Convivial Meals, Spirited Skirmishes: Ben Sears’ Double+ Adventures

I admit it’s rare for me to discover a new present-day cartoonist I really like, so I was quite thrilled to stumble upon Ben Sears and the adventures of friendly robot Hank and goggles-sporting Plus Man. Sears’ style reminds me of claymation (one of my soft spots), and he is not afraid of bright colours or playfulness – such a contrast to the many ‘serious’, sepia-coloured comics that are just dull as dishwater (although apparently the latter is now an in-demand hair colour).

The four ‘A Double Adventure +’ comics Sears has given us so far (Night Air, 2016; Volcano Trash, 2017; The Ideal Copy, 2018; and House of the Black Spot, 2019), published by Koyama Press*, brim with interesting details – plants are everywhere, rooms are full of intriguing trinkets, and cats are perched on counters and rooftops. This is a world not devoid of danger (Hank and Plus Man keep getting pulled into murder mysteries, ominous conspiracies, hive-mind henchmen skirmishes, etc.), but there’s also an appealing domesticity about it, as we often get to visit their apartment or tag along as they hang out in a friends’ kitchen. The fight scenes are viscerally satisfying (who doesn’t want to see bad guys’ asses kicked in a most expedient manner?), but there is also clever team work, friendship, and occasionally a moral dilemma or two. My favourite of the four is House of the Black Spot, so things are clearly going in the right direction!

The Ideal Copy features a villainous gaggle of creepy white men, all eerily dressed in the same red sweater + beige pants-pulled-up-to-armpits** uniform:

The nasties have convenient number badges pinned to their sweaters (perhaps they also get confused).

Volcano Trash features some enjoyably fast-paced fight/daring escape scenes, but I think its heart lies in its quietly emotional sequences. Sears’ dialogue is perfectly functional, sometimes even fun, but he doesn’t over-clutter his pages with words, excelling at mute scenes in which body language says a’plenty. When looking through his website recently, I was happy to discover he has a few pantomine self-published comics (featuring a trash cleanup robot, a cat and a bird!) I’d never heard of. You can order them here.

A discussion about friendship mostly takes place through sighs and gestures – not much needs to be said in words.

Finally, here are some excerpts (or extracts, as the Brits would say) from House of the Black Spot, the lushest, latest installment of Hank & Plus Man’s adventures:

You can read an (otherwise unpublished, as far as I know) Double+ Adventure here.

I keep reading reviews in which comparisons are made between Sears’ work and Hergé’s Tintin, which supposed resemblance I admit I don’t see at all. On the other hand, I’ve never read a full Tintin album, and to be perfectly honest have no intention of ever undertaking such a tedious task.

~ ds

* Toronto-based Koyama Press shut down its operations in 2021, so Ben Sears’ new book, Young Shadow, was published by Fantagraphics. I haven’t read it yet, but am looking forward to it, once I get my hands on a copy! You can read a review of it over at The Comics Journal.

** The question of why older men tend to wear their pants somewhere below their armpits still baffles me. Hypotheses have been made to the effect of beer-bellied folks having to decide whether the pant waistline lies above a bulging stomach or under it, and opting for the former option, but I have seen plenty of instances of pants being pulled up when the wearer had a relatively flat stomach…

Crude, Rough, and Ready: Norman Pettingill

« You’ve got to go pretty far back in the woods for good backwoods humor. » 

Contemplating Norman Pettingill‘s life brings to mind Henry David Thoreau in his secluded cabin – « I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through, woods where the wood thrush forever sings, where the hours are early morning ones, and there is dew on the grass, and the day is forever unproved, where I might have a fertile unknown for a soil about me. »  Most of us living in high density urban centers have bittersweet moments of pining for the ‘natural’ lifestyle of the woods, perhaps fishing and hunting for modest yet satisfying sustenance, quietly sitting on the porch in the evenings and thinking philosophical thoughts with the backdrop of nocturnal animal sounds.

Judging from Pettingill’s cheeky illustrations of just such a natural life, quietude doesn’t actually come into much – instead, he presents us with a sort of vaudeville cast of bears bent on mayhem, drunk old-timers and pipe-smokin’ grannies, women emphatically pursued by wild fauna harbouring thoughts a holy man would blush at, crazy surgeons and gung-ho sturgeons (oh, there was no specific indication of the many fish nibbling on tender parts being sturgeons, but Wisconsin boasts two species).

