ACME display to EIGHTBALL #23

Acme Novelty Library display by Chris Ware –

Ooh, it’s not really a comic, but then again it so is. It’s a piece of board, almost A4 sized, ’bout 50% longer, produced by Jonathan Cape for the Jimmy Corrigan h/c. One of those cute Jimmies jumps out of a book and, with a tear in his eye, proclaims “I LOVE YOU!”. “It’s a brand new kind of interactive entertainment featuring thousands of little drawings which act out a complicated dramatic apologue of formidable scope and purview by appearing to jump around, age and cry out in despair! It’s sure to be this season’s #1 content provider!” Not only has it brightened up the stack of books but it’s also increased my vocabulary. To read makes us speak English good.   

No More Mrs. Nice Nun: Knuckles The Malevolent Nun vol 1 (£13-99) by Stone & Langridge –

“Ask us no questions or we’ll show you her thighs” is the subtitle for the introductory story and it gives you an idea of the wordplay you’ll find and also that this is no hygenic, charming, pointing at pre-raphelite nuns. She’s a bride of Christ and, let’s face it, if she was in your harem you’d probably forget about that wing of the castle existing. Roger Langridge is better known, and would be happier admitting to, FRED THE CLOWN and even ART D’ECCO. It’s a funny book, though.

Frumpy the Clown: Freaking Out the Neighbors (£11-99) by Judd Winick –

What every small child wishes for is a chain-smoking clown to call their own (apparently) so when little Kim and Brad somehow ‘find’ Frumpy the Clown, after much “can we keep him, canwecanwecanwe huh?!?!” he moves into the spare room, participating in and, errm… enriching family life. Winick’s style is well suited to the newspaper strip gag-at-the-end-of-every-line formula, and although comparisons to CALVIN AND HOBBES are inevitable (there are even a few nods to Bill Waterson scattered about the book), Frumpy stands out on its own, pitching successfully between the feelgood newspaper staple and the arch-eyebrowed insanity of Winick’s more recent work. You can really see the roots of BARRY WEEN here (look out for the throwaway reference to a guy at the kids school – Barry Ween), as Frumpy introduces varied delights of caffeine addiction, corporate sabotage and the subtleties of irony into the American nuclear family. Best of all, both extremely funny and satisfying, follow Frumpy’s tips on how to deal with those direct marketing telephone people who call you in the middle of dinner to sell you something:

“Mr F. Clown, I wonder if I could interest you in –”  

“Wait, Lemme get my cat… Can’t talk without my cat, his names Carl. Can I call you Carl? I’ve got nine cats, they’re all named Carl… I know, you thinks it’s confusing, nine cats named Carl… You know my Aunt can play spoons with her lips… she’s even better with her teeth out… She was a state finalist three years running… I’ve got six goldfish, wanna guess their names…?”

Yay! Wish I’d thought of that.

Elektra Assassin (£18-99) by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkewicz –

Deadly but beautiful ninja action from 1987. Bill’s art begins to approach the wild invention of STRAT TOASTERS with lashings to photocopies, splayed paint, collage, stickers and time-saving short cuts. The first chapter alone seems to have given David Mack his current tortoise-like career. Frank’s splintered storyline uses multiple voices to give a sense of confusion in both the narrative and their own minds.

We begin with Elektra escaping from the asylum, controlling her memories and trying to keep the ninja training at the forefront. Throughout the book, this discipline is responsible for many great plot twists – mind-swapping, lightning-quick reflexes, mind-control, everyday objects used as weapons. There is a great beast looking to bring the destruction of the world by controlling the mind of the next president of the United States and Elektra must stop him. Although this was published by Epic, it references Miller’s earlier DAREDEVIL storyline but the only Marvel bleed-through we get to see is a big-gun-obsessed Nick Fury along with several disposable S.H.I.E.L.D operatives.

