I Hope You All Enjoyed The Show.

I have a post I didn’t have time to finish and post last week, on the Beatles’ 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, June 1. I didn’t post it with the rush to prepare for the annual Summer Art Market show. That went okay, with the main news being I won “Best In Show.” I’ll put up an album of photos soon. But here’s the Beatles post, and I’ve got another that I never posted, so I’m going to finish that, too.

 

It was 50 years ago today. We’ve been seeing that almost obligatory headline a lot recently, as the media return to a longtime, can’t-miss subject: The Beatles, and the anniversary of the release of their ground-breaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Everyone old enough will have memories of this release, which was a watershed in both artistic and cultural, even political history. Its effect is probably emotional for some people who lived it, and difficult to describe to those who weren’t there without using hyperventilated superlatives. The Beatles were sort of magical at that time; the hair- a big issue then, the flippancy, the “more popular than Jesus” defiance. There were some Goldwater Republicans and what we then called “Jesus Freaks” who hated them, but no one else did. It’s important to note- you young whippersnappers! -that no later artist, no Prince, no U2, R.E.M., Beyonce or Katy Perry, has ever had that grip on the imaginations of the young.

Suffice it to say, I’ll never be all that distant from Sgt. Pepper’s. It seems a part of me, and retains its immediacy. For one thing, at that time Sgt. Pepper’s was the only show in town. But it’s become fashionable to place it behind Revolver in the Beatles’ canon.

Like many, I’ve read a lot of books on the Beatles. My two go-tos, musically, remain Tell Me Why, by Tim Riley, a song-by-song analysis of the musical and lyrical structures of all their albums, and The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, by Mark Lewison, a day-to day record of their studio work with George Martin. Both provide critical analysis, as well as cultural and biographical context for their many moods and innovations. As I’ve mentioned here before, The Beatles Anthology albums (Vols. 1-3), with their out takes, creative progressions and studio half-steps, are an indispensable companion. Also search out The Atlantic’s The Power of Two, (July 2014) by Joshua Wolf Shenk, a shorter analysis of what made the Lennon and McCartney collaboration so effective.

In 1967, others, notably rivals The Rolling Stones, were still standing on the shoulders of blues giants. The Beatles however, had leveraged their unassailable chart postings by quitting touring, and had unlimited studio time to explore pop, folk and psychedelia.

On Pepper’s, the sheer power of George Martin’s control room vision can no longer cover up the centrifugal motion of Lennon and McCartney’s artistic intentions. On Revolver, we hear McCartney’s R&B masterpiece “Got to Get You Into My Life” moments before one of the first great 60’s psychedelic/mystic songs, Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”. They are clearly moving apart musically. But with Pepper’s, their ideas are still engaged in metaphorical dialog, thanks in part to its loose concept (faux Victorian psychedelic nostalgia, which quickly became the rage for pop bands, and eventually informed steam punk genre fiction and fashion). Three songs epitomize the Pepper album’s failures and its triumphs. One is on the album, two are not.

The first is “A Day In The Life”. It is the emotional core of an album that has been criticized for not having one, when compared with the worldly love songs and social realism of Revolver.  But its disjunct between bouncy pop and existential questioning is part of its brilliance, and the Atlantic article defines this as part of Lennon and McCartney’s collective genius, the tendency of John and Paul to respond to each other’s ideas, in the same way that the dreamy search for identity in Strawberry Fields plays off against the uncannily superrealist nostalgia of Penny Lane, the other two songs I allude to above.

This is the real problem with the record: it’s not complete. In early 1967, their record labels Parlophone and Capitol, anxious that a cash cow single had not been seen for all of 10 months, were pressuring the band, just liberated from brutal touring schedules, for a new 45. The fireman rushes in, indeed. The labels’ release schedule was out of sync with their creative one. Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane were two of the few songs ready. But by custom, these midterm singles were not included on the subsequent album. By late April, work had begun on several other songs, and only a month after Pepper, the “All You Need Is Love” single is released. No song was ever released from  SPLHCB as a single, in fact. “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” are included in December on another Capitol mash-up, the “Magical Mystery Tour LP.  It’s treated as a trivial oddity if mentioned at all, but is in fact a pop artistic tragedy on a par with a lost Shakespeare play. Or perhaps it’s enough to state that George Martin called the songs’ omission from the record “a dreadful mistake”. He’s right- only those two songs refer both to the floating anxiety of Lennon’s distant, ironicized dreamscapes brought together with McCartney’s photorealism in one disturbing “Day”, between morning newspaper and first cigarette.

In A Day In The Life, the Beatles themselves puncture their own nostalgic Victorian band conceit before the record even ends. As Riley points out, in a useful discussion of the song’s metaphoric soundscape, the spare acoustic guitar opening of Day emerges from the fading illusion of Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise), and Lennon’s dreamy absurdity ( “4000 holes”) asks us to ponder what is real and what is illusion. We hear an alarm clock; the dream is over-  a studio alarm clock included in an early take as a time marker inspires McCartney’s man on the bus smoking segment, which plays what is in this context, as quotidian zombie horror, as his working stiff rushes for the bus. This daydream plays off perfectly against Lennon’s existential nightmare.

Without Penny Lane, however, The crystalline nostalgia of McCartney’s hyperrealist suburban vignettes (When I’m 64, Lovely Rita) can sound gratuitous and superficial next to the anxiety-prone absurdity of Lennon’s hallucinogenic Victoriana ( Good Morning, Mr. Kite). These songs, in turn, sound like LSD fripperies without the primal identity quest (“No one, I think, is in my tree”) of Strawberry Fields to anchor them. “Fields”- about an orphanage grounds, and “Lane”, about an everyday intersection, center the ideas of the Pepper sessions as no other song, other than “A Day”, can. The metaphoric backstory of the album begins with these childhood memories and ends with Paul and Martin’s orchestrated crescendos, knitting disparate sounds and leading to a note of attenuated anticipation, a sort of definitive ambiguity. What’s next, the long closing note asks? Martin was excited by the creative effusion, and anxious to return to the studio. But the band, in retrospect, suddenly seemed adrift.

“A crowd of people stood and stared” referring perhaps, to the just-exited Sgt. Pepper’s audience? Or to the Beatles themselves? Nobody was sure what exactly they were seeing. The disjunct between Lennon’s dark apocalyptic dreamscape; and the sunny clarity of McCartney’s blue suburban skies is explained, as a dream within a dream. It all adds up to a kind of existential, hallucinogenic identity crisis,  one that mirrors the one many of us, in large parts of society as a whole, experienced then. But the Beatles, now without Brian Epstein, might’ve been having one, too.

It brings up the question of what might have been released instead of these two songs, and the correct answer is, really, “Who cares?” “When I’m 64” was the other song ready in February 1967, and would be no great loss to the album, where it’s more of a breathing space between more meaningful songs. Same with “Within You Without You” which fits only by virtue of geography into the album’s loose concept. But that brings up band politics, as it was Harrison’s only song on the album. So why not include them all? Recording technology was apparently an issue. Sgt. Pepper runs 39 minutes, Revolver, 35. Mostly, though, it was commerce triumphing over art.

For the Beatles’ part, they’d made themselves clear on this issue with the “butcher” cover to the spurious Capitol Records release Yesterday and Today, but never seemed to have returned to the issue. “Well I just had to laugh” is, as Riley notes, a token of resigned disillusionment.

By the time Pepper’s was released, they’d recorded several sessions for Magical Mystery Tour. Self indulgence was rearing its head. On the very day of the Pepper album release, Lewison reports the Beatles in studio, recording unplanned and “frankly tedious” jams. Perhaps it was the Beatles themselves who had lost their emotional core. Did they have an inkling that some element of magic had gone mysteriously missing? Had hubris set in? But if the album does fail, it’s a failure of execution, not of artistic vision. Sgt. Pepper’s, always great in terms of its cultural influence, if not in terms of its artistic cohesion,  was sacrificed to an already outdated business plan.

 

When They Go High…

“Magnifying Glass”, Roy Lichtenstein.

I like writing about comics because they partially relate to my professional work in graphic arts. How much do they relate?

Most people have been conditioned by the conventional wisdom to ignore comics as a relevant art form, high or low. This is getting harder to do. There is starting to be a significant body of criticism available to scholars and aficionados, and each new study advances the conversation in both quality and tone.  The book “Origins of Comics”was previously mentioned here, as it makes interesting connections between the narrative, moralistic print tableaus of Hogarth, a pioneer of popularly available printmaking in an academic tradition, and the kinetic narrative of satiric picture stories by Topfer, generally considered the inventor of the comics and by some, as a precursor to visually subversive art such as expressionism. Comics and prints were really the first popular (visual) media. Movies often copied comics’ prank narratives in the early days. High art has been raiding the non sequiturs of cartoon satire since Odilon Redon and Grandville. And into that well have movies and TV, today’s dominant popular media, been increasingly dipping.

My reading choices have tended to reinforce this connection. Mini-reviews that I post on my blog to add diversity from my show and studio news, pretty much track what I’m reading. I love literary and art criticism and comics in their recent mini-renaissance have touched on both. Here are several items from my recent stacks of reading material, randomly acquired, but that seemed to relate:

High and Low, Modern Art, Pop Culture, essays on comics and caricature by Adam Gopnik, 1991: I carefully parsed Gopnik’s essay on comics in this voluminous catalog from a 1991 MOMA show. It ties into other essays in the same massive book, notably his essay on caricature. I was prepared for elitism, but I find nothing particularly canted about it, and in fact it fairly deftly meshes the histories, intents and impulses of both high and low art forms, and brings nice new perspectives on the mutual concerns, even influences, of George Herriman, R.Crumb, Phillip Guston, and others, including Miro, and of course, Lichtenstein.

