Category Archives: Comics

Fred Patten Reviews The Best of Alter Ego, Volume 2

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

AE49 Trial Cover.qxd

The Best of Alter Ego, volume 2

Editors:  Roy Thomas and Bill Schelly

Publisher:  TwoMorrows Publishing

ISBN-10:  1-6054-9048-2

ISBN-13:  978-1-6054-9048-9

 

“This sequel to Alter Ego: The Best of the Legendary Comics Fanzine presents more fantastic features from the fabled mag begun in 1961 by Jerry Bails & Roy Thomas-covering undiscovered gems from all 11 original issues published between 1961 and 1978!” (back-cover blurb)

 

Comic book fandom was invented in the early 1960s.  There had been sporadic articles on one or another science-fiction newspaper comic strip like “Buck Rogers” or on individual comic books like “Captain Marvel” in s-f fanzines during the 1940s and 1950s, but they were limited to what the fan-author – usually an enthusiastic teenager — could deduce from the issues in his collection.  Starting with Dick and Pat Lupoff’s fanzine “Xero” in 1960-1963, some of the most knowledgeable comic-book enthusiasts at the time were asked to write, not just nostalgia pieces on their favorite comic books, but well-researched articles on their publication history.  This was to have been a dignified epitaph to a colorful but short-lived portion of popular culture.

 

Nobody realized it at the time, but this was just the period when what is now called “the Silver Age of comic books” was starting.  DC Comics reinvented costumed superheroes with the revived “The Flash” in 1959, and Marvel started “the Marvel Age of Superheroes” in 1961.  “Xero” became the new model for comic-book scholarship.  Suddenly every young fan who could get access to a mimeograph or a spirit duplicator was starting a fanzine that was not only devoted to his favorite costumed hero, but that included reports of visits to the DC or Marvel publication office, interviews with comic-book writers and artists, and the fan’s (and his friends’) amateur comic-book stories.  Most of these fanzines lasted less than a dozen issues and were very amateurish, but, boy, were they enthusiastic!

 

“Alter Ego”, started in 1961, was one of the first and best of these, and after fifty years it is still going, as a professional full-color magazine today.  Where other fanzines were discontinued when their teenaged editors grew tired of them, “Alter Ego” was passed along to new editors, ending up with issue #7 in 1964 in the hands of Roy Thomas.  Thomas, a fresh college graduate and beginning high-school English teacher, parlayed his editorship of “Alter Ego” into a professional job at Marvel Comics a year later as editor Stan Lee’s assistant.  Full-time work in the comic-book industry left Thomas with no time to continue his hobby, so “Alter Ego” became more and more erratic and finally went on hiatus in 1978.  He revived it over twenty years later in 1999, and it has been published bi-monthly ever since.

 

“The Best of Alter Ego, volume 2” is a $19.95 160-page trade paperback collection from the original 1961-1978 issues of the magazine, combined with Thomas’ detailed history of its start up to its long hiatus.  Frankly, the book is most worthwhile as a piece of fannish nostalgia, and as an inspiration to today’s teens of what can be done as an amateur in a given field.  Thomas and co-editor Schelly have produced a scrapbook of photographs of the leading comic-book fans of the 1960s; some complete, amateurishly written & drawn superhero adventures; and documentation of the activities of comic-book fandom in the 1960s, like “The Academy of Comic-Book Arts and Sciences presents:  The Alley Awards for 1962.”  (The Alley Awards, named for the comic-strip character Alley Oop, were a short-lived award voted on by comics fans and given to the professional creators.)  Most of the “fact” articles herein, such as “‘Merciful Minerva’: The Story of Wonder Woman” by Jerry Bails (1961) have long ago been supplanted by better-written articles by other writers; in many cases during the last twenty years by whole books by professional authors with the publisher’s complete archives to draw upon.

 

But, as they say, This Is Where It All Started.  It is arguable that if it were not for the pioneering fanzines of the 1960s, there would not be a scholarly historiography of the comic-book industry today.  The fans of the 1960s onward interviewed many of the professional editors, writers, and artists while they were still alive; and when those publishers were clearing out old files, they gave them to fans whom they knew wanted them instead of throwing them in the trash.  Among the book’s contents are an unsold “Tor” newspaper strip proposal by professional Joe Kubert, and a 1977 interview with French artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud.  Some of the new material in this book includes friendly letters from those editors in reply to their fans, showing that the wise editors of the 1960s encouraged their fan base instead of brushing them off; and articles for the 2010s reader to explain what a mimeograph or a spirit duplicator was.