Complete Crumb Comics vol 16 (£14-50) by Robert Crumb –

Peter Bagge’s introduction to volume fifteen was fascinating. Crumb was always taking chances. The much lauded (now anyway) WEIRDO was a big flop. The eclectic mix of Crumb’s work, found doodles and fumetti was mostly hated at the time. This probably pleased him as it was a reaction against the high-art of RAW. One could even imagine Mode O’Day (his ultra-‘80s heroine) having a copy on her coffee table. Even tho’ he hated the music, Crumb was taken with the spirit of punk, probably more than he was with the hippie culture that he is most associated with and that was reflected in the layout of his soon-to-be anthology. These books are always fascinating insights into most everything that Crumb published including commercial assignments, homemade greeting cards the comic work that he did. This time the introduction is by the man himself.

Belly Button #1 (£3-50) by Sophie Crumb –

A background character in CEREBUS and a set artist for the Ghost World Film gets to draw her own comic. Some of the advertising gave her name as just ‘Sophie’ but we know it’s the daughter of the the father of the undergrounds. Does this make the undergrounds her siblings? Does she wake ZAP #1 up on Christmas Day and sneak down to see who’s got the bigger present? Is she told off on long car journeys for fighting in the back with a copy of SLOW DEATH? Will BIJOU FUNNIES embarrass her by telling her new boyfriend about that time she was bought home drunk from a party? Yeah, you’re probably right.

Complete Dirty Laundry Comix (£11-99) by Crumb & Kominsky-Crumb –

Aline & Bob’s life as drawn by the two of them. Possibly part of Robt.’s quest to piss off as many people as he could. Doing his damnedest to alienate his ZAP-era fans by including his wife whose style was quite different from his own. And most anyone else’s. The fact remains that she’s a good storyteller, conversational and open. Maybe a little too open, but if we’re in Crumb territory we should be ready for that. The stories were handled as a duet, with both pens on the same panel. I like looking at his excellently textured, angsty figures right next to her jagged, neurotic lines. It works.

Finder: Sin Eater vol. 2 (£14-99) by Carla Speed McNeil –

Jaeger’s time with Emma and her brood concludes for now. Stunning invention and attention to a created mythology. Set in the city of Anvard, Jaeger arrives and catches up with a family he knew from his army days. The children appear to be growing up relatively untouched by their father’s obvious difficulties stemming from his military experiences and their mother’s inability to cope with the world. The new issue just arrive today and, along with CEREBUS, it’s one of those books that has to be read immediately.

Finder vol 5: Dream Sequence (£14-99) by McNeil –

A good virtual reality/game play story, a bit of eXistenZ, a bit of the Matrix and a lot of invention. One of the best happens at the start.

A worker arrives at his office, puts a box over his head, joins up with, maybe, twenty of his co-workers and they all stand there in a small room. The scene cuts to what they’re seeing – a spacious office with room for everyone. If the city is running out of space it builds more virtual space.

Games are played this way as well even though they’ve taken on new realms. Instead of an objective, in ‘Elsewhere’ you’ve got a complete land to roam around in and you yourself are changed. The writer is Magri White, once a gifted child, now the cash-cow for a major company. All this pressure and spending most of his time ‘Elsewhere’ hasn’t been good for him. He’s hardly there, mentally or physically, and that’s a problem. Something is wrong in his mind and that means that something terrible is happening in the game. People are coming back changed. Or broken.

This is the darkest of the books so far and stands alone very well if you’re up for a bit of cerebral science fiction horror.   

Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic (£9-95) by Legg, McCarthy & Flameboy –

I know that it’s wrong to dismiss a book without reading it but this one just begs for it. The cover uses the Marvel/DC depiction of grief. You know, when Superman is cradling his dead sister or any superhero is shown crying over the loss of a friend, it’s over the top, amplified to match the tone of the other emotions well you get the same thing here. On the cover, Kurt has wings (excessive Red Bull consumption?), kneeling in a pool of his own tears. How do we read this? Even in heaven he’s suffering for us? Inside the colourist has turned the yellow up to eleven, the artist has half a dozen facial expressions and good is good and bad is bad. Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill has turned into Vampirella. Or maybe that’s an allegory. Duh. Head hurting now.

