U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories


By Sam Glanzman (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80158-2

To the shame and detriment of the entire comics industry, for most of his career Sam Glanzman was one of the least-regarded creators in American comicbooks. Despite having one of the longest careers, most unique illustration styles and the respect of his creative peers, he just never got the public acclaim his work deserved.

Thankfully that’s all changed in recent years and more happily still, unlike many unsung cartooning geniuses, he’s still alive to enjoy the belated spotlight.

Glanzman has been drawing and writing comics since the Golden Age, most commonly in classic genres ranging from war to mystery to fantasy, where his work is – as always – raw, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island, Voyage to the Deep, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules, Haunted Tank, The Green Berets, cult classic The Private War of Willie Schultz, and especially his 1980s graphic novels (A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons – which you should buy in the recent single volume edition from Dover), Glanzman produced magnificent action-adventure tales which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. His stuff always sold and at least won him a legion of fans amongst fellow artists, if not from the small, insular and over-vocal fan-press.

In later years Glanzman worked with Tim Truman’s 4Winds company on high-profile projects like The Lone Ranger, Jonah Hex and barbarian fantasy Attu. Moreover, as the sublime work gathered here attests, he was also one of the earliest pioneers of graphic autobiography; translating his WWII experiences as a sailor in the Pacific into one of the very best things to come out of DC’s 1970s war comics line…

U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 was a peripatetic filler-feature which bobbed about between Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories and other anthological battle books; backing-up the cover-hogging, star-attraction glory-boys. It provided wry, witty, shocking, informative and immensely human vignettes of shipboard life, starring the fictionalised crew of the destroyer Glanzman had served on. It was, in most ways, a love story and tribute to the vessel which had been their only home and refuge under fire.

In four- or sometimes five-page episodes, Glanzman recaptured and shared the life of comradeship we peace-timers can only imagine and, despite the pulse-pounding drama of the lead features, we fans all knew these little snippets were what really happened when the Boys went “over there”…

A maritime epic to rank with Melville or Forester – and with stunning pictures too – every episode of this astounding unsung masterpiece is now housed in one stunning hardback compilation and if you love the medium of comics, or history, or just a damn fine tale well-told you must have it…

That’s really all you need to know, but if you’re one of the regular crowd needful of more of my bombastic blather, a much fuller description now follows…

As I’ve already stated, Glanzman has recently been enjoying some much-deserved attention and this massive tome starts by sharing Presidential Letters from Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush for his service and achievements. Then follows a Foreword from Ivan Brandon and a copious and informative Introduction by Jon B. Cooke detailing ‘A Sailor’s History: The Life and Art of Sam J. Glanzman’.

Next comes a brace of prototypical treats; the first comicbook appearance of U.S.S. Stevens from Dell Comics’ Combat #16 (April-June 1965) and the first cover featuring the valiant vessel from Combat #24, April 1967…

The first official U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 appeared after Glanzman approached Joe Kubert, who had recently become Group Editor for DC’s war titles. He commissioned ‘Frightened Boys… or Fighting Men’, which appeared in Our Army at War #218 (April 1970), depicting a moment in 1942 when boredom and tension were replaced by frantic action as a suicide plane targeted the ship…

A semi-regular cast was introduced slowly throughout 1970; fictionalised incarnations of old shipmates including skipper Commander T. A. Rakov, who ominously pondered his Task Force’s dispersal, moments before a pot-luck attack known as ‘The Browning Shot’ (Our Fighting Forces #125, May/June) proved his fears justified…

Glanzman’s pocket-sized tales always delivered a mountain of information, mood and impact and ‘The Idiot!’ (OAaW #220, June) is one of his most effective, detailing in four mesmerising pages not only the variety of suicidal flying bombs the Allies faced but also how appalled American sailors reacted to them.

Sudden death seemed to be everywhere. ‘1-2-3’ (OFF #126, July/August) detailed how quick action and intuitive thinking saved the ship from a hidden gun emplacement whilst ‘Black Smoke’ (Our Army at War #222, from the same month) revealed how a know-it-all engineer caused the sinking of the Stevens’ sister-ship by not believing an old salt’s frequent, frantic warnings…

All aboard ship were regularly shaken by the variety of Japanese aircraft and skill of the pilots. ‘Dragonfly’ (OFF #127, September/October) shows exactly why, whilst an insightful glimpse of the enemy’s psychological other-ness is graphically, tragically depicted in the tale of ‘The Kunkō Warrior’ (OAaW #223, September)…

A strange encounter with a WWI wooden vessel forced a ‘Double Rescue!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #153, October/November) after which ‘How Many Fathoms?’ (OFF #128, November/December) again counted the human cost of bravery with devastating, understated impact before ‘Buckethead’ (OAaW #225, November) related one swabbie’s unique reaction to constant bombardment.

‘Missing: 320 Men!’ (G.I. Combat #145, December 1970-January 1971) introduced Glanzman-analogue Jerry Boyle who whiled away helpless moments during a shattering battle by sketching cartoons of his astonished shipmates. ‘Death of a Ship!’ (OAaW #227, from January 1971) then dealt with classic war fodder as submarine and ship hunt each other in a deadly duel…

A military maritime mystery is solved by Commander Rakov in ‘Cause and Cure!’ (Our Army at War #230, March) whilst the next issue posed a different conundrum as the ship lost all power and landed ‘In the Frying Pan!’ (April 1971).

The vignettes were always less about warfare than its effects – immediate or cumulative – on ordinary guys. ‘Buck Taylor, You Can’t Fool Me!’ (OAaW #232) catalogued his increasingly aberrant behaviour but posited some less likely reasons, after which old school hero Bos’n Egloff saved the day during the worst typhoon of the war in ‘Cabbages and Kings’ (OFF #131, July/August) whilst ‘Kamikaze’ (OAaW #235 August) boldly and provocatively told a poignant life-story from the point of view of the pilot inside a flying bomb…

An informative peek at the crew of a torpedo launch station in ‘Hip Shot’ (G.I. Combat #150 October/November) segues seamlessly into the dangers of shore leave ‘In Tsingtao’ (OFF #134, November/December) whilst ‘XDD479’ (Our Army at War #238 November) reveals a lost landmark of military history.

