Things schoolish

Offrred without (much) commentary:

As a high school junior in the early seventies, I wrote a short play called I'm The Gun. It was produced by the school's drama society as part of their one-act play night, which was generally reserved for works by seniors. The plot revolved around the meeting of Lieutenant Steven Savage

and Rittmeister Baron Hans Von Hammer

when they find themselves whisked from the battlefields of the First World War to a fantastical, unknown place. They are greeted by a Swiss waiter named Jean-Paul and meet a mysterious woman, later revealed to be a goddess of war, who wants to use their killing skills to her own ends. The two aviators are faced with a crisis of conscience and come to a momentous decision.


Once in a while I pull it out and cringe, just a little.

In doing research for this post (!?), I found that there apparently were some crossover stories featuring these characters; I can't remember actually reading one. I'll have to track them down.

The actual review

The Best American Comics 2006
Harvey Pekar, Ed.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

I finally had a chance to read most of this, and I have to say that it's a fine collection. Pekar was the "guest editor" for this particular selection in Houghton Mifflin's The Best American series. While I found that I enjoyed his selections, both as individual stories (most of the time) and as a representation of the breadth of work that can be found in American comics, his introduction didn't add anything to the volume: he by turns rants crankily, belabors the obvious, or just bores the reader.

Pekar specifically states in the introduction that "no superhero stuff is included" in the collection; the first piece (and one of my favorites, it turned out) gives lie to that statement. The Amazing Life of Onion Jack is a charming and deceptively simple ten-page strip that is a gentle pastiche of superhero themes and treatments throughout the ages, and it really requires some familiarity with the form to be completely effective. Witness this segment from Jack's "origin":

But, truth to tell, Onion Jack is indeed the only superhero in the book. The rest of the collection comprises mostly black-and-white strips that cover a ranges of genres. The reportage, such as Kim Deitch's Ready to Die, about prisoners on death row, and Joe Sacco's Complacency Kills, about U.S. troops in Iraq, was particularly compelling; Nakedness and Power, a primer on Nigerian oil politics and the protests against it (by Seth Tocoman, Terisa Turner, and Leigh Brownhill) packed nine graphic pages with as much information as a magazine article and was compelling to read.

The autobiographical pieces were less successful. Most of them reminded me of the worst excesses of the black-and-white autobiographical indies of the nineties: they were self-indulgent and interesting only to the authors and perhaps their friends. Johnathan Bennett's Dance with the Ventures (which apparently does have fictional elements) never clicked for me with any universals or common experiences that I could understand or relate to; Jesse Reklaw's Thirteen Cats of My Childhood went on for twenty pages that I found as compelling a scrapbook of pictures of other people's pets. David Lasky's Diary of a Bread Delivery Guy, in comparison, was both clever and short.

Some entries were unclassifiable. Rebecca Dart's Rabbithead has some sort of fantasy narrative to it, but is really just a formalist exercise, albeit a beautifully rendered and intellectually complex one.

There were some sure-fire hits in the mix, and some surprises. You can't go wrong with a Rick Geary one-pager on seduction, and I'll take a Jaime Hernandez locas story (this one centered on Hopey) any length, anywhere, anytime. I was already a bit interested in Alex Robinson; the excerpt from Tricked ratcheted that interest up higher. On the other hand, the excerpt from Jessica Abel's La Perdida just didn't work as an enticement; I'll still get the book, but despite this selection, not because of it. One new-to-me find was Anders Nilsen, whose bleak and moody piece The Gift (sort of Tintin by way of Ingmar Bergman and Sam Peckinpah) made me want to see a lot more of his stuff:

I must admit, there were some pieces I did not read, just from prior bias, particularly Robert Crumb (whom I dislike) and Gilbert Shelton (who just doesn't do anything for me). Truth to tell, Chris Ware falls into this latter category, but I did read (with the help of a bloody magnifying glass) his entry, which was a compilation of short filler-pieces he created for the issue of McSweeney's that he edited. The completed piece is a wonderful short history of comics (if you can see it - why does he make his stuff so damn small?):

There's a lot more in here: a short (color) piece from Ben Katchor, some happy dykes from Alison Bechdel, a post-modern Paul Bunyon from Lili Carre, and, of course, some Lynda Barry are among the other contributions. This is an excellent anthology overall, and one I'll likely work into a classroom someday soon.

