As has been mentioned in a few other places, apparently the new collection of Daniel Clowes’ Eightball comics has been selling well. In recognition of this — and believe me, better and more substantial Clowes-related stuff should appear on this website before too long — please enjoy this cover image from 1981’s Look Mom Presents (as the legal indicia puts it), a magazine-sized release from New York City’s Look Mom, Comics!, which is still around today. “The Previous Future”, as the magazine is subtitled, is one of a handful of Look Mom items from the early ’80s to feature very early work from a very young Clowes – the two-issue Psycho Comics (1981-82) is probably a little better known, but Look Mom Presents is undoubtedly the champagne.
For example, that rather striking cover. It’s attributed to Eric Cartier, “a popular French illustrator, mak[ing] his American debut.” I think this is the same Éric Cartier who would later co-found Stakhano in France, and draw the Flip series of albums, among other things; his Kaput & Zösky with Lewis Trondheim was published in English a few years back. I think he also drew a story in issue #4 of Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, which was November of 1985, although French-language sources don’t generally mark the start of his career until the end of the ’80s. Then again, a lot of English-language sources don’t start the clock on Clowes until the Mort Todd editorship of Cracked in the mid-’80s, but all of these people were around earlier in this very magazine.
Here’s part of a Clowes page – story, drawings, letters: all Clowes, who’d be about 20 years old at the time. His piece is a five-pager titled “Bill Trouble in Danger at it’s Best”, and I think the most succinct way to address it is to say that I have no idea if the grammatically unsound “it’s” is a deliberate goof or not. The story is sort of a detective spoof (described editorially as “A Metaphoric Yarn Of Life And LOVE”), but there aren’t really jokes so much as characters just existing in proximity to unfashionable or kitsch elements, like strange old records or Lee/Kirby monsters, which are handled in aloof enough a manner to suggest either affection or mockery, depending on the reader’s disposition; such ambiguity can be the stuff of engaging art, but this seems more noncommittal by dint of lacking expertise. Lots of panels are surrendered to flatly depicting the title character going through investigative motions, on the prowl for a woman marked by Death whom Danger eventually liberates via a three-of-five checkers tournament, winking to the reader as he finally scores a date. But, you know – it’s juvenilia; hesitancy is expected. The general feel is that of an artist with definite ideas of where to take his obsessions, but still working out how to actually get them anywhere.
I found myself pretty engaged by another story, though: a four-page thing titled “Walkaman”. I’m not familiar at all with the writer, Roland Bucher, but in the confines of a pretty simple EC SuspenStory homage — as “The Previous Future” might suggest, many of these comics are concerned with elements of the past, especially trashy and generic stuff — he puts together a surprisingly prescient depiction of humanity glued helplessly to the information stream pouring out from their headphones. I mean, on one hand, the criticisms here are *exactly* the same you hear about people staring at their phones all day, so in a way you get the impression that cranks have been cranky in much the same way throughout recent history, but on the other hand: we don’t need to insert official Maytag cassettes anymore, we just labor under the suspicion that much of our activity online serves to benefit valuable brand interests, conscripting us all into an endless campaign of indirect advertisement. (Remember to scroll down the page for this week’s shopping tips, btw.) It’s also the best-looking comic in the magazine; the penciller and letterer is Pete Friedrich, who is also the magazine’s editor and art director (and I think, moreover, the head of Look Mom), but he is not always served well throughout by inkers. Here, though, he has Dave Simons, who was already doing some Marvel work by ’81, and continues to operate in mainline genre comics today – they make an appropriate team for a story that plays out similarly to the later (1988) John Carpenter film They Live, with aliens disguised as humans benefiting from our narcotized state and rebels seeking to disrupt the media flow; the Carpenter film, of course, was itself inspired by a Ray Nelson story which would itself be adapted to comics in 1986 via artist Bill Wray and Eclipse’s Alien Encounters… a very similar, if much slicker throwback comic book anthology, speaking of previous futures.
