STUDYGROUP blog

Archive
Reviews

One of the problematic parts of enjoying what little is available of Enrique “Quique” Alcatena’s work is how much of it seems cobbled together from the popular junk from the U.S. and Europe. It comes off less like the work of an artist processing his influences and more like the repackaging of imported art for a very small, isolated market’s domestic consumption. Still looks totally fucking cool, regardless.

For example — a fine cover, but I’m almost positive I’ve seen this pose/layout before, maybe in a Milo Manara album?

In Ulrick [published in 1988], Alcatena and longtime writing collaborator Ricardo Barreiro present another serialized epic journey, but unlike the theatrics and cool designs of El Mago, this one starts off pretty creatively listless, although I applaud the use of Ulrich the semi-legendary sea explorer and settler as a way to draw vikings fighting Aliens, all the way down to the shipwrecked humans taking refuge on a haunted-house of a ship.

Hey, I got the image for your shitty band’s next show flyer:

 

Nice use of that Kubert-style floating window of panels here, getting a boring talking scene done while underlining that our mariners aren’t in much better a place now than when they were floating in the sea. The facial inking is a bit random, isn’t it? Sometimes a little Russ Heath-ish, others almost Wally Wood/Ralph Reese-like clammy:

Because skeletons and I’m a little light-headed from the Yom Kippur fast:

Here, Quique picks a way to chisel out his grim Norse faces, and it’s so good. The establishing-shot-as-background is always clever; here, he uses it to heighten the sense of unease by not providing a clear sense of where we and our heroes are in all that rigging:

You’ve probably been wondering impatiently where this promised “Vikings Vs. Aliens” action came in. That’s OK, I won’t judge. First, the ritual of seeing what’s left of the lone survivor of the pre-story carnage ….

Ayúdenme indeed, you poor bastard. I love that Alcatena [perhaps originally Barreiro] diligently lights almost every panel [maybe not that establishing profile of the survivor, it's never clear exactly where he is in the hold] from the angle that the torch would cast — you would assume that the survivor gets his own light scheme but, being on the floor, he would be lit from above by the torch just as Ulrick and friend would be lit slightly from below. Details!

Enough talking, now head bursting and axe fighting:

Next week: The triumphant return of Quique the maker of designs so cool you briefly forget that pin-ups are lazy bullshit when used more than never in an adventure-comics story.

Read More

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Frank Robbins owns [or pwns] the monkeyass of any person who has ever held a loaded #5 brush to a piece of paper and been paid for the results. That he may have done all of the art on Johnny Hazard for its entire 33-year run [aside from illness and vacations] is amazing; Peanuts is undoubtedly the greater one-man achievement in the funny papers, but Charles Schulz never had to draw hot women and B-17 bombers in perspective, now did he. When the serialized-adventure strip began to die out in the early ’70s, Robbins transitioned to adventure comic books with a spastic burlesque of the superhero body that suggested he was always more comfortable drawing a hero in a three-piece suit than in a primary-color union suit.

Initially writing/drawing Batman, the Shadow and war/ghost stories for DC — not to mention largely inking his own pencils — Robbins was a more dynamic version of the fully realized but limited-by-definition adventure-strip cartoonist whose syndication lifeline was slowly fraying and splitting while the strip’s actual continuities were still capable of throwing sparks [as compared to Capp or Caniff's published endgames, which were as vibrant and exciting as watching old men try to set fire to wet piles of last year's leaves and newspapers.] But when Robbins moved from DC mystery men to Marvel superheroes, his figure work went apeshit, with results that baffled and/or enraged at least two generations of nerds who grew up and came to value his ebullient but realist cartooniness over contemporary fan favorites like Mike Kaluta and Neal Adams.

It’s a shame that Robbins didn’t live long enough to be properly hailed by the comics press when they, um, matured; on the other hand, getting a TwoMorrows tongue bath [at best a consolation prize for those sad, milky-eyed old timers hunched over drawing commissions in artists' alley with their wife/child/grandchild/future-executor-of-their-will doing most of the talking/translating] seems like a bigger insult to a figure like Robbins than him getting no recognition at all.

