12/03/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with some brief thoughts on Kirby’s appeal.

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Caleb here. This past semester, I ran an after school comics club for first through fourth graders here in Pittsburgh. Something that I’ve been thinking about lately is that their favorite comics, of the ones I brought in, were far and away my reprints of Jack Kirby Marvel comics (followed closely by Calvin and Hobbes and Ditko’s Spider-Man). They were particularly taken with Black Bolt who made his way into several of the students’ own comics. I think this in part had to do with the fact that they had no previous frame of reference for the character. My students would just sit their and look at the Kirby covers as if they were relics of spiritual truth and mystery. Their is something primal about Kirby that can not be shaken.

I don’t think it is controversial to say that Kirby tapped into some deep Jungian gold mine of archetypes. One could argue that this explains the ongoing popularity of his characters. Undoubtedly, Kirby, and the rest of the superhero creators, were participating in a long tradition of hero sagas that has existed since the earliest known literature. The early Marvel characters were fresh and still somewhat familiar.

And they stay fresh and familiar in no small part due to the silver and TV screens. Still, despite the intensity and gravitas of the movies, these old comic books still stand as a vital testaments of imagination. I simply find it interesting that a bunch of kids who were hardly interested in anything other than Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. found these stories and pictures fascinating.

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Cement Mixer – 12-3-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

11/26/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with the newest Love and Rockets release.

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Los Bros’ latest issue of Love and Rockets is here. Volume 4, No. 6 (or, as the front-page editorial notes, no. 84 overall). Each new release of L&R is an event in my house. Every issue to my estimation is worth its own weight in gold. Usually a satisfying 35 to 45 minute read. Pure joy.

I don’t have much to say about the issue that wouldn’t reiterate what I’ve wrote about Gilbert and Jaime before. I simply see each issue as required reading. Although, I have to say, I am hit with the reality that, with the more cartoonists I meet, not everyone is reading the series religiously (!).

Actually, I certainly understand why many don’t read it. For one, the long history and continuity of the title can be extremely daunting. For two, well, I will not show my hand but rather assume that everyone has their reasons. Regardless, this comic is the cornerstone of the alt-comics movement. Without L&R, there is no Fantaraphics as we know it today. Period.

Something else I have noticed is that, due to the lack of cartoonists reading L&R, particularly the books from this millennium, cartoonists kind of “pretend” to read it. “Yes yes of course Love and Rockets is important. Yes I love Hopey. And uh Glory. Right? Jaime was really nice to me when I met him.” This is just a theory, but I think cartoonists love to say they read L&R like they love to say they never read Building Stories. There is pride in both. As if reading long, difficult works is something they are above.

These are just some thoughts I had while reading the new issue of Love and Rockets. Cheers!

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Cement Mixer – 11-26-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

11/19/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with a wonky layout from a Gray Morrow page.

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Lois Lane 1 of 2 written by Mindy Newell and drawn by Gray Morrow. Colors by Joe Orlando, letters by Agustin Mas and edited by Robert Greenberger

 

Mindy Newell serves an incredibly personal PSA to readers in 1986. Within the pages of this two-issue mini-series, aggressive ace reporter Lois Lane investigates the epidemic of missing children sweeping Metropolis and the nation. Nothing will stop her in her pursuit, but is Lois taking on too much by herself? Will she except the help from her friends and estranged sister? The story, though heavy-handed at times, is sincere and written by an author with a purpose.

I picked these issues up for the Gray Morrow art and Joe Orlando colors. I’m impressed by Morrow’s resistance, or the appearance of resistance, of relying on photo reference. As a result, there is little in the way of awkward, collage-y images that feel stiff and contrived; a common, yet not always unwelcome (by me), plague of Morrow’s comics. The pages herein are smoothly and professionally cartooned. More or less. Actually Morrow struggles as usual to make a format that even resembles a coherent structure. Below is an interesting example.

A variation on the “shattered-glass” approach to comic page formatting. This way of making comics almost always looks clunky. The word balloons are unorganized, the space allowed for figures and backgrounds seems cramped, and the eye has a hell of a time knowing where to look. If you are following the dialogue, the page is divided into two tiers. The middle horizontal gutter dividing the top half from the bottom. I have shown the sequence of panels in accordance to the word balloons below:

 

However, I think Morrow meant the page to read clockwise. Like this:

 

Follow the sequence of the images as I see it. In the third panel, Lois slaps a newspaper with her backhand. In panel 5 the paper is still on the editor’s desk. She appears to pick the paper up in panel 6. They way the dialogue determines the sequence, Lois would have smacked the paper, picked it up, and put the paper back down again. Visually, it doesn’t make much sense.

