Trouble with Comics

ADD Flashback: Bernard Krigstein in the Spotlight

There is no artist in the history of comics that I hold in higher esteem than Bernard Krigstein. No other artist understood the inherent potential of the artform better and no other artist ever demonstrated such a grasp of what was needed in order to reach and exceed both his own limits and those of his chosen medium.

As influential as Jack Kirby was on American corporate superhero comics (and others), Krigstein’s influence was more profound. Subtle, yes, but generations of artists have seen comics through Krigstein’s eyes and come away from that revelation understanding that Kirby, as great and fabulous a creator as he was, was the beginning of understanding. Bernard Krigstein and his battle with his art and with his publishers (particularly EC), represent the maturing and growth of the artform. Out of Krigstein’s influence you can trace the artistic struggles of other notable masters of comic book artwork, like Gil Kane, and Dan Clowes, to mention two very different cartoonists both heavily indebted to Krigstein’s innovations.

 You can hear Krigstein’s voice whispering in Frank Miller’s ear, both in the times of his greatest successes (Batman: Year One), and even — perhaps especially — when he falls on his face (The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Anyone who thinks Krigstein holds no dominion over modern comics has not a clue what they are talking about. His influence is everywhere, for those of us who seek out comics made with passion and seeking to express truth.

A study of Krigstein’s genius must include careful immersion in his EC work. For it is here where he met his greatest victories, and his greatest struggle. It’s my belief that the intersection of these elements created a moment of artistic growth as yet unequaled in comics.

In an era when graphic novels (both real and so-called) are issued on a weekly basis by writers and artists with not even one-tenth of one percent of Krigstein’s profound understanding of comics’ potential, this is among the greatest crimes the industry of comics has to answer for — not that it ever will. We should be eternally grateful that Krigstein, despite these obstacles, still gave us “Master Race,” “The Catacombs,” “Key Chain,” and other awe-inspiring works. In almost every one of his best works, you see him playing with the form, experimenting with page design, panel arrangement, and perhaps most famously, subdividing EC’s restrictive pre-set panel layouts in order to expand his own storytelling territory within the defined parameters. He was, in a very real sense, a fractal genius of comic art. Where he was not allowed to grow out, he grew inward, like a Koch Snowflake — demanding, as a true artist must, that he be allowed to grow in whatever way humanly possible.

A few years ago, Fantagraphics Books released B. Krigstein: Volume One by Greg Sadowski. This oversized hardcover artbook/biography is one of the finest of its kind ever released, and although Krigstein’s story is largely one of restriction and boundaries, it should be noted that B. Krigstein Vol. 1 is not a depressing book. Its author was meticulous in his creation of a lasting, vital document of the subject, a man who took life and art very seriously and suffered greatly for both. The book is, in fact, a celebration of the life and work of Bernard Krigstein, and even if you think you know who that is, I guarantee you that by the time you get to the end of the book, you’re going to know the man and his work one hell of a lot better.

Sadowski’s book highlighted one of the greatest shames of the comics industry. That is, the crushing effect of the work for hire system on a true artist. On page 187 we see Krigstein lament that “I wanted to edit a book. I wanted to devote one book to a single story.” This was creative mutiny at the tightly-controlled EC Comics, and even though the company turned out many, many masterpieces in their short stories, the fact that the most well-remembered of them is Krigstein’s own “Master Race” (reprinted in its entirety in B. Krigstein Vol. 1 and beautifully recoloured by Marie Severin, as are the other stories included in the book), a story he chopped up and recreated to make it brilliant, says all that needs be said about how tragic it is that Krigstein was never given the simple freedom to do an issue-long story. Think about the artists that have since been given such opportunities, hundreds of mediocre talents, hundreds of times, while Krigstein never once got to, and one very quickly can sink into a dark depression tinged with righteous indignation, if not rage.

I think even of perhaps the most obvious and well-documented case of longform corporate malfeasance toward a mistreated creator, that of Jack Kirby, and I realize that his case is considerably attenuated by the fact that, for all the injustice done him by Marvel (and least a little by DC), at least he was able to create what he wanted largely without interference, at least until a title was cancelled. In B. Krigstein Vol. 1, we got a portrait of an artist who led a brilliant creative existence and created great works of art, but who was never allowed any real freedom in his chosen field to see just how far his skill and imagination could take him.

I’ve said in the past that Krigstein is “perhaps the greatest artist ever to work in comics,” and I believe that his contributions to comic art are the equal of what Alan Moore brought to the artform in his writing. As the years wear on and my appreciation for what Krigstein left us to consider grows ever stronger, more and more I am certain that comparison is apt.

