G A N Z E E R . R E V I E W S

comix

Jim Rugg o-o-o

A comic about a mythical public domain revolutionary created in hiding by underground cartoonist networks in Kiev? Brought back to life by Jim Rugg in glorious fluorescent black-light inks?

This, without even thinking about it for a split second, blows all my whistles. From the subject matter to the character's peculiar history, to the unique printing treatment, to the very cartoonist behind this revival, I was all in, and jumped at the chance to back this comicbook on Kickstarter as soon as it was announced.

Fluorescent inks aside however, the end result is largely underwhelming. The story follows Robot's Stalin's plans to test a terabomb in Northern Siberia, home of the indigenous Nanets. Word gets out and makes it to the PPP Party (Progressive Political Pornography) prompting Octobriana to stop Robot Stalin before it's too late! Decent enough setup that takes all of four pages, with the rest of the comic following Octobriana's mission. This wouldn't be too bad if the mission was at all challenging, but Octobriana romps throug it like a badass from start to finish.

I expected a bit more meat to this story. Given the character's history, Octobriana is ripe for something a little more deconstructive, and maybe even an opportunity to explore ideas around communism, capitalism, democracy, and dictatorship (and pornography!). Granted, that may be too much to ask of a 24-page comicbook. I do love the fun, lighthearted humor of the thing, but most of that lies in the first four pages, with the rest being straight action comix, and not entirely exciting action comix at that. Honestly the completely unchallenging action sequences wouldn't have bothered me had some of the key “money shots” been rendered with far more badassery by Rugg. Instead, they're given the same treatment an artist might give a throwaway panel.

Examples:

  • Octobriana and a rescued scientist riding some kind of Dimorphodon/dragon thing. Even though this panel takes up half a page, it is underwhelmingly illustrated with the flying creature silhoutted and the characters simplistically rendered, at an angle that hardly gives this moment the larger than life feel it deserves.

  • Octobriana and same scientist finally find the terabomb on a moving train (top image, right page, middle panel). A chance to draw this weapon in all the larger than life terror it deserves, completely lost.

  • As the scientist hurriedly works his magic on the bomb (on the moving train), a mutated monster appears to stop them (top)! What should be a stressful, high octane, startling moment is instead just kinda meh.

  • Octobriana in a tank blowing the monster to shreds! Yes!! A double-page spread! Look at that “BOOM”! Glorious lettering and glorious colors, but this awesome tank taking up a spread is rendered in the same simplistic way it might be depicted in a thumbnail. The tank here is just asking to be far more awesome!

  • A half page for a silhouetted Apache helicopter?

Honestly, I could go on and on about all the lost money shots, because lost money shots is pretty much what makes up most of OCTOBRIANA 1976, but the kicker for me was on the page before the last:

C'mon, man! A mutated bear emerging from the rubble and that's how you choose to depict it?

Generally speaking, I'm a big fan of Jim Rugg's cartooning! He's one of the rare artists in the field who operates at the intersection of what is commonly understood to be cartooning, and graphic design, and other illustration arts, and generally has a good compass for oscillating between which muscles to lean on throughout any given yarn. This special sauce so particular to Rugg's craft isn't very much on display in OCTOBRIANA 1976 though, and instead we're presented with comicbook full of poor storytelling choices.

As disappointing as OCTOBRIANA 1976 is, I don't regret backing it on Kickstarter, and am happy to have participated in funding this fun experiment by Jim Rugg, which I'm willing to bet is but a miniature prototype of far more awesome things to come. One must commend Rugg on the efficiency with which he handled his entire kickstarter, from launch to promotion to production and extremely timely delivery. I do hope we see more kickstarters from Rugg for more fiercely independent output. I have a feeling we have yet to see the extent of what this unique artist is capable of.

That is the hope anyway.

[Buy]

#comix

Caza o-o-o-o

My awareness of Caza largely pertains to his cover-art for various French science fiction publications, specifically periodicals such as FICTION and GALAXIE. Proving my ignorance of much of the comix landscape, I had absolutely no idea that he did comix as well, so it was with utter excitement and glee that I discovered Heavy Metal had not only published a translated collection of his works, but that their website had it on sale (for as low as $5.12 at the time of purchase, cover price $12.95)!

Caza's line art is clearly the demented lovechild of Moebius and Druillet, an exceptional combination. His color work I would argue surpasses both, bringing forth a quality that is at once painterly as well as designy; with gradients used minimally (and traditionally) in conjunction with flats within a color palette that rarely exceeds a handful of hues. This, together with his incredibly considered compositions make each and every page within this tome worthy of its own poster. Such a statement in my mind would mean the end result probably wouldn't bode well for sequential storytelling (something say, Sergio Toppi—who I love— is often guilty of), but THE AGE OF DARKNESS is evidence that Caza may be the shining exception to the rule.

