Inner City Romance


By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-60699-813-7

Please pay careful attention: this book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such material is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then.

Guy Colwell is an artist, activist and occasional cartoonist whose works are deeply personal and immensely passionate. As such they have often been controversial. An early Underground Commix creator, his output was graphically sexual, ferociously pro-change and subtly anti-establishment.

A conscious objector and political activist during the time of the Vietnam War (the US government preferred the creepily draconian term “Non Co-operator”) he was prepared to serve time at a Federal prison rather than compromise his principles. Already tenuously starting a long and prestigious career as a gallery painter, Colwell’s incarceration was the spark for a second creative path as a cartoon journalist and comics creator.

This superb and long-overdue collection re-presents to Americans (the series has been a perennial favourite in Europe since the 1980s) a seminal 5 issue underground classic he crafted between 1971 and 1978, blending open minded exploration of alternative lifestyles with keen observation of the life of the nation’s disenfranchised and marginalised underclasses, all thoughtfully argued through beguiling depictions of sex, drugs, crime, socio-political rebellion and ecological radicalism.

They’re all stunningly beautiful to look at too…

Lavishly augmented by more than 30 of Colwell’s gallery paintings, candid photos, a selection of his magazine illustrations and even historically significant examples of his time as a courtroom sketch artist, the commemorative celebration opens with a little history and philosophy in ‘Good Times and Bad: The Evolution of Revolution’ by Patrick Rosenkranz – who also scribed the ‘Epilogue’ and an effusive overview of ‘The Artist’ at the end of the book.

The monochrome cartoon blasts from the past begin with the epochal ‘Choices’ from Inner City Romance #1 as three convicts are released on the same day…

Marvin and token white guy Paddy can think of nothing more than getting high, getting laid and making money they way they used to, but for black power activist James – who’s leaving the joint even more radicalised than when he went in – all that is secondary to rejoining his political brothers and sisters and taking the war to “The Man”.

Driving to San Francisco in a stolen car the trio rave on about what they’re going to do and all too soon Marvin and Paddy are indulging in an orgy of sex and drugs.

After touching base with a most willing soulmate at the Street Defense Committee, James eventually rejoins his debauched jail buddies but as he watches their excesses he realises he is at a crossroads in his life…

For many readers the political message was electrically clear, and the astoundingly explicit sexual antics serve here as a nothing more than powerfully distracting sleight of hand…

The comic was a huge counter culture hit (going through four printings) and the saga notionally continued a year later in issue #2 with ‘Radical Rock’

As Rosenkranz explains in a brief introduction, in the intervening time Colwell had been drawing a strip for the newspaper San Francisco Good Times, but when that organ of infinitely free expression folded, he recycled his paean to peace and anti-war sentiment into a new comicbook, adding in powerful overtones highlighting the increasingly oppressive nature of policing in the city.

The result was a strangely intoxicating brew akin to a rock opera with dialogue delivered in scintillating rhyming couplets and quatrains as The People combat authoritarian excesses and illegal imprisonment of activists by attempting to hold a benefit concert in the park.

The “Powers That Be” have their own agenda of course and plan a major bust, but when James is gunned down in the street all bets are off…

The same issue also contained ‘Part Two (Adagio)’ which deftly shifts scene to carnally explore the reactions of the previous generation of poor folks. Colwell has always seen sex as something joyous to be indulged in by young and old, pretty or plain and this moving affirmation that “everybody does it” acts as a powerful counterpoint to the unfolding drama as the creaky lovers are interrupted by news that their son has been arrested and mercilessly beaten.

By the time they get to the police station the drama is set to escalate into horrific tragedy…

Inner City Romance #3 was released in 1977 and is the artist’s personal favourite. Largely devoid of dialogue, it thematically returns to the prison system and follows the escape into dreams of three very different inmates, resulting in some of Colwell’s most inventive, erotic and phantasmagorical artwork…

Issue #4 was released the same year and returned to real-world activism by fictionalising the scandal surrounding the abandonment and eventual eviction of the elderly, handicapped, ethnic minorities and just plain poor residing in the International Hotel, San Francisco.

Colwell’s sensitive take on the Humans vs. Money affair is an intensely evocative and surprisingly even-handed affair, highlighting need for change and the ultimate price of life as a young boy perishes due to the short-sighted addition of ‘Ramps’ to a rickety, ramshackle ghetto complex local government is just too cheap to fix…

With Vietnam over and social crusading giving way to an era of sexual liberation, Colwell’s final Inner City Romance foray explored the liberation of libido in a quintet of short tales which still found space and time to question the effects of freedom and progress on different strata of society. It begins with the unabashed joy of loving in ‘Good for You’ before a different stroke focuses on recreational drug-taking and the budding Punk Scene in ‘DownUp’

Arson and deprivation mark the experiences of a loose association of urban youngsters in ‘Interkids’, whilst the unluckiest woman in town experiences three different kinds of hellish horror when she becomes the victim of ‘Sex Crime’ before the fables conclude with sheer exuberance and impassioned release for two young lovers ‘All Over the Clover’

Still-crusading, he ends the festival of life in this magnificent softcover compilation with a stunning gallery of his best paintings proving that old campaigner never die, they just keep getting cleverer…

For decades the publicity-shy Colwell was thought by his fans and contemporaries to be a black artist, so strident, effective and authentic was his narrative voice. Even today his ethnicity is unimportant; what counts is that he’s human and urgently begs us all to be human too. Why not start a little Inner City Romance of your own and see for yourself?
Inner City Romance © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc unless otherwise noted. All comics stories, illustrations and paintings © 2015 Guy Colwell. All rights reserved.

Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2


By many and various, edited by Michael Dowers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-807-6

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

Michael Dowers, the force behind not only this compilation but also Brownfieldpress and Starhead Comix, adores the concept of crafting and disseminating mini comics and his books Newave!- The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980 and volume one of this series described and reproduced hundreds of examples: spotlighting with enticing, encouraging exuberance those incurably driven artisans who came out of the “anything goes” 1960s and 1970s Underground Commix movement still craving a vehicle of expressly personal expression.

Such creators aren’t really in it for the money – although a few have moved on to find a modicum of mainstream comics fame, at least – and, in an era before computers, they found time to write, draw and compile artwork (small press people are notoriously generous, contributing to projects at the drop of a hat) before laboriously photocopying, cutting, folding, stapling and then distributing the miniscule marvellous results.

Just by way of definition: most mini comics were and still are home-produced pamphlets using borrowed – or when necessary paid for – print processes. The most popular format was an 8½ x 11inch sheet, folded twice, and printed at local copy-shops (or clandestinely churned out on school/work repro systems like early Xerox, Photostat, Mimeo or Spirit Banda machines) on any paper one could lay hands on.

Because they weren’t big, they were called “mini commix”. Inspired, no?

Thanks to a seemingly inexhaustible modern appetite for such uniquely individualistic endeavours here’s a superb sequel tome – one more massive paper brick of fun (848 monochrome and colour pages, 178 x 127mm) – compiling and sharing many of the very best mini masterpieces from the 1970s to right here, right now…

Many key figures in the proliferation of this uniquely eloquent people’s medium are included here, not only through examples of their groundbreaking work, but also through statements, interviews and fond reminiscences.

If human beings have access to any kind of reproductive technology they seemingly cannot resist making copies of their own private parts or creating their own comics, and here content comes from all over the North American continent – and even beyond – covering everything from superhero spoofs, monster-mashes, robot rampages, animal antics, autobiography, recreational drugs, religious, spiritual and philosophical diatribes and polemics, surreal experimental design and just plain fun stories, chatter and gags: all as sexually explicit, violent, strident or personally intimate as their creators wanted them to be…

As usual I’ll deliver here my standard warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or illustrated scenes of explicit sex or unbelievable comedy violence, don’t buy this book and stop reading this review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll probably cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then.

