« With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. » — Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
And now, a piece from — gasp — 2022! It’s at once most timely and a link to the dim past, with WOT? favourite Rick Geary drawing nimble parallels* to Mr. Poe’s famous tale of arrogant (and happy and dauntless and sagacious) Prince Prospero’s well-earned comeuppance. This other great plague, however, isn’t greeted with hubris by our everyman protagonists. While Poe provides the spirit and the starting point, Geary wends his own way, bless his soul.
Ahoy Comics‘ series of Poe-themed anthologies are of course uneven — such is their nature — but their peaks are joltingly, exceptionally good, and they make the whole enterprise quite worthwhile.
A Tale of The Great Plague appeared in Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death no. 4 (Jan. 2022, Ahoy Comics).
*and also, you might say, to The Fall of the House of Usher and perhaps even The Tell-tale Heart. Clever chap, this Geary.
Today, Paul Reubens (born Paul Rubenfeld on Aug. 27, 1952) celebrates (in the coolest style, to be sure) his seventieth birthday. What’s he got to do with comics? Well, he obviously reads them, and his alter-ego, Pee-wee Herman, once met legendary small-scale comics hero Bazooka Joe.
This momentous occasion took place on the back of card no. 18 (of 33) from Topps’ delirious Pee-wee’s Playhouse set (1988). Introductions were arranged by that dapper bon vivant, Mark Newgarden.
At one time, during Pee-wee’s heyday, I dated for a few months this girl from a, to put it mildly, conservative family. Her little brother was expressly forbidden from watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse, for fear that ‘it might turn him gay’. Live and learn… do check out this smart list of The Best 25 Pee-wee’s Playhouse Moments.
Happy birthday Paul, and a great weekend to you, Pee-wee!
*a grateful tip of the hat to Mark Newgarden for the inside dope!
« Somebody said that drawing a page of comics ought to be as easy as writing a letter to a friend. So I did just that. I took a bit of paper and drew in ink whatever came into my head. I tried to surprise myself. If I made a mistake it would just have to stay there.» — Brian Bolland
Brian Bolland‘s habitual style is easy to recognize, and co-admin RG and I are both fond of it. But there was a time when the normally meticulous Bolland decided to do something different, something much more sketchy and spontaneous. The result was the vaguely Armenian-sounding Mr. Mamoulian, who doesn’t look much like one of Brian Bolland’s ankle-biters (unless one is the proud owner of a perceptive eye)… until he encounters some pretty women, which are a dead giveaway.
Mr. Mamoulian, a pervy sort of ‘older’ (40-ish?) guy prone to bouts of nihilism and crippled by self-doubt, engages in the sort of things listless people do, when they are not quite sure how to occupy their time*: sit on park benches while others are at work, shuffle stuff around their apartment from point A to point B (and back again), enjoy a cuppa, and stare at the ceiling after waking up in the middle of the night. He is obsessed with feminine beauty, but uneasy with the ramifications of being obsessed with it. Rattled by the passage of time, irked by life’s idiosyncrasies, trapped in and by his body, he’s nevertheless a silly and rather comforting presence as we follow him on one of his aimless traipses around the rainy countryside, witness one of his exchanges with his imaginary naked lady friend (Bubbles Bourbasch), or coo at his surprisingly congenial friendship with punkette Evelin Shit-Face.
* These days, of course, one just stares into a cellphone/binge-watches a show on whatever streaming service, which is prompted by the same impulse, but it somewhat less romantic.
Mr. Mamoulian is arguably a peephole right into Bolland’s id, but it’s not at all an uncomfortable experience (unlike, say, peeking into the mind of Chester Brown, who creeps me out in a big way), even when the strip goes creepily dreamlike, or addresses uncomfortable topics (for some, the couple of bondage-related pages – not included here to avoid ruffling feathers – would be it; apparently ‘Bolland is noted by some for his use of bondage imagery‘, though I honestly think that’s a bit of an overstatement). In the end, Mamoulian’s character is casually tapping into many sources of frustration and confusion that rattle around most human heads. He is relatable.
Bolland calls Mr. Mamoulian ‘not very good’, but I obviously disagree with this assessment, as you’ve probably noticed by now. I love the sketchiness of the art, its surreal energy. The strip is, by turns, hilarious, depressing and always very, very British (and not just because of the continuous tea-drinking). I believe we can all relate to Mamoulian’s struggles with being alive, and the notions of freedom and art. We also get tantalizing glimpses of punk and metal scene through Evie and Steve’s interludes.