Gopnik presents one of the more well-researched speculations on comics I’ve read, and it’s filled with original interpretations and unseen affinities. I can’t imagine not returning to it often. Just the section on the evolving and fairly conscious relationship between Crumb and Guston alone brings light to this often obscured relationship between high and low. Gopnik traces Guston’s cartoonish big feet figures from Bud Fisher (Mutt and Jeff) through Crumb, who’d recently published the first issues of Zap Comix at about the same time Guston switched from Abstract Expressionism to representational figuration. The tone of these fragmented, angst-ridden, offhand personages matches well with Crumb’s neurotic slackers. Crumb, discovering Guston later, pays homage on a cover of Weirdo Magazine. And the lineage continues now with Marc Bell, whose affinities with Fisher and E.C. Segar, again by way of Crumb, and his sense of lower class, paranoid humanity recalls Guston.

The very informed speculation on the artistic relationship between George Herriman (Krazy Kat) and Miro are well argued.  Gopnik parallels Herriman’s contingent (Southwestern) dreamscapes with Miro’s Iberian surrealism, pointing out perceptively that while it’s commonplace to speak of “surreal” elements in Krazy Kat, Herriman’s style was fully evolved before Surrealism even existed. High culture critical bias thus sometimes puts the kart before the Kat.

And I’ve not seen Lionel Feininger so well-placed in the history of comics, nor his comics so well integrated in a description of Feininger’s other intellectual  pursuits; Gopnik defines his role as go between for the romanticist  fantasies of Winsor McKay (Little Nemo in Wonderland) and the fauvism of European modernism, reinforcing the idea of comics as a movement toward expressionism in popular culture.

The discussion of Lichtenstein could have made a significant short essay in its own right. Gopnik rescues and humanizes this complex relationship from the mere “ironies of scale” and rote appropriations seen in conventional criticism, thus redeeming both Lichtenstein and the hack artists he thrust into the galleries, one of whom, Irv Novick, in the plainest irony of all, was his commanding officer in the army.

Gopnik also states flatly that Mad Magazine, which led directly to the subversive energies of Crumb and the Undergrounds, and then to the DIY /alternative press which eventually brought comics to the book market (and their current renaissance), changed humor and satire, and thus, politics in America.

This pop cultural transformation in American entertainment, from the rural puritan tropes of minstrelsy, to the urban cosmopolitanism of Jewish culture (which touches all popular media) probably deserves more examination, as does the role of comics and caricature in breaking down the academic tradition in art. He is a bit less convincing in his discussion of caricature from this perspective, though the idea that Picasso’s experiments in facial displacement are essentially caricature and date back to Leonardo’s notebooks is certainly interesting stuff. Like any good critic, Gopnik raises more questions than he answers, and I’m glad to have finally read this important milestone in pop cultural criticism. It’s rare that critics- even comics critics- grant such weight to comics in cultural history.

The Ganzfeld #6, Dan Nadel, 2008: The Ganzfeld was an obscure journal whose intellectually synthetic juxtapositions tended to ignore categorical barriers between high and low art. #6 presents cutting edge comics such as those from the Fort Thunder group that grew out of the Rhode Island School of Design, later published by Highwater Books and Drawn And Quarterly, alongside contemporary NYC artists in a way that shows Nadel’s curatorial brilliance, but doesn’t really offer any analysis as to why it succeeds or fails. High and Low succeeds brilliantly because Gopnik recognizes that both high and low art proceeds from the same romanticising quest for a “universal visual language” though they approach the inquiry from opposite paths.

At issue in The Ganzfeld is how we distinguish (or really, curate) high and low culture to get at truths often obscured in their specific visual languages and metaphorical subtexts. Nadel, who now edits the online Comics Journal, excels at creative mash-ups. But by the time he published Number 6, he was apparently burned out from the rigors of self-publishing, as evidenced in this collection’s theme, I’m Done. It implies either frustrated surrender or self-satisfied completion, and this issue, though I’m sure I’ll return to it rewardingly, has a feel of something jammed together as is, a sort of curatorial catch-all, take it or leave it. So, along with some obvious editing failures to credit artists, there’s not a lot of effort to make his curatorial decisions transparent or readable, though they are often brave and imaginative. The customary page of blurbs about the contributors is gone, for instance.

I’m not making this up. The difference is clearly seen in earlier issues of the anthology, such as the exquisitely allusive Number 3 (2003), which states “We hope it’s […] cohesive and that by reading all of the pieces and then pondering them in tandem, you’ll gain insight into a larger though still inexplicable design.”

Each time I pick this book up, there’s a new wonder. There is a reprint of an Alfred Hitchcock essay, “My Most Exciting Picture”, which begins: “Shooting ‘Rope’ was a little like unpuzzling a Rube Goldberg drawing.” Nadel adds to the synaesthetic fun by engaging a modern day illustrator, Eric Lebofsky, to provide diagrammatically Golbergian cartoons. These in turn cannot help but allude to Jonathon Rosen’s “Monsters of the Medical-Industrial Complex”. In another issue, he prints a Lawrence Wechsler essay on Edward Snow on Brueghel.  This is why I love anthologies- they bring these “Convergences” (Wechsler’s term) of curatorial impulse face to face with fresh, even transgressive creative output such as comics.

Art Ops, Shaun Simon, Mike Allred, et al, 2016: I happened to pick this “Graphic Novel” on impulse as I was reading Gopnik, and though it provides some good laughs and even provocative questions about art, I think they were mainly not intended.  Art Ops, by alternative comics mega star Allred has real potential but ultimately fails because of a reliance on ad hoc plotting and over used cliches about art.

Nowhere are the inherent challenges and ever present pitfalls of comics creation more on display than in Art Ops, a Vertigo project with great promise that appears to have fallen victim to rushed production and fuzzy plotting.  This is the ever present obstacle of the graphic novel itself: especially in mainstream publishing, one must employ enough conceptual hooks and compelling characters to ensure the title makes it to the stands long enough to complete any sort of long term vision.

Some brief background: the star of Art Ops’ creative team is Mike Allred, an independent comics auteur who rose from self publishing in the 80’s to alternative press mega star with his self-owned Madman title. The story of a brain damaged “super hero” in search of his own identity, Madman brought a compelling personal quest and retro-Silver Age sensibility to the comics scene.

A true pioneer of creator-owned comics publishing, Allred has always exhibited a somewhat digressive, approach to story plotting, and this actually meshed well with his main character. Frank Einstein was Madman, and his super power was empathy.  But Madman has been on hiatus for a while now as Allred has pursued a number of projects with mainstream publishers, often bringing a buzz with his quirky mix of troubled characters in media-driven landscapes, rendered in retro-pop art comics visuals.

Yes, there’s a real danger of the tail wagging the dog. He’s had his fair share of successes, such as X-Factor, an X-Men spin-off that featured superheroes as media obsessed celebrities in a Buzzfeed world. And iZombie became a popular TV serial. Others have have been far less edgy but still engaging, such as his current Silver Surfer revival, designed to appeal to the suddenly essential market for young girl readers.

In Art Ops all of Allred’s weaknesses come to the fore, and a few of his strengths. The result, though it has flashes of real innovation, is often a slapdash, confused, cliche-ridden mess. A group of 60’s era hipsters metaphysically extract the Mona Lisa from her frame, substituting a forgery. This is to prevent her from being stolen by art thieves, a paradox which touches on real issues of authenticity and accessability in art, but which is never really delved into. Such throwaways- some of them truly clever- abound. The villain of the story is a “Demoiselle” from Picasso’s Analytic Cubism period who wants to turn Mona into a figure from his later, still much-lampooned Synthetic Cubism period. This is actually hilarious, but again, seems to have gone right over the heads of those who wrote it.

Once again, Allred has his finger on the pulse of pop culture, but satirizing high art is a risky business. On one hand, it presents a tempting target with its pretension to high concepts and strange forms, on the other, it requires real insight into its intellectual inquiry, or one runs the risk of coming off as superficial troll. Comics artists, often illustrators trained in the remnants of the Academic tradition, are as susceptible as any to superficial or reflexively antagonistic attitudes toward modern art. Allred, no less than Gopnik, often has his finger on the pulse of pop culture, and thus very often touches on real modern concerns, as pop culture can. But one treads a fine line. Gopnik, with relentless research and a mind alive to the social secrets that popular culture‘s very popularity explicates, walks it quite lucidly. Art Ops, with its scattershot, improvisational satire, not so much.

The Complete Jack Survives, Jerry Moriarty. Raw Magazine founder Art Spiegelman met Moriarty at the School of Visual Arts, where they were both instructors, and included him in early issues of Raw, then published the first Jack Survives collection as a Raw One Shot. I’ve always wanted a copy, but it’s been a hard find. This expanded collection came out from Buenaventura (publishers of another influential comics anthology, Kramer’s Ergot) in 2009. It’s a unique hybrid in the interface between comics, illustration and fine art.