It all starts with Michael Dowers’ introduction wherein he brings the history of the sub-medium up to date and posits a connection with the legendarily scandalous “Gentlemen’s under-the-counter” publications known as Tijuana Bibles which livened up life for our forebears in the early part of the 20th century with explicit and illegal cartoon cavortings featuring famous stars of screen and newspaper strips.

That proposition is upheld and further explored following ‘The Hundred Year Old New Waver in “Damn Punks Got it Easy Today”’: a hilarious graphic diatribe (dis)courtesy of Brad W. Foster from Time Warp #3 (2007) after which a genuine, authentic and anonymous Tijuana Bible inclusion offers erotic relief to ‘The Van Swaggers’.

Then follows a batch of modern tributes and reinterpretations beginning with masked wrestler/guitarist The Crippler by Fiona Smyth (2007) and the astoundingly disturbing, politically punishing ‘Obliging Lady’ from Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall’s The Adventures of Fuller Bush Man & John McCain (2009)…

A splendid faux pastiche of the original pamphlets, Hairy Crotch & Rim Johnson in ‘The Interview’ is an anonymous entry from 1995, whilst Lilli Loge abandons the form but ramps up the spirit for the tale of a girl and her slave in ‘A Blessing in Disguise’ from Ben & Jenny from 2009.

That same year clean-cut Euro icon Lucky Luke got homo-erotically spoofed as ‘Hunky Luke in Calamity Jack’ by Anna Bas Backer after which Antoine Duthoit (2013) plunders Jim Woodring’s style and character cast for the outrageous Spank.

From 1972 Trina Robbins delivers classic pastiche ‘Sally Starr Hollywood Gal Sleuth’ solving a “Minit Mystery” whilst Bob Conway offers classic cartoon capers ‘Out to Lunch’ and ‘Chicken Shit’ in 1980’s Tales of Mr. Fly, and David Miller & Par Holman venerate the disaffected teen outsider experience in a blast of vignettes in Punkomix #1 from 1982.

Clark Dissmeyer laments the life of a Two-Fisted Cartoonist (#1 1983) after which Steve Willis’ 1983 Sasquatch Comix #3 details a strange encounter in the wild woods and R.K. Sloane & Jeff Gaither noxiously explore a life in hell with Fresh Meat from 1985.

A genuine small press big noise reveals all in the ‘Jeff Nicholson Interview’ after which the creator’s infamous cartoon polemic Jeff Nicholson’s Small Press Tirade (1989) still proves to be astoundingly powerful and the ‘Dan Taylor Interview’ segues neatly into some of his superbly eclectic Shortoonz from 1990 and the deliciously vulgarian Unleashed #1 from 2010.

John Trubee’s 1990 Vomit! #1 is a captivating manifesto of the politically baroque and philosophically bizarre whilst from 1992 Jason Atomic’s Wongo Batonga pt. 2 gloriously celebrates the magnificent freedom of superheroic imagination in a lengthy explosion of power-packed battles before Patrick Dowers explores human diversity in Marvels of the Sideshow Freaks.

Corn Comics #1 (Marc Bell, 1993) provides a hilarious laugh-ride of bitter twisted types after which the ‘Tom Hart Interview’ precedes his wittily poignant 1993 slice-of-life saga Love Looks Left and all-star line-up J.R. Williams, Pat Moriarity & R.L. Crabb collaborate on the 1994 cautionary tale ‘Devil Stay Away From Me’.

Impishly shocking Ellen Forney & Renée French then reveal how The Exquisite Corpse Bakes a Pie (1994), after which a ‘Molly Kiely Interview’ is stunningly supplemented by her rendition of a bevy of female music and movie icons who all possessed that indefinable sense of Sass! (1995).

Jeffrey Brown’s 1998 paean to hopelessness and confusion ‘To Wenatchee’ is followed by Pshaw’s whimsical story of a little robot in The One Eyed World (1999) after which ‘Colin Upton Presents A Short Guide To the Care and Production of Mini-Comics’ provides everything anyone needs to know about making story-art stories.

Contemporary cartoon wild child Johnny Ryan 2002 exposes guilty secrets from Shouldn’t You Be Working? #5, before the ‘Souther Salazar Interview’ leads to the artist’s wide-ranging ‘In Case of Emergency Only’ (2003) and Max Clotfelter’s eerily post-apocalyptic Snake Meat #1 from 2004.

Her smartly evocative 2004 Science Fiction Affliction is preceded by an ‘Alison Cole Interview’ after which Thought Cloud Shrines from 2007 perfectly displays Theo Ellsworth’s astounding graphic imagination and meticulous penmanship; gifts shared by Lisa Hanawalt and revealed in a stunning fashion parade of freaks in Stay Away From Other People from 2008, augmented by her hilarious ‘12 Things To Do When you Are Stuck in Traffic’.

Travis Millard’s ‘Sad Dad’ introduces a deucedly depressing modern pantheon in Who Let the Gods Out (2008) whilst Bobby Maddness explores a variety of baffling annoyances in Too Small Comics #2 (2010) and Esther Pearl Watson describes a ghastly future populated solely by pop stars and fashion models in Eric Parris World from 2009.

The marvellous Jim Rugg contributes a stunning and outrageous pop at America’s dumbest President and most moronic national symbol in the delirious ‘Rambo 3.5’ (2009) after which, from 2010, Donald & Daniel Zettwoch mesmerise with their incredible personal history of phone exchange technology in ‘Cut Lines and Intricate Minds’ as seen in Tel-Tales #1 and Tom Neely employs dozens of bootlegged Popeyes in a surreal spinach-fuelled Battle Royale for his Doppelgänger

The ‘Jason T. Miles Interview’ leads naturally enough into his 2010 tale of terror ‘Dump’ from Pines 3.

The irrepressible manga marvel DJ Cat Gosshie goes through a series of adorable “totally-street” trans-Pacific short story syncopations as delineated by Harukichi in 2011 before Pakito Bolino then relates the hyperkinetic end of everything with the ‘Male of the Future’ from D.O.C. (2012)

DemonDust #10 by Bernie McGovern (2012) lyrically explores the poetry of atomic theory and human interactiveness whilst from the same year Shuttlecakes reveals the stunning dexterity and artistic facility of Susan Belle before the ‘Caroline Paquita Interview’ leads to her seductively gender-political compilation Womanimalistic #3 from 2013 to close the monochrome section of this collection.

However, following the ever-so-useful ‘Artist website and contact info’ pages, there’s even more compelling cartoon self-expression all crafted to make use of carefully considered colour, commencing with Kristyna Baczynski’s travails of a pretty kitty in ‘Nine Lives’ from 2012, Leah Wishnia’s disturbing exploration of women’s lives from Spithouse #1 (2008) and an even more distressing tale of psychological brutality from Nick Bertozzi in ‘5/4’ from 2000 before Ethan Persoff concludes the challenging cartoon content with a stunning graphic potpourri from Plastic Tales and Stories #2.

This tremendous tome features some of the host of pioneering craftsmen who worked in the self-printing movement which became today’s thriving Alternative/Small Press publishing industry as well as the current internet comics phenomenon, and this book has incredible appeal on an historical basis.

However, that’s really not the point: the real draw of such collections is that creativity is addictive, good work never pales or grows stale and the great stories and art here will make you keen to have a go too.