The stories in THE AGE OF DARKNESS are surreal and suggestive rather than plot or character driven. Dialogue is rarely spoken, and instead panels are accompanied by poetic prose (but also sometimes by rather redundant descriptions of what you're already looking at).

The opening story, “Clouds”, is the least weird in the collection. This 4-pager dated 1979 gave me a tinge of my own THE SOLAR GRID (or more accurately the other way around); a child contemplating a sky thick with elaborate clouds is interrupted by rain, prompting him to don his protective suit, because—as it turns out—the rain is acidic and poisonous. The second story, “The Flute Player” dated a mere year after the first, is a grand leap into weird. A wandering man passes through the great metallic city of the “Oms” before settling on its outskirts and carving a flute out of a lonesome bush. Upon playing it, he is attacked by the Oms and driven out of the city. He returns and plays his flute again, but this time... the Oms are driven to mass suicide, and the closing panel reveals that the flute is different, that this time... it is fashioned out of bone.

Bone from the wanderer's own leg.

And the stories only get weirder. They tend to follow a similar structure though, where there's a buildup to a final panel reveal. These don't offer any concrete statements or notions (not that they don't intend to) but rather they put you in a contemplative state of mind, a space that is part philosophical and part dream-logic.

Beautiful, timeless little think-pieces that you can just pick up at any point in your day and instantly induce your life with a little beauty and thoughtfulness (and quite often some wicked disturbance).

Cannot recommend enough.

[Buy]

#comix

Jack Kirby o-o-o

Jack Kirby's NEW GODS isn't good comix, but it's pretty great Kirby comix. What I mean by that is, objectively speaking and judged with other great comix in mind, NEW GODS is an incredibly underwhelming and laughable read. But if you enter NEW GODS with Jack Kirby in mind, you'll likely get a kick out of it because this is Jack Kirby at his Kirbyest, fully leaning into all the things that became his trademarks: krackles and explosions, fighting superheroics, new characters with new inventive costumes being introduced every other page, along with throwaway sci-fi concepts.

The premise is interesting enough; the old gods have perished and from their destruction arose the New Gods. This bit is only really explored in brief over two pages, afterwards it's all about the drama and brimming war between the New Gods, namely those of New Genesis and those of Apokolips, two sister planets wherein the former is bright, colorful, and joyful and the latter is dark, doomed, and miserable.

The series starts off with Orion returning to New Genesis from... well, it isn't entirely clear where. A battle of some kind is hinted at, but in any case there is great commotion surrounding his return and his summoning by High Father, a chieftain figure of New Genesis. There, Orion is taken to The Source, an ancient wall that survived the “fiery holocaust” of the old gods. Then appears Metron, a mysterious knowledge-hunter who moves effortlessly through space-time in his throne-like Mobius Chair. And the wall pronounces its marching orders: “Orion to Apokolips—then to Earth—then to War.”

This directive amuses the mysterious Metron who mumbles to himself “How wondrously wise is The Source! Who is more ready to fight the father—than the son!”

Thus it is revealed that Darkseid, ruler of Apokolopis, is Orion's father, but it is something Orion as of yet has no knowledge of. “It is not time for him to know! You shall keep secret!” urges High Father of Metron.

This isn't giving a whole lot away, mind you, because all this occurs before the 10-page mark of what is a 400+ page epic. And within those 10 pages alone, there is the seed for enough material to build entire universes filled with all manner of story. Kirby's knack for imagination and creating the new is likely his greatest gift, but with it comes the curse of rarely following any one thread to its suggested conclusion. The thrill of introducing new threads with new characters in new exciting costumes and/or worlds is just too alluring for Kirby to resist. This frustration with holding course isn't only evident from issue-to-issue but even from panel-to-panel sometimes, where it isn't at all uncommon for Kirby to completely disregard background/setting consistency, especially towards the end of the run. Generally speaking, panel-to-panel storytelling sequentiality isn't Kirby's greatest gift; meaning the transition from one panel to the next is more akin to a jump cut, creating a bit of a jolting reading experience from start to finish, but again this likely has to do with Kirby's eagerness to draw new stuff rather than draw and redraw too much of the same. The end result is that while page readability may not be entirely smooth, each panel is worthy of being its own pop-art painting! Indeed, this is the stage of Kirby's development where he grew into becoming an aestheticist with an entirely unique vision and fingerprint. It almost feels like comix as a medium was a little too confining for Kirby at this point and he may have done very well to explore the depths of his imagination and artistry as a fine artist instead, with far less boundaries in form and function.

