Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Ripley's Believe It or Not
Comics of 1986 overview
The Cartoon History of the Universe
Jack "Jaxon" Jackson
Rip Off Press
The New Texas History Movies
"Leave Me Alone"
American Splendor film
The Big Book of...
The Big Book of The Weird Wild West
Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays
The Beats: A Graphic History
Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations
Recent Books of Interest
Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays edited by Brendan Burford (Villard)
In his introduction editor Brendan Burford explains, "[S]yncopation literally
means that an accent or stress is placed on the weak beat between the usually dominant
beats. When music is syncopated, it can offer a whole new perspective on rhythm." Using this
definition as a guide, Burford compiled a diverse collection of quality stories. Some of the
tales such as the excellent "How and Why to Bale Hay" by Nick Bertozzi offer uniquely personal
histories. Others illuminate fascinating aspects of historical figures ("Erik Erickson" by
Paul Karasik and "Dvorak" by Alec Longstreth). Burford and artist Jim Campbell relate one
of the book's finest tales with the dynamic "Boris Rose: Prisoner of Jazz." Alex Holden's
"West Side Improvements" chronicles the amazing story of graffiti artist Chris
Pape (aka Freedom). Perhaps this extraordinary anthology's only weakness is a few too
many New York-centric tales. But this is a small complaint. With Syncopated, Buford
and his contributors have crafted one of the best books of the year.
The Beats: A Graphic History Text by Harvey Pekar et al. and Art by Ed Piskor et al. (Hill and Wang)
No other group of writers inspires the level of interest that the Beats do. Harvey
Pekar and his cohorts tackle this phenomenon in The Beats: A Graphic History. Wisely,
Pekar and artist Ed Piskor spend the first half of the book recounting the labyrinthine
origins of the group by focusing on its intriguing and tragic core of Jack Kerouac, Allen
Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. Pekar and Piskor masterfully and concisely convey the
fascinating, interrelated stories of these three pioneers. The remainder of the book explores,
with varying degrees of success, different aspects of the movement and their profound influence
Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics)
Like many on the Left, I respect and enjoy Peter Bagge's art and humor, but not always
his politics. His denouncements of many public services and his stance against gun control fly in
the face of my beliefs. On the other hand, his Libertarian views on sex and drugs are refreshing in
our puritanical, hypocritical society. With great candor and wit, Bagge tackles all these issues
and more in Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me, a collection of his strips from Reason
Magazine. As in his previous works like Hate and The Bradleys,
Bagge deftly manages to simultaneously anger and amuse the reader with his intensely personal
stories about larger topical issues.
Graphics of Reality
Copyright © 2009 Rick Klaw
Like many people, my earliest memories of nonfiction comics start
with Ripley's Believe It or Not. First appearing in 1918 as Champs
and Chumps, Robert Ripley's one-panel strip about sports evolved by 1919 into the
more general Ripley's. During my childhood in the seventies, most bookstores
sold Ripley's paperback collections. The one on UFOs helped to foster my
lifelong interest in science fiction and scared the bejeezus out of me. That, along with
the numerous Bigfoot "documentaries" of the era, kept me awake many a night.
Like most young comic book readers of that decade, my comic reading selections were
dominated by DC and Marvel. Outside of the occasional war comic, neither offered much
in the way of true stories, so I rarely experienced the nonfiction graphical narrative
until high school.
At seventeen and getting bored with conventional comics, I grasped for anything new
and different. Thankfully, this was 1986, often considered a pivotal year in comics
publishing. The groundbreaking superhero works Watchmen and The Dark Knight
Returns, the beginnings of the influential anthology Dark Horse Presents,
and the first collection of Maus all appeared that year.
Art Spiegelman's Maus, cribbed from his father's remembrances, understandably caught
my interest. My grandmother used to regale me with tales of our Jewish family. I could (and
did) listen to her for hours on end. Cleverly using the unique properties of the comics
format, Speigelman relates his father's experience in a Nazi concentration camp by representing
each nationality as a cartoon animal: mice for Jews, cats to represent Germans, pigs for the
Poles, dogs as Americans, etc. This deeply serious portrayal exposed the powerful potential
of the medium, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 after the debut of the second volume.
Published as collection for the first time in 1990, Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History
of the Universe appealed to my dual interests of history and comics. Primarily focused
on western civilization, the cartoonish and at times humorous renditions created one of the
most intelligent, accessible, and popular nonfiction comics. Gonick's ongoing series now
encompasses six massive volumes (the latter two renamed The Modern History of the
World) and inspired a cottage industry of similar books, including several by
Perhaps the greatest historian to work primarily in the graphic narrative format, Texan Jack
Jackson began his artistic career under the nom de plume "Jaxon" as one of the first
underground cartoonists with the self-published God Nose (1965). Several years
later after moving to San Francisco, he co-founded the first independent publisher of
underground comics (or comix as they are more popularly known), Rip Off Press in 1969.
Inspired by the Texas History Movies strips of his youth, Jackson created his
best and most powerful works when he returned to Texas and turned his attentions to the state's
rich history. In graphic novels such as Comanche Moon (1979), Los Tejanos (1982),
The Secret of San Saba (1989), Lost Cause: John Wesley Hardin, the Taylor-Sutton
Feud, and Reconstruction Texas (1998), and Indian Lover: Sam Houston & the Cherokees (1999),
his realistic portrayals and clear vision garnered critical acclaim and generated controversy
especially regarding his unflinching depiction of the treatment of Indians and his interpretations
of African-Americans. Jackson also penned several prose books on similar subjects for
scholarly presses. Before his death in 2006, Jackson completed the first volume of his
dream project, The New Texas History Movies.
In the early nineties, my own approach to writing changed when I discovered Harvey Pekar,
who first started working on comics with his good friend, the legendary artist Robert
Crumb. Their tales comprised the initial issues of Pekar's autobiographical comic American
Splendor. Within, the curmudgeonly author examines the minutiae of his rather mundane
life in an entertaining and insightful manner. The cynical, everyman Pekar opened my eyes
to the infinite subject possibilities and styles that can constitute a quality comic book
story. Since then, Pekar has written several historical comics, earned acclaim as jazz
critic, and wrote the libretto for and performed in the jazz opera "Leave Me Alone." Pekar's
chronicles formed the basis for the critically-acclaimed 2004 film American Splendor.
As part of their imprint Paradox Press, DC began publishing a series of "factoid books"
headlined by The Big Book of... anthologies in 1994. For each volume, several
writers and artists contributed dozens of short graphic pieces focused on a single theme. The
first, The Big Book of Urban Legends, won the prestigious Eisner Award and sold
extremely well. Over the next six years, The Big Book of... series grew
with 16 more titles on subjects such as death, conspiracies, hoaxes, and vice before
culminating with The Big Book of the 70's.
Informed by our love of Western lore and comics, Mojo Press publisher Ben Ostrander
and I developed the initial concept for The Big Book of The Weird Wild West. Published
in 1998, we co-wrote seven of the volume's 64 stories. Though the book sold poorly and
eventually fell out of print, I count two of the stories ("The Head of Joaquin Murieta"
and "Fight of the Century") among my finest.
Nonfiction comics have become commonplace. Bookstores and comic shops feature graphic novels
on a wide variety of subjects and ideas. Most publishers produce a steady stream of nonfiction
comics for all age groups. Creators such as Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Harvey Pekar,
and Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics,
for Google Chrome") receive coverage from all types of media and continue to push
comics further from their adolescent fantasy-driven past.
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications
The Austin Chronicle,
The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures
RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations
With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains
Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews,
and other things Klaw, Geek
Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.
He can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.