I’ve done it myself, for fun – even once or twice for actual profit – and it’s an incredible buzz (I should note that I am still married to a wife not only tolerant but far more skilled and speedy in the actual “photocopy, cut, fold, staple” bit of the process and willing, if not keen, to join in just so she might occasionally be with the compulsive dingbat she married…)

The sheer boundless enthusiasm and feelgood rewards of intellectual freedom from making such comics celebrated in this astoundingly vast, incredibly heavy and yet still pocket-sized hardback is a pure galvanic joy that will enchant and impel every fan of the art-form: as long as they’re big enough to hold a pencil, old enough to vote, and strong enough to lift the book.
Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2 © 2015 Michael Dowers and Fantagraphics Books. All contents © 2013 their respective creators or authors. All rights reserved.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle volume One


By Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-764-2

Sometimes words mean nothing, pictures tell every story and stuff is funny just because it is. That pretty much sums up the work of abstractedly absurdist comedy pioneer Michael Kupperman, whose oeuvre greatly consists of graphic samplings from old comics, strips and magazines – with especial focus on the advertising content of those forgotten favourites.

A beguiling agglomeration of the past’s guilty pleasures fill the pages of his far-too-infrequent comicbook kingdom Tales Designed to Thrizzle and have been sagely collected into a number of volumes you simply must have.

Kupperman is a cartoonist who clearly loves to draw and has an uncanny knack for isolating the innate insanity of modern living as well as the way we regard our own past – especially the trivial, oft-dismissed and not-so-important bits – which he serves up in a surreal graphic deadpan style that would turn Buster Keaton grey with envy.

Kupperman created the strips Found in the Street and Up all Night, has contributed pieces to The New Yorker, Heavy Metal, The Wall Street Journal, The Independent on Sunday, LA Weekly, The New York Times, Libération, Fortune, Screw and many similarly reputable magazines, as well as in such comics as Hodags and Hodaddies, Hotwire, Snake Eyes, Zero Zero, Blood Orange and Legal Action Comics amongst others.

Kupperman’s first book Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret (2000) led to his breaking into the heady world of adult animation and he has since illustrated many books, but Tales Designed to Thrizzle was always his best beloved vehicle, allowing him to concoct intensely stylish mind-games and display them against a dizzying cultural backdrop of “Men’s sweat mags”, True Confessions pulps, cheesy old comics, B-movies and a million other icons of low-class Americana, each and all given a unique twist and spin by a man whose head is clearly too small for his brain…

Originally released in 2009 in hardback, this new softcover edition, after a suitably off-kilter Foreword by Robert Smigel, collects the first four comically comic comicbook issues in full scintillating colour, each individual masterwork divided – because propriety is a virtue – into “Adults”, “Kids” and “Old People’s Sections”.

As such each contains a torrent of instant favourites such as the aforementioned Snake ‘n’ Bacon, The Manister (a hero who can transform into a banister), Underpants-On-His-Head Man, Cousin Granpa, Pagus (rowdy half-brother of Jesus) and many wildly misinformative fact features like Remembering the Thirties, Porno Coloring Books, Sex Blimps and Sex Holes and the inadequate meanderings of veteran weatherman Storm Cloudfront

The great philosophical topics of our times are also tackled, such as ‘Where is Shakespeare’s Gold?’, ‘Are Comics Serious Literature?’, ‘Are You Being Worn Out by Unnecessary Foreplay?’ ‘or ‘What’s in Your Glass of Water?’

Brash, challenging, agonisingly imaginative and always hysterically funny, Tales Designed to Thrizzle is a timely tome for every grown-up, couch-based life-form in dire need of a hearty guffaw every now and then – and much more Now than Then…
Tales Designed to Thrizzle © 2014 Michael Kupperman. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the cover and the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contain nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homo-sexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the mere thought of all that offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will just have to enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted – or perhaps had – to.

Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody…

Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The modern successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, and each chapter offers a wealth of strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

Our history opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and unto college but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ from Gothic Blimp Works #1, ‘River City Shoot-Out’from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all from 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’ for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ from Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970 and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ from Insect Fear #1, ‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’ and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop out life style, all topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also provides ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’,‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ whilst Zap #5 1970 barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’, a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of counterculture thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate his creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974) which also provided a quartet of single frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’, a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadres like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including the eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975, illustrations for William Burroughs’seminal short story‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’(Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, the front and back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork,‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1, (1971), eight-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. This is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Maria M. Book One


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-719-2

In addition to being part of the graphic/literary revolution of Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly addictive tales of rural Palomar first garnered overwhelming critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone books such as Sloth, Birdland, Grip and Girl Crazy, all marked by his bold, compellingly simplified artwork and inspired adaptation of literary techniques used by Magical Realist writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has amplified and, visually at least, made his own.

Hernandez also frequently acknowledges such outré mainstream influences as filmmakers Roger Corman and John Cassavetes, and crime writers Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson as he entered new territories and reforms the cultural influences which shaped all us baby-boomers.

In Luba we glimpsed the troubled life of the lead character’s half-sister Rosalba “Fritzi” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, speech-impaired psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as We Love Alone, Seven Bullets to Hell, Chest Fever, Blood is the Drug and Lie Down in the Dark.

Although Fritzi only had a bit part in it, Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies into a graphic novel (Chance in Hell, 2007) and repeated the story-within-a-story- within-a-story gimmick in 2009 with The Troublemakers – a frantic, hell-bent pulp fiction crime thriller which was part of the screen queen’s canon – and did it again in 2011 with Love From the Shadows.

Now he’s turned up the tension and doubled down on the plundering of his own mythologies. Maria M delves even deeper into the labyrinthine coils and onion-skin layers of meta-reality as the filmic biography of Fritzi’s long-absconded grandmother becomes a revelatory expose of the turbulent life of a beautiful, competent immigrant fugitive; carving out her own slice of the American Dream after escaping the rustic drudgery of Palomar.

Deftly mimicking a compelling-but-trashy post-Noir gangster thriller and sordid Fifties B-Picture melodrama, this first volume of Maria M sees a lovely Amazonian Latin beauty hit Everytown, USA in 1957, promptly befriended and taken in by couple of sympathetic working girls…

It’s all a huge mistake. Maria is actually the girlfriend of a mobster who has expedited her passage into the country. Unfortunately, by the time the mix-up is sorted and she finds his place, the poor guy is staring down the barrel of a rival’s gun.

Witness to murder and with no other place to go, the pneumatic stranger heads back to Trixie and Pam and begins her career in the men’s entertainment industry: “hostessing”, photo-shoots and – inevitably for someone with her looks – stag films…

Every attempt to go legit is frustrated by lustful men wanting her, and inevitably she settles for her new life. She still sees people from the Old Country, but they’re usually gangsters, hoodlums or worse…

She makes some friends along the way: other girls in the shady world of men’s movies, film critic Clyde and even bought cop Valdez, but her life only really turns around when she catches the eye of gang boss Luis Cienfuegos. The older man is so smitten with his sex kitten that he marries her…

His sons – both older than Maria – are dutiful and pay her every respect, but whereas taciturn, brutal Gorgo is clearly fascinated with his new stepmother, slick, businesslike, modern Herman makes no effort to conceal his distaste.

It’s a time of great turmoil for the Latino gangs in the USA. Tenuous alliances and collaborations are commonplace, but the assorted leaders have very different views on the rise of Communism in their homelands: beliefs which will inevitably lead to disagreements and bloodshed. And of course everybody plans on eventually being the only game in town…

Maria keeps herself insulated from her husband’s business, but does develop a passionate affinity for guns. It’s just as well. Over the next few years Luis barely survives numerous assassination attempts.