NEW GODS' course is clearly set in the very first issue: an inevitable showdown between Orion and Darkseid, and it does get there, but it meanders quite a bit along the way. Something that on the one hand can be exciting, especially if read as intended (a series of adventuresome episodes) but on the other hand a little frustrating if considered... hmm, novelistically (which would be unfair to do because it was never conceived as such). As episodes, Kirby does a great job of making each issue its own exciting stand alone battle comic, always introducing a new character, a new challenge, and intriguing new concepts. Naturally though, some episodes are better than others. Issue #7 has got to be the undisputed high point in the series, presenting us with a gloriously operatic backstory to what will become the everlasting feud between New Genesis and Apokolips, a complete epic filled with romance, betrayal, cosmic battles, political intrigue, and awesome fights all within a mere 24 pages. It's a landmark issue, and emblematic of the kind of work that Kirby would've really liked to do in NEW GODS if his note on the very first page is any indication: “From time to time—this kind of segment will supplement the larger tapestry of the New Gods. Thank you – Jack Kirby”

Kirby wouldn't get another chance to do this again except to some degree for issue 9 where he introduces The Bug, otherwise referred to as Forager (it's a little confusing). Another civilization of New Genesis is explored, that of the underground insectoids to which Forager is affiliated, another tale of grand drama, sacrifice, and of course, awesome battles!

Issues 4 and 5 are noteworthy for the 4-page introductions featuring Metron, the former a quick look at a young planet, and the latter a flyby “the final barrier” where a colossal being larger than a star cluster drifts shackled to “the fragments of devices”. Mad, grand, and beautiful cosmic explorations that would've been a rich and welcomed addition to the series had they been regularly incorporated into each issue. Alas, not the case. Another welcomed addition would've been more of the backup stories included in issues 5 and 7, “The Young Gods of Supertown”, shedding light on the kind of trouble the young ones of New Genesis get up to, independent of the whole Orion/Darkseid storyline. But again, we only get a couple of such installments.

Also worthy of note are issues 6 and 8, possibly the most brutal of stories Kirby has ever done, both involving grand destructive battles on Earth (especially issue 8), and both involving terrible afflictions to human bystanders making them really ahead of their time as far as superhero comix are concerned.

All in all, NEW GODS is a fabulous dossier of grand world-building, with new imaginative ideas introduced on every other page. Neither the storylines themselves nor the storytelling are anything to write home about, but the book will not let up on colorful characters, exciting compositions, and awesome technologies that only Kirby's imagination could conjure up. Within it is the seed for many a fantastic comicbook story, cosmic and street, mythological and grounded, something DC Comics missed the chance to properly build upon when Kirby was still alive. Rather than contract him for 15 pages a week, I imagine DC would've done themselves (and Kirby himself) a great service had they contracted him for just one series while overseeing a line of comix created by other artists/writers based on his NEW GODS. It's obvious that his having to work on a handful of other titles alongside NEW GODS contributed somewhat to the scattered meanderings of the tale.

In the end, Jack Kirby's NEW GODS is more an example of what could've been, rather than a story of what is. It starts off exciting and brimming with potential, but then midway through becomes little more than sad and misguided.

[Buy]

#comix

Paul Pope o-o-o-o

Paul Pope isn't my favorite writer, but he may very well be my favorite storyteller in comix. And 100% may just be my favorite of Pope's work to date. As someone who's followed Pope since his indie THB days, I suppose that's saying a lot. 100% strings three stories together into one by way of overlapping characters in a somewhat similar vein as Quentin Tarentino's PULP FICTION, albeit far more linear in its telling. Like Pulp Fiction, one of 100%'s “stories” even centers around a boxer. But more specifically, his relationship with a woman named Strel who manages a strip club but would rather start a coffee roasting company instead. The other story involves Strel's cousin Eloy and her friend Kim who begin to take a liking to one another. Eloy's a conceptual artist who lives in a former bread factory where he's been toiling away on an art installation that involves an array of teapots he's been amassing. Kim, with the help of Strel, buys a gun after a young girl was found murdered near the club. Throughout the story we are made aware of the gun's presence on Kim's person, but—in complete defiance of Chekhov's principle—the gun is never used. In fact, most of 100% would drive Chekhov up the wall, for the majority of plot points are rather pointless. Less so with the third of the book's stories, which revolves around a new dancer at Strel's club and—more importantly—a busboy she gets involved with. I suspect this one to be somewhat autobiographical and possibly for that reason the most genuine of the lot. But if we're going to be honest, plot and story are never the draw for a Paul Pope yarn. It is Pope's expressive lines that draw us in. Presented in glorious black and white, Pope's energetic ink-slinging is on full display in 100%. And it applies not just to people and their faces and body language, it's also true for building, signage, furniture, and flying blob-like police patrol crafts. Oh right, did I mention 100% is science fiction?