In terms of style, both in terms of art and storytelling, I suppose this strip fits comfortably into a set of British semi-autobiographical strips from the mid to late 80s – Eddie Cambpell’s Alec and Glenn Dakin’s Abraham Rat, for example, both of them also gloriously funny and contemplative and excellent. As a matter of fact, Mr. Mamoulian was first published in Paul Gravett‘s Escape Magazine* (read a lovely article about it here**), home of Cambell and Dakin’s strips as well…
* Mr. Mamoulian first appeared in Escape no. 11 (1987).
** To quote from the aforementioned article, Glenn Dakin in The Comics Journal no. 238, October 2001, explained that Escape “provided a focal point for people. People would meet up and discuss their dreams and ideas and get together as friends or have arguments and fall out and sometimes even if somebody annoys you or if somebody didn’t seem to have respect for your work, that would be enough to fill you with enough anger to go out there and try to prove them wrong.” Recently, John Bagnall told me, “To some readers at the time, Escape Artists were sometimes generalized as the school of strips “where nothing happened”, but their approaches were actually much more disparate. As for the social scene, there was a loose sense of unity when we would meet up in London, though naturally not everyone got on well or were even huge fans of certain people’s work.
« Contained in these works were not only all the important philosophical developments of modern society… there were even answers to as yet unposed questions. » — Cypher has an epiphany
This week’s topic reminded me of the crucial role an enlightened comic shop owner, especially pre-internet, could play in one’s edification in the medium. Case in point: while I can’t consider him a mentor, my old comic shop guy, being adventurous and open-minded, made a lot of obscure titles available, without necessarily pushing them on his customers. And in a world of ‘super-heroes or bust’, such availability is crucial.
Which brings us to Mr. Brad Teare (b. 1956, Moscow, Idaho). I’ve always had special fondness for comics that bloomed outside the usual channels, like hardy plant life rising up in cracks and miraculously subsisting on nearly nothing.
From what I can tell, Teare’s first professional comics work appeared in a non-consecutive pair of issues of Heavy Metal magazine, during that blessed but oh-so-brief ‘Tundra‘ period when surprisingly enlightened Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman published, at considerable loss (between 9 and 14 million simoleons), some of the finest comics of the 1990s.
Eastman had purchased Heavy Metal in January, 1992. In the March issue, Brad Teare’s Cypher made its first of two appearances in HM, in marked contrast to the magazine’s prevalent ‘dystopias with titties for arrested adolescents’ aesthetic.
The following year, Teare self-published (under the Crypto Graphica banner, out of Providence, Utah, pop. 7,000 or so) Cypher no. 1, with a cover clamouring that it contained the ‘Complete Cypher Trilogy!’. Teare intended to produce further issues, but the market evidently wasn’t built for it. The book is so obscure that even the Grand Comics Database (GDC) has never heard of it. But my comic shop guy did place an order, and found at least one receptive reader eager to snap up a copy. I waited and waited for a second issue, but in vain.
Then, four years down the road, Gibbs-Smith, “a proud independent publisher and distributor“, founded in 1969, also Utah-based… and still around, assembled and issued a compact (22,5 x 16 cm) hardcover Cypher collection, gathering material that Teare must have intended for at least a couple more issues of his series. Aside from an oddly ‘meh’ cover, overworked and underwhelming, it’s a gorgeous package. It also has managed to fly below the GCD’s radar all these years.
In the meantime, Teare kept his hand in, providing a pair of highlights to DC/Paradox Press’ well-written but frustratingly visually scattershot The Big Book Of series (1994-2000), also finding success as a freelance illustrator (Random House, The New York Times, Sony, Turner Interactive, Flying Buffalo) in all manners of media.
Though he’s nowadays a celebrated and prolific painter of the Utah landscape, he hasn’t altogether turned his back on comics, bless his soul. The final chapter of Cypher (to date?), ‘Sub-Wayward’, introduced, in the story-within-a-story tradition, scientist turned reluctant underground hero The Subterranean. And so, long story short, we find ourselves with a Teare book that’s readily available (for the time being)!
« This comic details the thrilling origin of The Subterranean from his humble beginnings at HyperLabs in New York City to his role as sole defense against a terrible evil perpetrated by the Thanatos twins, former colleagues at HyperLabs. This character of The Subterranean is a spin-off from the critically acclaimed graphic novel Cypher. »
Given that I grew up in the days when PC games were just starting to be a thing (what a pleasure it is to reminisce about Secret Agent, Crystal Caves, or Jill of the Jungle…), anything pixelated immediately gives me a warm rush and a sense of pleasant nostalgia, be it the quiet appeal of Toyoi Yuuta‘s art or modern ‘pixel art’ games that go for that retro feel (the dark glory of Blasphemous, the cozy feel of Stardew Valley!). As for comics, I suspect most are drawn on a computer these days, but few of them use pixel art per se. One look at Plastic Dog, and it was puppy love, especially given its acerbic sense of humour.