In the same way that Moore’s words and ideas in the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s revolutionized the standard by which comics would be perceived by both reader and creator, Krigstein overthrew the stagnant visual paradigm American comics had been mired in since its inception early in the century. The vast, unmapped canvas Krigstein’s body of work not only suggests but demands still lay primarily before us, unexplored, waiting.

Alan David Doane

How Much Are My Comics Worth?

How much are my comics worth?"

I’ve been writing about the artform and industry of comics for over a decade now, and this is one of the most frequent questions to come my way.

On average, if you’re lucky, you’ll get about 12 cents from a dealer for any random comic book. That’s half of what they’ll charge when they throw it in their quarter bin. And while most hardcore comics collectors have an idea what their collection is worth, both individually and overall, if you’ve only got a casual interest in collecting comics, or perhaps have found a pile of old comics in your grandmother’s attic, you will need some guidance in discovering if the books that have come into your possession really have any value — and even if they do, is that value greater than the time and energy it will take you to liquidate your comics into cash?

Make no mistake, there are comics that are worth a lot of money; but the bad news is, the chances are very high that you don’t have them. Because the comics that are worth the most money are some combination of old, in excellent condition, highly desirable, and extremely rare. As a general rule, the older the comic, the more it might be worth. Especially if it was printed before the end of World War II, when paper drives destroyed untold numbers of comics as a part of the war effort. So if you have a comic printed before 1945, it’s already a minor miracle that it is intact and in one piece.

After age, condition is a huge factor. The better care that has been taken of a comic book, the better the chances you will be able to find a buyer for it. Folds, tears, stains, cut coupons or missing staples are all defects that bring down the value of your comic book. They must be desirable, as well, in order for it to be valuable. Believe it or not there are good condition comics from decades past that still sell for just five or ten dollars, because their subject matter, or writers and artists, or some other factor, is not highly sought by collectors. But if you have an old comic book, in great condition, that features the debut of a noteworthy character (Batman or Spider-Man, for example), chances are it’s going to have a number of collectors actively hoping to find a copy.

I always advocate comics primarily as reading material — there’s no greater value to be had from a comic than a great reading experience. But there’s no question that valuable comics are out there, and there are many collectors who put the monetary value of their books far ahead of any other consideration. So, if you must put a price on your comics, go to your library and check out The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It is far, far from perfect, but it will give you a rough idea what your books may be worth. Don’t forget that condition counts for a lot, and remember to grade your comics accurately. It’s hard to face facts when you think your comics may be extremely valuable, but you must handle them carefully and be honest with yourself and your potential buyers about whatever flaws they may possess.

Finally, remember that if you try to sell your comics to a comic book dealer, chances are, at best, they will give you 50 percent of the values listed in the Overstreet guide. The reason for this is simply overhead: The dealer has bills to pay, and in order to make a profit, he must pay you less than Guide price in order to be able to sell that same comic at or around Guide price, and be able to stay in business.

If you want to get the maximum return on valuable comics you may own, you’ll have to sell them some other way, such as through an online or real-world auction service. This is much more time-consuming, though, so think about what’s most important to you: Selling them fast (to a dealer, for less money), or getting the most money (selling them to individual collectors). Many comic book-related websites feature “marketplace” sections in their message boards, so take a look around and see what options you have for selling your comics.

Whatever you choose to do with your comics, I hope you’ll take the time to read them, and find the great worlds of wonder and imagination that the very best ones hold within their pages. Ultimately, that thrilling experience of a story well-told is the most valuable thing about any comic book. 

Alan David Doane 

ADD Flashback: Please Don’t Bend the Comics

My family lived in Florida in the 1970s, and in 1980, when I was about 14, we moved back to upstate New York from whence we came and where we belonged. Now, I had discovered all sorts of wonderful things between, say, 1978 and 1980: The Bud Plant Catalog, CerebusStar*ReachThe Comics Journal, hell, the very existence of comic book stores probably hit in there somewhere, in that formative 12-to-14 year old time in my life.

And while there were no “good comic shops” (as I like to call them) where we lived (St. Augustine, Florida — this may have changed since 1980, I’ve never been back and would not know), there was one used coin shop that both bought and sold comics and had maybe 5 or 10 longboxes full of back issues. This was the first store ever where I experienced bringing in my unwanted extras and stuff I no longer cared for and walking out flush with cash.