The Ganzfield 3 (£17-99) –

A healthy mix of contributors, some articles, some real history, some imagined, but mostly good, diverse comics. Ron Regé jr. finds a home for the latest issue of YEASY HOIST, rather cunningly placing it an anthology. The colour pages, some used for the excellent screen print we’ve got, have animated representations of practice spaces with a band reaching for a decent sound, a little harmony amongst the feedback and mishaps. Mark Newgarden shows and tells of an old scrapbook found at a car boot sale (or local equivalent) packed full of cuttings from 1932 Sunday supplements. New stories are made between the clipped panels, there was some method to the layout but without a key we are left to imagine our own plots. Peter Blegvad makes me think that I should have given THE BOOK OF LEVIATHAN a closer look as his contribution strings ideas and disparate images together on the them of milk. All three contributors I’ve mentioned (and there are plenty more) fit happily with the work of the (unnamed at a brief glance) editor(s) here. Objects or ideas pop up from section to section. There’s an article by Alfred Hitchcock and then he appears in Blegvad’s strip. The opening article on a link between Renaissance art and satellite photos of Jupiter’s moons zooms right down to the next, a look at colour in black and white. City planning sits nicely next to various religions’ views of the afterlife.  

The Imp #4: ¡Historietas Perversas! Mexico’s Addictive Comics (£15-99) by Dan Raeburn –

“If we measure a book’s potential by the room for improvement within it, then these books contain more potential than any book on earth.”
The best evangelical journalism (on, say, music, comics or film) can either reinvigorate or spark an initial interest in their subject. Raeburn has managed to interest me in the cheaply produced, highly dodgy Mexican pulp comics being produced today. In an amazing, long-form essay (part love letter, part confessional) he lays out the history of Mexico version of the 1950s EC standards. These deal with the Jerry Springer subjects and are regarded as embarrassing to most Mexicans. They tell the most salacious stories without actually showing too much. The script may be x-rated and immoral (although the writers/editors always make it a moral fable by the end) but the art teases and hints at much more than it’s allowed to show.

Take one example – two pneumatic lesbians rolling around on the bed fully enjoying each other’s desires. By the end of the book one of the two has decided that she was lured away from the straight and narrow so she kills her partner and goes for the good life instead. Her perverse desire is apparently wrong but you’ve had twenty pages of titillation before hand to see how truly wrong it is. Don’t get me started on the prison rape scenes.
Raeburn travels to Mexico City (‘the Monster’) and makes his way, through 150 pages, to meeting some of the artists, and taking in the culture that produces these books. At times his text veers off giving false histories of characters in the true style of the historietas (Mexican comics). Some of the intelligentsia that he meets initially decry the books, saying that they despise them for the trash they are, that they engender a bad rep but later admit that they’re a guilty pleasure. It’s rubber-necking at a car crash. These are trash, let’s not make any more of them than that. But… let’s look closer as they are more than they seem. It’s a cultural conflict, one that isn’t resolved at the end of the book.
The previous issues of THE IMP have turned our gaze to Dan Clowes, Jack Chick and Chris Ware and this one sees Raeburn on an absolute roll. He does his best to make the parts of the book as salacious and crooked as the comics themselves. I’m hooked.

Kitsune Tales #1 (£3-50) by Woodrow Phoenix & Andi Watson –

A change of page for Andi and a welcome return to one of his older characters. We last saw Kitsune, the fox spirit, attending her garden in the final SKELETON KEY volume. Woodrow saw possibilities for a all action, ancient Japanese landscape, butt-kicking, food-related adventure so he wrote it up and Andi drew it. As the recent Watson output has been so down to earth (and we’re not complaining here, how could you not love DUMPED, SLOW NEWS DAY or BREAKFAST AFTER NOON?) we’ve not had the wonder of towering Ukiyo-e mountains, great tables spread with delicacies or oriental monsters. But now we do.

