Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Escapists, Part 2

The first time I read it, the story of The Escapists continually surprised me, and the art’s marvelous style represents different time periods and moods is at turns cartoony and goofy, sexy and exciting, or scratchy and dark where appropriate.

And then there’s that truly clever introduction to the book by Michael Chabon himself, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, relating the one, brief sweet meeting between fictional Sam Clay, now old and lost in the hallways while attending a comic book convention, and the young and very real Brian K. Vaughan (writer of The Escapists), in the same hotel for a youth baseball recognition banquet.

Another great thing about The Escapists is its approach to the blood,sweat and tears of putting together a comic book. The illustrator talks about how her hand doesn’t cramp because drawing is the only time she feels free. The letterer loves the control of creating precise, tiny letters in precise, tiny boxes.

The Escapists is many things, all of them good. One of those things is being a love letter to those who made and continue to make comic books. It’s a wonderful life.

One of the illustrators is Eduardo Barreto, who draws Judge Parker. See my post on that comic strip here as well as a post on his leaving that strip here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Judge Parker

Gosh, I must be psychic. Last week in this blog I wondered why Edward Barreto’s art on the Judge Parker comic strip these days didn’t appear to be up to his usual high standard.

In his blog for yesterday (which I just read today), illustrator Michael Manley announced he’s taking over illustration duties on Judge Parker when Barreto retires next month. Manley
cites health concerns as Barreto’s reason for leaving the strip. Which is great for Manley, but I’ll be sorry to see Barreto go. His art has been wonderful.

See Manley’s post here, in which he claims to be a “fan of the classic comic strip.”

You can read my post extolling Barreto’s talents on The Escapists in the second part of my post on that book, which will be up tomorrow, Feb. 25.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Escapists, Part 1

“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

Before reading The Escapists, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by bunches of people, it might help to have read Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. But, as with the irrelevant reading order of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, don’t let that hold you back.

The story-within-a-story carries the conceit that a young man named Max Roth buys the publishing rights to a World War II-era comic book character named the Escapist, created by Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, with the intent of reviving the series.

Except we know Kavalier and Clay are the fictional protagonists in Michael Chabon’s book. And there’s the added touch that The Escapists takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, birth place of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, creators of Superman.

With that faux and real-life heritage laid before us, The Escapists weaves its story in and out of Max and his friends’ efforts to publish their new comic book series, the adventures of their new Escapist hero in the comic book … and in between, with the costumed crime fighter’s plights overlapping Max’s troubles.

And there’s even an early nod to Huck Finn — the letterer has been transcribing the novel to perfect his craft ….

More to come on this excellent series in Part 2.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Zot!, Part 2

The most intriguing section of Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection, by Scott McCloud, comes in the middle with “The Ghost in the Machine.”

The plot involves the attempted assassination of the president and his family, and a truly sinister bad guy called, oddly enough, 9-Jack-9, who appears as a sort of electric avatar.

In his notes, McCloud, now probably better known as the author of Understanding Comics, concedes this is probably his darkest Zot! story.

“Every major villain I created for the series represented a different potential future, and level of credibility I assigned to that future determined the gravity of the character,” McCloud writes. “9-Jack-9 represented the most credible of all those futures — the very real possibility that technology, for all its benefits, would eventually do us all in.”

The story may be dark, but in this black-and-white collection that bit of weight makes for deeper reading.

Read my earlier post on Zot! here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Zot!, Part 1

I considered giving up about a quarter of the way in to Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection, by Scott McCloud, who’s become better known as the author of Understanding Comics.

The characters just weren’t that interesting, and the super hero storyline seemed like a send-up — “Lies! Balderdash! You never would have survived my first assault without your infernal gun!” bellows villain Doctor Ignatius Rumbault Bellows.

But in his notes between sections, McCloud discusses his thoughts on comics and how Zot! changed over time, to be less about super hero adventuring and more about human interaction. So I skipped ahead.

In “Ring in the New,” some three-quarters of the way in, one of Zot’s friends is arrested for operating his parents’ car with only a learner’s permit. “Dad won’t pay for driving lessons and he just won’t take the time to teach me,” Digger moans.

“Look, do you want me to talk to him, Digger? He always listened to me,” friend Vic volunteers.

“Would you really do that, Vic? I sure would appreciate it ….”

“C’mon, let’s go.”

Oh, my. I’m not certain which is more unrealistic — that dialogue or the notion of a father who’ll take counsel from his teen-aged son’s teen-aged pal.

But there are some good bits in Zot!, mostly with a bad guy called 9-Jack-9 ….

More to come.

Scott McCloud interviewed Jeff Smith, creator of Bone, on the DVD The Cartoonist. See my post here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Judge Parker

Wait, is that still Eduardo Barreto drawing Judge Parker? Maybe the artist has been rushed lately, or he’s on vacation. But the strips the past few days look like someone’s trying to imitate Barreto.

That would be a shame if he’s moved on. It was only about a year ago when both Judge Parker and Rex Morgan M.D. — both written by Woody Wilson — debuted a new look straight out of Milton Caniff’s World War II pin-up days.

