Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Someone please explain to me why, in this golden age of reprints, when every 20th century cartoonist under the sun and their dog is getting the lavish, fancy-shmancy book collection treatment, do we still not have a decent, definitive collection of Carl Barks’ work?
Even though we live in a golden age of reprints, there are still deserving comics that, for one reason or another, fail to get collected, translated, or reprinted in nice, shiny, new books. This monthly column is dedicated to those books that, we feel, need another round in the spotlight.
The welcome return of artist Brendan McCarthy to the world of comical books with Spider-Man: Fever got me thinking about how most of the comics he’s done (mostly with Collect This Now’s patron saint Peter Milligan) are sadly out of print. That’s a shame, as his bibliography contains a lot of great work that deserves re-examination, including Rogan Gosh, Paradax and the topic of today’s column, Skin.
One of the more interesting things about Skin actually is that it had a bit of trouble getting published initially. Originally Skin was supposed to be published in 1990 in Crisis, a spin-off of the classic British anthology series 2000 AD. The printers refused to handle it, and the publisher got cold feet, and it didn’t end up seeing the light of day until 1992, when Kevin Eastman’s Tundra press released it with little fanfare.
What made so many of these fine folks reluctant to print the comic? Well, for one thing, it could have been the subject matter. You see, Skin is about a Thalidomide baby. More specifically, it’s about a Thalidomide kid who’s a skinhead, has sex with hippies and eventually ends up getting revenge on the people who made the drug by going after them with an ax. (oops, spoilers!)
Perhaps it’s because we tend to think of it as a very narrowly defined genre with certain expectations and limitations, but generally when we hear the term “horror comics” we tend to think of Tales From the Crypt or The Walking Dead and not so much anything from the art comix crowd.
And yet I hope it’s no slam against Al Feldstein or Robert Kirkman if I say that within the indie scene a number of talented cartoonists have produced some brilliant and truly terrifying work. Josh Simmons, for example, has been steadily building an impressive repertoire of horror-based work with books like House. Certainly Hans Rickheit’s surreal/grotestque The Squirrel Machine falls more easily under the “horror” label than just about any other.
But there’s one alt/indie cartoonist whose work stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the “ye gods, that’s frightening department.” Although he hasn’t produced (or at least published) a huge body of work, what has been released over the past fifteen years has been of such stellar, nightmarish quality as to astound readers lucky enough to stumble on it and influence a number of artists. I’m speaking of Al Columbia.
(Note: Disturbing images and swear words lurk below the jump. You’ve been warned.)
Wilson is going to be at the show to promote the massive, three-volume collection of Playboy cartoons that Fantagraphics is going to be publishing later this year. That’s an amazing, praise-worthy collection project, but while I don’t want to appear greedy, there is one other comic of Wilson’s I’d like to see collected.
The slow, sad beak-up/implosion of ADV depressed me to no end, since it meant that two of my favorite manga series were going the way of the dodo, possibly never to be in print or completed again (yes, it is in fact all about me and my sense of entitlement).
Yen Press picked up the ball with one of those series, the charming Yotsuba, which I believe hits stores this week.
But there’s another great manga that Yen or some other still thriving publisher would do well to get the North American publishing rights for. I’m speaking, of course, about Cromartie High School.
When Chris Mautner asked if I’d be willing to take a crack at writing the “Collect This Now!” column during my guest-blogging stint, I said yes precisely because of this book. And when I informed him of my intentions, he said he was glad, because Marvel hadn’t yet been tackled in the column.
This stands to reason, given that we’re now seven years or so deep into Marvel’s “collect-everything-we-publish” plan — what’s left to collect? The answer is Soldier X. Written by Darko Macan and illustrated by Igor Kordey, this short-lived, Cable-starring series is wild, weird and wonderful, even by the far-out standards of the late Bill Jemas era. That’s probably what dooms it to TPB-less obscurity, but it’s also why I’m still so fond of it.