Moriarty along with punk cartoonist Gary Panter is a pioneer of a somewhat Fauvist cartoon style that has more lately found popularity in the so-called “Cute Brut” style of Fort Thunder artists such as Mat Brinkmann and Ron Rege, along with others such as Brecht Vandenbroucke, Brecht Evens, and even Lisa Hanawalt.  His rendering sits somewhere between painterly and illustrational- he calls them “paintoons”. These artists are consciously or not, inhabiting the gray area between high and low art. Moriarty incorporates elements of both, and Jack, a fedora-wearing 50’s everyman inspired by Moriarty’s father, inhabits a somewhat airless neo-expressionist world as silent as Hopper’s yet subject to the inevitable disappointments and ironic displacements of any comic character. They’re funny in a disquieting way, both funny “ha-ha”; and funny “strange” like that feeling you get on a beautiful day when you hear distant laughter after someone has died suddenly or an airplane has flown into a building.

Just as Lichtenstein made Novick’s limited magna dots a complex metaphor for the emotional vacuity of American culture and the intellectual pretensions of Seurat’s pointillism, so Herriman and Crumb’s India ink scratchings have given way to broad range of different styles and techniques to express complex personal visions more like Guston’s mute personages than Crumb’s confessional, sex-obsessed neurotics. Comics have appropriated a lot of the expressive toolkit of high art, accruing the spiritual disquiet as well, while continuing to refine their satiric message, which is why people write about them.

Like the Post-Modernists, Moriarty does not seek finish in his art, and often lets changes and overpainting show, as if to place Jack, trapped within a medium that dares not speak its name, in this dialog with the gods of existential inquiry. Some of these visual effacements seem planned, as if to pit text against subtext, paint against line, caricature against portrait. If there is anyone still puzzling what might have happened had the Ash Can school survived the intellectual buzz saw of Cubism to make it to the age of Pop irony and emotional effacement, then maybe Moriarty has the answer. Jack survives, indeed.

The World Is a Funny (Book) Place

I read some big, brainy, brick shaped books this summer. A respite was inevitable, and when my eyes want a rest, I very often pick up some comics.

Comics, A Global History 1968 to the Present, Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner: The 50’s suppression of comics in America had echoes in Europe and Japan, but they weren’t as long lasting, and thus innovation came sooner there. This is one of the valuable areas of context offered in Comics, which despite its limitations, is the most comprehensive survey of the creative maturing of the medium around the world I’ve seen. I was searching for a history of Euro comics from WW II onward. This isn’t it, but it’s a very readable account of the modern era of comics in their three largest markets.

Any art form requires context for informed interpretation. Comics, a form that has been subject in this country to an infantilizing censorship and commercialized lassitude since the witch hunts of the post war era, have lacked any sort of critical context for decades. This is finally changing, and important scholarship is proliferating, often at a pace that stretches the budget of an amateur scholar.

I thus passed this book up in the store both for cost, and for its scope, which cuts off the crucial 50’s Mad Magazine/EC era, roots of the seminal undergrounds. Mazur and Danner choose to start in 1968, a year rich in a larger cultural sense, but an odd place to start here in that it was the industry’s self-censorship push of ’54 (the infamous Comics Code Authority seal on the comics of my youth) that really led to the Underground comics movement of the 60’s, and ultimately, the innovation of the 70s and especially the 80’s. By putting EC out of business, the Code created an artistic void into which the young fans who missed those raucous comics (such as R. Crumb) ventured when they started Zap Comix, et al.

Mazur and Danner, limited by page count, did find a rich time to start, but nowhere else in the book is cultural ferment linked to pop culture innovation, so it seems arbitrary, and a missed opportunity. The reactionary Reaganauts and the dystopian Dark Knight Returns or Otomo’s Akira? Grinding, punitive Thatcherism, and Judge Dredd, or Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta? Not explored. To be fair, the book runs to 300 pages already, and it’s my only major complaint. The book, which I finally got from DPL, certainly does provide a creative context, if not a cultural one.

Instead, I was impressed by its integrative vision of comics as international art form. Within its narrowed time frame, it examines both Euro and American mainstream comics against underground/alternative upstarts, and provides a nice survey of alt- and mainstream manga, not to mention the frequent cross pollinations, such as Akira’s influence on Dark Knight or the “British Invasion” of creators that led to DC’s Sandman and Watchmen.

This survey attempts to link these culturally disparate but creatively interlinked threads in the development of a more literate and adult oriented comics media. Its authors appear to be knowledgeable about this complex period in comics history, where the rebellious spirit of early 20th century comics found rebirth in reaction to the post war censorship movements.

They note that there was in the late 60’s and early 70’s a movement to different marketing dynamics. The Franco-Belgian comics went to an album format (as American comics are doing today) while American comics began to be sold in the direct market, opening opportunity for creative experimentation. By then, Manga and Euro comics were already appealing to a more mature reader, often in the form of Science Fiction and other genre. This movement came to our shores in the form of Heavy Metal magazine, which despite its T & A editorial bias, published many interesting comics auteurs, as they point out.

At around that time, I  discovered Herge’s Tintin. This was a real revelation when I first encountered it in the college bookstore. His ligne clair (clear line) style defined Euro comics as a whole new simplified graphic style different from over-rendered American superhero comics, a real breath of air. The authors clarify the roots of different European styles of the time, tracing clear line to Brussels, and another looser style, epitomized by Goscinny’s Asterix, to Charleroi.  By the early 80’s Fantagraphics and Raw Magazine had begun publishing Jacques Tardi, Jooste Swarte and other European artists, who’d re-appropriated clear line with an ironic, post modern twist.

I was immediately hooked. Naturally, these early discoveries were on my mind as I read Comics, so I returned to two Euro comics pioneers.

Tintin has been recently repackaged in a smaller format, and I don’t recommend them. The whole appeal of clear line is its simple, open lines, allowing the art and story more space and air. Reducing the size of the panels defeats this. Herge is very funny and engaging in his details. The older format is often found on eBay or in used bookstores at great prices, and allows Herge’s dynamism and visual pacing to shine. The early stories, such as King Ottakar’s Sceptre, echo romantic genre fiction, such as the Prisoner of Zenda, but with interesting political overtones in the approach of WWII.

I found Adele Blanc Sec, by Jacques Tardi, in a favorite used bookstore. Tardi was a pioneer of more adult-oriented genre comics in France in the mid 70’s, mostly in the realm of the murder mystery, but also in a history of a soldier’s (his father) experience in the WW I trenches. In Adele, plots pile complication upon complication in lieu of a cohesive narrative about a mysterious prehistoric bird terrorizing Paris, but his cartooning, hovering stylistically between Herge’s clear line style and George Pichard’s texturally voluptuous landscapes, is atmospheric and evocative of the Edwardian era he seeks to evoke.

Empire of a Thousand Suns, Mezieres: 70’s Euro sci fi in a stylish “Charleroi School” art but fairly unsophisticated plot. Had hoped for something like Barbarella, a sexy pioneering sci fi fantasy, but got a pedestrian space mystery instead. The parallels between it and the slightly later first Star Wars movie are quite striking, though.

It was also in the early 80’s that I had my first taste of Manga. This came in Raw, too, which published 70’s Garo magazine alumni such as Yoshiharu Tsuge. They also introduced such important Punk/DIY (“Do It Yourself”, a movement of self-publishing and music recording) creators as Gary Panter and Mark Beyer. More recently quite a bit of pioneering  alt-Mangaka such as Tezuka and Hayashi have become available, and Mazur and Danner have done a good job of tracking their impact in the Japanese market and elsewhere.  If you become curious about these European and Japanese creators, then any of the better anthologies, such as Kramer’s Ergot or  Mome (Fantagraphics); Drawn and Quarterly Showcase, or the massive Drawn and Quarterly 25th Anniversary collection ( D&Q); or back issues of Raw can provide good samples. Comics: A Global History unfortunately chose to present examples in the original languages (easier to get rights, I’m assuming), but the anthologies’ translations are pretty easily and cheaply available online or at a good used bookstore.

Comics continues into the 21st Century, with brief examinations of web comics; the “Fort Thunder” collective, working in what Mazur and Danner call a “Cute Brut” style of edgy, primitivist graphics merged with Disney-style anthropomorphism; and the autobiographical movement.  It is a real renaissance in comics right now, and the book will quickly become dated. I really hope they revise it then.  In terms of defining creative trends in the three main comics-loving regions, USA, Europe, and Japan, Comics makes for absorbing and necessary reading, and I did find myself referring back to it as I re-discovered old works.

Adult Contemporary by Bendik Kaltenborn: This Norwegian cartoonist is very much in the vein of Brecht Evans (The Making Of, below) and Brecht Vandenbroucke (White Cube); that is, very edgy satire with urban themes in a cartoon brut style of hyperactive color and unrefined line work. They really grew on me as I settled into their neurotically absurd humor.

The Making Of, Brecht Evens: Gorgeous and dense watercolors and absorbing layout in this tale of artistic ego turned loose in the hinterlands of creativity.

City of Glass, Paul Auster: adapted by Paul Kurasic and David Mazzuchelli. A Noirish thriller of identity and social interaction by Karasic, who once worked on Raw Magazine, and Mazzuchelli of Asterios Polyp and Batman Year One where he brought back a purer cartooning style to the over-rendered medium of superheroes. Mazzucheli’s stylizations sometimes carry real elemental power, as in Batman; and sometimes seem overly self conscious or precious. But it’s a compelling story.