In my memory, that store paid full guide for back issues, but knowing what I know now, that seems sort of impossible. Maybe they paid some crazy figure like 80 percent of guide and kept a low profit margin; after all, comics were just a sidelight in this shop. But at any rate, I probably sold many hundreds if not thousands of my accumulated comics to that store in a two-year or so time period — all my Bill Mantlo/Sal Buscema Incredible Hulks certainly ended up there: Incredible Hulk by Mantlo and Buscema was one of those comics that seemed awesome at 10 and incredibly lame by 12, you know?

But between that shop and the great number of 7/11s and Jiffy Marts that were in our area (one within walking distance of our home in St. Augustine Shores, a middle-class housing development built on swampland on the outskirts of town — that one was a Jiffy Mart that became a 7/11), I never wanted for comics. They were always available, either new in the convenience stores or used at that coin shop. In fact, not a weekend went by, probably from the age of 8 or 9 right up until we moved when I was 14 that I would not take a buck or three and walk down to the Jiffy Mart (it was Jiffy Mart most of the time we lived there, in my memory) and get some comics, a Slush Puppy (later a Slurpie once it became 7/11), and walk home with my bounty, set for the weekend of reading. And in the early part of those years, when comics were 20 cents? Two bucks bought a lot of comics. Toward the end I think they were closer to 35 or 40 cents, so, then, not so much. But I digress…

So, living in Florida: Plenty of comics to be had. Flash ahead to 1980, back in upstate New York (where my comics addiction had begun, at the age of 6, recovering from having my tonsils out): After she had the good sense to leave her husband, my mom moved us (me, my brother and her) to the very small town (literally one red light in those days; it might be three, now) of Greenwich, in Washington County. And like in St. Augustine, we lived not “in town,” but rather on the outskirts. And rural Washington County is pretty damn rural. Not Deliverance rural, where we were, but closer to that than to any sort of Gilmore Girls small-town idyll.

Greenwich had no comic shops. Unicorn Comics in Saratoga Springs, probably the second most significant comics shop of my teenage years after FantaCo in Albany (40 miles south and reserved for special trips, maybe once a month), would not open for months, so as we settled in Greenwich, I was parched for comics with nothing but desert all around.

Downtown in Greenwich one day with mom and my younger brother, we went into Hughes Newsroom. Ah-ha! There on the bottom tier of a two-tiered magazine rack were the comics. Well, you knew they had to be here somewhere, right? 1980 was still in the beginning years of the direct market, and comics were living out their dying breaths in the mainstream magazine distribution chain, so they generally could be found in most towns, but you had to look.

I grabbed as many as I could afford (read: talk my mom into buying for me) and went up to the counter. The old man, Hughes himself, took the stack of maybe half-a-dozen comics. He put them on the counter. He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.

Again: He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.


In the store, a young teenage boy smiled meekly as the old man, Hughes himself, handed me a bag with my now-ruined comics and no doubt told me to “have a nice day.” A day he had just destroyed by KILLING MY COMICS.

It was no different than bringing a hamster to the cash register of a pet shop, having the clerk break its neck, take your money and hand you the dead hamster in a paper bag. In fact, this is exactly what it felt like.

And I’d like to tell you that I either spoke up next time, or never shopped there again, but as I say, other than once or twice a month trips to FantaCo in Albany, I had no comics and I was hooked on comics. You may be able to relate, but from the age of 6 until, well, now, my whole life in any retail environment is basically where are the comics? Are there comics here? No? Anywhere nearby? Have you any comics? Come on, there must be some comics here someplace! And in those days, that was a successful strategy more often than not. Every garage sale, thrift shop, drug store and supermarket had the comics; you just had to look. And look I did.

But no, it was many weeks — maybe months — before I screwed up the courage to take my stack to the counter at Hughes Newsroom and meekly say to to the old man, Hughes himself, “Could you please not bend them?”

You could have heard a pin drop, as they say.

Total silence.

In my memory, he was smoking a cigar. That may be my brain playing tricks on me, but intimidating and big is how I remember this old man, and I swear to God I think he was smoking a cigar. A short, stubby one. Which he would have had to take out to ask me, “What?”

And there it was, in my first moment of comics consumer activism (that’s right, blame old man Hughes), I repeated my plea that he please not break my hamster’s neck. I mean, please don’t bend my comics.

Boy howdy, did he ever look at me like I was out of my mind. I guaran-damn-tee you that every comic book he ever sold, from probably the 1940s when that store probably opened up until the chubby teenager spoke up in spring or summer of 1980, every comic book that old man ever sold had its spine broken by his checkout method. Palm on lower half of cover of top comic: Check. Comics bent back one by one to verify prices: Check. Comics ruined: Check.

