"See God's Truth In Loving Action!" COMICS! Sometimes Salmonella Should Be On A Certain Someone's Mind!

I don’t know what happened! I wrote about three whole comics in less than fifty billion words! It won’t happen again. My apologies. I don't know what I was thinking. I certainly wasn't thinking about this intro, which is why it's so weak. Rush politely past it and read on...  photo BLUBClubB_zpshx8bjzkj.jpg BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

Anyway, this…

SLASHER #1 By Charles Sanford Forsman Floating World Comics, Digital: £1.49 (2017)

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Like many men in their middle years (“middle”, yeah, like I’m going to see 94. Pretty loose definition of “middle” there, society) I court danger like its dad owns a yacht. To relight that sputtering youthful fire some middle-aged men take up shark wrestling or sex pesting young women, but me? I like to take it to the edge. I try and go into comics with as little knowledge as possible. (Of the comic; as little knowledge of the comic, you wiseacre.) I saw SLASHER on the ‘Ology and thought “okay”; largely because it looked like it might be a slasher comic. How, I wondered, would a slasher comic work in the comics medium? On a static page how would an artist pull off the necessary control of pacing and deliver the required kills with the requisite impact? I’m still wondering. Because as it turns out SLASHER is as much about a slasher as JAWS is about a shark. Even less so, in fact, because JAWS has a lot of shark in it now I think about it. There is a bit of slashing in SLASHER but it is self-inflicted, as befits a warts to the fore portrayal of our oddly damaged modern psyches. At least I think that’s what’s going on here.

 photo SLASHmeatB_zps4rz8yinm.jpg SLASHER by Charles Sanford Forsman

Despite sounding like a one man firm of lawyers, Charles Sanford Forsman earns every one of his three names with SLASHER. Mostly, for me anyway, by giving a lightly disquieting imprecision to his art. One which echoes his ably unsettling script’s unerring ability to pick at the scab of any normal everyday occurrence (shopping, workplace assessment, txting a friend, etc, etc…) until the wound oozes the tacit creepiness of us all. (Well, mostly you. Me, I’m perfectly healthy. But I see you, Sancho. I. See. You.) Mind you, I dig stylish imperfections in  art since they imply the actual passing of a human hand across the page, which is as close to seeing the face of God moving over the face of  the waters as an non-spiritual and inartistic putz like me will ever get. For a comic in which the milk of human kindness is so thoroughly curdled SLASHER is a surprising amount of fun. Most of that fun came from not expecting what I got, so I sure wouldn’t want to spoil it all for you. Take it from me that if you’re the kind of bitter freak who pines for movies like HAPPINESS (1998) and IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (1997) then get stuck into SLASHER. (ßPull Quote Alert!) Also, let’s go do movies and a brew sometime, you’re my kind of people! VERY GOOD!

GRASS KINGS #3 Art by Tyler Jenkins Written by Matt Kindt Lettered by Jim Campbell BOOM! Studios, $3.99 (2017)

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I like this comic, but it doesn’t do itself any favours. Fatally so, I fear; in an overcrowded market it just sort of slouches there, instead of selling itself. For starters look at the cover, it hardly leaps out from across the room demanding your attention does it? The logo is all high-end understated artiness, the kind more suited to a designer range of name brand geegaws and tchotkes aimed at people who retro-fit wood burning stoves into their 21st century sci-fi kitchens. Can you even read that title across the comic store? Does it stand out in the slightest from the visual roar of Marvel’s latest waste of Al Ewing’s time and DC’s unrelenting variations on a Bat-theme? Did you even know this comic existed? I genuinely ask because I don’t go to a physical LCS, so I actually don’t know the answers. Except for that last one; I certainly didn’t know it existed, my LCS just sent it me because…they think I’m the kind of guy who retro-fits a wood burning stove into his 21st Century sci-fi kitchen? Tsk!

 photo GRASScarB_zpszds4cr46.jpg GRASS KINGS by Kindt, Jenkins and Campbell

Beyond the cover GRASS KINGS remains a defiantly low energy affair. Jenkins’ art is a really watery water-colour affair that kind of seeps into your eyes, and Kindt’s script is a low summer drawl of a thing. It all kind of pootles past at its own sweet pace like an elderly gent on his weekly walk into town, pausing periodically to get his breath back, or simply staring into the air where the old dance hall and the night he met his deceased wife swims into being before his cloudy eyes. GRASS KINGS is about some kind of off the grid enclave where the gubbermint has no traction (i.e. the libertarian’s nocturnal emission of the American Dream), everyone’s a bit flaky and there’s murders and missing persons, and not a few flashbacks which are typically unhurried  in declaring their relevance. Unlike most comics GRASS KINGS doesn’t scream for your attention, it doesn’t even whisper, it just sings to itself under its breath. (ßPull Quote Alert!) If you lean in to listen, I think you’ll be glad you did. VERY GOOD!


BLUBBER #3 By Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics, $3.99 (2016)

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What’s black and white and covered in an old man’s dead jizz? My copy of BLUBBER! Only joking…it’s not all in black and white. (But it is covered in my dead jizz! (“Old man John! Spoiling everything!” ß Joke For The Kidz!)) Yup, BLUBBER’s covers are colour, and what lovely covers they are. The back of each issue has also been graced by a Gilbert “Bert” Hernandez pin-up of some kind of phantasmagorical fauna fresh from his bubbling brain pan. So invitingly comical and eye-catchingly vivid are these covers that “Gil” sometimes picks them up and asks if he can read them. HOO! Not wishing to spend the next several months and many, many, thousands of pounds fighting for visitation rights I have as yet denied him. He can stick with SPONGEBOB COMICS (also great, but in a really quite different way) for now. From the outside BLUBBER looks all fantastically harmless, but inside it remains a maelstrom of scatological insanity. Calm down though, my little pearl clutchers, as it is so offensive that it transcends offence and just becomes comical in its absurd mania for the grossly vulgar. Less Spongebob Squarepants and more Spongebob Shitpants. But don’t mistake my loutish rattlepanning and manic emphasis on the outré as licence to belittle the artistry on display. Hernandez’ big old floppy chops are evident on every page.

 photo BLUBFightB_zps6lt9z9rs.jpg BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

BLUBBER may well be an explosion of transgressions but it’s a highly controlled one. As the late Dennis Hopper, star of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), could attest were he not, well, dead, you can lie in a ring of dynamite sticks and set them off without harm; the trick is in having them face the right way. (Otherwise you’re fucked, bubeleh.)  In every panel of BLUBBER Hernandez plays with dynamite but his spectacular artistic panache ensures he doesn’t take his talented face off in the blast. Not even Tony Salvador Daniel could lead up to XXX Papusi climaxing in a final panel as heart crushingly poignant as a JoJo Moyles book in the rain. (Be warned though if you are rubbing one out while reading and wipe a tear from your eye, you do run the risk of pink eye.) And could anyone but Gilbert “He Was Always A Quiet Man” Hernandez answer the oft asked question of “What if Arthur Machen’s ‘Great God Pan’ was crossed with Elvis Presley?” No, because the answer involves lots of furry-haunched cock frothing and cryptic wisdom.  Cock-a-hula, baby, indeed! Gilbert ”Looking Back We Should Have Known” Hernandez is also versatile enough to reimagine the hauntingly poignant Mickey Rourke mumbling-sadly-in-sweaty-trunks movie THE WRESTLER (1990), but he gives it his own uniquely tender spin by smearing it with sudden bowel movements, satanic orgies and forlorn longings on the part of a phenomenally endowed man for our barely sentient albino lunk. Yo, mama, Hernandez really brings the stains to life in this tour de force of turds and turgidity. There’s just something truly affecting about the sight of our barely sentient protagonist’s trunks distended by a crop of fresh poops. (PRO TIP: If you scratch your bum and sniff your finger new levels of immersion can be achieved.) And that’s just some of the fun inside BLUBBER! In a world of flamboyantly vacuous TV pitches masquerading as comics BLUBBER is a refreshing toot from the artistic arse flute of Gilbert Hernandez. A real room clearer of a comic. (ßPull Quote Alert!) The only TV BLUBBER is likely to appear on is the one that explodes in a shower of guts in VIDEODROME (1983). And that’s because BLUBBER is EXCELLENT!


NEXT TIME: The world’s least informative reviews continue as I look at more – COMICS!!!

“Would You Like A Waffle With Chestnut Butter?” COMICS! Sometimes It's Safer In The Asylum.

