Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

An open letter about Charlie Hebdo

January 16, 2015

Dear Comics Internet

I would like to hear all  your opinions about l’affaire Hebdo.

ALL your opinions, every single one.

Comics haven’t been this hot a news item since that time Marvel killed the Human Torch, or maybe when they made Thor into a lady-Thor  — it’s your moment in the spotlight, Comics Internet, so shine like the beautiful star you are.

Your pal,

Jones.

PS: Don’t forget to imply that anyone who disagrees is worse than Hitler, molests children, likes Alex Ross, etc. Above all else: unshakeable certitude in your own sanctimony and the perdition of all others.

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Modern superhero comics described in one headline

May 14, 2012

General Mills Gives Honey Nut Cheerios Bee Intense Backstory Of Childhood Foster Home Abuse In Bizarre Rebranding Effort

Racism in the Funny Pages, Episode 3,768

March 14, 2012

But everyone was racist back then...

Yes, that’s Little Orphan Annie in blackface. On the left is Pee Wee, her elephant pal from her adventures in the circus; Sandy on the right, of course; and just visible is the “native” hut where Annie lives from 26 November to 20 December 1935. That’s a panel from the Sunday strip on 1 December. Here’s two panels from the daily for 10 December:

Context: Annie is living on a film set. She thinks she’s merely an extra; unbeknownst to her, her every action is being filmed for a fictional film about the life of a jungle princess. The footage of her antics is “great stuff”, “going to make a corking picture”, “marvelous”, “a sensation”…and, indeed, once the film is released, it’s “a smash hit” and “a riot”, with audiences “going wild”. Once again, Annie reveals herself a showbiz natural — as well as her turn in the circus, she has already been a music hall sensation with her renditions of sentimental standards.

She adopts a stage name for the release of the film. That name?

Inkey

But, you know, different times, everyone was racist back then, the strip also has some positive portrayals of non-whites, etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, it’s okay because she has a good reason for donning blackface and calling herself Inkey. It’s so she can hide from hatchet-wielding Chinamen who want to murder her.

(detail from 16 September 1935)

***

Also, I’m fairly sure that that’s not what happens when you have unregulated monopoly pricing:

(detail from 15 June 1935)

***

UNRELATED POST-SCRIPT: This will be cryptic right now, but a propos something else entirely I predict that someone will accuse it of tending to political conservatism, pretty early on in the thread. Let’s say within ten comments (assuming it gets that far!).

Play for pay

February 24, 2012

I just got a copy of the latest Walt and Skeezix, vol 5. It comes with a DVD of home videos filmed by the strip’s creator, Frank King.

It comes with a DVD of home videos filmed by the strip’s creator, Frank King.

This madness must stop. Publishers D&Q obviously feel a need to cram these reprints with supplementary biographical material; alas, they blew their load too early with all the photos etc. in the first few volumes, and there’s nowhere left to go but more and more elaborate. At this rate, Vol.6 will contain a 3,000 page fold-out family tree of King’s ancestors, all the way back to mitochondrial Eve. For Vol. 7, Chris Ware will come to the house of each and every person who buys a copy, and deliver a ten hour presentation on King’s life and technique.

(The first twenty minutes is the formal presentation; the remainder is a protracted bout of self-effacement and apologising from Ware.)

Vol. 8, and all volumes thereafter, will be double the length, as it starts the collection of a parallel strip (drawn by Ware and written by Joe Matt, when he can drag himself away from his pee jar) chronicling King’s life, from the moment of his birth, in daily comic strip form. But whereas Gasoline Alley was published in “real time”, each daily strip covering one day in the life of the characters, each episode of the  biographical strip will cover one hour in King’s life. It will be titled The Life and Opinions of Frank King, Gentleman.

Vol 9? Four words, my friend: Mark Gruenwald, Squadron Supreme

The thing is, I myself am, basically, not interested in other people’s lives. It adds nothing to my appreciation of an artist to know that for fifty years he favoured Cheerios at the breakfast table, the honey-nut ones yo. Critical essays on various facets of their work or career, I like those things that you also find in today’s Golden Age of Reprints Reprints, but all the crap about where they lived and what route they took on their morning walks and how they tied their shoes, feh.

You might say, ‘Come on, Jones, could you be any more the ungrateful Comic Book Guy? What’s more typical of the entitled fan than complaining about too much of something, which they don’t have to read and can just ignore anyway, so why don’t they just let other people enjoy it if they want? It doesn’t cost you anything.’

To which I say, actually, it does cost me. For the money that Drawn and Quarterly spent producing the DVD, they could have paid someone to give each reader a handjob (or the gender-appropriate equivalent). I hear Joe Matt is free.

So: where’s my handjob, Drawn and Quarterly? Where’s my handjob?

The saddest 11 words in the English language

November 29, 2011

“Concluding Dark Horse’s complete reprinting of Stanley and Tripp’s Little Lulu…”

Little Lulu, RIP

Brief hiatus

September 4, 2009

Please excuse our brief hiatus over the next few weeks, while the proprietor goes snorkelling along the Great Barrier Reef. We will return after the hiatus with the next great films of the 00s.

My hottest 10

June 27, 2009

Triple J is the government-run, youth radio network in Australia, specialising in various kinds of “alternative” music. It’s sort of like a national version of US college radio, I guess. Anyway, every year for the past 20 years they’ve been running the world’s largest music poll, the Hottest 100, in which listeners vote for their favourite ten tracks of the last year. This year being the twentieth anniversary of the competition, they’re doing something different: a Hottest 100 of all time.