…And always silent, staring Gorgo waits in the background, watching her as his father’s employees, allies and enemies circle, drawn to her voluptuous beauty like moths to a flame…

In such a murky, dangerous world it’s impossible for Maria to keep completely apart from her husband’s affairs and when she is abducted by supposed allies Gorgo allows his true feelings to show in a savagely horrific manner, after which she divorces her man for the best possible motives…

Dark, evocative and astoundingly compelling, this perfect pastiche of a beloved genre and fabled time-period is a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of sex, violence, greed, obsession and outlaw antiheroes: a mesmerising read jam-packed with Hernandez’s coolly understated narrative suspense, intoxicating illustration, brutally raw tension and sly elements of filmic surrealism which carry the reader through to the low-key cliffhanger ending in classic style.

And please, don’t get too het up over the convolutions and continuity provenances that resulted in this book. If you need to see the “True Story” of Maria, just check out the story ‘Poison River’ in the Heartbreak Soup collection Beyond Palomar, but otherwise why not just revel in a grim and gripping, saga of love and hope and inescapable doom…

Every adult lover of top-notch drama should snap up Maria M immediately to revel in the sheer brilliance of a master storyteller at the peak of his prowess, and open-minded comics fans should be advised to step beyond the costumes and chains of continuity to take a heady shot of pure imagination at work.
© 2013 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 8: The Death of Fritz the Cat – New Edition


By R. Crumb & guests (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-56097-076-7

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions. It also painfully displays a genius grappling with his inner demons in a most excruciatingly honest and uncomfortable manner.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – have a problem with that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book.

Really.

I mean it…

Robert Crumb is a truly unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. From the first moments of the rise of America’s counterculture, his uncompromising, forensically neurotic introspections, pictorial rants and invectives unceasingly picked away at societal scabs, measuring his own feelings and motives whilst ferociously ripping way civilisation’s concealing curtains for his own benefit. However, he always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who would take the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the Herculean task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output, and those critically important volumes are being currently reissued for another, more liberated generation.

The son of a career soldier, Robert Dennis Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943 into a dysfunctional, broken family. He was one of five kids who all found different ways to escape their parents’ highly volatile problems, and comic strips were paramount among them.

Like his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the comics and cartoons of the day; not just reading but creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also comic strip legends such as E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud (Mutt and Jeff) Fisher, Billy (Barney Google) De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney (The Gumps) Smith, as well as classical illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative and surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive, introspective, frustrated, increasingly horny and always compulsively driven, young Robert pursued art and self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy warred with his body’s growing needs. …

To escape his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised.

A few dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, evolving on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This eighth volume mostly covers – in chronological order – material created and published in 1971 (with the merest tantalising smidgen of stuff from 1972), when the perpetually self-tormented artist first began to experience creative dissatisfaction with his newfound status as alternative cultural icon: a period when the no-longer insular or isolated artist was at his most flamboyantly creative, generating a constant stream of new characters, gags, commercial art jobs, short strips and with longer material popping up seemingly everywhere.

It was also the moment when he began to realise the parasitic, exploitative nature of many of the hangers-on exploiting his work for profits which he never saw himself – particularly filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, whose phenomenally successful movie of Fritz the Cat prompted Crumb to kill the cunning kitty character off…

That and more are all faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for another rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (as always) the pictorial material itself is both engrossing and astoundingly rewarding. But please don’t take my word for it: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a passionate if meandering photo-packed Introduction from wife and collaborator Aline Kominsky-Crumb – whom he first met in 1971 – the stream of cartoon consciousness and literary freewheeling begins with the salutary tale of ‘Stinko the Clown in Stinko’s New Car’ from Hytone, rapidly followed by the strange romance of ‘Maryjane’ originally seen in Home Grown Funnies, which also provided the (now) racially controversial and unpalatable ‘Angelfood McDevilsfood in Backwater Blues’ – with that horrific homunculus The Snoid – and twisted “love” story of ‘Whiteman Meets Big Foot’

The underground Commix scene was awash with artistic collaborations and a selection of jam sessions kicks off here with ‘Let’s Be Realistic’ from Hungry Chuck Biscuits wherein Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney & Bruce Walthers surreally free-associated, whilst in Mom’s Homemade Comics Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers & Dennis Brul joined forces with the bespectacled outsider to make some ‘Kumquat Jam’

From ProJunior, ‘Perdido Part One’ and ‘ProJunior in Perdido Part Two’ saw the Dagwood-esque everyman experience the growth in social violence courtesy of Crumb and fellow legend S. Clay Wilson.

All on his own again Crumb captured the appalling nature of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash!’ (from Thrilling Murder) and crafted a lovely ‘Nostalgic Books catalog cover’ for their Summer/Fall 1971 issue, after which a tranche of material from Big Ass #2 (August 1971) starts with a paranoiac perusal of ‘The Truth!’, before another obnoxious jerk resurfaces to dominate sexy bird creatures in ‘Eggs Ackley in Eggs Escapes’ even as the intimately contemplative domestic explorations of  ‘A Gurl’ dissolve into the raucous, earthy humour of ‘Anal Antics’ to end the first black and white section of this challenging chronicle.

A vividly vivacious Color Section celebrates a wealth of covers, opening with ‘The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog’(March 1971), followed by ‘Home Grown Funnies’ and its angsty back cover strip ‘The Desperate Character Writhes Again!’. Moving on, ‘Big Ass #2’, ‘Mr. Natural #2’ – front and back covers – leads to ‘Bijou Funnies #6’ and the rainbows end on the sublimely subversive front for ‘The People’s Comics’.

A return to monochrome provides two more strips from Big Ass #2 beginning with the savagely ironic ‘A Word to you Feminist Women’ and the cruelly hilarious ‘Sally Blubberbutt’ after which the contents of Mr. Natural #2 (October 1971) unfold with ‘Mr. Natural “Does the Dishes”’, before ruminating and sharing more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont in ‘A Gurl in Hotpants’.

This leads to ‘Sittin’ Around the Kitchen Table’ and meeting ‘The Girlfriend’, after which two untitled Mr. Natural graphic perambulations result in a cult war with the adherents of the aforementioned Snoid and everything ends with the sage and his buddy The Big Baby being released from jail to go ‘On the Bum Again’

From Bijou Funnies #6 comes another taste of ‘ProJunior’ as the poor shmuck seeks employment to keep his girlfriend quiet, whilst the jam feature ‘Hef’s Pad’ (by Crumb, Lynch & Skip Williamson) exposes the darker side of selling out for cash and fame…

A strip from Surfer Magazine vol. 12, #6 trenchantly heralds the advent of work from 1972 when ‘Salty Dog Sam “Goes Surfin’!”’, whilst the cover of Zap 7 (Spring issue) and the Nostalgia Press Book Service Catalog cover neatly segues into three superb landmark strips from The People’s Comics beginning with a deeply disturbing glimpse inside the befuddled head of the “Great Man” in ‘The Confessions of R. Crumb’.