 

Full disclosure:  I am one of the fans included in this book, with an article on the Mexican s-f comic books of the mid-1960s that was my first “professional” writing credit.

 

Buy where there is interest in comic books, or the beginnings of comic-book/costumed superhero fandom, or in the popular culture of the 1960s.

 

Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About the World’s Oddest Profession

comicscartoonists

 

Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About the World’s Oddest Profession
Editor:  Craig Yoe
Publisher:  IDW Publishing
Language:  English
ISBN-10:  1-613-77346-3
ISBN-13:  978-1-613-77346-8

This is indeed an odd tome.  It is a 229-page anthology of newspaper and comic book cartoonists drawing about their profession.  Not “how to draw” lessons, either.  Editor Yoe has combed the archives of old newspapers and comic books from roughly 1910 to 1960 and found “funny drawings” in which the cartoonists (sometimes working with scripts by others) have depicted stories about the cartooning profession.  The reprinted newspaper strips are usually in black-&-white as they were published; the comic-book reprints are in full, garish color.

Many of the comic-book stories are about cartoonists who draw themselves into their own stories.  These range from realistic art – the “Inky” Wells cartoonist who falls in love with his model, from a 1955 romance comic, looks just like comic-book artist Jack Kirby, whose photograph is well-known – to the fanciful – surely funny-animal cartoonist Al Stahl (1958), who draws himself falling asleep at his drawing board and falls into his world of talking rabbits and policeman lions, did not really look like something out of a carnival funhouse’s distorted mirror.  Most of the comic-book stories are six or eight pages.  Famous newspaper cartoonists Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates”; “Steve Canyon”) and Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”) are present in one-page promo autobiographies in which they have drawn themselves in the style of their heroes.  Bud Fisher (“Mutt and Jeff, 1919) draws himself getting contradictory demands from his editors for six panels (“More Republican jokes; No, more Democratic jokes; Ridicule the Bolsheviks; Lay off the Russians); in the seventh panel he commits suicide. Continue reading

DARK HORSE ANNOUNCES WONDERCON ANAHEIM 2013 SCHEDULE!

Dark Horse Comics is headed to California’s must-attend event on the comic book convention schedule – WonderCon Anaheim!

Join us for signings at booth #819! Free comics and/or prints with each signing while supplies last.

Tickets for signings at the Dark Horse booth will be distributed from the opening of WonderCon on Friday, March 29. Please note that lines may be capped or tickets issued for any signing as needed. Inquire about your favorite signings as early as possible. Some restrictions apply. All events are subject to change.

Comics, books, and collectibles will be available for purchase from Dark Horse or your favorite retailer.
DARK HORSE SIGNINGS

FRIDAY, MARCH 29

12:00 p.m. BEANWORLD signing with creator Larry Marder

-Free Beanworld action figures and sketch cards

2:00 p.m. CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT signing with writer Josh Williamson

-Free 11” x 17” print featuring art by Felipe Massafera

3:00 p.m. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER signing with writer Gene Yang

-Free 5.5” x 8.5” print featuring art by Gurihiru

TICKETED EVENT

5:00 p.m. STAR WARS: DAWN OF THE JEDI signing with inker Dan Parsons

-Free Dawn of the Jedi #1 while supplies last

6:00 p.m. USAGI YOJIMBO/47 RONIN signing with creator Stan Sakai

-Free 47 Ronin #1

Check out the Usagi Yojimbo: Way of the Ronin iOS game

SATURDAY, MARCH 30

10:00 a.m. HUSBANDS signing with cocreators Jane Espenson and Brad Bell

-Free 5.5” x 8.5” print featuring art by Ron Chan

11:00 a.m. NUMBER 13 signing with artist/writer Robert Love and writer David Walker

-Free Number 13 comic

12:00 p.m. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER signing with writer Gene Yang

-Free 5.5” x 8.5” print featuring art by Gurihiru

TICKETED EVENT

1:00 p.m. X signing with artist Eric Nguyen

-Free 11” x 17” print featuring art by Eric Nguyen

2:00 p.m. BUFFYVERSE signing with artist Georges Jeanty, writer Andrew Chambliss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and writer Christos Gage (Angel & Faith)

-Free Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 and Angel & Faith comics, Angel and Spike buttons, and Whedonverse wristbands