Norman Pettingill (1896-1991) was born and raised in Wisconsin to be a hunter, fisher and trapper, just like all men around him, and although he took well to these activities (it seems he was a very good hunter/fisher/gatherer), his favoured interests lay elsewhere. I’m not sure how inviting this, err, virile environment would be to a boy who delights in drawing caricatures instead of chopping wood or shooting rabbits, but at any rate nobody seems to have dissuaded young Pettingill from his artistic pursuits.

His drawings with pen and ink can easily be divided into categories. The first consists of his quiet and beautifully detailed forest scenes, with varied animals poised as if about to dash away.

Then there are his bawdy, sometimes grotesque, and frequently unhinged caricatures of his fellow men (and women) and the stuff they get up to. To be fair, there is something sweet in his mockery – only an insider could observe the vernacular of language and behaviour with such bite and yet affection. I especially favour group scenes with more riotous action and ribald skirmishes than one could shake a hunter’s gun at.

Other times, group shots give way to a more focused approach, whether it’s a woman approached by a bear who seems to be bent on inter-species action, or an inept hunter running at full speed from what was supposed to be his prey.

These pictures have been taken from Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist (Fantagraphics, 2010). The images themselves were drawn between 1947 and 1959.

~ ds

Charles Rodrigues’ Pantheon of Scabrous Humour

« He works at night, which is fitting, since some of his best cartoons deal with the dark side of the psyche. A classic black humorist, he rummages around in violence, insanity, perversion, bigotry and scatology, looking for what he needs to create the typical Rodrigues effect: wild laughter with a cringe of repulsion. » [source]

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2014) is an American cartoonist of Portuguese descent. Fantagraphics published two collections of this work, and their blurb describes him as « the sick mind behind some of the most outrageous, inventive, and offensive cartoons ever to appear in mass circulation magazines, including Stereo Review, Playboy and (from its very first issue) the National Lampoon. » One of these books collects his one-panel cartoons, and is titled Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues. Scrofulous, in case you didn’t know, means something like ‘morally contaminated’.

So it will come as no surprise that this post might provoke a few pouts of distaste. On the other hand, I am hoping that it will also elicit some chuckles.

I remember my reaction at first reading Chuck Palahniuk’s 2005 short story ‘Guts‘ (if unfamiliar but curious, read it here, at your own peril) and feeling a sort of amazed astonishment about how far the author was willing to go. ‘He’s not really going to go there, is he? Oh wow, he actually went that far.’

Well, reading Charles Rodrigues can be compared to that – at least in the slightly surreal surprise one feels when the gag winks at the reader, and trots happily across the invisible line nobody talks much about (but that we all know is there). If there’s a joke to be made, it doesn’t matter that it lies in the territory of the distinctly distasteful, Rodrigues will go for it with all arms blazing and nail it. Reading Guts is arguably an uncomfortable experience; reading a Rodrigues comic is wickedly entertaining… or incredibly offensive, depending on what floats (or sinks) your boat. He stuns the reader with a hilarious and crass barrage of absurdities reliant on scatology, taboos, and general indecency and sleaze. No one is safe – not the handicapped, nor the elderly; he flings dirt with equal aplomb at the women’s liberation front, gays and blacks, the terminally ill, rock stars, lepers, single mothers and ugly children, conjoined twins and cannibals — and this parade is only starting, chum.

Now I didn’t head into this with a desire to showcase the most stomach-churning of Rodrigues cartoons. This selection is based on a simple premise: some of my favourite instances of his sacrilegious* sense of humour. Gross-out gags and crudeness are actually really easy to come by, and often incredibly stupid — I worry about people who think a guy getting hit in the balls is hilarious. But I hope that this post demonstrates that in this case, there is a keen intelligence and a writer’s talent at work.

The following single-panel cartoons have been collected in Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues.

« Cartoonists can look upon his work with a kind of awe. His staggering is perfection, his actors expressive, his architecture and perspective masterful. But I’ve heard more than one layperson comment that his work looked rough and unpolished. I beg to differ. His line was thick, lumpy and bled right into the very fiber of the paper, but it is controlled and deliberate. This was a craftsman in charge of his medium. » Bob Fingerman, from the introduction to Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics.

