The World of Ginger Fox

By Mike Baron and Mitch O’Connell (Comico)
ISBN: 0-938965-02-6

Let’s all pop back to the ever-so-now 1980s with this stylish and radically different kind of graphic novel that pretty much typified and encapsulated the dichotomies of the age of Big Hair and Brash Money.

Peppertree Studios used to be one of the biggest players in Hollywood, until the somber 1970s saw ill-conceived, big, worthy movies almost bankrupt the company. Now the dissolute boys-club of greedy old men who own the company are so desperate that they hire a woman to save or kill the studio. After all, they have nothing to lose…

Amidst a welter of rumour, innuendo and open hostility, Ginger Fox blows into town and into a storm of trouble as she drags the company kicking and screaming back towards profits and safety. Along the way she encounters psychotic, crazed art-house directors, rowdy martial-arts prima donnas, drugs and thugs and sabotage from within by two-faced back-stabbers who don’t like taking orders from a pretty young woman and especially not a single-mom, Hollywood outsider…

The tale takes a swift side-step into the weird – and lavishly violent – when a Martial Arts secret society threatens to kill anybody connected with the new movie that inadvertently reveals their sacred Negative Kung Fu technique to anybody and everybody with the price of a movie ticket.

Despite warnings from cops and Hong Kong action-star Jason Wu, Ginger refuses to worry – at least until the “accidents” start to happen and the bodies start to pile up. Meanwhile, one of her own directors is trying to oust her and Peppertree’s biggest remaining star is spiraling out of control on addictive binges…

This mélange of glamour, fashion, excess and sheer over-the-top style is an unbelievably heady and enticing brew, especially thanks to the sleek, beautiful, high-end art and design of O’Connell; a canny cultural scavenger whose slick blend of caricature, pop iconography and surreal whimsy elevate this tale to unprecedented heights of verve and dash.

Sexy, cinematically violent and wickedly tongue-in-cheek, this adult comics caper is markedly different from almost anything you’ve ever seen and thoroughly deserves another bite of the graphic novel cherry. If they’re bringing back the ‘80s, you’re going to need this to remind you that it wasn’t all dreadful…
Story © 1986 Mike Baron. Artwork © 1986 Mitch O’Connell. All rights reserved.

Culture Corner

By Basil Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-308-8

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind, a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others. Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909 he worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist, and unlike most cartoonists of his time preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction he sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929 (the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material Wolverton adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, working extensively in the new medium of comic-books, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, the grimly imaginative, (unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk for Target Comics and Rockman, “Underground Secret Agent” for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

He also produced a seemingly endless supply of comedy features ranging from extended series such as superman/boxing parody ‘Powerhouse Pepper’ to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as ‘Bedtime Bunk’, ‘Culture Quickie’ and ‘Bedtime Banter’.

In 1946 he famously won a national competition held by Al Capp of Li‘l Abner fame to visualise “Lena the Hyena”, that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom produced some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton had been a member of Herbert W. Armstrong’s (prototype televangelist of a burgeoning fundamentalist movement) Radio Church of God since 1941. In 1956 he illustrated the founder’s pamphlet ‘1975 in Prophecy’. Two years later Wolverton produced a stunning interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last and began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled ‘The Bible Story: the Story of Man’ which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. In many ways these religious works are his most moving and powerful.

In 1973 he returned to the world of comic books, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but suffered a stroke the next year. He died on December 31st 1978.

Now Fantagraphics have collected a spectacular haul of Wolverton’s very best gag feature in a uniquely informative hardback. Culture Corner ran as a surreal and screwball half-page “advice column” in Whiz Comics as well as Marvel Family and The Daisy Handbook from 1946 to 1955 when publisher Fawcett sold off its comic division to Charlton Comics – including the very last unpublished strips. The cartoonist was clearly a meticulous creator, and his extensive files have bequeathed us a once-in-a-lifetime insight into his working practice and the editorial exigencies of the period.