The Comics Journal #259 (£4-50, Fantagraphics) edited by Dirk Deppey –

It’s Year In Review time coupled with the bright hopes for the future with full page reviews for the best of ’03 and chunky interviews for the new blood. Kevin Huizenga, Sammy Harkham, John Pham & Dan Zettwoch are some of the interviewees along with Drew Weing who’s work I’m going to have to have a search for. His online strips look lush and inviting. Books of the year include ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK, TEZUKA’S BUDDHA, KRAMERS ERGOT FOUR, THE FRANK BOOK, LOUIS RIEL, PALOMAR and RIPPLE. And some of the small press stuff will have to be hunted down. Dontcha just love magazines that agree with everything you say? Nice article about the current manga boom detailing Toren Smith’s reason for getting out while the getting’s good. 

{As a completely unrelated side note… At a friend’s party a couple of years ago, the theme was ‘punk’. It broke the ice and was fun to work out what you’d got left in the kitchen drawer to make a costume out of. Her brother ripped up a t-shirt, put an old pair of scruffy jeans on and looked in the mirror. He just looked gay. So, to make sure that folks realised that it was a ‘punk’ look (shades of GHOST WORLD here) he took a big marker pen and wrote ‘classwar’ down one leg. Unfortunately, when he sat down you couldn’t see the ‘c’ or the ‘l’. Back to square one….}

The Comics Journal #256 (£4-99) ed. by Gary Groth –

The Comics Journal turns into The Wire by covering a group of artists that rarely distribute their work outside of their own state, have only a handful of books in print but turn in excellent shorts for the better anthologies. The Fort Thunder collective include Brian CLIMBING OUT Ralph, Mat TERATOID HEIGHTS Brinkman and Brian MAGGOTS Chippendale among their number. I have to admit that the last book is still unreleased so this makes them even more obscure to even the more clued-up of readers. They’re the spiritual heirs to Gary Panter’s scratchy, frenetic pages and helped to make KRAMER’S ERGOT VOL 4 and NON #4 (well, we’re back to mythic objects) such an absolute joy. For a company like Fantagraphics (who were in financial trouble earlier in the year) it’s such a defiant gesture to cover, over the space of sixty-eight pages, a group of artists that go largely unread. Tom Spurgeon provides the central article and manages to show the communal living space where they slept and worked as three-way marriage between Warhol’s Factory, the ZAP team and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse without any of the financial concerns. It probably helps that I love what I have seen of their comics, love the sense of movement and the creation of personal mythology and symbols.  Highwater Books seems to be doing its best at coaxing collections out of the teams and the ones who should have been in the gang but weren’t (Ron Rege Jr, Marc Bell).  The best issue of the Journal since Devlin & Crane took over for a month. 

Be A Man #1 (£2-25) by Jeffrey Brown –

Jeffrey Brown’s own self-parody of his “ultra-sensitive” graphic novel, CLUMSY. Strange move, to follow your second, very well received graphic novel, with a nervous twitch to one side and start parodying your first. Brown’s two books have been been word-of-mouth successes here. Both very fragile reminiscences of love that failed, sex that almost happened and hearts too tender. His nervous line perfectly balances the forthright manner of his confessions each time. In January we’ll have a handful of his self-published work, basically all he can spare, and it’ll go quickly. You have been warned.

[Editor’s note: the following is freely available, in stock at the time of writing, and has a different review my Mark. This must have been a preview.]

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (£17-99, £27-99) by Chester Brown –

There’s a bit in Donnie Darko where two teachers are sitting in the staff room, one says ‘Donnie Darko, eh?’ and the other replies with something to the tune of ‘I know, what’s all that about?’. I’m not saying that Chester Brown is a maladjusted teen on anti-depressants but he’s dancing to his own drummer and that’s a good thing. First off we had YUMMY FUR and ED THE HAPPY CLOWN, a strange, meandering,scatological, three-car pile-up of a book with severed penises, rampaging Frankenstein’s monster, vampires and a gateway to another dimension. Then he switches to autobiography (when does it turn to memoirs? is it a time thing?) and he shows us too much which leads to others showing way too much and we get I NEVER LIKED YOU and THE PLAYBOY. Then (cue a lot of teeth grinding) he gets halfway through UNDERWATER, where he shows the slow understanding of language and reality of a girl from her birth onwards and stops. Quite a few readers haven’t forgiven him for putting UNDERWATER on hiatus (well, we’re being optimistic) to the point of missing out on LOUIS RIEL, his next move.