And thinking about it, back then, every damned comic cost the same! Always! Unless you were buying some outsized Warren magazine or Heavy Metal, they were all the same price! All he had to do was count them. But no!

It was some tense moments, there, in Hughes Newsroom there in early 1980. But after I explained, no doubt with many stutters and stammers and a good deal of flop sweat, that he was destroying any resale value the comics might have had (and by then, as noted, I had a good deal of experience reselling my old comics), he came around. Never again did old man Hughes destroy my comics when I checked out there, which I did at least twice a week. See, his distributor dropped off the new comics twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I think it was, so I was in there twice a week. And from then on, there were no more broken spines on my comics from Hughes Newsroom.

At least, not for me. I wonder now if he extended the same courtesy to anyone else who bought comics there. If anyone else even did.

Alan David Doane 

IDW’s Star Trek (Ongoing) #1

IDW is continuing the adventures of the young crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise introduced in director J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek film, and the first issue is just about everything I could have hoped for.

I wrote about my lifelong appreciation for Star Trek a few days ago, on the 45th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of the original series. With that anniversary in mind, now’s a great time for IDW to launch a new ongoing series, and I am pleased that the first issue reflects the same quality and attention to detail that we’ve seen in the publisher’s other Trek offerings. From Countdown, a canonical prequel to the 2009 movie, to the movie adaptation itself, and sidelights like Nero and Spock: Reflections (both of which expanded on and enhanced the events of the 2009 movie), IDW’s creators and editors show that they get what Star Trek is about, and what a comics adaptation of it requires, more than any publisher in the history of the series. IDW’s Star Trek comics are exciting where DC’s were dull. They feel grounded in the world of Trek, unlike Marvel’s quasi-superhero tone; they make sense and the characters look and feel like the same characters we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, unlike Gold Key’s bizarre, atrocious Star Trek comics.

This new Star Trek #1 features a retelling of the second pilot from the original series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That was the first episode produced that featured William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and the story centered on Kirk dealing with a longtime friend and crew member, Gary Mitchell, accidentally acquiring the powers of a god in an accident at the very edge of the universe.

This new comic is and isn’t that story. It’s a perfect evocation of what I want from the new Star Trek from here on out, touching on the events of the “Prime” universe of the original Shatner/Nimoy episodes while exploring the very real consequences of the fact that history has been changed and anything can happen, now. I’m not saying every movie, comic and TV episode (if that ever happens) produced from here on out has to be based on an old story, but what I am saying is that, when appropriate, and when it can be done in a thoughtful and interesting way (as it is here), those old stories should be used as one part of the foundation of exploring the new Trek universe. Yes, new stories can and should be told, independent of all the old baggage, but the opportunity is there to have fun with a lot of the old mythology, and that’s what happens in Star Trek #1

See, in a new universe like this, branching off from an older reality because of a change in history due to time travel, some things will be exactly the same. And here, they are. Some events proceed exactly like they did in the 1966 TV episode. But some events diverge. Doctor McCoy was not yet aboard in the original episode, the ship’s doctor was a different actor. And as a result of that literally trivial fact, the Gary Mitchell story plays out differently. One key character from the episode is not present, because McCoy’s presence changes things.

Writer Mike Johnson and creative consultant (and 2009 movie co-writer) Roberto Orci introduce this idea organically and for anyone versed in Star Trek history, the result is a delightful divergence from what we know, and an indicator that we’re all coming to this new chapter in Trek history on pretty equal footing. No matter what we think we know, there are surprises ahead, and that feels pretty good. Factor in artist Stephen Molnar’s careful balance of attractive, dynamic artwork with a fidelity to the appearance of the actors who play the characters, and I really can’t imagine anyone who likes Star Trek, new or old, not loving this comic book.

Alan David Doane

A copy of this issue was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. 

ADD’s Best Comics of All Time

I recently took part in The Hooded Utilitarian’s International Best Comics Poll (my list is here). “Best of” lists are something some critics enjoy, while others (notably Roger Ebert) more or less despise them. I’m kind of in the middle — it’s seemingly difficult to come up with a definitive list of anything relating to something as subjective as art, but the fact of the matter is that a truly responsible critic has to have a discerning taste, the ability to convey it to his or her audience, and the confidence to state his or her opinion boldly and convincingly. I find the latter is something that really aggravates a lot of people — wishy-washy minds hate it when someone expresses an opinion with the force of reason and logic; all the more reason to take joy in the occasional exercise of this type. It’s also useful as a barometer over time of one’s own evolving tastes. When I first started writing regularly about comics in the late 1990s, many of the comics on this list would not have made the cut, while quite a few comics I now hold in far less high regard probably would have had a place of honour.