That poignantly outrageous graphic outburst leads to a cruelly sardonic polemic in ‘The R. Crumb $uck$e$$ Story’ which merely serves as a sound narrative investment for the shockingly self-satisfied, liberating cartoon catharsis achieved by killing off his now-unwelcome signature character in ‘Fritz the Cat “Superstar”’

If Crumb had been able to suppress his creative questing, he could easily have settled for a lucrative career in any one of a number of graphic disciplines from illustrator to animator to jobbing comic book hack, but as this pivotal collection readily proves, the artist was haunted by the dream of something else – he just didn’t yet know what that was…

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his every hidden depth and perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and untamed self-analysis, and this terrific tome shows him at last mastering – or at least usefully channelling – that creative energy for the benefit of us all.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…

Let’s Be Realistic © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney, Bruce Walthers & R. Crumb. Kumquat Jam © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers, Dennis Brul & R. Crumb. All other material © 1971, 1972, 1992, 1997, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Treasury of Mini Comics volume 1


By many and various, edited by Michael Dowers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-657-7

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away. Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creation, turning makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

Michael Dowers loves the concept of crafting and disseminating Mini Comics and his last book Newave!- The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980’s described and reproduced hundreds of examples: spotlighting with enticing, encouraging exuberance those driven artisans who came out of the “anything goes” 1960s and 1970s Underground Commix movement still craving a vehicle of personal expression.

These creators aren’t in it for the money and, in the era before computers, they found enough time to write, draw and compile artwork (small press people are notoriously generous, contributing work at the drop of a hat) before laboriously photocopying, cutting, folding, stapling and then distributing the miniscule marvellous results.

Just by way of definition: most mini comics were home-produced pamphlets using borrowed – or when necessary paid for – print processes. The most popular format was an 8½ x 11inch sheet, folded twice, and printed at local copy-shops (or clandestinely churned out on school/work repro systems like early Xerox, Photostat, Mimeo or Spirit Banda machines) on letter – or any other sized – paper.

Because they weren’t big, they were called “mini commix”. Inspired, no?

Now this superb sequel tome – another massive brick of fun (8500 monochrome pages, 178x127mm) – offers another trip through forty years of free-thinking, self-determined free expression and technological developments. Many of the key figures in the creation and steady proliferation of this uniquely eloquent people’s medium are included here, not only through examples of their groundbreaking work, but also through statements, interviews and fond reminiscences.

Nobody who wanted to and had access to any kind of reproductive technology ever resisted making their own comics, and content comes from all over the North American continent, covering everything from superhero spoofs, monster-mashes, autobiography, recreational drug, religious, spiritual and philosophical diatribes and polemics, surreal experimental design and just plain fun stories, chatter and gags: all as sexually explicit, violent, political or personally intimate as their creators wanted them to be…

It all starts with Michael Dowers, himself the force behind not only this compilation but also Brownfieldpress and Starhead Comix, whose Introduction leads into ‘The Story of Quoz in Leonard Rifas’s Own Words’ after which the breakthrough Quoz #1 (1969) is reprinted in its quirky absurdist entirety.

Justin Green lays claim to having created the winning format of mini comics in his reprinted blog ‘Statement…’ before his groundbreaking Spare Comic? and inspirational Underground Cartooning Course (both from 1972) show us all how it should still be done…

Gary Arlington is highlighted firstly through an interview he gave to Comics Journal (#264) reporter Patrick Rosenkranz and his uplifting Awake! mini from 1972, followed by the delightfully morose adventure of Johnny Hangdog in Useless (1980) by Jim Siergey, and Larry Rippee’s comically macabre Skeletoons #18 from 1979.

Dowers’ interview of Richard Krauss (midnightfiction.com) is followed by the latter’s first self-publication Bar Fly Theater from 1979 and Bug Infested Comics: a 2008 collaboration with Bob Vojtko, after which Dickhead #1 by Clark Dissmeyer & Par Holman (1982) elaborates on the tricky life of a blue-collar talking penis…

Tales from the Inside was inmate Macedonio M. Garcia’s description of a convict’s existence, tellingly realised here in issues #1 and 3 from 1981 and 1982 (assisted by a script from inmate Melander), after which minor legend Matt Feazell of Not Available Comics describes his prolific career and re-presents The Amazing Cynicalman and Board of Superheroes #1 (1981 & 1994).

Another major player who crossed over into mainstream funnybooks was Matt Howarth whose beguiling The League of Mikes from 1983 took the lid off the collectors’ mentality and still rings true today, Steven L. Willis’ Brave New Nazis of the Inland Empire (1985) savages fascists with excoriating mirth, whilst Nukemare by Donald Russell Roach (1983) combines Cold War paranoia with glittery science fiction hope.

‘The Story of Outside In’ details an extensive collaborative effort which spanned 1983-2003 as a succession of editors and publishers shepherded an ambitious idea and made a little history.

As described in ‘Outside In Introduction’ by Rick Bradford, Steve Willis conceived and produced issues #1-14 of a invitational mini which sought to print self-portraits by the movement’s many artisans (further described herein with a canny, funny strip of the book’s early days by Willis) before Dowers, Edd Vick & Hall Hargit and Bruce Chrislip recount their own tenures at the top.

A complete Outside In contributor list covering #1-50 follows, plus Hargitt’s primer Outside In-formation, before Brad W. Johnson’s Wurst Funnies (1986) returns us to strip sampling with a selection of sausage-inspired cartoon capers.

Dowers then interviews Tim Corrigan of C&T Graphics, after which Serious Comics #14 and 15 (1985) highlights the nigh legendary Mightyguy (a long-running minor success of the mid-1980s “Black & White Explosion”) and, from the same year, David Miller’s No More Bottled Milk! explores less commonplace comicbook themes…

Break out mini comics star Colin Upton reveals all to Dowers before his Self-Indulgent Comics #10 and 2008 Diabetes Funnies leads into Acid Man Society (1989) by Robert Pasternak, whilst Glenn & David Lee Ingersoll’s The Davey Thunder Jack Lightning Show: The Ugly Dog of Heaven is followed by Roberta Gregory’s Devolution.

A John Porcellino Interview is augmented by a selection of his short works spanning 1983-1993, comprising ‘I Wrote My Own Pink Slip!!’, ‘Smells Like Teen Bullshit’, ‘In der Nacht die welt dreht sich das Oberste zuunterst’ and ‘Night Time’, after which a heartfelt commemoration of the life, works and contribution of Dylan Williams (1970-2011) is delivered by Tom Spurgeon.

This tribute to mini comics’ “great synthesizer”, a major publishing force and founder of Puppy Toss and Sparkplug Comics, is followed by his own stunning Horse #1 and an assortment of other strips.

Eric Reynolds contributes Broken Picture Tube Theatre  (1994), featuring ‘The Brady Lush’, ‘Barry Williams is Johnny Bravo’ and other TV-triggered spoofs, whilst the bawdy Zelda Zonk’s Hyper Revue Folies Album (1993) comes courtesy of Quimby World Head Quarters and Molly Kiely, and is followed by the shockingly sordid Asphalt Aneurism #21 by Blair Wilson from 1994.

The mammary madness of Jim Blanchard’s Teat Warp #1 from the same year is counterpoised by 1995’s Moldy Fig (and other Sufi stories) by C. Cilla, whilst Jim Woodring & David Lasky’s sublime Jesus Delivers offers some sage advice to the overly zealous spiritual seekers to end this section.

Dowers’ Marc Bell Interview is followed by the beguiling sci-fi fable ArbeiteesEiner Industrium Dokument den Marc Bell ut Rupert Bottenberg (1996) and the documentary Yeast #6 by Ronald J.M. Regé Jr., before a Leela Corman Interview segues into her mordant 1997 Valentine and Karl Wills’ paean to childhood perversity Jessica of the Schoolyard in “Jessica’s Good Deed”.