The real DD479 was one of three destroyers test-trialling ship-mounted spotter planes and this little gem explains why that experiment was dropped…

Buck popped back in ‘Red Ribbon’ (G.I.C #151 December 1971-January 1972), sharing a personal coping mechanism to make shipboard chores less “exhilarating”, whilst ‘Vela Lavella’ (OAaW #240 January 1972) captures the closed-in horror of night time naval engagement and ‘Dreams’ (G.I.C #152 February/March) peeps inside various heads to see what the ship’s company would rather be doing, before ‘Batmen’ (OAaW #241 February) uses a lecture on radar to recount one of the most astounding exploits of the war…

Every U.S.S. Stevens episode was packed with fascinating fact and detail, culled from the artist’s letters home and service-time sketchbooks, but those invaluable memento belligeri also served double duty as the basis for a secondary feature.

The first ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ appeared in Our Army at War #242 (March 1972); a compendium of pictorial snapshots sharing quieter moments such as the first passage through the Panama Canal, sleeping arrangements or K.P. duties peeling spuds, and is followed here by an hilarious record of the freshmen sailors’ endurance of an ancient naval hazing tradition inflicted upon every “pollywog” crossing the equator for the first time in ‘Imperivm Neptivm Regis’ (OFF #136 (March/April 1972).

A second ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #244, April) reveals the mixed joys of “Liberty in the Philippines” after which a suitably foreboding ‘Prelude’ from Weird War Tales (#4 March/April 1972) captures the passive-panicked tension of daily routine whilst a potentially morale-shattering close shave is shared during an all-too-infrequent ‘Mail Call!’ (G.I. Combat #155, April/May)…

A thoughtful man of keen empathy and insight, Glanzman often offered readers a look at the real victims. ‘What Do They Know About War?’ (OAaW #244, April) sees peasant islanders trying to eke out a living, only to discover too many similarities between Occupiers and Liberators, whilst the next issue focussed on the sailors’ jangling nerves and stomachs. ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!’ (#245, May) revealed what happened when DD479 was mistakenly declared destroyed and, thanks to an administrative iron curtain, found it impossible to refuel or take on food stores…

Cartoonist Jerry Boyle resurfaced with a ‘Comic Strip’ in Our Fighting Forces #138 (July/August) after which Glanzman produced one of the most powerful social statements in an era of tumultuous change.

Our Army at War #247 (July 1972) featured a tale based on decorated Pearl Harbor hero Doner Miller who saved lives, killed the enemy and won medals, but was not allowed to progress beyond the rank of shipboard domestic because of his skin. ‘Color Me Brave!’ was an excoriating attack on the U.S. Navy’s segregation policies and is as breathtaking and rousing now as it was then…

‘Ride the Baka’ (OAaW #248 August) revisits those constant near-miss moments sparked by suicide pilots after which our author shares broken sleep in ‘A Nightmare from the Beginning’ (OFF #139 September/October) whilst ‘Another Kunkō Warrior’ (OFF #140 November/December) sees marines taking an island and encountering warfare beyond their comprehension.

1973 began with a death-dipped nursery rhyme detailing ‘This is the Ship that War Built!’ (G.I.C #157 December 1972-January 1973) before an impromptu lecture on maritime military history is delivered by ‘Buck Taylor’ (OFF #141 January/February) whilst Glanzman struck an impassioned note for war-brides and lonely ships passing in the night with ‘The Islands Were Meant for Love!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #167 February)…

Terror turns to wonder when sailors encounter the ‘Portuguese Man of War’ (OAaW #256 August), a shore leave mugging is thwarted thanks to ‘Tailor-Mades’ (OFF #143 June/July) and letters home are necessarily self-censored in ‘The Sea is Calm… The Sky is Bright…’ (OAaW #257 June), but shipboard relationships remain complex and bewildering, as proved in ‘Who to Believe!’ (SSWS #171, July).

The strife of constant struggle comes to the fore in ‘The Kiyi’ (OAaW #258 July) and is seen from both sides when souvenir hunters try to take ‘The Thousand-Stitch-Belt’ (SSWS #172 August), but, as always, it’s the non-combatants who truly pay the price, just like the native fishermen in ‘Accident…’ (OAaW #259, August).

Even the quietest, happiest moments can turn instantly fatal as the good-natured pilferers swiping fruit at a refuelling station discover in ‘King of the Hill’ (SSWS #174, October).

An unlikely tale of a kamikaze who survived his final flight but not his final fate, ‘Today is Tomorrow’ (OAaW #261, October) is followed by a strident, wordless plea for understanding in ‘Where…?’ (OAaW #262 November 1973) before the sombre mood is briefly lifted with a tale of selfishness and sacrifice in ‘Rocco’s Roost’ from Our Army at War #265, February 1974.

The following issue provide both a gentle ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ covering down-time in “The Islands” and a brutal tale of mentorship and torches passed in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, after which a truly disturbing tale of what we now call gender identity and post-traumatic stress disorder is recounted in the tragedy of ‘Toro’ from the April/May Our Fighting Forces #148…

‘Moonglow’ from OAaW #267 (April 1974) reveals how quickly placid contemplation can turn to blazing conflagration, whilst – after a chilling, evocative ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #269 June) – ‘Lucky… Save Me!’ (OAaW #275, December 1974) shows how memories of unconditional love can offset the cruellest of injuries…

‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!’ (OAaW #281, June 1975) explores how both friend and foe alike can be addicted to risk, after which ‘I Am Old Glory…’ (Our Army at War #282 July) sardonically transposes a thoughtful veneration with the actualities of combat before ‘A Glance into Glanzman’ by Allan Asherman (Our Army at War #284, September 1975) takes a look at the author’s creative process.

Then it’s back to those sketchbooks and another peep ‘Between the Pages’ (OAaW #293, June 1976) before ‘Not Granted!’ (OAaW #298, November 1976) discloses every seaman’s most fervent wish…

The stories were coming further and further apart at this time and it was clear that – editorially at least – the company was moving on to fresher fields. Glanzman however had saved his best till last as a stomach-churning visual essay displayed the force of tension sustained over months in ‘…And Fear Crippled Andy Payne’ (Sgt. Rock #304, May 1977) before an elegy to bravery and stupidity asked ‘Why?’ in Sgt. Rock #308 from September 1977.

And that was it for nearly a decade. Glanzman – a consummate professional – moved on to other ventures. He would, however, be asked about U.S.S. Stevens all the time and eventually, nearly a decade later, returned to his spiritual stomping grounds in expanded tales of DD479: both in his graphic novel memoirs and comic strips.

