Archive for the ‘Comic strips’ Category

This is why we can’t have nice things

August 5, 2012

This is what happens when you view the entire history of comics through the lens of one very small genre which has, thanks to various accidents of history, become the dominant entry-point for a particular type of reader. You get asinine questions like this, about Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse:

One of the things that blew my mind was how those strips feel so much more modern than your average Golden Age super-hero comic, even though they started eight years before Action Comics #1.

That’s right, kids. We’re in a decade that had, inter alia, Prince Valiant, Krazy Kat, Terry and the Pirates, Popeye in Thimble Theatre, Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy, Alley Oop, Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner…and we’re asking why another canon-level comic strip seems modern compared with Action fucking Comics #1.

Comics!

Racism in the Funny Pages, Episode 51,822

June 26, 2012

Et tu, Micke?

(detail from Mickey Mouse 10 February 1932, by the great Floyd Gottfredson — even Homer nods ; inks by Al Taliaferro)

Happy happy joy joy

December 24, 2009

So I’m reading through my new copy of NBM’s Happy Hooligan collection, when I come across the remarkable strip from 22 November 1902. According to the title, it features “Happy Hooligan’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Joyful Hooligan” who “lands on Plymouth Rock”.

Joyful looks awfully like Happy (right down to the tin-can on the head) except in slightly more pilgrim-y gear. And, more to the point, he acts just like Happy and gets unjust comeuppance just like him, too. So he tries to do a good deed, it goes awry, and the last panel shows his punishment by the law.

Which, frankly, blew my mind (not easily blown). For here in 1903 we see the inklings of that superhero trope beloved by Alan Moore among many lesser lights, viz. the past/future/other-dimensional counterpart of the hero who is identical to the hero in all but setting. Is this the first appearance of the trope in comics? Surely you’d be hard-pressed to find an earlier example.

Random Review

January 9, 2009

Steve Canyon: 1953. Milton Caniff. Checker, 2006. $17.95, 170 pages.

Steve Canyon is a comic like Cerebus or Little Orphan Annie. If you’re going to enjoy it —  and there’s a lot to enjoy — there are some hurdles to overcome. With Cerebus, it’s Dave Sim’s misogyny; with Annie, it’s Harold Gray’s anti-New Deal-ism; and with Steve Canyon, it’s a combination of Milton Caniff’s orientalism, militaristic jingoism and firm belief in American manifest destiny. During the Second World War and in the years immediately following, this no doubt struck a chord with Caniff’s readership, but to modern readers, after a half-century of dubious American adventurism, it looks — well, let’s be generous and call it a little naive. In Caniff’s world, the American Air Force (which by 1953 has re-enlisted crack pilot Steve Canyon) is an unquestioned force for good, fighting oppressive regimes and the rise of communism across the globe. Canyon is Alden Pyle with a pilot’s licence.

Still, if you can get past the political angle, this is a damned fine adventure comic, drawn by one of the greats. The action sequences are exciting, the cliffs well hanged, and the strips themselves always clean and easy to follow. If nothing else, you could appreciate Canyon as a master-class in how to do “talking heads”. For this is a very talkative strip, given that it’s an adventure strip about a two-fisted Army pilot. Strip after strip shows nothing but folks talking, but it never gets boring as Caniff switches “camera-angles”, throws the characters into silhouette, cuts between “close-ups” and “long-shots” and uses a hundred other tricks to keep things visually interesting. (The filmic terms are actually a propos here, as Caniff was a pioneer in bringing cinematic techniques to the comics page.) Alex Maleev et al., take note: this is how you do it.

In the current Golden Age of Reprints, Caniff’s work–reprinted here and in Terry and the Pirates volumes from IDW–seems to be getting overlooked a bit, compared with the attention given to Little Orphan Annie, Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Popeye et al. Perhaps it’s because his visual vocabulary have become so familiar to modern readers, from his countless imitators, that it no longer looks as exciting and new as it did when it first appeared. Or maybe there’s no longer a market for military adventure comics. In any case, Caniff’s work is well worth your consideration, and the inexpensively priced Steve Canyon volumes are a good place to start.

Recommended? Yes, even if just to ogle at Caniff’s serious cartooning chops.

Some things I’ve read lately

November 3, 2007

Most recent depressofests I have endured: Funny Games, Anatomy of Hell and Irreversible.

Funny Games is one of those have-your-cake-and-choke-on-it movies about how, like, the viewer is totally complicit in cinematic violence, man, and that means YOU. The best thing about this strategy for the writer/director Michel Haneke is that, if you like the film, he’s right, and if you don’t like it, he’s still right. Emo rating: when I slap you, you’ll take it and like it. I didn’t like it.

