The Walking Man – Jiro Taniguchi

The Walking Man //Fanfare/Ponent Mon //  $22.75
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The Walking Man is a sui generis work of pen and ink contemplation, a book filled with page after page of microcosmical meanderings that follow the whim of the moment, ungoverned by any societal dictate, yielding neither to appetite but only to impulse, following the life force in page after page of disciplined and reserved yet discreetly joyous artwork that sympathetically stimulates the senses in a work freed from consciously directed narrative to wander where the heart roams.

This 160-page French-flapped softcover volume collects eighteen zen-like tales of the “man who walks.”  Reflective, insightful meditations on the modern, suburban condition, these stories embody the soul of manga.  While the landscape through which our hero walks is indisputably Japanese, the stories told and the lessons learned on his brief treks are indisputably universal.  Taniguchi has managed a unique feat here.  The comics work in The Walking Man is stripped of all extraneous elements.  There is a near total absence of narrative in the pieces collected in this volume.  With extraneous temporal distractions removed, the pure essence of comics remains and we are left face to face with a direct, graphic communication of the here and now. 

These are comics that dig deep into the mind and trigger a panoply of sensations: the heat of the sun on one’s back, a cool breeze along the side of one’s face, the smell of flowers, the cold, creamy taste of ice-cream, the hard exertions of a fast run, the overall feel of the encroaching darkness, the sounds of children laughing, water flowing, a passing train… all these sensations and more are triggered by the series of images that the reader is presented with as the pages are turned and the walking man goes on his way.  To get a better idea, check out this preview.  Recommended.

And then, at any time before, during or after reading The Walking Man, we also recommend that you read the essay that laid the foundation for the philosophy (or, at the very least, its American branch) that suffuses this work, “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau

Education – John Hankiewicz

Education // Fantagraphics //  $21.75
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A tour de force of comics formalism, John Hankiewicz’s graphic novel, Education is a bolt from the blue.  Hankiewicz’s comics work is perilously difficult to describe, but we’re going to take a moment to get our thoughts in order here at Copacetic… and make an attempt to back up our encouragement to any and all takers to tackle the challenge proferred by Education, through highlighting its artistic virtues, as it is a work that will offer rewards more than commensurate with the efforts made to come to terms with it.

On the purely æsthetic level of the drawing and, especially, the composition, each page is a gem of fine craftmanship.  On the level of narrative, it is a thoughtful, complex and multi-layered work.  It is, however, in the formal interplay between drawing, composition and narrative, that Hankiewicz’s star shines most brightly.  While the diegesis makes/takes large temporal leaps back and forth, spanning a generation, the comics apperatus by and through which Hankiewicz conveys and contains these leaps is, conversely, composed of an intricate structure of moments that transpire on the temporal axis in minute increments.  This strategy creates a tension within the reader.  This tension is then further heightened by the repetition of absurd minutae, frustrating the reader’s need for linear narrative advancement; but this is a fruitful frustration.  The frustration of narrative expectation allows Hankeiwicz to keep many “balls” (ideas/concepts) in the air at once, and it demands the reader’s attention to keep them there.  More than this though, is that this dual attack of temporal tension combined with a frustration of narrative expectation corrals the reader’s attention to the underlying rhythms that normally lie hidden beneath the comics reading experiece.  It is communicating the existence and form of these rhythms that are Hankiewicz’s primary concern*.

Over the course of the roughly twenty years that Hankiewicz has been creating comics, he has developed a visual rhyming scheme, one that, while highly idiosyncratic in its particulars, nevertheless contains a deep structure which can – and has been – used to successfully undergird concerns and particulars of other comics makers who might be interested in pursuing this avenue of comics poetics (please see his collection, Asthma for the key texts in this development).  As one makes their way through the reading of Education, a visual rhythmic meter begins to be felt before it appears; even then it will take multiple run throughs of the material before this meter can actually begin – evanescently  – to be apprehended.  This is the genius of John Hankewicz, a genius that is fully on display in the pages of this work, the reading of which convey – and provide – quite an education, indeed.

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* Although manifesting them in a wildly different manner, and employing a wholely different set of strategies, the work of Yuichi Yokoyama shares this same primary concern of forefronting the inherent underlying rhythms of comics, and he too has created his own, although completely different, visual rhyming scheme.