The latter appeared in anthological black-&-white Marvel magazine Savage Tales (#6-8, spanning August to December 1986) under the umbrella title ‘Of War and Peace – Tales by Mas’. First up was ‘The Trinity’ which blended present with past to detail a shocking incident of a good man’s breaking point whilst a lighter tone informed ‘In a Gentlemanly Way’ as Glanzman recalled the different means by which officers and swabbies showed their pride for their ships. ‘Rescued by Luck’ than concentrated on a saga of island survival for sailors whose ship had sunk…

Next comes the hauntingly powerful black-&-white tale of then and now entitled ‘Even Dead Birds Have Wings’ (created for the Dover Edition of A Sailor’s Story from 2015) after which a chronologically adrift yarn (from Sgt. Rock Special #1, October 1992) incites potently elegiac feelings as it describes an uncanny act of valiant gallantry under fire and the ultimate fate of old heroes in ‘Home of the Brave’

A few years ago, by popular – and editorial – demand Glanzman returned to the U.S.S. Stevens for an old friend’s swan song series; providing new tales for each issue of DC’s anthological 6-issue miniseries Joe Kubert Presents (December 2012- May 2013).

More scattershot reminiscences than structured stories, ‘I REMEMBER: Dreams’ and ‘I REMEMBER: Squish Squash’ recapitulate unforgettable moments seen through eyes at the sunset end of life; recalling giant storms and lost friends, imagining how distant families endured war and absence but, as always, balancing the funny memories with the tragic, like that time when the stiff-necked new commander…

‘Snapshots’ continues the reverie, blending old war stories with cherished times as a kid on the farm whilst ‘The Figurehead’ delves deeper into the character of Buck Taylor and his esoteric quest for seaborne nirvana…

Closing that last hurrah were ‘Back and Forth 1941-1944’ and ‘Back and Forth 1941-1945’: an encapsulating catalogue of war service as experienced by the creator, mixing facts, figures, memories and reactions to form a quiet tribute to all who served and all who never returned…

With the stories mostly told, the ‘Afterword’ by Allan Asherman details those heady days when he worked at DC Editorial and Glanzman would unfailing light up the offices by delivering his latest strips after which this monolithic milestone offers a vast and stunningly detailed appendix of ‘Story Annotations’ by Jon B. Cooke.

This book is a magnificent collection of comic stories based on real life and what is more fitting than to end it with ‘U.S.S. Stevens DD479’ (coloured by Frank M. Cuonzo & lettered by Thomas Mauer); one final, lyrical farewell from Glanzman to his comrades and the ship which still holds his heart after all these years…?

This is an extraordinary work. In unobtrusive little snippets, Glanzman challenged myths, prejudices and stereotypes – of morality, manhood, race, sexuality and gender – decades before anybody else in comics even tried.

He also brought an aura of authenticity to war stories which has never been equalled: eschewing melodrama, faux heroism, trumped-up angst and eye-catching glory-hounding but instead explaining how “brothers in arms” really felt and acted and suffered and died.

Shockingly funny, painfully realistic and visually captivating, U.S.S. Stevens is phenomenal and magnificent: a masterpiece by one of the very best of “The Greatest Generation”. I waited forty years for this and I couldn’t be happier: a sublimely insightful, affecting and rewarding graphic memoir every home, school and library should have.
Artwork and text © 2015 Sam Glanzman. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories will be released on July 20th 2016 and is available for pre-order now. Check out Dover Publications and your internet retailer or comic shop of choice.

Clumsy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-97135-976-5

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales and Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the four volume “Girlfriend Trilogy”, comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World For Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching revelation… who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released, quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of non-chronological pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing in no particular order how a meek, frumpy, horny, inoffensively charming art-student meets a girl and tries to carry out a long-distance relationship. Every kid who’s gone to college, got a job or joined the services has been through this, and for every romance that makes it, there a million that don’t.

Drawn in a deceptively Primitivist style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase plus a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and forever-after regretted, this is a skilful succession of stolen moments which establish one awful truth.

We’ve all been there, done that and then hoarded those damned photos we can’t even look at any more…

With titles like ‘My Last Night with Kristyn’, ‘Don’t Touch Me’, ‘I Draw her Naked’, ‘I Farted’, ‘But I Want to Make Love’ and ‘You Can Ask Me’, a mosaic of universal joy and despair forms as we watch Jeff and Theresa meet, blossom, exult, dream, plan and part…

Packed with hearty joyous wonder and brimming with hilarious examples of that continual and seemingly tireless teen-lust us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Clumsy is a magical delight for anybody safely out of their Romeo & Juliet years and a lovely examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2002 Jeffrey Brown.

The Story of My Tits


By Jennifer Hayden (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-054-4

Here’s a short sharp review for an exceedingly weighty and fabulously entertaining tome. If the word “Tits” offends you in any way – GOOD! – that’s partly the point and besides, now that you’ve been sufficiently outraged you might as well read on before dashing off and buying the book…

This huge monochrome tome (198 x 203 x 28 x mm) is an agonisingly hilarious cartoon autobiography by an astonishingly funny, amazingly forthright and relentlessly brave woman dealing with far more than her fair share of misfortune. As her tale captivatingly depicts, Jennifer Hayden (Underwire, Rushes, S’crapbook) came to cartooning late after years muddling through as a commercial writer and children’s book illustrator. Her artistic epiphany came when she was dealing with a ghastly medical diagnosis and stumbled upon a fellow sufferer’s own cancer-narrative graphic journal…

Comprising a breathtaking assemblage of key moments, this quirky quilt of rib-ticklers and gut-punches opens with the author’s early days with ‘No Tits’ describing a life “flat as a board” until biology finally works its inevitable magic. It also introduces her uniquely human and utterly irresistible family…

The amiable amble towards adulthood continues in ‘Still No Tits!’ before ‘What, Tits?’ sees little Jenny’s dreams start to come true after a big change that strangely coincides with an increased awareness of Boys…

As is so often the case, life should come with a warning to be careful what you wish for as ‘What Tits!’ concentrates on college days and boyfriends, eventually introducing musician Jim who will play a major role in the decades to come. More important, however, is his wonderful mother and boisterous brothers…

Real life thunders in with ‘Sick Tits’ when Jennifer’s mum gets a devastating diagnosis and has a mastectomy. Her reaction is far from what her excitable daughter expects or understands…

With the family in turmoil ‘Tits in Philly’ sees Jenny upping stakes to get away; living with Jim until ‘Tits in Jersey’ sees them both move in with his mother. Life goes on and the lovers make a pretty good go of being just like grown-ups. Then once again cancer hits someone they both can’t do without…

‘Tits Al Fresco’ pithily observes the modern trauma of dealing with divorce and the unwholesome fallout of having to handle three “mothers”…

The long-dreaded inevitable finally happens in ‘Tender Tits’ but after the birth of their first child (hah, gotcha!) life gets even more convoluted for Jennifer and Jim with ‘Tits at Dawn’. With the extended family gradually dying away, it’s only after Jennifer’s second child and her development of ‘Mom Tits’ that years of ordinary living narrow down to the moment of her own breast-cancer diagnosis thanks to mammography and ‘Tits on Film’.