Bonjour mesdames et messieurs! Une tasse de thé sans lait, veuillez. Beaucoup merde! Or for those who lack the class I has, and thus do not speak the language of The French: This week John read a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, who is not Jacques Tati but who is French. Luckily someone had the foresight to translate the book into The Beautiful Tongue or else this would have been a bit of a nonstarter.  You know, what with John being an enormous monolingual xenophobe and all.   photo TardiSirB_zpsailbt7vi.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

Anyway this…

RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL Adapted by Jacques Tardi Translated by Doug Headline Based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette Fantagraphics, $19.99,H/B, B&W (2015)

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RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL is a comics adaptation by Jacques Tardi of the 1972 French crime novel "Ô Dingos! Ô Châteaux!" by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Manchette (1942-1995) himself was a bit of a fan of the, how you say, comics and translated Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN for the French market. I haven’t read the original novel, so how this book works as an adaptation is a question for people who take writing about comics a lot more seriously than I do. As a graphic novel, however, I am able to tell you that RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL works excellently. But then it would, since it’s by Jacques Tardi. Tardi is an acknowledged master of the comics form with his deceptively loose style able to encompass various genres with equal aplomb. Yeah, I know, I know, a French artist and blah, blah, blah, aren’t I just special for reading foreign comics and, well, it’s all starting to feel a bit like homework, right? Relax. All you need to know is that this is a balls to the wall neo-noir chase caper with more violence and surprises than when your family gets drunk at Christmas. Or as Howard Victor Chaykin says on the back cover, “To put it simply, this shit kicks ass.” He may have a mouth like a sailor but the man does know his comics.

 photo TardiOopsB_zpsznmffwaf.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

The premise is simple: Ex-architect Michael Hartog is a philanthropic moneybags whose benevolence is fuelled by guilt over the fact that his current wealth resulted from the tragic deaths of his brother and his wife, and Hartog’s consequent guardianship of their behaviourally troubled son. In line with his charitable tendency to employ the damaged and neglected, Hartog hires a woman, Julie, from an asylum to care for the child, Peter. Swiftly targeted by a  bunch of reprobates led by the ailment plagued assassin, Thompson, the less than stable duo are kidnapped. Basically, like my Dad says, no violent kidnapping plan ever survives first contact with a mentally troubled woman and her emotionally wayward ward. Hijinks découlent.

 photo TardiRocksB_zpsu7rfifmv.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

The cast are all distinctively portrayed by Tardi as individuals, but they all share various levels of facial bloat and sag which lends the art a cartoony amiability which alternately enhances or ameliorates the morally wayward proceedings. (There’s an inadvertent extra level of comical dissonance for British readers as the kid, Peter, with his unruly hair, saucer face and air of detached entitlement resembles a pint-sized version of the malignantly calculating Tory blight, Boris Johnson.)

 photo TardiBorisB_zps3ikz9lcm.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

Things get pretty wayward indeed, and as if to prepare the reader RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL opens with the slaying of a pederast which is both matter-of-factly  presented and narrated with an apparently eerie detachment, but one which is undercut by an unsavoury eye for detail. All the narrative text is similarly lean and constantly belies its apparent neutrality via applying its callously clipped tone regardless of the emotional content of the scene. I guess this is carried across from Manchette’s source novel , but the fact it works in English is due to Doug Headline's translation. It’s the kind of writing that looks easy but isn’t, and if it goes awry even a talent like, say, Sean Phillips' wonderfully ruckled shirts won’t stave off ennui for long. The dialogue is similarly unadorned with an absence of the showboating monologue which tarnishes so much crime fiction. Although we never do discover anyone's favourite Alan Ladd movie or which pizza topping they prefer, the funky verve of Tardi's art manages to soften the blow. Sometimes events reach such a hectic pitch that language fails completely and all that’s left is a wildly expressive exclamation, strikingly depicted by Tardi as a kind of wobbly “A”.

 photo TardiOwchB_zpsimgkgev3.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

With its familiar crime premise it would be easy to mistake RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL for yet another hacky trek through Homage Town (twinned with Lazyville). Thankfully it’s nothing of the kind. Not only is the setting (France) a nice change of pace, but it’s surprising how much Tardi gets out of depicting everyday normality. Tardi’s use of pure scribbles to denote reflections, moustaches and shadows is just amazing; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any comic artist achieve so much with so little. The mundane made magical is a neat trick but Tardi goes one better by subtly upping the weirdness quotient as the book progresses. Sometimes it's isolated but repeated imagery,  such as when our vicious Brit repeatedly folds at the waist to emit a viscous sheet of vomit. Or it’s the showpiece set-to in the supermarket which degenerates into absurd violence and potentially deadly slapstick as consumer durables are set aflame by our resourceful Scary Poppins, and then brought into play as weaponry.  While the scene ends in fiery farce, with a scorched reprobate fleeing sans trousers, Tardi (& Manchette) quickly pop their brass knuckles back on and slap the smile off your face with a brutally one sided street slaughter. And even here Tardi manages to somehow soften into something lightly comical the catastrophic failure of the structural integrity of a human head in the blast of a shotgun. This is a book that keeps fiercely lunging into absurdity, but is restrained from topppling over the edge by Tardi's quirky realism.

 photo TardiCarB_zpseceohgr5.jpg RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL (Tardi, Manchette)

Hollywood will probably adapt RUN LIKE CRAZY RUN LIKE HELL with Sandra Bullock (in a late career-rescuing Troubled But Capable Lady role) being pursued by Tom Hanks (in an Against Type Older Male role) and with a CGI child (motion captured by Andy Serkis) but some things are just better on paper. Particularly if that paper has ink slapped on it by the mighty Jacques Tardi. VERY GOOD! 

Apres moi, Les – COMICS!!!

“I Fail To See What’s So Remarkable About Two Robots Dancing.” COMICS! Sometimes I’ll Need To See Some ID Before You Go Any Further, Sunshine.

This time out I look at 2000AD yet again, but you can tell I’m getting a bit worn down. Not because you’re perceptive, but because I flat out say so. Then in an attempt to pep things up a bit I take a look at  a one man anthology by the one man affront to all that’s rational! Men want to be him, women want to be with him, and the FBI just plain want him! It’s that loveable scamp, the part-time Cher impersonator and full-time living colossus of Comics, Mr. Gilbert “Betty” Hernandez. And this wretched creature on the end of my critical stick is BLUBBER #2.  (Strictly no kids past the MORE…) photo BlubTopB_zpsjcz32qdm.jpg BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

Anyway, this…

2000AD #1967 & #1968 Art by Mark Sexton, Richard Elson, Clint Langley, John Burns, Carlos Ezquerra Written by Michael Carroll, Dan Abnett, Pat Mills, Kek-W, John Wagner Lettered by Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Simon Bowland Coloured by Len O’Grady Cover by Clint Langley JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner KINGDOM created by Richard Elson & Dan Abnett ABC WARRIORS created by Kevin O’Neill, Brendan McCarthy, Mick McMahon & Pat Mills THE ORDER created by John Burns & Kek-W STRONTIUM DOG created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner © 2016 Rebellion A/S Rebellion, £2.55 each, weekly (2016)

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What? Again? Already? Stomm, I’m not really feeling it this time out. The problem it turns out is that weekly instalments all end up being a wee bit samey, so it’s a little difficult coming up with something new to say. But we’ll persevere, after all that’s why they pay me the big bucks. In the indicia to Prog 1967 Tharg’s hidden message is that he is very busy and everything is late. By Prog 1968 things seem to have calmed a little and he’s crowing about how only the best Venusian oil will do for his droids, but is considering doing a Kickstarter due to the high costs of importing said oil. (N.B. It is tacitly understood by readers that 2000AD’s editor is a green skinned Betelgeusian and the creators who toil beneath his tyrannical yoke are all characterised as robots who should think themselves lucky. Over in the UK we find this kind of thing amusing.)

 photo DreddB_zpstarw3goh.jpg JUDGE DREDD (Sexton, Carroll, O’Grady & Parkhouse)

In Prog 1968 the not entirely convincing saga of Judge Badger and the Secret Citi-Block of Rogue Judges comes to a somewhat sudden end. Taking the tale as a whole I’d have to say it was a well done enough chunk of fun, but very little had changed by the end. Dredd’s fascistic veneer took another tiny little knock but more importantly, I guess, Carroll laid the groundwork for future stories which won’t trip over John Wagner’s stuff. Mark Sexton was the star of this one with his crisply attired Judges smoothly navigating the slightly scruffy future setting. And either Len O’Grady or Sexton himself did some nice layering with the colours to lend the images depth, which really paid off in the fighting on catwalks scenes. Carroll’s story was sound on the surface but had some worrying chinks in its armour. A scene where one of four chains supporting a craft was shot resulted in the craft plummeting onto the bad guys below, but should really just have resulted in that corner of the craft drooping and bobbling about like Bruce Willis’ penis in the Color of Night pool scene. And no matter how close sisters may be, it’s unlikely a fascistic wingnut with delusions of grandeur is likely to risk decades of covert skulduggery just so they can be together. Now, we’re all God’s children so I’m not saying fascists lack normal human feelings but it is a fact that I’ve never seen a “For Fascists” section in a greeting card shop. But, y’know, the twist involving DeMarco was, however, pretty neat and all my typically minor carps were ultimately outweighed by the strong pacing and the high entertainment quotient. Solid stuff so GOOD!