3:00 p.m. STAR WARS signing with artist Carlos D’Anda and colorist Gabe Eltaeb

-Free 5.5” x 8.5” print featuring a dramatic panel by Carlos D’Anda and Gabe Eltaeb from the upcoming Star Wars #4 issue

TICKETED EVENT

4:00 p.m. THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS signing with creator Gerard Way

-Free 5.5” x 8.5” print featuring art by Becky Cloonan

TICKETED EVENT

SUNDAY, MARCH 31

10:00 a.m. THE ART OF REMEMBER ME signing with DONTNOD art director Aleksi Briclot, DONTNOD creative director Jean-Max Moris, and Capcom producer Mat Hart

-Free 11” x 17” The Art of Remember Me print

11:00 a.m. MIND MGMT signing with creator Matt Kindt

-Free 11” x 17” MIND MGMT print

12:00 p.m. STAR WARS: DARK TIMES signing with writer Randy Stradley

-Free Star Wars: Dark Times—Fire Carrier #1

1:00 p.m. THE LAST OF US signing with Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann

-Free 11” x 17” print featuring art by Julián Totino Tedesco from the upcoming comic The Last of Us: American Dreams

3:30 p.m. STAR WARS: LEGACY VOLUME II signing with writer/artist Gabriel Hardman and writer Corinna Bechko

TICKETED EVENT * Limit five comics per person

DARK HORSE PANELS

FRIDAY, MARCH 29

12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m. Avatar: The Search for Zuko’s Mom, Room 208AB

1:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m. Geek & Sundry Panel of Awesome, Room 300DE

SATURDAY, MARCH 30

1:30 p.m.–3:00 p.m. Comics Arts Conference Session: Focus on Matt Kindt, Room 210BCD

2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: From Comic to Music and Back Again! Room 300AB

6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m. Buffy Season 9: The Final Arc! Room 207BCD

SUNDAY, MARCH 31

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Spotlight on Jane Espenson with Brad Bell, Room 207

2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. Star Wars Comics in 2013! Room 207 BCD

Fred Patten Reviews Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons

51s5nGUSRxL._SS500_

Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons
Author: Christopher Hart
Publisher: Watson-Guptill Publications
ISBN-10: 0-8230-0714-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8230-0714-1

Christopher Hart has been writing best-selling “how to draw” books since the 1980s. Wikipedia says, “His [2001] book, ‘Manga Mania: How to Draw Japanese Comics,’ was the number one art book in the country for an entire year, according to Nielsen Bookscan.” During that time, drawing styles have been getting further and further from the classic Disney style of “cute” cartoons. Consider the popular looks of John Kricfalusi (“Ren & Stimpy”), Genndy Tartakovsky (“Dexter’s Laboratory”, “Samurai Jack”), and Butch Hartman (“The Fairly OddParents”).

Hart’s Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons (160 pages) emphasizes how to draw in the exaggeratedly individualistic styles that are “in” at the moment. Like most of Hart’s books, he starts with a classic how-to-draw tutorial in ‘Basic Head Shape’ and ‘Facial Features’. It is an old maxim for humorous cartoonists that you have to know the basic art rules to know how to break them effectively.

It is with ‘Moving Beyond the Basic Head Shape’ (page 41) that Hart starts to concentrate on what the modern public, and the modern art editors and animation directors, are looking for. Samples of Hart’s cheery advice: “Give her a ridiculously thin neck.” “Leaving the circle [the basic head shape] behind, take this same character and fit her with an oval-shaped head. Immediately she becomes quirkier – and funnier, too.” “Make the hair defy gravity.” “Place the ears below the eye line, as if somehow they never grew as the teen grew. I think this is often funnier.” “Do the earrings attach to the earlobes? Nope! They defy physics. Antigravity earrings are great for day wear.” “Notice how the arms of the eyeglass frames don’t even touch the ears. Why even use them? BECAUSE they’re useless – which is funny!” “This [head] shape is based on a modified square. Or maybe a rectangle. Although, it could be a rhomboid. But I don’t know what a rhomboid is. The point is – it doesn’t have to be an established geometric form. Any funny shape will work!”

Contrariwise, Hart warns to avoid excess complexity. “I used to think that you could only create cool cartoons if you used a lot of different angles for the head. […] Actually, I soon found out that […] too many angles detract from the look of a cartoon.” “With eight planes to his head, this version of the same guy is unnecessarily complicated without adding much ban to your buck.”