Still, the way I think Morrow intended the sequence to work makes for tricky reading due to the horizontal middle gutter because the reader would have to abandon the traditional rules of comic book reading. I think the editor, Robert Greenberger, made an executive decision and made the page read traditionally not only due to the middle gutter, but due to the fact that the clockwise reading presumably intended by Morrow ruins the flow of the spread by making the reader start in the top left of the spread, down to the bottom left corner and back up to the top left corner of the facing page. As oppose to the traditional pattern of top left to bottom right of the page, and top left to bottom right of the facing page.

These are things that jump out at me and urk me. This is a flawed page and makes for confusing comics. I feel that cartoonists make these kind of pages in service to some strange sense of making personal art. Cartoonists must learn from these formatting mistakes and not fall victim to such practices.

Keep it simple, stupid.

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11/12/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with a selection of comic books I hauled in from a 50¢ sale

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New Dimension Comics in Ellwood City, PA is a temple to comic book lovers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. I’ve been on many trips there with Frank Santoro and Jim Rugg and others to mine the affordable backstock of countless lost treasures. This past weekend New Dimension had a sale to thin out a newly acquired cargo of books. Nate McDonough and I went up Saturday to spend the entire day riffling through dusty back issue after dusty back issue. Needless to say, we struck gold.

Below is a small selection from my haul:

Marvel Tales Featuring Spider-Man no. 253 (reprint of The Amazing Spider-Man no. 102); written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Gil Kane. Cover by Moebius. 1991. Marvel Comics

Gil Kane never looked better than he did within the pages of Spider-Man. In a lot of ways he is the ultimate Spider-Man artist for me, though that designation comes with a handful of asterisks. This is the Web-Head at his wackiest. The issue begins with Morbius (the living vampire) and The Lizard duking it out in an argument over who gets to kill the eight-limbed hero. The issue gets even better from there.

Also, gotta love that Moebius cover.

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Space Ghost no. 1; written by Mark Evanier and Steve Rude, drawn by Steve Rude, inked by Willie Blyberg, and painted by Ken Steacy. 1987. Comico

I am always excited to see Steve Rude do Alex Toth. He does not disappoint here. The art is fantastic. Luscious inks by Willie Bryberg and beautiful colors by Ken Steacy really pop and crackle and bring the TV screen to the page.

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Lois Lane 1 & 2; written by Mindy Newell and drawn by Gray Morrow. Colors by Joe Orlando. 1986. DC Comics

I got this for the Gray Morrow art and Joe Orlando colors. This type of comic has always fascinated me. It’s the kind of book that was becoming more common starting in 1986 where publishers were trying to get the coveted female adult audience. It’s an interesting take on Superman’s lover who is often little more than damsel in distress (albeit, a formidable one).

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The Adventures of B.O.C. no. 1 & 2; written by Thomas Perry, James Pustorino and Paul Martin. Art by James Pustorino. 1986. Invasion Comics

Possibly my favorite comic of the infamous Black and White Boom era. James Pustorino’s art is rough and naive, yet confident and dynamic. It actually reads like an amateurish art comic in places. Despite the corny and constant explaining of the plot through dialogue I actually really enjoy reading this comic. Usually I just flip through and look at the pictures with this kind of book, but there is something genuine and spirited about this strip that I find undeniable.

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Marvel Fanfare no. 40; featuring the story “Chiaroscuro” by Ann Nocenti, David Mazzuchelli, David Hornung and John Workman. Plus “Deal With The Devil” by Chris Claremont, Craig Hamilton, Rick Bryant, Petra Scotese and Jim Novak.

Mazzuchelli drawing Angel. Need I say more?

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Deadface no. 1; by Eddie Campbell. 1987. Harrier Comics

The beginning of Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus saga. Bacchus is one of those comic books I wish I came up with because it’s such a good idea. This first issue of Deadface introduces us to the humor and violence that ignited a comics legacy. Eddie Campbell’s art does not have the confidence he will soon acquire, but the issue is great all the same. It’s a nice artifact. Gotta love those lads across the pond.