Cop crafts hover above the streets of New York, Che Guevara's mug adorns American money, and the strip club offers “Gastro Dances” where the intestines of dancing girls are projected live. The boxing matches are also Gastro-fights, where the insides of fighters are on full display. The visual potential offered by the latter two aren't particularly taken advantage of by Pope, so it seems like a frivolous detail that holds no purpose, be it visual or conceptual.

If it feels like I'm coming down hard on Pope, let me just say I think 100% is excellent comix. But how can that be with such a loosely formulated story? It's because—aside from the deliciously energetic draftsmanship—of all the inward qualities of the storytelling, as opposed to the outward. Because of the way Kim squeezes her scarf when her and Strel talk about the dead girl, the way John hurriedly collects dirty glasses on the job, the look on Eloy's face when steam erupts from his kettles, and the way Strel furiously taps at her handheld in an attempt to avoid a “date” with Haitious the boxer. Pope's ability to evoke emotion is quite simply unmatched. You will feel the agony felt by his characters, their reluctance, their nervousness, their joy, their excitement, and their despair. He may not craft the most meticulously machined stories, but he is able to craft very human ones. And what he does with ink on paper is simply breathtaking. The fact that all his forms come from the very same free flowing brush gives even the ashtrays on a table as much emotion as his figures. As much as his characters are expressive, the environments they inhabit are also fully evoked, from smoky rooms to loud crowded dance clubs to hot steamy showers, it's all feels so... tactile. What is it all in service of? Three love stories, I guess. A new one that works out, another new one that doesn't, and an older one that is reconciled. But actually, it isn't really about those either, it's about the little moments; resisting the urge to read a flame's diary, sake over a sushi dinner, holding a lover's broken hand.

Props must also be given to John Workman whose lettering on 100% falls so in line with the artwork that you could easily mistake it for having come from Pope's hand himself.

The book may not deliver the most groundbreaking story, and the future it portrays may not have any future shock value or any social commentary of note, but it gives you real characters, environments, and a visual narrative that is 100% Paul Pope and only Paul Pope.

And that... is good enough for me.

[Buy]

#comix

by Chris Ware o-o-o-o-o

The Acme Novelty Library #20 (which you wouldn’t know was The Acme Novelty Library #20, not right away, not on first glance) sat on my shelf for about 5 years, and traveled with me between 4 different cities before finally being read. Not because it’s big or daunting in any way, but because of perhaps the tedious demeanor implied by its unique Chris-Ware-ness; the four panels that detail a character’s fall off a bike, the five panels (some of them very small) that detail the picking of a pimple, the drip-drip of a ceiling leak into a bucket. But these are the very same reasons you’d keep the book around. Over the course of consecutive moves, you’d cleanse your life of the weight of numerous books, but not this one despite not having bothered to read it not once. But every once in a while, when you do pick it up, and you do flip through it, the magic of its storytelling mechanisms are obvious enough for you to keep it around. You know, even without reading it, that it is a true work of art, and as such should stay.

When I did finally read it, I read it in one sitting and I was so very glad that I never got rid of it. Simply put, it is a work of genius.

The book focuses on the life of a single individual; Jordan Wellington Lint, from the moment of birth all the way to the time of his death as an elderly man. For this reason, Ware has ingeniously designed the book to resemble a photo album with the family name stamped on the front in gold foil. No sign that it is part of the Acme Novelty Library, and not even any sign of the author’s name. Even the spine displays only the name Jordan Wellington Lint, whose life the album covers.

The book is a character study, and the character it studies isn’t the most pleasant of people. By the time he’s in his teens, he’s a bully. In his twenties he’s a slacker. He finds Christ at some point, considers himself to have turned his life around to become a model citizen, but he actually isn’t because he’s a terrible cheat. Not to mention racist. Not overtly so, but subtly in the way most White Americans who don’t think of themselves as racist actually are.

It’s not a very easy book in that it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see the decisions this Jordan Lint is making, his fucking up so bad, his falling victim to his own weaknesses. But its hardest part might be in its ability to hold up a mirror to the reader and bring about deep hidden memories of one’s own fuck-ups, one’s own failures, one’s own moments of weakness.