Ah DC comics, circa 1987. A wild, heady time. Pre-Vertigo. Pre-Sandman. Watchmen was just wrapping up. Grant Morrison would soon start working Animal Man. Kyle Baker and Andy Hefler were doing crazy things with The Shadow. And the company that Jack and Joe built was flinging whatever it could to the wall to see if it stuck. (anybody here remember Haywire? Or Sonic Disruptors?)
Wasteland was a one of the things they threw. It was ostensibly a horror comic, though it rarely showed much in the way of blood or gore, and generally avoided traditional horror tropes. There were no serial killers here, or zombies or vampires, and no twist endings of the sort patented by TV shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Which is not to say that it couldn’t be incredibly disturbing.
Occasionally an editor hangs on to samples that artists send him, afraid they may never see this material again. Somewhere in my files, I have little gems sent to me by sometimes famous artists, sometimes soon-to-be-famous artists, and somewhere, I may still have some that never became either, young hopefuls that never carried through or people who I failed to find a place for.
Francesca Ghermandi is one of the people whose packages I cherished when they used to come to me. I think she wrote me twice, and as a result, I have copies of Helter Skelter and Hiawata Pete, both in Italian, both absolutely brimming with amazing cartooning. These would be great candidates for that Robot 6 column where they demand books get translated, and boy, I’d sure love to read them someday. For now, I just look at the pictures.
In with these is a plastic comb notebook with a clear cover and photocopied pages of the first several chapters of Pop. 666, then called Suburbia. It only had one chapter in English, the one published by David Mazzuchelli in Rubber Blanket, the rest was not translated. Like the hardbound cartoon books Francesca had sent me, however, the strange and grotesquely beautiful world she drew sucked me in. I really wanted to publish this stuff in Dark Horse Presents. I don’t know why it didn’t come to pass, maybe I couldn’t get anyone else to see what I saw. There is no date on the letter, Francesca could have sent the same packet to Fantagraphics right about then. The timing makes sense. They started serializing the story off and on in their anthology Zero Zero beginning with the 19th issue in the summer of 1997. They eventually printed all 90 pages, but unlike some of the other strips from the magazine, Pop. 666 has never gotten its own collected edition.
I’m not sure who came up with the title Pop. 666, but it calls to mind the title of Jim Thompson’s western novel Pop. 1280. Thompson is one of the best of the hardboiled school, having written classic genre pieces like After Dark, My Sweet and The Grifters, inspiring many a modern crime writer and filmmaker. Thompson’s book is about a sheriff at odds with his town, the kind of squalid community where all life is a give-and-take proposition. These people are damned by their own evil deeds, they are the future populace of hell. Pop. 666.
Every so often I like to use this column to focus not just on the various American comics that have languished in uncollected obscurity for far too long, but to also examine great works found in other comics-loving countries like France and Japan that for reasons both frustrating and inscrutable have yet to arrive on our shores.
So this week I’m looking across the Atlantic to a 1997 graphic novel written by David B and drawn by Chris Blain, both French. Both names should at least ring a bell with the discerning indie reader, David B. having won well-deserved plaudits for his extraordinarily haunting memoir Epileptic, while Blain found his name on a number of top ten lists last year with First Second’s release of his revisionist Western Gus and His Gang.
La Revolte d’Hop-Frog is a Western as well, though it bears little resemblance to Gus, however, or to any Western I’ve ever seen or read. It’s more like The X-Files set in 19th Century Texas. Oh, it has plenty of gunfights for sure. And cowboys. And tons of Indians. The central plot, however, revolves around a number of talking teapots, guns, lamps,stoves and other inanimate objects gaining sentience and declaring all-out war on their previous owners.
One of the most hotly anticipated books of the year, at least among the indie crowd, has got to be David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. The book has been earning a plentiful number of plaudits, but part of the interest is surely the fact that Mazzucchelli hasn’t published a book in almost 15 years and hasn’t had a strip published since 2001.