While his panel cartoons hit hard and fast, when given the space to develop a longer story, Rodrigues takes the time to set up things up for maximum… nastiness, with every gag flowing the most naturally in the world into an even more over-the-top one. The following pages are excerpted from Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics, which had been my first exposure to Rodrigues’ work, which « boggled the mind and challenged all sense of decency and propriety ». What can I say? I found it in a now-defunct comic bookstore, looked through a few pages and immediately purchased it.

Page from The Story of a Man and his Dead Friend, in which Ray’s friend Joe dies, and Ray decides to keep his corpse around because he’s lonely without him (Joe is embalmed to avoid unpleasant odours and whatnot, which leads to its own set of scatological issues).
Page from Sam DeGroot: The Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine. Sam is on skid row after a series of misfortunes, but is picked up by a kind-hearted civilian (who turns out to be fattening him up to be eaten later on).
Sam is being successfully fattened up (Everett the cannibal is a very talented cook!), although in this panel Everett rescinds his evil man-eating ways, set on the right path by one of those door-to-door priests seeking to convert more sheep for his flock.
From the iron lung and into the hospital bed! Sam starts a new phase in his life (and ends up being literally able to talk out of his ass through an enema tube, but that comes later).

I’ll wrap this with an unrelated one-pager which somehow seems appropriate in this pandemic new year –

~ ds

*Interestingly, Rodrigues was actually a fairly religious, politically conservative man.

Luis Domínguez (1923-2020): A Farewell in Twelve Covers

« Painting is the art of hollowing a surface. » — Georges Seurat

If you’ll forgive me the venial but gauche sin of quoting myself… three years ago, I posited:

« Luís Ángel Domínguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day… and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye. »

I found it sadly infuriating that such an important and accomplished artist’s latter-day whereabouts and circumstances were so shrouded in mystery… and largely, it would seem, indifference. The usual story: he didn’t really do superheroes.

Neither Lambiek nor the Grand Comics Database have anything to add on the subject, but a spot of digging turned up that he indeed was still alive until recently, though purportedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his waning years. Then I found what may well be his… very basic obituary, placing his date of birth exactly one month off (unsurprisingly, since accounts have long varied) and his date of death as July 1st, 2020, in Miami, FL. Unless something more definitive comes along, it’ll have to do.

I think we can all agree that ninety-six years is a pretty good run, even with the doleful decline near the end. Let’s look back on what’s surely his peak decade in comics, the 1970s. My picks have nothing to do with ‘key’ issues, character débuts or popular crossovers. I’ve judged these on artistic merit, keeping the pernicious influence of nostalgia at arm’s length.

First, a little biographical background! This helpful piece appeared in the pages of Eerie no. 44 (Dec. 1972, Warren), which also boasted a Domínguez cover… albeit reproduced too small.
The folks at Warren were apparently first in North America to recognise and call upon of señor Domínguez’s masterly painting skills. This is Famous Monsters no. 93 (Oct. 1972, Warren).
My personal favourite of his too-few Warren covers, this is Eerie no. 43 (Nov. 1972, Warren).
While Luís had been steadily working on the insides of Gold Key comics since 1967, it wasn’t until 1974 that they gave him a crack at a cover. That was either this one, Space Family Robinson no. 40 or Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 55, both cover-dated July, 1974… (incidentally, the GCD misattributes to him several of his colleague George Wilson‘s paintings).
DC hardly ever used painted covers, but they did keep Domínguez busy as a cover artist. I assure you, this ambitiously-muted cover must have been a printer’s nightmare. This is The Phantom Stranger no. 32 (Sept. 1974, DC), a great issue that features Arnold Drake and (returning to the Stranger after a 27-issue absence!) Bill Draut‘s It Takes a Witch! and a gorgeous Michael FleisherNestor Redondo Black Orchid backup.
This is House of Secrets no. 125 (Nov. 1974, DC). For once, Domínguez also illustrates the cover-featured story, E. Nelson Bridwell‘s Catch as Cats Can!
Then of course, Marvel soon after got in on the act. This is Dracula Lives no. 9 (Nov. 1974, Marvel). I would have picked the even better previous issue, but I’ve already featured it, so you get to enjoy both!
The printed version of this piece, featured as the cover of UFO Flying Saucers no. 5 (Feb. 1975, Gold Key) pales in comparison with the surviving original art, so that was an easy choice.
This issue’s original art also survived, and seeing both versions is most instructive as an insight into production manager Jack Adler’s methods. This is House of Mystery no. 235 (Sept. 1975, DC), and the original can be viewed here. As an aside, this issue’s The Spawn of the Devil, written by Maxene Fabe and drawn by Ramona Fradon, is the only DC horror story I ever found scary. Perhaps editor Joe Orlando should have hired women more often!
Another one whose printed version fails on the reproduction front, this is Mighty Samson no. 31 (Mar. 1976, Gold Key), the title’s final issue. Let’s again rejoice at the original art’s survival!
This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 94 (Sept. 1979, Gold Key); I hold that Dominguez’ three finest consecutive covers came near the end of Gold Key’s Karloff anthology and, wouldn’t you know it? … we have already featured the other two. You’ll find issue 92 here, and issue 93 (and its original art) in one of ds’ posts, which also showcases another top-flight contender, which I couldn’t use for reason of… tentacles, Dagar the Invincible no. 11.
This is The Comics Journal no. 56 (Fantagraphics, May 1980). According to masthead notes, « Luís Dominguez’s painting was originally scheduled for the fourth issue of DC’s Digest Comic, “Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales“, but the title was cancelled with no. 3. » The magazine’s larger size certainly affords us a better view of this richly detailed scene.
And as bonus, this mysterious, undated, possibly unpublished cover painting to Edgar Allan Poe‘s famous tale. Acrylic on board, 36 x 50 cm (14″ x 20″). The corners confirm that Domínguez worked from dark to light (which largely accounts for his marvellously luminous colours) and faint lines (on this and other works) indicate that he used a grid to scale up his preliminary sketches accurately.