As the ’70s wound down, Jack Kirby went to Ruby-Spears and worked on some of the worst cartoons of the ’80s, Steve Ditko drew Transformers/Go-Bots coloring books and Hulk Annuals. John Romita Sr. went to an office and punched the clock to do touch-up work on lesser artist’s drawings. Adams created Skate Man. Kaluta and his Studio-mates disappeared up their kitschy fine-art assholes. Frank Robbins moved to Mexico to enjoy life and paint the last 16 or so years of his life. By any sane standard of life, he wins.

“To Die in Darkness!” is credited to Roger McKenzie [scripter], Robbins, Frank Springer [inker], Bob Sharen [colorist], Denise Wohl [letterer] and Bob Hall [editor]. Stop me if you’ve heard this from me before, but this is not a very good comic book. I share it here because it’s historically interesting, the last interior comic-book art of Robbins’ career. His facility at drawing the unholy living fuck out of everything in a supercomic except what 99% of what its audience wants to see is undiminished while his superduper figures have gone back to looking just as bizarre and distorted as they were a few years earlier, when Robbins was new to Marvel and struggled to dial back what a brilliant slumming comic-strip artist would think the cretins who read this slop wanted in the drawings of their stupid heroes.

Why the regression here? This doesn’t seem like a rush job. Was Robbins fed up with penciling this crap, doing most of the narrative heavy lifting ["scripter" meaning that McKenize only wrote the dialogue, right?] but with the final product still at the mercy of the editor and whoever was picked to ink his work? Did Robbins know this was his last full job to do before his retirement? The issue is dated November 1978; Hazard ended in late 1977. What compels an artist of Robbins’ skill to essentially work two full-time jobs from roughly age 55 to 60? Was he cranking it out all that time to buy his own golden parachute from comics? What sort of relationship did did he have with Alex Toth, his aesthetic brother from another mother, who was born to be the greatest adventure-strip cartoonist ever but was born half a generation too late to realize his destiny? Robbins was born September 11, 1917; Toth on June 25, 1928; Robbins was closer in age to their ur-source Noel Sickles [January 24, 1910] than he was to Toth, yet his career suggests that he had a far easier time finding his way through this ever-modern world than the mercurial and reclusive Toth, albeit without leaving nearly as large a body of century-class work in his wake. Was Robbins merely a “draw to live” artisan with superior skills? His near-absolute disappearance from comics post-1978 suggests that he saw it as a job, and his painting being his art. Would Robbins have been like John Stanley, who died around the same time as Robbins did — a rather bitter man, disinterested in attending comicons where people will ask him to talk at length about some two-week job he did his best on at the time but couldn’t recall much about decades later? No, it would have been better to have interviewed Robbins than not.

I really like that Frank Robbins’ last page as a supercomics freelancer shows a drinkin’-mad Daredevil about to pick a fight with Hercules … the god … after having broken into Avengers Mansion and somehow kicking both Captain America and the Beast’s asses, because he’s mad at the Black Widow and it’s his series so he wins. Two Gene Colan fill-in issues later, Frank Miller joined the DD crew and I never find out how Daredevil Vs. Hercules fight turned out, and that’s OK with me.

Read More

This week on Old Comics Weds, we’ve got Milo on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Zack on Richard Corben’s ”DOOMSCULT” and Michael Deforge on R. Heru Ayani’s ”Traders in the Lost Art.”

______

 

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #7
December 1968, $0.12
by Archie Goodwin & Frank Springer


I don’t have much to say about this comic, except that Frank Springer drew better than Jim Steranko, even on Steranko’s signature character. End of Line.


OK, I got more: This is Springer’s first issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, while he was never a pop-art magpie like Steranko was — behind every widely praised comic-book trailblazer is usually an artist who comics’ fanbase has never heard of — Springer was always rock-solid and as imaginative an artist as his circumstances typically allowed.