Be as it may, Wagenbroth did something interesting: he designed the strip Plastic Dog in 2000 specifically for perusal on early pocket computers (such as Pocket PC or Palm OS), which had a black and white screen of 160×160 pixels. In 2004, colourized versions migrated to weekly newspaper Die Zeit, printed within its pages, but also available as downloads on their website.
The French publisher L’Association released a 26-page collection of Plastic Dog strips, translated into French from German by Eugénie Pascal. As far as I know, no official English translation exists, aside from maybe one or two random strips (probably translated by Wagenbreth himself). The following pages are scans from this French edition.
The following is the last PD strip, and readers are thanked at the bottom for their many emails and downloads. There’s also something about a free TV as a reward, but I wouldn’t bank on it 😉
Wagenbreth recently had an exhibition at Montréal’s UQAM university, which to my regret I completely missed… due to finding out about it far too late (i.e. now). Here is the poster for it:
* « Every day my metal friend Shakes my bed at 6am Then the shiny serving clones Run in with my telephones »
« The autobiographical narrations by Cruse examining everything from Acid and UFOs, to TV punditry and death itself are priceless! So read on, and enjoy the work of a true master of wit, wisdom, and weirdess! And tell you friends to buy this book! It’s just a matter of time before all copies are seized and burned! For soon a cleansing will surely be upon us! » —Jay Lynch*
Alabama cartoonist Howard Cruse (1944-2019) is usually recognized as the author of Stuck Rubber Baby (1995), a serious graphic novel about a young gay man whose life gets swept up in the American Civil Rights Movement. It was lauded by many, some praising it for its ability to demonstrate that comics can appeal to adults (Harvey Pekar), some for its place in the comic book canon as the ‘Great American Graphic Novel’ (Justin Hall). I am not denying its historical importance, of course, but I am slightly allergic to this idea of the Important Work of Art™.
Once upon a time, my favourite Cruse material was Barefootz (more about further down), but that has changed over the years. My current treasured possession (gift of co-admin RG!) is Dancin’ Nekkid With the Angels (1987, Kitchen Sink Press), which collects some previously unpublished material as well as stories that appeared in various underground publications (Snarf, Bizarre Sex, Gay Comix, of which Cruse was a founding editor**, Dope Comix…) as well as in Village Voice, Heavy Metal, etc. The book was published in a print run limited to 1,082 copies, and strangely enough, some are still available for purchase here, a sad testament to Cruse’s relative lack of renown.
This anthology includes its share of my favourite Cruse pieces (to name a few, Unfinished Pictures, about an artist overstimulated by his own art; the absolutely brutal Creepy Snuff Porn, a satirical piece about the Meese commission of pornography; Dirty Old Lovers, featuring two older gays, Clark Stobber and Luke Tewba, prowling the streets in search of goofy, sexy fun), but the one that lingers most in memory, having sub-rented a permanent room in my brain, is the pitch-perfect, heart-breaking Billy Goes Out (1980), interestingly not even included in the best-of collection The Best Sides of Howard Cruise (2012, Boom Town). Here it is.
Since I mentioned it earlier, I’d also like to include two pages from Barefootz, a pleasantly surreal, somewhat drug-fueled strip. Its sense of humour is a gentle one, though it demands an ability to enjoy free-form association and controversial topics (death, abortion, cannibalism…), although the latter are inserted with such childlike enjoyment that I am hard-pressed to imagine somebody taking offense. The strip debuted in a university newspaper in 1971, migrating a year later to a few Denis Kitchen publications (Snarf, Commies from Mars, Marvel-packaged Comix Book), and then to its very own home, Barefootz Funnies.