 photo KingDB_zpsncquwr1f.jpg KINGDOM (Elson, Abnett & DeVille)

Despite the fact that Prog 1966 promised all kinds of hell was about to break loose Prog 1967 has a weirdly truncated fight scene which pisses away the promise of the preceding issue’s double page spread to basically just establish our cast are now in a siege situation. Then someone notices a giant insect mound that they should probably go and pour a giant kettle of hot water down in order to stop the insect horde. So they decide to do that. Come Prog 1968 Gene and Co, are well on their way, and in case you were wondering how they got out of the besieged city then be assured that Abnett makes every effort to make you think he’s explained that, but you’re pretty sure he hasn’t. Or maybe he did, I read this when I was tired (but I don’t think he did explain it). Prog 1968’s episode opens with a couple of humans who previously appeared in the strip during the 8 years I wasn’t reading it. That’s okay, because there’s a little note referring to previous events. They don’t do notes like that in North American comics anymore because everything happens so slowly that drawing attention to it would just be dispiriting to everyone. (“Miles first started cooking these pancakes six issues ago!”, Underutilised Ed!) Accompanying the humans is another dog thing who immediately starts fighting Gene, our hero, in a page snaffling instance of the usual clichéd misunderstanding  so beloved of old timey comics. Efficiency remains the watchword with Abnett’s script and Elson continues to steadfastly draw it all with a crispness that Quentin (*) would envy. OKAY! (*) Quentin Crisp not Quentin Tarantino. C’mon, work with me here.

 photo ABCWB_zpsijxju9et.jpg ABC WARRIORS (Langley, Mills & Parkhouse)

If at any point anyone out there (SMASH CUT to street as seen in Western movies, cue tumbleweed and eerie whistling) is considering berating Pat Mills for the lack of subtlety in his satire you may wish to remind yourself that in PROG 1967 the villainous Howard Quartz draws up a Death List of droids for the chop, and he writes the names on a tablet clearly headed “DEATH LIST”. I don’t think Pat Mills is under any misapprehensions about the level of satire he’s offering up. But you might be. These two episodes are set in Gracie’s Bar and the second features Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein doing a song and dance number gussied up in top hat and tails. It’s a Hell of an image and Langley delivers it as he delivers all his imagery here, with an appropriately messy undercurrent to the technology on show. It was at that point that I started to strongly suspect Mills was actually writing this story within (between) the very earliest Ro-Busters stories, because I know that image of the dancing droids of old; it kind of sticks with you. How very clever, Pat Mills. Of course I can’t tell you how successfully he’s doing it, because I don’t still have those issues, but still a doff of the cap and all that.  What is new (to me) is Mills’ subversive take on the “cakewalk” and how by applying it (retroactively) to Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein’s antics he’s able to bed in his slaves/robots  (sub)text so deep it won’t shift. Satire doesn’t have to be subtle (and it doesn’t even have to be funny) it just needs to ring true. Ding! Ding! VERY GOOD!

 photo OrderB_zpswsuafier.jpg THE ORDER (Burns, Kek-W & De Ville)

Like I said back there, I was tired when I read these comics so in-between all the stuff about consciousness transferring, lovers reunited and my personal confusion over the fact that what I had previously thought was one woman was in fact two women (said confusion despite John Burns attiring one in a memory searing outfit of scarlet leather) I think I recall Francis Bacon being in this. No, the philosopher and statesman, not the painter. It’s set in the 1580s, so come on, play fair now. Anyway, if you look him up on Wikipedia so you can type “the philosopher and statesman, not the painter” like you know what you are talking about, there’s a facsimile of his signature. It’s got his birth date and everything on there as well, which I find a touch dicey given all the palaver about identity theft these days. (“Hello, Mr. Bacon? This is VisaCard, can you confirm the fact that you recently purchased a 97” HD-Ready Television in Portugal yesterday?” “No, no, I did not. I live in Balham and I’m perfectly happy with my current television. Damn, it’s those irresponsible fuckers at Wikipedia again!”)  See, whenever a real life historical figure appears in a comic I am unavoidably reminded of Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s (still uncompleted) SHIELD series. In a clear bid for intellectual cachet this series (the still uncompleted SHIELD one by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver) about Tony Stark’s Dad (Larry Stark) and Reed Richard’s Dad (Trevor Richards) bro-ing about, also had Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci squaring off because comics. Being a modern man I know very little about, and I have very little interest in, anything that does not impinge directly on my life, a remit which some long dead boffins scarcely fill, but I’m pretty sure they were clever fellows. Yet in Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s (still uncompleted) SHIELD series these two had their followers dress in uniforms and run at each other in the street like slightly less boorish football hooligans. It’s this deft handling of real-life historical figures which always comes to mind when another such figure rears its head in a story. Um, I’ve lost track of what I was on about. I usually mention John Burns’ art is a treat for the eyes, did I do that yet? OKAY! 

 photo StrontB_zpstq024i6y.jpg STRONTIUM DOG (Ezquerra, Wagner & Bowland)

STRONTIUM DOG continues to be so reliable as to be easily taken for granted when in fact its very reliability should be the subject of envy throughout the Comics World. Guess which bit I left until last and then ran out of time on. Hey, I’m sorry my review isn’t up to snuff but I want a weekend too! VERY GOOD!


BLUBBER #2 by Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics $3.99 (2016) © 2016 Gilbert Hernandez (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339)

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WARNING! BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is proper nasty. Dirrrrrrrrty, even.

There is a school of thought that BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is Gilbert Hernandez taking the piss out of the whole Comics Aren’t Just for Kids! horsepuckey by applying to the tropes of childish entertainment: superheroes, zombies, bad girls, monsters etc. a more realistic approximation of the actual recreational thoughts of real-life adults. Sure, everyone pretends adults are forever relaxing with a cheeky red while reading the novels of Stefan Zweig or watching the movies of Shohei Imamura, whereas of course they are mostly getting shitfaced on gassy piss and reading Dan Brown books or watching Star Wars movies. Which they are perfectly entitled to do. And, lest we forget, it’s a white knuckle ride for anyone anticipating sophistication and erudition once they pass through the beaded curtain into the “Adult” section of anywhere at all. So I’m told. Mind you, none of that matters since I am the only person attending that school, and its curriculum reflects so badly on both humanity and myself that its funding has been pulled with a view to it being demolished, the ground salted, and the whole unwise endeavour replaced by a statute of Deadpool miming a slightly risqué joke.

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BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

So, politicians, dog fondlers, Catholic priests, ham radio enthusiasts, bacon fetishists and people with unimpeachable taste in comics rejoice, because YES! it’s the second issue of Gilbert Hernandez’ sanity taunting BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339)! That’s right, kids, the Best Comic of 2016©™® has already arrived! In January yet! And yes I do know it is now February but I’ve been busy; those ritual murders currently baffling the finest minds in law enforcement won’t commit themselves! So, February 2016 and already everyone else in comics can pack up and fuck right off, because here comes BLUBBER #2 (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339)! In this issue of BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) bestiality and mutilation flaunt themselves with gay abandon upon every B&W page. This time out though the familiar menageries of witlessly priapic and savagely violent species are joined by the most witlessly priapic and savagely violent species of all – humanity! Jism drizzled and blood sodden capers ensue. But don’t take my unbiased and wholly reliable word for it; check out the sordid menu yourself:

BLOVIATE! as the order comes from above for “T.A.C. Man” to track down the pollum and “fuck him up!” Can the world’s first Tactical! Advanced! Commando! Man! best his turgid membered and swingingly nippled nemesis? Meanwhile, back at the base bureaucratic thrills galore occur as Mr. Hippy is genitally mutilated and then cruelly defenestrated by Marshman in a  fit of pique! And could all this dark malarkey be the sinister work of the erectly menacing Wild Dicks? The only way to find out is to rub BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) against your face! T.A.C.TASTIC BONUS! Featuring the discharge enhancing debut of the sensational character find of 2016 – Boat Man! More than a man! More than a boat! It’s Boat Man! T.A.C. Man and Boat Man! Orifices on land and sea beware! T.A.C. Man and Boat Man! Action and buoyancy in blissful syncopation! T.A.C. Man and Boat Man! CHUCH MY MUNG, TRUE BELIEVERS!  photo BlubBoatB_zpsclktinlq.jpg

BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

INVEST! as “XXX Superstar Pupusi And Her Pals” degrade and traduce the beauty of the physical act of love with a cheeky wink, a sticky smile and maybe a philosophical bon mot or two! Ooh! Watch out Pupusi and Maximiliano! That creepy peeper, Mr. Hammernuts is at it again! The big shit!