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Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

Boundless // Drawn & Quarterly //  $21.75 // 248 pages
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Boundless is a 248 assemblage composed of nine tales: World Class City; Body Pods; The Clairfree System; 1. Jenny; Half Life; Darla!; bedbug; Sexcoven; Boundless. Each is possessed of its own individual artistic personality, chosen to best visually convey the character of the story: rough and ready; smooth and silky; precise; loose; colorful; stark. Here, the real story is the way in which the tale is told. Decision embodied in line and composition.

Each of the pieces, while being a unique organic whole in and of itself, is part of a greater whole as well; part of a tapestric unity. These stories deal with individuals alone, together and in groups. They explore the dynamics underlying each and map their respective organizational structures.

A theme running through each of the pieces is the struggle for connection, and the wide variety forms that this struggle can take. In particular, these stories are about the tendency of contemporary communications media to mediate our lives – and, increasingly, our relationships*. These stories expose ways in which our increasing “connectivity” via electronic devices can paradoxically (or perhaps not) result in alienating us from ourselves and each other; virtual connection supplanting actual connection. Also threading its way through the stories are indications of how social organization in fully developed (late) capitalistic societies tend to essentialize human relations within a framework of financial transactions, with profit and loss, winners and losers, exploiters and exploited.

From “Body Pods,” a tale of a life lived in the shadow of a hit film, to “Sexcoven”’s meta-documentary take on an internet based cult in which immersion in computer connectivity leads to a dropping out of normative society, to “1. Jenny,” which relates a quasi-literal loss of identity to social media, personal relationships are disrupted and/or deformed by interactions with media. In a tour de force of form countervailing content, Tamaki pens a narrative for “The Clairfree System” that loosely and impressionistically portrays a business model – more or less Amway® meets Proactiv® – that locates synergies between narcissism and the religious impulse in forging a sales pitch touting improved social standing (aka “happiness”) through adherence to its tenets, yet she deliberately and completely undermines this argument by applying such a high level of attention to the artistry and aesthetics of its visual representation in a series of images that in their relation to the narrative range from directly representational to tangentially so, from complementary to oppositional, and so rivets readers’ attention on the craft embodied in the work. This overpowers any seductive allure that the narrative might have offered, and so posits – perhaps – the power of craft and artistry to reconnect us to our human selves away from technology and the exploitative capitalistic relationships that technology serves to support. Tamaki takes a different approach to reconnecting our consciousness of self with our physical bodies in “bedbugs”, a tale which embodies some elements of morality play. Using actual insect parasites to surreptitiously insinuate consciousness of the physical human body amidst the collection’s overall story space that has been engaged in documenting the body’s gradually disintegrating connection to self in an ever more virtual world – one that is rife with virtual parasites that consume ever larger degrees of of energy and attention, leaving us less with diminished “assets” to devote to our components of ourselves – we are given a moment to contemplate the repercussions of this disintegration.

The title story is an irony that folds back on itself in positing a reality completely bound by irrevocable limits from which one may be released only through a complete acceptance of and submission to them.

Boundless feels at times to be delivering a thesis that all human actions contain an element of struggle for connection, and that the goal of the stories in this collection is to locate that element in each action, properly situate it – identify its psychological coordinates – and then, working from there to reverse engineer the design of their motivation and so provide readers with insights that can deepen human connection in ways not available to the ever more pervasive connectivity proffered by technology. Lines on paper vs. dots on a screen.

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* (see Marx on the commodity fetish for background on and explanation of the mechansims underlying this tendency)


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Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White // Harper //  $29.75 // 560 pages
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Krazy Kat aficionados have long placed its creator, George Herriman at or near the center of the development of comics and cartooning.  A prodigious talent, and true comics pioneer – possessed of an unquestionable genius – he produced comics of startling fluidity; words, images and design each blending seamlessly, each reinforcing and supporting the other to create works of lasting strength and beauty.  The concept of the intelligent vocalizing cartoon animal – the “funny animal” – that gave rise to Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Donald and Daffy Ducks and countless others was more or less forged by Herriman, who in the process opened up a rich vein in the American psyche which is still being mined today. 

