"Comic books are cheap, shoddy, anonymous. Children spend their good money for bad paper, bad English, and more often than not, bad drawing." -- Dr. Fredrick Wertham, 1950s anti-comic book crusader, quoted from his book,
Seduction of the Innocent.
You know, Dr. Wertham was almost right. If he'd added the words "Ninety-nine percent of…" to the beginning of his blanket assessment, I'd enthusiastically agree with it. I receive dozens of comic book titles in the mail each week (sent to me for review), and I toss almost all of them in the bin because they suck. Once in a while, a gem appears, making it worth opening the packages instead of tossing them straight into the trash.
That's why I'm happy to announce our new monthly roundup of comic book recommendations by Brian Heater. Brian's a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of a wonderful comics blog, The Daily Cross Hatch. In his column, Brian will be presenting lesser-known comics that made it past his crap-filter. Please join me in welcoming Brian! -- Mark
Comics Rack 01
Nurse Nurse, by Katie Skelly (Sparkplug Books)
If there's any justice in the world, Katie Skelly's mini comics collection will one day be adapted into some strange, low budget sci-fi-sploitation flick, complete with firework explosions and barely visible fishing wires suspending strange and wonderful spaceships on their journeys across the solar system. And if, god forbid, Skelly should lose creative input along the way, perhaps some over entitled studio executive will chose to spell things out a bit more clearly, with a Corman-esque title like Vixen Nurses from Venus.
Not that Nurse Nurse isn't a perfectly adequate title, of course, but if we're ever going to sell Skelly's vision of outerspace anime filtered through the lo-fi comic zine aesthetics of John Porcellino and the like to late night basic cable, we're going to have to punch that name up a bit, right? Does Nurse Nurse convey the sort of butterfly-goop-induce psychedelic trips and panda-headed space pirate planet-hopping adventure the New York-based cartoonist has managed to convey in her child-like thick penned line? Perhaps -- and really, as long as we can squeeze in a handful of tracks from cosmic dreamboats Quality Confections -- a sort of teen-pop version of the Spiders From Mars -- onto the soundtrack of our hypothetical adaptation, the box office returns should be enough to fund a Neptune-based sequel.
Blindspot #2, by Joseph Remnant (Self-published)
If we were Joseph Remnant, we'd be rubbing elbows with Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton on some French villa as we speak. After all, the cartoonist was handpicked by Harvey Pekar to draw Cleveland, the book that has, sadly, something of a posthumous epilogue for the autobio comics pioneer turned reluctant movie star -- an encapsulation of the writer's life entwined with a brief history of the city he loved. Thankfully, however, instead of hobnobbing with counter culture comics bigwigs, Remnant opted to put together a long-awaited second issue of his self-published floppy, Blindspot.
Like his heavily-hatched artwork, which has drawn more than its share of well-deserved comparisons to Crumb (thanks, at least in part, to the Pekar connection), the decision to serialize books in this manner harkens back to another era, increasingly rare in the face of full-length graphic novels, which, among other things, fit more comfortable on the shelves of a Barnes & Noble. The decision provides, among other things, the opportunity to break away from Pekar's well-defined vision, which has driven Remnant's most prominent work thus far. Blindspot's best pieces are its shorter ones. The lead off tale of a self-obsessed indie musician and a single-page portrait of a jovial security guard are highlights, along with the customary Pekar tribute and a back page wink to a storyline abandoned from the series' first issue.
Sammy the Mouse Book One, by Zak Sally (La Mano)
Visualize, for a moment, what Walt Disney's nightmares must have looked like -- now imagine what William Burroughs must have seen on those occasions when the dream machine beamed happy visions into his sleeping brain. Sammy the Mouse has made a home in the overlap between these two worlds, bossed around by a disembodied deity, hassled by an abusive alcoholic duck dressed like Captain Ahab and generally terrorized by a pointy-toothed skeletal creature with a knack for popping up at the most inopportune moments.
Sammy the Mouse is a strange fever dream of the book, initially off-putting in the somewhat grotesque filter it applies to Toon Town, but ultimate totally engrossing in the unfolding of its strange and complex storyline. This new edition is also beautifully crafted, handprinted by the author himself, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, which allowed him to move this collection of minis to his own self-run press.
San Diego Diary, by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books)
Okay, okay, so this is an old one (released this time last year), but what better way to prepare oneself from the spiritually straining mindfuck that is San Diego Comic Con than the story of an indie cartoonist plunged into nerd culture's biggest pop-culture bacchanalia? Anyone who's ever read Gabrielle Bell's autobiographical work can tell you that the artist clearly just wasn't made for these times, a fact evidenced by extreme social awkwardness in even the most subdued of social gatherings. This, placed against a background of throngs of costumed showgoers (please see exhibit A: the morbidly obese Batman on the cover) and MTV pool parties makes for an incredibly entertaining affair.
Granted, Bell's arguably at her best when indulging magical realist flights of fancy (see: Cecil and Jordan in New York), but San Diego Diary offers a wonderful portrait of the gulf between the worlds of independent and mainstream comics cultures.The inclusion of roughs at the end is a nice added bonus as well, offering some insight into the sketchbook, which never leaves Bell's side.