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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Boys of Steel
Shannon Hale
"Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics:"
John Stanley
The Punisher: The End:
Richard Corben
Steal Back Your Vote!
Zap! comix
Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
Trashman
Rebel Visions
Recent Books of Interest

Boys of Steel -- the Creators of Superman written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ross MacDonald (Knopf) Boys of Steel -- the Creators of Superman
This is a new picture book about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and is a great intro to the lives of the creators of the great Ur superhero. Simply but evocatively done, the book isn't just for those who might be too young for Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I hadn't known that Siegel's father, for instance, died as a result of a robbery of his clothing store. I'm not sure I knew the pair grew up in Cleveland, either. But the real meat of the story is in the three page afterword, which gives much more of the dirt on how DC ripped off the Krypton character's creators to a degree similar to the way record labels used to treat blues and jazz musicians. Of course, DC has since mended its ways -- creators are now credited in the many new posthumous adventures of their particular icons -- so perhaps your young bedtime reader won't leave the story too prematurely cynical, after all. That can wait for some Batman stories.

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale (script) and Nathan Hale (art) (Bloomsbury). Rapunzel's Revenge
Part of the Bloomsbury group's expanding line of GN's for young readers, this one, by kidlit scribes Shannon and Dean Hale (artist Nathan is no relation), recasts the story of the long-locked princess into the tale of a spunky Old West heroine. At least it's kind of the west. Shannon, who with her Princess Academy knows something about recasting iconic young femmes into newly "actualized" roles. The story here is fun -- Rapunzel wields her hair the way Indiana Jones uses a whip -- and the "prince" in this case isn't the blonde lunkhead but rather a wily young lad named Jack, who carries a golden egg-laying goose, and is often in need of some rescuing himself -- if not always easy to follow. As with directing a film, there are clear and thrilling ways to "stage" action on a page, and there are less clear ways, and sometimes, Rapunzel's adventures are a tad challenging to make sense of physically, or perhaps that was just me worried that Rapunzel was bound to get whiplash, with her hair always wrapped around outlaws, sea serpents, and the like. But there are high spirits all around, a symbolically elegant ending about being "enveloped" in one's own spells, and most interestingly of all, recurring, palpable tropes in the story that the characters have just barely come through a time of greed and destruction by the skin of their teeth. Let us hope the latter, at least, turns out to be no fairy tale.

The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics by Peter Normanton (ed.) The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics
Running Press is in the midst of releasing a series of comics-related "mammoth books" -- there are both crime and zombie-specific compilations out recently -- but I've been having, well, mammoth amounts of fun with this one, lately, and besides, it's seasonally -specific. Well, so are the zombie tales, but that collection tilts toward modern/new zombie tales, many of which fall short of the genre's potential (or has George Romero already done that?), whereas this collection, also zombie inclusive, spans many decades of horror in comics. While also reaching into the 21st century, this book's greatest strength is in its mid-20th century section, especially all the non-EC horror comics from the 40's and 50's represented here. Stories from old issues of Black Cat Mysteries, Journey into Fear, Adventures into Darkness, and more, are all here, in all their pre-code, axe-wielding, flesh-rotting glory. Well, almost, The pages are "regular" book size, and B&W, so those old color comics are scrunched into smaller frames, and you find yourself wishing this was a more "deluxe" edition, after all. Especially when we get to some of those psychedelic-like late 60s and 70s era offerings from Pacific Comics and other defunct "labels." Then again, if that were the case, this wouldn't cost you south of a sawbuck, like it does now. Also note there are two versions of Little Lulu (!) writer John Stanley's The Monster of Dread End here, the 1962 Dell Comics original, and an odd "photo montage" comic of more recent vintage -- a remake -- that works only in the context of evoking the original oddly affecting tale, which, like many of them here, works in spite of a "deus ex machina" formula dictating quickly-wrapped up endings...

Rebel Visions

Rebel Visions
Zap
Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
Leather Nun
Trashman
The Punisher: The End
It's hard to know what's meant by "rebel" anymore, when a pro-corporate Presidential candidate, whose supported nearly the entire agenda of his wealthy predecessor, can insist he's a "maverick." Or when a large computer corporation insists you can "think different" by, well, ponying up for their products. Or to put it another way, if there is a "rebellion," and it's not televised, will it simply be diffused in the numerous blog posts of the individual participants?

It's not an entirely solipsistic, blog-posty type of question. For one thing, many of the "givens" of the last thirty years or so are imploding around us: the idea of a stable, or U.S.-centric Western economy that will keep chugging along ad infinitum; the idea that "weather" is something we don't have to worry about while getting on with our lives; the idea that what happens in some part of the globe won't affect another, etc. This is a time of accelerated change.