Here, in Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, author Michael Tisserand broadens the context of Herriman’s life further, to encompass large swaths of American history, society and culture, and in the process places Herriman’s life not only at the center of the history of comics, but at the  crossroads of America itself at the dawn of the 20th century.  While it has long been known that Herriman was born in New Orleans of mixed “Creole” heritage, with African as well as European forebears, the specifics had always been murky, at best – but no more!  Tisserand, much of whose earlier writing focused on New Orleans, and who evidently knows his way around a variety of New Orleans archives, leveraged his preexistent knowledge, rolled up his sleeves and dug deep, tracing Herriman’s roots back to the 18th century as well as outlining much of his extended family history.  The story includes telling details of much of what transpired in post Civil War New Orleans in order to set the stage for Herriman pere’s decision to uproot the family, move to Los Angeles and “pass” (as white), at which point the book’s subtitle, “a life in black and white” becomes eminently clear. 

And that’s only the beginning!  It’s always instructive to be reminded just how big a force comics were in their early days at the dawn of the 20th century.  Before the movies really began to make their mark on the American scene, before radio, comics – appearing everyday in the majority of the country’s newspapers – were arguably the first mass entertainment, and as such made a tremendous, lasting impact in the popular imagination, and Herriman was there, almost from the very start.  Herriman had been creating and drawing numerous illustrations, sports cartoons and comics strips for well over a decade before coming up with his most famous creation, having seen his first drawings published at the close of the 19th century.  

Krazy traces the highs and lows and ins and outs of Herriman’s extraordinary life, uncovering many heretofore undisseminated facts while also debunking some of the myths and legends that had sprung up to fill various lacunae in his life story.  Not every mystery is solved, to be sure.  Plenty remains for future Herriman researchers to strive to discover.   And Tisserand may be among them, as he is reported to be paying attention to the responses he has been receiving to this work, perhaps for a future work, or revised edition.  But don’t sit on your hands waiting for that day (that may or may not arrive).  

Krazy is an essential work of scholarship that will leave you with an increased understanding – and appreciation – of America , its culture and the central, formative role of comics in it all.

ALSO:  If you’ve read this far, we can all but guarantee that – if you haven’t already – you’ll want to read Chris Ware’s incisive essay on George Herriman written on the occasion of the publication of Tisserand’s biography, HERE.


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Double-Head Tour; Tornar and Riparna

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Double-Head Tour; Tornar and Riparna // Lale Westvind // Self-published //  $8.00 

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Risographed in purple ink on pink paper, with a hand screened two color cover printed on heavy cream cardstock, this is a tale found in “the museum of epics, in the city of memory.”  We are led to it by our intrepid guide, Lale Westvind, who takes us there through a very labyrinthine path indeed, one which crosses cities, continents, oceans and interstellar space – as well as psychic dimensions – and employs all manner of vehicular transport from race car to star ship, from surf board to monster truck, from beast back to energy wave:  whether it’s running from or running to, it’s all about getting from point A to point B, whatever it takes.  The actual vehicles here, however, are symbol and metaphor, rendered in a turbo-charged, quasi-draughtsman-like manner that is stylistically located in the vicinity of the somewhat obscure neighborhood of C.F. meets Fletcher Hanks.  The tale related in “Double-Head; Torvar & Riparna” is one of two souls meeting on the spirit plane while their corporal beings remain trapped in the material world, the struggles their meeting entail, and their search for refuge and, ultimately, sanctuary.  The challenge is how to convey the immaterial aspects of their spiritual correspondence onto the material plane so that it may be communicated here – and, crucially, perhaps enable readers to be transported by this communication to the spirit plane in turn, and share in this archetypal epic in the city of memory and so engage in a bit of spiritual correspondence themselves.  Readers will of necessity need to actively participate in this process in order to maintain the necessary ideational thrust to meet the required psychic escape velocity to achieve spiritual lift-off.  