With all the fanfare surrounding the book, however, it seems odd that up till now no one has attempted to collect the three oversized issues of Mazzucchelli’s seminal self-published series, Rubber Blanket. While the three issues aren’t necessarily hard to find, securing them can prove to be a bit pricey. More importantly though, Rubber Blanket was a seminal series, both in Mazzucchelli’s development as an artist and in the indie comix scene of the early 90s.
To all those who have been enjoying this column and wondering where it went, I apologize about the long hiatus. I have no excuses other than it’s been a bumpy year. In any event I shall try to keep things proceeding from here on out at a more regular pace. It might not be weekly, but it won’t be bimonthly certainly.
Anyway, for the return of Collect This Now, the column wherein I pick long-neglected comics and make a case for them to be reprinted, I’ve picked the mother of all lost causes. You can pray to St. Anthony all you like but you’ll see gold-embossed Miracleman Omnibus with a foreword by both Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane before you’ll ever set eyes on the trade paperback of this puppy, thanks largely to the Walt Disney company.
Wherefore you ask? What possible reason could the Disney Conglomerate (Inc.) have to prevent this material from ever being printed again? And is it possible that if I click on the link below I will encounter images that are most definitely Not Safe for Work?
Mmmmmmmmm ….. could be.
One of the books I’m most looking forward to the most this fall is Talking Lines by R.O. Blechman (and published by Drawn & Quarterly). I believe this is a collection of new material, but I’m hoping that D&Q or someone makes an effort to re-release the myriad number of books in Blechman’s back catalog.
Why? Who is this guy? The odd (and perhaps sad) thing about Blechman is that outside of certain small circles he isn’t really well known, his style is more recognizable than his name — if I were to point out some of his work you’d likely say “Oh yeah, that guy.” He’s the M. Emmet Walsh of cartoonists.
And yet he’s a fabulous talent, a man who’s published several successful books, children’s stories and graphic novels, long before that term came to the fore. He’s done illustrations for folks like The New Yorker, The New York Times and more recently The Huffington Post. He was a contributor to Harvey Kurtzman’s Humbug magazine back in the day. His work has exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art! The man’s got credentials. And yet, for some odd reason, in comics circles Blechman remains persona non grata.
I have a very precise and personal reason for wanting to see this comic collected into trade paperback. I want to find out how it ends.
I’m not sure what or who made me decide to buy the first three issues of Gifts of the Night in one fell swoop that day back in 1999, but I do have a distinct memory of plunking down the cash for all of them at once, figuring no doubt that I would be back in a few weeks for the final issue.
Alas, for reasons that have since slipped out of my brain, I was unable to return to the store and by the time I did, said comic had come and gone. I’ve been thus far unable to find that elusive fourth issue, though, to be fair, it’s not like I’ve been trying very hard.
Still, even though my reading of the work is only 3/4th complete, I feel I can say with some confidence that Gifts of the Night is a comic worthy of bringing back into print.
I suppose this week’s entry might be considered cheating a bit, since the work is easily available in English, albeit only online, in scantillation form. Still, while we may be heading towards a future where comics will be jacked into the backs of our spinal cords Existenz-style, with the individual panels displayed against the insides of our eyeballs, for the nonce this column will concern itself solely with comics that take up physical space, preferably printed on paper. And Dance! Kremlin Palace has, as far as I know, not yet fulfilled that requirement.
Before we begin I should probably offer a warning of sorts: many of the links and images and descriptions below probably don’t fall under the NSFW banner, so if you’re under 18, just pretend you never saw this post, OK? Oh, and remember: All comics are to be read right to left.
I’m going to be reviewing Humbug tomorrow, but for today’s purposes, I wanted to talk about one of the few remaining holes in Kurtzman’s ouevre, namely Help! magazine.
Spanning 1960-65 — the time period between the close of Humbug and the creation of Little Annie Fanny for Playboy, Help! is not as well-regarded as the former or as slick and risque as the latter, but it’s notable for more than being Kurtzman’s longest running stint on a magazine after his departure from EC and Mad.