The art has changed again: gone are the fragile lines (for fragile lives) of the autobio work and he’s moving further through the solid shapes of UNDERWATER. Here you can trace a lineage from Serret, Gray and Segar as he shows us a historical figure little known outside of Canada. In the late nineteenth century, Riel was trying to find a middle ground between the French and English settlers. A natural leader, charming, well educated, he fell into problems when he was forced into exile in the US and then had a vision of God appointing him a prophet. Brown’s adaptations of the gospels proved to be fascinating, faithful readings of the book so it seems a natural progression to deal with one who had a direct line. Brown, in his footnotes, admits that he’s deviated from the facts occasionally and combined several characters to produce one but the story holds up.

Typewriter 6 (£6-50, Popzero Publications) edited by David Youngblood –

Small, thick anthology where the last line of each story is the first of the next one.  This can occasionally cramp the style of the artist or feel like a line is shoe-horned in there but sometimes it brings out the invention in a creator. Some names: Sammy Harkham, Southerrn Salazar, Neil Fitzpatrick, Josh Simmons, Paul Hornschemeier, Nicholas Robel, Nock Bertozzi, Farel Dalrymple.

Monkey & Spoon (£6-50, Adhouse) by Simone Lia –

Another perfect book from Simone. After BOTH and FLUFFY we know what to expect but it’s how effortlessly sweet, disturbing and domestic she makes it that surprises. Basically a toy monkey (how cute?) and a spoon are getting ready for the evening meal, but they’re obviously not at their best. It must have been a hard day at the office. Little snipes and instances of pride spoil what should be an all out cute-fest. A toy monkey! And a spoon! Living together! Planet of cute. But no. Oh, who am I kidding? Even when they’re arguing it’s like diving into a barrel of sleepy kittens. Cute.

Silly Daddy (£10-99, Reed Press) by Joe Chiappetta –

Reading Silly Daddy is like tuning the radio, zipping past different stations, or maybe channel surfing through a dozen different programs, a dozen different genres but all springing from the same restless mind. This is one of my favourite autobio comics and maybe one of my favourite comics full stop. This should start with ‘The Long Goodbye’, about the end of Joe’s marriage. There’s one page in there, about the moment his wife said that she wanted a divorce, that still seems quite revolutionary. The panel in question has the two of them in a room, facing each other, sitting down. After she tells him there are a few faces to the right of his, but they’re his face as well, each showing his reaction as the words sink into his brain. Not only does he keep the action in one panel but as the faces are disconnected they impart that out-of-body feeling that you get when you get any such news, that lightness of the skin and strange unconnectedness. You can see his heart breaking. Actually, I’m using melodramatic terms, quite unfair as he’s got a deft touch that avoids such things. And that’s just one panel. 

This is no navel-gazing gazette either. When it suits him he transforms his family and himself into superheroes, his fine art training (possibly self-taught, I can’t remember) coming through in the lithe limbs and feeling of weightlessness. Then there’s the self-sufficency stories, about living within your means and doing what’s right for your surroundings. Maybe we’ll get to see the projected future Silly Daddy, the barcode tattooes, Joe and his daughter on the run from the corporations. I remember Dave Sim calling the book a great horror comic and at the time I couldn’t work out what he meant. Was it Joe’s view of the outside world or his fatherly love for his daughter? There’s a lot of stuff about parenting in here. We get to see Maria from birth up to the age of 12. Her drawings pop up as the backgrounds to panels, her light keeps him going. Througout the book you can see his art becoming more assured, the linework more solid while keeping a tender quality that places the real and fabulous safely down on the page.

