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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Miracleman - The game is afoot

So, today ComicMix featured a rather poorly written and researched piece on Miracleman/Marvelman, based on information they've gotten that an agent has been recently shopping around the film rights to the character. Lots of mistakes in the article, so don't take anything in there at face value, but new information is their claim that the unnamed agent is representing "Jon Campbell, the Scottish businessman". Which is a common enough name that it doesn't help, except when you link it to some information the ComicMix article does not have, the name of the company that purchased Mick Anglo's rights to Miracleman, as reported in PRINCE OF STORIES and recently posted on this weblog and elsewhere. So, "Emotiv" and "Jon Campbell". This looks like a job for the internet...

A music producer named Jon Campbell, affiliated with Emotiv Records, based in, hey, what do you know, Glasgow.

Digging further, here's Emotiv's logo-only "coming soon" webpage:

But searching around does yield a broken two-year old shopping page, too:

Which also has a Glasgow address. You can find out a few more things if you search around. Nothing conclusive, of course, this could be a completely different guy, and a completely different company, especially given the source of the "Jon Campbell" name.

Curiouser and curiouser, though. At least it looks like they're not affiliated with the brain-controlled computer guys ("GAAARRRGUNZAAAAAA!").

I'm optimistic enough to hope that any movement on the Miracleman front is inherently a good thing, since the status quo of the last few years isn't helping anyone. But I'm realistic enough that I'm not parting with my existing issues of Miracleman any time soon, not until I see a physical copy of a complete reprint. Quite frankly, more grasping hands that had nothing to do with the creation of the actual comics getting involved isn't a good sign.

Anyway, my prediction on the final resolution: "A king will forsake his kingdom. Life and death will clash and fray. The oldest battle begins once more."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

METRONOME by Bryan Talbot

For reasons that escape my understanding, Bryan Talbot's book METRONOME was released a year ago under the pen-name Veronique Tanaka. Talbot's authorship of the book was recently revealed by his publisher, apparently at least partly because it didn't sell quite as well as they would have hoped a Bryan Talbot book would. One benefit of this is that I got to hear about a new Bryan Talbot book and instead of waiting months or years for it to come out, I saw that my library already had copies and got it in my hands within a few days (I also found out that a comic he wrote, CHERUBS, which last I heard was going to come out as a serialized comic from Image wound up instead coming out as a book from Desperado while I wasn't looking. No such luck with the library on that one, so it'll take a little longer for me to get a copy of that. And I really should get that ART OF BRYAN TALBOT book).

Anyway, it's an odd little book in a lot of ways. Completely wordless, and for whatever reason printed sideways, even though each page is perfect square made of 16 identically sized square panels. You wouldn't guess from the art that this is Talbot's work, based on anything he's done before. The line work has a bit of a European look, the kind I associate with Herge's TINTIN. Some aspects of the storytelling show a Japanese influence, with a lot of scenes extended with very small transitions in time, as you might guess from the title carefully measured transitions.

More than either of those influences (both acknowledged through the fictitious back-cover blurb, and presumably part of the reason for "Tanaka's" identity as a French-Japanese woman), though, this felt a lot like it was taking pages from the playbook of an American artist, Chris Ware.  The structure of the story is built around the objects in a room, each slowly established over the first dozen pages, and then jumping back and forth in time to establish how those objects got there in the course of examining the relationship between the two unnamed characters, a composer and his girlfriend, who meet, hook up, move in together and ultimately break up in the course of the story. Ware's done a lot of that kind of stuff, using slow reveals of everyday objects and using objects as anchors to tell a story that makes unconventional jumps through time.