For more Domínguez delights, just click on this link and explore away! I daresay that I only managed to keep it to an even dozen (difficult!) choices because we’ve already spotlighted many of his finest covers.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 30

« Every time I go to Oona Goosepimple’s spooky old house something SCARY happens to me! » — Nancy

Back in the blog’s early days, my partner ds, wrapping up her tribute to John Stanley, stated:

« And I haven’t even mentioned Stanley’s Nancy, nor her friend (and my favourite character) Oona Goosepimple. Next time… »

Well, that time has come. Despite my deep and enduring love of John Stanley, I never could warm up to what’s generally considered the cornerstone of his œuvre, Little Lulu. It’s hardly Stanley’s fault: I just happen to dislike Lulu creator Marjorie ‘Marge’ Henderson Buell‘s visual conception of her characters.

On the other hand, I’ve always been in thrall to Ernie Bushmiller‘s world. Purists will, and surely have, objected to the bold liberties that John Stanley took with Nancy and Sluggo, but I don’t care a whit. This collision between the singular visions of a pair of cartooning geniuses is every bit as delightful as I might have hoped.

Night Howls first appeared in Nancy and Sluggo no. 174 (Jan.-Feb. 1960, Dell). It was reprinted in Nancy, Volume 4: The John Stanley Library (2013, Drawn & Quarterly). Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley.

One more short one?

The Ghost Story first appeared in Four Color no. 1034 – Nancy and Sluggo Summer Camp (Sept.-Nov. 1959, Dell). It was reprinted in Nancy, Volume 2: The John Stanley Library (2009, Drawn & Quarterly). Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley.
Fancy, uh? This is Nancy, Volume 2: The John Stanley Library (2009, Drawn & Quarterly); meticulous series design (and covers) by Gregory ‘Seth’ Gallant. Now if only D&Q would finish building the library, or at the very least give us Kookie and Dunc & Loo!
In 1975, when fandom movers and shakers Robert Overstreet and Donald Phelps visited Stanley in his home, « … he dug into a closet, and said, ‘I have something that might interest you.‘ He pulled out the roughs for the first Oona Goosepimple story for Nancy. Stanley told Phelps he could keep it. (Actually, it was the script for an unpublished story). » [ from the late Bill Schelly‘s illuminating Stanley bio, Giving Life to Little Lulu (2017, Fantagraphics). ]

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 26

« Nobody likes a clown at midnight. » — Stephen King

And now for a creepy tidbit with a sensibility at once contemporary and rooted in the somewhat faraway past — namely the 1930’s. From 1997, Amnesia drips from the mind and pen of the… unpredictable Al Columbia.