Hart presents head shots alone from pages 41 to 63. Then he moves on to “Medium Shots: The Best, Most Overlooked Angle”. Other chapters cover “The Universal Body Type”, “Putting Your Characters Together”, “Different Body Types”, “Adding Important Details”, and “Saving the Best for Last: Stuff You Won’t Learn in Art School”. Whimsical examples include the “Dorky Dad”, “1950s Mom”, “Trailer Mom”, “Funny Senior”, and “Mr. Bench Press”.

Each final example is preceded by several increasingly detailed outlines showing how to start with a simple sketch and gradually add to it without making missteps. Hart does not omit appropriate backgrounds. “A finished dresser: very symmetrical, very correct, very boring. […] Here, the drawers are uneven sizes and, yes, they’re also somewhat slanted. Plus, the vertical lines of the bureau expand as they rise. Even the verticals of the drawers are slanted.” A handy Index completes the book.

Hart has written dozens of these how-to-draw books over more than three decades. There is a lot of overlap. But with some exceptions, each of them is aimed at beginning cartoonists who have become fixated on a particular popular cartoon style of the moment – maybe in newspaper comic strips, maybe in increasingly detailed comic books, maybe in TV or theatrical animation, maybe in Japanese cartoon styles – and say, “Wow! I want to draw like that!” Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons is a relatively inexpensive ($21.99) basic primer on how to draw in THIS particular style; a first step for the aspiring cartoonist.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons

Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons
Author: Fiona Deans Halloran
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
ISBN-10: 0-8078-3587-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8078-3587-6

Today Thomas Nast is known vaguely as the 19th century political cartoonist who created the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant; whose cartoons brought down a notoriously corrupt New York politician; and who updated the many ages-old symbols of Father Christmas into our modern Santa Claus. Fiona Deans Halloran’s lively and excellently illustrated 366-page biography shows in detail that Nast did – or has been credited – for all of these. This first modern in-depth biography of a major American historical figure will be an important addition to libraries of American history.

Up to now, libraries have depended on Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures, a lengthy biography by Albert Bigelow Paine first published in 1904, shortly after Nast’s death in 1902; or on other biographies largely dependent upon it. Paine was a close friend of Nast for many years, and Nast had not only authorized him to write his biography but had supplied much of the information in it. Yet Halloran argues that both Nast and Paine were interested in presenting a whitewashed biography that ignored or misrepresented the true details of Nast’s life. Her new biography claims convincingly to be not only in-depth, but the first accurate biography of 19th century America’s most popular political cartoonist.

Nast was born on September 27, 1840 in Bavaria. His father took part in the revolutionary unrest that shook Europe in 1848, and as a result fled with his family to America, setting into the great immigrant melting pot of New York City. Halloran says, “Virtually the only information available regarding Nast’s first fifteen years appears in the 1904 biography. Nast’s voice emerges through Paine’s text, and the Paine book represents Nast’s life story as Nast chose to tell it.” (pgs. 1-2) Halloran supports some of Paine’s stories of Nast’s childhood and early adolescence and disputes others. Ultimately, however, what is important in Nast’s career is in his adult life, and Halloran has no trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction there.

Nast’s first public notice came when he was hired in early 1856, when he was only 15, as an artist by Frank Leslie, who was just starting Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News (within a mile of Nast’s home). Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News was one of the most popular newspapers from the late 1850s to the 1880s, both for its profuse illustrations and for its sensationalistic reporting, often campaigning against unsafe business practices by wealthy magnates or political corruption on the civic, statewide, and national level. Nast migrated from one newspaper to another, but “He remained employed full time from 1856 until he left Harper’s Weekly in 1887.” (p. 5) During this period he both learned and became a master of newspaper and newsmagazine muckraking through political cartooning.

Nast’s early assignments were to illustrate fires, disasters, and his newspapers’ sensationalistic stories. In 1860, when he was 19, Nast was assigned to go to England to sketch a major boxing match, one so important that Parliament was adjourned so the members could watch it. The drawings and commentary that Nast sent back to New York filled a special edition, but Nast found himself fired without his back payment so his newspaper could avoid the expense of bringing him home. Nast solved the problem by selling a note for what the newspaper owed him to one of the boxers, who went to New York and had no trouble collecting. Nast, meanwhile, talked the London Illustrated News into sending him to Italy to cover the wars of reunification there. Nast returned to America in February 186l, just in time to become a notable Civil War war artist.