The Seuss, The Whole Seuss And Nothing But The Seuss (£16-99, Random House) by Charles D. Cohen, Dr. Seuss Goes To War (£10-99, The New Press) by Richard H. Minear –

If you didn’t come into contact with the world of Dr Seuss when you were a kid, you missed out big time, but there’s still an opportunity to sort it out. One of the kings of nonsense alongside Edward Lear and Spike Milligan (well, that was my childhood). These two hefty books are not the best starters, for that you need to get any of proper books. What these do do is show you the life and influences and then the war cartoons of Theodore Seuss Geisel.  Cohen has managed to amass a wealth of background material and early work that show the progression of his humour and outlook. He sort of shatters the wonderful fantasy (one that I created) of a fully formed auteur who sprang forward with chewy little books for eager little minds. It looks like it was a long road but a pleasurable one. Minear’s book comes through with large scale reproductions of Seuss’s war work.  It’s strange to see the lines and strange furry creatures of childhood reading tackling such subjects as you see here but his pen was always sharp whether in satire or fun.

Cerebus #300 (£1-50, Aardvark Vanaheim) by Dave Sim & Gerhard –

It’s all over. Was it worth waiting for? Oh, yes. Does this make CEREBUS one of the greatest achievements in comics? Why, certainly. Were the last few years of the story a little difficult? Well, it made sure you used your brain. Will there be anything like it again? I have my hopes but I’m not holding my breath. Is it true that without CEREBUS/Dave Sim there would be no Page 45? For sure. Do you agree with everything he says? No, but that’s the challenge of the book, it’s good to have your beliefs challenged. What are you doing next week? Skiing somewhere pretty.

Horace (£2-50, Paperrad) by Ben Jones –

Otherwise know as ‘Gary Panter has a lot to answer for part 2684’. But I mean that in a loving way. Horace, a musician who looks like he should be in the Kings Of Leon, is contacted by a friend who may or may not be alive. He’s invited to take part in a festival that may be happening in the far future or possibly far away on another planet. There are things living in his apartment, they act like friends but they don’t look human, goddammit! There’s some great exposition about art and creativity while Jones draws like he’s using someone else’s hand (not an insult) and you notice that beneath all the innocent lines there’s some excellent figure work going on.

Real Stuff (Swift Morales Press £12-50) by Dennis Eichorn and a host of artists –

“Eichhorn is a great storyteller…I still find it hard to believe that it all really happened to him, but since I am a wimp and a weakling, I know that I have lived a very different life from fellows like Eichhorn…being a fearful person, a shy person, has kept me at home, collecting things, drawing, reading, brooding & feeling sorry for myself. The amount of violence and fighting Eichhorn has been involved in is, in itself, astonishing to one such as me. But he is also gifted with a good sense of humor, irony & self-criticism, so that he has been able to turn his life experiences into good stories.” – Robert Crumb

When do these start? The late eighties? I think it might have been then. Fantagraphics put out the first issue of REAL STUFF with a shut’n’cut logo based on Peter Bagge’s NEAT STUFF and something by the half-forgotten Mark Zingarelli with REAL in the title. Hmm, what was that? Eichorn has led a life worth putting down on paper. A nice change from the Canadian school of autobiography, this book is chock full of fighting, drinking, drugging and making of the sweet love. (We also get stories from REAL SMUT). Some of the finest cartoonists from the end of the last century contribute. Along with Bagge & Zingarelli we see Chester Brown, Ivan Brunetti, the Hernandez brothers, Carol Lay, Terry Moore, Joe Sacco, Jim Woodring and many more.

Blab vol 14 (Fantagraphics, £14-99) edited by Monte Beauchamp –

The dark and lovely Camille Rose Garcia provides the covers and a delirious short story about medication. At first I thought that she was Al Columbia in drag but then, as she managed to get some work out into the public eye, I realised that this could never be. BLAB is the sequential Juxtapoz, low-brow art or maybe highbrow comix, RAW without the thesaurus, the anti-EDGE. Other contributors include Gary Baseman, David Sandlin, Peter Kuper, Mark Landman and the Clayton Brothers.