Further of the period’s exemplars include Onsmith’s The Rouge Knuckle Gang, Cowboys Getting Racked by Travis Millard, the dark yet anthropomorphically lovely Kids These Days by M. Campos, Nate Beaty’s Mixtape (2006), I’m the Devil by Peter Thompson from 2007 and Fiona Smyth’s The Wilding from 2008…

The Carrie McNinch Interview by Dowers is backed up by her graphic journal You Don’t Get There From Here (#11, spanning December 15th 2008-March 23rd 2009) after which the Funchicken.com duo Mark Todd & Esther Pearl Watson are both interviewed,  prior to his Bad Ass booklet and her Bike Repair Kit which portray the infinite variety of American person-hood. Then after fantastical Rudy, Vasilios Billy Mavreas’s Year in a Cone explores the graphic outer limits of imagination whilst No Exit by Andy Singer offers a humorous glimpse at Yankee obsessions such as sport, pets and the justice system…

#Noah van Scriver’s autobiographical Complaints (2010) descibes his own painfully restricted life and Sadist Science Teacher (Kelly Froh, 2010) continues in a similar journalistic vein, whilst the anonymous members of gimmeshelterpress reveal the build up of Bad Energy (2010), before Max Clotfelter’s Hole Show #1 and Marc Palm’s Hole Show #2 opt for a science fictional setting for their round-robin exercise in graphic collaboration to end the immense collected display of narrative virtuosity.

However this massive monochrome collection still holds a few more delights and, after the list of Artist Website Addresses, a full colour section reprints David Heatley’s Yesterday comic strip diary (from 5/11 to 6/10 2003), Night Terrors by Laura Wady, Fiona Smyth’s The Parkdale Gyre and a selection of equally enhanced full-hued covers by Krauss, Vojtko, Beaty & Rippee for Bug Infested Comics, Mixtape and Skeletoons.

The pioneering craftsmen who simultaneous started a self-printing movement and – now – tradition led inexorably to today’s thriving Alternative/Small Press publishing industry as well as the current internet comics phenomenon, and thus this book has incredible appeal on an historical basis.

However, that’s really not the point: the real draw of this compilation is that creativity is addictive, good work never pales or grows stale and the great stories and art here will make you keen to have a go too.

I’ve done it myself, for fun – even once or twice for actual profit – and it’s an incredible buzz (I should note that I am still married to a wife not only tolerant but far more skilled and speedy in the actual “photocopy, cut, fold, staple” bit of the process and willing, if not keen, to join in just so she might occasionally be with the compulsive dingbat she married…)

The sheer boundless enthusiasm and feelgood reward of making comics celebrated in this astoundingly vast, incredibly heavy and yet still pocket-sized hardback is a pure galvanic joy that will enchant and impel every fan of the art-form: as long as they’re big enough to hold a pencil, old enough to vote, and strong enough to lift this book.
Treasury of Mini Comics volume 1 © 2013 Michael Dowers and Fantagraphics Books. All contents © 2013 their respective creators or authors. All rights reserved.

Sinemania!


By Sophie Cossette with Phil Liberbaum & Ryan Lalande (ECW Press)
ISBN: 978-1-77041-112-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because you’re you… 8/10

Filmmaking was the pre-eminent art form of the 20th century, capable of marrying the aesthetic strictures of humanity’s unfailing urge to create with the common herd’s insatiable desire to be distracted with stories. Cinema always aspired to educate, elucidate and entertain, but so often merely pandered, titillated and, if moralists and cultural blamestormers are to be believed, corrupted.

It’s apparently still going strong in the post-literate, increasingly online 21st century…

Practically all people everywhere love “The Movies” and controversial Canadian adults-only cartoonist Sophie Cossette (Mendacity, scripted by Tamara Faith Berger), her husband Phil Liberbaum and their close friend Ryan Lalande are amongst the most avid and erudite of aficionados.

Being proper grown-ups, however, they can readily accept that only a certain kind of person could envision, steer, wrangle and accomplish such an immense collaborative concoction and – like most of us – revel in the rewarding, gossipy indulgence that comes from debating, deconstructing, deriding and just plain mocking such auteurs’ inescapable sexual foibles and indisputably embarrassing kinky quirks.

Thus, Sinemania! – a bawdily baroque collection of graphic skits, sketches, articles, reviews, recommendations, games, featurettes and interpretations of behaviours favoured by Tinseltown’s most infamous denizens past and present, delivered in outrageously addictive cartoon narratives very much in the iconoclastic vein of Kenneth Anger’s notorious Hollywood Babylon.

Of course, famously fair and scrupulously polite, the Canuck contingent don’t stint in turning their all-seeing eyes on the worst excesses of British, European and their own Dominion’s savants as well.

Moreover, the project – financially supported by the prestigious Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Book Fund – is adamant that “this book is a work of satire. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons – living or dead, (celebrity or extra, clothed or naked) – business establishments, events or locales is either satirical or entirely coincidental.”

So there.

Subtitled ‘A satirical exposé of the lives of the most outlandish movie directors! Welles, Hitchcock, Taratino, and more!’ the cartoon calumnies commence, after Opening Shots and Introductory Thoughts from the team, with a 2-part biography of ‘Mondo Tarantino’ before taking a few well-aimed shots at ‘Alfred Hitchcock – The Hitch Who Lusted Too Much’.

A series of comparative reviews separating each entry begins with Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1954) analysed by Lalande and his 1953 Noir epic The Big Heat similarly examined by Liberbaum, after which ‘William Castle – the King of Gimmicks!’ tells of B-Movie excesses in excoriating fashion.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) undergo the Ryan & Phil treatment before Roman Polanski gets a metaphorical thrashing in ‘Polanski! In the Corner! Now!’, and judgement of Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927, by Ryan) and Freaks (1932, Phil) segues into ‘Diary of a Surrealist Madman’ with the shocking low-down on Luis Buñuel…

R & P assess David Lynch’s Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986) as Sophie plays ‘Tim Burton’s Dice Game’ whilst ‘Orson Welles – It’s All True!’ examines a stellar fall in what could so easily have been his own words.

Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Baby Doll (1956) precede the imaginary testimony of ‘Otto Preminger – The Man with the Iron Fist’ after which Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) and A Clockwork Orange get a solid thumbs up from the panel.

The antics of ‘Ken Russell – The Mad Hatter of British Cinema!’ are followed by Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998) courtesy of The Coen Brothers via Phil & Ryan, and then there’s a sense of genuine outrage in Cossette’s dissection of ‘Russ Meyer – and the Immortal Mrs. Tease!’

Brian De Palma is represented by and lauded for Carrie (1976) and Carlito’s Way (1993), after which ‘Love at First Bark’ weighs the relative demerits of two directors dominated by the women in their lives in ‘Joseph von Sternberg vs. Guy Ritchie’ before Paul Thomas Anderson answers to Ryan & Phil for Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999)…

‘Sam Peckinpah vs. Rainer Werner Fassbinder – Duel of the Hellraisers!’ is another comparison (sour) taste test, including ‘The Prolific Rainer Werner Fassbinder Kraut Paper Doll’ complete with fetish outfits for you to cut out and enjoy, followed by reviews of Robert Wise’s Born to Kill (1947) and I Want to Live! (1956) and Cossette’s astounding, mindboggling ‘Pier Paolo Pasolini – The Jeremiad of a Modern Martyr’ totally steals the show in a blistering graphic panorama.

Phil & Ryan then dissect Federico Fellini’s The White Sheik (1952) and La Strada (1954) before a glimpse at a scrapbook divulges ‘Fritz Lang: The Secret Behind the Door’ and Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955) lead to stylishly open warfare in ‘Woody Allen and Spike Lee – Woody Spikes Things Up at Cannes!’