Overall it's not a bad book, though not nearly as groundbreaking as they'd seem to want you to believe based on back-cover text. Of course, that same text would want you to believe this is the "debut graphic novel by Veronique Tanaka", so it can't be taken seriously (and I can't help but wonder how seriously to take Jeff Smith's introduction, where he mentions meeting "Tanaka", if he was in on the ruse or if Talbot went to extraordinary lengths to perpetuate it). Well worth checking out, though I'm in no great hurry to buy a personal copy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

BREAKDOWNS by Art Spiegelman

On-line booksellers, limited by the tyranny of ASCII, call Art Spiegelman's recent book "Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!". That's not quite right, of course, the middle character in that last word (shown below) isn't anything like an ampersand, and you could even argue that the next character isn't really an asterisk. My local library's catalog actually gets it a bit closer, calling the book "Breakdowns : portrait of the artist as a young %@[squiggle][star]!", which I guess is less elegant, but a more accurate representation.

Anyway, [squiggle] is more than just a symbol in the middle of a string of symbols in the title, it's actually a key part of the theme of the book, a recurring motif that provides a visual connection between various aspects, starting on the cover, where it's a visual indication of movement for a cartoon character slipping on a copy of Spiegelman's 1978 collection of some of his key comics up to that point, BREAKDOWNS. The middle of this book is a complete reprint of that collection, which didn't sell much at the time (according to Spiegelman's text in here, almost half of the 5,000 copies printed at the time were unusable, and the remaining copies were still being sold through ads in RAW years later), but if you want a copy now it'll probably cost you several hundred dollars. There's also almost as much new material surrounding the reprint.

First is a new 20-page autobiographical comic by Spiegelman, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@[squiggle][star]!", where he looks at the origins of his interest in cartooning, how it relates to his relationship with his parents, the arc of his career that led to the original 1978 book and, as it gets increasingly abstract, theories about cartooning. It requires a bit of attention, with several jumps in time, but is some fascinating stuff.

The reprint follows, seemingly trying to be as much a facsimile of the original as possible, with cardstock covers and the original stamped publishing correction. Most readers will already be familiar with the two notable stories in the book, the original 3-page "Maus", long before the concept was expanded to a 300-page story, and "Prisoner on the Hell Planet", which was later integrated into the full MAUS story. It is fascinating to see them at this much larger size, though. Most of the rest will be new to people who don't have the original book or a large collection of 1970s underground comics.

After the reprint, Spiegelman provides a 7-page text afterword, heavily illustrated with various other work from the era that wasn't included in the original book, plus some of the production material and an ad for the book. Finally, there's a 1-page story "Synopsis", which co-stars our typographically problematic friend [squiggle] in various roles in the story of a life, and is probably my favourite part of the book among stuff I hadn't read before.

So, jumping back to the introductory comic, I think it's the best thing I've read from Spiegelman since MAUS. It presents a series of vignettes from his life, starting with some memories of his mother, which are touching but with an understandable amount of bitterness. Those aspects of the story are a nice supplement to MAUS, where his mother is usually more of a side character in the story of Spiegelman's father and the father/son relationship. From those memories, he shifts to what inspired the "Hell Planet" story (about his mother's suicide), include a page of breakdowns (hey, that's the name of this book!) for the story, and the feelings the story brings up in modern day Spiegelman. As the story goes on, we find out more about Spiegelman's relationship with comics, in particular his first exposure to Kurtzman's MAD, his experience being ripped off by an ad in a comic and how he came to be exposed to the early 1950s EC comics in the early 1960s.

Later we get some background on the creation of the original "Maus" and other aspects of Spiegelman's career, and as I mentioned gets more abstract when it gets into comics theory.

I have to say, that after really enjoying the introduction, I wasn't quite as impressed with the actual contents of the original BREAKDOWNS, with the exception of the two MAUS-related stories that I'd already read. I thought the "Zip-a-Tunes" gag page was cute, as was the Rube Goldberg inspired page. In fact, most of the single page stuff I liked to some degree, as there's a lot of experimentation there, but short enough not to drag down if it doesn't work. The longer stuff, though... I'd long heard great things about the "Cracking Jokes" story about humour theory, and maybe it was built up too much, but while I enjoyed a few bits I didn't really see the charm, and that final "joke" is tiresome. At that, it worked for me a lot more than the stories based on parodies of soap operas, the Rex Morgan comic strip and romance comics, and I'm not sure what to make of "Ace Hole, Midget Detective".