For another thing, the word "rebel" is used by writer/filmmaker Patrick Rosenkranz is his new book from Fantagraphics Books, called Rebel Visions, covering, in rather complete, if not mind-boggling, fashion, the invention/explosion/ascendancy/co-option of the underground "comix" scene, which happened to be centered right across the Bay Bridge from where I was growing up in the 60s -- taking, I admit it, both the economy and the stability of the weather for granted. But then again, my age was in single digits -- for most of the decade -- so cut me some slack.

Another thing I took for granted -- I've written about this briefly in a previous NG column, about the passing of Berkeley-based comics shop proprietor Rory Root -- was that all kids had access, on their local newsstands, to "underground" comics like Zap, Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Leather Nun, Slow Death, and all the rest. I mean, I could tell from the sex -- and occasional violence -- they weren't meant for kids, but like your dad's Playboys, they weren't that hard to come across, if you put your mind to it.

I assumed, in other words, that such comix were part of the "regular" American landscape back then.

Then again, on a business trip with my father, circa 1972, I had occasion to meet the mayor of Billings, Montana. He asked where I was from. I answered "Berkeley, sir." "Berkeley!? Welcome to America, son!"

Of course, in many ways he was right -- I was growing up in an anomalous place and just didn't know it.

In fact, I was shocked to see a picture in the book of a 1972 comic con held on the UC Berkeley campus, one that evidently turned into a signal gathering of comix makers and scenesters, a sort of moment-in-amber for the movement. And I was there!

Not in the picture, but I was at that con. Oblivious to its signal moment-ness.

A friend at the junior high I went to -- yes, we called middle schools "junior high schools" in those days -- got wind of it, and said we should go, and when would we get another chance? Because comic cons seemed like exotic gatherings that only happened in far off (if not far out) places like New York. Of course, a small annual gathering had begun a couple years prior to that in San Diego, but in those pre-web days, what did we know?

So we went, and what I remember was the dealer's room -- specifically, looking for superhero comics in steamer trunks and on tabletops. I wanted to buy some "rare" superhero stuff. I didn't really buy underground comix, but I read them -- at newsstands, or sometimes in the back of the underground newspapers my journalist dad would bring home (like Spain Rodriguez' ass-kicking revolutionary biker superhero, Trashman). Besides, undergrounds stayed perpetually in print (well, in theory), so issues didn't necessarily become "rare," though yes, I know what original Zap printings go for...

And there was, of course, the question of whether I could've bought them, had I wanted to. Being under eighteen, and all.

But the presence of "comix" didn't seem remarkable. It was just part of the atmosphere, like a copy of Sgt. Pepper on your parents' hi-fi.

None of us junior high schoolers considered that we were on the edge of a specific pop culture upheaval, one that would eventually influence the very mainstream comics we wanted to collect. Part of the reason there's a Vertigo line, or Watchmen, or something like The Punisher: The End with its apocalyptic politics (to say nothing of the artwork by underground comix alum Richard Corben), is because the undergrounds shook up the idea of what comics could do -- or be.

That comics suddenly became vital, suddenly mattered to people who would never, in those days, pick up anything from DC or Marvel, began to change the role of the "comic book" on the media landscape. Would Robert Kennedy, Jr. and investigative journalist Greg Palast call their current PDF download, Steal Back Your Vote! -- about GOP efforts to cull voters from lists, or from tabulations on electronic "voting" machines -- a "comic," without that particular history? Even though the book is really more of an illustrated pamphlet?

Art Spiegelman said, of that aforementioned history -- back when it was present tense -- that it "must have been what the cubists were going through, like all the magic of being in Paris for the post-Impressionistic movement did feel somehow like being in San Francisco in the early 1970s."

For some of us, it just seemed like a regular part of growing up. Didn't everybody move back and forth between panels rendered by R. Crumb and Jack Kirby?

Well sure, they do now...

In any case, Rosenkranz assembles his book like a documentarian, intercutting between the testimonies of various witnesses/practitioners of those aforementioned moments in time. A place/nexus is skillfully recreated, and the book looks great, too, with lots of cover and panel reproductions, even with early 60s antecedents, like the college humor mags some of the artists started in -- Berkeley's Pelican, University of Texas' Ranger. (where Freak Bros. creator Gilbert Shelton spent some erstwhile, early youthful years), etc.

My aunt used to bring some of those old Pelicans home, but again, who knew we were inside of history? We just knew that "comics" were steadily getting edgier.

Which seemed to suit a time of accelerated change. Like this one.

Perhaps Rosenkranz book then speaks as much to this moment, as the ones it recounts.

Happy Halloween, all. Mr. Klaw returns to these haunts next. See you post-election!

Copyright © 2008 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, and works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics, for Hollywood trade paper Below the Line. He's also written videogames, comics, and plays, and wonders if his Fat Freddy's Cat comic is still at his parents' house.


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