This is not a candidate for Goodwin’s Greatest Hits; Fury is injected with a hallucinogenic drug that renders him virtually incoherent with paranoia and will kill him in six hours, tickticktickticktickticktick, but his iron will and moxie is so strong he survives and unwittingly kills the traitorous doctor who doped him in the first place. By thine own poison-loaded hypodermic betrayed, turncoat! The End. Oh, SPOILER ALERT.


Like Steranko’s Fury stories, the story often has to be folded in half [it's certainly thin enough] to be slid between full pages of bravura “special effects” to keep things moving along, but Springer gives the pages a lived-in, rumpled life that makes it all worth the sometimes bumpy narrative flow  and the occasional patch of dialogue-balloon Bondo to seal the plot holes — even at near end, when Fury and “Sister Angela of the All-Faith Mission” [and the pink mini-dress; really, 1968? Nuns in miniskirts?] are nearly killed by a bit that’s older than the totally sweet vintage roadster the Sister drives.

– milo

 

____

“Traders in the Lost Art” by R. Heru Ayani.

Anti Gravity and the World Grid
1987
Adventures Unlimited Press

I don’t know much about this comic or its author. Episodes 3, 4 and 5 of the strip (one page each) were reprinted in the “Anti Gravity Comix” section of Anti-Gravity and The World Grid (a collection of essays regarding an electromagnetic grid that provides the planet with free energy,) edited by David Hatcher Childress (Adventures Unlimited Press, 1987). I haven’t read any of the essays in the book yet – I bought it for all the diagrams of UFOs, pyramids and the “world grid” itself, which the layouts of these comics mirror. I don’t know much about this comic or its author, but I really like these pages.

Also included in the Comix section is a xerox of a Max Brand book cover and this Far Side cartoon.

-MD

____

DOOMSCULT, from Heavy Metal Magazine

June 1983, $2.25

by Richard Corben

 

This issue of Heavy Metal is still obviously in what most consider to be the “Classic” era of HM. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly good example of the magazine, but it does have a bunch of big names: Jeff Jones, Steve Bissette, George Pratt, Enki Bilal, Rick Veitch, Crepax, etc etc. Still, this issue feels rather uneven (which – if we’re being honest, as much as I love this series, most issues are pretty up-and-down) maybe even a little schizophrenic. Putting the oddly static and heavy-handed social satire of “Rock Opera” next to the swirling, impressionistic layouts of “The Man From Harlem” is jarring, to say the least. HOWEVER- I think we can all agree that this is the best ad ever:

And also that among the many things I would use a time machine to do, one is definitely traveling back in time to get one of these “satin-like” HM jackets w/matching belt buckle:

In any case, this issue also finds Study Group staff favorite Richard Corben going full hog into the dodgy world of fumetti – I fucking hate fumetti, but it’s still kind of a neat little piece, if only for those insane colors.

Look at that title page! Corben is basically just fucking around here and focusing on the “special effects” for the whole of Doomscult, and that’s ok, really. It’s beautiful and strange. That said, the story is even more perfunctory than usual: The lone rider Lithon, played by a surprisingly buff Bruce Jones, finds the beautiful Vesira (Karen Feeley) washed up on the beach and before he can even get her home, a bunch of random undead cultists show up, led by a masked female straight from Corben Central Casting.

There’s a pretty goofy fight scene that doesn’t translate that well. Some bad staging and choreography combined with kind of cool collage effects to mimic body parts getting chopped up, as well as Jackson Pollock style blood splashes everywhere (even if they really look like explosive diarrhea due to being rust brown) for good measure, and then there’s this little bit of dada:

Crabfeast!

The Mystery Tits have absconded with Vesira into an oddly phallic Op-Art sandcastle, to do the same nefarious shit evil cultists always want to do: shove your face into a vaginal face-hugger thing!

That center panel is fantastic. Needless to say, Lithon shows up and stabs the hell out of everything in a hazy mass of psychedelic cloudscapes, saves the girl and they ride off into the sunset to do huge rails of cocaine.