The ridiculous and the sublime

First, here's a meme, courtesy the ever-wonderful Ragnell:

Second, some of you may know I teach college English. I'll be teaching a Composition 102 course in Winter Quarter; at this particular institution, each instructor picks his or her own theme for the class. The focus in on rhetoric, i.e., how to write well at the college level; the theme merely provides the subject matter to analyze, talk about, and respond to critically. Recent themes have included Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll; Speculative Fiction: Conscious Evolution; and Beyond Big Brother: Surveillance in the 21st Century. For this go-round, I have chosen Comics and Graphic Books: Crossing the Genres.

My idea is to read McLoud's Understanding Comics to give the class some idea of how to talk about sequential art, and then read a graphic novel or equivalent each week. (Another idea would be to start with Kavalier and Clay to position comics culturally, and not worry about doing any formalist analysis of the works themselves.) I need eight or nine titles, and I'd like them to be as diverse as possible. Here's a first stab at what I'm thinking:

Watchmen (post-modern superheroes)
Why I Hate Saturn (contemporary fiction)
Maus (memoir)
Something from Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe or Action Philosophers (non-fiction)
Sacco's Palestine or Safe Area Gorazde (reportage)
Something from Age of Bronze (classics)
A Contract with God (short stories)
Enemy Ace: War in Heaven (adventure)

Remember, this isn't a class in comics; it's a writing class that will use comics as its readings. This list doesn't have to be historically important or comprehensive; the books merely need to be good. And, of course, I want to cross genres.

So, any comments or suggestions?

Why we love Bob Kanigher

Better than a quarter bin: I stopped by the comic book store today, and while I didn't buy anything, I did pick up some singles: the store had a Free! box right up front, filled with coverless or otherwise incomplete mags. I didn't really look through it, but just grabbed a couple random issues for my partner, a collage artist; then I sighted some Andru-Esposito art in the stack and fished out a tattered copy of Metal Men #16 from 1965. Here, as objectively as I can relate it, is the story this issue contains.


The Metal Men and Doc Magnus are looking at animated toys that Doc has invented: talking, moving action figures of Capt. Storm, Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, Capt. Cloud, and Wonder Woman. (one panel)

“Later that afternoon,” the group is entertaining at a picnic for brain-injured children. (one panel)

“Later,” Gold and Tina observe Doc taking his girlfriend Cleo out dancing. Tina gripes about it while Gold thinks it’s reasonable. (one panel)

“On the beach at Fire Island that weekend,” the story starts to take off. The Metal Men are hanging out on the beach while Doc takes Cleo put into open water so they can neck in private. (He takes his robots on a date with him?). A jealous Tina confronts them and attempts to drown Cleo.

Doc speaks harshly to her and she zzzzinnggs off crying. Doc is worried about how he hurt Tina’s feelings, which really pisses Cleo off (this seems sort of reasonable, considering she was just nearly drowned and all). Tina has headed back to the beach and flies off in the Jetaway (the flying platform thing the MM cruised around in) all huffy and stuff. The gang forms a boomerang and hurl themselves after her, catching her at what looks to be about a third of the way to the moon. (three and a half pages)

“Suddenly,” the gang pick us an SOS on their IGU. (WTF? There's no note explaining what this is.). They can't quite make contact with the sending party, so Tina and Gold form a giant antenna until the robots are hit by a beam that shrinks all of them down to toy size (ah, so that first panel was foreshadowing, not just nutty randomness). Gold forms into a stack of coins (?!) so the robots can reach the Jetaway controls; they talk to aliens Loof and Fpok-Bmud (read them backwards), who were actually trying to hit them with a homing beam. The toy-sized Metal Men fly to the aliens’ planetoid, only to be attacked by toy-sized rockets as they approach; they get knocked around pretty good. (five pages)

