Just a Humble Boy From Tupelo, Mississippi

« When I was a boy, I always saw myself as a hero in comic books and in movies. I grew up believing this dream. » – Elvis Aaron Presley (1935 — ?)

Today, somewhere, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll celebrates his eighty-fourth birthday, be he alive, dead or undead, he lives on. And never forget: Elvis is everywhere!

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A most salty salute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll on his birthday! Compared to earlier decades, the 1980’s (and on!) were not kind to the anthology comic book. Thankfully, the meagre rewards and resounding indifference weren’t enough to quite dissuade some foolhardy souls from giving the format a go. But the fanboys wanted spandex, they wanted continuity and they soon wanted their « decompressed storytelling ». Bah. 
In 1981, Kitchen Sink Comix published the lone issue of Terry Beatty‘s labour of irradiated passion, Tales Mutated for the Mod. (June, 1981). Unlike John Byrne and others’ unceasing and pointless ‘tributes’ to Fantastic Four No. 1, this cover version of Harvey Kurtzman‘s Mad No. 1 is fiendishly clever. Kudos, Mr. Beatty!
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Gary Panter crafted this loving tribute in 1984, a one-shot published by RAW. Such heady stuff was well ahead of its time!
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The back cover… this beats Power Records‘ meek offerings flat!
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The oft-inaccurate Grand Comics Database really fumbles it this time: the instantly-recognizable icon on the right is, according to them… Fabian. Dopes. Hamilton, Ontario’s Win Mortimer (1919-1998), inducted into the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame in 2006, drew this cover for DC’s Heart Throbs no. 95 (April-May 1965); given the time period and The Pelvis’ shirt, he would presumably be shooting the dire Paradise, Hawaiian Style. If you’re of a mind to commemorate the King’s anniversary with one of his mid-60s cinematic offerings, better opt for the far finer Tickle Me (1965).
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His (alleged) paper boy claims, and I do want to believe him, that the Big E has peacefully decamped to the quietude of Eerie, Indiana. Looking good, Big E!

-RG

The Observant Ambulations of Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

« This peephole was smeared when I moved in »

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« A RAW One-Shot » (1991, Penguin Books)

Originally appearing in alternative weekly The New York Press in the late 1980s, Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer belongs to that most exotic breed of comic strips, those that suddenly awake the mind to the medium’s grand possibilities. Said experience can be abrupt and dizzying, but in this particular instance, it’s soothing and bittersweet, full of rightful yearning for things that possibly were or surely should have been, glimpsed in a daydream by the low flame of the fantastic mundane.

Mr. Katchor (born November 19, 1951 in Brooklyn, New York) is blessed with a vision of startling depth and singularity. By its nature and scope, it’s not everyone’s thing, but the rest of us likely wind up as lifelong admirers, and isn’t that just the ideal audience?

Much has been written elsewhere, often brilliantly, about Mr. Katchor and his œuvre; it’s work of a calibre to inspire theses, dissertations and papers, so I’ll mostly stick to presenting some samples. The passionate plaudits these strips have inspired tend to obscure the fact that most people just haven’t had the pleasure, or at least the opportunity, of encountering such rich material.

These vignettes were collected in 1991 as Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay. Oddly enough, it was the only one of Katchor’s books to go out of print… the situation was remedied in 2016 by Montréal’s Drawn & Quarterly, who brought it back in a lovely hardcover edition.

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While on vacation, my accountant fell in love with a hot sauce manufactured on the small Caribbean island of Dominica. He’s since devoted considerable energy to renewing his stock of the stuff, which has involved much international horse trading.
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Montréal has its share of architectural remnants of bygone commercial enterprise; arguably, the most famous is the “Giant Milk Bottle“, but no, it isn’t full of milk.
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This melancholy vignette ties in quite nicely with a recent piece from Atlas Obscura noting the fading lingo and diminishing rôle of the soda jerks of New York City. Read it over a mug of murk with a choker hole.

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From the collection’s back cover blurb: « In a vast and shadowy city of old skyscrapers, neglected warehouses, juice stands, and coffee shops, Julius Knipl, a rumpled, middle-aged man in a suit and hat, wanders the streets photographing buildings and pondering the details: the scent of the past that seeps into the present; the ghosts of other values and culture embedded in the urban landscape; people and behaviors almost gone that linger on. He sees what others overlook, a Borscht-belt Buster Keaton. »

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The esteemed Mr. Katchor.

-RG

Beware, the Eye of Zohar Is Watching!

A 1968 ad full of spooky, green-glowy fun for the kiddies. An… interesting appropriation of Jewish mysticism. After all, Zohar and Kabbalah don’t really fall within the usual range of docile toy industry gibberish, straying closer to the realm of sideshow hucksterism, with its fortune-telling automatons.

Learn (a little) more about The Mysterious Game That Foretells the Future.

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Wikipedia tells us: « The Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר, lit. “Splendor” or “Radiance”) is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah.

There are people of religions besides Judaism, or even those without religious affiliation, who delve in the Zohar out of curiosity, or as a technology for people who are seeking meaningful and practical answers about the meaning of their lives… »

Why, hello there, Ms. Ciccone.

It’s hard not to draw a parallel between this toy’s name and eerie oculus and Charles Burns‘ Big Baby tale of a « Teen Plague » (from Raw vol. 2 no. 1, 1989). Be careful out there, kids!

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« Taste the Kiss of the Almighty Kaballa-Bonga! »
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I know, Mike. I can hardly believe it either.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 19

« The rut I was in had once been a groove* »

He wasn’t the first to seize upon the connection, but Charles Burns does evoke powerfully, and with tenebrous poetic grace, certain salient parallels between teenagers and the living dead, between decomposition and acne… I can’t help but be reminded of the undead masses shambling at the mall in George A. Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead (1978), trapped in the empty cycle of their old, ingrained habits.

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Originally published in Raw Volume 2 no. 2 – Required Reading for the Post-Literate (May 1990, Penguin Books.) Edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly.

– RG

*Nick Lowe, Rocky Road (1990)