Tales to Designed to Thrizzle, Michael Kupperman: bizarre non sequiturs and 50’s style ad graphics collide in this often funny satire of capitalist messaging. Best in small doses, possibly.

Drawn Together, Aline and R.Crumb: Another worthy anthology in the 80’s was Weirdo, where these unexpectedly affecting collaborations between R. Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb appeared before being collected in this 2012 edition. Aline influenced him to try autobiographical comics, which she helped popularize, and he alertly recognized the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts harmony of her scratchy primitivism with his iconic retro-E.C.Segar Zap Comix style. It is a visual analogy of what makes a relationship work; neuroses, kinks, self-absorption and all. The whole becomes a funny and romantic page turner and ultimately tells the fascinating tale of 35 years of their unconventional marriage. And, by extension, of the maturing and broadening of the conventions of an always vital medium.

Book Porn

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A computer crash and a temp job in a shorthanded college bookstore really cramped my writing though I do have plenty of raw first drafts, typed shakily into my phone or tablet on public transit. So I’m posting some summer reading commentary now as I try to catch up: 

I finished The Novel, A Biography. It’s an eleven hundred page survey of novels and their authors, written by Michael Schmidt.  I’d intended to cherry-pick it, for authors I love, or am curious about. But its many and various cross referencings made it hard to put down. And its subject matter is undeniably as significant as any art history, about which many back-breaking tomes have been published.

The novel exists as both high and low culture, though it must certainly qualify as the world’s first pop culture medium, having come into being roughly at the same time as the printing press. It’s inherently ironizing, which is undoubtedly why it very quickly outgrew its early tendency to masquerade as “true” memoir, and became wildly popular with Cervantes and then Fielding’s introduction of contemporary satire. It goes without saying that most of the novels discussed in the book I haven’t read, though in choosing examples here, most I have.

I’m especially callow in regard to books written before the height of the American Romantic era, around 1850, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. I’d tiptoed around English Victorian novels like literary quick sand and somehow avoided finishing anything by Dickens in high school, actually bragging of not having flunked the class.

In university it was easy enough to concentrate on modernist writing. Summers then and non-term months were for pop culture heroes, genre and post-modernists. Yes, I probably read every Vonnegut novel before 1985. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the novel’s roots, though. I had a vague familiarity with and attraction to the picaresque and the Gothic, having read enough of my parents’ collection and literary criticism to make ad hoc connections between Cervantes, Melville and Pynchon.

But placing those things in the context of the novel’s development from Cervantes to Fielding; from Richardson to Austen to James, requires a road map and that is what Schmidt ambitiously attempts to provide- a bird’s-eye view.

Schmidt generates critical dialogue through the device of writers writing about writers. It’s a shifting perspective to be sure. He has his favorites (Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Vidal), but often includes contradictory critiques, and thus one is left to compose one’s own critical map through a sort of triangulation. Nor does he hew to strict chronology, especially after 1900. This leads to pairings that are useful (Richardson with Austen), brave (Bruce Chatwin with Daniel Defoe), unimaginative or even stereotypical (a gaggle of early gay novelists followed by a murder of Jim Crow-era black writers) and plain bizarre (fellow paranoids, but political opposites Ayn Rand and Pynchon). A passage on John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress) alludes to Kurt Vonnegut (Billy Pilgrim, get it?). And if “Biography” can be defined in one sense as “mistakes made, lessons learned”, then what are we to make of the fact that the last chapter of the novel’s “Biography” features Saul Bellow, Phillip Roth and Martin Amis?

The point being that seeking the definitive would be a fool’s errand in such an expansive undertaking and Schmidt mostly avoids it.

 Schmidt does not attempt to rank or qualify writers, though he does give oblique commentary and his likes and dislikes are often easy to suss. Likes include picaresque adventures (Cervantes, Fielding) Late Romanticism (Melville) and early modernism (Woolf). Dislikes include Richardsonian romance, the Gothic (Scott), late Modernism (late Joyce) and most Post Modernism (watch out, Thomas Pynchon). Perhaps unsurprisingly, de Sade is not mentioned despite his fairly obvious, though often unacknowledged thematic affinities with Dostoyevsky and others (including Rand). Yet contemporary mainstream writers who’ve had best-selling decades ( Jane Smiley, John Irving) also don’t merit a walk-on.

Schmidt does include a chapter on genre where he discusses Raymond Chandler and Walter Moseley as artists before giving a wave of the hand to the putative heirs of Austen and the Brontes such as Barbara Cartland, who has sold hundreds of millions of books if not over a billion. This gives one an idea, when seen with the advent of mass market and trade PB market in the 50s, of just how massive and diverse the reading public has become. He imposes a cutoff, sensibly set at Y2K. It seems far less sensible after reading this, to subscribe to the conventional wisdom that the book is dying. After the apocalypse, who will survive along with the cockroaches? Jane Austen in various paperback versions, my adventures in bookstores both new and used indicate.

Having a road map is important, I think. I’d like to read Fielding’s Tom Jones, influenced by Cervantes and very influential in its own language. I can probably live- and die- without Richardson, but my sense -or sensibility (?!) is that Austen, inventor of what Schmidt characterizes as a “free indirect” interiority is of far more importance than the commonplace rubric “inventor of the romance genre” that’s often assigned her. I will probably continue to avoid Dickens. I feel I should try to get all the way through a Bronte sister, perhaps Charlotte this time. I can no longer avoid James, I fear, though that brings me to Woolf’s doorstep, a safe haven.  As the “too many books, too little time” shopping bag franchisees remind us, life is short- but novels are long. When the hell will I re-read Ulysses?  And can I get back the hours I spent with the overwrought moral and psychological convolutions of Iris Murdoch?

add to these the regretfully unread (Barthelme, Gaddis, and I did happen to read an old Granta excerpt of a then-prospective Martin Amis novel that Schmidt praises as a modern classic, and I’m very curious about it), the under-read ( Bellow, Roth and always, Woolf), and the untried (Hardy? Conrad?).

So Schmidt’s unwieldy bucket list gets two thumbs up here.  It’s the kind of book one would keep in a home with limited space because one would refer to it often, as each bucket list entry gets crossed off. If it is eccentric in its realization, then so are many readers.

My own bucket list started with Don Quixote, by Cervantes. Digging down to the very roots of the novel, I found an agreeable translation/annotation by Tom Lathrop. Ignoring the clunky framing conceit of a “true history” so characteristic of the era, I dove in. The tale is most ‘modern’ and vibrant when the indefatigably deluded would-be knight-“errant” argues strategy with his faithfully self-interested squire, but I guess we all knew that. The story is culturally imprinted, whether from childhood excerpts or Broadway lyrics, and the copious broken ribs and loosened teeth that incited Europe’s first ever viral laff-riot now seem tiresome and gauche, but the interplay between the Woebegone Knight and Sancho is still pure gold. Cervantes popularized the novel, it is often said. Less often he gets credited with the first buddy movie.

I had to stop near the end of Part I (1605) and skip Part II (1615, partially a Cervantes reaction to pirating) to move on to my temp job. It’s in a college bookstore; life plays some cruel jokes.

The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate, Ed: Another bruising, categorizing war-horse that I found on the shelf next to Novel and couldn’t resist lugging home. Some of the major players from Novel are here also; notably Virginia Woolf. Again, there are the early pioneers – Seneca, Addison and Steele, Hazlitt taxing syntactically, but they lead eventually to 20th Century riches. Joan Didion, Max Beerbohm, Walter Benjamin and George Orwell, the list goes on in easily digested five to ten page bites. The editorial work is exemplary, with underlying themes emerging, then carrying from ancient Rome to Edwardian London. These are indexed for ease of comparison, and cherry-picking. My favorite, “Walking”, led to an exquisite, sublimely transporting gem by Woolf, “Street Haunting”, in which the artifice of needing a pencil leads to an impressionist’s fantasia reminiscent of the ‘House’ chapter in “To the Lighthouse”, along with the emotional coda of a domestic squabble and make-up. The kind of piece that in a small way, leaves you a different person coming out than going in.

It’s been a Woolf summer. I found, and dallied with, before I put away for Fall reading, a collection of critical essays on each of her books. I also inhaled Orlando, before savoring each crystalline Woolf-ian blurb on each Victorian and pre-modern writer in Schmidt. All the while repeatedly reminding myself that it’s now been decades since I read To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own. Add them to the list.

Masterpiece Comics, R.Sikoryak: Sikoryak, a Raw Magazine vet from the 80’s, has been writing and illustrating these sly little mash-ups of high- and low culture and publishing them, very much under the radar, in anthologies all along. They’re collected here, and they’re funny because they get to the heart of the artificial divide between high and pop culture. In the process, we get a good laugh and confront the question of how and why we tell ourselves tales.

Here again, context is essential. Most can appreciate the hilarious sight gag of Dagwood in “Blonde Eve”, a biblical Garden of Eden retelling in the iconic “Blondie” style, carting arm loads of apples, waiter style, as he prepares to snack on the tree of knowledge. But a real shock of recognition comes to fans of Golden Age comics in seeing Raskolnikov, with his exaggerated sense of moral agency, compared with Batman’s vigilantism in Jerry Robinson’s dark Gotham City alleys.

