"Rowdy" Roddy Piper Reported Dead at 61
I’m not sure who turned me on to Stephen Collins, but I just spent a half-hour enjoying his short comics when I should have been working. Collins is British, and he has that wry sense of humor that blends incongruity and wit to make you look at something ordinary in a new way. The comics collected on his website Colillo span a number of topics, from sentient hand dryers to Martian invaders who are Tom Cruise fans to Thomas Pynchon’s dark secret. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be possible to link to individual comics, but just head to that left navbar and start clicking — there isn’t a clunker in the bunch.
Britain’s Royal Mail is releasing a set of 10 stamps today featuring a diverse group of comics characters from British comics. They’re available to those outside the U.K. as well and feature internationally famous characters like Judge Dredd and Dan Dare in addition to less-known folks like Roy Race and The Four Marys. There’s also a Dennis the Menace in the set (he’s the one appearing in front of the Beano comic), but don’t confuse him with the U.S. character created by Hank Ketcham. Though both characters debuted within a week of each other in March 1951, they’re different boys.
To see the full gallery of stamps, visit the BBC website.
U.K. artist Rob Davis traveled to Russia last year at the invitation of the Respect Project to talk about comics and human rights and then create a small comic about Gypsies to be distributed to Russian children. As Davis says on his blog, “I’m not great at black and white politicking,” and that’s a good thing; far from being preachy, his comic addresses the stereotypes and the real experiences of Gypsies (including himself) and, in his words, “left all the thinking to the reader.” It’s poetic and heartbreaking at the same time, and well worth a look.
Legal | Antarctic Press has agreed to stop selling Diary of a Zombie Kid and Diary of a Zombie Kid: Rotten Rules under the terms of a temporary restraining order issued Wednesday by a federal court. Wimpy Kid Inc. is suing Antarctic for trademark infringement, among other things, claiming that its Diary of a Wimpy Kid parodies are too close to the real thing. Antarctic CEO Joe Dunn signed the temporary restraining order, signifying that Antarctic agreed to it; the two companies are negotiating a settlement, according to court papers. One interesting tidbit: Diary of a Zombie Kid sold all of 850 copies in comics shops in August, while the first printing on the latest Wimpy Kid book was 6 million. [ICv2]
Comics | Bayou Arcana is a new anthology of Southern Gothic horror comics with a gender twist: All the comics are written by men and illustrated by women. There are some pretty broad generalizations in this article — “There is a certain sensitivity that you find in women’s art that just does not appear in a lot of guys’ work,” says the project editor, James Pearson — but the project itself sounds interesting. [The Guardian]
The U.K. comics scene has been heating up of late, and we can only hope that 2012 will see a British Invasion of the comics variety. The BBC has coverage of the latest development: The launch of The Phoenix, a weekly children’s comic published by David Fickling (whose David Fickling Books is an imprint of Random House). The name is apt: The Phoenix is a reprise of an earlier attempt, The DFC, which garnered a lot of praise but shut down after 43 issues. The Phoenix is launching with a nice lineup of stories and talent, including Neill Cameron, Simone Lia, Gary Northfield and Jamie Smart (who draws Desperate Dan for the long-running weekly The Dandy). Unfortunately, it’s print-only and not available digitally, so most U.S. readers won’t get to see it just yet.
Meanwhile, Strip Magazine, a monthly comic dedicated to serialized action tales, has released its second issue. Unlike The Phoenix, Strip is available digitally as an iPad app, which means we Yanks can read it, too. (I think the high point of my year was learning that The Beano and The Dandy are now available as iPad apps.)
If you’re not quite ready to let go of Christmas yet (hey, it’s supposed to be 12 days!), check out the classic British Christmas comics that Lew Stringer (another talented artist) has posted at his blog. It’s a fascinating look back in time. Dandy artist Andy Fanton posts a more modern Christmas comic (very much in the Dandy style) at his blog.
And finally, we had the U.S. release last week of Nelson, the collaborative graphic novel by 54 creators, each of whom contributed a chapter about one day in the life of a young woman. The contributors include Roger Langridge, Duncan Fegredo, Warren Pleece, Posy Simmonds and Darryl Cunningham, and publisher Blank Slate is donating the proceeds from the sale of the book to the homelessness charity Shelter.
For a long time, I thought that I was the only person in the whole comics blogosphere who was obsessed with old British comics, but Super I.T.C.H. has proved me wrong. They have been running some stories from old UK annuals (the hardback comics that delighted us every Christmas), and their latest one is a corker: The 1970 Valiant annual, which includes two Billy Bunter stories (about a fat kid in boarding school—just read them!) and some other action tales. The stories are definitely dated but still a lot of fun for those who like old-school comics.