Anatomy of Hell was alternately dull and ridiculous, a softcore porno scripted by Sartre. The female character’s vagina is memorably described as “The horror of Nothingness that is the imprescribable All.” That might sound pretty entertaining; it wasn’t, although the bit with the garden-tool was (unintentionally) funny. Some enterprising nerd should dub the soundtrack and subtitles onto a real porno. Emo rating: Gerard Way writing an apparently good comic.

Irreversible was much more like it, an amazing, deeply unsettling and virtuosic bit of film-making. The two infamously gut-wrenching scenes are as unflinching as the cutting scenes of In My Skin. Plus, the DVD has the most disturbing film clip ever,* for a song from the soundtrack (by one of the Daft Punk guys). Emo rating: Ivan Brunetti when he’s off his meds.

* Yes, even more disturbing than that Aphex Twin video.

Onto the graphic novels!

Path of the Assassin, Volumes 1 & 2. Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. Dark Horse, 2006. $9.95 each, 320/312 pages.

At the risk of losing all my manga-credibility, I have a confession to make. I’ve never been able to get into Koike’s and Kojima’s more famous samurai epic, Lone Wolf and Cub. I can appreciate the artistry on display in the volumes I’ve read, but it just never grabbed me. And Koike’s Crying Freeman (with Ryoichi Ikegami) is just flat-out ludicrous, with one of the silliest “high concepts” ever: “A sensitive young artist is mind-controlled to become the world’s deadliest assassin. The one thing they can’t control? His tear-ducts!” If you thought Crying Superman was the height of graphic novel kitsch, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So it was with considerable trepidation that I approached these first two volumes of yet another manga series from Koike and Kojima.

Well, I needn’t have trepidated. This is excellent stuff, the sort of unputdownable, must-get-the-next-volume experience that this manga reader is always looking for but rarely finds. What makes the difference, from LW&C, at least, is the characterization. The leads here aren’t ciphers like Ogami Itto, but roguish allies and friends who live by their wits. Their interplay is enjoyable, and drives the need to read on and find out what they do next.

Also, ninjas doing cool shit trumps samurai doing cool shit.

Warning–there are some seriously dubious sexual attitudes on display. But I, for one, thought they got away with it (barely!) thanks to the general 70s and pulpish vibe.

Drifting Classroom Volume 8, Kazuo Umezu. Viz, 2007. $9.95, 192 pages.

Aw, yeah. The previous volume dragged in the middle, and gave us less of the stark raving bugfuck craziness that this series trades on. But this volume is a fast-paced return to form, several panels inducing laugh-out-loud horror.

Yes, laugh-out-loud horror, and I don’t mean that it’s campy. Umezu fans, you know what I’m talking about.

Walt and Skeezix Book Three, Frank King. Drawn and Quarterly, 2007. $29.95, 400 pages.

Yes, believe the hype. Gentle, understated masterpiece etc. etc. Three volumes in, and we’re starting to see some of the strip’s most famous feature, the ageing of its characters. Wee Skeezix, introduced as a mere stripling in Book One, is old enough to go to school by the end of this volume. What’s remarkable about these changes is how imperceptibly they occur, just like in real life.

The only work I can think of that does something similar is A la recherche du temps perdu. There’s a remarkable scene towards the very end of those books where the narrator suddenly realizes that he’s grown old, and so has everyone he knows. What’s startling about the scene is that it should have been obvious that, while he was out chasing Albertine and being generally neurasthenic, the narrator was getting on in years. But he hasn’t ever thought about it, and nor has the reader–or this reader hadn’t, at any rate. The message: one day you’ll wake up and realise that you’re a sad old fuck and your life will soon be over. That sounds like a platitude when explicitly stated, but it really resonates when it’s experienced over thousands and thousands of pages.

And if it was good enough for Proust, it ought to be good enough for King.

In this volume, Madame Octave continues her fiendish schemes to take Skeezix away from his adoptive father, Walt. But the anxiety is overall much more subdued than the last volume. Here Octave pops up more as a nuisance than as the sinister embodiment of early death that she seemed before. The general tone is rather dreamier and more romantic, as Walt’s relationship with Blossom blooms (sorry). In keeping with the more romantic tone, King draws several strips in a striking style that I don’t remember from previous volumes, a lovely impressionism which is all shadows and light, silhouettes and dappled splashes of white, clouds of hatching that emanate from street-lamps. It’s beautiful stuff in little black and white (well, yellow) panels.

So: buy it and be reminded of your own inevitable mortality. Memento mori, suckahs!