Plastic Dog in a Plastic Age*

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.

Henning Wagenbreth, born in 1962 in East Germany (which is perhaps what partially gave him a lifelong anti-totalitarian stance), is an illustrator/graphic designer who actually excels in a number of techniques. Lambiek Comiclopedia touts him as ‘German pioneer in comics created with the computer‘; I don’t know enough about the development of electronically-drawn comics specifically in that part of the world to state that with certainty, although this is as good a time as any to mention that Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz‘ wonderful Shatter (1985-1988) is usually credited as the first significant comic book created on computer. Topic for another day, no doubt.

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 EugĂ©nie 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.

Dead Wood. Plastic Dog calls the police to report a stolen wooden cabinet, to find that it’s been removed by the Tree Liberation Army, who bury their ‘felled, deported, dismembered and abused’ friend in the tree cemetery.
The Killer Cars. Plastic Dog goes out to search for his missing child, to find the latter in pieces after being attacked by driverless cars gone rogue. In the final panel, PD says ‘tomorrow, we’ll buy you a nice new body’.
Nothing Ever Happens. ‘A grey day, pure boredom’, bemoans Plastic Dog, ‘I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and everything is so predictable…’
In his never-ending search for new experiences, Plastic Dog stumbles upon a device that proffers guidelines to achieve maximum happiness. Its instructions are not devoid of poetry: ‘give all your money to be eaten by zoo animals’, ‘do 15 squats on top of a chemical factory’, ‘make three loafs of bread laugh in the middle of the night’, ‘plant wind instruments in the garden’. The final piece of advice (‘withdraw into solitude and practice patience’) is what seems to defeat PD’s enthusiasm (seems like in his world, getting lost in the desert is the only way to solitude…)

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 😉

A family visit to the zoo! Touted as the last surviving specimens by the guide, these animals may not quite be what they seem. The flamingo complains, ’12 hours standing on the same leg!’, but Plastic Dog argues that having to constantly hang upside down is much worse.

Wagenbreth recently had an exhibition at MontrĂ©al’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:

~ ds

* « Every day my metal friend
Shakes my bed at 6am
Then the shiny serving clones
Run in with my telephones »

Master of Wit, Wisdom, and Weirdness: Howard Cruse

« 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 Artℱ.

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.

This is Barefootz Funnies no. 2 (Apr. 1976, Kitchen Sink).

~ ds

* 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.

NYC and the Impressionable Young Artist: Peter Kuper’s Drawn to New York

« 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 ProhĂ­as‘ 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:

The healing and restorative powers of a view from a sky-high bridge at night cannot be overestimated.

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.

~ ds

Marc Hempel’s Male Id Funhouse

 « 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 original art for Tug & Buster no. 1 (1995) borrowed from Hempel’s Tumblr. Leaving the watermark on, as removing it seems distinctly impolite!

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).

Every time someone says ‘just a suggestion!’ I can’t help but think of this scene. I love the florid, delicate handwriting Hempel uses for Ben’s… stream of off-colour commentary.
A longer sequence of Stinkfinger stagnating in his apartment ends on a positive note, with him venturing outside after a claustrophobic hallucinatory episode.

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:

Page from Naked Brain no. 2 (2002).
Page from Naked Brain no. 2 (2002).
Naked Brain no. 3 (2002). Hempel is very good with colour.
Page from Naked Brain no. 3 (2002).
Page from Naked Brain no. 3 (2002). This particular episode reminds me of Shel Silverstein‘s very brief play ‘Bus Stop’, which you can read here, starting from page 12.
Page from Naked Brain no. 3 (2002). Not relevant in the slightest to today’s America.

! ds

Tentacle Tuesday: « Do me up like one of your French girls! Â»

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, MƓbius. 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 MƓbius’ 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 original art from Il y a un Prince-Charmant sur Phenixon (Pilote, 1973), published in English in Heavy Metal Magazine v. 4 no. 10 (January 1981) as ‘There Is a Prince Charming on Phenixon’.

The Long Tomorrow was written by American screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and illustrated by MƓbius in 1975. Published in MĂ©tal 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.

Page from the story published in Heavy Metal no. 5 (August 1977).

Speaking of Métal hurlant, this cover offers some quality tentacles from French comics artist/illustrator Jean Solé:

Métal Hurlant no. 3 (July 1975), cover by Jean Solé.

Solé liked the absurd, the grotesque, and the psychedelic, so naturally he has more tentacles on offer than just one cover!

Illustration painted for publication in Pilote in 1985.

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.

Scanned from Serre, a best-of collection published by GlĂ©nat in 2001. This illustration was an excerpt from Serre’s Humour noir et hommes en blanc (“Black Humour and Men in White”), a collection of sombrely jocular drawings on the topic of medicine.

