“Operation Vaporizer” is a short sharp shock of a war/sci-fi/horror comic, narrated by a veteran reminiscing about his time with a top-secret unit that tested an experimental telepathic weapon in the jungles of Vietnam. The Full Metal Jacket-style slang (“I was in The Shit”) and the dingy green and red-orange palette root the thing to the period, providing a solid platform for diving out into the Weird.
This morning on the site we feature the return of Bob Levin, and his look at Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Now based on Twitter conversations from a few months ago, I know a lot of you will immediately begin complaining that everyone has already read enough about that book, but (1) you haven’t, not really, (2) get used to it, because books like this (ambitious and largely successful) tend to get talked about for a long time, and (3) Bob Levin is allowed to write about anything he wants. Here is a very brief excerpt, especially designed to annoy a certain kind of person:
The second day I slit the cellophane wrapper.
—The longtime New Yorker cartoonist Ed Fisher has died at the age of 86. That magazine’s cartoon editor Bob Mankoff announced the news on his blog. The New York Times has an obituary here. Mike Lynch and Michael Maslin offer their own thoughts on the artist.
[UPDATE: ComiXology has issued a new statement today, contradicting earlier reports. I find this all somewhat confusing, and don't understand how to reconcile comiXology implicitly confirming the original story with this new information, but there it is. You can read the statement here.]
Finally, a recommendation: The Harvey Kurtzman exhibition at the Society of Illustrators in NYC is excellent. I’ve seen Kurtzman originals before, but to see so many covers, and, best of all, a full set of rough breakdowns for an EC war story, was an unusual treat. Kurtzman’s pencils have all the gestural verve I always felt in his brushwork, but it’s that much more immediate here. The Bill Griffith exhibition upstairs is smaller but full of excellent work, both single drawings and complete strips, from throughout Griffith’s career. Like Kurtzman, Griffith is both a master satirist and a highly skilled artist devoted to his craft. It shows in the work.
In 1956, [Julius] Schwartz chose Infantino to pencil a tryout issue of a new version of the Flash. Working from a script by Robert Kanigher, Infantino’s pencils on “Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!” in Showcase #4 (September-October 1956) achieved a new kind of superhero action, emphasizing design and movement, with a kinetic quality that was exhilarating. Infantino’s design for the retooled Flash — an all-red costume except for bits of yellow — was like a sleek, modern sports car. His visual conception, along with uncommonly mature stories by Robert Kanigher and John Broome, sold the reinvented character to the burgeoning number of baby boomers who were looking for something new and exciting. The success of the Flash led to the reinvention of Green Lantern and other Golden Age heroes at National/DC, which in turn inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create the Fantastic Four in 1961. Later comics historians would identify Showcase #4 as the kick-off for what came to be called the Silver Age of comics.
Elsewhere on the internet, as we wait for the deluge of MoCCA fest reports. (I went Saturday. It seemed much improved in terms of organization, I met up with various people I like to see, & I got some interesting-looking comics I haven’t read yet. Otherwise, I didn’t get a strong sense of how the people at tables felt about the show.)
—Peter Bagge was interviewed by Reason:
Which alerted me to the fact that somehow I missed that Bagge had reviewed the new Al Capp biography.
—Tom Spurgeon, who was in fine form at MoCCA, has interviewed one of the other big ’90s humor cartoonists, Bob Fingerman.
Like several others in his generation, Infantino began his career by doing a number of different jobs — writing, pencils, inks, even some support work — for a variety of publishers and titles. His strongest work during this period was for Shelly Mayer at National, where Infantino worked on popular second-tier superhero titles like Flash and Green Lantern.
Infantino produced his most fondly remembered and important comics art for DC in the “Silver Age” of the 1950s and 1960s. He was the artist on the title which marked the beginning of this period, the revamped Flash, from its launching in 1956 into the mid-’60s. His art on Adam Strange, with its elaborate cityscapes and elegant line-work, remains for many the quintessential American science-fiction comic. In 1964, his work on what was called the “new look” Batman saved that title from cancellation and pointed the way to several refashionings of the character of the next 25 years.
A popular artist and extremely effective cover designer, Infantino scaled back his artistic output at the height of his powers to become DC’s artistic director. He eventually became publisher in 1971 and then president of DC. In all of these positions, Infantino presided over a number of experimental titles and laudatory publishing efforts: comic-book version of pulp characters like The Shadow and Tarzan, the fan favorite Green Lantern-Green Arrow series, the Fourth World saga of Jack Kirby, and the revival of C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel among the high-profile efforts; the luscious Sergio Aragones/Nick Cardy Bat Lash and the active recruitment of Filipino artists among his most important, lesser-known efforts.
We’ll have further coverage next week.