Jennifer Hayden was 43 when she made the bold decision which changed and probably saved her, and these scenes and snapshots of her life as it changed to accommodate breast cancer are some of the bravest, most poignant and blackly funniest in this journal. Her world becomes increasingly filled with doctors, counsellors, well-wishers, survivors and fellow patients. Through it all though, that big, big family is there… even if her closest acquaintances aren’t…

‘No More Tits’ shares the days of surgery and beyond, leading to an oddly circular regression to her earliest days whilst coping strategies and mundane daily adjustments vie for attention in ‘Goddess Tits’ before the contemporary world catches up and the tale moves away from us in ‘The End: UnTITled’… (although there is a heart-warming Epilogue sent from idyllic sunny ‘Titaly’

Potent, honest, passionately matter-of-fact and phenomenally entertaining, this is a marvel of philosophical resolve and practical defiance that nobody can read without laughing, crying, getting scared and feeling lucky.
© & ™ 2015 Jennifer Hayden.

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland


By Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-091-9

Before finding relative fame in the 21st century, Harvey Pekar occupied that ghastly niche so good at trapping the truly creative individual: lots and lots of critical acclaim, and occasional heart-breakingly close brushes with super-stardom (which everyone except him felt he truly deserved) without ever actually getting enough ahead to feel secure or appreciated.

In the 1970s whilst palling around with Robert Crumb, Pekar began crafting compelling documentary narratives of ordinary, blue-collar life – primarily his own – and over the following decades invented “literary comics”. Despite negligible commercial success, the activity fulfilled some deep inner need and he persevered in his self-publishing and soul-searching.

One of those aforementioned brushes with the Big Time came in the 1980s with the release of two compilations by mainstream publisher Doubleday of selected strips from his American Splendor comicbooks. To this day those tomes remain some of the most powerful, honest and rewarding comics ever seen.

By mercilessly haranguing, begging and even paying (out of his meagre civil service wages and occasional wheeler-deal) any artists who met his exacting intellectual standards Pekar soldiered on, inadvertently creating the comics genre of autobiographical, existentially questing, slice-of-life graphic narratives whilst eking out a mostly solitary, hand-to-mouth existence in Cleveland, Ohio.

How the irascible, opinionated, objectionable, knowledge-hungry, self-educated, music-mad working stiff came to use the admittedly (then) impoverished comicbook medium to make a fiercely vital social commentary on American life for the “ordinary Joe” is a magical journey into the plebeian far better read than read about, so go do that if you haven’t already.

Life picked up late for Harvey Pekar – mostly through an award-winning movie of his career and the publication of Our Cancer Year (a stunning documentation of his and third wife Joyce Brabner’s response to his disease). This all led to an elevated and celebrated intellectual status, allowing him to the opportunity to produce even more personal and compelling tales such as The Quitter, The Beats and Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me. Harvey Pekar died in 2010, aged 70.

For all of that time he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and the city is as much a character in all his autobiographical works as the man himself. This book was his last, published posthumously and offering in his own simple, informative, plain spoken words – beguilingly illustrated by the inspirationally diligent Joseph Remnant (Blind Spot) – the history, geography and cultural lowdown of the legend-laden conurbation alternatively dubbed the “the best location in the nation” and “the mistake by the lake”…

An irrepressible autodidact in the truest sense of the term, Pekar made it his business to learn everything about anything he was interested in… and he could be initially interested in everything.

Keeping his mercurial engaged attention, however, was a far harder task. One thing which held his attention on many levels – from first breath to last – was the city he was born in.

Cleveland is an erudite, eyes-wide-open appreciation, encompassing the shrinking metropolis’ creation, rise, fall, descent into mediocrity and position as media whipping-boy as well as the truth behind all the myths.

Walking through town pictorially and in full avuncular academician mode, Pekar shares facts, opinions and judgments with equal passion and force: detailing simultaneously both treasures and flaws like a man happily married to the same bride for seven decades. The result is magical…

There’s the expected and welcome incisive examination of socio-political changes, employment and race issues, a broad inclusion of the author’s love of sporting achievement and his obsessive collecting: startling moments of intimate revelation and, as ever, his miraculous gift of sharing his passions as he blends historical insights, family milestones and oddments of existence with deft dexterity.

Harvey Pekar was called the “poet laureate of Cleveland” and this superb paean to the home he never abandoned is a graphic delight to equal any literary travelogue commemorating Defoe’s London or Damon Runyon’s New York.

Remnant’s monochrome line-work is remarkably effective: mixing reportage with architectural acuity and wrapping it all in a fulsome vivacity reminiscent of the best of underground art. These pictures pop; whether illuminating the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 victory over the Boston Braves, city landmarks like the Terminal  Tower and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; depicting gang fights in Woodhill Park or young Harvey’s first Chocolate Frosty Malt and first marital mismatches …

With an effusive and lyrical Introduction by Alan Moore and closing with ‘A Pal’s Goodbye’ from Harvey’s friend, associate and fellow Clevelander Jimi Izrael, this wry, witty, enchanting atlas of Middle America Then and Now is a book you must see if you love the art form of comics and magic of storytelling.
© & ™ 2012 Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded


By Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1893-9

After decades of cruel injustice and crushing, sidelining silence, British mathematician Alan Turing – one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century – is at last becoming the household name and revered figure he deserves to be.

As well as books and films describing the amazing achievements and appalling way this brilliant, tormented man – arguably the creator of the modern world we inhabit – was treated by society, there’s now a new graphic novel delineating the factual stuff whilst trying to get beneath the skin of a most perplexing and unique individual.

