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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Boom! Kids
Alan J. Porter
Fantagraphics' Fletcher Hanks Flickr stream
Good blog post on the putative sanity -- or not -- of Hanks
The Big Kahn
Jaime Hernandez
Locas II
Recent Books of Interest

Cars: Radiator Springs #1 by Alan J. Porter (script) and Albert Carreres (art) (Boom! Kids) Cars: Radiator Springs #1
Alan of course is friend of Nexus Graphica, having guest written a column around the time the Star Trek movie was coming out (is Summer really over that fast!?), and on the eve of the release of his own compendium on the history of ST in comics form. Alan also writes comics, and has been adapting a run of Cars comics for Boom! Studios' kid line for awhile now (the first story arc is recently collected in trade paperback form). Here, Alan begins a new story purporting to be the history of Radiator Springs -- the amorphously southwestern town the various "Cars" live in. Although I've always been a huge Pixar fan, I was never much of an automotive gearhead -- I note the damage an out-of-control car culture can do, from my perch here in L.A. (Though there was a brief period when I hankered after a TR6, in my teenhood) Alan, though, is a fan of the well-turned line and well-designed machine, and that utter fondness for his material comes through in his work here. Though the writing is simplified for the book's main audience, there's not only a double entendre or two for the grown-ups, but a rather terrific job pacing the story and handling a lot of, er, "traffic," in terms of the large cast. I'm still not sure how the human-less world the Cars inhabit created all that architecture without opposable thumbs, but hey, that's just more to explore in the genesis of Radiator Springs! A good bet for your young ones' backseat reading on a next road trip. Wait -- did I just say summer was over?

You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! art and, uh, stories by Fletcher Hanks (Fantagraphics) You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!
This is the second volume of Fantagraphics' -- and editor Paul Karasik's -- project to bring the rediscovered comic works of Hanks to the larger world. I suppose the most honest thing I can say about Hanks -- whose first volume was reviewed here by the estimable Mr. Klaw -- is that I don't quite know what to say. There is such a relentlessly fervid, even crazed, sheen to all his work, that you can't look away. It's not that it's "good" in any traditional sense, but in this brief Golden Age of His Own -- working circa 1940, with creations like Space Smith, the skull-morphing jungle woman Fantomah, Whirlwind Carter of the Interplanetary Secret Service, and my own favorite in this volume, Big Red McLane, King of the North Woods (and more!) -- Hanks seemed nearly demon-driven in these stories of constant fighting, killing, betrayal and revenge. The panels are often cramped, and the color schemes are nearly incandescent, and you're not sure whether to liken the rawness of it all -- elastic, rubber-boned physiognomies included -- to listening to a record by Fear, circa 1980, or watching a half-dressed man shouting on the corner. Given that the alcoholic Hanks was found dead on a park bench in NY, years after he'd both given up comics and his family, probably more of the latter. Props to the guy for being an auteur though -- what drove him, drove him to write, draw, ink and letter all his own work, which remains unsettling and compelling.

The Big Kahn by Neil Kleid (script) and Nicolas Cinquegrani (art) (NBM) The Big Kahn
Doubtless a good bet to review for any comics column appearing around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- and the stretch in between where one is afforded a chance to make amends (if your thinking in terms of 12-step work) or get your karma in order (if you're thinking mystically), Kleid's story reads like something Philip Roth, or perhaps Nathan Englander, would write if they worked in comics. The story concerns identity -- but really, what Jewish stories ultimately don't? -- in this case, in a reverse of the traditional tropes, which mostly have to do with fitting in to the larger non-Jewish world (I could say goyische, being both half-Jewish and half, well, goyische, myself, but then someone might get offended). In this case -- and I'm not giving anything way, since the opening "twist" is part of the jacket copy -- a man living as a Rabbi for many years is revealed to be a gentile, during his funeral. His eldest son, Avi, is also a Rabbi -- or thought he was, until this crisis of heredity (and its attendant crisis in faith), leads him, and his entire family, to question what they really know of the world, and what it means, as ever, to be Jewish. (or simply what it means to have a family). Cinquegrani's simple lines serve to augment the story without getting in its way, and he's able to a lot with small "gestures" of ink when limning faces. That the story doesn't end in a neatly resolved way -- in the manner of the kinds of 70's-era films that don't get made anymore -- is even better. Happy New Year.

The Second Madeleine Cookie

Locas II
It must be autumn; after our Con-derived, end-of-summer columnar "twofers" -- Rick and I each taking a back-to-back month of Nexus writing -- we're back to alternating fortnightly all the way 'til summer of 2010, one presumes (though one never wants to presume over-much about the future...)

