FRANK SANTORO: Before Watchmen blacklist -
Here’s a handy list of all the comics makers who participated in Before Watchmen. I refuse to buy or read anything by these folks: Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Michael Allred, Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Jordi Bernet, Tim Bradstreet, Massimo Carnevale, Cliff Chiang, Michael Cho, Amanda…
Neither comics nor art, Abrams ComicArts has nonetheless done a spectacular job compiling Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series into a delightful, compact hardcover. I can remember seeing these trading card packages in my childhood. I was ten the year they were originally issued, in 1976. That was ten years after the original series debuted, seven years after it was canceled and three years before its second life began in earnest with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But I don’t remember for certain if I ever owned any of them; I suspect I did, because some of the individual cards seem familiar to me, but certainly I never had a complete set. So the nostalgic and historic value of this book to me, as someone with an enormous interest in Star Trek (especially the original series) is huge.
Abrams has some fun with the presentation; the dustjacket of this little hardcover (by Paula Block and Terry Erdmann) is made of wax paper, the same kind the cards were wrapped in. So there’s a tactile thrill from the first time you pick up the book. They also include four new cards in a packet inserted into the book, in the style of the original cards, both as added-value and to remedy the strange fact that George Takei’s Mister Sulu is not featured on any of the original cards, only the back of his head in one shot of the Bridge’s viewscreen from the Captain’s perspective. The back of Billy Blackburn’s head makes it into that shot too, Trek Trivia lovers. If you don’t know who Billy Blackburn is, you’re probably not a Trek Trivia lover, but that’s okay. You might still find it amusing that Blackburn is found on two of the cards, unless of course you’re George Takei.
The book presents the front and back of all 88 of the original Topps Star Trek cards, featuring a little over half of the 79 episodes of the original series; an interesting introductory essay explains a lot of the history behind the set, including the fact that a second set would likely have covered the remaining episodes, but no second set was ever issued. An explanatory paragraph discusses some aspect of each card, providing background, insight or trivia.
The cards are featured warts and all, so typos like a misspelling of Walter Koenig’s last name or including Lt. Uhura on a list of “The Men of the Enterprise” remain charmingly in evidence. If you love the original Star Trek, whether you have any interest in trading cards or not (put me in the “not” category), Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is a fascinating piece of history, educational and fun, brilliantly packaged in such a way as to authentically evoke the era and the artifacts. The only thing missing is the gum. (Actually, they thought of that too, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.)
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
By Jim Rugg, with Brian Maruca
Publisher: AdHouse Books. $9.99 USD.
If you don’t know, Jim Rugg is a fantastic artist who happened to make one of the best graphic novels of the past decade, Street Angel. The thing is, that was in 2005, and quite frankly, he hasn’t done a lot since as far as comics. I doubt it was for lack of effort. He did a book called The Plain Janes targeted at a tween audience that had no way of hearing about it, shortly before the economy collapsed and DC canceled the imprint. Afrodisiac was a lot of fun, but a blaxploitation parody seemed to be treading water a little creatively.
Now, there’s Supermag. Like his Notebook Drawings, it’s a showcase for Rugg’s immense illustrative talent, along with a number of short comics strips and stories. Rugg shows how much he’s learned from adventure comics of the ’30s and ’40s, the EC horror and crime comics of the ’50s, funny animal strips and cartoons of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as the influence of cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez. Rugg has a dazzling command of his craft and is skilled at all manner of styles.
He’s a good writer, too. There’s a voice here, only partially obscured by the spoofs and genre mimicry, and it’s one of dread and fear and helplessness about the dark forces that churn the world. It’s a noir voice, a horror voice, but here we only get brief glimpses of either genre.
On rare occasions, critics can be a buoy to a creator, give them that lift when they need it to keep going. A lot of times, though, we can be perceived as terrible people for our demands. I mean, I recognize that the market is not the same as what it was when Rugg started. The days when a Dan Clowes or Chester Brown could work through things in a serial comic book are largely over. One is expected to come out with fully-formed graphic novels nowadays. Adrian Tomine continuing with Optic Nerve is a cute gesture, and we look at it with varying degrees of admiration and condescension, like a band issuing a single only in vinyl. This is an astonishingly impressive calling card for Jim Rugg, Jack of All Genres, but it’s also a stopgap measure. An unreflective survey. His superhero ape strips are fun, but you wouldn’t want a whole book of it. His short horror and suspense pieces are great, but it’s not terribly difficult to create nameless dread in one page. They’re exercises, a dipping of toes into genre waters, but there’s a lack of commitment here. As a critic, one has to set aside the likely realities that this is a not-very-well-known illustrator presenting a collection of bits of some of his best material from the past few years and ask whether it’s a great collection of comics. As great an artist as he is, the answer is no, it’s not. It’s impressive, but it’s more tantalizing than satisfying, small plates and spoonfuls of what could turn out to be a number of good to great meals. I recommend it on that score, as a sampling of a very talented guy giving indications of doing a lot of things really well, but one is still left wanting at least one really good story.