It’s only fair to warn you: this is categorically not an adaptation of the 2014 film.

Spellbindingly scripted by Jim Ottaviani (who has similarly eulogised and dissected quantum physicist Feynman and primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas in Primates) and compellingly effective art by Leland Purvis (Vox, Pubo, Vulcan & Vishnu and Suspended in language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped – a previous collaboration with Ottoviani), this full-colour hardback biography divides Turing’s life into three broad sections, incisively and winningly reviewed as if in a documentary.

Events from his turbulent life are cleverly mixed with “interviews” and candid disclosures from those who knew him – his mother, the computing girls at Bletchley Park, fiancée Joan Clark, Professor Max Newman, engineer and lab partner Bayley and the weak, shady rent-boy who brought about Turing’s eventual downfall and death…

‘Universal Computing’ covers the difficult, solitary boy’s childhood and college years, with plenty of revelatory scenes showing how smart, obsessed and just plain different Turing was.

Top Secret Ultra’ focuses on the war years that made Turing’s reputation as a cryptographer and inventor at the “non-existent” base where the Enigma Code was cracked and the battle against fascism won.

The most painful and potent moments are seen in the post-war years at Manchester University, trying to beat the Americans in the race to build Thinking Machines and coming under increasing stress as his open homosexuality – accepted as fact and ignored at Bletchley – came to overtake and destroy the life of the mis-socialised simple genius whose thoughts and writings resulted in the breakthroughs everybody now knows as ‘The Imitation Game’

Rounding out the cruelly educational experience is a poignant and challenging ‘Authors Note’ touching on the still unresolved mystery of Turing’s death, a vast ‘Bibliography and Recommended Reading’ list and a bewilderingly comprehensive ‘Notes and References’ section, covering everything from the panel structures to the mathematics involved in and comprising much of the book’s subtly beguiling make-up.

This is an astoundingly inviting way to take in a true story of incredible accomplishment, dedicated passion and terrifying naivety, ending in a horrific loss to us all and forever-unanswered sentiments of “What If?” and “If Only”…
Text © 2016 Jim Ottaviani. Illustrations © 2016 Leland Purvis. All rights reserved.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded will be released on March 22nd 2016.

Persia Blues volume 2: Love and War


By Dara Naraghi & Brent Bowman (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-977-9

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Iranian ex-pat Dara Naraghi far more so than most. As well as his own celebrated Big City Blues comic he’s been responsible for adapting to comics such licensed properties as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters, writing for DC, Image and IDW and running his own publishing house Ferret Press.

His breakthrough graphic anthology Lifelike set new standards for expressive exploratory tale-telling and he was a founding member of comics creators collective PANEL. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly wonderful tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomics.

Artist and illustrator Brent Bowman has created art for the Age of Empires collector card game and worked at Caliber Press and Image Comics. He too is a member of PANEL, devoted to pushing the envelope (probably after covering it with doodles and sketches) of graphic narrative.

Together they have conceived a trilogy of graphic novels cunningly blending real-world reportage with fantastic fantasy in a mythic manner both intriguing and captivating. Initial outing Persia Blues: Leaving Home won the 2014 Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo prize for Best Graphic Novel.

That tome introduced spirited young woman Minoo Shirazi who had a history of troublemaking and parental issues in two very different worlds dubbed for discomfort “There” and “Here”…

Far away and long ago a bold warrior woman with an inexplicable incendiary power in her hands battled beside her lover Tyler against brigands and worse to retrieve a holy book in the heyday of the Persian Empire. We’ll call that “Here”…

Over “There” in our world, a forthright, independent Iranian architecture student named Minoo was seen at various moments of her life, constantly challenging the authority of her father and the far more dangerous agents of the theocracy…

In Ancient Persia the war-woman painfully and at first-hand learned of the eternal struggle between the light of Ahura Mazda and dark evil of demonic Ahriman, before becoming embroiled in the struggle – as did her scholarly lover – when a priest was slaughtered by the devil-lord Himself.

A giant, wingless talking griffon then despatched them to distant Persepolis to meet her long-lost mother. The divine messenger also decreed Minoo the Warrior would play a crucial role in the battle between good and evil and must accept her fate…

En route, they encountered famed and legendary Anusiya battling an horrific army of scorpion men and other beasts. Dashing to join the hard-pressed Persian Royal Guard, they turned the tide and the grateful soldiers escorted them to an audience with the Emperor…

In modern times when word of Minoo’s latest brush with the authorities reached her father, once-eminent history professor Bijan Shiraz took unwelcome and unwanted steps to protect the last member of his family.

For years he had been a thorn in the side of the religious fundamentalists rewriting and revising the grand and glorious history of Persia to suit the self-serving demands of a theocratic, clerical dictatorship and consequently his entire family had suffered…

Bijan and his wife Manijeh argued for years. She wanted the family to leave but the scholar refused to leave the proud history of Persia in the hands of revisionists. Minoo often listened, terrified her parents were divorcing, but older brother Ramin was always there to calm her fears…

Three years ago Minoo and her father discussed her recent graduation. Her prospects had long been a brittle bone of contention, and she would not accept the aging intellectual’s argument that she should pursue a Master’s Degree. Not in a country that openly suppresses choice and opportunity for women…

She was utterly astounded when he reveals he had changed his mind and would use all his resources, contacts and waning influence to secure her a University place outside Iran…

And in Persepolis the supreme ruler is revealed as Empress Purandokht, Queen and Protector of the Persian Empire who greets her wandering daughter but does not recognise her…

This is a tale of interconnected contrasts, with the modern scenes – deliberately convoluted by mixing the chronological sequence of flashback events – rendered in stark black line whilst the exotic and thrilling Persian adventure is presented as lush, painterly pencil-grey tones.

