Monthly Archives: August 2007

Old Comics Kick

I’m on a rampage.  I really can’t stop myself.  In the past few weeks, I’ve bought or ordered online the following reprints of old comics:

In actual fact, the Zorro collection is the only one on my shelf at the moment.  The others were all online purchases that are at different stages in the tangled process of ecommerce.  But goddamn, am I looking forward to reading all these.  The Caniff collections (Terry and Canyon), in particular, have piqued my interest.  I’ve got this ancient Penguin Book of Comics that contains a bunch of Caniff strips, and they seem pretty damn good.

I had a book about Dick Tracy when I was a kid: it had a bunch of strips, but mostly it was text, with some long-winded guy writing about Tracy and his creator and blah blah blah.  I read through that book a hundred times, skipping the text and reading only the comics.  I’m looking forward to those collections.
Dan Dare is a purchase I’m making on the strengths of two recommendations: one from Garth Ennis and one from Warren Ellis.  Ellis loves Dan Dare, and wrote that it was his primary motivation for Ministry of Space.  Ennis, likewise, ate the stuff up, and is working on a re-launch.  So I’m picking up the first story-arc, contained in the first two volumes.

The Zorro book collects a bunch of stories Alex Toth did for Disney back in the 1950s and 60s.  His was a name I’d always heard, often in connection with the 22 Panels That Always Work or the Super Friends, but I’d never really experienced his art.  As when I read Two-Fisted Tales, I now understand why Toth garners so much praise.  Young artists should be required to study his linework, and the expression of his characters.  His stories are great fun, full of the adventure and swordplay you expect from Zorro tales.

I think it was Two-Fisted Tales that lit the fuse on this reprint binge.  That was such a great book, with such rewarding stories, that it pushed me to search out other gems from bygone eras.  I think there’s a tendency amongst the mainstream comic reading audience today to take a look at the crude nature of super hero comics in the 30’s and 40’s and dismiss older comics as more or less unworthy.  I’ll be reviewing each of these as they come in, in the hopes that even a sliver of extra exposure will help audiences rediscover the great comics of the past.

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Garfield is Dead

I was bouncing around retroCRUSH the other day, when I came across the creepiest comic strip-related thing I have ever seen: Garfield’s death. (Naturally, I have had no luck trying to find the page again. Trust me, it’s there.)

I’m sure this has been blogged ad nauseum prior to my discovery of it, but I shall cover it nonetheless. Here are the strips in question, which ran from October 23 to October 28, 1989 (apologies if they don’t fit):

Clearly, this is something with a little more punch than your average “Garfield is fat, Jon is lame, Odie is retarded” strip. This is about as bizarre and surreal as major syndicated strips can be. There is no humour. There are no punchlines. Garfield is just tossed into a horrific scenario of abandonment and isolation.

The theory regarding this strip, and the one that I personally subscribe to, is that this storyline represents Garfield’s death, almost. As we see in the final strip, beginning with that bizarre close up on a sweaty, hallucinating eye, Garfield has turned to denial. Those third and fourth panels? Denial. Garfield is clearly alone, trapped in an abandoned home, with no way out. Using sheer force of will, he utterly denies his situation, conjuring up familiar visions of Jon and Odie. It follows, then, that every Garfield strip since 1989 is just a continuing hallucination. Garfield’s mind is working at a fevered pace in the moments before death, as he imagines the same scenarios over and over again with painful repetition. His denial is so powerful that he has crammed the intervening eighteen years into the span of a few hours, while he starves to death in the empty house.

Jim Davis, of course, denies everything. In a 20th anniversary collection, he wrote:

“During a writing session for week, I got the idea for this decidedly different series of strips. I wanted to scare people. And what do people fear? Why, being alone of course. We carried out the concept to its logical conclusion and got a lot of responses from readers.”

At least, that’s what it says he says on Wikipedia. And really, it’s only natural that he would say something like that. Because the whole thing was a cover for something far more momentous: Jim Davis’ departure from the strip, and his replacement with some kind of secret ghost-creator.

Please note: I have absolutely no evidence to support this claim. But it makes sense to me. By 1989, Garfield had been running for just over ten years. That’s Jim Davis working, day-in day-out, on more and more jokes about a bloated cat and his dipshit master. How quickly do you think that would get old? By ’89, Davis was already well established. He had Garfield, and US Acres, and was rolling in money from merchandising and cartoon adaptations. He must have woken up one day and realized, “Shit, I don’t have to keep on drawing this tripe. I can hire some halfwit art student to churn out 365 strips a year while I relax on a beach in Malibu.” And so he did. US Acres folded up shop in May, but wasn’t popular enough to warrant Davis hiring a ghost. Garfield, though, was his flagship. He needed to keep it running, if only to keep the character in the minds of the people. But he planned a nice big fuck you to his millions of readers, prior to his departure. He would hit them with a surreal salvo, a brief little storyline so bizarre that his readers would be left scratching their heads for years, or as long as it took them to read the next, comfortably familiar strip. And so, with the October 28 strip, Davis faded into the background, leaving an armada of lawyers to sort out the confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements that would be hoisted upon his anonymous successors.

