Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More on Journey Into Mohawk Country

Last Sunday’s New York Times carried a story about Charles T. Gehring, who for 35 years has been translating 17 century court records, letters and other documents from New Netherland (New York) from the original Dutch. Imagine my surprise to come across a reference to George O’Connor’s graphic novel, Journey Into Mohawk Country. (See my post on that book here.)

For his book, O’Connor used Gehring’s translations of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert’s journal, which detailed the barber-surgeon’s travels through Mohawk Valley in 1634.

The NYT story tells more about van den Bogaert’s life after the adventures of Journey Into Mohawk Country. He became commander of Fort Orange (in what is now Albany), but tried to escape into native American country after colonists learned he was gay. The Dutch colonists, apparently not particularly open-minded on this issue in those days, dragged him back. But he escaped again “when a sheet of floating ice damaged the fort,” the NYT reports, only to drown in the Hudson River.

Oh, and van den Bogaert likely was an ancestor of actor Humphrey Bogart. Here’s looking at you, Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Criminally Good

Issue number three of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s “The Sinners” just came out, part of their Criminal series. If you’re old enough to see over the steering wheel of your old man’s car, you ought to go grab a copy, as one of the characters might say.

As with their six-part Incognito series (about a witness-protection program for super villains), Criminal (about, well, criminals) offers a perfect blend of narration and art: Brubaker’s hard-boiled Mickey Spillane-ish text — “Her sadness … her loneliness … they got to a place deep inside him. Much as he hated to admit it.” — and Phillips’s anguished, scarred and scared characters — faces half in shadows, tormented eyes averted — move the story along at dangerous speed. You’re almost afraid everyone’s going to crash and burn before the murder mystery is resolved.
Take a look at Criminal. Then dip back for Incognito, now available in a collected edition, or the earlier run of the Criminal series, also now collected in one book.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

O, Nancy: An Anthology of Graphic Fiction

Oh, I get it now. After all this time, after reading how Robert Crumb claimed he had his daughter home-schooled in France with old Little Lulu comic books, and noting the frequent references by Bill Griffith and Patrick McDonnell to Nancy comic strips, I finally see what the attraction is, thanks to Ivan Brunetti’s book, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories.

I admit I never thought Nancy in particular was especially clever, even when I read them as a child. I mostly recall cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller’s drawings of “hippies” as wearing torn clothes and always possessing guitars with broken strings and lots of flies. He seemed to confuse free-spiritedness with sloth and dishonesty.

But in his anthology’s introduction, Brunetti uses a 1958 strip about Nancy dreaming she’s being boiled, steamed and baked to demonstrate “algebraically balanced composition,” rhythm and efficiency. The final panel shows the girl waking up in bed to discover she’s been buried under a mountain of winter coats and hats. Each garment is clearly distinguishable from the other, by checks, stripes or dots.

“… The graphic clarity of the pile of coats … in lesser hands could have been turned into a gray, undifferentiated mush. Clutter was never depicted so unclutteredly,” he writes.


The anthology itself has a lot about Charles Schultz and nothing about Will Eisner, and with samples from Crumb, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (but not Mario), Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Seth and Art Spiegelman, among the other usual suspects.

More later on this book.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Groovy Atomics

Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, once wrote that Michael Allred’s It Girl was “the cutest girl in the history of comics.” What about Allred’s art could render such an achievement?

For one thing, there’s the way her just-shoulder-length yellow hair frames her heart-shaped face. There’s her tight pink top with lots of exposed midriff. And there’s that gun belt, slanted across her hips, whose holsters carry not weapons but makeup — she uses the holsters as a purse.

Isn’t that perfect for a 21st century cute girl crime fighter?

It Girl is one of the Atomics, a team of beatniks — yes, that’s right — who were mutated, first with putrid-looking skin, then with super powers.

Beatniks who talk a lot and who spend a good deal of time getting lost in alternate dimensions and worrying about who has a chance with whom (“Luna!” “Oh, Adam!”). In their run of 15 comic books under their own name, they were involved in one actual attempt to stop a crime — against the bank-robbing Skunk (yes, that’s right) — and they really didn’t do so well.

But that’s not the point. The Atomics (released in large trade paperback format as Madman and the Atomics, Madman being the more commercially successful Allred character) may look reminiscent of Ant Man, Iron Man and Plastic Man, but they’re about running, jumping and having adventures, never mind any heavy-duty sci-fi plot details.

One cover line, designed a la Jack Kirby, one of Allred’s influences, reads: “One Will Die!! But Who? And For How Long?!” On another cover, Zapman (not absolutely sure why he’s called that) cries, “My mom ate my dad! How do you think I feel?”

It’s all about the flow, daddy-o.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

9 Chickweed Lane: I-Spy

Brooke McEldowney’s 9 Chickweed Lane is an odd strip. As an illustrator, he has an excellent eye, especially for the feminine form. Too often, however, the strip is about cats or some old guy in bib overalls named Thorax, who believes he communes with the cosmos. It’s full of too much New Hampshire whimsy.

But every so often an uncharacteristic storyline gets a stranglehold on events, and something, well, truly interesting happens. An earlier storyline followed two characters in a music competition overseas and their own unfolding passionate love story, which to their mix of horror and delight got transmitted on YouTube. (In sibling Pigborn, the characters of Chickweed played out A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

The current Chickweed story is a flashback, in which the grandmother tells her daughter of her WWII days singing for the USO — until she was recruited by U.S. military intelligence to entertain German POWs, hold their hands and listen to their deepest secrets … including, G2 hopes, about troop strength, movement and the like.

“When I reached out and they held my hands, they seemed saddest, and so happy to talk,” Edna recalls.

But her deepest challenge came from non-Germans. “Somehow people knew I had been visiting a POW camp, and I could feel their hostility. I consorted with the enemy … and the enemy were killers as far as they were concerned.”

She also remembers the English anger with the Yanks, who arrived late, again, to the war. “So then I showed up, gliding into and out of POW camps to sing to Germans. I began to wonder whose ally I really was. And I couldn’t explain it to anybody.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Red Monkey, Part 2

Joe Daly’s The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book contains two stories — the first is “The Leaking Cello Case” and the second is “John Wesley Harding,” which is about twice as long. In this case, shorter is better.

While “John Wesley Harding,” concerning the search for the missing eponymous capybara in the South African wetlands, has its moments of fun and humor, and maintains Daly’s clear lines, it doesn’t have the pace of the first story.

But it does have a great punchline. Dave, talking about his girlfriend, says: “Well, I’ll definitely have to break up with her now … seeing that I disintegrated her father and all.”

That pretty much makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Red Monkey

Joe Daly’s The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book has humor such as this:

The protagonist, Dave, was born with the feet of a howler monkey. He can climb trees and apartment buildings with equal ease. And, as drawn by Daly, he has the face of a monkey, too.

The characters talk like this, as sponger best friend Paul describes the didgeridoo he just used to konk a bad guy who was trafficking in South American cane toads for their hallucinogenic mucus: “Used correctly, it can be a deadly weapon. It’s strange, man, usually I’m a pacifist. I must have stored up quite a lot of rage over the years. I mean, if you think about it, man, the word ‘pacifist’ has the word ‘fist’ in it. I mean, I don’t know what that means, or anything … yeah, it’s probably largely irrelevant … I don’t know.”

It’s silly, it’s absurd. It’s also kind of funny.

More later.