Needless to say, Chris Ware as per his usual employs a wide array of composition and storytelling techniques that will keep you coming back to the book for study and reexamination. It is a masterclass of more things than one, and a major landmark in the history of graphic storytelling, all in just 72 pages.

Highly recommended.

[Buy]

#comix

by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy o-o-o-c

Madness. Sheer and utter madness.

I must admit that before MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, I hadn't even heard of Brendan McCarthy, which is a damn inexcusable shame. But to be fair, the work of Milligan & McCarthy hasn’t really been part of the dialogue in comix culture. Not even when it comes to talking about the impactful indie work that fell outside of the mainstream; you never hear their work cited alongside that of Frank Miller's SIN CITY (which, before the 2005 film release was only really known in pretty small circles throughout the 1990's) or Eddie Campbell's ALEC or Dave Sim's CEREBUS. But that silence is in no way reflective of the duo's influence.

About a year ago, I listened to an interview with Neil Gaiman for the British Library podcast focused primarily on the RAMAYANA and Gaiman's involvement in adapting it for DreamWorks. When asked if he had a particular style in mind when working on the various [never-produced] treatments, Gaiman was quick to point out Brendan McCarthy's work on ROGAN GOSH, which Gaiman describes as being birthed from Brendan's “Road to Damascus moment, where he ran into a pile of comics in India, and just went 'I love this, there's art stuff here that I've never seen in the West,' and started doing stuff and playing with it.” He also goes on to describe ROGAN GOSH as “one of the most interesting moments of fusion between Indian and British and American comix culture.”

Naturally, I immediately looked into getting my hands on some ROGAN GOSH and discovered that it was reprinted in the pages of an over-sized hardcover titled THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY published by Dark Horse Books in 2013 and retailing for only $24.99 (down to $7.19 as I type this). Although a horrendously produced edition (pages are actually falling out in less than a year since purchasing it), I'm still happy to have gotten my hands on it because it has been blowing my mind ever since. Not least because of the work itself, but because it simultaneously exposes a very vital almost secret history of comix lost to... I dunno,an obsession with the founding of Image Comics and the less than negligible work its founders produced? If there was ever a demented, revolutionary punk rock duo in comix, Milligan & McCarthy definitely fit the bill.

ROGAN GOSH first appeared in REVOLVER, a short-lived anthology magazine for mature readers published in the UK between 1990-1991. GOSH was finally collected by DC Comics/Vertigo into a 48-page one shot in 1994. It is perhaps because of the book's modest page-count that it is never mentioned in the same breath as say THE SANDMAN or PREACHER, or THE INVISIBLES or other long-running titles central to the Vertigo imprint's identity. But hey, Aristotle's POETICS is no more than a sodding 44 pages, which is sometimes all you need to jump-start a revolution.

In Milligan and McCarthy's own words, surrounded by “long and bloated 'concept album' comics”, they were more interested in “the short, sharp, throwaway pop single. The type you danced to. The type you had sex to.”

While the above statement can most be applied to their series PARADAX (also featured in the book), it pretty much hits the nail on the head with the majority of their collaborations, including ROGAN GOSH.

By the duo's own admission, it is not only difficult to describe what ROGAN GOSH is about, it is even pointless to ask. What may have been originally conceived as a “sci-fi Bollywood BLADE RUNNER” rapidly evolved into something far more demented. It starts off with Rudyard Kipling in Lahore en route to a place “where men of all castes come to sleep the sleep of dreams.” Essentially, an opium den where “karmanauts can relieve a man of the curses of his sins.” If you think that opening scene will give you any idea of what follows, you are sorely mistaken. Kupling is entered into a “jasmine-scented dream of the future” where we are transported to psychadelic trip after psychadelic trip involving completely different characters:

  • A man named Raju Dhawan waiting on another named Dean Cripps at a Tandoori joint called “Star of the East”
  • The blue-skinned Rogan Gosh on the run from the “bloody-tongued, dark destroyer” Kali together with a small idol of Kipling.
  • Raju Ghawan as Rogan Gosh together with Dean Cripps on the run from robotic hindu “Karma Kops”.
  • Rogan Gosh as a bull-riding ancient Egyptian cowboy of the future, roaming through the mythic land of Wild Bill Osiris and Horus Thuh Kid.