Nast’s first really famous drawing was not a sketch of battlefields or soldiers, but a political cartoon. “Compromise With the South”, published in the issue of Harper’s Weekly for September 3, 1864, showed a crippled Union soldier shaking hands with an arrogant Confederate soldier over a grave labeled “In memory of the Union Heroes who died in a Useless War”. It was a biting attack on the Democratic Party’s platform for the 1864 presidential elections calling for a cessation of the war and a negotiated peace, which everyone knew would mean a Confederate victory since the South refused to negotiate unless its independence was recognized. Nast’s cartoon was officially adopted by the Republican Party and circulated widely by them. He became a prolific portrayer of Republican ideals just after the Civil War, and a political cartoonist for the Republicans in the 1868 election. Nast’s long relationship with Harper’s Weekly’s political editor, George William Curtis, is described. In 1871 the newspaper that Nast worked for opened a campaign to expose the New York City corruption led by the local Democratic social club, Tammany Hall, and its leader, the head of New York’s Board of Supervisors William “Boss” Tweed. Nast’s cartoons of the bloated, diamond-pin-wearing Tweed set the model for cartoons of fat, corrupt politicians. During the 1872 presidential elections, Nast’s cartoons for the Republicans and Grant’s reelection vs. the Democratic candidate, Horace Greely, were so savage that when Greely died just after the election, some believed that Nast’s ridiculing of him had destroyed his will to live.

The cartoons of the 1872 elections marked Nast’s high point in political cartooning. Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons covers the rest of his life: some notable cartoons through the 1884 national elections; Nast’s declining health and financial problems beginning in 1884; and finally his requesting a consular post from a Republican administration in 1901 and being appointed the U.S. consul to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he promptly contracted yellow fever and died in 1902.

Halloran shows that “what everyone knows” about Nast’s attacks against the corruption of Tammany Hall and “Boss” Tweed in 1871 is true. Also, Nast did draw pictures of Santa Claus, prominently named, for Harper’s Weekly every Christmastime from 1863 for the next three decades. Popular portraits of Santa Claus during the 20th century, notably the long-running Coca-Cola advertisements since 1931, can be directly traced back to Nast’s seasonal portraits. But as for inventing the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey, Nast did draw the Republican Party caricatured as an elephant twice, in 1874 and 1884; but he also drew them caricatured as other animals, and he never drew the Democrats as donkeys. (Amusingly, this book’s dust jacket publicity cites Nast’s fame “for his cartoons portraying political parties as the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.”) So this honor – which he never claimed – is a posthumous exaggeration. Halloran also analyzes Nast’s apparent anti-Catholic prejudice, and other traits shown in his work.

This book contains dozens of Nast’s political cartoons, sharply reproduced. There are 47 pages of Notes, a 15-page Bibliography, and a 10-page Index. If you have any interest in Thomas Nast, or in late 19th century American politics or political cartoons, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons is definitely an important purchase.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews Tank Girl: Carioca

tank

Tank Girl: Carioca
Authors: Alan Martin and Mike McMahon
Publisher: Titan Books
ISBN-10: 0-8576-8743-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-8576-8743-2

The anarchic Tank Girl comic book began in 1988 in the pages of Deadline, a counterculture British magazine. Written by Alan Martin and drawn by Jamie Hewlett (the two had just met while playing in a rock band), Tank Girl became an image for counterculture protest. To quote Wikipedia, “Tank Girl became quite popular in the politicized indie countercuture zeitgeist as a cartoon mirror of the growing empowerment of women in punk rock culture. Posters and t-shirts began springing up everywhere, including one especially made for the Clause 28 march against Margaret Thatcher’s legislation. Clause 28 stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ Deadline publisher Tom Astor said, ‘In London, there are even weekly lesbian gatherings called ‘Tank Girl nights.’’”

The original Tank Girl cartoons were collected and published as regular comic books from 1991 to 1993, in America by Dark Horse Comics. There was a 1995 feature film. Since then, there were several independent Tank Girl comic book miniseries or graphic novels. Around 2001, Hewlett turned over his partnership in Tank Girl to Martin, to concentrate on new projects in rock music, comics, advertising art, and animation centered around his new group, Gorrilaz. Martin has written new Tank Girl adventures illustrated by different artists. In Britain Titan Books has become the authorized publisher of Tank Girl reprints and new works. Tank Girl: Carioca, written by Martin and drawn by Mike McMahon, a popular artist on the Judge Dredd features in the British 2000 AD comic magazine during the 1970s, was originally published by Titan Magazines as a three-issue British comic book from October to December 2011. Now it has been collected into a hardcover, 136-page graphic novel.