Then the comic is missing four pages and I can't even being to imagine what happens, because the story picks up “As the robot termites depart…” and the aliens, who look like robots made out of wooden barrels, are thanking the Metal Men, who are still little. Loof and Fpok-Bmud, whose primary characteristic is that they are incredibly stupid and know it, try to enlarge the Metal Men but only manage to twist them into pretzel shapes. They give up, dump the robots back into the Jetaway and wave a happy goodbye as the team heads back to Doc for help, now little and twisted. (two and a half pages, end part one)


Back in their headquarters, the robots decide to fix themselves with some machine. They get untwisted, but remain small and wind up paralyzed as well. Almost immediately, some uniformed security officers (?) come and take them away to the charity bazaar for the New York Association of Brain-Injured Children (aha!), thinking they are toys like Sgt. Rock et al. They don't sell (because they don't talk or move like the others) until a blind kid takes them at the very end of the auction. (two pages)

“That night,” the Little Blind Boy (he never gets a name) hears a radio broadcast that robot termites have eaten the Skytop Bridge. This affects him so greatly that he cries a whole lot, but not so much that he doesn't fall asleep in the middle of crying. Good thing, too: the saline content of the boy’s tears has de-paralyzed the Metal Men, and returned them to normal size!

They form a kind of helicopter-thing and head to what remains of the bridge. They’re having a hard time smooshing the robo-termites, so Gold turns into a heating coil and makes Mercury explode, blowing up the termites, the remains of the bridge, and the rest of the Metal Men. (two pages)

“Later,” Doc vacuums up the area, apparently on some sort of pre-FEMA general disaster investigation duty, and is surprised to find the remains of the Metal Men mised in with the schmutz.

Doc reconstitutes them, and Tina nags him into making some Metal Men toys and bringing them to Little Blind Boy, and everyone has a good smile at the end, except Iron, whose face is obscured by a word balloon. (six panels, the end)

Let’s review, shall we?

--Kanigher’s editorial line-up appearing as toys.
--The New York Association for Brain-Injured Children, which actually existed and was an early support system for LD kids. (Not so much for blind kids, though.)
--Doc out of his checkered coat (and most of the rest of his clothes!).
--“Toss Tin at the the Jetaway without letting go yourself, Iron!”
--Moronic but good-natured barrel-robot aliens.
--Robot termites.
--The MM sacrifing their "lives" for humanity (again).
--Doc Magnus has his own street sweeper.

God bless Bob Kanigher. God bless America. God bless us, every one!

PS: I always thought Tina was hot.

Well, that was unexpected

So I stop by the local comics shop just to see if there are any singles that pique my curiosity. Given my recent prediliction for collections and GNs, I'm not expecting much. I'm right -- I only grab three pamphlets -- but surprisingly, two of the three are Marvels, and those are the ones I liked. I can't remember ever purchasing a 2:1 ratio of Marvel-DC in all my days of regular buying, and I have always leaned DC-ward, so this incident seems important. Especially since I liked the comics becasue they were fun.

Agents of Atlas No. 3: Lots of folks have been digging the gorilla and robot action going on in this series, but does anyone else love that it has a spaceman called Bob? The series continues with its alternately whimsical and action-packed story, and although there was a fairly extensive expository sequence filling in Bob's past (damn those continuity issues), the story wasn't slowed down very much. Cool stuff this time around:

A text page!
Jimmy Woo kung-fu in a skinny tie and shoulder holster!
Venus says "Whee!"
An Edsel!
M-11 shows "personality"!
Dumn-Dum Dugan, if only in text form!

And Gorilla-man is rapidly turning into Marvel's Sam Simeon:

This was just fun all the way around.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man No. 1: I remember an extended trip through Europe I took some years back. Whenever we chanced upon an English-language bookstore, I would buy the book that had the most words in it, since the prices were the same whether a book was short or long -- that way I got the most for my pesos or francs. I read a lot of Dickens and Thackeray that summer.