In any case, as of mid-August, 2011, here’s my list of the best comics of all time. 

Amazing Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko - Probably the most entertaining run of superhero comics that any corporation ever published, Amazing Spider-Man set the style and standard for Marvel in the 1960s, even if Kirby’s work comes more immediately to mind when pondering the subject. These were “Pop Comics” at their best, dramatic, funny, and in-your-face. The miracle that Ditko managed to stay simpatico with Lee long enough to create 38 regular issues (and a couple of Annuals to boot) is one that I am profoundly grateful for. Amazing Spider-Man is perhaps the most fun you can have reading superhero comics. (Buy Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus from

American Elf, James Kochalka - Other comics creators have dug deeper into their own psyches; Harvey Pekar, Phoebe Gloeckner and R. Crumb come to mind. But no other cartoonist in the history of the medium has documented one moment from each day of his life for as many years on end as Kochalka has, and regularly presented it to his audience. American Elf is a singular accomplishment in the comics artform, and perhaps the most entertaining and effective window into the soul of a cartoonist in the history of the medium. (Buy American Elf Volume 1: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries Of James Kochalka from  

American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, et al - I make no apologies for the fact that autobiography is my favourite genre in comics. When done right, as Pekar almost always did it, no other storytelling medium can have as profound, immediate and insightful an impact on its audience as autobiographical comics. My very favourite Pekar works are his collaborations with R. Crumb, because each brought out the best in the other, so much so that their collaborations have the same feel and power of comics created by a single creative mind working at the peak of his abilities. But with or without Crumb, Pekar’s work demands attention and rewards re-reading, with its keen observation of human nature and its celebration of the smallest and largest events in life. Pekar’s death marked the end of an era in comics, and it’s unlikely that any other comics creator will ever match the heights Pekar did in the very best of his work. (Buy The Best of American Splendor from  

Daredevil: Born Again, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli - All that having been said, I’m a lifelong comics fan who was weaned on superhero comics starting in the very early 1970s. So I remain susceptible to the charms of a superhero tale well-told, and the only one told as well as this one is Batman: Year One by the very same creative team. In Born Again, Miller turned his signature character inside out and redefined what was possible in a corporate superhero comic. Mazzucchelli had already demonstrated some pretty decent superhero chops on this title prior to Miller’s return to the title, but he very quickly leveled up to deliver one of the most visually stunning superhero stories ever that was not drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko or Gil Kane. (Buy Daredevil: Born Again from  

Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner - Not strictly autobiography, Gloeckner’s masterpiece nonetheless carries the weight of reality and the gravity of a troubled life seen with the perspective of years gone by. It’s a comic that defies expectation and challenges easy judgment or callous dismissal. Read it and understand a little bit better what it is to be a girl, to be a teenager, to be a human being. (Buy Diary of a Teenage Girl from

From Hell, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell - The single greatest work ever created in comics, or the best graphic novel of all time. Call it what you will, but if you haven’t read and experienced From Hell, you could be forgiven for saying, as one critic I otherwise respect recently did, that Alan Moore is “overrated.” From Hell is a challenging work, but one that is meticulously constructed, brilliantly conceived, passionately executed, and will turn your fucking brain inside out. Along with his prose novel Voice of the Fire, From Hell is Moore at his absolute best, and at his best, there’s no one else in comics that even comes close. (Buy From Hell from  

Ice Haven, Daniel Clowes - Clowes’s masterpiece is kind of the flip side of From Hell. It is executed with equal passion and witty, seamless construction. But the subject matter almost defies description. The book is as much about comics as it is a story told with comics. It was a signal moment in Clowes’s development as a storyteller, with everything that followed in some way indebted to or descended from the concerns he unpacked in Ice Haven. I think I prefer the individual issue of Eightball it originally appeared in (#21) to the reformatted and rejiggered hardcover graphic novel version, but either way, Ice Haven should be read and experienced by anyone who loves comics. (Buy Ice Haven from

Master Race,” Bernard Krigstein and Al Feldstein - Appearing in the first issue of Impact, “Master Race” is the most brilliantly executed short story in the history of comics. I’ve opined at length elsewhere about how and why Bernard Krigstein was the greatest artist ever to work in comics, but immersing yourself in “Master Race” is really the only argument needed. (Buy B. Krigstein Vol. 1 from