Tank Girl is an anarchic teenager who roars about the post-apocalyptic Australian outback in a tank, committing outrageous acts of public indecency. “She is prone to random acts of sex and violence, hair dyeing, flatulence, nose-picking, vomiting, spitting, and more than occasional drunkenness,” according to Wikipedia. She is invariably accompanied by her sexual partner Booga, a chain-smoking mutant red kangaroo, and Team Tank Girl, a half-dozen or so human groupies who follow her orders.

Carioca opens with Tank Girl and Booga deliriously overjoyed because they have gotten tickets to the mega-popular TV show Quizbingo. They are even more thrilled to be selected from the audience as players. But TV host Charlie Happy says that Tank Girl misses her question, when she is sure that she answered correctly. When an electronic-genius friend provides the proof that Charlie Happy cheated her on live TV, Tank Girl decides to take more gruesome vengeance than just suing him. She, Booga, and Team Tank Girl work out a grisly Rube-Goldbergian scheme to publicly hang, draw, and quarter him outside the TV studio.

But the vengeance leaves Tank Girl strangely unfulfilled. “Then a disturbingly eerie feeling came over me. For possibly the first time in my life, I questioned what I had done. I left the party and spent the night in a cave in quiet contemplation.” She decides to start a New Age religion: Carioca. “From now on, my days will be dedicated to awakening my dormant psychic capabilities and to unblocking my congested charkas.” Jet Girl, one of Team Tank Girl, refuses to become a wussie, but everybody else dresses in white and says “Ommmmm.”

But the world will not cooperate. The new pacifists have to put their newfound ways to old-fashioned violence to save the hamlet of Dungtown from “Grape” Skinner and his Arse Bandits. Then they are attacked by a team of costumed assassins hired by U-Leen Happy, the widow of Charlie, who wants revenge against Tank Girl and her team. By the time that our Good Guys have killed everybody else, they have gotten tired of preaching non-violence and go back to boozing it up.

Tank Girl has a long history of popularity, but its foul-mouthed emphasis on a chaotic plot of comedically exaggerated gory violence is an acquired taste. Mike McMahon’s Judge Dredd art (he also drew 2000 AD’s Sláine and ABC Warriors) was reportedly one of the influences on Hewlett’s original Tank Girl art, so it is hard to criticize it, but it is too abstract and surrealistic for the cartoon mayhem to work as well as Hewlett’s art did. If you already have a demand for Tank Girl, then Tank Girl: Carioca will please your readers. Otherwise, start out with The Cream of Tank Girl or one of Titan Books’ other collections of the original comics by Martin and Hewlett.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews City in the Desert

CityintheDesertvol1-620x939

 

City in the Desert. Volume 1, The Monster Problem.
Author: Moro Rogers
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
ISBN-10: 1-9363-9355-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-9363-9355-8

This 142-page hardcover graphic novel from Archaia Entertainment is an exotic adventure set in a fantasy desert land. Irro Zaiang-Marda and his assistant Hari are professional monster hunters based in the desert oasis city-state of Kevala. Irro is an apparently mature man, while Hari looks like an adolescent girl with a long prehensile tail and sharp claws. They patrol the desert around Kevala, killing the zaiang/monsters that attack the caravans.

“There used to be a lot more of us”, says Irro about the monster hunters. “We rode with the caravans, protecting them from attack. We saw the world. Then the monster attacks became more frequent. Whole caravans were lost. And our fellow men refused to go beyond their city walls.” (p. 44)

When the acolytes of a religious sect, the Way of Sacred Peace, led by Darga, come to Kevala offering to rid the land of monsters for good by capping the city’s central Spirit Fountain, Irro and the High Priest of their god, Iriaze, are the only ones distrustful enough to vote against giving it a try. It seems to work; the monsters in the desert sicken and die. The Way of the Sacred Peace is acclaimed, and Irro and Hari are reduced to taking on odd jobs. But soon Irro notices that everyone else in Kevala is losing their memories and falling into a deep sleep, except Darga and his followers. After an unsuccessful confrontation with Darga, Irro and Hari flee Kevala into a temporary exile. The story will continue in Volume 2, The Serpent Crown.

