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July, 2012 Monthly archive

New on SG today:

Danger Country! Vampires and wizards are gettin’ frisky in the spiral city.

Yesterday both my overlong troll-bashing serial Secret Voice and the underground-tinged stylings of Peepers posted.

 

(put you on) Linkblast:

Last time out we linked to Dan Nadel’s SP7/Kickstarter takedown on TCJ, and the comments brushfire keeps on ragin’.  There’s plenty to chew on, and also of interest is Study Group contributor Sean T. Collins’ post with thoughts about the whole thing over on his blog. It’s pretty good, measured, etc. I expect the comments will get lively on that one, if not quite as vehement.

Keeping with the theme, some friends of ours have launched what I think is a very worthwhile Kickstarter:

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Hey guys so it’s come to my attention that the people who follow along via RSS feeds don’t always know when their favorite strips have updated, due to the way WP works with the way we basically just keep updating the same posts, blah blah blah. So: I’m going to try and post every day or so to let you know what strips have new content (though generally speaking, they tend to update once a week on a specific day as noted on the comic post).

Here’s a handy cheat-sheet for your reading pleasure:

MONDAYS
Danger Country by Levon Jihanian

THURSDAYS
Titan by Francois Vigneault (updates every two weeks)
SATURDAYS
Haunter by Sam Alden
SUNDAYS
Peepers by Patrick Keck
 Barring acts of god or laziness, those strips should update on those days every week. Today being Saturday, we have a new update of Sam Alden’s beautiful HAUNTER.

The last couple weeks have also seen some radical short pieces posted on the site:

Virginia – by Sam Humphries and Pete Toms

The Smog Emperor vs. The TV Guy – by Zack Soto

SPICY STORIES – Sally the Slut – by Ian Sundahl

Barfight – by Simon Roy

No Way Out For A Family of Five – by Sean T. Collins and Jonny Negron

Illustrious Reputikus and Rat – by Tim Root

So go get caught up, why don’t ya!

 

Linky tidbits:

  • Did I post my interview with Tom Spurgeon over on ComicsReporter yet? Because he was nice enough to interview me. What a guy!
  • Dan Nadel slams both the new Secret Prison solicitation text and the very act of using Kickstarter to crowd-source funding for comics publications. I have yet to use KS (though I have been pondering it), but it seems to me that there’s not a whole lot of difference between using the KS site to get pre-orders for your book, and using your own site to get pre-orders for your books, which Dan himself has done.. I don’t know, there’s a lot of rant-and-response going on there and in the comments, from people I respect even if I’m not in agreement with them. Worth a read, if you have 20-30 minutes to spare.

 

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Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press:

“We are the vertical & the horizontal:” This Friday night In Portland, Gridlords will once more descend on The Waypost [3120 N. Williams Ave, Portland, Oregon 97227] for a night of readings/performances/comics. This month’s show will feature Fionna Avocado, John Isaacson, Jesse McManus, Jason Overby and Francois Vigneault. You should go. I should go! I may actually leave this house for this.

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The online motherlode of George Herriman rarities; much like Jack Kirby’s watercolors, you have to wonder what color comics would have looked like if Herriman’s personal coloring style had been used on the printed strips instead of the bullpen’s work.

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In addition to the tangible tributes they have posted at historically significant sites all over the city, Berkeleyplaques.org‘s “e-plaques” can boast of writing by the mighty Bob Levin on comix greats Don Donohue and Greg Irons.

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Ketcham, Ketcham, who’s got the Ketcham?

An episode of To Tell The Truth from February 18, 1962.

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I like my supercomics horizontal and brief, marinated in patriarchal chauvinism and sprinkled with art cribbed from old lingerie advertisements. BETTER KNOCK WOOD, LOIS.

From the Superman daily strip story “The Cry-Baby of Metropolis” [April 7, 1960 - May 26, 1960]

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Hey, do you need scans of Winsor McCay‘s Little Nemo In Slumberland? You probably do. They have Dream of the Rarebit Fiend there too.

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Last week’s Alcatena post led to a nice discussion of fold theory, during we encountered this handy tutorial from the Famous Artists School.