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The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez

LoveBunglersBIGThe Love Bunglers // Fantagraphics Books //  $19.99 //112 pages

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It’s hard to know where to begin with a work as remarkable as this.  Originally published in six chapters inLove and Rockets: New Stories 3 & 4  in 2010 and 2011, it includes a flashback chapter titled “Browntown”that, in comic book parlance, could be said to be the – or, at least, a – “Secret Origin of Maggie”, as readers are finally made privy to heretofore undisclosed primal scenes at the root of significant swaths of Maggie’s personality and character.  While it may be a commonplace to state that character is forged in the crucible of family, it is rare indeed to be given the opportunity of witnessing an incidence of this that has been prepared with such consummate skill that it achieves the degree of verisimilitude achieved inThe Love Bunglers, sharing such startling psychological insights in the process. 

Naturally, parents predominate in scenarios set within the family arena; their characters are asserted and consequently imprinted upon the children.  This scenario certainly plays out in “Browntown”, but intriguingly – and crucially to the understanding of Jaime’s world view and working method and sense of character construction – much of what is revealed here, that is linked to the formation of Maggie’s persona, transpired in her absence, to other members of her family.  Here, the unintentional looms large, as revelations of hidden parental acts become keys in the children’s hands, used to decode their parents’ motivations and values and learn the actual reality undergirding the constructed reality as it had been given to the children by the parents.  The drama here simultaneously reveals the quotation marks around”truth” and the effect that this revelation has on all concerned – in one of the great three-panel sequences (establishing – POV – reaction) in the history of comics as one particular revelation is is registered.  There are the corollary experiences of Maggie’s brother, Calvin (adding yet another layer to this historically significant name…), which, while primarily serving the self-contained narrative of The Love Bunglers, carry the added charge of immediately registering to long-time Love and Rockets readers as being integral to the development of Maggie’s character and personality.  And, finally, the family-is-destiny theme returns with a vengeance in the novel’s climax.  Employing the heretofore hidden sequence of events revealed in “Browntown” as the dramatic catalyst, Jaime triggers the release of thirty years worth of potential energy and converts it  into an emotionally devastating catharsis of great power. 

Upon reaching the conclusion of The Love Bunglers there is an inescapable feeling of finality and closure to the the saga of the life and times of Maggie Chascarillo.  While it is almost certain that we will be seeing more of Maggie in future issues of Love and Rockets, Jaime’s discovery of these hidden pieces of the puzzle of Maggie’s persona seems to have allowed him to at last reach the holistic understanding of her character and it’s fundamental relationship to Ray as its terminus that he had been striving for these thirty years – and communicate this understanding to his readers in this magisterial work.

Black is the Color by Julia Gfrörer

medium_f341bdd3b8009573d8c3aac75e41df8aBlack is the Color // Fantagraphics Books //  $14.99 // 72 pages
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A fantastic pen and ink meditation on mortality, 18th century sailor style, but this time from the perspective of the mermaids!  This work puts us in the mind of a cross breed of the work of Tony Millionaire and Dame Darcy with Sammy Harkham as spiritual guide.  Pheobe Gloeckner sez: “(Julia Gfrörer’s) work is spare and elegant, yet the hand of the artist is always evident in her line.  Her characters inhabit cold or desolate environments, often on the brink of inanition or beyond, yet still yearning to love and be loved.”  Here in this 72 page French-flapped graphic novella, we have her most substantial published work yet.

MOME Vol. 1 – Summer 2005

bookcover_mome1MOME Vol. 1 – Summer 2005 // Fantagraphics Books //  $14.95 // 120 pp.
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This is an excellent semi-regular anthology that is stepping up to meet the demand for new work by the talented  generation of cartoonists that have been filling the pages of annual anthologies like Non, Kramers Ergot, Top Shelf, Rosetta, SPX and others.  A novel feature of this anthology title is its declared intent to feature the same collective of artists every issue, allowing the artists and audience to grow together and build an ongoing identity that is highly unusual for the world of contemporary comics. Only time will tell how this intention plays out when confronted by the realities of a publication schedule, but we can attest with confidence that it’s off to a solid start.

First off:  it looks good!  Designed by Jordan Crane, MOME 1 is a chunky, squarebound 136-page edition that’s formatted a tad larger than the Raw Volume 2 editions which it resembles enough to be considered a successor of sorts.  It also feels, on the other hand, a bit like a comics equivalent to Granta, the British literary magazine that has flourished for over two decades.  It’s printed on a high grade flat white paper, the stories are printed in a variety of color palettes and B & W as called for.  The nature of the material presented in this anthology ranges far and wide, yet the quality and intelligence of the work remains uniformly high throughout.  Kudos to Mssrs. Groth and Reynolds on their editorial discernment.