My first response to Ant-Man was similar: it has lots of panels. Aside from a two-page spread of the SHIELD helicarrier (that contains a Steranko hommage) and a pin-up of Wolverine, most of the pages in this comic are filled with lots and lots of little panels, which, I figured, would give me lots and lots of story and character interaction. I wasn't wrong.

Kirkman, Hester, and Parks bring to mind the best of Keith Giffen, both in the art, which is absolutely engaging and energetic, and which stylistically works well in the small-panel format, and in the story, which by turns presents the quotidian, the silly, and the fantastic elements of life within SHIELD equally well.

And the new Ant-Man suit is pretty boss, although it might need a user's manual:

The only issue I have - and this has been brought up by others - is that the lead is truly not very likable. I don't know how a series can be sustained without a lead that the readers will care about, but I'm interested enough to hang around for a while to find out. Besides, it had Dum-Dum, too!

Teen Titans No. 39: Okay, so I haven't read a Titans comic in about fifteen years. I picked this up only because I read that someone called Miss Martian or Martian Maid or Sailor Mars was in it, and I was curious to see how this related to the new J'onn J'onnz stuff.

I have to say, I was completely lost. I could figure out Zatara (talk about your unpleasant characters), and I'd heard of Kid Devil, but had no idea who that Bombshell metal woman was or where the girl-Deathstroke came from. And when did Vic Stone become eight feet tall? And isn't Tim Drake shorter and more compact, rather than looking like an Olympic swimmer? And for that matter, when did Robin go to an all-red suit? Man, I am out of the loop.

Anyway, it seems the Titans are taking a trip around the world to uncover a traitor or something, giving the reader a chance to meet some of the characters, I suppose. It didn't work for me. Most of the people I met in this story were unappealing, without any compensating sense of irony or fun; they really didn't seem to like each other much at all, and I wondered why I was hanging around with them.

The convoluted continuity was actually a barrier as well. I thought this Martian girl was a new character, but she's apparently an old roommate of Ravager, so now I'm not sure. I'm also not sure how to respond to her origin, which seems to make her a Martian version of Supergirl. The existence of a free fellow Martian should be pretty meaningful to J'onn and would be at cross-purposes to his latest series, wouldn't it? So what up?

And while the character herself (M'gann M'orzz, very cute) has some retro visual appeal, she's presented as a cutesy-pie teen, and then transforms into a grim, taloned, martiany monster with boobs. Neither characterization does much for me. As much as I'd like to see J'onn have his own spin-off, I don't think I'll be back for more Martian Girlhunter (as the ad for next month calls her).

So, has Marvel cornered the market on fun these days? Who'd'a thunk it? Maybe I'll look for that Ben Grimm series I've been hearing people talk about...


Wow, two of my favorite bloggers, Bully and The Fortress Keeper, are both hiatusizing at the same time! Whatever will we do?

I missed my weekend update, but that's not even news anymore, eh?

It's been a little busy. I wanted to post a review of an old comics-related movie, and that will come soon, but I wanted to share this first:

This The Best American Comics 2006, part of The Best American series from Houghton Mifflin (a la TBA Short Stories, TBA Mystery Stories, TBA Essays, &c.). It contains 30 selections, although the endnotes are titled 100 Distinguished Comics from January 2004 to August 2005, so I'll be interested in seeing exactly how it's structured.

I haven't had a chance to go through it yet, having just received it as a gift today. I read the part of the somewhat cranky introduction by world-class crank Harvey Pekar (who also selected the comics included) explaining why there's no superhero stuff in the book - it all sucks. Okay.

The creators included that I recognized immediately were Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, Gilbert Shelton, Jessica Abel, Rick Geary, Lynda Barry, and Robert Crumb. Good company to be in.

When I have a chance, I'll scan some samples and provide more information, but I am looking forward to seeing how a mainstream anthology series will handle a project of this nature.