Edge (£12-99) by various –

An ugly collection with all the grace of a pile of ripped phone books. This is either a comic version of the bit on the Generation Game where contestants have to act out a hackneyed strip wearing ill-fitting costumes or a late-night jam session at Number Ten with Blair on guitar. Imagine a dedicated naturist in the place of Julie Andrews, running up some dresses for the Von Trapp children and you’re halfway there. One contributor, expertly balancing between Paul Pope and Craig Thompson, bang in the middle of the book, surrounded by so much static and contempt, understands that he’s working in black and white and, while his story may be a little fuzzy, manages to please the eye for a dozen pages. Then we’re right back to indignant paint brushes and soul-less soul-searching. Features Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, David Mack and others.

Sparta Massage (£17-50) by Mori Chack –

Speaking in the latest GIANT ROBOT, design team Devilrobots explained the Japanese love of cartoon characters. Companies promoting a new product or line believe that without the requisite cute being on the advertising and packaging, the product will fail. This has led to an abundance of sweet images, not from animation or comics, just existing to push a product. Devilrobots themselves do a roaring trade with other companies and get to do their own toys, t-shirts, badges and other ephemera. If animation follows it’s a bonus, not part of the initial drive. Takashi Murakami, at the forefront of modern Japanese art, takes it to another level with his ‘Dob’ character and walks with one foot in the commercial sector and one foot in the fine art. Actually he’d argue that he sees no distinction, applying values from either world to the other. Mori Chack started out selling postcards on the streets of Toyko. His Gloomy Bear character, all chunky ‘flash’ lines, candy colours and murderous intent was seized upon and transformed into a huge merchandising range, including a rather nice wallet that sitting in my back pocket. {Of course I’d rather have one of Murakami’s cherry blossom wallets he designed for Louis Vuitton, a bootleg would do}. This beautiful book collects his spot illos, designs for shirts, badges, toys, photos of knitted Gloomy Bear turning up around Tokyo and you get a sticker sheet. Chack, like Junko Mizuno, turns childhood upside down, shows the fears married to the cute stories. His understanding of advertising and the joining of Japanese and American values put him in line with Murakami’s Super Flat Manifesto. And you get a sticker sheet.

Gothic And Lolita Bible vols 4 & 5 (£17-50 each, Japanese language) –

And, while we’re on the subject of Super Flat, although this doesn’t fit into that category, it is an example of the Japanese ability to take an idea, pick it apart and put it back together, only more so. This is a book/magazine (mook) about the gothic/lolita (loligoth, honestly) culture in Japan. So, you get a load of photographs of kids from the streets of Tokyo dressed up like pre-pubescent extras from Interview With A Vampire. A friend was complaining about the current crop of goths (teenie-goths, tweenie-goths, post-nu-metallers, whatever) that haunt our streets (and Page 45). With the weary stare of a Vietnam vet, she said that in her day there was a lot more individuality, you couldn’t rush off to H&M, Topshop our one of our local goth emporiums and complete your wardrobe of the night (or Saturday afternoon). Oh, no. It was second-hand shops and sewing machines, goddammit. In one of the mooks you get a stickers to place over passport type photos to see what you’d look like with a particular loligoth haircut. And you get an article in various gothic foods to prepare. Ah, the children of the night. What sweets they make.

Birdes (£3-99) by Leon Sadler – No bearded tractors this time, just a whole load of bird(e)s.If you like David Shrigley or Pete Fowler you’ll find something in here. Hand-crafted booklet, a little rough at the edges but never less than lovely and inventive.

24 Hour Comics (£7-99, About Comics) edited by Scott McCloud –

Scott, as well as being a damn fine storyteller, is also an inventor. {Um.. decided not to go on for a while about how invention is a form of storytelling, or, more obviously, storytelling is a form of invention. You’ve been spared.} One of his finest inventions, and one of the longest-lasting, is the 24 Hour Comic challenge. The idea is, without notes or preparation apart from supplies and food, you sit down and create a twenty-four page comic in twenty-four hours. That’s plotting, pencilling, inking, paste-up, the lot. Actually, you don’t have to pencil and ink, you can (as someone has) use photographs of lego blocks if you want, just tell a story in 24 pages. The first two were produced by Scott and Steve Bissette, then Dave Sim and Neil Gaiman followed suit. Steve’s and Neil’s are reprinted here.