- ZS

 

 

 

Read More

Frank Robbins was always the man. Here are more panels I liked enough to clip while trying to read this comic book.

A very Johnny Hazard-looking panel. Of all the newspaper cartoonists to be retrofit as supercomics freelancers, Robbins was the least apologetic about enjoying drawing the characters in civilian clothing over masks, capes and union suits. The soldier standing between Toro and the Torch probably shouldn’t be there; the composition would be stronger and the isolation the Torch is feeling would be more sharply presented if there was a gap between him and his teammates.

It’s amazing how much spotted black is in this panel; I bet it looks even better in black and white.

At times, you would think that Roy Thomas got paid by the word to write these comics. I like that Robbins gave all his heroes high cheekbones in addition to the standard lantern jaw, but I wonder who decided whose hair parted on which side? Is that even a thing artists/writers/editors even think about, much less discuss, when presenting new characters?

I’m going to guess that Freedom’s Five has not been revived yet, and predict that it won’t be brought back until WWI video games/movies become popular. Again, it looks like Robbins relished drawing old Falsworth much more than the fairly pedestrian group action shot below him.

I would buy a “Ladies Love Smiling Captain America” comic in a heartbeat.

Supercomics don’t do the hey-look-it’s-this-story’s-obvious-antagonist-but-our-heroes-don’t-know-it-yet reveal anymore, do they? Even if we pretended that the 1940s were much more polite age, a modern version of Invaders #8 would open with the question “Hey, do you know you look like Baron Blood with obviously fake teeth?” followed by some face-punching. Oh, who am I kidding? This is a team book so the modern take on the team would totally sit down for a meal and banter about with each other for an issue or two before the fight scene.

Read More

Even when saddled with a pretty half-assed story [by Bill Mantlo] and a far lesser artist to ink his pencils [Steve Gan], Frank Robbins was still the man. Here are my favorite panels from “There’s a Mountain On Sunset Boulevard!” the first [until recently, only] appearance of the Legion of Monsters, a bad idea whose time had clearly come.

I clipped these panels last July, so here’s what I remember of the actual plot: The monsters come together by coincidence and freak each other out, “Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay” Lou Costello-style, because they’re fucking monsters and only the headliner of a monster comic can encounter another monster and not be completely freaked out. — See: Any contemporary issue of Tomb Of Dracula, Ghost Rider, Fear, Man-Thing, or Werewolf by Night. — but this is a team book, so everyone but Man-Thing has at least one “Ugh, where is that smell coming from? It stinks so– OH MY GAWD WHAT IS THAT?!?!?!” moment.

The monsters fight.

Then a gold-skinned, sorta-Christy figure called The Starseed appears to them and says he’ll cure all of Earth’s problems, including the monsters’ monsterousness. But Morbius and Werewolf-By-Night skipped breakfast so, instead of eating each other, they want a chunk of Gold-Plated Alien Jesus ass to eat right now.

The monsters fight.

Gold-Plated Jesus is scared, so of course he’s accidentally burned to death by Man-Thing, which I think speaks to what a crummy messiah he probably would have been.

The monsters feel bad, then walk away from each other — you can’t really say “break up” because that implies they were actually once a team. The End. Next Month in Marvel Premiere: The Liberty Legion, for both of you True Believers who wished The Invaders featured a lot more of Bucky calling the shots.

Read More

SUNDAY FUNNIES #1
$30 & $9 shipping ($21 outside U.S.)
$100 & $25 shipping ($55 outside U.S.) for a 12-month subscription
www.russcochran.com/funny.html

Taken as a comics anthology to be read, The Sunday Funnies isn’t worth your $39; as a stealth portfolio of frame-worthy classic comics art, it would still be almost obscenely cheap at twice the price.