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Oops, I missed the 16th anniversary of the late, great Paul Ollswang‘s death by a little less than two weeks — this is what happens when you count on your memory rather than external words to keep track of upcoming events/notables — here are some great pages of Ollswang remembrances, art and a photo with a less-uncomfortable-looking-than-normal R. Crumb.

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Once again, Portland’s loss is Brooklyn’s gain: Revival House Press is opening up shop there this week.

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02909.com does us all a great service by hosting an archive of Fort Thunder’s dead website.

-30-

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The Devil take your precious “Batman vs. Bane with Anne Hathaway in skintight fetish gear” summer blockbuster, I’d rather work on my Spanish reading comprehension and look at more of Enrique Alcatena’s lovely artwork.

I like how he draws Batman — it takes extra time and skill to draw a superhero costume with a coherent drapery/fold theory, which is probably why we rarely see this look in the rank & file comics, populated by essentially naked heroes with painted-on costumes.

Nice touch to draw the Scarecrow’s shadow following Dr. Crane around, although it loses its effect every time it’s reused in his scenes.

It’s probably not the best of Quique’s DC Elseworlds one-shots — that would probably be the “Captain Leatherwing” Batman-As-Pirate comic, shark-punching and all — but it’s so satisfying to see the original, long-eared, black-cowl look of the character and to note how Alcatena adjusted his style to accommodate color in the last or next-to-last of the comics he drew for the company. He essentially didn’t, thus making pages that would read just as well in B&W as in color, aside from the occasional colorist effect.

¡Buenos Dias, Comisionado!

Alan Grant’s plot is efficient, or maybe sufficient — this comic doesn’t really have a story to tell as much as it has reasons for Quique to draw the villains and Batman doing cool things. Bruce Wayne is the psychiatrist in charge of Arkham Asylum as it opens in the early 1900s. But he’s also Batman, beating the crap out of his rogues gallery on the streets at night and then treating their psychoses at the Asylum by day with a compassion a few decades ahead of where psychiatry was at that time.

So, plot: Batman meets, beats and/or treats his rogues, then the Joker sprays him with crazymaking gas, then he’s sent to Arkham. He recovers and escapes, then beats up Joker and takes back control of the Asylum. The end.

[A brief aside about Batman and The Dark Knight Rises: I'm truly baffled how anyone gets excited to see a nearly three-hour movie about a traumatized billionaire-heir growing up to be a physically and intellectually perfect man, who then spends the bulk of his time dressed like a bat beating up criminals .... in a gritty, almost documentary-realist style. I don't understand how these "Grim & Gritty/Death To Adam West" Batfans can be so selective in their suspension of disbelief -- in the real world, there's no way Bruce Wayne even reaches the Batman stage of his origin story: If a Bill and Melinda Gates-level couple were murdered in front of their only son, that kid would receive megaloads of therapy surrounded by a platoon of support staff and, if the clichés of child-star life are accurate, probably wouldn't have reached 18 with enough of the Wayne family fortune intact to fund being Batman. I was going to add that the paparazzi and tabloid media would probably follow the kid everywhere, making his globe-trotting training montage impossible -- but then I realized not every son of a murdered parent gets the JFK Jr. treatment. With O.J. in prison, I wonder if Justin Ryan Simpson has been secreting training to go out and avenge his mother's murder by finding her killer, wink wink. Anyway, I really don't get why people want their Batman movies to be slow, dark angstfests that clock in with Oscar-winning-foreign-film runtimes -- the average adult probably has enough leisure time that s/he could watch a Batman movie and an epic-length movie specifically made for adults, instead of the two being mashed into each other, mayostard style. Is it possible that so many supercomics filmmakers really don't understand that Paul Verhoeven was being tongue-in-cheek when he presented Robocop-As-Christ?]

Like his other work, Quique doesn’t use straight six/eight/nine-panel grids in his layouts, focusing on the page as an organic single unit, usually with the background on the margins of his panels relating to a character or the action in the panels, giving the page a wonderful unity that works as metaphor, mise-en-scène and or as a design element. It feels old-fashioned — like the illustrations at the borders of some silent-film intertitles — with the a freshness and a sense of depth you don’t expect from a comic book like this. I don’t know if the panel designs themselves add anything to the overall work — perhaps Quique meant them as visual kicks for the duller pages — but they don’t startle the way they do in his otherworldly fantasies.