City in the Desert, Volume 1, the first graphic novel by Moro Rogers, is a fascinating fantasy-mystery recommended by the publisher for “teen plus readers”. In these days of full-color, hyper-realistic costumed superhero comic books, it is refreshing to see Rogers’ individualistic sketchy monochromatic (black-&-white fine-pen outlines against tinted one-color pages) artwork. The background religion of the god Iriaze is intriguing; the mystery of what Darga’s cult really is will keep the reader turning pages; the personal relationship of Irro and Hari is sweet (she obviously has a crush on him, while he considers himself a foster father/guardian); and Rogers’ semi-abstract artwork is visually pleasing and, hopefully, an inspiration to would-be artists whose talents are not up to the splendor of an Alex Ross or a Brian Bolland. The story includes subtle clues to background information; for example, Irro’s surname of Zaiang-Marda presumably literally means monster-hunter. City in the Desert. Volume 1, The Monster Problem, is definitely recommended for adolescent readers.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews Mars Attacks!


Mars Attacks!
Author: The Topps Company, Inc. Introduction and commentary by Len Brown.
ISBN-10: 1-4197-0409-5
ISBN-13: 978-1-4197-0409-3

Eek! The Topps Company has been one of the oldest and leading purveyors of bubble gum packet trading cards, since the 1940s when it was Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. If my sixty-year-old memories are accurate, they went from five sticks of bubble gum and one trading card per pack to five trading cards and one stick of gum per pack. I and my pals tossed out the gum and traded the cards – fighter plane cards, Civil War battle cards, interplanetary exploration cards, and the like.

Len Brown, in his Introduction, describes how, as a 15-year-old in 1955, he wrote a fan letter to Topps and was invited by its creative director Woody Gelman to visit their offices. They maintained their correspondence, and in 1959 Gelman offered him a job as his assistant. Brown worked at Topps until he retired in 2000.

Brown was therefore the lead planner with Gelman of the 1962 set of 55 trading cards at first called Attack from Space, but ultimately changed to the shorter and more dramatic Mars Attacks. Brown was the author of the text on the back of the cards. Brown describes his influences (the big-brained alien on an EC Comics cover, and the similar aliens in This Island Earth), the artists who painted the cards, and that it was originally decided that some of the cards were too violent, and they were redrawn and toned down.

Not enough. Before they even had the chance to distribute the cards nation-wide, the first releases on the East Coast drew the kind of parental and newspaper editorial denunciations that were written about the “juvenile delinquency causing” comic books of the 1950s. “In 1962, Topps received about thirty letters from students attending the same public school. It was obviously a class assignment, as all the letters had the same basic message, ‘Mars Attacks trading cards are not suitable for children.’” (p. 10) The decisive event was a telephone call to Topps’ president from a district attorney in Connecticut who warned him against releasing more of the cards in that state.

So the cards were withdrawn from the market – with the predictable results. Mars Attacks became the most famous set of children’s trading cards ever produced. Everyone wanted what they couldn’t have. “Today, a complete set of the fifty-five original 1962 Mars Attacks cards in mint condition is valued at twenty-five thousand dollars. […] More extraordinarily, an original wax wrapper sells for over five hundred dollars, and an empty Mars Attacks display box (rarely found) is scooped up for over a thousand dollars! (ibid.)

Over the years, particularly in the 1980s and later, there has been Mars Attacks imagery and literature in many forms. Paperback novels. Comic books. Action figures. T-shirts. Magazine covers. And of course the 1996 Tim Burton movie.

This 224-page full-color book shows it all. The centerpiece is the original 55-card set, presented in double-page spreads showing the text on the left-hand page and the illustration on the right. “The card art from the original 1962 series that appears in this volume was taken directly from transparencies, which still survive. The card backs were scanned from an archival set that had been kept in storage at Topps since its initial release.” This runs from pages 11 to 121. Subsequent pages show 11 additional cards added for a 1994 limited reissue; 32 full-page paintings by noted 1990s-2000s comic book artists including Keith Giffen, Ken Steacy, Sam Keith, William Stout, Mike Ploog, John Pound, and Simon Bisley; original Mars Attacks art commissioned from Topps for magazine covers, paperback novel covers, etc.; 1962 original concept sketches; the box art and wrappers prepared for the unused Attack from Space release; and more. The introduction includes the EC comic-book cover that inspired Brown, the poster for the 1955 movie This Island Earth with its bulging-brained mutant, and the poster for the 1996 Tim Burton movie. There is a two-page afterword by Zena Saunders, the daughter of the original cards’ artist, Norm Saunders.