« Compared to fellow underground comic creators, Cruse’s Barefootz character was easy to label “too cute” to be underground, and legend has it that Barefootz Funnies was widely despised by many artists from the era. Barefootz Funnies took an interesting journey from 1975 to 1979. When Barefootz debuted as a comic character in 1971, Cruse was still in the closet about being gay. Cruse later admitted the character was not the most representative of his own personality, since Barefootz wasn’t gay. But in Barefootz no. 2, Cruse revealed that Barefootz’s artist buddy Headrack was gay. This type of revelation ran counter to Barefootz’s reputation as being too cutesy to be part of the underground comic revolution. Cruse’s publicly emerging sexual orientation in real life was leading him to become more bold in his comics, which created ambivalence about the cartoony style and nature of the Barefootz character. Cruse finished the series with one final issue, which featured the cathartic “Barefootz Variations,” a story that summed up his mixed feelings about Barefootz and about cartooning itself. » [source at ComixJoint]
Barefootz himself is a man with inexplicably large and always bare feet, who lives with hundreds of cockroach roommates and a petulant under-the-bed monster called Gloria who coughs up frogs when she’s displeased.
* I don’t think I’m imagining the note of bitterness in Jay Lynch‘s voice when he says that ‘cleansing will surely be upon us‘; a cartoonist who has lived through the purges of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling on obscenity, followed by the aforementioned Meese Commission on pornography in 1986, which severely limited the retail outlets carrying underground comics and empowered humourless censors, surely has cause to be embittered.
** In 1979, Denis Kitchen asked Cruse to be an editor of an anthology featuring the work of gay comic artists. Although he hadn’t officially come out as gay at that point, Cruse decided that to refuse would be cowardly, and the first issue of Gay Comix was published in 1980.
« In the summer of 1977, New York City was bankrupt. Times Square was run-down and dangerous at night, subways were decrepit, with floor-to-ceiling graffiti and no air-conditioned cars in the underground roast. A garbage strike left mountains of uncollected trash and evil-looking rats scurrying underfoot. A serial killer, Son of Sam, terrorized the city and when a blackout hit in July, looters tore up the town. I was in heaven. »
I first encountered American artist Peter Kuper (b. 1958) through Mad’s Spy vs. Spy feature, which he took over as scripter and illustrator with Mad Magazine no. 356 (April 1997). At that point, I had only seen creator Antonio Prohías‘ take on that strip, and I was impressed with Kuper’s style and energy.
But my favourite of his books is Drawn to New York: an Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City (2013, PM Press), both for the wide variety of styles used in this loosely-themed collection of strips, doodles and sketches, and for its beating urban heart. It captures a part of New York City that I love – not its glamour nor its electricity-guzzling lights, and definitely not its famous fops and varnished coquettes, but its boisterous mix of cultures and the seedy, scaly alligator underbelly. It’s not the same city it was in the mid 70s and early 80s – the era of Kuper’s reminiscences on the subject – but you can still spot remnants of the past in older neighbourhoods.
As mentioned earlier, Kuper executes a number of styles with ease, but he is most easily recognized by that ‘spray-painted stencil thing’ he does so well, as well as his favourite palette of dark reds:
One of the more memorable stories of Drawn to New York is the following three pager, following the nocturnal adventures of Peter and his friend Adam as they scale a bridge and awkwardly navigate the social etiquette involved in engaging the services of a blowjob prostitute:
Here’s one of the many cynical pieces:
The following is a page from the mute Twenty-Four Hours, which chronicles the strikingly different lives of NYC denizens as they go about their day:
All the above images are excerpted from Drawn to New York, but I’d also like to include a bonus: a strip published in Bleeding Heart no. 5 (August 1993, Fantagraphics) which fits today’s theme rather well.
« Marc Hempel (born May 25, 1957) is an American cartoonist/comics artist best known for his work on The Sandman with Neil Gaiman. » And with this sentence starts my diatribe.
In an ideal universe, any blurb about Marc Hempel would open with a mention of his solo work (Gregory, Tug & Buster), or, if one must discuss joint efforts off the bat, his excellent work with Mark Wheatley on Breathtaker and Mars would also rate highly on the list of comics worth alluding to. This universe, as you have surely noticed, is sorely lacking in perfection. However, this is a microcosm of ne plus ultra our blog, so please bear with me while I gush about Hempel’s lovely ink lines and his talent for humorous repartee while throwing a snide sidelong look at Gaiman, a sort of a persona non grata here at WOT. Oh, don’t boil over, kind reader – the latter has an army of fanboys to rush to his defense.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away (I kid, though 1995 simultaneously feels like ten years and half a century ago) there was a hilarious yet poignant series called TUG & buster, spanning seven issues published between 1995 and 1998.
TUG: a brain-dead hunk (Hempel himself used ‘mildly retarded’ as a descriptor), lethally attractive to full-bosomed babes, despite dubious personal hygiene and a highly-flammable pompadour.
buster: a shrimp of a kid with an abysmal case of hero worship and no chest hair whatsoever to speak of.