The sole harlequin holding up the frame of panels in the above page amazed me — so neatly done but so easy to miss while reading the page; such delicate, precise work for what’s basically a decorative throwaway.

Quique’s Joker is a bit of a mess compared to his Batman; as well executed as it is, it looks like any Joker from the ’70s to the ’90s. Nice gas effect in Noelle Giddings’ coloring, although hiding behind the water tank should only be effective if Batman was just kicked by a horse or something. Why wait until he reaches the top of the ladder if you’re just going to sucker-gas him anyway?

Few things make me laugh as consistently as pictures of Batman laughing. ALWAYS LOL FUNNY. Having incapacitated him with the laughing/crazy gas, Joke lights a bomb and tosses it down a chimney; above, Batman barely escapes intact. It’s an admirable touch that Grant & Quique don’t show the building exploding — panel two says he hears the sound of the explosion from where he is on the ground — drawings of explosions are never particularly impressive, after all.

Again, some nicely subtle coloring effects here. The boy wonder visits post-gassing Bruce in his rubber room, where he hallucinates and makes short but sarcastic remarks.

If you don’t laugh at images of Batman laughing like I do, we can still be friends, but not if you don’t like pages of Batman yelling “Die, Maniac! Die!” to Joker while he burns to death in an old-timey hot-air balloon. The last panel is a great drawing of Batman, although it’s pretty funny to imagine him taking a long moment to “remember the smiling faces of the clowns and the puzzle I have tried to solve all my life: Why do men kill other men?”

So, Batman saves the Joker from his fiery death — he doesn’t even look singed — and vows to cure his madness, even if it takes the rest of his life. Hippocratic Oath, y’all. Only, that’s a pretty disturbed look from Dr. Wayne in the last panel, isn’t it? HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA indeed.

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[The following is an expanded and revised version of an old blog post; you've probably never read it before. The Internet seems to have misplaced its single-video version of this film, so I dug up a complete but five-part copy. Sorry. You should probably watch them first, then come back for my stupid thoughts here if you really have nothing better to do.]

BTW NSFW, but then I would hope watching an 87-minute movie isn’t something safe to do at work in the first place.

How can a film adaptation be completely faithful to its source and yet still do it a disservice?

I know almost nothing about Teruo Ishii. I know a little about Yoshiharu Tsuge. I definitely know that their 1996 film collaboration NEJI-SHIKI should never ever ever been retitled SCREWED for its U.S. release — also, that nothing is more unseemly than larding your opener with sell quotes from John Woo and Quentin Tarantino, which are plastered all over the DVD box and opening leader.

Anyway, that new title really jumps out as something you want to watch, doesn’t it? All it did was vaguely remind me of a Norm McDonald comedy I still haven’t seen. It seems no one has noticed the movie was released on DVD a few years ago except for some Asian film/culture nerdsites. I only accidentally stumbled over the news of its release while Googling for information about Kazuo Umezo’s KAZUO UMEZZ’S HORROR THEATRE series, and bought a copy right away — admittedly, as much to see if the DVD-ROM “Virtual Comic Book” was a straight copy of the translation that Bill Randall, Kosei Ono, Alan Gleason and I did for TCJ #250 as the movie itself. I have no excuse to be outraged; the comic is a literal mash of stills from the movie and Tsuge’s original drawings presenting the movie in thumbnail.

Obviously, a straight adaptation of the short story wouldn’t be long enough for a feature film, so Ishii & Tsuge panned through the artist’s oeuvre for more material, sort of like what Zwigoff and Clowes did for GHOST WORLD but possibly avoiding the half-and-half aftertaste of a cartoonist’s and filmmaker’s interests and styles not quite fully mixing. Again, I haven’t seen a lot of Ishii’s movies but I didn’t sense a moment where the movie completely unmoored from its source material to go somewhere that only the director was interested in visiting.