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 5

« 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 ColĂłn.

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.

-RG

Marc Caro, Before the Movies

« The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. » — Oscar Wilde

Marc Caro, born in 1956 in Nantes (birthplace of Jules Verne!), was never a prolific bĂ©dĂ©iste, quite possibly because he liked to spread his talent around: musician, animator, film director, designer, art director
 et j’en passe!

Today, he’s perhaps best remembered for his collaborative work with long-time accomplice Jean-Pierre Jeunet (they met at an animation festival in 1974!), most famously the films Delicatessen (1991) and La citĂ© des enfants perdus (City of Lost Children, 1995), which they co-directed. While Jeunet went on to Alien: Resurrection (with Caro along as design supervisor), Le fabuleux destin d’AmĂ©lie Poulain (most popular French film of all, and a great one for a change!) and his breathtaking adaptation of SĂ©bastien Japrisot‘s Un long dimanche de fiançailles, Caro concentrated on design and art direction. So while nowadays his toil largely occurs behind the scenes, he remains quite active and in great demand.

Back in the early days, though, while juggling animation projects and musical gigs (ah, youth!), Caro created a clutch of brief and brutal vignettes for such fabled publications as MĂ©tal hurlant, Fluide glacial, Charlie Mensuel and, on this side of the pond, Raw. Most of these strips were crafted using the daunting technique of scratchboard; done right, it’s strikingly effective, and in Caro’s nimble hands, it’s done right. Another master of the technique is Switzerland’s Thomas Ott.

Our featured piece was translated into English by Elisabeth Bell and lettered by Lea Hernandez [psst: someone left out a word in the first panel
]. It appeared in The New Comics Anthology, edited by Bob Callahan (1991, Collier Books). In this case, Caro is using a combination of scratchboard and Craftint.

That grotesque cigar chomper, top right, brings to mind the savagery of Marshall Arisman‘s work, but in a different medium.

Sadly, this printing doesn’t quit do justice to the finesse of Caro’s rendering. Compare with an excerpt from the French original:

Caro’s retrospective poster for Paris’ Art brut gallery La Halle Saint Pierre‘s Caro/Jeunet exhibition. Sorry, looks like we’ve all missed it. « Reached at home in Nantes, a few weeks after the vernissage, Marc Caro chuckles when it’s pointed out that even their heads are identical. “I’m not sure who first grew out his goatee, but I was first to lose my hair.” »
One of the Caro/Jeunet exhibition’s treasures: Makeup tests and elements of Caro’s storyboards, on loan from the collection of the great makeup designer (and long-time associate) Nathalie Tissier.

See further samples of Caro’s comics work here, and if you crave yet more, you can’t go wrong with L’Association‘s Caro compendium, Contrapunktique.

-RG

Welcome, One and All, to the Alphabet Soup Kitchen!

« What’s a soup kitchen? » — Paris Hilton

While concocting a post on a favourite oddball obscurity, the one-shot Alphabet Soup Kitchen (1990 Jabberwocky Graphix), I decided to reach out to one of its co-creators, the dapper Wayne ‘Wayno’ Honath, to see if he could shed some light on this delightfully batty project of yore. And did he ever come through!

Wayno’s lavish wraparound cover features most of the issue’s cast, and was coloured by ‘guest Boho Bro’ and publisher Brad W. Foster.

In one of those happy cases of talent and perseverance rewarded, WaynoÂź nowadays splits creative duties on syndicated strip Bizarro with its originator, Dan Piraro (since 2018, though he’d been part of team Bizarro going back to 2009), with WaynoÂź ably handling the dailies and Mr. Piraro the Sundays. It’s a fact: WaynoÂź, thanks to his crisp visual style, sharp gag writing and encyclopedic grasp of cartooning history and archetypes, was just the right ink slinger for the task.

Without further delay, I cheerfully yield the floor to WaynoÂź, his superbly lucid recollections, and some choice letters from the Alphabet Soup Kitchen!

Sure, I remember doing Alphabet Soup Kitchen! Ted Bolman and I had traded minicomics through the mail, and appeared in some of the same publications. We may have collaborated earlier, but I don’t think so.

I don’t recall whose idea the book was, but it sounds like something I’d have done. I liked to define parameters or constraints for projects, and then work to complete the parts. We split up the alphabet so Ted would do the first half of “A,” then I’d do “B,” and we’d alternate to the end. We sent the pages to each other by mail.

There were two different printings. I printed it as one of my “No Way Comics” minis. The interior was black & white, and the wraparound covers were brown ink on an off-white textured stock. I used a local printer for my minis, and most of them were offset printed, not Xeroxed. (I did several “secret” publications in editions of 50 or fewer, and those were Xeroxed.) They’d offer a free ink color once a week, and that’s how the brown ink on the cover came about. I drew the inside cover endpapers.