Infantino was not the industry’s only death this week. New Yorker cartoonist Ed Fisher passed away, and longtime Archie writer George Gladir also died.
Today, Rob Clough reviews Miriam Katin’s Letting Go:
The entire book is drawn in colored pencil. This adds a vibrancy and immediacy to the comic that makes it look like it was ripped right out of Katin’s sketchbook. It also allows her to shift from naturalism to a cartoonier style with little effort. Katin’s own self-caricature is one of the best I’ve ever seen from an autobiographical cartoonist. The scribbly lines of her hair, the slightly pointy nose, the tiny but wriggly eyebrows that express so much emotion and the way her posture alternates between slumped shoulders and excitedly active tell the story of a woman who is so often bursting with energy. In real life, Katin is poised, stylish, and charismatic, so it is funny to see her depict herself as slightly disheveled and neurotic in the pages of her book.
And Lucy Knisley is on day four of her Cartoonist’s Diary.
—Speaking of Katin, she drew a fun short comic about the NYC launch of her new book tour.
—Another sad comics death this week, with the passing of European cartoonist Fred.
—The CBLDF has posted a story and short documentary about Ryan Matheson, the young man arrested while crossing the border into Canada a few years ago, because of various manga images customs found on his laptop:
—It’s been too long since we had a good debate about how much work Stan Lee did versus how much Jack Kirby and the other Marvel artists did, so I’m sad Stephen Bissette posted this old “Bullpen Bulletin” that I’m sure will put the matter to rest forever…
Today on the site, Sean Rogers has a lengthy review of Ben Katchor’s latest book, Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories, which collects over a decade’s worth of color strips from Metropolis magazine.
Few books are as communal, as catch-all: every page a new hero, a new tale, a new voice. Or, rather, the same voice, a collective voice: Katchor yanks at his sentences with his characteristic taffy-pull between narration and dialogue, so that each merges into and props up the other, so that each person talks like the rest, and everyone contributes to the same conversation. A strip that begins with a narrator pondering the “velvet rope and stanchion” as “that most pernicious symbol of corporate greed,” accompanied by a management figure extolling the system’s virtues, soon opens its ranks to welcome in people off the street—“middle-aged men with hernias, unwed teenage mothers and tattooed first offenders”—who stage small, symbolic acts of rebellion, ducking under the ropes, violating the inflexible rules of the queue. “The physical expression of our free will,” they say, as Katchor draws them teetering, acrobatically off-kilter but assured in their acts of defiance. The effect is bathetic, of course—a bold “act of transgression” turned quixotic, the body awkwardly contorted to ridiculous effect and little gain—and yet Katchor, and the people who populate his America, will find their triumphs where they can.
And Lucy Knisley continues her week here with day three.
Elsewhere…. it’s kind of a slow new day, aside from various PR blasts. So, really you oughta just read Sean’s piece, above, but if you must leave this site, well here you go: The Decadence crew from the UK is discussed in this podcast. Hey, it’s Billy Possum! This is a classic “Oooooh Comics” story. And the great Dylan Horrocks is having an art sale with amazingly affordable prices.
As on every Tuesday, today is the day that Joe McCulloch gives you his rundown of interesting-looking comics new in stores.
And it’s also day two of Lucy Knisley’s week as our cartoon diarist.
—Bob Clarke, RIP. Tom Richmond and Mark Evanier have reminiscences. I’m sure more are to come. Clarke was one of the great finds of the Feldstein era of MAD, with a gift for pastiche that helped him create many memorable covers and parody ads into the ’90s.
Here’s a Peanuts parody by Clarke from around 1961 (found here):
—Another sad death: Paul Williams. He has no direct connection to comics that I am aware of, but as the founder of Crawdaddy (the first serious magazine of rock criticism) and as a promoter of (and later literary executor for) Philip K. Dick’s writing, his cultural impact looms large. (Here’s his 1975 Rolling Stone article on Dick that really got the ball rolling.)
—Stefan Kanfer writes about George Herriman and Krazy Kat for City Journal, and Robert Boyd reviews six semi-recent comics on his art blog.
—Sean Kleefeld posts an old Life magazine story explaining why Al Capp finally decided to let Lil’ Abner get married.
—If you frequent more superhero-centric parts of the comics internet, you may have heard that Valiant is planning to relaunch the old Quantum & Woody series, without the original creators’ involvement. Prompted by this, V.R. Gallagher reposted some old thoughts of Q&W writer Christopher Priest, and offered some of her own on working in superhero comics as a minority.
In this 1989 interview, Bill Watterson talks about the tension between realities in Calvin and Hobbes, how popular art doesn’t have to pander, nuance, animation and why he chose not license the strip. Continue reading →