The capitalisation was presumably meant to emphasise Tug’s larger-than-life stature, while Buster’s lower case seems to poke fun at the kid’s weeness, both physical and emotional. Overcompensating for Tug’s laconic nature (he does not utter a single word), Buster prattles on like a broken record about manliness and nookie, simultaneously functioning as a sort of inner monologue narrator for Tug. That the latter most likely doesn’t have an inner monologue is irrelevant.
I dare you to read ‘my mizzen mast is hoisted’ without giving at least one snort:
If one were to disengage Buster from his general obsession with Tug – a truly painful process which would require more than one scalpel – and peek under the crackling veneer of his machismo, one would discover that he’s actually not nearly as dopey as he seems. He just has a very precise (and very wrong) idea of what constitutes a man.
Not untypically, my favourite characters are not the protagonists, but two weirdos who complete the main cast: the hilariously, uncomfortably inappropriate Genital Ben and lost soul, over-analytical Stinkfinger (real name John).
If I’ve managed to sufficiently intrigue you, I recommend purchasing the lovingly printed, hard-cover collection, The 4-Fisted Misadventures of Tug & Buster (1998, Graphitti Designs; Image Comics for the softcover edition). However, that has been out of print for a while, so an interested party on a tight budget might consider acquiring single issues of T&G which are, for the most part, two bucks a pop at mycomicshop.
Some never-seen-before Tug & Buster vignettes leaked over to humour anthology Naked Brain, advertised as ‘subversive satire!’ and ‘sublime silliness!’ (I hesitate to slap the label of ‘sublime’ on anything, but otherwise, it is as advertised). Hempel stuffed these three issues (ushered into the world in 2002) full of odds and ends, both inedited or previously published on Sunny Fundays. I think we’ve covered enough T&B ground for now, so here’s a peek at a different type of material:
Tentacular greetings to all! Today’s post finds us with our feet firmly planted in France (well, maybe with one toe dipping into Belgium, as usual). As friend Barney might say, come for the Important & Serious Artist discussion, stay for the ‘naked man/nubile woman’ fringe benefits…
Many are fans of Jean Henri Gaston Giraud, far better known under his nom de plume, Mœbius. Co-admin RG and my humble self do not belong to this category, which is possibly why he has never been mentioned in WOT before. RG thinks he’s ‘the Serge Gainsbourg of French comics‘ (not a compliment); I do not specifically dislike his work… nor am I interested enough in it to investigate. We could argue about Mœbius’ profound influence on science-fiction and cyperpunk and his lasting impact on comics until we’re blue in the face, so I suggest we look at some tentacles instead!
The Long Tomorrow was written by American screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and illustrated by Mœbius in 1975. Published in Métal hurlant (nos. 7 and 8) in 1976, it was then picked by Heavy Metal in 1977 for the anglophone market. This story is credited with having heavily influenced a number of movies – Blade Runner gets mentioned a lot, for example. Read the full story (and a little interview with O’Bannon) here.
Speaking of Métal hurlant, this cover offers some quality tentacles from French comics artist/illustrator Jean Solé:
Solé liked the absurd, the grotesque, and the psychedelic, so naturally he has more tentacles on offer than just one cover!
The last offering of today’s TT is this very dramatic action scene by Claude Serre. Is the surgeon trying to stuff these tentacles back in, or extract them? We shall never know.
« Hawaii can be heaven and it can be hell. » — Jeff Goldblum
I’ve long been quite partial to Dennis Fujitake‘s work, from his fan days providing spot illustrations and covers to the Rocket’s Blast Comicollector and the fledgling The Comics Journal, then on to his splendid SF collaborations with writer Jan Strnad, Dalgoda (1984-86, Fantagraphics) and Keith Laumer’s Retief (1987-88, Mad Dog Graphics). After that, his work began to appear more sporadically: a wee bit of Elfquest in the mid-90s, a short piece here and there. If memory serves, this lower profile coincided with Hawai’i native Fujitake returning to live in the Aloha State, where he resides to this day. The Hawai’i Herald, “Hawai’i’s Japanese American Journal” currently publishes his comic strip 8-0-8.
Anyway, our current selection, Lil’ Keiki, was a sadly brief collaboration with writer Len Yokoyama released independently and yielding two lovely issues in 2005. To my eye, Fujitake’s mature style occupies a cozy sweet spot midway between the influences of Steve Ditko (Fujitake always *got* Ditko) and Ernie Colón.
To coincide with the launch of Lil’ Keiki, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin ran this profile, which helpfully illuminates the circumstances of the feature’s creation.