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True Love no. 2; reprinting various romance comics by Alex Toth, Ralph Mayo, Nick Cardy and Vince Colletta. 1986. Eclipse Comics

Always a pleasure to find anything with Toth. I’ve poured over my copy of True Love no.1 so often that the staples are falling out. Happy to have found a subsequent issue to destroy. Also, the Vince Colletta strips herein will make you rethink all the bad things you said about his inking over Kirby.

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Amazing Heroes no. 123; edited by Kim Thompson. 1987. Fantagraphics

I got this for the Frank Thorne interview. Reading the interview conducted by Kim Thompson actually makes Thorne seem less creepy. I think. Not that his creepiness has ever stopped me from reading his comics.

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11/05/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with another ancient comic strip. This time it’s Happy Hooligan by Frederick Opper.

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“The seventh episode of Happy Hooligan, New York Journal, April 22, 1900. Opper’s creation was the first Hearst strip to regularly feature speech balloons and sequential panels.” according to 100 Years of King Features.

This seventh installment of Frederick Opper’s Happy Hooligan from the turn of the 20th Century is another strip I think about often. The olde platitude of the drunk Irish bum being carried away by the malevolent cop, the obstruction of the free spirit. The classic one-two of the vaudeville era.

What makes this strip funny is the thought of work, or even hearing or reading the word “WORK,” is enough to throw our hero into a panic on the street. The idea is compounded by repetition and the seemingly infinite prisons-of-the-mind a tramp is prone to by avoiding “WORK.” There is a metaphor for cartoonists in here somewhere but I’ll leave it up to individual readers to find their own meaning in this.

What I like about this strip is the aforementioned repetition. This is key in comic strip comedy (not to mention comics themselves), but today’s example is different from the kind of repetition found in Swinnerton’s strip from last week. The Swinnerton strip “held” the “shot” for the entirety of the drama, whereas this strip holds the “idea” for the joke until the punchline. The punchline simply serves as a “FIN” and indicates the audience should stand and clap now.

The more interested I become in these early comic works the more I realize that these guys really did write the rules for comics. Yes yes I know this is a redundant statement, but it’s funny to me that these idea of repetition I’m obsessed with served as a comedic tool. To my point, you can’t repeat images unless there are multiple images, and when you sequence these multiple images you get a comic strip. I’m trying to say that our form was birthed in comedy and the tools and techniques we still use today were made to tell a joke. Make sense?

I love comics. I like to ramble on and on about these things. Maybe I’m not saying anything new here, but I like thinking about these ideas. What are comics and how did we come to do what we do now? To find out you have to go back over one-hundred years.

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Cement Mixer – 11-05-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

11/01/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with a strip by Jimmy Swinnerton

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Bad, Bad, Bad Mans by Jimmy Swinnerton, Seattle Times, June 12, 1910. From 100 Years of King Features, 2015

What a lovely strip from one of our earliest pioneers, Jimmy Swinnerton. What I enjoy about many of these early strips is the simplicity. The background is held for the entirety of the strip while the action unfolds without a hitch like a stage. I find this simple way of cartooning makes for seamless reading. The first panel sets the scene along with the players, and once you have understood that this is the environment (stage) and these are the characters you are free to sit back and “watch.” There is no effort on the readers part to evaluate changing settings or new characters. This, also, I think is the key to much of comedy in comics.

I think that this is why, for example, DeForge’s comics are so effective as humor. The characters look the same in every panel and their habitat is simply rendered. The words become the main focus because the reader has already downloaded the rest of the information right off the bat. And if the words and action are funny, the comic will be funny. Make sense?

I look at this Swinnerton comic all the time. It is a reminder that simplicity in comics speaks volumes once ink is laid to paper.

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Niall Breen – 11-1-18

10/25/2018

Your friendly neighborhood Caleb Orecchio here with a public service announcement.

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by Roy Thomas, Carmine Infantino and Alfredo Alcala

Hello fellow cartoonists, winter is on its way. For some, winter is practically here. Don’t be an Ice Worm this year. Don’t hole up in your lair until some wayfaring stranger comes across your cave to slay you. Get out of the house. Have coffee with a friend. Check in on a relative. Exercise. It is important to take advantage of the cold weather by staying in to work on your comics, but don’t forget that the world keeps turning outside the drawing desk.