These are the tracks I voted for, in no particular order, my favourite ten songs of all time:

  • Aesop Rock “Daylight”
  • Bjork “Storm” (I couldn’t find a video of the studio version, so here’s a live one instead)
  • Aphex Twin “Avril 14th”
  • Dalek “Paragraphs Relentless”
  • The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows”
  • Massive Attack “Rising Son” (Can’t embed the video, so have a link instead
  • Justice “D.A.N.C.E.”
  • Sly and the Family Stone “Everyday People”
  • Elvis Costello “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected no. 4” (I couldn’t find a video of Elvis singing this, so here’s some other guy playing it on his banjo)

And, finally, probably my favourite track of  all:

  • Madvillain “Shadows of Tomorrow”

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.

Iron Wok Jan!

February 28, 2007

Iron Wok Jan! Vols. 21 and 22, Shinji Saijyo. DrMaster, 2006. Each $9.95, 208 pages.

“What in the world type of secret is hidden in that fried shark?! The first thing he did was prepare the large stove for frying the shark…next, he went into the freezer…I’m not sure what he did in there but I bet it has something to do with those bean sprouts!!

And then he fried the live shark whole!!

Contest manga* is an enduringly popular shonen (boys’ manga) genre. Characters compete with one another in series of rounds, often in vast arenas, to prove their skills. Individual contests can last whole volumes or more, as we see the inner turmoil of the contestants, in-depth discussion of their skills, reactions from the crowds, and so on. The competitions aren’t limited to sports, either. There’s contest manga for fighting, music, pokemon, and no doubt even weirder stuff.

One of the weirdest contest manga around is Shinji Saijyo’s Iron Wok Jan!, a delirious mash-up of tv show Iron Chef and manga/anime Dragon Ball, with the volume turned up to eleven. And a half.

The series follows the adventures of eponymous protagonist, Jan Akiyama, on his quest to prove himself the greatest chef of Chinese cuisine in Japan. On his way to the top, Jan must defeat in cooking battle various opponents, each of them with their own distinctive style or “philosophy” of cooking.

As with all contest manga, the competitions are the main attraction to the book. And Iron Wok Jan! delivers gloriously, its cooking battles so over the top that they make books like Drifting Classroom or Nextwave look positively restrained. The recipes themselves, and the techniques involved in cooking them, are often outlandish. Even when the recipes are simple, with plain ingredients, Saijyo turns them into virtuoso performances, through liberal use of speed lines, close ups, and reaction panels and amazed commentary from judges, audience and other contestants. Contestants cook as if possessed by demons, while everyone else wonders what on earth they’re up to. Often one contestant will do something completely mysterious, building suspense for the whole battle. Finally, the cooking is done and the judges taste the food. Cue reaction shots from the judges as they place the first morsels into their mouths: “This—It can’t be!!–Impossible!!! No one could cook shao xing jiu and octopus intestine without curdling the milk!”

Twenty volumes in, this routine is by now, well, routine. But Saijyo injects enough dynamism into the battles that this familiarity doesn’t matter, any more that it matters to a sports fan that, in some sense, all cricket matches or soccer games are basically the same. Even when the outcome isn’t in question (Jan rarely loses), the reader still wants to know how we get to that outcome. The answer, in Iron Wok Jan!, is always exciting, in a “action-packed roller-coaster thrill-ride” sort of way.

In these two volumes, the final four contestants vie for the second annual all-Japan Chinese cuisine championship; by the end of volume 22 there will only be three contestants left. Expect to see shark-punching, hypothermia, meat that moves, and a mystery involving syringes and bean sprouts.

Saijyo’s art is nothing special, but that very straightforwardness suits the contest genre. Panels flow dynamically, with lots of transitions from character to action to character. The result is as kinetic as manga is stereotypically supposed to be.

Jan himself is an oddly compelling protagonist, portrayed throughout the whole series as a barely sympathetic arsehole. Arrogant, conceited, self-centred and cruel, he is drawn with a devilish face, Jack Nicholson eyebrows, pointy teeth and a constant, evil grin. He is all ambition, his cooking philosophy “cooking is about winning”.

Ambitious, monomaniacal characters like this generally end up learning important life lessons, usually about love and other people. This certainly seems in the cards for Jan, as his main rival throughout the series is the pneumatic Kiriko Gobancho, whose philosophy is “cooking is about heart”. There’s a love/hate relationship between them, which seems destined to end with Jan realizing that there’s so much more to life than winning cooking battles. Personally, I hope Jan stays a bastard to the very end.

Unless Jan and Kiriko get married and compete over who can cook the best wedding cake, using only bean sprouts, lamb tongue, and x-o sauce. That would be awesome.

* There’s got to be a recognised name for this genre other than “contest manga”. Anyone know what it is?

Recommended? A very pleasant guilty pleasure. Distribution is patchy, so you may well have to start with later volumes. While there is some minimal progression from volume to volume, you can mostly read any volume at random without having plot twists spoiled.

IYL: Iron Wok Chef, Nextwave, or if you’ve ever described anything as awesome.

PC Alert: (1) The two main female characters are strong, independent and highly talented (Kiriko is basically Jan’s equal). They’re still drawn with breasts larger than their heads. (2) Volume 22 has two gratuitous pin-up pages in place of the usual recipes and fan art. What gives? (3) These later volumes feature two very camp characters, somewhat stereotyped.

Speaking into the void

January 31, 2007

Gosh darn it, all the other kids have a blog. Why can’t I?