BOONDOGGLE! as Gilbert Hernandez answers the question which has stumped the finest scientific minds since the world first cooled like a big spherical pie on the window ledge of the universe! Go tell your Momma, go tell the Spartans, “Who Fears The Froat?”

COMBUST! As the micro-dicked Grecian buff-cakes of “Sweet” amble about sating their sexual impulses via the slits, vents and cavities of willing fauna such as the Pooso and the Orlat. What does such mindless and crassly loveless debauchery mean? It means, dude, life is “Sweet”! Whoa! SAVOURY BONUS! Discover the untold secret origin of XXX Pupusi’s name!

LACTATE! for all must fall before the wildly flailing fists of THE TAMPERRRRRR! None must be allowed to slow his surly progress! See how he trundles sowing truculent violence in his wake! But wait! Has our tin carapaced malcontent finally met his match in the form of a Junipero Molestat? Can only an unconvincingly proffered claim as to the debilitating effects of a recent heavy cold save face? The answer will leave you UNRUFFLED! All hail the gutless metal bully! THE TAMPERRRRRR!!!!

SPINDLE! as events take a decidedly spiritual turn when “Father Puto”  takes a break from his incessant pud tugging to join Bulto N. Piper and  Bumps the Faun at the Zombie field. Events soon turn sour as Father Pupa’s dislike of Bumps the Faun lures him into expressing his baser nature. A small mind and a closed heart result in an eruption of anal horror and tragic asphyxiation due to ingestion of a bitten off zombie-cock. But wait? Could this all be part of God’s design? Will the chastened cleric get another chance to get it right? Find out in the latest adventure of the priest with the cum stained pants!

T.A.C.GASMIC BONUS! T.A.C. Man and Marshman “cross swords” once more with attendance at the celebration of the Christian Eucharist hanging in the balance!

N.B. BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is not suitable for children or people with any sense of decorum or shame.

For the rest of us though, BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) is EXCELLENT!

BLUBBER (DIAMOND CODE: SEP151339) - Don’t ask, just weep!

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BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez


“Thy Opinion Hath Been NOTED, Wrinkled One.” COMICS! Sometimes I Wonder If It's Gil -BERT or Gil-BEAR! And Then I Just Settle for GODHEAD!

In which a vain attempt is made to engage with The Present and some words are written about comics produced during these times known as Modern. In a display of staggering arrogance at no point is any excuse proffered for the extended absence of the author, although he would like it to be known that upon occasion it is necessary for him to work for a living. Would that it were otherwise.  photo BlubFlyB_zpsvt1i7sjw.jpg BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

Anyway, this... Yeah, I know, what the world needs more of is middle-aged white males talking about what they like. Condemned as I am by the circumstances of my birth to a prison of unearned privilege, all I can offer by way of recompense are these words; as ungrammatical and dismayingly keen on cant as they may be. However, in the interests of diversity please note that while there is little I can do about being a middle-aged white male without multiple hospital stays and a bunch of therapy, I did at least show willing and wrote the following while wearing my wife’s knickers.

VALHALLA MAD#1 Art by Paul Maybury Written by Joe Casey Coloured by Paul Maybury Lettered by Russ Wooton Graphic Design by Sonia Harris Flats by Ricky Valenzuela Valhalla Mad created by Maybury & Casey Image Comics, $3.50 (2015)

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I bought VALHALLA MAD for the art of Paul Maybury which I previously encountered in SOVEREIGN, a comic which now appears to be defunct despite its dense pleasures. Chris Roberson wrote that one but this one's written by Joe Casey, who here has done one of those comics which are inexplicably basically about some Big Two characters but, you know, in the literary equivalent of those disguise kits you get from joke shops with the big pink plastic nose, the Groucho 'tache and the lens-less specs fit only to fool only vegetation and estate agents. So VALHALLA MAD is clearly not a comic about Thor and The Warriors Three because there are only three of them in total not four, and they all have different names: The Glorious Knox, Greghorn The Battlebjorn and Jhago The Irritator. (Extra bonus comedy points for Jhago The Irritator).

 photo ValPanelB_zpsrylerx00.png VALHALLA MAD by Maybury, Casey, Wooton, Harris & Valenzuela

It's a light comedy which is amusing enough (they rescue a plane but unbeknownst to they, their arrival caused it to crash in the first place!) Much sport is made of the voluminous verbiage of the Stan Lee Style and a generally pleasant time is had by all, not least our three protagonists who have graced Earth with their presence for a glorified pub crawl. Or there may be more to it than that as the final page appears to promise. It's a lot of talking is what it is, and with the exception of the odd typo (e.g. "feint" for "faint") it's propulsive and amusing enough stuff but visually it doesn't give Maybury much to work with. Good job he packed his Awesome this time out and he goes to town on it nevertheless. His boldly chunky style of cartooning brings the otherworldly and the mundane together while never losing the humour of the juxtaposition. Throughout the molten flow of his line is broad enough to encompass two realities and it's ultimately his art which makes VALHALLA MAD #1 GOOD!

BLUBBER #1 By Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics, $3.99 (2015)

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If VALHALLA MAD is the stag do then BLUBBER is the morning after where you wake up in a strange and distant field covered in sick while a stray dog humps the back of your head. Yes, it’s the one man kick to the nuts of rational thought that is Gilbert “Berty” Hernandez. Here he’s unleashed one of those baffling one-off comics that just exist because, well, because he wants it to. Is this the first in a new ongoing series of madcap anthropomorphic laff mags based around mutilation and sexual degradation? Or will the next time we see this be some sixty years hence in some pricey Fantagraphics boxed set big enough to hide a chopped up dog in? Trick question! The next time we see this will be in a court of law when Gilbert Hernandez is called to account for crimes so bizarre and outlandish we’ll have to redefine the concept of human society just to register the correct level of disgust. I particularly like the way this looks like a kids’ comic but it isn’t (unless you want to go to jail or your kids are The Children of The Damned). I was going to moan about how he got the name of his character wrong in the first strip but, y’know, the fact he didn’t murder anyone while making this bizarre farrago of puce faced lunacy probably outweighs that. Hard is the heart that weighs a typo heavier than a human life.

 photo BlubEarnedB_zps3pasgvez.jpg BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez

It’s a pint pot of horror poured in a teacup of visual discipline. Because as ostentatiously obtuse and unremittingly repellent as things get “Los Boss” Hernandez sticks to his grid like a fly to a fast moving windshield. It’s this friction between the boiling horror and the discipline of craft that sets that itch you just can't shift to work in your startled mind. Sandwiched inbetween the Charles Manson's Discovery Channel stuff is a bleakly funny exercise in unsettling obfuscation the equal of Lynch or (maybe a Beckett). I could feel profundity pressing against the tender membranes of my eyes as I read. Mind you, at other points I could also feel my mind pulsing and straining, like the overworked and exhausted sphincter of a pensioner at stool, as it tried at punishing cost to impose some meaning, some sense onto this EXCELLENT! comic.

Like the lady nearly sang, I can't live if living is without - COMICS!!!

"I Have Got To Be Sure, You Old Poop!" COMICS! Sometimes Democracy Comes Second!