In the first of my midsummer columns, I'd talked about a couple of "Madeleine Cookie" experiences I'd had with recent arrivals over the transom, the first of those being the 4th Batman collection in DC's Showcase series of archival B&W compendiums.

Specifically, in the case of that volume, I'd written about how -- in a pop Proustian vein -- that particular tome collected the first late 60s Batman comics I'd bought on my own, which I still own (somewhere in boxes), but which I hadn't read, cover-to-cover, in decades.

And how that collection brought me back not only to "then," but several subsequent phases/stages of growing, changing, aging in general, and as a comics reader -- and occasional writer -- in particular.

So I wrote of memories, and of course -- and this is always the trick with such things -- the memory of those memories (We recall not only experiences themselves, but our subsequent reactions and reflections to those experiences). I also wrote of a second "cookie," but had run out of space for it, and figured I'd get to it in a subsequent column.

Much to my surprise, I am.

The second cookie, then which arrived that same summer week, is Locas II, a collection of the, well, Locas stories -- the "crazy gals," or "wild women," or however you want to translate it (which is, of course, precisely the trouble with translation, since it omits other senses/shades of the original language) -- taken from the pages of Love and Rockets, written and drawn by "Los Bros Hernandez," Jaime and Gilbert.

My relationship to L&R, and the Locas in particular isn't nearly the same as with Bats -- but whereas the caped one's "early" adventures (in my own personal timeline) brought me strongly to the late 60s/early 70s cusp -- as I lived it in the San Francisco Bay Area -- the latest collected chunk of the (mis)adventures of locas Maggie and Hopey (and the occasional "loco," like Ray, the consort of sexy Frogmouth -- does it seem like a good soap opera yet? -- and their sprawling, recurring cast of compelling, sometimes hard-to-figure supporting characters) all brought me squarely back to Los Angeles. In the 80s.

I'd moved here in the early/mid-80s, after college, for what I thought would be 4-5 years in my 20s, testing out my fortunes as a young man Who Wanted to Write.

Some of that worked out -- especially as a journalist, and children's book author. When the end of my 20s rolled around, and I was thinking of leaving L.A. for grad school, somewhere, I met my Ex-wife. Of course, she wasn't an Ex wife then, and I stayed, and two lovely boys appeared in the midst of a troubled union, and suddenly, "leaving L.A." wasn't quite in the cards.

Stuff that we call "life." Throughout this time, as I read comics more -- or less -- depending what was coming out, there was Love and Rockets. I would read the book a lot in comics shops, bookstores, or at cons, buying it occasionally (as a reviewer, I now have more L&R on my shelves than I ever did before), but with its strong SoCal settings and references, and its birth in the punk 80s, the stories always seemed like a quintessential part of the experience of being here.

Just like listening to a side by X, or Los Lobos or Fear, the decades-long project by Los Bros always evokes a specific moment in my own life, that last gasp era when we thought rock n' roll might still actually save us (we did -- despite the practiced nihilism in a lot of punk lyrics), only to see it trumped, so far, by far more powerful machinations also asserting themselves in those same 80s (think: Reagan-as-front man).

And who couldn't love a collection with a recurring feature called "Angel of Tarzana?" (the ranch house'd valley suburb a few short miles east of where I find myself -- still to my surprise -- currently living).

But returning to L&R, even sporadically, isn't simply an exercise in nostalgia. Just as Los Lobos continues to release albums, and various iterations of X regroup, or release cowpunk sides as The Knitters, what's ultimately compelling about the L&R saga is the way the characters change over the years.

They age (though, granted, more slowly than you or me), they put on weight, they fuck up their love lives (though sometimes not), they get new jobs, they strip off their clothes (Hernandez draws fantastic, zaftig, wide-hipped women), they befuddle men (and each other) and are befuddled by them, and along the way, the occasional mystical, epiphanic event happens. Like life. Though befuddlement tends to linger longer than epiphany. Just like...

Well, you get it.

In one story, there's an "after con" party at an L.A. house, which, the narrator notes, is "full of burned out artists and fanboy types who came to L.A. for work and stayed twenty years too long."

That's always the fear about L.A., of course, and what it does to you -- and what you become (or don't) while living here.

That Hernandez allows his characters to wrestle with all that (his favorite metaphor, and a sport that recurs again and again in the pages of Locas), as they move inexorably through their lives -- as the rest of us do -- keeps the book not only evocative of the time and place of its birth, but of the moment we still occupy.

Not primarily political or social commentary, but mostly emotional commentary on our times (politics and culture being extensions of the emotional, in this case). So it's not just a cookie from our past, but something still fairly warm from the oven.

And if you have any familiarity with SoCal, why, that just adds to the flavor.

Copyright © 2009 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 one version of the L.A. apocalypse. He also a contributor to entertainment biz trade papers like Variety, Below the Line, and more. He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz

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