Wolverton sent a fully penciled rough of each proposed episode to Will Lieberson and Virginia Provisiaro (Executive editor and Whiz Comic’s editor respectively) who would comment and commission or reject. The returned pencils would then form the skeleton of the instalment. This lovely madcap tome re-presents the full colour strip with almost all of the original pencil roughs, (diligently stored by Wolverton for decades) as counterpoint and accompaniment, revealing the depth not only of Wolverton’s imagination at play but also his deft facility with design and inking. Also included are some extra roughs and all the extent rejected ideas – some of the most outrageous tomfoolery ever unleashed.

Wolverton was something of an inventor and DIY maestro according to his son Monte’s illuminating introduction, and turned the family home into a dream-house Rube Goldberg or our own Professor Brainstawm would be proud of, and that febrile ingenuity is clearly seen in the advisements of Croucher K. Conk Q.O.C. (Queer Old Coot) as with awesome alliteration and pre-Rap rhyming riffs he suggests solutions for some of life’s least tiresome troubles.

Among the welter of whacky wisdoms imparted some of the most timelessly true are ‘How to Raise Your Eyebrows’, ‘How to Eat your Spaghetti without Getting Wetty’, ‘How to Clap without Mishap’, ‘How to Stop Brooding if your Ears are Protruding’, ‘How to Bow’ and ‘How to Grope for Bathtub Soap’ amongst more than a hundred other sage prescriptions, but whatever your age, alignment or species this crazy chronicle has something that will change your life – and often for the better!

Graphically grotesque, inveterately un-sane and scrupulously screwball, this lexicon of lost laughs is a must have item for anyone in need of a classy cheering up.

© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Little Nothings volume 3: Uneasy Happiness

By Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-576-4

With over 35 books in just about ten years, Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators, a writer for many of the continent’s most popular artists – such as Fabrice Parme (‘Le Roi Catastrophe’, Vénézia’), Manu Larcenet (‘Les Cosmonautes du futur’), José Parrondo (‘Allez Raconte’ and ‘Papa Raconte’) and Thierry Robin (‘Petit Père Noël’), the originator of such global hits as the Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot sequence and, with Joann Sfar, the ‘Donjon’ (Dungeon) series of nested fantasy epics (see the translated Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: The Early Years) and also a cartoonist of uncanny wit, piercing, gentle perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy.

This third collected volume of his anthropomorphic cartoon blog sees him amicably nit-picking and musing his way through the life of an old comic creator: travelling to conventions, making stories and dealing with the distressingly peculiar modern world.

Evocatively recoloured for book publication these one and two page ruminations and anti-dramas range from his inability to de-clutter (every comic maven’s weakness!), public toilet etiquette, gadgets, marriage, parenthood, mice in the bookshelves, how mad cats are, brilliant ideas that come when you’re asleep, computers and getting old, interspersed with reactions to the many wonderful places he has visited on the comics convention circuit (Venice, Portugal, Fiji, Australia and others in this volume).

I first became aware of Trondheim’s subtly enchanting vignettes in Fantagraphics’ Mome comics anthologies, and it’s a sheer delight to see his cartoon philosophy gathered into such handy tomes for constant re-reading. This is probably the most pleasing graphic novel I’ve reviewed this year, and I’m off now to get the previous two volumes.

I strongly suggest that if you need a little non-theological, un-theosophical spiritual refreshment you do the same…

© 2010 Trondheim. English translation © 2010 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Old Jewish Comedians

Old Jewish Comedians 

By Drew Friedman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 10: 1-56097-741-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-56097-741-4

Technically, this isn’t a graphic novel or trade collection, it’s a picture book. But when it’s a series of drawings depicting a procession of Jewish American Comedians in their wrinkly twilight years by the absolute master of pencil rendering and ironic nostalgia I’m prepared to bend whatever rules I need to in order to make more people aware.