 “Lil Pearl”, a Scarlet Letter retelling, gains far more satirical punch if one is familiar with Dell Comics’ Little Lulu, arguably one of the most widely read feminist voices of the benighted 50’s, who was continually and subtly turning the tables on, and claiming moral high ground from, the boys. And “Crypt of the Brontes”, a Wuthering Heights pastiche, becomes creepily compelling as a spot-on take of EC horror comics, complete with the narrating housekeeper in the iconic EC framing role as Crypt Keeper.

Sikoryak has retold Shakespeare, deSade, Camus and Dante ( as Bazooka Joe!) He apparently did not make a fetish of avoiding classic literature, as I did. Might Emily Bronte be rolling over in her grave at the thought of her masterpiece re-cast as  pre-code horror pulp? Possibly.

But she might also be tempted to grab Raskolnikov’s ax at the sight of one billion Barbara Cartland novels.

Reading ‘Pretty’

 

“When I was dreaming of what the future of women in comics could be, I was dreaming of her. I just didn’t know it yet,”

-Gail Simone, comics writer and activist ( Women in Refrigerators Blog) on Kelly Sue DeConnick.

Pretty Deadly Volume I (Image Comics) makes one of its stronger statements right on the opening credits page. In a historically male-dominated medium, it is rare enough even today to have a woman writer; rarer still to see two women as lead creators, as with Pretty Deadly’s Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. Four of five who exercise creative input on this book (writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and editor) are female. I’ve written before about comics as a place where larger issues in the culture wars often get hashed out. Pretty Deadly would be significant even if it was a routine story set in a dusty genre. But it is far more than that.

I’ve described it as a “spaghetti western/ folktale/ pulp fiction bloodbath/ magic realist feminist revenge story”, but its roots in a movement toward creators’ rights in comics, and its embedded questions of what constitutes justice in a violent world place it squarely in a larger dialogue about nature, narrative and power.

I plucked Pretty from the rack because of its arresting colors and imagery, and because it had Jordie Bellaire’s name on the cover. A digression: those who may be considering dipping their toes into the burgeoning pop culture art form of comics, and who are confused by the hundreds of titles now being published (some, as ever, are pure dreck), would do well to do as I quickly learned to do: try anything with Bellaire’s name on it. She’s a colorist who has revived comic book art with her subtle yet expansive tones, comprising complex modernist secondaries with gothic, blood-drenched earth tones. These somehow never lose touch with the non-literal, transgressively lurid tones of comics’ limited, 4-color past. She’s not an owner of the projects she works on, but she’s become in demand among creators and publishers seeking to set their projects apart from the muddied primaries and pat mythos of the longstanding DC/Marvel house style, and apparently now has her pick of which stories to work on. Her taste and intuition rarely fail her, and her comics are always interesting.

Emma Rios’ art also caught my eye. Gestural and impressionistic, like alt-comics superstar Paul Pope’s, yet darkling and obsessively rendered, almost crepuscular at times. The dynamism of this Spanish artist’s pen work and page design brings an appealing, cinematic eye to a very complex tale.

The one member of this team I couldn’t know much about until I sat down and read her, is writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. There was quite a bit of buzz about her because of her re-working of Marvel’s then-typically sexualized Captain Marvel (a female character). DeConnick does not censor herself much, nor does she seek to censor others. In reference to Captain Marvel, she said: “I wasn’t like, writing feminist pamphlets, you know. I was writing stories about this lady who shoots beams out of her hands. But I had the gall to have inter-generational female friendships and a largely female cast and, you know, every once in a while, a joke. It ruffled feathers and I thought, Well, if that’s what we’re going to talk about, then let’s talk about it.”

DeConnick’s complex, non linear storytelling is a series of spaghetti western set-pieces; allusive, surreal and often frenetically violent, refracted through fable, manga-style fight scenes and featuring a crowd of startling female characters, from tattooed revengers to feathered creator/saints. My first reading left me confused but seduced.  The narrative is difficult to parse without close reading and reveals itself, even then, only fitfully, as in a fever dream. It begins as a story within a story in a small 19th Century southwestern town, told medicine show-style on an appropriated hanging platform by a pair of drifters, a young, strangely costumed girl, and a graying blind man, of a Beauty imprisoned in a stone tower by her jealous husband (the Mason). Despairing Beauty summons Death, who instead of granting her release, falls in love with her and fathers a child by her. This story itself is part of a fabulistic framing narrative related by a skeletal ghost Bunny to a Butterfly, both of whom are also alluded to in the main narrative.

This narrative disjunct is a distancing device which suffuses the whole book. It punctures the genre-based Sergio Leone spaghetti western ambience so artfully created by Rios and Bellaire and goes farther back to its stolen roots in Kurosawa’s Rashomon, or more pointedly, its obscure Hollywood homage/sexploitation remake, The Outrage (1964). It forces us to ask (on every level): who is telling the story? And while DeConnick does not immediately make her answer clear, it’s a question that haunts any post-Second Wave feminist enterprise like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

This sort of layered writing opens itself to criticism, especially in comic-book land, long the home of tortured, loopy, plots and clumsy, expository dialog. Though DeConnick does not make it easy to tease out her meanings, she does provide plenty of food for thought. Pretty Deadly is a tale of paired opposites, many of them unusual by virtue of being wholly female. Binaries of character, allusion and metaphor create most of the intrigue, tension and drama in this taught, very fragmented narrative.  Here, Deathface Ginny- Pretty Deadly’s central anti hero, a violent, implacable revenger of troubled victims, is paired with Sissy, painter, poet, pruner of Death’s overgrown winter garden, in a sub-texting of Persephone’s journey to and from the underworld. DeConnick forthrightly addresses the themes implicit in her raging mythology: the human scourges of spiritual rape, sexualized repression and vengeance. Ginny rebels against her mother’s imprisonment by The Mason and (her father) Death, so she also vies with Big Alice, a warrior woman who is Death’s enforcer and is sent to bring her back to the underworld. They both hunt Sissy the bird-costumed medicine show beggar, for different reasons too complicated and spoiler-laden to go into here.

Death (the idea, not the character) is often paired with creative impulse, violence with redemption, and the way is fraught, DeConnick seems to say: self-inflicted wounds are another binary- in one chilling confrontation, Alice scarifies her face to match Ginny’s tattoos.

Pretty Deadly's mostly female creative team finds a stark beauty in violence and revenge. Copyright Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and Emma Rios.
Pretty Deadly’s mostly female creative team finds a stark beauty in violence and revenge. Copyright Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and Emma Rios.

Sissy has another mirror in Molly the crow, a companion of Eastwood-like drifter Johnny Coyote, who reveals to her-and us-her real role in the drama. Johnny and Ginny form another pair of opposites. DeConnick has been quoted about her desire to create a female version of The Man With No Name, Leone’s (in Fistful of Dollars) quintessential Clint Eastwood role. But in a book full of anti-heroes, DeConnick, an avowed feminist who regularly advises aspiring young female comics creators on how to navigate the embarrassingly male geek space of the comics industry ( “My advice? Be terrifying.”), does not demonize men. Johnny feels he must protect Sissy, and empower her with narrative truth, and he pays a price. Another of Sissy’s male protectors is Fox, also hunted for a dark secret that is revealed only after the book’s propulsive, biblical, lyrical cacophony of sex, betrayal, retribution, swordplay, fire and flood has been irrevocably loosed. Yeah, swordplay. This is a wild little book, people.

And what is DeConnick saying? Though her imagery is rich and alludes to archetypes both ancient and more recently minted, it’s hard to confidently say, really. For one thing, the creative team (including editor Sigrid Ellis and letterer David Cowles) are not done telling the story yet (more on that below). Clearly these women are just as capable of darkness, violence and ultimately, redemption, as the men. Nor is Pretty Deadly a ‘feminist pamphlet’. She lets all of her characters fight their own battles and their own demons, even when they themselves are, technically, demons.

After too long a wait, Pretty Deadly Volume II has begun, in comic book form. I missed the first installment, but snatched the last copy of the second. I won’t try to describe it on such incomplete reading, but it does not lack for ambition- it jumps one generation ahead in time, to WWI; and one genre to the political left, to war comics. It’s a genre that Kurtzman and Elder rescued from rote patriotic juvenilia in their 50’s EC Frontline Combat series. But it’s as male-oriented a genre as it gets, and once again, DeConnick and Rios do not fear to tread.

The conversation about this book can only continue to grow. It has not, to my knowledge, been addressed in the rapidly expanding field of academic comics criticism and close reading (please link in the comments section if you have knowledge that I don’t), but I would be surprised if the screenplay(s?) aren’t already being banged out. In fact, I’m betting the price of Pretty Deadly’s upcoming Volume II graphic novel/compilation ( $14.99, May 2016 ) that the preceding is also true of DeConnick’s other current project, Bitch Planet, a sci-fi women’s prison sexploitation-themed story. DeConnick has in fact signed a script development deal with Universal Television, along with husband Matt Fraction, also a comics writer (Sex Criminals).

If her seemingly endless capacity for invention, vivid characterization, and mythic staging can be channeled into a real, coherent fictional thesis on what women’s existential -and justifiable- rage might mean to them and society in light of their often redemptive (and also existential) creativity, then we will be talking about Pretty Deadly for years to come.