Here’s a closer look at the first issue:

I Feel Nothing by Gabrielle Bell — A strong opener by a talent who has been doing a lot of growing lately, both in regards to the quality of her artwork and that of the storytelling which it serves.  It’s a simple slice of life tale that contains a story within a story, and a nice deconstruction of a decision via the mechanics of the imagination that effectively demonstrates both the efficiency and the power of comics as a medium of communicating the contents of the human mind. B & W

Passing Before LIfe’s Very Eyes by Kurt Wolfgang  — A visual meditation on clichés.  Primarily on the cliché of “life passing before one’s eye’s” at the moment of death, and then, subordinately, on the clichés that make up this life.  Cleverly employing the trope of smoking, the story manages to escape being a cliché itself, and that’s something of an accomplishment all on its own.  Duo-Tone.

Part Time by Jeffrey Brown — Well, to be honest, this one’s a bit of a let down:  yet another strip about being unable to come up with something in time to meet the deadline.  Yes, it’s self-reflexive, yes, there’re a few clever twists on the theme, and yes, it has a few laughs, but the main thing to recommend it is that it’s by Jeffrey Brown, who is seemingly blessed with the uncanny ability to produce unfailingly enjoyable comics about his personal foibles.  B & W.

Life with Mr. Dangerous, Part One by Paul Hornschemeier — This piece is, in effect, an extreme close-up on the psyche of its sole protagonist, a twenty-something woman living alone, who is, it appears, not entirely in touch with her own emotional core.  In it, Hornschemeier successfully carries out the difficult trick of letting us know more about her character than she seems to know herself.  This is accomplished through his well-conceived orchestration of dialogue which consists entirely of one-sided conversations and narration which consists entirely of introspection, with the counterpoint of a delicate delineation of subtle variations in her facial expressions and body language.  With “Mr. Dangerous,” Hornschemeier continues to build a body of work that demonstrates that he, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, has fully digested the advances in rendering psychological nuances in comics pioneered by the work of Clowes and Ware.  Full color.

The Beast by Anders Nilsen — With “The Beast” —  the most difficult and challenging work in this anthology —  Anders Nilsen clearly stakes his claim to be in the avant-garde of contemporary comics.  An intriguing montage of a borderless 4-panel comics grid overlaid on a sequence of double-page spreads of landscape photography, this multivalent metaphysical investigation demands multiple readings — each of which may supply the reader with a different interpretation:  first to come to light is the obvious yet superficial political commentary; next, perhaps, an examination of  delusional consciousness; digging deeper, a personal eschatology; cultural historians with a background in comics may find this story to be a descendant of the worlds-within-worlds/no-one-sees-it-but-me genre that were the staple of the pre-superhero (1959-61) Marvels authored by Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, which grew out of the anxiety and paranoia of that most intense period of the cold war which led up to the end game of the Cuban missile crisis, and so, perhaps, reveals the burgeoning of a related if more complex strain of paranoia and anxiety growing out of contemporary global conflicts.    The main thing, finally, is that Nilsen is struggling to construct a radically open form of comics that fully engages — if not outright requires —  the interpretive powers of the reader to complete.  Full color.

Dance with the Ventures by Jonathan Bennet — This thoroughly enjoyable story — expertly placed to provide a moment of soothing relaxation after the arduous struggle with Nilsen’s “Beast” — convincingly recounts the details of a morning’s urban idyll, seamlessly meshing visualizations of the interior psychological components of the tale with the external Pekar-esque drama.  B & W.

Eddy Bear “Takes His Share,” “Tanya” & The Mom in “God Bless America” by Sophie Crumb — This triptych of tales —  interspersed through the final third of this volume — takes on the classic urban themes of alienation vs. conformity, material comfort vs. independence, immigration and integration.  B & W.

221 Sycamore Ave., Part 1 by John Pham — It is appropriate, perhaps even inevitable, that John Pham, one of the reigning masters of the graphic architecture of the comics page, should produce a story whose thematic elements incorporate architectural concerns.  In 221 Sycamore Ave., Pham — at least from the evidence provided by the first part printed in this issue — effectively communicates the feel of the lives lived at this address.  Tri-tone color.