Back in the day, comics like Valiant, Tiger, Hotspur (and their girl-comic counterparts Bunty, Judy, and Mandy) appeared weekly on the newsstand. With color covers and black-and-white (or single-color) interiors, they were no-frills comics that delivered a lot of story, usually three- or four-page chapters of six or seven different stories in a single issue. The comics were filled with action and each week’s episode ended on some sort of a cliffhanger, so you just couldn’t wait until the next week to find out what happened.
A group of talented creators and editors are attempting to recapture that spirit in Strip Magazine, a new monthly action comic. Strip is actually the brainchild of Bosnian publisher Ivo Milicevic who, like me, grew up reading British comics in another country. The stories are a mix of genres: There’s a story about black ops soldiers, a fantasy story, a story about a glamorous cat burglar, a couple of gag strips, and the return of a classic shark comic Hook Jaw. The stories are a bit longer than in the old weeklies, and the cliffhanger endings are gone—they don’t work in a monthly magazine—but you get the same feeling that you will be seeing these characters for a while. Best of all, you don’t have to go to the UK to get it; it’s available as an app through the iTunes store. Issue 1 came out last month, and issue 2 is due out later this week, so this is a good time to check it out.
I happened across this because Roger Langridge was showing off a bit of art from it: Nelson is a collaborative graphic novel with an impressive lineup of 54 contributors, including Jamie Smart, Sarah McIntyre, Darryl Cunningham, Posy Simmonds, Duncan Fegredo, Warren Pleece, Andi Watson, Garen Ewing — a veritable who’s who of U.K. comics creators, representing children’s comics (including several members of the kids-comics collaborative The DFC), newspaper strips, even 2000AD.
The 250-page graphic novel, to be published by Blank Slate next month, follows the life of Nel Baker, born in London in 1968. Each chapter depicts a single day in her life, running from her birth to the present. The idea was cooked up by Rob Davis, who co-edited the book with Woodrow Phoenix. It looks like it will be available in the U.S., because Amazon has a listing, although there is no price yet. UPDATE: Blank Slate publicist Martin Steenton just e-mailed me to say it’s in the current Previews for a December release in the U.S.
Historically, U.S. comics have been geared towards boys, and until manga became popular, there were very few comics for girls—and even fewer good ones. The UK, on the other hand, had great girls’ comics in the 1960s and 70s—I grew up reading them—but those comics faded away, due more to neglect on the part of editors than a lack of popularity. Says who? Says writer Pat Mills, whose manly credentials are in good order (he was one of the creators of 2000AD and contributed to Judge Dredd) but whose first love is girls’ comics. Mills wrote for several girls’ titles in the 1970s, and he created one of the best-loved girls’ comics, Misty, which he originally conceived as a girl-freindly equivalent of 2000AD.
Mills recently talked to the Bring Back Bunty blog about his career in girls’ comics and his plans to resurrect the genre. Clearly, he gets it: Asked what comics have girl appeal, he responded
Girl as lead character. Although they may be unisex, there is an emphasis on the heroine. The objectives are different… a typical heroine wants to overcome obstacles to achieve some sport objective which provides some action. A typical hero for boys wants to kick ass and possibly destroy something! Okay, that’s superficial, but you get the idea. There are key differences as I found to my cost. Thus girls love mystery (what’s in the locked room?) boys don’t care.
Why can’t we have more of these? Mills says that girls’ comics outsold boys’ comics but were ultimately cut down by hostility from editors and creators; he contends that the desire to make “art house” comics rather than write good genre stories for mainstream comics doomed the category and left a gap in the market. The good news, though, is that Mills has been making pitches for a new girls’ comic, which will probably start out in digital format. If you’re not familiar with the richness of British comics, this article is a good starting point, and Mills, being a veteran, has some interesting insights into comics writing in general. As Bunty would say, jolly good show!
The imminent arrival of Flex Mentallo — a comic book few old-school Vertigo readers (myself included) ever expected to see collected in a fancy-dress trade — has heartened Grant Morrison fans and lovers of lost comic causes everywhere. If that comic can finally see the day, perhaps there’s hope for all sorts of beloved but forelorn projects. With that in mind then, let me present to you another Grant Morrison comic that has lingered unfairly in obscurity ever since its The New Adventures of Hitler.
Lest you think that title is some sort of ironic joke or that the book doesn’t actually involve the person mentioned in the title, much in the same way Joyce’s Ulysses isn’t about the Greek hero (at least not on the surface) let me assure you, this is a comic book about the Adolf Hiter.
To find out what Mark and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
Today is Battle of Britain Day, and the British blog Bear Alley takes the opportunity to investigate a bizarre bit of popular knowledge: That the editors of the kiddie comics Beano and Dandy were on the Nazis’ death list.
Beano and Dandy traffic in broad, slapstick humor, usually involving pies in the face, broken windows, and the eternal cycle of bullying and revenge. Most stories ended with someone getting whacked with a slipper, apparently the traditional means of restoring authority in postwar Britain. But according to local lore, in the late 1930s (Dandy was founded in 1937, Beano in 1938), many of the jokes came at the expense of Hitler and Mussolini. Aware of comics’ ability to lead youth astray, the Nazis put the editors of both comics on their list of people to be dealt with once they had successfully invaded Britain.