This straight-ish-forward condensing of Tsuge’s work comes through in the first post-credits shot — by the way, I like that the opening credits [topless women writhing on all fours while a handful of male grotesqueries ungulate] is filmed in the same Pantone orange that the first few pages of “Neji-Shiki” was printed in — which is of a page of comics art containing many of Tsuge’s characters. The movie is strangely  pedestrian in execution, more interested in typical dramatic shorthand; the cartoonist protagonist, a Tsuge stand-in played by Tadanabu Asano [ICHI THE KILLER], tears the page up in frustration. He’s an arteest, see? He’s wearing a turtleneck sweater and he’s all unkempt, sullen and anti-social. The film relies a lot on character types, which Tsuge used in his manga but with a specific personal and/or metatextual intent that this movie’s Greatest-Hits cramming never seriously considers.

Ishii is “long considered the primary force in the cinema of transgression” — I guess his TOTALLY FUCKING CRAZYSEXYREGGAECOOL idea for that here was to shoehorn in as many live-action copies of classic Tsuge-comic moments as possible; between those moments are a few clots of uninspired gristle stitching them together. You can’t say that the individual pieces of the original manga aren’t presented as verbatim as film allows, but the whole adds up to something far less brilliant and subtle than its original pieces. At times, the effect in the individual pieces comes off less like an adaptation than a forgery.

Doing its best to unify the parts of this Frankenstein’s monster is the same orange as the credits sequence. I’ve never encountered a convincing interpretation for why “Neji-Shiki’s” first eight pages have an orange two-tone, so I’m afraid the film’s embrace of the hue is lost on me. This is the orangest fucking movie I’ve ever seen.

The ultimate problem with the movie is that it retains none of Tsuge’s mastery of symmetry; his short stories are near perfect clockworks, the narrative/graphic/metatextual equivalents of perpetual-motion machines, all cleanly coupled to the master’s passions and obsessions. “Neji-Shiki” itself is a great example of this — it mirrors itself in almost every way, balancing plot, iconography, language, etc. — leaving its hero radically transformed but literally right where we met him in the end. Ishii makes a game effort to lay in Tsuge-style echoes, foreshadowing and inversions throughout the movie, but the filmmakers’ game attempt just underlines how far from the master they stand. I did like the bits of business like Tsuge getting up from his drawing table, where he’s drawing what looks to be a “Neji-Shiki” page, and leaving his apartment after being insulted, winding up on a bridge where the frame’s composition places the cartoonist between a river and a passing train for just a moment. But for every brief grace note like that, there seems to be two triple-underlined clunkers like Tsuge looking at his shadow after being thrown out of the hospital, taken straight from “Neji-Shiki.”

The director seems to perk up a bit when it’s time to present the title story but he unforgivably lops the vital concluding page of the story off the film, instead jumping to an end-credit sequence that looks like it was shot as a stag reel for a salaryman’s 1978 bachelor party. I did enjoy the Jew’s harp on the groovy soundtrack, though: dundundun BOWN dun dun, dundundun BOWN dun dun, dundundun BOWN dun dun.

Having known for nearly a decade that a film version of “Neji-Shiki” exists, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it. That said, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, expecting it to not be a letdown.

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Hey Kids, A Shameless Attempt To Post Something Nominally Comicon 2012-Related!!!

Dennis The Menace Big Bonus Magazine [retitled from the better-known Giant series] #181, “Let’s Go-Go-Go to San Diego,” August 1978.

Jumping ahead a few decades, long past Al Wiseman’s time as the primary engine of the Dennis The Menace comic books, we discover a series in serious decline; I’m unsure what writer/artist team working on the series is at this point, but the artist is clearly not a Wiseman-style perfectionist. We can only pray that the 1978 versions of Sea World, Tijuana, Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo didn’t really look like this.

 

I thought it was clever metacommentary to draw Dennis’ mouth in a way that looks like he lost his dentures in a series that probably was feeling its age by this point, but then I noticed that Henry and Alice also have messed-up mouths, like their jawbones were removed and the flesh just hangs there, Roger Ebert-style. There’s definitely a firm sense of anatomy required to draw the Dennis type of cartooniness, and this comic rarely has it.