I’m told there’s a Kickstarter for Sabre, an ancient, creaking sci-fi bloatfest that was also a trailblazer in the era in which independent comics were first gaining a toehold in the market.
I’m sure it makes me a terrible, terrible person, but I see Kickstarter as a real negative for comics, as counter-intuitive as that is. It encourages projects that the marketplace should really decide the value of based on the actual work, not on PR, past work by the same creators, or fanboy delusions of patronage.
Kickstarter is a nice idea in the abstract, empowering creators and readers and adding further irrelevancy to the most venal, malingering publishers. In reality (I’ve see no evidence otherwise, years now down Kickstarter Road) it devalues the idea of patronage by making quality and worthiness secondary ideals to noise and hubbub. Instead we find a mediocrity-empowering dynamic of 10,000 entitled fanboys with five bucks each burning a hole in their Paypal accounts’ pockets, and the biggest unknown not being whether the work will be any damn good at all, but whether it ever even gets created in the first place.
— Alan David Doane
Jack Kirby Collages -
Good article on The King’s collage work in the ’60s and ’70s, with his famous Fantastic Four pages and a few unpublished pieces. I love when great artists also do other art aside from what they’re known for/expert at.
See this lovely machine? That is Oily’s new (used) Risograph. I had to plunk down a hefty chunk of change to get it. Last week, the old risograph malfunctioned and it was beyond my know-how to get it back up and running (if anyone wants a GR 2700 for parts get at me). So luckily there was a machine for sale a couple hours away and I jumped on it. Why am I annoying you with this? Well, this really ate into Oily’s budget for the rest of the year so, so I have decided to keep the subscription offer open until the end of July. Since I have had to push back printing since my old machine broke, I have more time to let more people in. I didn’t hit my goal of 200 subscribers this time out. Currently, we have about 150. If I can get 50 more, I would be a happy camper. Maybe I didn’t push this subscription campaign as hard as I could or maybe you all are just sick of Oily. I don’t know. So yeah, if you want to subscribe to some cool comic books, now is the time. Get 5 comics in the mail every month. Quality shit. Some names I of cartoonists, I have coming down the pike are: Leslie Stein, Sam Gaskin, Melissa Mendes, me, Michel Fiffe (interview zine), Ben Urkowitz, Darryl Seitchik, and more.
Thanks for reading. I never take your support for granted.
Nice deal for a bunch of interesting mini comics from Oily. $20 for 3 months’ worth, $40 for six months, and you may want to add another $5 for Josh Simmons’ 52 page Habit #1 as he’s always worth checking out. Note to self: don’t let anyone know I thought a Risograph was a kind of pen, because they’ll think I’m dumb.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja, Javier Pulido, Alan Davis
Marvel Comics $16.99 USD
I’ll be honest; as much as comics have meant to me in my 43 years on Earth, I don’t read that many new ones these days. The landscape is such a minefield. Too many crossovers and stretched-out arcs. Good creative teams either move on from a title too fast, or the writer gets so inundated with work that the quality of the work suffers. Way too much editorial interference without actual constructed, educated editing. But I try to keep my eyes and ears open for the good stuff.
Matt Fraction is an interesting case. The world of genre comics (superhero, crime, horror, fantasy—basically anything but art comics) is filled with bland voices and poor craft, and so anyone with a hint of freshness can be “called up to the majors” before they’re ready. Somehow the initially overpraised Fraction, despite smug tweets and the unironic wearing of a cowboy hat, has developed into a champion writer under the dubious auspices of Marvel Comics, navigating the event-driven, continuity-resetting, crossover-driven waters quite admirably. He reminds me a little of Mark Waid in that he’s able to find a take on a character that’s a little different than anything that’s been done before, while not being so drastic that it’s a new character. And like Waid, usually humor is a key ingredient, which is why Fraction’s Iron Man run reads as more deeply felt, deeply thought-out, and just plain more fun than his run on Thor.