Born in 1970, Columbia…

« … started his career in comics at the age of nineteen, when he was hired to assist Bill Sienkiewicz. Together, they created ‘Big Numbers’. In 1992, however, the pressure of continuing this real-world, realistically painted comic series became too much for him. Al Columbia vanished, destroying the fourth issue of ‘Big Numbers’ he was working on, and nothing was heard from him until 1994. » [source]

Young Mr. Columbia then resurfaced with a new style more his own, and created The Biologic Show (2 issues, 1994-95, Fantagraphics). He also contributed a handful of striking short pieces to the publisher’s Zero Zero anthology, and this is one.

To my eye’s delight, the chief outside influence at work here is early cartoon talkies, in particular those produced by the Fleisher Brothers (Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Popeye, Superman). In fact, I can easily envision Koko himself starring in this macabre vignette, though I sure would not wish it on the poor lad.

Amnesia originally saw print in Zero Zero no. 20 (Sept.-Oct. 1997, Fantagraphics), edited by the late Kim Thompson.

You won’t often hear me recommend video games, but there’s one that appears to draw from the same bottomless, poisoned inkwell as Columbia: Limbo (2012), brought to you by independent Danish game developer Playdead.

A sample from Limbo. Depending on your temperament, you may find the game terribly bleak and dispiriting or, conversely, oddly comforting.

Take a look at Limbo’s official trailer.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: The Stylish Richard Sala

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is a really fun one, given that its focus is the snazzy art of Richard Sala (1954-2020), deceased, alas, far too soon at 65, when he was about to launch a new webcomic.

Granted, perhaps the plots of his stories often don’t make that much sense. But! they’re awash in half-naked damsels, sad-eyed defeateds, vampires and ghouls of all kinds, a mad scientist or two, dark alleys and schoolgirl academies and strangely ominous museums and… all of this drawn in Sala’s easily recognizable, deliciously scary style. Peculia is definitely involved in this post (see co-admin RG’s Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 17), but so is Judy Drood, girl detective, plucky heroine and first-rate fighter… and a host of other characters! So follow me as I kick things off with some beautifully painted Evil Eye covers (and backs!) – Sala had an impeccable sense of colour.

Back cover of Evil Eye no. 2 (October 1998). An actual octopus and reasonable-cause-for-belief plant tentacles!
Evil Eye no. 4 (August 1999, Fantagraphics). Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to call these arms ’embracing’ Peculia tentacles, yet there’s always room for poetic licence.
The back cover of Evil Eye no. 8 (September 2001, Fantagraphics).
Back cover of Evil Eye no. 9 (July 2002, Fantagraphics). Judy is caught between a rock and a hard place, as usual, but fear not! She’ll bash her way out, sooner or later.
Peculia, a 2002 collection of the titular heroine’s strips (published by Fantagraphics, as usual).

I complimented Sala’s beautiful colour work earlier (and hopefully demonstrated this point!), but Sala’s black-and-white work is equally satisfying. Shall we have a look-see?

Some plant tentacles make an appearance in Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (2013, Fantagraphics):

The Grave Robber’s Daughter (2007, Fantagraphics) spins the yarn of what happens when Judy Dredd is stranded in a strangely empty town… empty until the clowns come out, that is. I really enjoyed this 96-page tale (read it here), with its quick-paced, cohesive plot, top-notch art and of course a good dose of Coulrophobia. I don’t like clowns, either. Here are two pages highlighting Freddie, ‘the Crawling Thing’, and his manifold tentacles:

Finally, as a little bonus, I am including a pin-up that doesn’t have any tentacles to recommend it, but is otherwise perfectly appropriate to this not-quite-end-of-September. Co-admin RG has plenty up his sleeve with his upcoming Hallowe’en count-down, but I am allowing myself just one furtive foray into vampire territory…

This sweet, lovingly-coloured gag cartoon was created in 2013 and intended for Playboy (but unfortunately never published).

Sala explains: « According to the editor, I was one of only a few of the cartoonists asked to submit ideas whose submissions were ‘sex positive’. That is, according to him, most of the submissions by younger cartoonists were more in line with the kind of scatological, angry, ‘gross-out’, excretion-happy humor more typical of today, or focused on the adversarial relationship between men and women. My somewhat sweet oral sex joke seems pretty quaint in comparison, I guess. »

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: What Lurks Within the Grab Bag?