The knock on Dennis as a character is that he’s barely a character, just a collection of generic kid tics and interests, but shitty funnybooks like this do a good job of showing that the Wiseman/Toole Dennis had something approaching a soul. The prime of the Dennis Giants showcased an enthusiastic but destructively clueless kid who saw himself as the hero of whatever exotic setting his parents have dragged him to for summer vacation that year, even though he never seems to learn that the combination of his nominal lack of understanding and his assumption that every context/culture follows the same rules as the ones he already knows inevitably leads to disaster and his father coming one step closer to an early heart attack. Insert “Dennis = ’60s/’70s US foreign policy” metaphor here.

The Dennis in this comic seems to be doped up on Benzedrine, barely operating as more than a talkative, toothless zombie. The results read less like a comic book designed to entertain kids and more like a wish-fulfillment pamphlet for their parents. You could make a good vacation comic book with a heavily medicated Dennis — less rock, more talk — but the writer[s] here don’t even try to double down on making a solid piece of edutainment:

No one corrects Dennis about the fishes. I suppose the sheer volume of psychotropics needed to blunt his psyche into passivity has also ground off his short-term memory, so Alice and Henry know that they would just be wasting their breath telling him those are dolphins.

 

It’s curious how much of a non-participant Alice Mitchell is in a lot of these vacation stories, although it makes some sense; from a ’70s middle-class kid’s POV, vacations would be one of the only times a father would have a concentrated, active presence. Look at Alice’s puckered overbite in that last panel and try to imagine how it could have a jawbone inside.

 

This is the panel where Alice’s feminism finally germinated. Either that, or her “yellow fever” lesbianism. Again, I really hope this literally isn’t what Sea World looked like at the time; I’m depressed enough already.

One of the standouts in the Wiseman comics is how he merges the look of cartoon-realist images of the locals with the Ketcham-defined look of our tourists; Dennis In Hawaii is a master class in this style, the Rosetta Stone to understanding how every girl Jaime Hernandez has ever drawn is constructed. The artist of “Dennis in San Diego” at least attempted to hit this staple of the vacation comics, with unfortunate results:

Prepare yourself for the most damaging thing Dennis THE MENACE does in this entire comic:

This is Dennis’ idea of “having fun” now? What an asshole.

 

If your mom only knew you would bathe regularly if the tub was filled with latex balls, a small glaze of feces, a hypodermic needle or two and a poisonous snake. [Look at the above panel again and imagine Dennis' hair is gray; that's an old-man caricature, isn't it?]

 

The Mitchells take a very quick daytime trip to T.J. — no time to really take in the local flavor, not even catch a donkey show — but I like how lazyass/racial the location art is and how easily distracted Alice is when it comes to leather goods.

I WILL DO BOY STUFF.

 

OK, show of hands: Who recognized the building in the splash panel from Citizen Kane? Uh, huh. Now, who thought “hey, isn’t that Zarkov’s labratory from Flash Gordon?” when they saw the bottom panel?

 

Another classic Wiseman move is the silhouette panel, often depicting such vivid “acting” that it’s easy to believe that they were harder to do than if he simply drew the figures outright. This execution of the technique is just hacky, although a clever solution to drawing Dennis and Henry in the darkness of the space exhibit.

Finally, the family goes to the SD Zoo, where they take the tram ride through a bunch of what look like panels swiped from Safari Cards photos:

I share this page for the proboscis monkey, who simultaneously looks like Jimmy Durante in Planet Of The Apes makeup and a monkey who just heard and understood that its hideous nose will never stop growing until it’s granted the sweet release of death, and now can’t stop screaming in horror.

 

A delight in every panel: Papa makes a birdshit joke, the kids totally ignore Dennis and a pretty cool, Tothy look for the penguin.

 

Really, what the fuck? Everything that’s wrong with this comic book in one panel. “LIKE HE WAS, REAL!”

 

GAZE INTO THE EMPTY, UNCOMPREHENDING EYES OF DENNIS MITCHELL AND DESPAIR.

 

“LOT’S MORE”

They apparently made good on their threat to return to San Diego in issue #186, an issue I don’t have and probably don’t want. Cool drop shadow on that caption box, though, and I like the idea that a two-rail wooden fence was once considered enough to keep the elephants and llamas safely apart from each other.

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