Yes! Beat out that rhythm on a drum! Here's the only comic reviews worth reading on The Internet. No, Not really. No, not really in the mood either but if I don't put something up They come round and stand outside my windows in silent judgement. Hoopla! Also, don't forget to Save The Hibbs - HERE!  photo JaimePanelB_zpsui3bzwcz.jpg LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES by Jaime Hernandez


LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES #7 Everything by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez Fantagraphics, $14.99 (2014) Love And Rockets created by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez  photo LRockCovB_zpsiqwifvto.jpg

My LCS always forgets to send me this because, I guess, they are young and they think my aged mind is rotted like the teeth of a candy addicted child, and probably also being like super old and intellectually vulgar I can't appreciate The Good Stuff. That John, they think, he just likes 1970s war comics and Howard Victor Chaykin. He's just not been the same, that John, since his cock left him for the circus, they say opening themselves to a libel suit. Or slander. I'm not the lawyer, that’s the other chap. Either way, you know what I mean. Eventually though I remember to ask for it and they send it and it arrives and I read it. Write what you know, right? Have you seen this stuff? Look, someone in Comics needs to talk to someone in a position of authority pretty damn sharpish before things get out of hand. I'd say send Tom Spurgeon because he is disturbingly level headed about everything but they'd bang him up before he got a word out, what with his not exactly being dissimilar to that rangy dude out of Manhunter.

 photo GilbPanelB_zpspcyd6kux.jpg LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES by Gilbert Hernandez

So, no, don't send him, but someone needs to be sent. Because on the evidence of the last few LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES it's just a matter of time before Gilbert Hernandez flies a dirigible painted to resemble a giant, solitary boob at the Superbowl while spraying jellybeans and blue urine from an intricate system of nozzles and feeder tubes while playing MMMBop! at a volume sufficient to shatter skulls like plates chucked at a fireplace. Gilbert Hernandez' contributions here look like he just got a felt pen and proceeded to set down a bunch of pages so ridiculously bizarre that they threaten at any moment to explode into a nightmarishly profound revelation about the very nature of reality itself. I mean, after the dirigible thing, people are going to ask why no one saw the warning signs, and we're all going to have to hide our copies of LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES and act sheepish until the hullabaloo dies down. Then the other one, that Jaime, he's doing his thing about relationships and the past and learning to live, learning to die and all that, and I realise he is excellent at it but all that? it's just not me but BOOMSHAMALAMABINGBANG! he then only goes and equals the derangement which fists its way through every page of his siblings efforts, and what we have here is a comic so insanely aflame with creative fire that we have to break the Emergency Glass and throw the word ART! at it. No doubt, no doubt at all, The Bros Hernandez are still simply the best; better than all the rest; NA NA NA NA STEAMY WINDOWS! BONUS: KIDS! Can you spot the two Thomas Harris references in the preceding? Bully for you; you'll still get old and hate everything you once held dear! EXCELLENT!


SATELLITE SAM #12 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Matt Fraction Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, $3.50 (2015) Satellite Sam created by Matt Fraction & HowardVictor Chaykin

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Show me the man who has greater love for Howard Victor Chaykin and Ken Bruzenak. (Show me! Show me!) No, that guy doesn’t count he’s just some bum you bribed with a cot and two squares to say that. Me, I’m the real deal; I‘m the original walking bias when it comes to Howard Victor Chaykin and Ken Bruzenak so it pains me to say that this (the twelfth; what will be the first in the third trade paperback; what is already $42.00 in real money) issue of Satellite Sam is the only one so far to actually have worked. A bit. That’s just me though. Matt Fraction described this comic as “the ultimate Howard Chaykin(sic) comic” apparently blind to the arrogant condescension within his glib shilling. (What about all the Howard Victor Chaykin comics Howard Victor Chaykin wrote and drew? What about The Shadow: Blood And Judgement, Blackhawk: Blood and Iron, American Flagg!, Time2, Midnight Men, Black Kiss, Black Kiss2, and all the ones that aren’t as good as those (but are still better than Satellite Sam)? Sweet Mother of Pearl, the unmitigated gall of the man.) Anyway, in this issue characters suddenly realise the series is almost over and stop aimlessly noodling about and start blurting lines more suited to those movies Sally Field and Brian Dennehy are in that only children and people old enough to have varicose veins in their eyes watch, because only they are at home during the day. “I'm just another hole your Daddy left behind that you can't fill!” shrills one character and we all pretend that this isn't just a Empty Bullshit Moment unattached to anything in the preceding issues. It's the pact we make with today's writers. A pact signed in lattes.

 photo SatPanelB_zpsovokltb1.jpg SATELLITE SAM by Howard Victor Chaykin, Matt Fraction & Ken Bruzenak

As full of blazingly manipulative yet calorifically negligent emotional bombast as this issue is it's still better than any of the preceding issues. Mainly, it's better because every scene isn't at least a third too long, hanging about like a hammy actor reluctant to leave the stage and Howard Victor Chaykin seems to no longer, apparently, be drawing in a state of arousal so heated he can barely see. Ken Bruzenak remains flawless as ever. When people tell you this comic was mature, provocative and insightful always remember it was dumb enough to have a character blackmail a writer and for that not actually be a joke. As it enters the home stretch it looks like SATELLITE SAM will wind up being a gauche muddle of half-digested research that expects everyone to share its naive shock that in the past there was racism, homophobia and sexual intercourse other than the missionary position. Anyway, this thing is over soon and then we can all concentrate on an actual Ultimate Howard Victor Chaykin Comic. One that will hopefully be better than OKAY!



THE MULTIVERSITY: ULTRA COMICS #1 Art by Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy, Nark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Jaime Mendoza Written by Grant Morrison Coloured by Gabe Eltaeb, David Baron Lettered by Steve Wands DC Comics, $4.99 (2015) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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It was VERY GOOD! Because it was smart and entertaining but mostly because Mahnke & a crowded taxicab of inkers' art just plain fit like flesh on a skull. Those dudes are the dreamiest team. I hear inkers are on the outs what with there being no real need to divide the work that way for the hyper streamlined assembly line of 21st comic book production. I hope some teams stay together: this Sunday 5-a-side Team obviously, and Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, John Romita Jnr & Klaus Janson, Jack Kirby & Mike Royer, oh wait...Anyway back at Grant Morrison, we can't talk about the artists more than Grant Morrison now, can we? He'll get in a right snit. So, yeah, really now, can we have a moratorium on whining about Internet criticism within the books themselves. This childishly one sided last-wordism is even more distasteful as it always comes from the writers  criticism can’t touch.  Like Elvis sang, why are writers always first to feel the hurt and always hurt the worst. Or was it children? Is there even a difference? Questions. Anyway, thanks, Elvis; see yourself out. Loves his Mum, you know. Also, for someone so keen to be understood Morrison is remarkably opaque about the nature of his eggy Evil here. It’s the critics; no, wait, it’s the comics companies; no wait, it’s the fans; hang on, it's Terry Blesdoe from next door but one to me Mum; no, wait, it’s poor people; no, wait, it’s rich people; no wait, it’s Alan Moore! (It’s always Alan Moore! That utter, utter shit! Look at him over there apparently minding his own business, but we know he’s really biding his time. Oh, we’ve got your (big) number, Alan Moore!)

 photo MultPanelB_zpsqc3rza9j.jpg THE MULTIVERSITY: ULTRA COMICS by Mahnke, Alamy, Irwin, Champagne, Mendoza, Morrison, Eltaeb, Baron & Wands

I think (and I didn’t think too hard) it ended up being just that nasty old Negativity; it’s Bad Thoughts that are Dragging Us All Down, Maaaaan! If You Can’t Saying Anything Nice…Then You’re Evil. Seems fair enough. That’s the world’s problems sorted out then; who’s for a cuppa! Maybe I’m wrong. No doubt a small Commonwealth of vastly more gifted bloggers will shortly refract their own intelligence through the prism of this comic to reveal its hidden intricacies which, naturally, were there all along! It’s a smart book but it's a canny sort of smart; it’s all surface and any depth is dependent on the willingness of the reader to muck in and add it. I mean, seriously, there’s a bit about what’s the difference really between soldiers and murderers (Maaaaan)? #BIKOBAR! So, yeah, everyone just be nice; the Corporations are coming to save us!  Which is about the level of connection with the real world I’d expect from someone who lives in a castle with a medal from the Queen. MULTIVERSITY thus far is a mixed bag; MULTIVERSITY is pastiche, capiche? And Morrison can do pastiche well (Thunderworld) and he can do pastiche badly (Mastermen) so it all tends to even out. Here Grant Morrison's pastiche is of Grant Morrison so, of course , it works really well. When you can no longer impersonate yourself it's time to turn off the lights. It's not that time yet. Despite the niggling sense that behind the wonderful, intentionally slightly off-kilter art someone was throwing their toys out of their pram, this was smart and entertaining; it was VERY GOOD!



NAMELESS #3 Art by Chris Burnham Written by Grant Morrison Coloured by Nathan Fairbairn Lettered by Simon Bowland Logo and Design by Rian Hughes Image Comics, $2.99 (2015) Nameless created by Chris Burnham & Grant Morrison

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There are two reasons why this book works as well as it does (and it works very well indeed): Chris and Burnham. If it wasn't for Chris Burnham's Sunday joint textured art I'd have noticed that the first issue was a dense blizzard of folderol designed more to excite than deliver. Were Chris Burnham not so wonderful at imbuing every panel with sneakily discombobulating detail and at setting said panels in slyly unbalanced page designs I'd have maybe thought that the only real development in issue two was the jolly obvious “flu” reveal. And had it not been for Chris Burnham's deftly unsettling scale games in this, the most recent issue, better folk than I would have perhaps suspected that the pace was somewhat, ahem, leisurely and that narratively this should have all happened within the first two issues at most.

 photo NamePanelB_zpsacxr88xf.jpg NAMELESS by Burnham, Morrison, Fairbairn & Bowland

Luckily though I was aware of none of that so dazzled was I by Chris Burnham's muscularly disturbing performance here. I didn't even notice that for someone so magically special and all that our hero is pretty crap. Even though NAMELESS remains basically Event Horizon - But Not Shit NAMELESS is VERY GOOD! because last time I looked NAMELESS still had Chris Burnham.