After my minicomic version was published, Brad Foster contacted me about doing a larger reprint under his Jabberwocky Graphix imprint. I drew a new wraparound cover featuring characters from the interior. I included a photo of two men wearing some sort of jaw-braces to represent the Boho Brothers, and also drew these guys on the cover. I can’t recall whether the endpaper drawings were included in this edition. I have a copy somewhere, probably in my office/storage space. I believe that Brad Foster may have done the color work on the cover. Yes, just confirmed that on the Poopsheet Foundation webpage (a good source of minicomics images and info).

I also included copies of my original printing in one of two multi-packs I offered for sale. This was in a set called THE NO WAY MINICOMIC FUNBAG, which included Boho, Uncontrolled Copy, The World’s Most Dangerous Animal, and one bonus minicomic from my backstock. They were packaged in a plastic bag with a wraparound cover.

Incidentally, the title is an example of a form of wordplay I still use from time to time in Bizarro. I couldn’t find a good descriptive name for this, and I coined the term streptonym, which still hasn’t caught on. I first blogged about it here: https://waynocartoons.blogspot.com/2011/08/whatchamacallit_11.html

That’s as much as I can come up with off the top of my head!

Watch the brief, eerie documentary entitled… Göring’s Ghost.
Nuns with rulers? A classic theme! “The nuns who smacked me and my friends at our small elementary school in New Jersey were Sisters of Charity, a cheap bit of irony that always draws a chuckle when I talk about being on the receiving end of those holy rights and lefts.
To join the Roy Orbison Fan Club, the line forms here.
Perhaps you’d like more details on Tyrone’s rather swanky tie? Say no more… here you go.
In case you doubted it (for shame!), yes, there *is* such a thing as Yiddish Yodeling.
Zachary the Zombie’s version hasn’t been committed to tape, I’m afraid, but here’s a rendition of Less Than Zero by its composer.

I mentioned to WaynoÂź that I enjoyed his cover work for Dana Countryman’s Cool and Strange Music magazine (28 issues, 1996-2003), to which he responded:

Cool & Strange Music was great! I’m still friends with Dana Countryman, and I still admire that he was able to continue self-publishing it for so long, and always on schedule, and he always paid for the art. He was more reliable and professional than a lot of bigger mainstream publications I worked with!

This was the first issue I chanced to get my mitts on. Some back issues of this most excellent publication are still available (at most reasonable prices!) direct from the publisher. Tell Dana we sent you!

Once more, three cheers and my most heartfelt thanks to WaynoÂź for his generosity and kindness. Best of luck with everything!

-RG

Phew, That Was Close!

« Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back. » — Marcus Aurelius

The other day, I chanced upon a Rick Geary piece about tangos with the Angel of death, which returned my mind to a time, when I was but six years of age, and that my parents had gone holidaying, leaving me in the care of some old friends. At their home, I recall perusing some back issues of that evergreen Reader’s Digest (the French-Canadian edition, called SĂ©lection du Reader’s Digest), wherein I encountered some memorable articles, including one about the miraculous survival of people who tumbled from great heights*, unencumbered with parachutes, and another that grimly recounted the calamitous landslide that one night engulfed a village, Saint-Jean-Vianney, just a few kilometres from my hometown.

Ah, but human memory is notoriously fallible and self-deceiving. So I deemed it prudent to inquire whether the events were truly as recollected. A quick call to my folks confirmed that yes, they did toddle off to Europe for three weeks in November of that year (I think my parents are delighted when I quiz them about such matters). The landslide took place in May, so that fits too.

As the close shave lends itself well to comics, I’ve gathered a potpourri of short pieces on the topic. Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a rough ride!

Salt01A

Salt02A
A presumably factual two-pager from New Heroic Comics no. 70 (Jan. 1952, Famous Funnies), featuring artwork by no less an eminence than the great Harry Peter (according to Ger Apeldoorn, which is good enough for me). The whole ‘salt of the earth’ thing rings pretty hokey, but one has to appreciate that this account of selfless heroism wasn’t whitewashed.

GearyNearDeath01AGearyNearDeath02AGearyNearDeath03A

GearyNearDeath04A
This post’s springboard, originally published in Dark Horse Presents no. 82 (Feb. 1994, Dark Horse). From Heavy Metal to National Lampoon, with High Times and The American Bystander in between,  I’ve yet to encounter a publication wherein Mr. Geary’s work failed to rise to the very top with its patented palette of fanciful perspective, sunny understatement and psychological verisimilitude. 

GirlFlewA
An airborne entry from Gordon Johnston‘s Ripley’s Believe It or Not-style syndicated strip ‘It Happened in Canada‘ (1967-81). However, the Wikipedia listing of historical tornadoes in Canada fails to turn up one such whirlwind in 1823. Perhaps it happened in Kansas instead.