Moreover, although the general dialogue and idiom of the ancients is what you’d expect in an historical drama, Tyler and mystic Minoo speak like American 20-somethings, eventually admitting to Purandokht they are from somewhere called “Columbus”…

Following a graphic reintroduction to the major players and a quick recap in ‘Our Story Thus Far’ the twin-tracked tale-telling recommences over “There” in Tehran eleven years ago as young teenager Minoo goes ski-boarding for the first time and meets a boy. Over-protective Ramin’s response is not what she anticipated…

Way back “Here” Tyler and Minoo soon get bored cooling their heels in the palace and – avoiding Purandokht’s hyper-maternal oversight – sneak out to find the nation’s ultimate hero Rostam who might be the only hope to defeat Ahriman’s converging dark forces…

Modern Minoo meanwhile is still settling in at the University of Ohio in America. It is one year ago…

Her fellow Students are all very welcoming but the culture is so different in its minutiae and daily details. However, when she introduces herself to her father’s old friend Professor Yazdi she finds him with a charming young man discussing his Graduate Degree. His name is Tyler Clarke and he is obsessed with the culture and history of Iran. Even more so apparently, after meeting Minoo…

In the wilds of Persia, a wild ride and valiant quest at last leads the strange warriors to mighty Rostam and his wonder steed Rakhsh. Finishing off the demon he has been toying with the heroic marvel joyously accompanies them back to embattled Persepolis…

In Columbus as Tyler and Minoo get better acquainted, the scene suddenly shifts to Iran twelve years previously. The Shiraz family are fragmenting and the kids are dealing with Bijan and Manijeh’s divorce very differently. Jumping ahead seven years, the dutiful daughter is still arguing with dad after he’s been beaten up… again…

Rostam’s tumultuous return to Persepolis is none too soon: his glorious welcome parade is barely begun when the monster armies of Ahriman turn up…

Ten years ago in Tehran, Minoo finally gets to watch football-crazy Ramin play, even if the trip nearly gets her arrested. It’s the best game of his life and the last time she will ever see him…

The battle for Persepolis is long and hard and only the direct intervention of Ahura Mazda saves overmatched Minoo when her flame powers fail…

In America six months ago Tyler took Minoo camping and learned a lot about her, such as her family history and troubles and the fact that she is a demon with a game console…

“Here” as Persepolis reels from the catastrophic assault, “There” in Tehran twenty-one years ago another parental clash left Minoo alone with Daddy, who proudly read his little girl the far-from-bedtime story of the Seven Labours of Rostam

Although forced from the battlefield Ahriman is undeterred and directly attacks Purandokht in the palace. Although her formidable daughter is in time to drive the devil off, the queen is stricken by the beast’s poisons…

In Tehran eleven years ago the fractured family gather at the hospital. Manijeh’s chemotherapy has failed and surgery is now the only option. Minoo cannot comprehend her father’s reactions…

As before, glimpses of a greater truth come from a brace of Epilogues. The first sees Minoo in Columbus three months ago: Skypeing with the dad she still doesn’t trust but blithely unaware of the trouble he’s in, whilst the second focuses on Persepolis where a distraught daughter is confronted by the all-wise Griffon. He challenges the warrior woman’s understanding of her strangely incomplete existence and asks difficult questions about the father she cannot remember…

To Be Concluded…

Gilded with excerpts of classical poetry by Rumi (13th century Persian poet, jurist, scholar, theologian and Sufi Mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī AKA Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī or simply “our master”: very cool and totally worthy of your further attention…), this is a smart and subtle melding past and present, fact and fiction, revelling in exploiting reader expectation and confusion whilst crafting a beguiling multi-layered tale of family, responsibility, guilt, oppression and the hunger for independence which carries the reader along, promoting wonder and second-guessing whilst weaving a tantalising tapestry of mystery.

Engaging, rewarding and just plain refreshingly different, Persia Blues looks set to become a classic for all time…
© 2015 Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman.

As You Were volume 4: Living Situations


By various, compiled and edited by Mitch Clem & Avi Ehrlich (Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-822-5

Speaking as a doddering survivor of the first Punk Uprising, I admit to still hankering for those frenzied days of youthful indiscretion, impatient passions, a sense of being completely tangential to most folk around me and a clear idea of who “The Enemy” was.

At least I’m still utterly angry and discontented over inequality, political arrogance, corporate smugness, bigotry of every type and the First World’s poisonous assumption  that we all adhere to their vile philosophy of I’m-all-right-Jackery…

So it’s bloody wonderful to see some of those attitudes still surviving into this century: even if the issues are more about personal liberty and freedom of expression and lifestyle, rather than Fighting the Power or just being listened too…

As You Were is a periodic collection of strips by contemporary cartoonists who self-identify as “punk” and this fourth instance is dedicated to the precarious prospect of daily existence, gathered under one cardboard roof by Mitch Clem (creator of Nothing Nice to Say – arguably the first online punk comic) and Avi Erlich, designated adult of San Franciscan arts collective Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, who worked in conjunction with Last Gasp to produce this starkly monochrome digest-sized anthology collection.

Behind the Kriss Stress cover and following a fabulously illuminated contents section embroidered with a border by Autumn Ballard, the domestic diatribes (produce of more than one country) open with a frenetic depiction of ‘Tuesday Night at the Rad House’ from Liz Suburbia after which Ben Passmore details the fantastic rules controlling all dealings with ‘The Punklord’ and Shannon Knox examines the lives of the poor, abused cleaning utensils so seldom used by any house occupant in ‘Takes from the Kitchen Sink’.

‘I Grew Up in a Haunted House’ relates Liz Prince’s odd preoccupation with one room in a certain home after which James the Stanton visually and viscerally recalls a party which was out of this world in ‘Gnartoons’, Brad Dwyer and his partner find some ‘Common Ground’ in the raising of their kids and Evan Wolff vs Campus P.D. finds the author not-so nostalgic about college housing and student crash-pads in ‘One Time at the Hot Tub House’

Wondering if it’s booze or Ska music making everything so swirly in Mel’s ‘This Only Works When Everyone is Drunk’, we stagger on to enjoy Jim Kettner’s gleefully elegiac ‘Tales from the Bookhouse’, recounting the unique selling points of past temporary dwellings before Meg Has Issues realises ‘All Roommates are Asshole’ and Chris (Comics of Mass Distraction) Mindtree details a happy ending resulting from ‘2 Guys 1 Apartment’

‘Homecore’ by Josh PM Frees reveals the trials of two gentle scholarly souls searching for shelter whilst Andra Passen exposes herself in ‘Crowded thoughts and crooked teeth’ before the perennial new-student dilemma (no contraceptives!!!) surely evokes pained, fond memories for many of us as Steve Thueson remembers ‘July 2009’

Sam Grinberg shares a rowdy party experience in ‘Quiet’ before Rick V hilariously ‘Draws A Comic About Every Human He Has Lived With’ and Nomi Kane totally steals the show with ‘Nightmare on Milwaukee Avenue’ as the housemates have to deal with “that guy”: the lazy, shiftless one who has problems with the very concept of menstruation and other girl stuff…

Steve Larder offers a uniquely British outlook whilst recalling his time staying in ‘The Hippy House’ and Emily “Buckwheat” Timm scales flights of fantasy in ‘A Girl Can Dream’ with Joshum sustaining the escapism in fabulous pantomimic sci fi fable ‘Coming Home’.