Hawkeye, like Tony Stark, is historically kind of a wiseass, and that’s one of the characteristics that Fraction can work with here, but he goes a lot deeper. We meet a Clint Barton who’s the world-saving Avenger Hawkeye in his day job, but is more comfortable living in a New York apartment with regular folks. He’s got no quit in him, to an obnoxious extent at times, but basically, he’s just a guy who’s really good with a prehistoric weapon. In the first, three issue arc, Fraction and Aja scale things down so it’s a hero book, not a superhero book, with Hawkeye mixing it up with Russian mobsters when one of them, the landlord, wants to sell the building and evict Clint and his neighbors. Action is slowed down, with inserts of types of arrows to get the reader into the nuts and bolts of what he does, humorously. Matt Hollingsworth’s use of violets and earth tones gives the book a unique look, which I appreciate and think is important, especially for a solo title. Most of his offbeat ideas—giving the villains matching Mini Coopers, giving Clint a Dodge muscle car, having Clint try to buy rather than beat his way out of a problem, making his lack of labels for his arrows a running gag—work quite well, and some choices are terrific, like Clint’s no-quit attitude reflected in his saving of a massively injured stray dog. Yes, the dog-saving superhero may be a shameless bid for sympathy, but it works. I also really liked the dynamic he develops between Clint and Kate, the young woman who became Hawkeye during a questionable period where Hawkeye was (secretly at first) a sword-slinging hero named Ronin. It goes beyond typical meet-cute, sarcastic-banter-covering-growing-attraction stuff. Clint has made a lot of mistakes with women and is mature enough at this point to realize it, plus Kate is much younger and he’s her mentor. So he’s set up mental barriers for himself that for the most part he’s honoring, even if it means he’s unwittingly hurting Kate’s feelings in the process of keeping this distance.
The fourth and fifth issues of the series find Pulido as the artist in an arc with more of an international flavor, with Clint attempting to buy back a videotape of him apparently assassinating someone on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s orders. It’s mainly got a lighthearted tone, appropriate for a caper story, and there are some fun lines and moments of derring-do, but there’s also a sobering question running through it: is Hawkeye a murderer? Fraction balances the tones very well, while also continuing to develop the Clint/Kate relationship. We get even more of this in a flashback story drawn by Alan Davis from Young Avengers Presents #6 (which I didn’t even know was a thing), where we see the genesis of their relationship is with Clint being a protector and mentor, someone who wants Kate to learn from his mistakes, as she will eventually take his place. It also establishes that Kate is a pretty impulsive, romantic girl, so Clint would be wise to tread carefully in regards to her feelings.
A very enjoyable collection that, unlike most comics today, is good enough that I’ve read it a few times now, out of pleasure. I don’t want to go on a rant here, but one of the big reasons comics don’t sell the way they used to is that comics of this level are harder and harder to find. Comics with tight story arcs, fresh storytelling strategies, wit, layered characterization, emotional engagement, and high quality draftsmanship. When you find it, support it.
eddy currents:  - 2 July - What's a Gerry Conway? -
So there was this earlier in the week from Gerry Conway:
I need your help.
DC Comics is a great company.
It was the first major publisher to offer creator contracts on a regular basis, allowing the men and women who create characters for DC books to share in the profits those characters…
Agree with d. eddy here. There’s nothing wrong with what Conway is asking here, for himself or his fellow comics professionals. If he or they are due equity participation, why hinder or besmirch them?
Fantagraphics' Kim Thompson, Dead at 56 -
A giant in comics publishing and editing, a fine translator and interviewer, and a wickedly funny man, Kim Thompson has died from the lung cancer the public was informed of just a few months ago. Working alongside copublisher Gary Groth, Thompson exposed me, quite simply, to some of the most important artists and art of my life. We’ll miss you, Kim.
[Geoff] Johns built his career and set the mold for contemporary DC Comics with the way he took Green Lantern’s entire stupid, shitty history and turned it into one long nasty, blood soaked epic laced with heavy dollops of Joseph Campbell and wish fulfillment audience worship, turning an obnoxious and unpleasant comic book into an obnoxious and unpleasant Saga of Graphic Novels, and now, for the final bow of a nearly ten-year run, the best the guy can muster is an eight-dollar comic that resolves almost nothing but includes a page where his personal assistant and his boss tell him he’s special? That’s awesome. — Tucker Stone