SPONGEBOB COMICS #43 Art by Nate Neal, Gregg Schigel, James Kochalka, Maris Wicks, Bill Sienkiewicz, Stephen DeStefano, Vince DePorter, Charles Brubaker Written by Nate Neal, James Kochalka, Maris Wicks, Joey Weiser, Vince DePorter, Charles Brubaker Coloured by Hi-Fi, Levan Jihanian, Monica Kubina Lettered by Rob Leigh

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This isn't a particularly spectacular issue of SPONGEBOB COMICS; it does remain, however, beautifully illustrated and amusing enough to be a papery riposte to the idea that this kind of thing must needs be crapped out hackery. I mention it not because Bill Sienkiewicz has provided a cover with the titular spongiform loon in his best Wolversponge pose, but because Bill Sienkiewicz also provided a pull out two-page poster of Spongebob as a kind of symbiotic melange of kitchen utensils and undersea cretin. What this means, in effect, for people of a certain age is that Bill Sienkiewicz has provided a poster in a children's comic which readily brings to mind his creator owned '90s epic of child-murder, mental breakdowns, talking birds and general nutjobbery, STRAY TOASTERS. Now, tell me that ain't GOOD!

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SPONGEBOB COMICS by DeStefano, Weiser, Jihanian & Leigh

We're having an Election over here but when the dust settles and it's all over no matter who is in charge we'll still have – COMICS!!!

"...But The Truth Is Probably Just This..." COMICS! Sometimes We Weren't Worthy!

Okay, okay. So I can’t keep that pace up. Back to the old as and when, I’m afraid. Stop cheering, already. Show a little class, huh.  photo GardenB_zps8d4539e4.jpg

Sergio Ponchione. Steve Ditko. Jack Kirby. Wallace Wood.

Anyway, this… DKW: DITKO KIRBY WOOD Written, illustrated and designed by Sergio Ponchione Translated from the Italian by Diego ceresa, with Sergio Ponchione, Eric Reynolds and Kristy Valenti Fantagraphics, $4.99 (2014)

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Well, this is an odd beast of a thing. It’s a comic, but it’s a comic about comic creators rather than their creations. It’s about them in the sense that it seeks to provide an enticing introduction to their work and convey some sense of the importance of their art. Rather than, you know, being a comic where Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and Wallace Wood drive around in a van with a comedy dog solving eerie mysteries. Hmmm, or, wait, Steve Ditko could be a mysteriously commanding voice over the intercom like Charlie, and Woody and The King could be his Angels. There could be kidnapping, hairspray, glamour and fantastic jump suited action sequences suddenly halted by the two artistic giants crouching stiffly due to their smokers lungs concertina-ing with the effort of motion. Get my people to call Image’s people, people! STAT! No, thankfully, Sergio Ponchione has neglected such glibly hip kitsch nonsense and chosen instead to celebrate work of three men he clearly venerates.

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The comic (and it is just a comic rather than a book; it’s glossy, well designed and, odd stumbles in translation aside, really rather fine, but it’s still a comic) devotes an episode to each artist with a linking structure. Basically, then, it’s a portmanteau set-up but instead of Peter Cushing selling Ian Ogilvy a mirror haunted by David Warner we have a young cartoonist (gelled hair, earring) seeking the wisdom of the humble master of the comic arts, Sergio Ponchione (low maintenance ruggage, no ornamentation). This wisdom largely consists of Ponchione telling the youth (a bit off-puttingly schoolmarmish in tone, actually) to study the masters of the past – Ditko, Kirby and Wood. Ponchione is clearly all about those guys and he delivers tribute to them not by replication but via evocation. He pulls off the nifty trick of presenting each artist’s stylistic hallmarks wrapped in his own soft and warming style.

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There’s nothing particularly Ditko about the Ditko sequence until the last splash, but that last splash is particularly Ditko, yet in a very Ponchione way. Dude knows his Ditko, as you can tell by his inclusion in the splash of not only Spider-Man, Mr. A., Doctor Strange etc. but also by his giving pride of place to Ditko’s iconic big sweaty-threatened-hobo-face. It’s a sudden and busy burst of groovy fluidity which follows a sedate first person stroll up to Ditko’s door. Whereupon the door opens, Ditko speaks the only words any artist really ever needs to speak and shuts it in our face again. It’s a strip I think Ditko wouldn’t mind as it reveals nothing that isn’t already know. Ponchione can’t resist billing him as mysterious but then that’s something that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Look, I know this battle is lost but being private isn’t being mysterious. Steve Ditko’s dignified and resolute belief in his personal privacy is all the more beguiling surrounded as it is by the virtual babble of people I have no interest in practically herniating, in their multi-media social platform rush, to tell me about how they rode the dragon, danced through the fire, saddled the donkey, wattled the turkey and on and on and on. Should it be that refreshing in a field of artistic endeavour to find someone who is content to let their work speak for them? I don’t know, but I know if it turns out he’s been up to no good holed up in there for the last forty years I never said any of that. In the meantime we’ll all sit in a comics world that would rather bang on about how one corporation is lending another corporation the rights to use Spider-Man in a movie than tell me what the co-creator of Spider-Man is doing right now. (He’s still making comics but now funded via Kickstarter. You're very welcome.)

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Ponchione delivers the nearest thing to a story with the Kirby section. This is appropriate enough because of the three men Kirby was certainly the most narratively driven. Ditko was/is often driven by pure mood/propagandistic fervour with little concern for the niceties of narrative. After a certain point I don’t know what Wallace Wood was all about but, uh, let’s just call it a lust for life. Of the three Kirby was The Storyteller Supreme, so he gets a story. All of this strip is delivered in a Kirby via Ponchione style and again you can tell who Ponchione’s doing but you can also tell it’s Ponchione doing it. Ponchione avoids the lifelessness of imitation by avoiding the easy route; he doesn’t fall back on the Kingly signifiers such as the pair of eyes diagonally bisecting the panel or someone leaping fist first and gravity last right out of the page. Instead every image seems to contain something from every Age of Kirby, yet also something of Ponchione. I think he misses a step by having Kirby find pleasure in his work and isolation. While Kirby would no doubt have bust his truss with joy if left to his own artistic devices he’d still want his family around, I think. Kirby’s different from Ditko and Wood in the very real, very genuine love of live which suffuses even his darkest work. As nuts as any family can drive you it’s probably due to Kirby’s refusal to commit entirely to his art at the expense of his that means his work always had Hope built in.

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Wallace Wood could have done with some of that Hope but instead he possessed a surfeit of anger, or it possessed him. Howard Victor Chaykin once described Wallace Wood as an “engine of rage”, and Howard Victor Chaykin knew the man and also, I imagine, whereof he spoke. Wood gets the illustrated essay treatment and thus far more factual information is delivered about him and his work here than either Kirby or Ditko. Being an artist Ponchione is good at telling us how good Wood was, but Ponchione is even better at teasing out the genius of Wood’s EC Mad work. This stuff is often underrated but Ponchione clearly and swiftly describes how its reliance on the visual as opposed to the “straight” EC stuff’s text heavy approach honed Wood’s work into a miraculous joy of chiaroscuro and visual onomatopoeia. A miraculous joy which reached its arguable and early peak with his work on The Spirit. Being an artist Ponchione dwells on Wood’s achievements while lightly acknowledging the torments and addictions which eventually undid him. Wallace Wood didn’t walk through the fire, instead it consumed him from within at its own deadly pace. Ponchione seems to want to cast Wood’s fall as due to his immersion in his work to the detriment of all else. Ponchione implies, I think, that after Wood’s early peak he burned out. Maybe, maybe that was the spur to the habits that killed him. Hmmm, such conjecture feels unseemly from such as I, so let’s just say that there are no answers here. But let us also note that there aren’t supposed to be. What there is here is a tribute to a wonderfully talented man. One which, understandably, concentrates on the talent rather than the man. Wallace Wood; he was so, so very good.