Russ Cochran is back with a quarterly newspaper-style anthology of classic Sunday comic strips, selected from the late Bill Blackbeard’s massive, world-class archive: Ninety-six 16×22″ pages of Gasoline Alley, Alley Oop, Krazy Kat, Stumble Inn, Wee Willie Winkie’s World, and other pre-WWII-ish Sunday pages in full color on archival paperstock. What’s not to love? That depends entirely on how much of a hater/nitpicker you are; I am both, but I’m delighted that Funnies exists despite some unfortunate editorial choices. Think of it as an issue of Comics Revue with much better production values.

Funnies suffers from the same fundamental problem that plagues Revue; by choosing to jump around chronologically to select material, Cochran saps the power of seeing these strips in their original newspaper context, as they were obviously created to be read once a week alongside a mix of other features in the actual Sunday funnies. But these reprint anthologies rarely have the room to run a complete story or two, which single-strip collections can easily accommodate, and, by selecting material for a more balanced or satisfying read, the editors of these magazines can’t give readers the historical charge of seeing exactly what a Sunday section from September 9, 1906 was like or July 10, 1938 or December 30, 1934 or April 26, 1936 was like. [Again, I am a hater, but should I win the lottery, I will blow most of my fortune assembling and publishing a super-Sunday of all the best strips across all the syndicates that were published on a given day. Don't tell me that wouldn't be exciting to see.]


All three Sections lead off with Crazy Quilt, the original jam comic from 1914. We don’t need to rewrite the Greatest Comics Ever list to accommodate this semi-lost strip, but it’s better than the footnote or paragraph it’s rated in biographies of its best-known participants, Frank King and Dean Cornwell, would imply. It’s a daring but successful feature to run on the cover, and you receive just enough of the strip to want to read more.

After that, each section presents us with the first seven months of Gasoline Alley Sundays [Dec 1920-May 1921] in ten-page chunks. It’s historically valuable work, with the serendipity that the Sunday launched just a few months before the transformative introduction of Skeezix — although I would happily read another 90 years of Walt Wallet as a solo act who avoids marriage and drives his jalopy, it still strikes me as an unfortunate choice to devote a third of the issue to material that’s almost guaranteed to get a more satisfying and sustainable repackaging from Walt & Skeezix publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

I love V. T. Hamlin’s Alley Oop art, so even just a handful of gorgeous Sundays in chronological sequence was a pleasure to see at all, but printed in full color at nearly the original printed size was a true delight. Once again, Cochran treats us to the first few months of the strip’s Sundays.

Bronc Peeler is an interesting case, if not a particularly enjoyable read; a Western strip that mixes of humorous daring-do adventure with sensitive, beautifully drawn full-color vignettes [that sometimes feature poetry, no less] in the center of the page and a colorless “Uncle Bill” gag strip at the bottom. If Peeler rings no bells; it limped along for four years before transforming into the much more popular Red Ryder. Again, these are its first Sundays.

Another standout and treasure to be found here is the four pages of color Stumble Inn strips, one of George Herriman’s more underrated efforts, which ran concurrently with Krazy Kat. Speaking of Kat, the short selection of four color Sundays from February 1922 are most welcome, even if there are at least two other books readily available that present this material in color, albeit significantly smaller.

I couldn’t find a biographical/contextual monograph for Dudley Fisher’s Right Around Home in the issue, but my reference says Home ran from 1938 to 1965, with Fisher handling the astounding Sunday page-sized vignettes and the spinoff Myrtle daily until his death in 1951. [Bob Vittur and later Stan Randall continued the strip.] This is definitely a strip that would need to be reprinted large to make any sense; anything less would be like trying to get all of Playtime‘s gags in a pan & scan print. Nearly any one of the Right Around Homes would look fantastic framed and mounted on the wall.

It’s a strange case all the way around; judging by his website, Cochran originally intended Funnies to be a 32-page monthly but the plan changed and, instead of being issues 1, 2 and 3, the three 32-page packages being reviewed here are titled Sections A, B and C of issue one. No worries but if that’s the new plan, why not collate all of the Gasoline Alley strips into one section and do the same for the other strips, which undoubtedly would make the reading experience a bit more filling?

