(Don McGregor, Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard; Marvel -- originally published 1972, 1977)
"...all I wanted to do was write stories. And I wanted to write stories that meant something to me. All I wanted to do was write my books and be left alone." This is what Don McGregor told us when Essential Black Panther Volume 1 was released, and he ain't talkin' no platitudes. McGregor writes from his heart. It's just what he does. Love him or hate him, it's hard to be indifferent to his work and if you don't have a reaction to the two storylines that make up Essential Black Panther Volume 1 then I don't want to know you, you are dead to me.
Because back there in the 70's, when these stories were originally published, Marvel was trying to find something for McGregor to do. They thought they would just throw him a bone, toss him this "Jungle book" and tell him when he failed that, hey, they gave him a shot. By trying to bury Don, though, they helped unearth his genius. And that's what the work inEssential Black Panther Volume 1 is -- genius. These pages are a Master Class in story telling, and they're not just that (which is so much) -- they're also groundbreaking on so many levels.
Boy, let me tell you, growing up in Texas in the early 80s had its share of challenges. Foremost among these, though, was the fact that everyone was doing their best to convince me that a nuclear holocaust was imminent and I should be doing everything in my teenage power to prepare for this apocalypse. Nothing spells long sessions on a therapist's couch in your future than stirring up a cocktail of hormones and genocide, a push for life combined with a fear of death. And so it was.
It was the Reagan years after all.
In December of 1983, to add further fuel to my fire-engorged nightmares, Paramount Pictures released a nice little film called Testament. The film tells a lovely little tale of the trials and tribulations of the Wetherly family. The Wetherlys lived in a suburb of San Francisco, and the film is about them as they cope with the "realities" of a nuclear war. Nothing about this is fun, or pleasant, or upbeat.
Sure Becky Cloonan is best known as an artist and her art is, hands down, some of my favorite being produced in comics today. But Becky Cloonan also knows how to write. Her 2012 self-published book The Mire is as much a treat for the story it tells through Cloonan's writing, as it is a treat for the eyes through her art. It is a success in its intersection between idea and execution – and the idea in this book, the story it tells, its writing, is a tale that among other things is about storytelling itself.
After all, here's a book that opens on the first page with the "SKRITT" of ink on paper, words being formed, a story, perhaps, being told. It demands that you pay attention to the act of writing. It draws attention to itself, to its words, through this conceit. And through this Cloonan, the writer, stands before you. She is not afraid of you trespassing through her swamp, wandering the maze of her castle, or pulling back the curtains of her canopy bed. See, she wants to tell you a story.
Assuming the Mayan Apocalypse doesn't happen, we may just look back at 2012 as the year of Lincoln. This dude is seemingly ubiquitous now -- there's even talk about putting his face on the five dollar bill, naming some logs after him, and carving his likeness into a mountain in South Dakota. I've been seeing that freakin' weedy beard, stovepipe hat and creepy mole everywhere lately. Hell, he may even be more popular than Jesus at this point.
There is hype and pizzazz and iconic posturing all over the place. But into this all this Lincolnizing, there came a quiet tale of a younger man, the Springfield, Illinois Lincoln, the Lincoln of 1837 to 1842, the pre-Mary Todd Lincoln, the Lincoln filled with self-doubt, the Lincoln battling debilitating depression, the Lincoln of Noah Van Sciver's The Hypo from Fantagraphics.
It takes balls to take on the Bard, to recast a minor role into a major player, to transport fair Verona to Brooklyn, to take a classic story of star-crossed lovers and flip it on the B-side in order to tell a tale of heroism and honor, turning "the courageous captain of compliments " into a tragic figure of epic standing. Ron Wimberly has those balls and they are on deft display in Prince of Cats from Vertigo.
When Silva and I reviewed this book last month, we both spent a great deal of time lauding all of its many merits (from its sexiness to its humor, from its inventiveness to its lessons in fellatio) and we could find very little, if anything, wrong with the entire package.
The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound (1966) is an Andy Warhol film made at The Factory. It is 67 minutes long and was filmed in 16mm black and white.