The New Gods, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer, et al - Kirby is rightly touted as the genius of corporate superhero comics, without whom we’d very likely have a very different artform and industry on our hands today, or perhaps none at all. That said, many of his great works (Fantastic Four, The Fourth World stories) are either compromised or unfinished. New Gods falls into the latter category, but despite that, the series manages to convey better than any other the sheer power and, yes, maturity that Kirby could bring to his comics. Re-read New Gods and be amazed at the pictures, but be even more astonished at the subjects and themes that Kirby was exploring, sometimes so close to the surface that one need not even call it subtext. From almost the moment he started making comics, Kirby was ahead of his time, and many years after his passing, he remains so. It’s all of comics — especially the corporate superhero comics ghetto he toiled in — that needs to catch up, and grow up. Make it right, Marvel. (Buy Jack Kirby’s New Gods from

Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz - No one saw the bittersweet sadness of life the way Schulz did, and no one ever made the reader feel those same feelings with more grace or immediacy. For fifty years, Schulz bared his soul in comics, and while he more often than not did so with a clever gag or punchline at the end, ultimately what we all think of when we think of Peanuts as a whole is the way Schulz could take the little agonies of his own life and make us remember what it is to be hurt, to be slighted, to grin and bear it and keep moving despite the pain. I think that’s the ultimate message of Schulz’s life work, and the example he set for us all. He kept going, kept working, up until the absolute last moment possible, and then he left us, and left behind a monumental lifetime of work that will be enjoyed and talked about as long as there are people left to think and talk about comics. And maybe even a little while longer than that. (Buy The Complete Peanuts Vol. 1 - 1950-1952 from

Alan David Doane

ADD Reviews Approximate Continuum Comics

Lewis Trondheim is one of the few comics creators whose work appeals to me despite carrying large doses of whimsy. Can I be honest with you? I hate whimsy. I hate anything whimsical. But the autobiographical comics of Lewis Trondheim, these I love.

Trondheim’s autobio comics both feel very close to reality to me — I love other autobio creators like James Kochalka, Harvey Pekar and Jason Marcy — but all their work feels translated into comics in a way that Trondheim’s autobio comics do not. Trondheim seems to be living his actual life right there on the pages of the comics he creates. If that makes sense to you, then you’ll enjoy and appreciate Trondheim’s new collection from Fantagraphics, Approximate Continuum Comics.

Of a piece with Trondheim’s excellent NBM series Little Nothings, this new book features Trondheim reflecting on cartooning, life, friendship and the many squabbling sides of his own personality. Trondheim can go many dark places in his ponderings, but the darkness is always relieved by other facets of himself arguing, observing, and sometimes beating the crap out of each other. He can puff himself up all he wants, but within a few panels another side will emerge to deflate his ego and put things into better perspective.

Throughout all these goings-on, we see glimpses of Trondheim’s home life, his work and friendships with his fellow cartoonists (given equal time in the back pages to respond to what you’ve just read), and the search for a new home for his family. If you’re not familiar with Trondheim’s cartooning (and hoo-boy, you should be), he blends funny-animal body-types with breezily convincing cityscapes to create an eminently readable and visually gorgeous narrative. Trondheim is one of the easiest cartoonists to read, and one of the most satisfying to experience. Approximate Continuum Comics wanders far and wide among topics and settings, but the whole book also tells one long tale about a period in its creator’s life, and by the time you’re done with it you feel you’ve spent some very worthwhile time with a great storyteller. Because you have.

Alan David Doane


Buy Approximate Continuum Comics from

Is “Obama Nation” Racist, or Just Stupid?

Commenting on Twitter, Fantagraphics publisher (and one of my personal heroes) Gary Groth called the controversial Obama Nation comic strip by James Hudnall and Batton Lash “witless,” among other things. I’m not sure I agree with Lawrence O’Donnell’s characterization of this particular example of the strip as racist, but I do think Obama Nation as a whole is a loathsome, unfunny comic strip obviously fueled by hatred, much like its closest ancestor, Mallard Fillmore. Again, this particular strip may not be overtly racist in its execution (although it certainly is easy to say it looks that way on a very facile level), but it’s very hard not to suspect the strip’s creators operate from a place of malice and loathing.

I’m far from Obama’s biggest fan. I am, in fact, one of his most disappointed former supporters. But maybe if Lash and Hudnall spent some creative energy on positive work that urged real solutions to the problems here in Los Estados Unidos, they would not get painted with the racist brush by opportunistic commentators on the opposite side of the ideological fence. I am somewhat impressed that most people commenting on the issue seem to realize what a sorry, pathetic piece of cartooning the strip overall represents.

Should Obama Nation be censored? No. Should it be ignored and reviled because it is ugly, nonsensical and epically unfunny? Hell, yes.