But already there’s a message in its author’s refusal to bow to convention of any sort. In reference to a question about those who seek to “rebrand” the word ‘feminist’, she says “I don’t flinch, when I say I’m a feminist.  You don’t get to define that for me”.

 

 

Fascination Vacation

"The Yearling", Donald Lipski. On the grounds of the Denver Public Library, here looking toward the Denver Art Museum. Hands down my favorite public art in the city. It captures the transporting magic of reading and fantasy.
“The Yearling”, Donald Lipski. On the grounds of the Denver Public Library, here looking toward the Denver Art Museum. Hands down my favorite public art in the city. It captures the transporting magic of reading and fantasy.

Both my daily news cycle and my own personal bathroom are leaking a disgusting slime. While waiting for the plumber, escape is imperative, so I’m moving to my go-to in pleasant subjects- reading.

I finished Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub. It collects his Believer Magazine columns, in which he lists what books he’s bought and what of those he’s read. I’ve mentioned that I like writing about books as a way of procesing what I’ve just read. Here, Hornby humorously processes the very act of choosing what to read. I doubt I’ll ever read most of the things he mentions, but I’m including a short list of prospects culled from his blurbs below, along with my reason for choosing them.

Here’s the thing about the reading list I began to append to the blog: it’s meant to document a thought process. I used to diarize about my thought process in the studio, but I rarely have time for that this year, so I’m diarizing about time spent on the couch.

I read mainly in the mornings, with coffee; or in the evenings with a glass of wine, times that for various reasons, I’m now constitutionally unable to convert into quality studio time.  Yet my best art ideas often come when I’m reading, and the verbal component of an idea- title, story metaphor, often come before I ever enter the studio. One can easily see why well-limned graphic novels hold such a high place in my reading life.

I’ve often thought of reading as part of my creative process, and Hornby’s funny memoir is unexpectedly profound in its implicit treatment of reading as a creative process in itself. Reading really is about wishing- to be somewhere, or even someone, else. That really is possible, if only fleetingly in moments snatched from societal and infrastructural invasions.

“You have to admit that when… books this good get read […] I’m the one who has to be given most of the credit,” Hornby declares in one of this book’s many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a good summary of why reading is in itself a creative act- one wishes  a story into being by encountering the book, then completes it by reading it. Later, we fumble to describe our uniquely epiphanic experience of that story to blank-eyed friends. Well, I do. Hornby, not so much.

His column is built around two lists, “Books I Bought This Month,” and “Books I’ve Read This Month”, which tread the mysterious line between the creative wish- and its fulfillment. I’ve kept my own private list in a journal for a few years now. It grew partially out of my quarterly stints working in a college bookstore and unpacking interesting texts (the actual books, that is, not the ideas within- that’s what this blog is for.) The list was mostly for illuminating my thought process for that particular time.

My wish list evolved from discovering titles of interest to me while stacking the shelves in the college bookstore with the various books ordered for the English, History, Sociology, International Studies &etc courses offered each quarter. Later I just type title and author into the search box on the library web site. These titles along with the ones I find simply browsing, suggest other titles. I think I can trace separate ( but sometimes unexpectedly intersecting ) lines of exploration in areas such as early comics history, women in comics, feminist thought, and feminists in comics. One wishes to fill in gaps, then winds up in another thread altogether. Hornby communicates a lively and not at all didactic delight in this process, and it’s inspired me. 

Wish List: First the ones culled from Hornby, then some of my own ongoing obsessions, then what I’m actually reading now. 

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell: A very original word smith from McSweeney’s, here writing about the Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley assassinations, or at least her research into them- too weird not to be interested in.

Austerity Britain, David Kynaston: In post war Britain, they never recovered their global preeminence, and their empire quickly dissipated, but soon to come were the Fab Four, Swinging London, and the World Cup. I have to know why.

Game Change, Heilman, Halperin: Obama, Palin and the Clintons, ‘nuff said, really.

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, Will Hermes: In 1973, When the Brit Invasion was petering out, and American radio was turning to insipid pop such as Doobie Brothers and Carpenters; NYC downtowners such as the Ramones, NY Dolls, Patti Smith and Phillip Glass were saving American music, even as Hip Hop was just beginning and Jazz and Salsa were enjoying a renaissance. A no brainer, I think, but note to self: don’t order it until the iTunes budget is robust.

Comics and feminist thought- can’t get enough right now.

Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics 1941-48, Noah Berlatsky: I’ve been reading a lot on WW, and writers have been writing a lot. Many, including her own publisher, would like to ignore this strange, and yes, wondrous part of our cultural history, but it’s far too compelling, for very complex reasons. I’m certain I’ll post more about this when I get a copy. 

Against Love: A Polemic, Laura Kipnis:  I read and summarized her earlier book Bound and Gagged on porn and censoring fantasy. There are many intelligent feminists writing from all different angles of the women’s rights debate right now, and she’s definitely a unique voice.

What I’m actually reading right now:

The Middle Ages, John Gillingham and Peter Earle: I read a book about Shakespeare’s England, and this led to a history of the fall of the Tudors, the Puritan wars, and the beginning of the Stuarts. So I guess I just wanted to know what came before. For a nation stereotyped as fuddy-duddies and twits, England has a quite lurid history. Edited by Antonia Fraser, who wrote a book about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, inspiration for Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, as well as all those proliferating Guy Fawkes masks seen in Anonymous tweets. Another massive reading thread, coalescing like summer thunderheads.

The Better of McSweeney’s Volume 1: Found in the $2 pile at the library book sale. Lots of great stories in here, of course. This book covers the first ten issues; I only began to follow it with #’s 6 and 8. McSwy’s does publish non-fiction, however, so I give special mention to William T. Vollman’s jarring “Three Meditations on Death”, and Sean Wilsey’s somewhat deadpan rumination on Donald Judd’s West Texas legacy “The Republic of Marfa”, which continues in #6, “Marfa, Revisited”

The Ganzfeld, No.3: Continuing my browsing in this very odd yet compelling journal of comics, graphics, and other stuff the editors thought interesting. Comics by cutting edge cartoonists Blexbolex, Marc Bell and Jonathon Rosen, and a close reading of a Bruegel painting, “Peasant Dance” described by its author, Lawrence Wechsler as a “prolegemena”. Hmm. “Prolegomena”, presumably. Curiously, it’s the second time I’ve run across the word in my current couch binge. Yes, I should get out more, though I don’t think an intervention is necessary at this time.

However, if you have opinions or recommendations on any books, please comment.

Of Hacks and Boobs

I promised a quick finish to my last books and pop culture post with an installment about current comics. I also promised shorter posts. One out of two ain’t bad.

Comics: There has been very little need to marginalize comics over the years;  they’ve done a great job of doing that for themselves. This has been their curse, and part of their appeal.

They started in the margins, a new medium in a new medium, newspapers; their appeal was to new Americans, immigrants. Nonetheless, they grew wildly popular. I won’t wonder here what happened to the newspaper strips, their own self-marginalization and hence vanishing relevance is a whole ‘nother tale. This is about their even more marginalized cousin the comic book, which was also once wildly popular, but never respected, least of all by the greedy publishers making money from them.

When the censorship hysteria of the xenophobic 50’s hit, the publishers self-imposed a drastic self-censorship regime, the Comics Code Authority, which had the effect of institutionalizing the infantilism of this once very creative medium. This is because the rich hacks who published them had always seen them as hack work anyway, paying accordingly.

Later, the rise of the underground inspired the Direct Market, which liberated comics from the Code, but also spawned the fan boy culture of over-muscled and over-boobed heroes and heroines in over-wrought alternate universes sold in dingy, pimply fan-boy warrens, thus substituting a different kind of self-marginalization. The big publishers, and many of the new, small ones went along, hackishly, for the ride. It was here, just out of college and new to the city, in these direct market ratholes, that I parted ways with mainstream comics, and here that I discovered the world of alternate comics, an outgrowth of punk/new wave fanzine culture and its DIY ethic. These artists, e.g. Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Dan Clowes ) Ghost World), Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) eventually made their way out of the dingy holes and into the pages of The New Yorker, etc, and spiffy, Euro-style hardback albums sold in independent bookstores- and I followed.

So I stopped going to the comic store. A residual effect of the hack era(s) is that comics don’t often get the respect that mainstream books get, making it harder to fight censorship when it comes, as it often has. Alison Bechdel, another alternative auteur who was recently awarded a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant has been subject to censorship herself.

“Graphic novels and cartoons have been catching more and more of the spotlight in recent years, with serious, realistic comic books such as Bechdel’s memoirs, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets helping push the form further into the literary mainstream. Not all attention is positive, however; the American Library Association has made graphic novels the theme of 2014’s Banned Books Week (Sept. 21-27), because “despite their literary merit and popularity as a format, they are often subject to censorship.”

I spoke about my curiousity prompting my return to a comic shop in this post. I hadn’t left comics, they’d left me. But I grew curious as to whether the new light shining on the medium as content provider to Disney and Time-Warner, now the owners of Marvel and DC, the largest publishers and holdovers from the censorship era had had any affect on the offerings, so I returned. As you can see in the original post, I was more than a little dissappointed. But I hadn’t had time or budget to do a comprehensive survey, and things have been changing since that post, anyway. So a year later, here’s an update. As a preface, most of the real exciting stuff happening in comics ( and there is suddenly quite a bit) is happening in creator-owned titles, put out by medium-sized publishers such as Image and Dark Horse. The big houses’ main “franchises” such as Spiderman, Superman and Avengers remain work for hire, with creative stricture imposed not only by history, but by the movie productions, which are now driving the bus, or in superhero cinema terms, the runaway train, creatively. It is in the secondary characters, that Marvel Now, especially, is allowing quite a bit of innovation.