The film depicts a rehearsal of The Velvet Underground including Nico, and is essentially one long loose improvisation. Near the end of the film, the rehearsal is disrupted by the arrival of the police, supposedly in response to a noise complaint.
The film was intended to be shown at live Velvet Underground shows during setup and tuning.
Recorded at The Factory, 231 East 47th St., (loft on 4th floor), New York City, 1966.
Archeologists of Shadows Volume 2: Once a Nightmare
(Lara Fuentes, Patricio Clarey; Septagon Studios)
Almost a year ago, I got to review Archeologists of ShadowsVolume 1 for Comics Bulletin and I was very pleased with what I had found. Volume 2 takes up where Volume 1 left off, but this time Patricio Clarey's art is even more breathtaking.
Whatever inconsistencies in storytelling or character development there are in this series -- and there are some (though not many) -- they are easily forgiven because they are subsumed in the expansive world building and intricate creature creation that Clarey commands. His work features drawing on top of digital painting on top of photography on top of sculpture, all of which, when combined, gives a depth and a nuance to each page. The alien nature of Clarey's art is heavy in its presentation, but somehow there is still something familiar about every page, every landscape, every character.
Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.
Fresh on the stands of your more adventurous comic shops or the digital newsstand of your favorite ebook retailer comes Bluewater Production's newMilestones of Artseries. These new short biographical graphic novels present the life stories of six of the nineteenth and twentieth century's finest artists, including Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Keith Haring, Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo.
Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill and Jason Sacks, all fans of great art, decided to sample a few of these books and see if they were worth tributes to the artists that they discuss.
Elkin: The Big Apple, The Windy City, The City of Brotherly Love, Motor City, Sin City, The Big Easy, Stumptown, these are all recognizable nicknames for the places people live. These monikers, as is their nature, imbue each metropolis with a personality, a quirkiness, a life unto themselves. We get an odd sense of what happens in these places by the easy sobriquets we give them, and, in a way, the cities become these places through our casual naming. But what if your city's nickname was The Supermarket? What kind of life goes on in there? In Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson'sSupermarket, it's all up in the Wu-Tang. As Method Man said, "'Cash rules everything around me.''
The world of Supermarketis a world of commodities. Everything has a price including honor, self-worth, and status. Experience is commoditized, personality is weighed in the wallet, and our interactions become transactions. It's dollar, dollar bill, y'all and god help you if you aren't possessed of fat stacks.
In a world ruled by cash, though, it's the criminals who are king, and in Supermarketit's the Yakuza and the Porno Swedes who wear the crown and hold the strings. In this book, the underground economy is more powerful than the corporate entities. Although in reality, they may be one and the same as they profit and ravage at the same time.
So what do you do if you are a pubescent female 16-year-old only child of a well-to-do family in this situation? You do what teenage girls do best. You skulk and you sulk, act petulant and holier-than-thou. You condemn the society that has afforded you the comforts and the coffees, the cars and the security. Of course you do. You're a teenage girl. You're rarefied. You're entitled. You're the target market.
But what happens when it all turns upside down? What do you do when everything you took for granted and railed against is suddenly lying in a pool of blood on the expensive tile floor of your foyer. Well, you react, don't you. You break and you escape and you become who you are.
Wood has referred to this book as "a mafia book, a sci-fi joint, cyberpunk, crime, action-adventure." For me, it was as much of a wild ride as it was a tongue-in-cheek condemnation of our capitalist tendencies.
Meyers: The immigrant experience. The American dream. The promise of prosperity, of health and of joy. Believing we are more than stardust, more than motes in God’s eye. Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, in its simplicity, peels back the layers of what it means to be human, how we perceive each other and how we foolishly think we can negotiate our existence with the infinite. The story is more than a man who thinks he can strike a deal with God, it’s about how we as humans strive to find meaning and understanding in the randomness of life, that there must be a reason for all this and to mold order out of chaos.