The women in those two strips all became — well, there’s no other way to say this — hot.

Judge Parker in the past year has introduced one femme fatale after another, each dangerous and wearing very little in the way of clothing.

In Rex Morgan, as drawn by Graham Nolan, once-demur nurse June Gale herself has taken to dressing like a Victoria’s Secret model. In a storyline last May, to cite one memorable example, while she, Rex and their daughter were on an ocean cruise, June paraded about the ship in a bikini so revealing other passengers stopped to stare. And more than one panel showed her striking poses to lure her physician-husband into a closer examination of their suite’s mattress.

Voyeurism aside, this new-old look brings an accompanying attention to overall detail in all the panels — in the slit of the woman’s skirt, the snap of the man’s tux and the lines of his sports car, the olive in her martini glass …. It’s better art across the board, and that’s a good thing.

But in case you haven’t noticed, such well-rendered characters — and fine drawing — in contemporary popular daily comics is unusual. As I say, you’d have to go back almost to the 1950s to find similarly stylized women and men. Unless of course you count the Girls in Apartment 3G (later to be demoted to just Apartment 3G). Tommie, Margo and what’s her name up until relatively recently were rendered with an eye toward attracting the men folk.

Then, with a change in illustrators, the sex appeal — and the better art itself — moved from the third floor to the basement. We lost the view.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Corto Clothes

Attention, Corto shoppers. A company in Italy is now selling Corto Maltese sailor jackets, in short and long styles. For the true fans, I guess.

You’ll find the store directly here. No, I can’t read Italian, either, so here’s a description — in roughly translated English — at the Hugo Pratt-Corto Maltese site. (Note the reference to a “voluntarily aged’ version of the pea coat.) Just click on the jacket photo.

Oh, and if you want to read my posts about the books themselves, go here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Red Eye, Black Eye

K. Thor Jensen’s book Red Eye, Black Eye reminds me of some of the episodes you’d hear on This American Life. The difference is I’m not sure the protagonist of this book learns anything by the end, one of the requirements for inclusion on the Chicago Public Radio show.

Jensen’s book relates his two-month, cross-country Greyhound bus trip, staying with folk most of whom he’s met only through the Internet. His hosts are a mixed bunch, as you might expect, and none live a luxurious life.

Jensen’s drawings here are intentionally spare, and the characters don’t say much as the panels are small. But each host is given space to tell Thor an allegedly true story — brief and invariably weird. The funniest is Jeff’s, about a Boston neighborhood kid who’d demand people repeat odd phrases, all of which began with “smeeny knucklehead,” such as, “Say smeeny knucklehead Batman’s better then Superman.” Jeff ends his tale with “I heard rumors that he later wound up in juvie for something, but I dunno what.” The picture shows the boy, slightly older, behind bars and shouting, “Guard! Hey, guard! Say smeeny knucklehead ….”

Thor early on declares one of his goals on his “hobo trip” is to get a black eye. Given how he behaves, particularly in a Columbus, Ohio, bar, I’m surprised he doesn’t end up with one, and a fat lip, too.

Must be hobo luck, as Thor might say.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Beto, Part 2

Gilbert Hernandez always seems to have two things, at least, going on at once.

His best stories are funny, but they also display an incredibly deep river of sadness. His characters are wacky and good-looking, they speak continually of love and lust, but they abandon their children with the blink of an eye.

And while his characters tell us one thing, his drawings sometimes show us something else.

In a 1993 four-page story called “Pipo,” included in his Human Diastrophism book, one of the Palomar collections, the title character reflects how her fashion business did so well “I had to fire my old seamstresses and hire faster, young ones. Yeah, I know; but that’s another story.”

Her comment refers to earlier remarks by other characters about the lovely Pipo’s employment practices. But more prominent is the image Hernandez shows us. As Pipo talks, we see smoke billowing behind her on the horizon.

Just how does she mean she “fired” those older seamstresses?

Read my earlier post on Gilbert Hernandez here. And on his brother and co-creator of Love & Rockets, Jaime Hernandez, here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Gilbert Hernandez is a genius.

I’ve been rereading his Love & Rockets Palomar stories and I’m impressed once more with his brilliance. His characters are funny, sad, kind, cruel, smart and stupid, they dance, they cry, they lust and love, and they murder: The brilliance is they behave very much as real people. And like one of Dickens’s massive novels — Bleakhouse or Little Dorrit come to mind — Hernandez’s stories support dozens of characters, each one finely detailed, and over long stretches of their individual lives.

In Human Diastrophism, for example, we see how a “ghost tree” mentioned in an introductory short, short story reveals the fate of one misbegotten character near the tale’s end. And a few panels after a citizen of Palomar praises the work of Van Gogh, Beto (as he signs his work) turns the town’s daytime sky into a starry night.

The beauty of Hernandez’s skill is not only in his epic sweep but also in the details. Gosh.

More to come.

You can read my post on Gilbert’s brother Jaime Hernandez here.