If none of this makes the slightest bit of coherence, well that's because there is nothing coherent about it. Rather than there being any kind of train of thought, it's more like a train blown to bits upon the detonation of atomic dynamite. Shards of ideas floating around a nebula, jabbing into each other with every turn of the page. It's bizarre stuff, heavy on logic-defying captions almost as much as the explosive visuals. If you, the reader, let yourself go, you'll find that the synergy of text and image in ROGAN GOSH will drag you around a strong relentless current of spicy thought soup. Washing ashore an island of utter confusion is inevitable, but not without a sense of thrill retained from the memories of the surrealist storm that was.

Imagine a comicbook operating along the logic of say, PROMETHEA, 8 years prior to PROMETHEA's publication and without any of the rigorous explanation of the world's mechanics the way PROMETHEA delves into. Instead you're just thrown into it and left to make connections entirely on your own. That's what ROGAN GOSH feels like; a weird transcendental spell cast in comicbook form.

It isn't a coincidence that Milligan & McCarthy share something with Alan Moore other than British citizenship. All three after all did get their start making comix in the indie music paper SOUNDS. Moore with ROSCOE MOSCOW in 1979, and McCarthy et Milligan with THE ELECTRIC HOAX in 1978. This discovery, although new to me, was not at all surprising, as I find that I am typically drawn to creators who cut their teeth in avenues that fall outside of “the mainstream”. Where the ones “in charge” understand little about what they’re doing, where anything goes and opportunities for mad experimentalism aren't stifled.

The greatest discovery in THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY for me has been the duo's work on FREAKWAVE, a comic that, by Brendan's own admission, was directly inspired by MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR which Brendan became obsessed with during his surfing getaway in Australia in 1981. After which Brendan coerced Milligan to co-write a “Mad Max goes surfing” treatment Brendan could pitch to Hollywood. Hollywood didn't bite, but the duo did get to produce it as a backup strip in the pages of VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED published by Pacific Comics in 1983. Pretty straight adventure story initially (well, as straight as Milligan & McCarthy can muster anyway), with the most striking aspect of the strip being character designs and world building.

FREAKWAVE is a post-apocalyptic punk-rock drifter who windsurfs a flooded Earth in search of floating trash he can live off. He battles it out with disease-ridden humanoid “Water-rats” and psychopaths in gasmasks wrapped in old tin cans and the random cultural ephemera of old. FREAKWAVE would later resurface as a punk-absurdist Tibetan Book-of-the-Dead story in 1984's STRANGE DAYS, an anthology showcasing the work of Milligan, McCarthy, and Brett Ewans published by Eclipse Comics. It only ran for 3 issues, but Warren Ellis says it “landed like a hand grenade from another world”, which is still exactly what it feels like going through its contents 34 years later today. It is especially in the pages of STRANGE DAYS' feature comic FREAKWAVE that you see Brendan McCarthy and Peter Milligan really rocking out like some kind of alternative comicbook band, the pages crackling with the energetic buzz of an electric guitar. Brendan especially reaches peak McCarthiasm, with 90% of his visionary work on FURY ROAD appearing here first on the page a good 31 years before blowing people's minds on screen.

Which, by the way, how fucking cool is that? To be asked to work on the sequel to a film that inspired your scarcely read comicbook. And to be asked specifically because of your work on said comicbook?

Not to mention that FREAKWAVE, although given a pass by executives in Hollywood, very likely influenced the movie WATERWORLD in 1995, at the very least in terms of look and production design, which let's face it was the only really good thing about the film.

Nothing will give you that good kick in the balls to go off and make comix (or any ill-advised pursuit) more than looking at the work of Milligan and McCarthy. If a big part of the draw of comix for you is that it is medium void of filters between creator and reader, well then that cannot be more true of Milligan and McCarthy's collaborations. Because there are always editors keeping creators in check, or heck, even self-inflicted inhibition on the creator’s part. Not for Milligan and McCarthy.

Never for Milligan and McCarthy.

[Buy]

Ganzeer November 23, 2018

#comix

by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson o-o-o-o

One of the best exercises in plotting I've ever seen came in a comicbook I don't think I'd normally be interested in picking up: MANHUNTER.

Yes, it has the names of Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson on the cover, but it's a comicbook called Manhunter for Christ's sake. Look at what this supposedly fearsome Manhunter is wearing, my God. But, Warren urged me to check it out and I have never been disappointed by a Warren Ellis recommendation to date.