The magnificent Billy Wilder fares well under Ryan & Phil’s scrutiny of Sunset Blvd. (1950) and Ace in the Hole (1951) whereas the reputation of Erich von Stroheim takes a bit of a bashing in Sophie’s ‘La Grande Delusion of Count von Stroheim’ and ‘Kenneth Anger’s Snakes and Ladders Game’ reveals even more of Hollywood’s seamier side.

The debased behaviour of Werner Herzog in ‘The Wild, Wild Adventures of a Shoe Eater!’ is balanced by reviews of Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight (1973) and Showgirls (1995) before the industry somewhat eats itself in ‘Timothy Carey – And the Razzie Goes To…’

After Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1964) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975), the unflinching artist takes a glimpse closer to home through the works of Bruce McDonald and others in ‘Blame Canada!’

No cinematic catalogue of shame could be complete without ‘Dennis Hopper: A Man Under the Influence’ and his impossible life and dreams wrap up the main feature here after one last Ryan & Phil fest, examining Lindsay Anderson’s unique contributions in This Sporting Life (1963) and If…(1968), but please wait: there’s more…

This grotesquely compelling trawl through tacky times and turgidly lowered tone still holds a few Short Stories to titillate and thrill, beginning with witty eulogies to John Waters and Buster Keaton in ‘Tacky Trashy’ and ‘Shattered Silent Dreams’ before offering up a ‘Requiem for a Real Femme Fatale’ in the form of troubled, doomed-from-the-get-go Barbara Payton.

A trenchant comparison of ‘Slashers vs. Blockbusters’ segues neatly into a nightmare trip with Paul Schrader in ‘Confessions of a Taxi Driver’ and the curtain finally falls with an examination of Donald Cammell’s infamous psycho-sexual “Swinging Sixties” drama in ‘The Performance that Achieved Madness!’

Savage satire, scandalous extrapolation and scurrilous cartoon reportage from people who certainly love their movies – if not the shallow, flawed, nasty and just barmy army of self-appointed geniuses who shot them – make this a book not everyone can enjoy, but for those adults who are sincerely seduced by Silver Screen gems and love their comics, this might well be the most enjoyable book of the year.

© 2013 Sophie Cossette. All rights reserved.
For further movie madness and even more sordid pictorial portraits check out http://sophiecossette.blogspot.ca/

The Strange Tale of Panorama Island


By Edogawa Rompo, adapted and illustrated by Suehiro Maruo, translated by Ryan Sands & Kyoko Nitta (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-777-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Beautiful, seductive and intoxicating… 10/10

Edogawa Rompo is hailed as the Godfather of Japanese detective fiction – his output as author and critic defining the crime thriller from 1923 to his death in 1965. Born Tarō Hirai, he worked under a nom-de-plume based on his own great inspiration, Edgar Allen Poe, penning such well-loved classics as The Two-Sen Copper Coin, The Stalker in the Attic, The Black Lizard and The Monster with 20 Faces as well as many tales of his signature hero detective Kogoro Akechi, notional leader of the stalwart young band Shōnen tantei dan (the Boy Detective’s Gang).

He did much to popularise the concept of the rationalist observer and deductive mystery-solver. In 1946 he sponsored the detective magazine Hōseki (Jewels) and a year later founded the Detective Author’s Club, which survives today as the Mystery Writers of Japan association.

Although his latter years were taken up with promoting the genre, producing criticism, translation of western fiction and penning crime books for younger audiences, much of his earlier output (Rampo wrote twenty novels and lots of short stories) were dark, sinister concoctions based on the trappings and themes of ero guro nansensu (“eroticism, grotesquerie, and the nonsensical”) playing into the then-contemporary Japanese concept of hentai seiyoku or “abnormal sexuality”.

From that time comes this particular adaptation, originally serialised in Enterbrain’s monthly magazine Comic Beam from July 2007-January 2008.

Panorama-tō Kidan or The Strange Tale of Paradise Island was a vignette released in 1926, adapted here with astounding flair and finesses by uncompromising illustrator and adult manga master Suehiro Maruo.

A frequent contributor to the infamous Japanese underground magazine Garo, Maruo is the crafter of such memorable and influential sagas as Ribon no Kishi (Knight of the Ribbon), Rose Coloured Monster, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show, The Laughing Vampire, Ultra-Gash Inferno, How to Rake Leaves and many others.

This is a lovely book. A perfect physical artefact of the themes involved, this weighty oversized (262x187mm) monochrome hardback has glossy full-colour inserts, creator biographies and just feels like something extra special, whilst it compellingly chronicles an intriguingly baroque tale of greed, lust, deception and duplicity which begins when starving would-be author Hitomi Hirosuke reads of the death of the Taisho Emperor.

The shock of losing the revered ruler (December 26th 1926) echoed through the entire nation and forces the failing writer to brutally reassess his life.

He finds himself wanting…

At another fruitless meeting with his editor Ugestu, Hitomi learns that an old friend, Genzaburo Komoda, has passed away. At college the boys were implausibly inseparable: the poor but ambitious kid and the heir to one of the greatest industrial fortunes in Japan. Perhaps it was because they looked and sounded exactly alike: doppelgangers nobody could tell apart…

The presumed cause of death was the asthma which had plagued the wealthy scion all his life and Hitomi, fuelled by self-loathing and inspired by Poe’s tale “The Premature Burial”, hatches a crazy scheme…

Faking his own suicide the writer leaves his effects to Ugestu before travelling to Kishu and immediately beginning his insane plot. Starving himself the entire time, Hitomi locates his pal’s grave, disposes of the already mouldering body and dons the garments and jewellery of Komoda. He even smashes out a front tooth and replaces it with the false one from the corpse…

His ghastly tasks accomplished, the starving charlatan simply collapses in a road where he can be found…

The news spreads like wildfire and soon all Komoda’s closest business associates have visited the miraculous survivor of catalepsy. The intimate knowledge Hitomi possesses combined with the “shock and confusion” of his miraculous escape is enough to fool even aged family retainer Tsunoda, and the fates are with him in that the widow Chiyoko has gone to Osaka to get over her loss. Of course she will rush back as soon as she hears the news…

However with gifts and good wishes flooding in, even Chiyoko is seemingly fooled and the fraudster begins to settle in his new skin. Just to be safe, however, he keeps the wife at a respectful and platonic distance. Comfortably entrenched, he begins to move around the Komoda fortune.

Hitomi the starving writer’s great unfinished work was The Tale of RA, a speculative fantasy in which a young man inherits a vast fortune and uses it to create an incredible, futuristic pleasure place of licentious delight. Now the impostor starts to make that sybaritic dream a reality, repurposing the family wealth into buying an island, relocating its inhabitants and building something never before conceived by mind of man…

Fobbing off all questions with the lie that he is constructing an amusement park that will be his eternal legacy, he populates the marvel of Arcadian engineering, landscaping, and optical science with a circus of wanton performers, living statues of erotic excess and a manufactured mythological bestiary.

He even claims that the colossal expenditure will kick-start the local economic malaise, but for every obstacle overcome another seems to occur. Moreover he cannot shift the uneasy feeling that Chiyoko suspects the truth about him…

Eventually however the great dream of plutocratic grandeur, lotus-eating luxury and hedonistic sexual excess is all but finished and “Komoda” escorts his wife on a grand tour of the wondrous celebration of debauched perversity that is his personal empire of the senses.