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I like Ditko, Kirby and Wood and it turns out I like Ponchione’s art too so I enjoyed this comic just fine. But because I am a withered, loveless thing I do have a couple of beefs. Blake Bell’s introduction is a little too vinegar lipped for me and quickly falls into the trap of praising the Past by denigrating The Present. I know because it’s a trap I fall into so often myself that I’ve put a mattress and some bookshelves in down there. So I also know how easily done it is. Then there’s the product placement. Usually when it comes to product placement I’m with David Lynch, so I found it jarring here when in the strip Ponchione (or “Ponchione” if we must) has a panel in each strip hawking a book on each artist. In this instance I know it is sincerely and honestly intended as a spur to further reading, but I can already see where we’ll be in 5 years if someone (legal note: I'm not thinking of Mark Millar here) picks up on this possible financial revenue stream. Ugh. Ugh. And thrice ugh. But I believe Ponchione's intentions are honourable so I will say I have read the Blake Bell book on Ditko (Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko) and the Evanier book on Kirby (Kirby: King of Comics) and I can recommend them both. I particularly enjoyed the way Bell portrayed Ditko as not a mysterious, unfathomable freak but a human being; one who when young had a love of ping-pong and who made hand-made Christmas cards for his colleagues. Mark Evanier, predictably enough, continues to be the Boswell Kirby deserves. No faint praise that. I haven’t read the Bhob Stewart book on Wood (Against The Grain) but I understand Fantagraphics is reissuing it in a rejigged form this year (2015) so I will then. I haven’t read it yet because at the time I couldn’t afford it and plumped for a cheaper unillustrated option (Wally's World by Starger & Spurlock). It was okay, but it suffered unduly in that it was the first time I’d read a book about a comics creator. I just suddenly had a yen to know about the people who made all this wonderful stuff. I thought I’d start with Wallace Wood because whenever I saw the level of genius in his art I couldn’t help thinking, “Boy, I bet that guy died rich and happy!” Yeah, hoo, I was surprised. Hilariously I soldiered on and my next foray into the chucklesome real world of Comic Creators was Art Spigelman’s book on Jack Cole (Plastic Man & Jack Cole: Forms Stretched To Their Limits). “Surely”, I thought having learned nothing, “Surely, this guy died rich and happy!” Yeah. Oof. When Jack Kirby famously said that comics would break your heart, I didn’t realise he was being upbeat. No wonder Steve Ditko prefers to keep schtumm. Those guys were/are Great but DKW was GOOD!

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One died badly, one died battling for recognition and one turned his back on us - Hey, Kids! COMICS!!!

Kim Thompson Died a Month and Four Days Ago...


((As ever and always my own opinions and speculation follow))

(J_Smitty_ enters a small and darkened room.  The feeling is almost claustrophobic.  He twitches, nervously, almost reflexively as a panel slides back to reveal a small figure barely perceptible and perched on the sill of the opening – cloaked in darkness)


“What have you come to confess?”


“Sir, I only just picked up my first Fantagraphics book at the tender age of 33.”


(The little figure sighs deeply and shifts its weight - testing the heft of something)


“10 hail Kim’s and take this brick with you!”




First, you should probably all take the time to read Tom Spurgeon’s detailed and wonderfully complete obit over at the Comics Reporter:


Second, in that wonderfully complete obit there is only one mention in passing of George Herriman.

Herriman's Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse, are how I came to know Kim Thompson and more importantly how I choose to believe K.T. (as he often signed) viewed death and its power – or lack thereof.

In the final volume of Fantagraphics odyssey effort to reprint every available Krazy Kat work we find a one page tribute – written by Thompson – in memory of series editor Bill Blackbeard.  You can find a more comprehensive look at Blackbeard here:


He was an amazing man – his quest was beyond tilting at windmills and yet, he’s very nearly pulled it off and I am PROUD to live in Columbus, Ohio where the majority of his collection has come to rest at The Ohio State University.

But, back to Thompson.  I’ve scanned the page because you need to see it.

Bill Blackbeard

Thompson shines here as everything he’s been made out to be over the course of his monumental career:

A sharp editor (Three paragraphs to sum up a man’s life with love and affection)

A skilled translator (How to see the utter beauty in what many saw as obsession)

An unparalleled publisher (Who often and seemingly chose projects he believed in would succeed through the cumulative will of the people involved more than any “commercial appeal.”)

In a time when things come and go – when the news cycle is faster and more than anything a hungry beast waiting (impatiently) to be fed – it’s important to remember that a legend has passed and little more than a month ago.

It’s important to remember how he viewed death and what he may well have hoped would be his legacy.

I believe Thompson didn’t place these works in front of us because they were important or the best.  A publishing strategy so laborious and fraught with peril couldn't come from such a conceited place.  He published them, translated them, labored over them and dedicated his life’s work to them because he wanted us to enjoy them.  He wanted it to be perfectly fine for an avowed comics fan to pick up one of these things 25 years into his comics reading life and be changed by them.

And, in a good world, our continued enjoyment and love of his work will be his reward.

Love Wins

(I first saw this picture in Joe Hughes' obit over at Comics Alliance.  I have no idea where it first appeared.  No idea of its context or origin.  I include it here because it's true...and damn funny)

Wait, What? Ep. 128: Radical Cheek

 photo 8f998246-96b6-46fd-beff-613f41c8ee65_zps704c2f02.jpgGiffen doing Kirby in the amazing MOTU: Origin of Hordak one-shot.

Delays, delays, delays!  Sorry for 'em--I was out of town for a few days losing money at "The World's Biggest Little Slot Machine Gouge."  No complaints on that front, actually -- I spent much more time lying by the pool and eating cinnamon rolls the size of my head than I did setting my money on fire and throwing it in the air (metaphorically, mind you: it only felt like that because of the speed with which it disappeared out of my hands) and had really a fine old time overall -- but it did get in the way of timely posting of this, our 128th podcast and the one right before we take a week off.

Join me after the link, won't you, for some hasty show notes as I get ready to hustle my butt out the door?  (Hey, it is New Comics Day, you know!)

0:00-60:35: It's a new record: we go from complaining about the Internet to Age of Ultron #10 in under two minutes!  Yes, if you like hearing Graeme and Jeff wax rhapsodic about the possibilities of comics, this most certainly is not the segment for you.  I wish I could summarize everything said in this segment for you but let's just say -- if you had a complaint about Age of Ultron #10, we probably cover it in here. 60:35-1:06:41: Graeme was also non-pleased with a recent scene in Uncanny Avengers in which Rick Remender discusses his earlier controversial scene with a certain degree of, um, straw-mannishness, shall we say? I have a helpful image to illustrate!  photo fc485adc-baf9-4bb6-843f-bacf470e9ae2_zps8b7a13d7.jpg 1:06:41-1:16:59:  In the "stuff we need to talk about but have no idea how to actually talk about" department, we spend far too few minutes discussing Kim Thompson's passing and how much the contemporary comic market owes to him. 1:16:59-1:27:51: And then after contemplating comics and mortality, it's time to discuss the first six issues of Superman/Batman by Loeb and McGuinness. Graeme's version of Jeph Loeb's storytelling is actually better than the last three Loeb stories Jeff has read. 1:27:51-end: Other comics:  Masters of the Universe The Origin of Hordak one shot by Keith Giffen; Shade The Changing Man #2 by Steve Ditko and Michael Fleisher (see photo below of page discussed in the segment);  photo 075aa4ca-9eca-41cd-ba78-811456521b6e_zpse1e0bb32.jpg The Ditko Public Service Package by Steve Ditko; Empowered Deluxe Edition Vol. 2 by Adam Warren; Batman & Batgirl #21; the currently gorgeous looking Judge Dredd story by John Wagner and Dave Taylor currently running in 2000 A.D.; and a Best of 2000 A.D. reprint I sprung on Graeme to see if he knew it:

 photo 9adf8554-12b9-4d4a-b5d6-0f2e5b6ee0d0_zps9a900a7f.jpg (Do you think he'll be able to identify it? Tune and in see!)

And so, that's the ep! It'll probably be available on iTunes by the time you check this out, but it should also be available to you right here, right below:

Wait, What? Ep. 128: Radical Cheek

Remember, Graeme and I won't be recording this week, so there'll be no podcast next week, but we should be back after that to begin the whole cycle anew.  As always, we hope you enjoy, and thanks for listening!

“I Know That Cave!” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Not For The Eyes Of The Vicar!