Alan David Doane

ADD Talks to Rob Vollmar About Inanna’s Tears

Rob Vollmar is not just a former contributor to this site (and its progenitor, Comic Book Galaxy), he’s also been a great friend of mine for the past decade. But that’s not why I’m talking to him about his new project. I’m talking to him about Inanna’s Tears because he is the writer of Bluesman and The Castaways, two of the best graphic novels of the last 10 years. New work from Rob Vollmar is exciting news indeed, and I am in Rob’s debt for taking the time to talk to me about his new project with M.P. Mann, Inanna’s Tears.

Alan David Doane: Rob, correct me if I’m wrong, but Inanna’s Tears is your third full graphic novel to see print?

Rob Vollmar: That is correct. Castaways originally in 2002, Bluesman Complete in 2006 (i think) and now, Inanna’s Tears.

Inanna’s Tears is quite a departure, narrative-wise and visually, from the Depression-era concerns of Castaways and Bluesman. Tell me how the project came about, and what the story concerns?

I 'd say it was the intersection of several factors. For my first post-Bluesman project, I wanted to get away from the Great Depression as a setting.

The kernel of the project came from my interest in ancient history and was in line with my usual concerns about belief, faith, power and how they intersect in people’s lives. I did about three years of intensive research, even while we were still working on Bluesman, studying the rise of civilization and the tools that made it possible. I became fascinated by the particular seam of history that Inanna’s Tears represents and started looking for ways to inject it with a compelling narrative.

The story focuses on the transition of power from the matriarchal communist theocracy that forged the tools of civilization and the patriarchal militaristic autocracies that used those tools to create the idea of empire.

 How did you go about humanizing such complex ideas?

 Well, it wasn’t easy.  Our data on how exactly this transition took place is incomplete at best and I had to compress what probably took several hundred years to complete down on to a fulcrum, if you will, of a particular moment in time.

ltimately, successful fiction is about people and their relationships, so I did my best to personify the various interests into believable characters and then opened up the floor to see how they might interact with one another.

 Tell me a little bit about your artistic collaborator, M.P. Mann and what he brought to the project.

 Marvin has been working in the comics industry since the late 1980s. I believe he helped ink some of the latter issues of The Trouble with Girls at the end of the black and white boom. As I was fishing around for collaborators, I was already familiar with Marv’s work on Lone and Level Sands and found it to be in harmony with the kind of look I wanted for Inanna’s Tears. When I approached him about the project, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the kind of questions he was asking.

Such as?

Questions about textiles, architecture. I could tell immediately that he had both the visual and intellectual chops to bring this remote period of history to life.

How smooth was the partnership once you got rolling?

Very smooth. Marvin has a gift for visual storytelling and blocking that you can’t embed into a script without becoming overbearing. He also works VERY fast and brought a certain energy to the creative process that was different than my experience with my earlier books. He knows how to suggest detail without laboring over it. That’s a valuable commodity to say the least.

Who do you think is the ideal reader for Inanna’s Tears?

I think it is a book that works on several levels. Folks with an interest in history, anthropology and language are going to feel like it was written for them.
I think it also features a very accessible story within about people and how they love and how, on occasion, that love can destroy their ideals that most anyone could identify with.

I come from a liberal arts background and was using Greek theater as my model for Inanna’s Tears. It’s a conversation about universals set in a very specific moment in time.

It’s taken a while for the book to be collected in graphic novel form, but finally it will be available in February. Tell me about the road to publication.

Well, it was long and winding. But just as we were about to bring the GN to market, the economy fell apart with the difficulties that we have now in the Direct Market in tow. It went very quickly from a market very inviting to GNs to very hostile in a very short period of time.

To Archaia’s credit, they never said, “Sorry, fellas, but we just can’t do this anymore.” We all stayed in communication and, after a few hard fought battles to get the word out and get reflecting pre-order numbers, we’ve finally gotten to the place where print makes sense. Both Marvin and I are very grateful that we’ve had advocates for the book on the inside who care about creators and have worked hard to live up to their obligations, contractual and otherwise.

Tell me how readers can make sure they get their own copy of Inanna’s Tears.

As a former Direct Market retailer, my first piece of advice is always to try and support their locally owned and operated comics shop. Finding a responsive one can be a challenge depending on where one lives but it is worth the effort.

Barring that, the book is available for order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other reputable online retailers. I will also be partnering with Atomik Pop in Norman, Oklahoma to make signed copies available for purchase at regular price plus shipping for those who’d like that personal touch. We’ll be releasing details about that through our Facebook page, which we encourage people to join if they want to be kept in the loop on updates.

See the Flash trailer for Inanna’s Tears at Comics Worth Reading.