Jimbo In Purgatory hc (£19-99, Fantagraphics) by Gary Panter –

“After years of comparing Dante and Boccaccio to find commonalities between the two, Panter developed a narrative of his own that includes literary and pop references regularly injected throughout the captions of the reinterpreted cantos.”

I have to admit that I’m lost here, I just don’t have the brain power resources to fully understand the classical references but from what I can gather from the introduction Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’ was based on Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ about the descent into hell. So Panter, Punk Godfather of ratty art works up a plan to send his stocky hero Jimbo on the same journey. As the poems were strictly structured, the pages keep a nine panel/twelve panel rhythm throughout the book. Each section of Dante’s work had 33 sections, the story has 33 pages. If this doesn’t seem like a lot, remember that the book is 12″x17.5″. 

Jimbo and his box/skull/computer companion descend and, in place of the original characters, they meet pop-culture figures along the way. Flicking through the book you can see Boy George, Alice Cooper, Yul Brynner in Westworld, Yukio Mishima, Maria from Metropolis and dozens of others.  “Popular culture will always contain important messages for the collective organism made by the collective organism–regardless of the intentions of its creators,” – Panter. The footnotes allude to other works from both high and low culture.

The truly stunning aspect is how the pages work as composition. For each plate, there’s a decorative border (also full of images to be decoded) that sometimes plays with the panels, sometimes the images bleed into each other. Standing back a few feet there’s a pattern that goes through the panels, linking up to become a work on its own but this pattern works with the story being told from panel to panel. The viewpoint stays the same throughout, there are no above shots or dutch angles giving it a very staged feel. There’s no point in trying for naturalism here. For those interested in the Fort Thunder collective here’s one of the antecedents. I’m not usually one for saying ‘without X you wouldn’t have Y’ but it’s obvious that Panter has allowed a generation of artists to be a little looser in their outlook and allow for mistakes to be kept as part of the process.

Eightball #23 (£4-50, Fantagraphics) by Daniel Clowes –

Oh, I don’t know what I should tell you about this. All I should have to say is that “it’s a new work by Dan Clowes” and you’d be sold. Or maybe “a new, self contained, full-colour issue of Dan Clowes EIGHTBALL” and that would be that. I don’t mean that in the same way I’d say “a new work by Jon Lewis” and then believe that the phrase would send people flocking to buy it, I think I’ve learnt a little more than that. The fact that this is from the same guy who did GHOST WORLD, DAVID BORING and (duh) EIGHTBALL #22 will excite a good crowd but maybe that’s not enough. Perhaps I’ll lie about what’s inside. Or maybe I won’t.

It’s the story of Andy and how school life wasn’t everything is could have been, how his friends (possible exaggeration there) were misfits too and how, given the opportunity to do everything (everything!) you can still mess everything up. Chances are all it starts around 1976 and his girlfriend’s living back in California (she hasn’t written for ages but that hasn’t sunk in) and his grandfather is the only family he has. We’re on familiar Clowes territory, staying away from the major towns. At school he’s regarded as punchable if he’s noticed at all. 

Now, take Andy and imagine that’s he’s Peter Parker or someone along that line. Try and take a detour. Let’s make his father a scientist who created a special gun that wiped things out and a serum to make whoever took it super-strong. Or make it triggered by something analogous to the Marvel radiation-doesn’t-make-us-sick-but-gives-us-powers and have him work out a costume to wear while avenging or becoming a creature of the night. Yeah, let’s give him superpowers, a deadly gun and a costume and let him work out if great responsibility comes with great power. Of course, if I was Clowes I’d have it all go wrong and Andy would be left as stranded as everyone else, possibly a little more. Or that could have been what I got from the cover. Highly, highly recommended.