Enough introduction, though. I’ve already violated my ‘shorter post’ dictum. Here are some titles I’ve tried:

Wonder Woman, DC. I spoke positively of this title’s potential last time, but that has changed. She is to be relaunched (comics jargon for a creative reconfiguration that follows declining sales) as a boob-a-licious super babe. Still, there’s hope. Her history is very unique (After all, this is the character that graced the first issue of Ms Magazine). And the movie version cast Gal Gadot, who immediately drew fan-boy criticism for failing to “fill the bustier” of their dingy dreams, so it’s clear that DC, like every other cultural player except the Tea Bagger rape caucus, understands that they’ve got a feminist issue on their hands. So stay tuned.

As for the former iteration of WW, it sort of fizzled. Being based on the Greek mythos, it kind of needed a little sexual tension to go along with the hyper violence. But this wasn’t possible as the editors in another narrative universe had hooked her up as Superman’s GF, so it really wouldn’t do to have her canoodling with a bunch of Greek gods, would it?

Hawkeye, Marvel Now. A rare treat. A long time secondary character that got a second wind from the Avengers movie. Now in the hands of Matt Fraction, responsible for the very lively writing on a number of these titles I’ve noted here. The art is loose and gestural in the way of comics’ early days, via the alternative renaissance of the 80’s. Hawkeye, a chastened, pizza- eating, beer drinking bro, on his days off from the Avengers, trying to save his Brooklyn tenement and neighbors from a bumbling, violent gang of Eastern Euro track-suit wearing thugs.

I bought the collection of the first few issues. It features a very instructive contrast with an earlier, boob-a-licious, bustier-wearing other version of Hawkeye ( who returns in the current series) to show you how quickly things are changing in fan-boy land.

Secret Avengers. This the Marvel Comics’ answer to ABC’s Agents of SHIELD series, with a few of the same characters. It aspires to the series’ same action/humor, slow/fast plotting and characterization dynamic. But it is more successful at it than the perpetually meandering ( though fun) series, because (and if I actually have a theme hiding in this bloated mess, THIS IS IT) it’s a comic! And comics can do that. The stunted terrorist android who joins the good guys, either for his own nefarious ends or because he realizes he’s become a parody of his own evil. The ‘smart bomb’ that has fallen in love with one of the heroes and become depressed and has to be talked out of committing suicide. An escaped weaponized lab rat with a hypodermic syringe full of poison strapped to its back. The crazed poet who does for post modern dialectics what Hitler did for Wagnerian Romanticism. This is comics gold, and it cannot possibly continue, though the heroines are really, quite boob-a-licious, in a loose, gestural sort of way. Expect a relaunch.

Pretty Deadly, Image. Not EXACTLY coincidental with comics’ high-heeled and boob-a-licious female character failures is their lack of female writers and artists. Creator-owned comics may be a solution there, as Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios have created something in this spaghetti western/ folktale/ pulp fiction bloodbath/ magic realist feminist revenge story that could never be made into a movie- though it ought to be- because it embodies an essential otherness about the comics medium itself.

Spiderman and Batman have become iconic characters, so can thus be tailored to the mass market, but no movie will ever capture the pen-scratched angst of Ditko’s original Spidey, or the noir Freudianism of a 50’s Batman comic. Steranko’s sci-fi pop art mannerism on 70‘s Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, and Mike Mignola’s dry, cubist schematics on Hellboy escape Joss Whedon and Benicio Del Toro, respectively, because comics, the marriage of word and line, exist  as a hybrid medium-  real time, but not. We compose the story- narrative, metaphor and even exegesis as we read. It is, unlike movies, not a passive medium. One becomes the director in a sense, if not the auteur, and in this instance, as in all the best comics, a perfect blend of authorial obsession and detailed craft has been achieved. Think The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but in Rios’ well textured high plains vistas and swirling kinetic pen strokes plus Jordy Bellaire’s subversive pinks, ochres and tortured, crepuscular blues, but with a sword-wielding anti-hero aptly named Ginny Skullface, a river of blood, and a half-headless jack rabbit as narrator. Like many of these creator-driven titles I’ve mentioned, deadlines are sometimes hit and miss. a first collection is out, but new episodes haven’t appeared yet. Fingers crossed.

Also: The Massive, which I spoke of in the previous post, but stopped buying single issues. The story remains strong, but with comics’ marketing in a very transitional state, I’ve decided to wait for the TPB collection, rather than what the wags are now calling “floppies”. This is a calculation every fan must make now: read it now, or wait for a more durable, bookshelf version. I’m also intrigued by a few other Image titles, Trees, Zero, and Supreme Blue Rose. I’ll return to those next time.

 

Read Flag!

I found this image on Tumblr. I recognize the contradiction of a visual artist using someone else's image without proper credit. If anyone has a source, or needs it taken down, please contact me.
I found this image on Tumblr. It’s very cool! I recognize the contradiction of a visual artist using someone else’s image without proper credit. If anyone has a source, or needs it taken down, please contact me.

It’s Banned Books Week. 

Though it’s been a busy Summer, I’ve gotten quite a bit of reading in. Evenings and mornings have mostly been spent catching up on my reading on the back porch, thankfully relatively cool this summer.

Here is what I’ve been reading. Rather than compile a comprehensive entry, which I’ve identified as a reason I have trouble posting regularly, I’ll make it a two-parter, leading up to an update on comics and other media.  Does anyone else have this problem? I’m hoping that splitting up the posts will lead to more (and more fluid) posts. I’m also updating the page on Monotype Workshops with new info on the free Denver Public Library/ Art Students League drop-in workshops I’m leading. Come down and try a monotype!

First, some books:

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon. Another “detective” story from Pynchon, actually a private Certified Fraud Investigator tale. Maxine smells a rat when a shady “Silicon Alley” corporation starts buying up failing dot coms to use as shell companies. Set in NYC in the 9/11 era, so you know all the expected Pynchonian paranoia is here. But unlike his last door-stop novel Against The Day, or his surf-hippie noir, Inherent Vice, the plot is one of his most straightforward, which helps with this type of genre pastiche. It’s no Gravity’s Rainbow, but it’s a fun read.

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn. Sounds geeky, and I guess it is, as there is technical data on each session given, but the commentaries are compelling reading, in the same way that the Beatles Anthology discs, and Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why are indispensable: they get you into the same studio as, and into the heads of, the Fabs at each juncture of their amazing creative journey. Matter of fact, just buy all three, and some beer or Blue Sapphire gin, and your reading/listening is all set. Thank me later.

Women, Art and Society, Whitney Chadwick. Not exactly a page turner, as this sort of thing usually needs to cater to the freshman text trade, and pay respects to the academic/feminist/cultural studies tenure track convo as well, but relatively free of post-modernist jargon. As such, it’s a tidy little overview of some of the issues and societal shifts that have kept all but the least well-behaved (and most talented) women out of the history books. Also: not likely to, nor intended to, make you proud to carry a Y chromosome.

Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. Been meaning to read this forever, so rather than sit and day-drink between WC games one day, I walked down to the Tattered Cover and finally picked it up. Short, essay-sized chapters on topics that footy fans expound on with great certainty, that these guys (one a football scribe, the other an economist) put to the test. Which side to go during PKs. Why soccer teams don’t, and shouldn’t make money. Do coaches make a difference? Buy this,The Ball is Round, some beer or gin, and the MLSLive package, and watch soccer become a favorite American sport. Thank me later.

A whole big stack of Atlantic magazines that I didn’t have time for in the winter/spring, but which I refuse to recycle till I’ve read them because when the Atlantic publishes on a given topic one month, it becomes a major topic in the mainstream media and parties the next 2-3 months, every single time. Why Big Oil isn’t going away ( Technology makes it ever cheaper and easier to find and extract). Why the foodies’ anti-processed food crusade is wrong (it can easily be retooled for healthy eating for poorer Americans, unlike organic, GMO-free “natural” foods). Why the Beatles’ creative style fits the “team of rivals” mode more than the popular “two solitary geniuses” model ( John’s interjection “It couldn’t get no worse” to Paul’s “It’s Getting Better” lyrics exemplifies how they completed each other in making unique, complex pop.) You should subscribe. It’s cheaper than beer or good gin. Thank me later.

A whole big stack of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the quirky and irresistibly stylish journal of fiction, non fiction and publishing design gimmickry. I buy every 3rd or 4th one and keep them on the shelf in the bedroom, and I can pull one out when I need something to read at night. Often I’ve read barely half of a given issue anyway, but I often return to past favorites as well. Such as: ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ by Jim Shepherd, in #14, in which we meet one centurion who did not share in the glory of Rome. ‘The Stepfather’ by Chris Adrian in #18, where we encounter a family more preposterous and absurd than even our own. And ‘Fox 8’ in # 33 by George Saunders, in which we meet, then say farewell to, a creature who knows us better than we know ourselves. Each features a dark, insinuating humor that stays with you.