Elkin: Order out of chaos, indeed, Meyers. That's the very purpose of faith, isn't it? Faith is the eternal optimism, the hope we swaddle ourselves in, tight, against the seemingly meaningless horrors and disappointments that we encounter on a daily basis. We imbue our rational nature with the sense that there must be a REASON behind the knives that buffet our eyes and tear at our soul.
But it's a fool's game. We are either never privy to the workings of the infinite, or just deluding ourselves to purpose.
Eisner's Contract with God, is, at its very essence, that story. It is a tale of the trials of faith in a brutal world, what happens when we abandon faith and try to get it back, the futility of associating how we live our lives to the rewards we garner and the defeats we suffer. A Contract with Godis cynical in this regard, and, in its cynicism, tells the larger story of human endeavor.
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2005'sInside Deep Throatdirected by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.
Elkin: OK, Sacks, how's this for a tagline for a movie: “It was filmed in 6 days for 25 thousand dollars. The government didn't want you to see it. It was banned in 23 states. It has grossed over 600 million dollars. And it is the most profitable film in motion picture history”? Wow. Would you believe that the film being reference here is a flick about a woman whose clitoris is found deep in the back of her throat and the only way she can achieve orgasm is by engaging in cunnilingus? Only in America.
Inside Deep Throat is an amazing documentary that covers the story of one of the best-known sex films in the world, Deep Throat. It provides everything you could want in a documentary about this subject: interviews with the stars and creators, a historical perspective, behind the scenes footage, an examination of the critical and societal reaction it caused, an exploration of myths and legends surrounding the film, and an update as to what has happened to the principle players since it was released. It's a complete package, one you can really wrap your lips around to get every ounce of information.
As much as this is a story about the film DeepThroat, it is also an examination of American culture, specifically the American culture of the 1970's, the one still reeling from Watergate and the dissolution of the hippie flower power dreams. It is a tale of a culture clash, one that still rages today, as much as it is a perlustration of what constitutes art as opposed to pornography.
(David Doub, Sarah Elkins, Danielle Alexis St. Pierre, Joamette Gil; Dusk)
David Doub's The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney is, besides being a mouthful of alliteration, solicited as a modern day "penny dreadful." In the 19th century, a penny dreadful was a serialized salacious publication full of lurid scenes and titillating whatnots and hobnobs. So, needless to say, as a fan of things lurid and titillating, I was all on board for what this book had to offer. Unfortunately, I found little lurid and nothing titillating about Miss Tilney's trials and tribulations.
What I did find was a barely entertaining story about a plucky young reporter who, given her first big break in the business, finds herself enmeshed in a prison break, tales of black magic, and the wrong end of a big white tiger.
Ardden Entertainment will be releasing Mixtape#2 by Brad Abraham and Jok. Our middle-aged Wonder Boys, Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin, cue up the album, dust off their VHS, and fire up their memories of the late 1980s and delve into this retro, music-filled, black and white, small press release.
Jason Sacks: So we're both old enough to remember when it was tough to be the kid who's into the cool music. It was hard to keep up with everything, and, if you were the trendsetter, you were one of the coolest kids in school. InMixtape#2 Lorelei Cross has that moment of cool -- for a tantalizingly brief moment.
Daniel Elkin: Indeed she does. In this issue, Lorelei's less than cushy internship at WRVR 103 (The Sound of the Coast) -- a station which, when we first hear it in the book, is playing Bel Biv Devoe for god's sake -- turns into a goldmine of opportunity due to access to the best music ever recorded ever by anybody -- and you can't tell me any differently!
Jason: I love how Lorelei finds a secret cave full of great music at the station, and it's like an archeologist opening King Tut's tomb in a way... she finds all kinds of treasures.
Daniel: And they are those special treasures, too, the ones that, once unearthed, make you king even if it's only for a little while, because once you got them, everyone who doesn't, they want you to give them a taste.
Unless they don't. And if they don't, then they are just a bunch of Bel Biv Devoetees anyway and are obviously just lesser folk. As Lorelei says, "Do I want the Debbies and Tiffanys at school to be into the Replacements?"