This has been another message from your friend, Caleb, the cartoonist who cares.

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10/22/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with The Black Diamond Effect no. 3.

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front cover

The Black Diamond Effect no. 3 by George P. Gatsis, 1991

Look at this comic. This comic is a mess, yet it is visually electrifying. I love looking at this. It is like a digital/analog collage. It almost looks like something Michael Comeau would make in an alternate universe void of punk rock or zines or shame. In fact, if I had not looked at the indicia and saw that this was made in 1991, I would assume this comic was riffing on The Dark Knight Strikes Again aesthetically. There is so much spirit to it. There is an attitude to this comic that has no idea what it’s doing, and yet is brimming with confidence – so maybe it is punk rock.

I have only looked at the pictures of this book. I could not forgive myself if I read a word of this comic. That would defeat the purpose. This is not a comic that you get because you’re interested in the story. This is yet another comic that you get because it is a strange artifact of comics that, previously, I had no reason to believe existed. The fact that this comic exists is without a doubt the greatest part of this comic. The discovery of it is a ten-fold joy.

Culturally, it’s interesting to line up the computer generated art with the year (1991) and to notice where the future of CG was going (i.e. Pixar). In fact, I did a little digging and found this website. There is a conscience effort to be part of the cutting edge. It’s a similar sentiment that the creator of Donna Matrix had. The future of everything is digital – computer generated! Both comics are forgotten, lost to the burst of the nineties.

I love this comic. It is a true treasure of the medium. Although it is “bad,” it is amazing in so many other ways. For example, the covers are fantastic. They hold up to me as a warped pop art of some kind. Above I brought up the comparison of an alternate Michael Comeau. The Black Diamond Effect is a Canadian “collage” comic that blends different visual mediums that fuse into its own visual rhetoric. It is strange beyond belief. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I take up a lot of space on this platform writing about the esoteric in comics. I can’t always justify my focus on this aspect. I simply enjoy sharing them. I think this realm of disregarded comics is fascinating. There is true art locked inside these works that give no heed to the history of the medium. Therefore what is produced is often something made entirely without comntext. There are a few cartoonists today who, I think, attempt to recreate the naiveté of the eighties black and white boom as well as the wackiness of these strange nineties comics (the latter being the kind in question today). Most of these artists are running a fool’s errand. They are often too aware of our history to make anything sincerely naive. Many of the works they try to imitate were obviously made in a void with maybe TMNT and Daredevil as their only reference. Good luck to all of you such cartoonists. Though foolish, I believe your journey to be an honorable one. And to all you forgotten cartoonists who didn’t “make it” and disappeared, I appreciate you.

 

back cover

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Cement Mixer – 10-22-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

10/15/2018

Caleb Orecchio here with a story.

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I show my comic strip to another syndicate editor. Their smiling face quickly turns to curiosity. Then to confusion. Then to bafflement. They say the usual, “It’s great! But it will never sell. We need something a little more universal. Have you read the new Nancy strip? It’s funny, modern and very universal. Think a little more along those lines and come back with something else.” I stormed out of the building. What do these people know about comic strips! I have a great strip! People will love it! Nancy and Sluggo died with Bushmiller I always say!

Later, I am visiting a lifelong friend. We, that is my friend his wife and me, are visiting his in-laws (her parents) for dinner. Somehow, I agree to come along. It’s actually a pleasant evening until: “Caleb makes comic strips,” my friend says at the dinner table. The father-in-law lights up, “Really?! I LOVE comic strips!”

My friend takes out a self-published copy of my book collecting my strips from his book bag. “You carry this around with you?” I ask. No not usually. He had brought it to show his father-in-law and thought I would be flattered to witness the father-in-law read my comic. I was not and would continue not to be.

The father-in-law opens the book with a smiling face that quickly turns to curiosity. Then confusion. Then to bafflement. “It looks great! I don’t understand what is going on, but I like the way it looks! I like the character’s expressions. Have you ever read Nancy? You know, with Sluggo – that new artist is HI-larious! You should make something like that. You just need a good idea.”

I stormed out of the house.

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Cement Mixer – 10-15-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

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10-15-18 – by Niall Breen