Overpeck by David Heatly — Building on his large body of work dealing with his dreams, “Overpeck” takes the game one step further by creating a dream locale — Overpeck — where a continuing cast of characters will carry out “lives” in a world of dreams in which cause and effect, narrative and characterizations will all be subject to the language and laws of dreams rather than that  of “reality.”  A great idea that’s off to a good — if disturbing — start.  Full color.

The Jewels of the Sea by Andrice Arp — As stated in its sub-title, this is “a story from ancient Japan” (well, as a note at the conclusion makes clear, it is actually two stories from ancient Japan, the second subordinated and integrated into the first).  It is a classic tale of love and power, clever trickery, and mythological creatures.  A fitting conclusion for collection.  B & W with pantone grey.


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Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman

KrazyKat Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman //Patrick McDonnell, Karen O’Connell & Georgia Riley de Havenon //Abradale Press//  $19.95 // 224 pp.
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 Where to begin with such a book.  It is clearly and definitely the best book ever done on Krazy Kat, which is, at least in our estimation, the greatest work ever produced in comics form. Ergo, it is, Copacetically speaking, the best single volume of comics ever produced.  In other words, it wins the Deserted Island Award™:  If there were one comics related book we’d take with us to a deserted island, this would undoubtedly be it.  And as if that weren’t enough, it has now been reissued in an economy softcover edition that’ll only set you back a double sawbuck.  Think of it – a lifetime of pleasure and consolation for what it would cost you to spend a few hours in a bar.  And they say there is no God.

For sheer aesthetic achievement, narrative inventiveness, psychological incisiveness, cultural significance, and creative ebullience, Krazy Kat, the masterpiece in comics that George Herriman produced on a daily* basis from 1913 through 1944 cannot be beat. This volume provides a judiciously selected, finely reproduced and intelligently arranged collection of George Herriman’s work accompanied by an engrossing account of his life and career.

By way of introduction, the authors made the amazingly apt decision to start things off by reprinting Gilbert Seldes’s one-of-a-kind essay, “The Krazy Kat That Walks by Himself,” that appeared originally as one of the chapters of his volume, The Seven Lively Arts, published in 1924 .  A brief biography of Herriman’s formative years provides the reader with some potential insights into his character and its bearing on his subsequent creations before getting to the main act.

The dawning of a new century coincided almost exactly with the birth of a new mass-market medium for the communication of artistic expression and the beginning of George Herriman’s artistic career working within that medium, which, for lack of a better name, has come to be known as comics.   Beginning with Herriman’s early years as a journeyman illustrator who hopped a freight to the Big Apple in hopes of making it as a cartoonist (which he succeeded at almost immediately, but not before a short stretch as a Coney Island sign painter and side show barker), then detailing his involvement in the early development of the comic strip that followed fast and furious on the heels of the introduction of Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid, the authors present an engaging account of the early days of the comic strip as seen through Herriman’s experiences.

Illustrations, political cartoons and comics strips all served the paramount function of catching the public’s eye and thereby boosting the circulation of the newspaper in which they appeared.  Herriman proved himself adept at all three and early on caught the attention of what was perhaps the most important eyes of all, those of William Randolph Hearst, the powerful newspaper magnate upon whom Orson Welles based the title character of his landmark film, Citizen Kane.    While Herriman was to leave and/or be lured away from Hearst papers on numerous occasions during the first decade of his career, he eventually settled with the newspaper syndicate controlled by Hearst, whose patronage was to ultimately prove crucial to Krazy’s longevity.

Herriman produced many different comic strips during the decade that preceded his creation of Krazy Kat. They’re all discussed here and are accompanied by reproductions of representative examples. In fact, Krazy and Ignatz first appeared in one of these strips.  Running along the empty white space at the foreground of the July 26, 1910 installment of “The Dingbat Family”– which the authors of this esteemed volume have unearthed and presented for our erudition– in what may have been simply a half-conscious doodle to fill up the space while killing time at his desk in the Hearst offices, Herriman drew the historical first beaning of Kat by Mouse.  The rest, as they say, is history, and this book does an admirable job of reporting it.

