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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:
Crumb at the Hammer
Roy Lichtenstein
Fabulous Furry Freak Bros.
Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery
Wasteland
The Anchor
Phil Hester
Recent Books of Interest

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Archives, vol. 2 (Dark Horse)
Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Archives, vol. 2 Dark Horse here continues its fine archival work of collecting comics past, this time packaging another line of out-of-print horror and suspense comics in nice hardcover editions (at least, they seem nice -- the review copies came in PDF form!). Alas, though, Gold Key's Karloff comics -- with Boris showing up, occasionally, in an opening and closing panel to wax somewhat ironic about a character's predicament, don't rise to the level of the Warren Comics, à la Creepy, etc., that DH had previously collected. The predicaments tend to be, well, predictable, and for comics that didn't carry a Code seal on the cover, they didn't really take many chances, visually or horror-wise. Of course, you can't compare most post-code horror comics to the gold standard (pun?) of EC's titles, but it would be nice if the material at least rose the "boo!" level of the Corman films Karloff sometimes found himself in, in these same 60s. There are interesting historical riffs in the stories, though, like a pre-"lib" housewife who becomes possessed, and dares to leave dishes unwashed (!), or the oil sheik who refuses to share his petro-dollars with the rest of his kingdom. Good for collectors, but even with the lights out, you won't get spooked as much as you wanna.

Wasteland by Antony Johnston (script) and Christopher Mitten (art) (Oni Press)
Wasteland Having kind of a slow month here at NG Central has allowed me to dive in to the occasional ongoing series that I've otherwise missed. So I picked up an issue of the well-regarded, post-apocalyptic Wasteland, and found it a pretty enjoyable ride, while also being reminded why it's easier to read collections and GN's, as opposed to single issues of series -- with changing publishing models, and the inevitability of issues gathered later in larger volumes, there's less worry about orienting new readers to massive story arcs, if you plunge in, "midstream." But there are the interwebs, etc., so "backgrounding" yourself isn't hard. The issue here is essentially a protracted action sequence, taking place in the town of Newbegin, over an ongoing clash between religious sects, feudal rulers, etc. 100 years after "the Big Wet" (East Coasters this winter, take note!), modern society has reverted to (a now inevitable?) post-technological structure. Language changes, as do religious practices, as well as animal husbandry (goats are valuable, and thus affect colloquialisms: "Goatshit!," being a favorite) Mitten's B&W art is generally energetic, though again the "staging" of scenes will make most sense to longtime readers. Overall, while this single issue doesn't stand on its own -- nor was it meant to -- it succeeded in that it made me curious to check out the earlier collections. As well as reminding me that it might be a good idea to start keeping some goats and chickens around now, pre-collapse.

The Anchor, by Phil Hester (script) and Brian Churilla (art) (Boom! Studios)
The Anchor< Since we're doing some catch-up reading this column, I wanted to delve into the first issue of this newish series, involving a guardian at the gates of Hell (to paraphrase a tagline from the overwrought 70s horror film, The Sentinel). The titular character -- it appears he was an Anchorite monk in a previous (?) life -- shows up "above ground" in Iceland, where, it turns out, people talk like Americans while expressing alarm over demons destroying Reykjavik. But as with the banks that destroyed Iceland's economy, there are larger, global-spanning forces at work, and The Anchor moves on -- with his cute/smart Icelandish lady friend in tow -- to try and stem the Lovecraftian madness. I'd meant to catch up with last fall's first issue only, primarily because I wanted to check out Hester's scripting chops. I'd known him when he was on the rise (and what a rise!) as an artist, since Mr. Klaw had pegged him to illustrate a Bigfoot story of mine in a Mojo Press anthology back in the proverbial day. Hester moved some panels from that script around on his own, to augment my pacing, and I have to say, his instincts were good. They're good here, too, as I wound up reading three issues in a row, before deadline time, since he manages to end with pretty compelling cliffhangers. But soon we'll need larger stakes, aside from the "Demon of the month" construct. Promising start to a new series, though -- and the first paperback of collected issues is just out, as well.

Comics in the Real World

The first time I can recall that comics made "news" -- that is, that people outside the readership of comics were talking about them (which is to say, "grown-ups," since I was a young stripling making my way through the DC and Marvel universes, in those days) -- was when the collecting craze took off in the 70s, and items would pop up in the new about how much Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27 would go for at auction, with my dad shaking his head sadly each time, swearing he'd once owned them, and trying to remember if it was when he was off in the Army that my grandmother threw them out.

Before that, of course, comics were in the news in the McCarthy-era, when they stood accused by ol' Fred Wertham of corrupting young minds, etc. (And yet, the following decade brought us the civil rights movement, Sgt. Pepper, Easy Rider and then 70s cinema, while the decades after coded-comics gave us Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, drum machines, and a revival in religious intolerance. Draw your own conclusion). But mostly, the putative grown-ups didn't really think about "comics" much.