Friedman can just plain draw. His caricatures are powerful, resonant and joyful. He at once captures what these wizened laugh-smiths were about, and gives them a beer-goggles beauty that our generation of comedy fans just doesn’t see in recordings of the performers. A book for true art collectors, whatever their particular fascination.

© 2006 Drew Friedman. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard, Volume 5

Boneyard, Volume 5

By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN 1-56163-479-4

Boneyard goes from strength to strength. This black and white collection (there’s also a line of books collecting these self-same issues of the comic book series in full colour) features the young guy who inherited a cemetery and the extremely engaging gang of goblins, monsters and out and out weirdoes who inhabit it in more sharp, funny and endearing horror comedy for the lost generation.

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by really nasty types who have evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy is in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with genuine humanity when necessary. And he’s disarmingly honest too, apparently, as this book begins with the last chapter of the previous story-arc, which he seemingly “forgot” to include at the end of the previous volume. Doesn’t someone like that deserve your money? Especially if he’s going to plough it back into making more great comic stories?

© 2004, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming

The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming 

By Frank Stack

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-780-9

One of the earliest exponents of the US counter-culture, at least in terms of his contributions to Underground Comix, Frank (Foolbert Sturgeon) Stack has sadly missed out on the benefits of fame and notoriety of such contemporaries as Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb.

He may well be the perpetrator of the first ever underground (a split decision with the late Jack Jackson, both of whom released work in 1964 – although a collection of stack’s doodles was compiled and Xeroxed by Shelton in 1962-3 as “The Adventures of Jesus”) but I’m sure he’s not that bothered. What is important is that these throwaway scribbles by all these weirdo drop-out freaks changed the nature of comics and did a huge amount to reshape the society they came from.

Stack’s weapon of choice was Jesus Christ, whom he made the star of an occasional series of strips satirising America which appeared between 1964 and (since there’s new material in this collection) the present day.

A lot of the bite may seem dissipated by time, but that simply shows how effective and successful they were – and actually still are. Many people have pondered on what the Messiah would do if he came back today, but no-one else could deliver the gentle, telling punches of The Dog Messiah, Jesus Meets the Armed Services (released at the height of the Vietnam War), Jesus Joins the Academic Community or Jesus on Ice, and, as the brand new Jesus Meets Intellectual Property Rights shows, there’s room — and still a need for — Stack’s style of commentary.

This collection is extensive, informative (as well as a commentary from Stack, there are pieces from both Crumb and Shelton) but above all, fun to read. You might not get Saved but you will get your money’s worth in entertainment.

Text & art © 2006 Frank Stack. All Rights Reserved.
This edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books.

Scott Pilgrim Vol 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness

Scott Pilgrim Vol 3 

By Bryan Lee O’Malley

Oni Press

O’Malley’s Manga-styled tales of an adorable boy-idol slacker, shambling his way through a contemporary, if somewhat skewed, life is a gentle stroll through a world that manages to feel warmly nostalgic no matter what age you are or where you grew up. Scott Pilgrim is young, lazy and gorgeous, shares a flat with his cool, gay best mate, plays in a band and has girlfriend hassles. He lives his life from moment to moment and manages to keep a moist grip on both angst and hormones.

The third outing for the world’s most precious slacker sees his life-challenges spiral to unbelievable heights and depths. Ramona, his new girlfriend, has revealed that before they can find eternal happiness – or at least date – Scott must defeat her seven previous boyfriends – who are all Evil and Mighty! The complications keep on abounding as Evil Boyfriend #3 is Todd, who is currently seeing Scott’s ex! To make things worse, she’s in a more famous band than Scott and is determined to make him suffer.

This extraordinary blend of pop and sub-culture, replete with ninjas, bionic chicks, teen rebellion and sheer surreal cartoonery is absolutely irresistible reading for anyone who’s got a brain and a secret desire to try being young just one more time. Funny, compelling and probably addictive, and so entertaining you could probably dance to it. This is another great comic book. Go buy it now, and don’t miss the first two either.

™ & © 2006 Bryan Lee O’Malley. All Rights Reserved.