Don’t believe me? Honestly, when was the last time you read a Garfield strip that hasn’t already been done a dozen times? There are only so many jokes you can tell with those characters, and David told them all from ’78 to ’89. Give the man credit: he established a money-making empire that has spawned animated series, films, and countless car window suction toys. Do you really think somebody that deviously clever would keep himself chained to a drawing table churning out mindless dreck?

Doesn’t it make sense?

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Odd Shots

Catching up with the last few weeks of comics miscellany:

  •  Is Batman coming out biweekly right now?  It sure feels that way.  I think if his whole run had come out with this kind of regularity there would have been a much stronger reaction to it.
  • Speaking of Batman, is anyone else as impressed as I am by his style shoutouts on the various Club of Heroes members?  I picked up on the Chaykin Gaucho, Gibbons Wingman and McGuinness Knight & Squire, but it was cool to read the man himself lay out the inspirations and the reasons behind his choices.
  • FYI: Howard Chaykin drew every book Marvel published this month.
  • How many times is Marvel going to have Iron Man get stomped half to death in the wake of Civil War?
  • Doesn’t the Thor redesign look about 75% less lame than his previous costume?  It was time.
  • I love hearing that both Ray Stevenson and Kevin McKidd from Rome were attached (with differing levels of certainty) to Marvel films in the same week (Punisher and Thor, respectively).
  • Isn’t the eventual Avengers movie going to kick ass?
  • Garth Ennis on Dan Dare: Hells yes.  Anyone worried that he’ll somehow Preacherize this vaunted character need look no further than his splendid Battler Britton series, which delivered a two-fisted war story with nary a meat-woman in sight.
  • Why is Garth Ennis’ Thor: Vikings series so hard to find?  I’ve been looking for that paperback for years.  And while we’re on the subject, can we get reprints of the Ennis Punisher Marvel Knights stuff?  I’ve never read the last dozen or so issues and it’s killing me.
  • How can I love everything Matt Fraction does and still despise Punisher: War Journal?

That’s all.

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Justice League, at last

This is me, not blogging.  I shall not bother you with the reasons for my absence, but simply get back to comics.  Or rather, film adaptations of comics. Topic for today: an upcoming JLA film.

Cliff notes version: DC and WB are preparing to make a JLA film using the same motion capture techniques you’ll see if you risk $10 on the Niel Gaiman-penned Beowulf adaptationThe writer is the same guy who called out George for double-dipping at that wake.  It would be entirely separate from the continuity of the current Batman and Superman franchises, allowing them to tell whatever story the script monkeys at Warner have hammered out.

My gut reaction is to send hearty kudos in the direction of whoever decided to make this movie.  For years I’ve felt that you could make a damn fine superhero movie that wasn’t live action.  A movie like JLA, packed to the gills with godlike characters, makes a perfect test case for an animated superhero feature.  Keeping the continuity divorced from the other franchises is also a pretty clever little manoeuvre. Now you can have a Batman who’s as expereienced and respected as he is in the comics, and it might almost make sense for him to be running with people who could destroy the world twice over just by thinking.  Furthermore, we won’t have to wait until there’s a Flash movie, a Wonder Woman movie, a Martian Manhunter movie, etc. before we see them all in the same film (although I have nothing but high hopes for the route Marvel is taking, I just fear that given the pace DC’s been putting out adaptations, we’d be waiting until 2025).

My one reservation is that the motion capture technique sorta weirds me out.  I know this is bullshit, because I just praised DC for choosing to make an animated film, but I can’t help watch the Beowulf trailers and think “If they wanted Angelina Jolie’s character to look exactly like Angelina Jolie, why animate her at all?”.  I prefer a more animated look, wherein the character need not be quite so photo-realistic.  But this is a minor quibble.  I am stoked for this movie.

By the way, Dwayne McDuffie starts on JLA with the next issue.  Buy it if you enjoy being happy.

Props to Chew for bringing that article to my attention.

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ceebeegeebee at the racks roundup

Having been away on and off for the last little while, I haven’t really reviewed any comics.  Luckily, I bought a fat stack of the things yesterday, and will now tell you what I thought of them in 7 words (contractions count as one):

 Punisher #50 : 🙂 Chaykin draws Barracuda, Frank gets a surprise.

 Chronicles of Wormwood #6: 🙂 This funny and thoughtful series ends well.

 Detective Comics #835: 😦 Weak story plus lacklustre art equals lame.

Midnighter #10: 😦 Much better when Ennis was writing it.

Batman #666: 😐 Futuristic, apocalyptic, satanic, and yet somehow underwhelming.

The Immortal Iron Fist #7: 🙂 Loved it despite some jarring art changes.

Queen & Country #32: 😐 Good, but tardier than All Star Batman.

The Programme #1: 😐 Muddled story not saved by Maleevesque art.

World War Hulk #3: 🙂 Banner appears, and he’s pissed off too.

Thor #2: 🙂 I missed number one, but this works.

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If he’s back, Steve Rogers can’t be far behind

In no way related to comics, but creepy enough that people must see it.

Notice the horrer etched on the features of the balding man at 0:03: his pitiful visage contorted with anguish at the sight of a hideously reanimated popcorn spokesman:

 orville-will-not-stay-dead.jpg

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