So, I kind of surprise myself, usually being a "your old stuff is better" kind of guy, saying that I recommend this book primarily for the new stuff.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Miracleman conspiracy theory of the week

You know, one that that struck me as kind of odd. The company that apparently bought Mick Anglo's rights to Miracleman/Marvelman, as revealed in PRINCE OF STORIES, is named Emotiv. A search of the web shows this as the main company named Emotiv:

Now, I don't know if they're the same guys. Probably not. But direct neural interface with computers? What does that make you think of with regards to Miracleman?

You, Mr. Moran, surely that reminds you of something...

That's right. I'm suggesting that a shell company owned by Emil Gargunza has bought Miracleman.

Only slightly more seriously, I'm picturing the Miracleman family being used as pitchmen for high tech neural interface virtual reality. "Hi, I'm Michael Moran, and I spent years living in a fantasy world as a superhero named Miracleman. Now, thanks to the good people at Emotiv™, Inc., you too can live the dream..."

God, I hope it's not the same guys...

MAGIC PICKLE by Scott Morse

MAGIC PICKLE, by the prolific Scott Morse, was a black and white comic published in the early years of this century by Oni Press. It's an example of that under appreciated "funny vegetable comic" genre (the best known examples being FLAMING CARROT and TALES OF THE BEANWORLD). While not nearly as popular as its sister genre, the "funny animal comic", it does have its fans. We call ourselves "pulpies"...

Anyway, recently Morse has returned to the character for a series of illustrated prose books published by the Graphix imprint of Scholastic. In addition to that new work, they've also republished the original comic book, now fully coloured.

Normally I'm one of those annoying purists who don't cotton to do with the idea of colouring comics originally intended for black and white (while, oddly, having no problem with most black and white reproduction of comics drawn for colour). This case is one of the exceptions, as I always thought that the art in the original had an unfinished quality without colour. And as you'd expect with Graphix, having seen the colouring that their reprints of Jeff Smith's BONE gets (that wasn't a series that I felt needed colour, but the colour it got does look nice), the colour that the series gets (by Jose Garibaldi) is excellent, adding a lot of texture to the artwork, improving the flow quite a bit, so that you quickly forget that the stories wasn't drawn with the colour in mind in the first place.

Anyway, the series is about a mutated pickle, code named Weapon Kosher, who one day bursts out from an underground lab beneath the bedroom of young Jo Jo Wigman and gets her involved in his battle against his enemies, the Brotherhood of Evil Produce. So yeah, it's that kind of book. A lot of fun, assuming you aren't the kind of person who things that "good pun" is an oxymoron. The artwork, already good in the original, really shines in this new version, with a lot of slapstick action.

I strongly recommend this to anyone looking for a gift for a younger reader, or wanting to appeal to the younger reader that they were however many years ago.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

MAGIC TRIXIE by Jill Thompson

MAGIC TRIXIE is an original 96-page colour comic book by Jill Thompson, published last year by HarperCollins (who have really put together quite an impressive comics library, with this, MIKI FALLS, CORALINE, ZOT and many other interesting sounding things I haven't read). The title character is an energetic young witch living in the city with her extended family (and a talking cat) and attending school with a variety of other classic monster types, including a werewolf, an Egyptian mummy, a stitched-together Frankenstein-style boy and twin vampires (with a ghost as their teacher).

In this debut story, Trixie is upset by all the attention that her baby sister is getting, and is also under pressure to come up with something new and exciting for show-and-tell by the end of the week. In the end, she tries to combine her two problems, not in the wisest of ways, but learns some valuable lessons.

I've had mixed feelings about Thompson's work in the past, liked her run as artist on THE SANDMAN quite a bit, thought she was okay on WONDER WOMAN, didn't like a few other things, including the "manga" Sandman spin-off books she did. Her prior work most like this new book is probably the SCARY GODMOTHER series she did a few years back. I only read a few short samples of that, and it didn't really inspire me to check out more.