The bulk of the book is, blissfully, filled with high quality reproductions of the strips themselves.  Most of the daily strips — which are only a small minority, the bulk being, for obvious reasons, the Sunday Pages — are reproduced from what is in almost all cases the best remaining source, the syndicate proofs.  Of the wonderful Sunday pages, the authors managed to assemble quite a few originals to reproduce, primarily of those that originally appeared in black & white, which is how the strip ran in newspapers from 1916 through 1933.  The strips that ran after 1933 and which originally appeared in color are here reproduced from mint condition copies of the actual newspapers in which they originally ran.

A selection of photographs of Herriman, his family and his friends round out this eminent volume which provides the gentle reader with a joyful bounty of what is still comics’ greatest creation.


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Stroppy by Marc Bell

stroppycover

Stroppy // Drawn & Quarterly //  $22 // 64 pages
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Stroppy is here:  it’s ALL NEW; it’s a self-contained whole; it’s by Canadian cartoonist extraordinaire, Marc Bell; it’s… a giant-size, full-colour, underground comix classic presented to an unsuspecting [well, not for long] public in the guise of a hardcover graphic novella.

Stroppy channels the vigorous populist cartooning energy that can trace its roots back to the classic comics strips – especially the depression-era Popeye by E.C. Segar and Harold Grey’s Little Orphan Annie.   This vital populism was an integral part of American life and lore, but with the advent of the war economy in the late-1930s, it was sublimated into the national war effort throughout the Second World War, and beyond.  While this populist strain of comics did reemerge to a varying degree in some of the post-war, “Atomic Age” comic books, it was not fully reawakened in comics form until the disillusionment of the Vietnam War era.  It was then, during the heyday of the underground comix era (roughly 1966-1975), that this same populism reemerged from its generation-long cocoon, metamorphosed and reenergized, and found fresh voice with improved techniques and expanded visual vocabulary.  While much of the work of that period  was undirected and diffuse, in aggregate there were many discoveries made in the area of organizing information and concepts visually.  Yet, much of what that era ushered in subsequently failed to be sustained within the comics medium, and as a result was not incorporated into standard comics usage.

Enter Marc Bell.  This Ontarian cartoonist/illustrator/collagist/painter has been gradually developing his own unique brand of surrealist/psychedelic comics (aka psychedooolia) over the last two decades.  Bell’s work is notably influenced by the early underground comix  work of R. Crumb, as well as by the Hairy Who and Philip Guston, all of whom also flourished during the same era.  It also has some strong roots in the homegrown Canadian soil of Julie Doucet’s 1980s Dirty Plotte comics, and includes nods to Kim Deitch’s mature works such as Shadowland and Boulevard of Broken Dreams.  These influences (and many more, including those of his contemporary comrades in cartooning, most notably Amy Lockhart and Peter Thompson) have all been fully digested and synthesized into Bell’s mature style.  He has slowly but surely developed and accumulated an original cartoon lexicon in works like Shrimpy and Paul, Hot Potatoe! and Pure Pajamas. These and many other works were undertaken in the spirit of experimentation, allowing Bell to follow his often inscrutable muse and giving his unconscious free reign in constructing a pen and ink world so overflowing with visual stimuli that it makes Richard Scarry’s Busytown books seem positively sluggish by comparison.

Now, at last, in Stroppy, Bell has employed his idiosyncratic arsenal of cartoon creations in the service of a cohesive long form narrative that opens with an incensed populist sentiment that ruthlessly ironizes the blatant inequities imposed by unbridled capitalism, ridiculing both those directing it and those in its thrall.  As the narrative progresses, Bell navigates – and, somewhat surprisingly, mitigates – this antagonistic stance through a zany series of nuanced negotiations between Stroppy & Co. and the agents — and lackeys — of capitalism and popular culture, creating in the process a work that is very much in the spirit offered by the best of the underground comics era, evinced particularly by Bell’s supreme visual anarchy.         Anyone reading this who is completely unfamiliar with Marc Bell’s work has probably been having difficulty following the discourse here (but we applaud you for sticking with it!).  Any of those so uninitiated, yet finding themselves intrigued by the preceding is encouraged to search out examples online, starting here:  marc bell comics.


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