Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Goon

I’m just not sure what to make of Eric Powell’s The Goon. The books at one point can make me laugh out loud, and at another I think, well, that just ain’t right ….

My Murderous Childhood (And Other Grievous Yarns)
has more than its share of hilarity. “Goon, some weird guy with a big robot wants a word with you outside,” one character informs the protagonist. “Aw, fer Christ! If it ain’t one thing it’s another,” the Goon replies, as if this is an almost-everyday occurrence.

True, the Goon and his pals don’t live in Munchkin Land. Their violent, grim town is filled with zombies, mad scientists, carnival lowlifes, mobsters and giant derby-wearing spiders who’ve skipped out on their alimony payments.

Mayhem often builds to absurdity, and there are many references to “migrating orangutans that mysteriously burst into flames.” And isn’t that Bob Dylan as the King Hobo?

Powell’s visceral art surely reveres the old Vault of Horror/Tales From the Crypt comics, except with more punch.

And I guess that may be Powell’s point. This is a 1940s-era boy’s idea of a tough guy’s adventure book — where disagreements are settled with a clomp on the head with a grave-digger’s shovel, and humor is found in poisoning rival pie-eating contestants and a “moron” smearing his feces on a living room wall ….

After all, it’s the Goon himself who proclaims, “There ain’t nothin’ more self rewardin’ than tauntin’ the mentally handicapped!”

I’d suggest you could take what you like and leave the rest, but suspect the Goon wouldn’t approve of such “sissy” sentiment.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Cartoonist

The documentary The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone and Changing Face of Comics tells a story many of us would like to believe could be true for everyone: Hard work and talent win out.

Now out on DVD — I received a copy as a Christmas gift (thanks again, Carole) — The Cartoonist relives Columbus-native Smith’s rise from creator of a handsome Ohio State University campus newspaper comic strip; to his work as an animator; to producing and distributing his own comic book (at least until he convinced his wife to take over as business manager); to Scholastic Books, publisher of Harry Potter, picking up Bone and giving it new life in vivid color. (Read my earlier post on Bone here.)

Talking heads along with Smith himself include Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar (who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, remember), Ohio State Cartoon Research Library curator Lucy Shelton Caswell (gosh, I haven’t seen her in years), Paul Pope and Terry Moore. (See my post on Moore’s Strangers in Paradise here.)

While the documentary is always chatty and entertaining —Smith tells of living in a cabin while filling orders and packing boxes to send sometimes fewer than a handful of comic books to stores — I would have liked a bit more discussion of technique and process. Smith’s work appears deceptively simple — think Walt Kelly and Charles Schultz. It’d be great to hear him talk about that.
But probably the producers, Columbus production house Mills James Productions, was aiming for a more general audience.

Maybe next time. Otherwise, this is highly recommended viewing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics

Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s new anthology, The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, contains exactly what the title boasts — a smorgasbord of comics from 1945 through 1958 that includes Uncle Wiggily, Droopy, Supermouse, Little Lulu, Dennis the Menace and Sugar and Spike, among other wily children and wacky animals.

I have to admit these were before my time. I did read Sheldon Mayer’s Sugar and Spike — the mischievous toddlers whose “baby talk” could be understood only by each other — so that must have lasted into the 1960s or been reprinted. Certainly I recall Dennis and Walt Kelly’s wonderful Pogo as black-and-white newspaper strips, and Uncle Wiggily as a board game. But the rest exist as legend.

And that’s probably the key to appreciating these brightly colored samplings for those of us too young to wax nostalgic. Today we can admire the formidable art of Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge, Jules Feiffer’s Clifford, Dr. Seuss’s Gerald McBoing Boing ….

There also are other great cartoonists represented here who went on to fame, such as those future MAD magazine geniuses Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Davis and Dave Berg. (See my post on Kurtzman here.) Plus, this collection contains Pogo and his pals before they became politicized.

Another reason to treasure this treasury is to remember a time when comics came with a message, if not necessarily the one parents expected. One Dennis book ends with his mother comforting him with the adage that “Nothing (sad) matters as long you have at least one good friend.” With that, Dennis perks up and rushes off to share his “samwich” with his one good friend, his dog Ruff.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Captain Easy Update is now showing Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune won’t be released until March 13, not in January as Fantagraphics earlier had stated.

I couldn’t make head nor tails of Fantagraphics’s web site, so I don’t know if there actually has been a delay with the publisher.
(Typing “Captain Easy” in the search box got me nowhere.)

More news as it develops ….

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sad Stories

I can’t move on from Ivan Brunetti’s worthy Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories (see my Dec. 22, 2009, post here) without cautioning that a lot of these stories are really, really depressing. It seems lots of contemporary sequential-art collections are.

I don’t specifically mean Art Spiegelman’s holocaust memoir masterpiece, Maus, which is excerpted in this book, but so many of the other stories that are sad at every turn of day-to-day life — Tony Millionaire’s dead birds, Debbie Drechsler’s sexually abused girls, Charles Burns’s domestic violence, the lonely childhood of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan …. My goodness.

I’m not saying some of these aren’t good art, either, with topics worth exploring. Jaime Hernandez’s “Flies on the Ceiling,” charting how Isabel, one his long-running characters, slowly loses her mind, is brilliant, for example. (And I realize I’m not the first to point this out.)

But, gosh, a little more joy in this collection would’ve added something closer to a balance of light and dark.