Now that I've read this I'm inspired to check out more (and fortunately it looks like my library has one of the SCARY GODMOTHER books, and even a DVD of an animated version that I didn't even know existed). This is a great little book, reading really quickly but also with enough detail that you can go back and just look for little clever things in the artwork, admire the variety of character designs or marvel at the body language that carries much of the story, with several passages containing minimal dialogue.

There's already been one sequel to this book (MAGIC TRIXIE SLEEPS OVER) and another on the way (MAGIC TRIXIE AND THE DRAGON). And there's an in-character blog for Trixie where you can see a lot more art and find out about the characters.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter link bonanza

I always thought it was a bit odd that there was a day set aside, a statutory holiday no less, to celebrate the sidekick of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon.

But clearly he deserves it.

Some other links around the webs for this lazy Sunday.

Another long and well illustrated look at the S&K romance comics over at the S&K Blog.

Jim Lawson is working on some new PALEO stuff, possibly in colour? There's something to put a smile on your face.

Who wins when King Kong fights Godzilla? Well, if Steve Bissette gets involved, we all do (and in two weeks some lucky New Hampshire moviegoer will win big-time).

And speaking of Lawson and Bissette, the art to their 1980s Turtles vs. Dinosaurs jam cover.

And speaking of dinosaurs...


In the "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" department, I find that I miss the way Johnny Hart would bring the crazy the old time religion to his comic strip B.C. on Easter weekend (surely the most incongruous strip to bring Easter content to, but hey, if you can have cavemen living with dinosaurs, why can't they commemorate the death of someone still millions of years in their future?). Now that Hart is no longer with us, but his ghost strip sails on Flying Dutchman style, we get weak tea like this from his successors (though, to be fair, I wrote this in advance and I see that the new guys did at least try to bring it for the 2009 Easter strip, but the I guess the heart's just not in it, so to speak).

Here are some links to the real deal.

2002 2003 2004
2005 2006 2007

(browse on previous days for those, there's usually something on the Good Friday daily as well, sometimes even something on the Saturday)

Perhaps not too surprisingly, the online archive has a replacement for the the 2001 strip, one of the more controversial ones.

We miss you Johnny, wherever you are. L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim!

Wait, is that right?

Read old Ditko comics for free.  Read new(ish) Ditko essay for free.  Get new (and some old) Ditko comics and essays by mutually consenting to a fair exchange for your honestly earned $$.

See some unused Jim Aparo Batman.

Wallace Wood does model sheets for Daredevil.

I do love the idea of weblogs devoted to individual classic comic book artists. I'd love to see more of them.

Scott Roberts is still posting bunches of stuff on-line, including some Patty Cake work.

Sunday Comics by Jim Ivey.

Mere months to a new Beanworld book!

A look at THE TWIST, a 1962 Dell comic.

Simpsons on stamps. Reminds me I need to use some of those old Canadian super-hero stamps I have that I found recently.

Alison Bechdel interviewed.

Stellar sales reports from DC and Marvel. Who would have thought we'd reach a day when Marvel and DC could both publish comics that sell under 3000 copies in the direct market?  Does anyone have any sales figures for STREET POET RAY? Has its claim to fame been lost?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good God is in His Heaven...

...and good comics are in the stores.

Verily, is this not proof that this truly is a Golden Age?

(though I'm left to wonder now, were the heroes supposed to be green on the original, and just coloured wrong, or is this a new bonus joke?)

Nothing else to really say right now, I just needed a test post for something.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Opening Day

Can't open the baseball season without some Peanuts:

Toronto Blue Jays, on top of the AL-East, undefeated. In your face, everyone else (except all the teams they're tied with, I guess).

Linking Around

Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein has had a serious house fire. Go to Mark Evanier's site for details and keep an eye there for updates.

Wisdom of who, now? Mike Kunkel cops the blame for an odd mistake. It's okay, I can never remember which "A" is for "Achilles" and which is for "Agamemnon".

Derik Badman on Tezuka's PHOENIX

Steve Bissette, one of the co-creators of John Constantine, has posted a bunch of great new sketches of the character recently, including one inspired by one of the most famous Constantine stories, and in the course of that dropping a hint about an upcoming book where it will appear. Also check recent weeks for posts about SWAMP THING #20, Little Brothers and Rawhead Rex.