World traveller Aimée Pijpers thoughtfully details her ‘Living Arrangements: a Timeline’ before true Brit Rob Cureton amuses and outrages with his ‘INFOMERCIAL’ for a very special old folks home after which Alex Barrett exposes the idiocy of the Tallahassee cops in ‘GCF’ and Rachel Dukes depicts a moment of pure romance in ‘Good Morning, Dracula’

Alex Krokus then shares a ‘House Meeting’ like so very many others and Sarah Graley intimately recalls ‘Elly’s Room’ after which Wyeth Yates gloriously predicts a happy future in the ‘Horse Latitudes’ before Ben Snakepit apologises for his many sins as a ‘Roomate from Hell’

‘Buying the Baron’s House’ is Erin K. Wilson’s silent tale told in two timeframes, relating the history of a home and its fate today whilst ‘There and Back Again’ finds Carolina Porras daydreaming as she packs up for another move. After Andy Warner graphically catalogues a ‘House Party’, Will Laren recapitulates a modern manifesto with ‘The People’s System’ before Lindsay Anne Watson pantomimically advocates that we ‘Settle Down’ to close this conference of cartoons.

With a full biography/contact section (for when you want to see more… and where) this is a wonderful collaborative colloquium of cartoon free expression to delight lovers of the comics game, but if your new to all this, British and of a certain age or maybe simply a devotee of anarchic comedy, the (long and disinfectant-dosed) handle you’re reaching for regarding much of this material is Mayall & Edmonton’s The Young Ones or Bottom, possibly by way of John Belushi in Animal House

However, whatever your age, stance or orientation, this splendid collection of funny, raucous, whimsical and thought-provoking graphic narrative is a delicious way of seeing how those kids you claim not to understand think – and surely that’s no bad thing?
Collection © 2015 Silver Sprocket. Contributions © 2015 by the individual authors.

Fires Above Hyperion


By Patrick Atangan (NBM/Comics/Lit)
ISBN: 978-1561639861

It’s long been an aphorism – if not outright cliché – that Gay (or more contemporarily LGBTQ) comics are the only place in the graphic narrative game where real romance still exists.

As far as I can see though it’s actually true; an artefact, I suppose, of a society which seems determined to demarcate and separate sex and love as two utterly different – and even opposite – things.

I’d prefer to think that here in the 21st century – or at least in the more civilised bits which actually acknowledge and welcome that times have changed – we’ve outgrown the juvenile, judgemental, bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving, wistful, sad and/or funny comics about ordinary people without any kind of preconception, but that battle’s still not completely won yet. Hopefully, thoughtful, inspirational memoirs such as this will aid that transition…

Californian Patrick Atangan (Songs of Our Ancestors, Invincible Days) is a multi-talented Filipino-American creator with many strings to his creative bow: as deft and subtle in his computer-generated comic tales and retellings of Asian myths as with the tools he uses to craft high-end designer furniture.

Now he’s added a wry, charming yet deeply moving collection of short intimate musings and recollections on his “romantic gaffes and failures” to his printed canon for youngsters and the results are enough to make the toughest cookie crumble…

Posited as if “Sex and the City had been created by a gay Charlie Brown” these utterly compelling, seditiously humorous slices of a life lived a little too much inside one’s own head kick off with chronological logic with the still-closeted Patrick attending his ‘Junior Prom’ as escort to obsessive beard Mildred, whose attention to detail and determination to make the event absolutely perfect cannot help but fail. At least the string of disasters the fervent Prom-zilla endures take the spotlight off his own failings, petty jealousies and perceived inadequacies…

‘Secrets’ skips ahead to the liberation of college as the introvert resolves to reinvent himself and begins an ongoing process of Outing which gradually encompasses friends, family and everybody new in his life. Sadly that in turn leads to a sort-of romance with Calvin who never really comes to terms with his own sexual identity…

On leaving academe, another character-building debacle involves ‘Gary’; someone our author considered far too lovely for a dweeb like him – and therefore something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – before eponymous vignette ‘The Fires Above Hyperion’ finds Patrick coolly contemplating the now-annual forest fires threatening Los Angeles whilst foolishly attempting to rekindle or reinvent the three-year relationship he has just ended with Roger

Eschewing his usual ‘New Year’s Eve’ ritual, the narrator attends a big party and suffers inebriation, gastric trauma and the humiliation of mistakenly putting the moves on a chain-smoking straight guy whilst ‘APE Shit’ reveals the sorry fallout of a trip to San Francisco to attend his first Alternative Press Expo in a decade: a concatenation of domestic disasters comprising old friends with new children, commuter congestion and a total change in the way Indy comics are sold. At least he connects with the gorgeous, seemingly ideal Bryan – before Fate and Patrick’s own conscience play a few pranks to spoil what might have been a perfect moment…

More notionally self-inflicted grief comes out of ignoring the custom of a lifetime and attending a wedding as a ‘Plus One’. Naturally he didn’t mind his “date” Julia going off with a guy, but when Patrick zeroes in on wonderful, apparently available Peter, events and the author’s own treacherous tuxedo conspire to make the soiree memorable for all the wrong reasons.

A heartbreakingly harsh assessment of Patrick’s failings then lead him to the dire conclusion that he is ‘Nobody’s Type’ before the excoriating romantic recriminations end with another ill-fated, self-sabotaged first date that founders because of too much introspection and an accumulation of ‘Baggage’

Insightful, penetrating, invitingly self-deprecating, guardedly hopeful and never afraid to be mistaken for morose when occasion demands, this collection of misjudged trysts and missed chances offers a charming glimpse at the eternally hopeful way most folks live their love-lives and the result is magical and unforgettable.

Atangan has stated that he is contemplating quitting comics, but after seeing this beguiling confection I’m sure a legion of fans hungry for more of his slick, stylish and earnest entertainments will be determined to change his mind…
© 2015 Patrick Atangan.