Once ensconced there he ends his worries of Chiyoka exposing him, but all too soon his PanoramaIsland receives an unwanted visitor.

Kogoro Akechi has come at the behest of the wife’s family and he has a few questions about, of all things, a book.

It seems that an editor, bereaved by the loss of one of his protégés, posthumously published that tragic young man’s magnum opus to celebrate his wasted life: a story entitled The Tale of RA

This dark compelling morality play is realised in a truly breathtaking display of artistic virtuosity by Maruo, who combines clinical detail of intoxicating decadence with vast graphic vistas in a torrent of utterly enchanting images, whilst never allowing the visuals to overwhelm the underlying narrative and rise and fall of a boldly wicked protagonist…

Stark, stunning, classically clever and utterly adult The Strange Tale of Paradise Island is one of the best-looking, most absorbing crime thrillers I’ve seen this century, and no mystery loving connoisseur of comics, cinema or prose should miss it.

© 2008, 2013 HIRAI Rutaro, MARUO Suehiro. All rights reserved. English translation © 2013 Last Gasp.
This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu volume 2


By Junko Mizuno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-743-3

If you’re over a certain age or have eclectic tastes in art and music you might feel a pang of nostalgia at the work in this second intriguing, coyly adult collection, featuring Manga sensation Junko Mizuno’s most subversively compelling creation.

Since her emergence in 1995, the author has become renowned – perhaps infamous – for mixing childlike innocence with grim, gory action and unwholesome or stridently clashing, wildly inappropriate content in a sub-genre now dubbed Gothic or Noir kawaii (where kawaii describes cutely drawn protagonists and subjects).

Moreover the skewed sensibilities of her work in such Manga as Cinderalla, Hansel & Gretel, Princess Mermaid, Pure Trance and Momongo no Isshō (the Life of Momongo) has exploded out of the comics ghetto to be embraced by a larger audience with art exhibitions (Heart Throbs and Tender Succubus), art-books (Hell Babies, Collector File and Flare) and high-end designer toys for adults which include plush animals, vinyl figures, stationery, postcards, stickers, original art T-shirts and even a line of condoms and erotic paraphernalia.

Her shojo (“stories for girls”) derived style also borrows heavily from the iconic imagery of the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the Graphic Psychedelia which grew out of Pop Art, with huge eyed, large-headed poppet girls, drawn to look young or, more accurately, actively, innocently, illicitly under-aged: living in simplified environments where detail is reduced to bare minima.

Her stories are always sharply at odds with her drawing style, like cartoons for toddlers involving unpleasant visits to the gynaecologist or being consumed by cannibals, and much of her material incorporates splashy full colour despite the overwhelming preponderance of black and white material in Japan.

Once Upon a Time on a cute pink planet invisible to human eyes lived a race of beautiful naked young women and one very lovely, placidly carnivorous purple Space Hippo.

Of course, there was also Pelu: a fluffy excitable ball of fuzz who incessantly questioned the idyllic existence. From the Hippo Pelu learned of Earth where there are two sexes, and of his own origins, and immediately the little puffball determined to visit the planet of humans and father a baby so he won’t be alone any more…

The journey led to a number of salutary adventures for the naive ET, whose venerable progression from wide-eyed Innocent to sexual enlightenment did not provide contentment or that longed-for child.

On Earth the fluffy naif closely observed a host of human interactions whilst always politely asking if anyone would like to be made pregnant – but love, hate, jealousy, pride, ambition, self-loathing and even murder were all hard to grasp until Pelu befriended hobo alcoholic Su-San who became a valued comrade and teacher…

This second monochrome tome continues the elucidatory explorations and peripatetic pursuits of the lonely heart “lad”, beginning with ‘Bubble Princess Transformation’ wherein the amorphous alien becomes enamoured of a beautiful sex-worker in the final stages of gender reassignment and presides over a rare happy-ever-after rather than the regulation “happy ending” after which the 2-part ‘I Married a Puppet Master’ delves into even stranger territory.

Good wife Murako spends her idle moments knitting glove puppet friends, but is increasingly worried that husband Mamoru’s job is affecting his health. She is utterly unaware one of her creations has befriended the oddly similar new neighbour Pelu…

However, when Mamoru is callously transformed into a living doll by his bosses at Big Pharmaceutical, Murako is shocked into stunned inactivity… but not knitwear nightmare Koro who recruits Pelu to help obtain a brutal revenge…

Back on the streets again Su-San and Pelu are then approached by a sexy hostess for one of those unique television competition game-shows in ‘Surprise! Japan’s New Record’ but, after the little visitor’s stunning victory leaves them flush for a change, things get very odd…

Another 2-parter, ‘The Secret of the Flower Garden’ finds the spherical sex-pot approached by lovely Tsubomi with a rather unlikely proposition. Soon Pelu is regularly servicing her, her mother and grandmother, in a secret villa beneath a soda factory, just helping a family of hereditary nymphomaniacs, blithely unaware that understanding man of the house Kiyoshi is a bit of an amateur film-maker…

Eventually, still without progeny, Pelu is discarded for a fresher, less exhausted replacement and returns to best buddy Su-San, just in time to fall in love again…

‘Sigh of the Kappa Girl’ is a bittersweet tale of unrequited love as poor Kappa-ko is ditched by boyfriend and prospective husband Makoto. His family want their boy to marry someone else – anyone else actually – as they have an old-fashioned prejudice against Kappas.

You can see their point of view: although she is sweet and sad and gentle, most of the magical water demons are mischievous, cunning flesh-eaters, living in the city’s tainted rivers and watercourses. Seeking solace with Pelu, the betrayed girl steals his heart away but soon leaves him for another…

The saga takes another strange turn in ‘The Niece from Outer Space’ when a young princess from the pink planet comes to visit her far-voyaging uncle. Melu is even more innocent than Pelu but too soon adapts to Earth’s ways – especially after gorging on human food makes her body grow up faster than her mind. Soon she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd (homicidal quintuplets and their abusive, exploitative father) and Pelu is too late to prevent a miraculous tragedy…

This extraordinary collection concludes in poignant heartbreak as Pelu and Su-San become ill on the streets and the little stranger loses his best friend forever to the ‘Homeless Paradise’. The only glimmer of light in the sobering tale for Pelu is meeting Su-San’s estranged daughter Noriko Saotome and learning something of his forever-gone companion’s sorry past…

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu continues the potentially shocking saga of an incorrigible innocent abroad, with seductive fantasy underpinned by a subtle sinister subtext and an overt narrative informed by the naivety of “Swinging Sixties” sexuality.

Everything, especially the legion of pretty  girls, is drawn in the style of early Playboy icons, in the brand of  cartoon stylisations that featured in movie title sequences like What’s New, Pussycat? or Yellow Submarine. Anybody British who remembers the children’s animation Crystal Tipps and Alistair, or the hippo from Rainbow, will feel a frisson of nostalgia – which is of course the point. The art is an irresistible velvet trap designed to reduce readers to a receptive state in which the author can make telling points about contemporary culture.
By co-opting children’s entertainment Mizuno addresses fundamental aspects of human existence in a form designed to shock, subvert, upset and most importantly provoke. So, if some thought on the readers’ part extends beyond our visceral gut-reaction to nude innocent girls and the idealistic purity that used to be associated with such imagery, then she’s done her job…

This is a supremely edgy fantasy with a lot to say about society and relationships – similar to but utterly different from Robert Heinlein’s groundbreaking social satire Stranger in a Strange Land, and will one day I’m sure, have just as much impact.

© 2004, 2013 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.

See also www.MIZUNO-JUNKO.com