Artist Frank Springer passes away at age 79.

Ditko's 2007 "Toyland" essay.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

HUMBUG by Kurtzman & Company

In 1957, following his departure from as editor of EC's MAD MAGAZINE and the quick demise of his next project, the upscale Hugh Hefner financed TRUMP, Harvey Kurtzman next project was HUMBUG, a co-publishing venture with a number of the other artists (Jack Davis, Will Elder, Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee). The book only lasted 11 issues, and despite the reputation of its contributors that material has never been widely seen since those cheaply printed (by Charlton, no less) issues.

Until now, as Fantagraphics has released a 2-volume hardcover boxed set collecting all of those 11 issues (save for some material in the last issue that was reprinted from TRUMP, which is also being reprinted soon). I've only ever seen one issue of HUMBUG, and the printing was indeed lousy (who knew Charlton saved the printing TLC for their own books?). These new reprints, sourced from a combination of original art and printed comics as available, are therefore even better, as well as considerably cheaper, than getting the originals.

I've only read a fraction of the books so far, a random sampling of things that caught my eye, and it'll be a while before I read the whole thing (a book like this you don't eat all at once). Still, I have no problem recommending it. There's a refrain in some of the background material in the book that it's better than MAD, it's Kurtzman's best sustained work. I'm sure some people think so. I'm sure back in 1958 that Kurtzman really thought so. I don't see any evidence of that from what I've read so far, but it doesn't have to be better than MAD to be worth reading. It definitely has some different targets than MAD...

Not too many Duchamp jokes in MAD, after all (paging Larry Marder...). Overall there's rather too much non-comics (though usually well illustrated) material and filler (a long excerpt from Gulliver's Travels, a blank-page gag, several pages of re-touched Gustave Dore) for my taste.

The Elder and Davis artwork is easily the equal of their MAD work, and I'm very impressed with Roth and Jaffee, whose work of the era I'm less familiar with. A few highlights, Davis doing a parody of the western "Have Gun Will Travel" (#7), Roth's version of "A Christmas Carol (#6), Elder's parody of "Jailhouse Rock" (#8) and Jaffee's look at "Rocket Clubs" (#10).

In addition to the reprints, these books include a long, well-illustrated interview with the two surviving artists/co-publishers, Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee, and each volume has an original cover by one of those two, plus there are some annotations to explain a few of the obscure cultural references.

To sample it, Fantagraphics has the first issue available as a PDF file. Which doesn't strike me as the best issue to use as a sample, but definitely check out Elder's game show parody and the multiple half-page movie parodies by Davis.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Quick thoughts on some upcoming books

Haven't really paid that much attention to comic book solicitations for a while, except to keep track of the Kirby and Ditko. In one sense, that's good, since occasionally I get surprised by something I didn't even know was going to exist, and then get to read it right away instead of three to six months later. On the other hand, it means there's probably a bunch of things that I'd have loved that I still don't know about.

Anyway, took a bit of a closer look this time, here's some stuff worth noting.

First Second is re-releasing the Trondheim/Parme TINY TYRANT, which I rather enjoyed, in what they call a more "kid-friendly" format. Larger pages, fewer of them, lower cover price. Great little book, and the first volume TINY TYRANT: THE ETHELBERTOSAURUS includes my favourite of the dozen stories from the original book right there in the title, so that's okay.

Steve Rude is re-releasing the early NEXUS stories from his own Rude Dude Productions, and this time he's going manga style, smaller black&white books for $10, starting with NEXUS: AS IT HAPPENED BOOK 1, reprinting the original 3-issue b&w series and first four issues of the colour series. I already have this stuff, but might pick these up to have them for easy reference, which I wasn't likely to do for the $50 colour hardcovers from Dark Horse (which surprise me by continuing now to a 9th book, by the way, so I guess there's a market for them in the not-me world). Of course, it would be nice if NEXUS #101 came out...