Lessons learned from this slim collection are numerous. First of all, it is an absolute joy to read! Which was such a breath of fresh air because more than once in the past few months have I found myself dropping a book out of sheer boredom. MANHUNTER will engage you from start to finish. I started reading it one night before bed, and found myself finishing it the next morning over cereal at the kitchen table, almost unable to put it down. Now if that ain't good storytelling, I don't know what is. As far as escapist fiction goes, forget DOC SAVAGE, or heck Michael Moorcock's ELRIC novels even (blasphemy, I know), but your blueprint for good ol' fashioned escapism is right here, because what Archie Goodwin did with this is pretty much toss in every pulpy plot trick known to man. Clones? You bet. Moles? Check. Conspiracy? Check. Super-healing? Check. Suspended Animation? Check. Teleportation? Yup. Mind-controlled machines? Oh yeah. Betrayal? Of course.

The book has it all, but what's most impressive is how it was all fit into such a slim package. Before it was collected into this 72-page edition in 1984, MANHUNTER ran as an 8-page backup story, serialized in a 1973 run of DETECTIVE, who's lead character was Batman. Sales were low, and the title needed spicing up, but Goodwin realized that he couldn't get away with doing anything too radical on the Batman. A backup story starring an unknown character, on the other hand, he could play with. A whiff of editorial genius pushed him to tap into the then young Walt Simonson, who did with Goodwin's loose plots some really groundbreaking work. If, like me, the notion of drawing or writing a 9-panel grid has ever brought about a feeling of dread, MANHUNTER is your remedy because Simonson will sometimes do a 13-panel page, and it will look beautiful, designed. The storytelling is clear, natural, and effortless. Somehow, the 9-panel grid looks like a walk in the park after studying Simonson's work on MANHUNTER.

Goodwin started out writing “Marvel style” on these with Simonson. Essentially, rather than giving Simonson full scripts, he gave him plots. Walt would then take these plots and use them to rough up his page layouts, which Goodwin would then use to work in dialogue and captions. Such was the collaborative nature of this thing that by the 3rd or 4th episode, Goodwin no longer wrote the plots and instead just talked them out with Simonson. Ideas bounced back and forth between them with such excitement that you can actually feel it reading the comicbook.

Sure, it's rather hoaky in many parts, but it's good hoaky. And in a very short amount of time you somehow find yourself growing rather fond of this ridiculously dressed man who calls himself Manhunter. His adventures take him from Nepal to Marakech to Istanbul, Japan, and Nairobi. It's rather genre defying in that it's part spy thriller, part detective mystery, part super-hero adventure. All of this in 8-page episodes! I don't recall ever seeing that before. A true masterclass in condensed adventure-storytelling.

Now, everything I've mentioned so far is evident of MANHUNTER being made up of a great deal of plot, and nothing much else, which goes against my argument for “sly escapism”. And I think that towards the last episode when it came time to end the story, Archie Goodwin realized that if his story didn't have some kind of point to it, then all the amazing plotting he'd conjured up would amount to absolutely nothing. So he gave it a point and it's a really good one [spoiler alerts are for pansies]. He made it a story against the idea of resurrection and prolonging of life. A story about accepting death when it is time to die. I may be giving this fun little adventure tale more depth than it calls for, and I fully acknowledge that there's no way in hell this comicbook will interest anybody not already interested in comicbooks about costumed superheroes. It definitely doesn't transcend the genre in the way something like, say, WATCHMEN does, but you can be sure that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were informed by the storytelling techniques employed in MANHUNTER if nothing else.

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by Walter Simonson o-o-o-o

Warren Ellis insisted I read this after noticing stylistic similarities in my work on THE SOLAR GRID. I'll admit, this isn't something I would've necessarily been attracted to, not at first glance, as I tend to lean more towards science fiction that has its roots more in science rather than fantasy, but it only took me the first few pages to understand why Warren would recommend this. STAR SLAMMERS is a masterclass in comicbook storytelling.

Now, for the B-movie aficionados, it might disappoint you to know that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie STAR SLAMMER: THE ESCAPE (previously released as PRISON SHIP), but I guarantee you it is much better.

It blows my mind that this is Simonsons' first ever comix work, because it has all the hallmarks of a seasoned professional, one who knows the medium like the back of his hand. Although, with enough enthusiasm for it to bend the rules from time to time and experiment with storytelling techniques. One of my favorite parts in the book is when Senator Krellik (the bad guy) asks the delegates of his planet to vote on whether or not to eradicate the Slammers, effectively an act of genocide. Monolithic holograms take form behind him, a rose for life, a skull for death. The votes are cast, and it's as if the skull awakes.

Now what's interesting is that this warmongering democracy is not brought to its knees by way of a lone warrior, but rather a collaborative tactic that requires a level of elevated spirituality. Sure, it isn't the most groundbreaking story, but it's beautiful stuff. And it feels like a full fledged movie, told almost effortlessly in just 64 pages. I find myself referring to it over and over again just to learn how to pull that off (once I bring THE SOLAR GRID to a close, I don't think I'll be able to handle a project of the same scope for quite a while).