Hello! It is I, and I have some words! The words this week are about an original graphic novel penned by Gilbert Hernandez - Comics' very own George Clooney-a-like and Living Master of the Form. So, it's probably a safe bet I liked it. Saved you some time there. For those with time to kill this idiocy continues after the <more!>. Photobucket

LOVE FROM THE SHADOWS By Gilbert Hernandez Fantagraphics Books, $19.99 (2011)


Gilbert Hernandez certainly has his knockers both on and off the page. Quite a lot of the time those off the page are motivated by the incessant presence of those on the page to commence their knocking. After thirty years this knocking has reached a pretty high volume, because yes, this year marks Gilbert Hernandez’ thirtieth birthday. Looking at the author photo on the back-flap he’s had a hard life. Oh, maybe it’s his love that is thirty years old, or maybe his rockets. Either way it’s an anniversary of some kind so I’m joining in by looking at this book. A book which contains knockers and probably has many of same since it also bat-shit.

LFTS is the third in a series of books intended to act as an adaptation of a cinematic opus starring Gilbert Hernandez’ character Fritz from the Luba cycle of stories. CHANCE IN HELL and TROUBLEMAKERS are the two other “adaptations” issued in stand alone form although I believe the stories Hypnotwist and Scarlett By Starlight in NEW LOVE AND ROCKETS are also intended to perform the same function. Then there’s SPEAK OF THE DEVIL which is apparently the real life events which form the basis of the Fritz vehicle The Midnight People which hasn't been adapted yet. It’s all very clever and all very meta but you really don’t need to worry about it unless you want to worry about it. In which case, well, there it is. Really though, all the conceptual fluffery just seems to be a long winded way of Gilbert Hernandez apologetically informing his audience that compared to the high art dishes of his past (Human Diastrophism, X, Poison River etc. etc. etc.(yes, "etc.", he’s pretty good.)) he’ll be serving up a somewhat cruder stew. Cruder both in terms of territory and technique.


Other than strange looks from people with your best interests at heart there’s little to be gained from an outline of the plot. Or “plot” (?!) as it were. Weird business is afoot almost from the off and by p.20 the main character has changed into someone else (maybe?) after entering a spooky cave under her house while being a pursued by some childishly inquisitive men clad in boiler suits and shades.  After that it gets really bizarre. It may be reductive to describe what follows as an imaginatively volatile cocktail of Tyrone Power flicks, Scientology, Russ Meyer and Barry Gifford but as reductive as that may be at least it’s a start. A start which merely intimates the insanity Gilbert Hernandez depicts so dryly over the 120 pages of lucid cartooning herein. So lucid in fact is his art that given the outrageously ridiculous subject matter it becomes in itself a tone, that of deadpan.  This poker faced delivery never falters and lends it all a farcical air which somehow both mercifully undercuts and unmercifully inflates the sense of creeping dread. It’s the work of a comics master tearing into the stained brown paper parcel of his unconscious, and finding a piping hot slurry composed of decades of pop culture detritus. Using his decades-honed skills of cartooning elegance and narrative clarity Gilbert Hernandez proceeds to mould his own serious concerns into the hectic pop hodge podge masquerading as a plot.

Yes, Gilbert Hernandez has flensed the trash of his past but he has not done this for nostalgically onanistic purposes. All these trashily  startling and confoundingly crazed pages point not to a talent titting about but rather to a talent continuing to develop; to develop in areas and ways in which he himself seems more driven than coherent in purpose. LFTS is no spinning of the wheels, it is no plucking of the foreskin. No, it is yet another step out beyond expectations and another skip up and over stagnation. LFTS is nonsensical, filthy, horrific, messy, unsettling, funny, dumb, lurid and as smart as all get out. LFTS is an example of a comics creator who has reached a place where he can do what he wants, however he wants and has found that there is still stuff he wants to do. It's part of Gilbert Hernandez' Big Ern Moment. Thirty years in and Gilbert Hernandez has definitivley won and all these weird, impolite books (of which LITS is but one) are the bits where he staggers around with his comb-over wisping freely and declaring to all and sundry (but mostly to himself), “They can’t touch me now! I'm above the Law!


And after thirty years who can deny him that? Not I. No, not I. So, LOVE FROM THE SHADOWS is VERY GOOD! Besides he still does the straight stuff, Pops. Who isn't looking forward to JULIO'S DAY and MARBLE SEASON? People who hate COMICS!!!


A Brief Note From The Backroom Boys:

The more visually inclined amongst you will have noted the lack of images accompanying the preceding “thing”. This was not the intention. Alas, life spits on intentions like a sailor on shore leave. Yes, at present John is without a scanner. Last week The Haunted Scanner gave up the ghost and stopped being haunted and became a haunter. Not that there’s actually an after-life for scanners (although given the stuff Gilbert Hernandez comes up with it wouldn't be the most unlikely prospect I've entertained recently). Anyway, we’ve disposed of it in the time honoured and totally safe tradition of disposing of electrical goods (hefting it over a disused building’s fence in the dead of night) and now only the mourning remains. And the waiting. The waiting for a new scanner to appear out of thin air. Until that happens I’m afraid it’s going to be reduced rations content-wise. So, just letting y’all know there.

Ta-Ta For Now!

Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in

I mean, if I had just waited 20 minutes to post, I could have done this in the first post, but then Tom has to go and post something from Eric Reynolds...

First off, seriously, "Bookscan Analysis as Direct Market Public Service Announcement"? Really? I feel like I've been told to get off Tom's lawn for playing too much...

Eric's comments are wonderful, but I don't really see that they have much (if anything) to do with anything that I actually WROTE, as opposed, possibly, what people might want to think that I wrote.

If someone can point me to anyplace where I've represented the BookScan numbers to be anything other than what I say they are -- that they "don’t, in any way, represent all 'book stores' selling comic book material." That "Also, remember that this analysis represents RETAIL SALES. This absolutely doesn’t include anything like Library sales, or School Sales, or things like book clubs and so on. Those are not RETAIL SALES." Or that at any place in the piece that I ever represent these numbers as anything other than "sales from the stores that report to BookScan", then I would dearly love to see it.

I've also never suggested, thought, implied, or even believe that virtually any publisher anywhere could survive or prosper without ALL channels working to sell books. Again, if anyone can cite a statement like that, please feel free.

I like Fantagraphics' output. A lot. They are clearly an important publisher in terms of the bodies of cartoonist's work they are bringing to the market, and many of the things they publish are among my best sellers.

I might be worth noting that the word "Fantagraphics" doesn't appear in this year's column whatsoever, and I make a single passing reference to one book of theirs (as noted before, intended purely as a follow-up from the '08 column), and a handful of the cartoonists they publish. The context of that statement is, at least I think, to express regret and amazement that those cartoonist's works aren't selling better, via the stores that report to BookScan, then they are.

Eric says, "I did a cursory look at a half-dozen titles from the last couple of years, and in some cases, our library/institutional sales can amount to as much as 30-50% of our overall book trade business. This is one stream that does not report to Bookscan..." which, as far as I can tell, is exactly what I said! It's also largely irrelevant -- the BookScan analysis is NOT a report on everything that sells in non-DM channels. I directly and repeatedly say that. I directly and repeatedly say that this is retail sales (repeat it with me!) "the stores that report to BookScan".

Further, BookScan is sales made to consumers -- not wholesale. Let's say, with no basis in reality, that 1000 stores that report to BookScan rack L&R #2, that could mean that there are 1000+ copies out there on the racks awaiting purchase by some sophisticated buyer with taste. Awesome. BUT THE NUMBER OF COPIES THAT SOLD TO A CONSUMER (via "the stores that report to BookScan"!) is 374 copies. If anyone, anywhere, has any evidence that this is not a factual statement, then I'd like to hear it.

That DOESN'T MEAN that FBI should abandon the bookstores, or that those are not "good" sales, or anything else that Tom or Dirk would seem like to spin as something that I am implying. I am not.

If people want to engage in arguments that *I* am not... well, I can't stop you, but there's no other possible way for me to respond except for "I never said that. I never implied that. I don't believe that. And anyone who does is, actually, not very smart, whatsoever."

Look at the numbers for what they say. Criticize me for things I actually say -- that's totally fair game. But don't criticize me for what you infer that I am saying, because that inference is on the plate of the reader, and does not bear any relationship to either what I wrote, nor what I believe. I think we'll all be much happier that way.

Eric concludes with "I don't pay attention to Bookscan too closely, but one thing I've gleaned from reading Brian's annual essays is that either he reads way too much into Bookscan numbers, or we pretty dramatically buck the conventional wisdom of what Bookscan "means" in the bigger picture."

At a guess, I suspect the latter is the case. As for the former, the only thing that I'm really "reading into" BookScan is that a work as (in my personal opinion) over-reviewed and mediocrely done as, say, Stitches, sells like 30 times better than something as transcendent, and created by cartoonists at their peak of craft and skill, as L&R.