. Oh, and eventually the key comes out of Dworkin, though not how you might think. Jarvis draws in a slick and appealingly clunky way—smooth Illustrator lines mingling with planes of flat color, all in perfect Tintin pacing. Like Hergé’s work on Tintin, Jarvis creates a complete graphic universe of bright shapes, rooting his silliness in concrete settings. What he manages is part Tintin, part Monty Python, and part Gary Panter. He’s not afraid of a non sequitur (“The Bridge of Kevin”), hippies (“Like peace man...”), or even King Kong (called Ken here), and he mashes them all together in a tightly plotted narrative. This is not stoned meandering, but rather a taut, concise story. Jarvis is never cutesy or coy, and all throughout Rusty’s and Wiggs’s mind-bending adventure you really care about these dopey guys—you kind of love them. And love, discovery, and dorkiness are pretty much what it’s all about. —Dan Nadel

Left to right, pages 13–15: Amy and Jordan; The Chuckling Whatsit; Love and Rockets; Golden-Age Science Fiction Treasury; Griffith Observatory; National Waste; The Stuff of Dreams; Swimini Purpose; Vortigem’s Machine and the Great Saga of Wisdom 14

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We know what it takes to do things right! Westcan sweats the details. We look forward to looking after your printing needs! Westcan Printing Group Toll-free: 1+866.337.1170, Ext. 234 a division of Printcrafters Inc. Chris Young 78 Hutchings Street E-mail: Winnipeg, Manitoba R2X 3B1