There is actually such a list—the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.—and anyone can read it, as London’s Imperial War Museum printed a facsimile in 1989, but apparently nobody bothered to until Bear Alley’s Steve Holland took the initiative. His finding: Although a number of newspaper editors appear on the list, along with playwright Noel Coward and novelist H.G. Wells, the Beano and Dandy editors, George Moonie and Albert Barnes, are nowhere to be found. The sole cartoonist on the list is David Low, the political cartoonist for the Evening Standard, who, not surprisingly, had been churning out anti-Nazi cartoons by the barrel. He was slated to be handed over to the Gestapo, but history dictated otherwise.
It’s not surprising that the British found this story credible, as both comics are beloved institutions over there, and the British themselves recognized the power of popular culture after the war by hanging Lord Haw-Haw, an American-born broadcaster who made Nazi propaganda broadcasts on German radio, for treason.
(Image from the pop culture blog The Daily Hitler.)
I have good news and bad news about the second volume of Garen Ewing’s The Rainbow Orchid, which was released on Monday.
The bad news is that it is still available only from British sources; like the first volume, it hasn’t been officially published or distributed in the U.S., although I believe you can purchase it as an import.
The good news is that you can read a fairly hefty chunk of both books online at Ewing’s site. Set in the 1920s, The Rainbow Orchid is a graphic novel for Masterpiece Theater fans; it features a distinguished professor, his audacious assistant, a movie star, a crusading reporter, and of course the wicked rival, all in a race to find the mythic rainbow orchid and take top prize in a plant show (although the stakes are much higher, naturally). It’s a familiar plot but done very well and drawn in a lovely ligne claire style reminiscent of (but quite different from) Tintin.
Ewing really uses the web to its fullest potential; in addition to the comic, his site has purchasing information, story details, even a blog with puzzle pages, all organized in a logical and easy to navigate fashion. It’s worth checking out just to see how much information he can include in a single web page without turning it into visual mush. Plus the comic is a lot of fun to read.
Don’t feel bad if the name Dudley D. Watkins doesn’t ring a bell—I grew up reading his comics and I never heard of him either. Watkins was a regular artist for the Scottish publisher DC Thomson, which published the children’s comics Beano, Dandy, Topper, and Beezer, and from 1925 until his death in 1969 he brought a variety of oddball characters to life, including Biffo the Bear, Smarty Grandpa, and my family’s personal favorite, Desperate Dan. The Scottish newspaper The Courier (“Taking you to the heart of Tayside and Fife”) has posted a generous sampling of Watkins’s works, and although I wish they were a bit bigger, they sure do bring back memories.
I was raised in the U.S. but spent stretches of time in both Ireland and Scotland (in fact, I lived in St. Andrews, which is in Fife), so I know from solid experience that British children’s comics of the 1960s and 70s were far more entertaining than their American counterparts. (I wrote about them for The Hooded Utilitarian and the former incarnation of this blog.) To this day whenever someone in my family goes over there they are instructed to bring back copies of Beano and Dandy, which are still delighting kids 85 years after Watkins first put pen to paper.
And that Treasure Island book? I own it. I got it in kindergarten and was utterly terrified by the Black Spot and other pirate antics. That Watkins, he knew what he was doing.
(Via The Forbidden Planet.)
Mike Perridge has posted a scan of half of the 1962 Beano annual to his blog, mpd57. Although it is a kids’ comic, the Beano is anything but saccharine; the stories have a bit of an edge to them, and the art is not far off from vintage underground comics (but relentlessly G-rated). The Beano is still in print, and still features many of the same characters—the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty and his pals, and the original Dennis the Menace—although the Native American Little Plum seems to have gone on to the happy hunting grounds.
Paul Gravett looks at the influence of the British boys’ comic Eagle, home of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, which was favorite childhood reading for John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Bryan Talbot, among others.
Casey Brienza isn’t just a manga reviewer, she’s a grad student studying paratext, the trappings of manga that make it manga. That’s more interesting than it sounds—check out her slideshow and brief writeup of the importance of trim size to American manga, and the way it was not only standardized but was used to define non-Japanese books as manga.
Faith Erin Hicks contemplates the uses of drawing as she compares Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy and throws in some thoughts on Kate Beaton for good measure.
Richard Bruton, who is not in the target audience by any means, picks up Twilight: The Graphic Novel and finds it… not terrible. Sean Kleefeld, meanwhile, finds some interesting parallels to a vintage comic (mainly, both seem to be incoherent).
Tintin dissenter Noah Berlatsky remains unmoved by The Castafiore Emerald, although his son loves it.
Kent Worcester reviews Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980, which is the sort of book that would make me stay up nights.