Icebox01A

Icebox02A
Pesty baby brother saves the day! Another entry from New Heroic Comics no. 70 (Jan. 1952, Famous Funnies), artist unknown. Astoundingly, a little research (I wouldn’t want to pry further) indicates that a Donald P. Kiselyk, now 73, still resides in New Jersey. Doing the math, he would have been born in 1947, which fits perfectly). I wonder whether he recollects his hour of four-colour glory…

BuriedAliveA
Another It Happened in Canada entry. Looks legit, too, though it seems Johnston didn’t nail the spelling: the resilient gent’s moniker is Myllyla. According to Wikipedia, « At 9:57 in the morning, an avalanche of snow buried the Leduc Camp in British Columbia, killing 27 copper miners working for the Newmont Mining Corporation workers and destroying several buildings. Another 42 of the 68 people buried were rescued on the same day, while a carpenter, Einar Myllyla, was saved three days later from the ruins of a collapsed building. “To their everlasting credit”, author Jay Robert Nash would write later, “rescuers refused to abandon their search until every man in the camp had been accounted for. »

FarSideBrushA
Obviously, I couldn’t leave out this Gary Larson classic.

Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, don’t tease the wild animals, wear your life jacket, look to both sides before crossing the road, and don’t forget to floss. Oh, and call your mother more often; she misses you.

-RG

*the fellow whose tale stayed with me was most likely Lt. I.M. Chisov, « … a Russian airman whose Ilyushin IL-4 bomber was attacked by German fighters in January of 1942. Falling nearly 22,000 feet, he hit the edge of a snow-covered ravine and rolled to the bottom. He was badly hurt but survived. »

Glenn Dakin’s Alter Ego, Abraham Rat

« What’s the point in eternity… if nothing ever changes? » — White Ant gets in the final bon mot (Captain Oblivion no. 1)

In the mid-1980s, the surprise success of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles touched off a veritable avalanche of ever crappier, hastily-assembled and cheaply-produced knockoffs — at least Eastman and Laird initially meant their creation as a joke. Oh, there were some real gems amidst the rubbish, but as Sturgeon’s Law tells us, the bad greatly outweighed the good, let alone the great. This is now known as the Great 1980s Black and White Comics Glut.

Among the good-to-great (well, to my taste) were a score of short-lived onomatopoeic humour anthologies such as !Gag! (Harrier), Honk! (Fantagraphics), Splat! (Mad Dog Graphics), Bop, Buzz, Twist (along with the venerable Snarf, all from Kitchen Sink)… the mutant progeny of Zap Comix, I suppose.

It was within the pages of Honk! that I was greeted by such across-the-pond talent as Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Phil Elliott and Paul Grist. Their work provided a sorely-needed gust of English country air to the superhero-fatigued reader, though one had to keep both eyes open, as alternative comics publishing in the ’80s was a maddening mixture of whack-a-mole and ‘throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks‘.

Now that the stage is set, I’ll share some of my favourite Dakin strips. He’s been a busy chap, creating several solo series: Temptation, Captain Oblivion/Abe Rat, Robot Crusoe; collaborations: Paris: the Man of Plaster (with Steve Way), Mr. Day and Mr. Night, The Man From Cancer and Greenhouse Warriors (all with Phil Elliott), as well as YA novels (the spooky Candle Man) and animation (the astonishing Shaun the Sheep).

Today, I’ll focus of my very favourite Dakin creation (his most understated and personal), the fancifully autobiographical Abe Rat.

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The author introduces his creature, and who better to do it? From the sterling compendium Abe – Wrong for All the Right Reasons (2001, Top Shelf).

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A Song of Spring was originally published in Fast Fiction no. 14 (April 1985, Fast Fiction).

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As this Captain Oblivion one-shot was left out of the Abe collection (the original artwork was lost!), the completist will want this one as well… and will not be disappointed nor go broke in the process. This is Captain Oblivion no. 1 (Aug. 1987, Harrier). Cover colours by Mr. Phil Elliott.

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Dakin’s comrade-in-ink Eddie Campbell (Abe’s his fave Dakin strip too) provides the introduction to the collection, and therein shares these thoughts: « Back when we were doing our little photocopied comics (what I term ‘small press’) in the ’80s, we constantly challenged each other to take the comics form in new directions. Dakin evolved in exciting ways in his Abe stories. The were autobiographical, but more concerned with the inner life than the physical one. He arrived at an approach which I termed ‘discourse’. He would devise characters and symbols, and borrow others, combining them in argumentative juxtapositions. There would be passages where he’d use a character from history or a novel to push his contemplation towards a resolution. Once he even called a halt to proceedings and ran a variant ending. »

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed making Abe’s acquaintance.

-RG