Since the previous instalments of Tentacle Tuesday had specific, unified themes, the time has come for another anything-goes grab bag of goodies. That being said, I am in the mood for bright colours, as the lawns and plants around these parts have acquired that drab, dusty shade of brownish green that’s characteristic of August and its dry spells…

This epic Cthulhu-vs-Godzilla scene was drawn by Chaz Folgar for a 2010 online illustration competition – the exact wording of the challenge was “Cthulhu and Godzilla with the fate of Japan in the balance“. I’m definitely betting on Cthulhu (see Tentacle Tuesday: Ho ho ho, Mr. Lovecraft if you need a refresher!), ancient and powerful and eternal being that he is. Godzilla, in the meantime? Just a prehistoric, overgrown lizard (with apologies to all Kaiju film buffs).

In a somewhat different vein, here is a postcard/cartoon/illustration by British artist Ann Edwards (visit her website!) She has a bouncy, colourful style that’s really fun… especially if there are tentacles involved.

In a similar format, and perhaps even more colourful, is this cartoon that I found in an article about My Octopus Teacher, a movie about the filmmaker Craig Foster and the octopus he makes friends with. Amazingly (and not in a good way), the article did not specifically credit this image to anybody in particular. Did Foster document his octopus shenanigans with cartoons? Is this the work of some completely unrelated artist that was included because it was on topic?

Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff (Fantagraphics, May 2013) is a collection of Bagge’s shorter stories from the 90s and 2000s. I’m not really a Bagge fan (his sense of humour is too based on making audiences cringe), but I enjoyed reading this one, though my inclination to revisit it is very low.

The flustered emerald-hued tentacled fellow, front and centre, is Shamrock Squid, whose first published appearance was featured in an earlier instalment, Tentacle Tuesday: Pleasantly Goofy.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Leaps and Bounds

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday doesn’t have an over-arching theme, other than featuring some bits and bobs I’ve accumulated – from something drawn in 1942 to a cartoon created by computer in 2020. In a sense, this way of proceeding is much closer to the way my brain works, jumping from theme to theme and adding brackets within brackets. This is somewhat off topic, but incidentally, if that’s the way your brain works, too, I highly recommend David Foster Wallace‘s non-fiction material (read 27 of his articles and essays here!) and The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War by Jaroslav Hašek for a deliciously rambling approach to story telling and arguments.

If you’re not already following WOT’s favourite cartoonist Roger Langridge on Instagram, I highly recommend doing so: his daily slice-of-life strips provide an interesting glimpse into the author’s family life, inner dialogue, and artistic endeavours. You can also support him on Patreon (he has a measly 54 supporters right now – compare that to the thousands of subscribers boasted by some considerably less talented comics artists, who shall remain nameless). The following daily from December, 2020 features the aforementioned introspection, a glimpse at the artistic process, Garfield and tentacles.

Speaking of Garfield, I recommend Garfield Minus Garfield, if you haven’t come across it already.

Texan cartoonist Sam Hurt is the creator of Eyebeam, and I say that with a similar reverence that one would employ in talking about some deity that has concocted a self-governing universe. It is a strange, a bitter-sweet, topsy-turvy place with its own impeccable logic, to which our world remains criminally indifferent. Tackling the problem of talking about Eyebeam, which is both the name of the protagonist and the title of the comic strip, is something we haven’t yet had the courage of doing on this blog. Still, co-admin RG bravely dipped his toe in these waters and talked about a connected comic series – read his All Hail Peaches, Queen of the Universe! and admire his courage. I will also add that Sam Hurt is a great painter, and that I am lucky to have one of this paintings hanging on my office wall (best Christmas gift, ever).

A blushing octopus in a hat? Won’t somebody introduce us, please?

From its humble beginnings around 1978, Eyebeam has grown and survived (with some interruptions) to this day! Strips from 1996 until now are available on GoComics. Someday, fortified with some Dutch courage, we will do a proper post about it, we promise.

I’ve never actually read Usagi Yojimbo, the eminently popular rōnin comic book epic by Stan Sakai. Rolling Stones’ slapdash list of best graphic novels, insultingly titled The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels (which immediately makes one feel that they consider non-superhero comics somehow inferior), places it at 43. I will doubtlessly get around to at least reading one volume or two at some point – Sakai is definitely a talented artist, and I have nothing against anthropomorphic animals when they’re well-drawn. However, a dedication to reading the whole series is not for the faint-hearted: there are 35 books in total, which have been collected into nine omnibus volumes in more recent years, a considerable time commitment.