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist


By Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-895-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Awesomely Educative Treat for Mystery Lovers… 8/10

Starting life as an underground feature in 1971, Bill Griffith’s absurdist commentary on American society Zippy the Pinhead has grown into such a prodigious and pervasive counter-culture landmark that it’s almost a bastion of the civilisation it constantly scrutinises and ridicules. What I never suspected before and – according to the revelations stunningly catalogued and depicted in this powerful and absorbing Graphic Memoir, nor did he – was the subtle influence the gods of cartooning had been constantly exerting upon his family’s lives for generations…

As much a detective yarn and memorial to simpler (but just as complex) times as a straight biography, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist reveals how the cartoonist and social commentator (already long-schooled in the proud achievements of artistic ancestor and photographic pioneer William Henry Jackson) latterly uncovered further pictorial predecessors and briefly became an impassioned genealogist and investigator after an elderly uncle decided it was time to pass on a boxful of dusty family memorabilia.

An uneventful yet evocative journey from Connecticut to North Carolina – miles slowly passing as the traveller is immersed in internet research – starts memories flowing and when Uncle Alan then hands over a historical treasure trove the naturally contemplative cartoonist’s childhood memories are triggered and his instincts for a good story are piqued…

Bill’s thoughts continually return to his own childhood in Levittown when he and his passionate, beautiful, aspiring-author mother regularly posed for neighbour and legendary pulp illustrator Ed Emshwiller’s many magazine covers, and by the time the voyager stops discussing the past Bill is powerfully aware of just how real and earthy and fallibly human his relatives were.

As yet however the discourse still offers no insight into why his own cold, abusive father turned out the way he did…

Meticulous Alan is a mine of useful minutiae with his catalogue of familial foibles and passed-down stories, but even he is un aware of Barbara Griffith (nee Jackson)’s greatest indiscretion: a fifteen year, full-on tempestuous love affair with cartoonist, cartooning-teacher, publisher, comicbook pioneer, crime-writer and indefatigably restless entrepreneur Lawrence Lariar: an innocuously smooth operator who, although moderately successful for his entire life, was in many ways the Forgotten Man of Comics.

With the flow of information now going both ways, Bill shares the day in 1972 when word came of his dad’s imminent death and of how, in a moment of overwhelmed, grieving guilt and with the family gathered at the hospital, his mother the widow of mere minutes confessed that she had been wife in all but name to another man since 1957…

As Bill further re-examines his own memories, cross-referencing with pictures, diaries and his mother’s epic unpublished novel which clearly and cleanly transfers her complicated life into the refuge of putative fiction, a series of pictures starts to form…

Startlingly frank, scrupulously detailed, diligently analytical and brilliantly reconstructed using a variety of styles, this is a fact-filled, graphic tour de force which elevates the players to the rank of perfect archetypes whilst still leaving them authentic, living creatures we are convinced we know.

Superbly applying the techniques of fiction to the discipline of documentary, Invisible Ink is a wonderful leap forward in the growing genre of comics memoirs and one no serious reader can afford to miss.
© 2015 Bill Griffith. All rights reserved.

Chicago – a Comix Memoir


By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-878-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Momentous reading for Mature Minds… 9/10

One of the things comics can do better than almost any other medium is autobiography. Words are immensely potent but when wed to the images a confessor wants you to see and has devised especially for that purpose, the response is always immediate, visceral and permanent.

Cartoonist, illustrator and editor Glenn Head (Hot Wire, Snake Eyes, Weirdo) studied under Art Spiegelman at the School for Visual Art in the early 1980’s but has bided his time in commercial illustration for publications like Advertising Age, Screw, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal and with comix such as Guttersnipe and Head Shots before releasing his first graphic novel.

It was worth the wait…

In monochrome hardback Chicago Head has turned a harsh, stark spotlight on his own life, literally baring all as he details how a troubled teenaged virgin from New Jersey turned his back on the American Dream – as well as his own personal hopes and aspirations – touching bottom and courting madness before reaching his current (still tenuous) state.

Following an incisive Introduction from Phoebe Gloeckner, the history lesson begins in a graveyard in the Garden State. “Glen” is nineteen and troubled, but not necessarily unhappy: he’s just painfully aware that he doesn’t fit in.

It’s the summer of 1977 and he’s obsessed with the cartoons and paraphernalia of the hippie Counterculture which is experiencing its death-throes. Dad works on Wall Street and desperately wants to understand why his son seems at such a loss. The boy doesn’t even seem that happy to be going to Art School in Cleveland, even though he claims that’s what he wants…

What Glenn wants most, however, is Sarah: his best friend and a girl appallingly emotionally scarred by the treatment she has receive from her Holocaust-Survivor parents. She’s already well down the road to dissolution though: pregnant, a runaway and being used to turn tricks by her latest scumbag boyfriend…

The season turns and Glen reluctantly reports to the Cleveland Institute of Art, his intolerant, abrasive attitude winning him few friends amongst staff or students. There’s something indefinably wrong inside his head and before long he drops out and begins panhandling to survive. A casual conversation with another student attains the status of a sign from God and Glen – who we’re starting to think might suffer from manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder – abruptly hitchhikes to Chicago, determined to sell cartoons to Playboy magazine…

And thus begins an intense period of privation, hallucination, harassment by hustlers, constant danger and creeping horror, all punctuated by unexpected kindnesses from strangers, rejections, connections and moments of incomprehensible good fortune as chance meetings with Muhammad Ali and Robert Crumb begin to turn the street kid’s life around…

‘Decompression’ sees Glen back in comfortably suburban Madison, N.J. in January 1978, thanks to his amazingly understanding yet still-uncomprehending father, but although the threat of imminent starvation and murder have faded, the boy is still at risk – from his own actions after a telephone conversation with ideal inamorata Sarah’s manic mother and his own father’s poorly hidden handgun…

The final section of this diary occurs in 2010 as Brooklyn-dwelling single-dad Glen gets an email one morning. Sarah, the one that got away, the great missed opportunity, has tracked him down and wants to meet up. Is this his chance to stop being that painful, pathetic, unresolved 19-year old virgin at last?

Breathtakingly candid, intoxicatingly forthright and irresistibly visually exhilarating, Chicago is a stunning examination of the power of obsessions and memories and potential roadmap to finding your own identity as long as you have the nerve and stomach to try…
Chicago © 2015, Glenn Head. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.