TWC News with ADD [012411]: Sausage is for Americans

* Over at Comics212, Christopher Butcher wonders if DC dropped the Comics Code to save a few pennies. I miss the days when Chris did one like this three or four times a week, but I’ll take what I can get. Related: At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson looks at the recent history of the Comics Code, now apparently dead in the water.

* Wow, Cry for Justice sounds like an enormous piece of shit, just like 90 percent of everything else published by Marvel and DC these days.

* At The Panelists, Craig Fisher has a two part look at DC’s Jonah Hex, part of its ten percent of quality comics. I haven’t read every issue, but the ones I have read have been almost uniformly entertaining and pretty to look at.

* Uncomics: Christopher Butcher again, this time at his eponymous website, running down his Five Favourite McDonald’s Sandwiches. Seriously. Now, I didn’t eat at McDonald’s when we were in Canada a few years back, but my wife did and told me that everything tasted better, something my Canadian friend d. emerson eddy told me can be attributed to better food standards up north (not surprising). Agree with Mr. Butcher about most of these, especially the McRib, which it seems to me used to be good but just does not cohere as a sandwich anymore. My feeling is the sauce is wrong, and roll should be buttered and grilled, not that Mickey D’s would go to that much trouble this late in the day.

Alan David Doane

Russ Cochran Needs Your Help

Back in the 1980s when I was around 14 or 15, my mom bought me just about every one of the EC hardcover sets published by Russ Cochran, and they really opened my eyes to how good comics could be. The books themselves set the standard for how beautiful books could be when published by people who are committed to quality. Russ Cochran has earned my undying respect and gratitude for his critical contribution to my lifetime appreciation of comics and quality publishing that really has its foundation in his EC reprints way back when.

Right now is a crucial time in Russ’s publishing efforts. I’ll let him explain:

I’m going to have to be completely honest with you now. My business, which has been in existence since 1971…that’s FORTY YEARS…is in financial trouble, and unless something changes soon, I will be closing my doors before 2011 is over.

I’ve already had to terminate my oldest employee, Chris Rock, who was with me for 35 years. Chris worked on all the EC projects with me, he went to NYC with me to photograph the EC art for the EC portfolios, and it was very difficult for me to tell him that he was being laid off. This leaves only two other employees, Angie Meyer and Judy Goodwin, and right now my monthly sales through my website, eBay, and Amazon are not enough to cover their salaries.

I’m hoping to get permission from the Gaines Estate to continue publishing the EC ARCHIVES series, but unless this comes soon, my publishing days will be ended. With no new products to offer you, all I can do is to offer special deals on the items I do have in inventory. I would rather sell them to you, my faithful customers, at a lower price than to wholesale them to dealers and booksellers.

So here are some special offers being made only to my internet customer list:

1.  THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN COLLECTING, a hardcover, limited-edition book in slipcase, which originally sold for $200, I now offer for only $45.

2.  Your choice of any three EC ARCHIVES books (11 are available out of 13 which have been published) for $95, or any ten EC ARCHIVES books for $285. These are the lowest prices I have ever offered for these books.

3.  The following special deals on EC ANNUALS:

TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Annuals 3, 4, 5 and 6, the last 20 issues, all for $20.

THE VAULT OF HORROR: Annuals 1 thru 6, the complete 29-issue run, all for $30.

THE HAUNT OF FEAR: Annuals 1 thru 6, the complete 28-issue run, all for $30.


ALL ELEVEN EC SCIENCE FICTION ANNUALS, FOR $55. This is a complete collection of EC’s s-f comics except for WEIRD SCIENCE Annual #2, which is sold out.

ALL NINE EC SUSPENSTORIES (SHOCK SS AND CRIME SS) ANNUALS FOR $45. This is a complete collection of EC’s suspense comics except for SHOCK Annual #2, which is sold out.



ALL THREE PANIC ANNUALS (Al Feldstein’s answer to Kurtzman’s MAD) for $15.



And last but not least:

HOPALONG CASSIDY TRADE EDITION (list price $75) for $35.

LES PAUL—IN HIS OWN WORDS TRADE EDITION (list price $75) for $35.

These last two books are hardcover, high-quality, 368 page books which are considered to be the definitive reference and picture books on Hoppy and Les Paul. These are new copies in DJ.

So, you can get some good bargains while helping me to stay afloat by ordering any of the above specials. Thanks for your business, and thanks for the last forty years!

I urge you to visit to see images of all these and everything that’s available. E-mail Angie or Judy at or call them at 417-256-1311 to place your order.

Alan David Doane