‘Usagi Yojimbo’ literally means something like ‘rabbit bodyguard’, which is what the main character, Miyamoto Usagi, is. Here he is fighting an octopus or two!

Usagi Yojimbo no. 27 (March 1991, Fantagraphics). Cover by Stan Sakai, with colours by Tom Luth.
Panel from My Lord’s Daughter, published in Usagi Yojimbo no. 27 (March 1991, Fantagraphics).
This was drawn by Sakai during the Lucca Comics and Games Convention (2015) for a fan.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, far better known under the pen name of Dr. Seuss, was not only the author of famous books for children, but also a perceptive political cartoonist. Between 1941 and 1943, he was working for PM, a New York daily newspaper, and this is when he produced a series of satirical cartoons about the Policy of Appeasement, the British policy makers’ attempt at avoiding a war with Germany by conceding to some of Hitler’s demands.

I hope you enjoyed this somewhat random stroll through years and styles! For dessert, I would suggest The Cooking Cartoonist: Guilt-Free Ways to Prepare Octopus by Farley Katz. A bite-sized preview:

~ ds

A Secret, Silken World: Max Andersson’s “Lolita’s Adventures” (1995)

« Most of us will still take nihilism over neanderthalism. » — David Foster Wallace

It’s become so quiet” “Yes“; from Galago no. 40 (1994, Atlantic Förlags AB)

Today, let’s dip a toe (at the risk of losing it) into the midnight domain of Swedish cartoonist and filmmaker Max Andersson (b. 1962). It’s a relentlessly-perilous scene, but like Kaz’s Underworld comic strip or Arnt Jensen‘s Limbo video game, I find it unexpectedly comforting in spite of (and thanks to) all the darkness, both thematic and in density of ink. In Andersson’s case, might it be owing to the author’s kindness to his protagonists? That’s a factor with odds I rather favour.

I don’t doubt that certain readers of a more sensitive cast will differ, but I posit that the cheerful lack of clemency the artist affords the callous, the cruel and the pernicious makes Andersson’s universe a profoundly moral one. Contrary to, say, your average American action blockbuster, such a purge of the villainous doesn’t restore the status quo… because here, malevolence is the status quo. Andersson’s put-upon little people are true outsiders, and his stories feel like Kafka, but blessed with dénouements far merrier yet merited.

Jolly carnage! Lolita’s Adventures appeared in the third issue (July, 1995) of Fantagraphics’ outstanding anthology title Zero Zero (27 issues, 1995-2000).

See? A happy ending and all, and even a rare glimpse of daylight.

Soon after he began to publish his work, Gary Groth spoke with Andersson (The Comics Journal no. 174 (Feb. 1995, Fantagraphics):

Groth: What would you point to as your defining influences? How did you develop this approach, style and point of view?

Andersson: What I always have in my backbone is the style of classic comics, the stuff I read when I was a kid.

G: I don’t see much Tintin.

A: No, but it’s there if you look closely. The basic technique of how to tell a story well. I try to do that because I want the storytelling to work, to be easy to read.

G: Were you influenced by sources outside of comics — film, literature?

A: Yeah, more of those than comics. The German Expressionist movies of the ’20s, Nosferatu; and artists from the period, like George Grosz.

And don’t leave out old cartoons! Andersson’s thoroughly animist way dovetails neatly with early animation’s unhinged, anything-can-happen mode. By which I mean that anything and everything possessed motion and sentience, be they boulders or pebbles, thunderclouds, petals or creepers, sparks or flames, pantaloons or braces, blunderbusses or bassoons…

As a bonus, a sequence from Andersson’s breakthrough work, Pixy (1993). The title character is the fœtus with a pistol, and the happy little fellows on the counter are units of money. Highly recommended, and likely available in the language of your choice.

About Pixy, fellow dweller-in-darkness Charles Burns exulted: « So you think it’s a cold, creepy, world out there, huh? Hah! Just wait’ll you get a load of Max Andersson’s Pixy… safe sex suits, buildings that eat people, drunken fœtuses with bazookas, money that shits on you, recyclable bodies… hey, wait a minute, that’s not creepy, that’s fun. MY kind of fun. »

For more dope on this important creator’s endeavours, do sidle over to his official website!

-RG