“Genre-bending” is the new buzz word de jour, but STAR SLAMMERS, first published in the WSFA Journal in the early 70's, and later reprinted in 1983 by Marvel, has its fair share of it with elements drawn from sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and samurai cinema. While the story will hardly blow anyone away, especially not today, the book is an exemplar manual in conscious and powerful graphic storytelling, not to mention illustration in general.

STAR SLAMMERS is available used on Amazon for as low as $0.99

In 2014, IDW released a poorly marketed re-release of STAR SLAMMERS, complete with a sequel that, once upon a time, was partially released by Malibu Comics in 1994. Based on the previews, this new collected edition seems to have been “re-mastered” with 90's era digital coloring that I just can't swallow. But do pick it up if that's more your jam.

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by John Pham o-o-o-c

I have a soft spot for beautiful print objects and well-designed zines. I envy comicbook auteurs the likes of Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, who are masters of both art and story. And boy do I get off on experimentation with format. John Pham pulls that all off in his beautiful self-published anthology series EPOXY.

The first issue, published in 2000, is without a doubt, the least experimental of the bunch, at least as far as production goes. Comprised of 64 pages printed in black & white, wrapped in 4-color cover, it doesn't feel like anything out of the ordinary, until you read the the stories within. The first story, SHIVA, involves a humanoid robot on the run from a flying dragon in a futuristic version of the Vietnamese city of Hue.

The second story, ELEPHANTINE, is about a one armed boxer who cannot be beat, until maybe something happens to his corner-man. The third story, MODESTO, sandwiched between the other two, is more of a traditional slice-of-life story about the shenanigans of a teenage Vietnamese-American girl who has a big family reunion dinner party to look forward to.

For EPOXY's second issue, Pham opts for a smaller zine-like cut, but ups his production game with a risograph print. A two-color beaut for the cover, and a close-to-florescent green for the interiors. Both ELEPHANTINE and MODESTO continue where they left off, but SHIVA is oddly nowhere to be found.

Enter issue #3, which is the size of a book in its own right, with spine and everything. The format larger than the previous two, and took Pham two years to produce. In it, he concludes SHIVA. And halfway through the book, he introduces another story, ASTROGIRL, done in a style that is somewhat akin to Chris Ware's work.

With issue #4 and #5, John Pham takes his work into a completely new direction like nothing I've seen in comix. Both are printed on a risograph, and John really takes advantage of what he can do with the machine with just 2-3 colors, getting grains of blues and oranges and pinks to mix in fresh interesting ways. The result is something that can only be produced on a risograph and no other way.

The main storyline is called DEEP SPACE, an avant-garde sci-fi piece about a traveler landing on a weird planet.

Also inside the issue are two miniature magazines actually stapled inside. One of them is a funny mini-comic titled JAY & KAY, and the other a satirical magazine called COOL MAGAZINE, filled with miniature crossword puzzles, fake interviews and product reviews.

With these last two issues, Pham really elevates his practice to create something much closer to fine art than comicbooks. The way the three original stories came to an end feels somewhat abrupt, but it doesn't take away from joy of experiencing them. Not entirely unlike say, Daniel Clowes' GHOST WORLD. Although, if I'm completely honest with myself, my reason for following John Pham in the future will not necessarily be his stories, but rather for his storytelling, and how he makes use of illustration, design, and printmaking to such superb effect, which is such a rarity in most comix these days.

[Buy]

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By Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward o-o-o-o-o

A perfect blueprint for creating condensed high-concept pieces tailored specifically to the comix medium is Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward's ANCESTOR.

Wealthy inventor/entrepreneur Patrick Whiteside throws a big party at his estate for a number of special people he has chosen to be exposed to “the vaults of the universe.” Little do the party-goers know, they will very soon be responsible for remaking the entire universe, even if they don't really want to.

At least some of them, anyway.

In just 4 short chapters, this work of art by Sheean and Ward will take you where you will never expect. By the time you close the back cover, you'll feel something akin to coming off of an acid trip, mind-expansion and all.

It's an odd, understated book that has more of an arthouse feel than anything Image Comics has ever put out (love the paper!). Beautifully designed, lettered, and produced and very well thought out, to the point where the gutters between the panels are a pale pinkish color at the beginning of the book, gradually getting darker as the story progresses. Sheean and Ward have thought of everything.

I imagine I'll be following everything they make from here on out.

[Buy]

#comix