Jack Katz, of FIRST KINGDOM fame, has a new 100 page graphic novel coming from The Hero Initiative, titled LEGACY. I never did read all of THE FIRST KINGDOM. I liked parts of it, but it felt a bit overblown. I do like Katz's art, even have a sketchbook by him, so this might be worth checking out to see how he does with a story not quite as epic.

Tezuka's BLACK JACK gets up to a sixth book from Vertical (of, apparently, seventeen). I'm in the middle of the second one right now, not really loving it, but it has its moments.

I'm looking forward to seeing the colour volumes of the Stanley/Tripp LITTLE LULU that Dark Horse has coming out, picking up where their 18-book black&white series left off, though I'm waiting to see how the colouring actually looks.

P. Craig Russell's wonderful adaptation of Neil Gaiman's CORALINE comes out in a $10 paperback. And Gaiman has another children's book with Dave McKean, CRAZY HAIR. Wonder how long before that gets made into a movie (that feels nothing like the book) and adapted to comics (faithfully) by Russell?

I've been waiting 30 years to be able to buy a deluxe hardcover reprint of CAPTAIN CANUCK. Now IDW makes all our dreams come true.

SHOWCASE PRESENTS: BAT LASH. Aragones, O'Neil, Cardy. I'm sold. Plus they include some of the later stuff which I don't have, including work by Dan Spiegle.

Rick Geary's latest from NBM is A TREASURY OF 20TH-CENTURY MURDER VOLUME 2: FAMOUS PLAYERS. I need to catch up on these before he gets to OJ Simpson...

Sunday Press has another of their big books of gorgeous comic strips, this time reprinting some Wizard of Oz comic strip stuff by L. Frank Baum, W.W. Denslow and John Neill (although apparently not together) in QUEER VISITORS FROM THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ. Pricey, but sure to look great.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Flash Gordon #1 [1995] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Flash Gordon #1 [1995]

In the mid-1990s, Marvel briefly got the license to several of the long-running King Features adventure strips, and published a few mini-series under the "Marvel Select" banner. I never saw the MANDRAKE one by Mike Barr and Rob Ortaleza (and apparently wasn't alone in that since only 2 of the 3 issues seem to have come out), but the 4-issue PRINCE VALIANT series by Charles Vess, John Ridgway and Elaine Lee was gorgeous.

As was this 2-issue FLASH GORDON series written by Mark Schultz, of XENOZOIC TALES fame, and drawn by Al Williamson, of many many things fame. Each issue is 36-pages, with cardstock cover and slick interiors, no ads, a really good package for the $2.95 cover price.

The story is pretty much what you'd expect and want from a Flash Gordon adventure. Sometime after the briefly recapped defeat of Ming the Merciless, Flash, Dale and Zarkov are still on Mongo, attempting to bring peace among the many long-hostile nations of the planet. They organize an Olympics, but Flash gets kidnapped by the beautiful and scantily clad Azura, Queen of the Blue Magic Kingdom. While attempting to escape Flash causes them to crash and be taken prisoner by an undersea race of Squidmen, they later run into a stampede of magnopeds (orange two-trunked elephant-like beasts) and Flash finds out there's a mystery tied to his past on Earth, and escapes again only to wind up in the volcanic kingdom of the Fire People.

So a typical day for Flash, with all sorts of weird creatures and never-ending adventures in the endless variety of lands one finds on Mongo. Schultz has the story-beats down pat. The real star of the show, of course, is Al Williamson. Obviously a big fan of Alex Raymond's original strip, and having drawn Flash Gordon several times before (including an original comic book series back in the 1960s and a movie adaptation around 1980). This book is cover-to-cover of some nice later-day Williamson doing what he does best. In fact, unless I'm missing something this may be the last major project that he did full art for. He remained a prolific inker for quite some time after this, but I think the only full art I've seen him do after this was a short story in DARK HORSE PRESENTS. He also assisted on the penciling of a Flash Gordon sunday page with Jim Keefe around 1998.

Anyway, very fun little series well worth picking up if you blinked and missed it the first time around.
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