Comics are now interwoven in the pop landscape, of course, in large part because of several generations of readership find themselves with the levers of cultural power -- more specifically, because movie technology has finally caught up with the imagination of comic book artists, and superheroes make reliable money for our entertainment conglomerates.

But I was surprised when comics cropped up twice, outside of showbiz reports, in just the span of time since I last filed a column here, both in the traditionally "hot button" spheres of religion and politics.

For the former, it was in the form of an admittedly non-hot button call from my mother, who said she was thinking of coming down to L.A. for a weekend to catch the R. Crumb Genesis exhibit at the Hammer Museum.

The call surprised me on several levels: My mom doesn't come to L.A. all that much, certainly not to look at comic art, and I had totally blanked out on the Crumb exhibit, which was closing. At one of L.A.'s tonier museums!

If you'd asked me to imagine that whole mix of elements when I was sneaking peeks at Zap Comix back in 6th grade, well, I couldn't have.

But Crumb's Genesis seems to be everywhere, to a degree that surprises me (I never figured I'd be writing about it again so soon in this space for example), but to a degree that might also indicate my own influences and personal landscapes. My mom has a theology degree from Berkeley's Unitarian ministerial school, and is concocting a course on Crumb's work -- which she considers "revelatory" in a different sense (in that it makes even the darker precincts of that particular foundational/mythological work both readily available, and much less avoidable). She's also already delivered a sermon on it, at the liberal Episcopal church she attends with my dad.

Fat Freddy's Cat Of course, she and my dad were also fans of Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and Fat Freddy's Cat, in particular, back in whatever that day was, so maybe I shouldn't be too surprised at the depth of her newfound Crumb fandom.

And if not for her good offices, I never would've seen the exhibit, which has been making its way across the US and A. Though if you've read the comic, you have, in a sense, seen the exhibit, which is simply a presentation of all of Crumb's original pages, in sequence, along curving walls.

But what a presentation! As you follow the undulating unfolding of the work, you delve into it in ways different from experiencing the book itself, in part because you're surrounded by the responses of others, and often discussing what you're seeing in whispered snatches. Plus, the printed Genesis isn't a work you necessarily read through in one sitting -- yet the museum exhibit is experienced that way.

In addition to the pages, there was a small room displaying Crumb's various reference sources -- movie stills, archaeological references, and other Bible comics (more traditional four-color redactions, where everyone in the Middle East, circa four thousand years ago managed to look fairly white and European), and numerous yellow folders where Crumb subdivided his material ("Men, Faces and Costumes," "Cities and Architecture," "Women," etc.)

So part of his Genesis is a sort of "meta narrative," commenting on -- or derived from -- previous sources that were themselves best guesses, or based on whatever shards of corroborating evidence we have about how things looked and worked "back then."

Of course, there are vast tracts of the Bible for which there's no outside corroborating evidence -- hence either taking it "on faith," or decided not to be a literalist about such, well, "foundational myths."

Roy Lichtenstein prints In the Museum gift shop, there were Crumb posters and books (but then, there were also Roy Lichtenstein prints, so comic book motifs have been "invading" museums for several decades now), and then there was talk over dinner -- with some cousins -- about what we'd seen that afternoon.

And then I found out, from some of the parents in my Sunday school class, that the founding rabbi, rabbi emeritus, and current rabbi were all talking about Crumb's book at their monthly "book dinner," and did I want to come and lend my two cents?

Some of the parents in my class had asked me about whether they might get the book for "home use" for their own young learners, and I always replied "sure -- but you might want to be there when they flip the pages to Lot and his daughters."

I had to miss the rabbis' dinner, alas -- I was slated to "take a meeting," as they say in L.A. parlance -- across town, near the same hour (and traffic would be especially unforgiving).

But all of it indicates that it may be time to stop thinking of "comics" themselves as the genre, and expressing surprises that folks whose lives run in circles having nothing to do with knowing how Final Crisis turns out, and -- and will -- respond to comics, or "comix," when they, in turn, speak to them.

And then, comics made the news again -- and this time, instead of the excitement and flurry of conversations I was experiencing during my "week of Crumb," there were instead reminders of the brokenness of both our political systems and our media outlets, including -- and here was the surprise -- the way "comics" are starting to view themselves, as a business.

And whether that is entirely a good thing.

It certainly wasn't back in Wertham's day.

to be continued....

Copyright © 2010 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, which is currently being developed for large and small screens, and is currently hard at work chronicling an altogether different kind of "Genesis" visited upon L.A... He also writes for papers like Variety, Below the Line, and more. He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz


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