This is another “everything you want to know” book about its subject. Everyone has heard of the notorious Mars Attacks trading cards. Now you can see them in all their gory glory. Wired.com reviewed this book as “a lurid snapshot of sci-fi paranoia at its most pulp-fictiony.” This a book for nostalgia fans, for pop-culture fans, for sci-fi fans, and for those who want to know what inspired the Tim Burton movie.

Includes four Mars Attacks trading cards.

Disclosure: A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

The Adventures of Buck O’Rue and His Hoss, Reddish

The Adventures of Buck O’Rue and His Hoss, Reddish
Authors: Dick Huemer and Paul Murry
Publisher: Classic Comics Press
ISBN-10: 0-9850-4991-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-9850-4991-1

A confession: I requested a review copy of this book to solve a sixty-year-old minor mystery for me. When I was a child and a teenager in the late 1940s & ‘50s, my family got the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Examiner, and I devoured every comic strip in them. But there were other newspapers in Los Angeles, and they had other comic strips. I only saw them infrequently, but one strip that intrigued me was Buck O’Rue, a burlesque Western in the L.A. Mirror, because I recognized the cartoonist’s style as the same artist who was drawing the Mickey Mouse adventure serials in the monthly Walt Disney Comics & Stories comic book. When I grew older and talked with other comic-strip and comic-book aficionados and asked about Buck O’Rue, nobody had ever heard of it.

Continue reading

Fred Patten Reviews Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See

Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See
Author: Françoise Mouly
Publisher: Abrams
ISBN-10: 1-4197-0209-2
ISBN-13: 978-14197-0209-9

In October 2000 Mouly wrote/edited “Covering The New Yorker: Cutting-Edge Covers from a Literary Institution”, a compendium of the best and most influential covers from 75 years of one of the oldest and most widely-read American magazines. Mouly is uniquely positioned to write such a book because she has been the Art Director, the person who has selected what The New Yorker’s cover will be for each issue since 1993.

Now Mouly has written/edited what may be considered its companion volume: “Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See”. In this book, Mouly describes the editorial process that goes on which results in the magazine covers that are chosen, and shows many of the sketches and finished paintings that are rejected.

For much of its history, The New Yorker had a policy of using decorative and non-topical covers. Mouly and her cadre of artists – Barry Blitt, husband Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb, Harry Bliss, Christoph Niemann, Istvan Banyai, Ian Falconer, and others – have expanded this policy to look for covers that are both decorative and topical without becoming blatant editorial cartoons.

Not all the more than 290 illustrations in this book are unused covers. Often the cover used is shown with several rejected variants. There have been times when the editorial staff has argued between several variants until the press deadline, when one of the variants is chosen just because there is no more time. When the Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001, the initial reaction was to run a solid black cover in memoriam; Art Spiegelman proposed adding the silhouettes of the Twin Towers on it – a black on black image – that was both subtle and memorable.

There are many reasons that one cover is chosen and others are rejected. Sometimes a cover design is approved and painted, and then at the last minute some newsworthy event happens and a topical cover is called for instead, relegating a perfectly good design to the ranks of the unused covers. Sometimes a theme needs an illustration and three or four preliminary sketches are considered before one is chosen. Sometimes an artist has an inspiration that the editorial staff loves but which is judged too open to misinterpretation or too risqué. They are all here.

Blown Covers is broadly arranged by Race & Ethnicity; Sex; Religion; Politics; Celebrities; War & Disasters; and Is Nothing Taboo? Some of the topics included are electorial politics (the Monica Lewinsky affair, Obama vs. Clinton, Obama vs. McCain, Sarah Palin), homosexuality and gay marriage, the “Ground Zero” mosque, child molestation, the O. J. Simpson trial, prejudice against American Muslims, nuclear meltdown in Japan, and American obesity. In addition to The New Yorker’s own covers, sometimes the corresponding covers of other magazines such as Time or Newsweek are shown as examples of how others depicted the same issues. (The New Yorker has the harder job because its covers are always without captions; their point must be made clearly visually only.) There are biographies of thirty contemporary (1993 to the present) cover artists, and an index.

Whether you are interested in the last twenty years of cover art of one of America’s most influential magazines, or you read this for its behind-the-scenes look at how a modern major magazine selects its covers, Blown Covers is fascinating and primarily visual reading.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.