By the way: One can gauge the health of every new distribution channel for comics based on how quickly Krazy Kat and the Hal Foster run of Tarzan in particular are once again repackaged and published — from the niche bookstore publishing of the 1960s to the direct-market boom of the ’80s to the resurgent bookstore market of the last 10 years. I hate to say it, but I think the appearance of my beloved Alley Oop beneath an ISBN is the sign that a given new market has been saturated, the classic-comic-reprint party is over and the entire market is about to retract violently; he’s the Kell Mossa of American comics publishing.

It’s curious to [quite rightly] celebrate Blackbeard’s legacy of preservation in a publication that features so much redundant material that could have been spent preserving and sharing lesser-known or rarely seen treasures. That said, Sunday Funnies #2 is slated to have more Gasoline Alley, Alley Oop, Bronc Peeler, Krazy Kat and Tarzan, but also include Buck Rogers, Frank Goodwin’s Connie, Frank King’s Bobby Make-Believe from 1915, Winsor McCay’s Tales of the Jungle Imps and Billy Ireland’s The Passing Show.

It’s understandable to mix some well-known strips like Krazy, Tarzan and Gasoline Alley in with the lesser-known strips, but it doesn’t seem to do either group much of a favor. Would people shell out $30 for Quilt, Home or Peeler? Probably not, but if preservation of the newspaper strip’s vanishing heritage is this publication’s mission — Cochran’s essay “The Vanishing Newspaper” does a yeoman’s job of praising Blackbeard’s vital work in saving and preserving comics’ heritage as libraries began dumping their newspapers for microfilm — why devote so much real estate to strips that are all but guaranteed to be packaged and kept in print far longer than Sunday Funnies‘ limited print run and distribution range will reach? In an age when it barely takes ten minutes to track down and buy a copy of every edition/variation of a book ever printed, do we really need another reprinting of Wee Willy Winky’s World?

Read More

Studygroup12 #4 (cover thumbnail)“What Zack has presented is a handsome edition that rides a balance between eyeball kicks while also slowing down the eye to include just as many artists more concerned, in this book anyway, with narrative in a more quiet fashion. Soto has taken the pulse of the contemporary comics scene of the North American continent from his perspective and summarized it between some lovely hand printed covers—of course, it’s not everything worth seeing amongst all the artists pumping that piano out there in the big wide world, but it’s a damn fine handy compass to find one’s direction toward what’s going down”

Snippet from an older review of SG12 #4, by J T Dockery.

Read the whole thing at: Transylvania Gentlemen: Comics Round Up # 2: Studygroup 12 #4

Read More

Study Group Magazine 01 (cover thumbnail)“Study Group Magazine #1, ed. by Zack Soto and Milo George — A fresh start! This is an interesting book, because it almost makes you not want to get right into it – you’re held captive by Eleanor Davis‘ cover. Of course, when you finally crack the spine, you’re rewarded richly. Each artist takes to the two color printing like ducks. I’m happy to see more Aidan Koch work of this stripe – I love seeing what she does with color and paint. This mag gave me the opportunity to get into a few artists who I’ve heard about for a while but never checked out. For instance, this was my first introduction to David King‘s work, and I really dig the poetic quality of his piece. I also wasn’t expecting to be so into Trevor Alixopulos‘ work – I’m quite fond of his loose cartoony lines. The weirdness of Michael DeForge’s piece leaves you unprepared for how touching it is in the end. One of the things I like about DeForge is how he is able to totally own these iconic cartoon images (specifically newspaper funnies characters, in this case) and use them for transcendent ends. It’s cool that this thing is actually a magazine, with articles and everything, all while staying in the overall yellow-and-purple aesthetic. You can’t help but be enamored with Eleanor Davis after reading her sincere and self-effacing interview. I’ll admit, though, that I haven’t read all of the Craig Thompson piece, if for no other reason than it was making me stress out about the size of some of my own projects. This is a good one to snag, can’t wait for issue two. Can you subscribe?”

Second SG Mag Review! 

This one by Kevin Czap, from his BCGF Haul Reviews Part 1 «

lots more to read at the link!

Read More