 

 

 

Cultured Pop

Shorter, darker days. There’s actually time for reading, and the cat settles in for a lap snooze as I actually watch entire movies on DVD. I get my  exercise on trips to the Library, and I’m combing through the PBS listings.

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which is as thought provoking as you’d expect, and another book, also on ways of thinking called The Black Swan by Nicolas Taleb. I bought and started Bleeding Edge, by Pynchon, which like all Pynchon requires time and space for total immersion, so it’s awaiting the first snowy weekend. There’s any number of old movies, interesting documentaries and strange sitcoms on TV, too.

Oh yeah, I’ve also rediscovered the comic store. So now seems a good time for one of my periodic Pop Culture digressions: the State of the Comics.

I haven’t made regular trips to a comic store in years. Not because I don’t like comics anymore, but because most of the artists I follow, alternative auteurs who emerged in the 80’s from the punk/underground movement that encompassed music, fashion, urban culture and art during the Reagan years, had been discovered by mainstream, upscale publishers such as The New Yorker, and have made the switch from the traditional comic book magazine format to the European-style hardbound album format. They’re now available at good indy bookstores such as Tattered Cover and on Amazon. There was no need to enter the somewhat ratty and obsessive environment of the comic shop anymore. But I got curious as to what was still there and popped in on Free Comic Book Day in May. The answer: not much. To be sure, to someone like me, there’s always something worth a browse. I have a life long obsession with comics and graphics, which may have led me into printmaking. I grew up with the infantilized, post-Wertham-censorship-crusade, spandex-clad sci fi of the 60’s DC books. I then was galvanized by the Marvel “Pop Art” era, with its tormented urban superheroes and fantastical universes in bright dot-screen colors. When Marvel degenerated into pure bombast ( where it mostly remains now), I started picking up undergrounds. That led me to Raw Magazine and its cadre of punk/intellectual/autobiographical euro-style auteurs, typified by Gary Panter and Los Bros. Hernandez. Here’s an earlier discussion of Los Bros., and the LA barrio/punk world they turned into one of the more unique graphic literary efforts ever seen.

The comic store I chose for my survey field trip was Mile High Comics a huge, warehouse/mega store that had never demonstrated much interest in the alternative comics scene, preferring to stick with the over-muscled and overdrawn spandex-clad,  pneumatically endowed bimbos and himbos of DC and Marvel’s many, densely overwrought multi-verses. Not much has changed there, though there’s been a bit of reduction in exaggerated cleavage and other visual tics of comics’ “Mannerist” age. Progress! The two giants have embarked on reboots, cleaning up their tangled back-stories while concentrating on their strongest heroes/brands in a rapidly shrinking market place. Marvel and DC villains became so addicted to bombastic evil doers delivering long monologues that Pixar made a gag of it in The Incredibles. Pages were subdivided into minute panels and choked with dialogue. They lost sight of the visual power they’d had with such artists as Kirby and Steranko as hack writers took over.

That began to change with Allen Moore and Frank Miller. But however innovative their plots ( Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns ), Moore and Miller brought a dystopian gloom and now a different sort of visual poverty afflicts comics. The Marvel/DC Universes, possibly reflecting their apocalyptic sales figures, have become very dark places. I refer not just to the panel after panel of ultra violence and carnage, but literally. The covers and interior art are steeped in stygian tonalities of blacks, dusky browns and violets, with a sanguinary red, naturally, being the brightest the palette ever gets. Zombies, the muddy, gray-green warhorses of cheap horror, are everywhere. This possibly reflects cinematic fads, as both companies are now owned by larger media conglomerates and have become feeders of Hollywood’s need for more action/horror movies. But white space, that heavenly refuge for the eye in any graphic endeavor, that airy infinity that allows an artist’s “hand” to breathe free, is so rare, that in browsing the endless racks of Bat– books and X-mags, one is almost compelled to pick it up the rare times it appears. And freshly limned pencils and inks drowned in computer color screens and apocalyptic chiaroscuro are not the only thing suffocating comics. Unreflective violence and faux-libertarian/anarchist paranoia pervades every corner. Even Wonder Woman, last I saw a fashion designer in go-go boots in swinging London, has now been returned to her Greek mythological roots and felt compelled in a recent issue to run her mentor War (the Greek God) through with a spear in order to dispose of the psychotically evil “super villain” First Born.

There is a full line of “undead” Archie comics, too. I’ll pass.

In short, it’s even harder to find a light-hearted (and still reasonably thoughtful) tale in the comic shop than it is in the multi plex. For an antidote, I recommend Tintin or John Stanley-era Little Lulu comics ( I’m serious. They’ll brighten your day, and make you laugh out loud, because they’re… “comic”). And I will return to the alternative artists, such as Los Bros., Chris Ware, Dash Shaw and Gabrielle Bell in a future post.

My budget and schedule make an exhaustive survey impossible. But here’s a brief summary of what I’ve found, the good, the potentially good and the icky:

Recommended, After Several Issues:

The Massive (Dark Horse Comics): A thus far unspecified environmental collapse has taken place. This story follows the small crew of a Greenpeace-type activists’ vessel which is searching for its much larger partner ship (the mysterious Massive) and trying to determine what their mission has become and where it might be safe to land for fuel. It’s episodic, with short story arcs concerning a school of sharks driven mad by surface noise penetrating the depths; and a rogue anarchist who has hijacked a nuclear sub. The art is open, evocative, filled with misty, oceanic light; and the characters seethe with complex motives.

FF (Marvel Comics): This spin-off of one of Marvel’s superhero mags, Fantastic Four, revives characters and the style of the title from when it was created by Jack Kirby, a comic book legend from Marvel’s seminal “Pop Art” era. Its present creator, Mike Allred, is one of the few of the 80’s alternative comics auteurs (Madman Comics) to move into big corporate comics. In this title, a replacement group of superheroes takes over for the regular group, lost in a time warp. This includes care taking a group of precocious, super-powered children being mentored by the original FF. Allred injects humor and pathos in all his titles, and while the book is still finding its stride with a rather large cast, its straightforward, attractive art and candy colors make it fun to read. One child has recently come out as transgendered, an example of the book’s edgy, yet inclusive wit. This title is often laugh-out-loud funny while still tapping into the pure fantasy of 60’s Marvel.

Growing On Me, after one or more issues:

Wonder Woman (DC Comics): WW doesn’t hurt to look at, natch. But she is realistically proportioned, at least in her own intriguing title, illustrated by the graphically savvy Cliff Chiang. She does appear in other titles in significantly more hooter-licious form (She’s also started a relationship with Superman, which brings up the question whether Supes’ fans just wanted a little, you know …more;  but I’d better not go there). What’s also intriguing about this title is the decision to return her to her original, faux-Olympian roots, minus the overtones of lesbian bondage and dominance & submission so beloved of her 1940‘s creator, the exceedingly fascinating psychologist William Moulton Marston. Again, the art is straightforward in that the artist’s “hand” is allowed to show through- avoiding the mannerist, photo-shopped sameness of other titles. The coloring by Matt Wilson is also sophisticated, airy and light when called for, returning to the crepuscular only when WW hoists her petard. “You will make an interesting God of War”, the book’s Hades-figure notes when WW, uncharacteristically in the comics universe, calls a halt to the carnage. He could be right.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC TV): This spin-off of the Avengers movie “franchise” dates to another title of Marvel’s “Pop’ era, now long gone. I couldn’t resist because I miss that comic, a real ground-breaker by legendary Jim Steranko, whose innovative, collaged, candy-colored sci-fi panels were inspired by Kirby.  I was hoping for a bit of that childhood magic. What I GOT was a fast talking, fast-paced cinematic small screen action drama by Josh Whedon’s crew, not a bad thing. A larger context needs to emerge, but it’s far more fun and exciting to watch than the usual cop show dreck on TV (I don’t have cable). And it beats the pants off DC’s offering, Arrow, which looks primitive, dour, under-budgeted and routine by comparison.

Marvel's "Pop Art" era featured garish colors, bombastic villains and Sci-Fi  gimmickry, and escaped Nazis instead of Zombies. Strange Tales #157
Marvel’s “Pop Art” era featured garish colors, bombastic villains and Sci-Fi gimmickry, and escaped Nazis instead of Zombies. Brilliant! Strange Tales #157. 

Hawkeye (Marvel): Marvel’s version of above-mentioned Green Arrow is a second-tier character, a sometime Avenger. Here, he gets a second-tier life ( like us!) and a graphically simple and appealing illustration, reminiscent of alternative artist Adrian Tomine. Ick, One’s Enough:

 Poison Ivy (DC) The Batman titles pretty much invented the “dark hero” genre back in the 70’s and started the rush to Hollywood with Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. They remain interesting, albeit gloomy. Not so this “Villains Month” spin-off, which takes the botanically-obsessed redhead and tries to explain her psychopathy ( with domestic abuse and muddy, Earth-First style ideology) while still retaining her boobalicious adolescent appeal.
Miss Fury (Dynamite Comics): Like Wonder Woman, a veteran of comics’ quirky and unrestrained Golden Age. Unlike WW, poorly drawn and awash in murky air-brushed  tones. Like Poison Ivy, this is a morally confused hero, who steals museum-quality jewels for thrills, but is then hurled into an alternative future where America is still fighting off the Nazi invasion of New York. It could have been interesting with better writing and art. She does have great tits, though.