Me, I just like this lady’s bookcase:
I think Russ Cochran actually did start up The Complete Shock SuspenStories in ’81, but “WRIGHTSTON” I like to imagine is Dark Horse’s Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson, having dropped out of a wormhole from 2011. Was is supposed to be a joke that a whole lot of fancy hardcover books would be made of old comics? I guess that Eightball slipcase must be behind a word balloon…
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Diary Comics: You’ve probably seen a few packages of autobiographical strips from Dustin Harbin available over the years, but this 5″ x 6.5″, 236-page Koyama Press edition aims to be premiere iteration, with some pages removed and others newly added to create more of a linear picture of life and artistic development. An additional 17-page introduction should also be expected. Samples; $15.00.
The Princess and the Pony: Being the new release from Kate Beaton, an inarguable phenomenon of 21st century webcomics. So great has her crossover success been, that I’m really grabbing the sides of my head right now trying to assess whether this is her first book available in comics stores that doesn’t reprint any material from her website. I think it is, though the fat pony seen above does originate in earlier strips. Anyway, this 11″ x 9″, 40-page Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine hardcover marks Beaton’s entry into the world of children’s picture books, with themes of heroism and friendship; $17.99.
Berlin #19: Alternative comic books – sometimes, they are long-running. Pretty soon we’ll be up to the 20-year anniversary of this expansive portrait of a city and an age from artist Jason Lutes; I don’t know if the plan is still to reach issue #24, but if the series has navigated the market turmoils of its life thus far, I’m confident we’ll be seeing it well into the future. A 24-page chapter, from Drawn & Quarterly; $5.95.
8House: Arclight #1 (&) We Stand on Guard #1: YOUR IMAGE DEBUTS, HIGHNESS. 8House is a whole set of series taking place in an enormous shared fantasy world; as with the well-received revamp of the Extreme Studios series Prophet, Brandon Graham is kinda out in front with the project, though I think Arclight will attract some extra attention for the presence of Marian Churchland, who wrote and drew an admired allegorical graphic novel Beast, which Image published in 2009. We Stand on Guard, meanwhile, is a 40-page action comic from big media heavy-hitters: writer Brian K. Vaughan (developer and former showrunner of the Under the Dome television series) and artist Steve Skroce (longtime storyboardist for the Wachowskis, including the recent Netflix series Sense8). And, of course, they are also respected and skilled at comics: an ‘Absolute’ edition of the Vaughan-written Y: The Last Man drops from Vertigo this week, and a conclusion to the Skroce-drawn Doc Frankenstein is due later this year from Burlyman. This series, however, deals with heroic Canadians repelling a U.S. invasion in the 22nd century, when giant robots are a thing. Arclight preview, Guard preview; $2.99 (each).
Satellite Sam #15 (&) Zero #18: But as a reminder comics don’t just begin at Image, here are a pair of series conclusions. Satellite Sam was always pretty unusual – a b&w period drama set in the world of live television, with a hugely licentious atmosphere courtesy of artist Howard Chaykin. The writer is Matt Fraction. Zero mixed things up even more: it was a set of self-contained comic books hopping around the life of a special operative, and thus the past, present and imagined future of global political violence. Most of the team remained constant — writer Ales Kot, colorist Jordie Bellaire, letterer Clayton Cowles and designer Tom Muller — but a different artist drew every issue; the final guest is Tula Lotay, whose Supreme Blue Rose superheroesque series with writer Warren Ellis also sees a collected edition from Image this week; $2.99.
Corto Maltese: Beyond the Windy Isles (&) Miss: Better Living Through Crime: Two continuing and/or republished Eurocomics choices. IDW is still being Corto Maltese, the Hugo Pratt creation it has committed to restoring to English-translated print; the work in this book dates from 1970-71. Miss is a 1999-2002 series from writer Philippe Thirault and artists Marc Riou & Mark Vigouroux which Humanoids has released twice before, most recently in 2004. It’s an ambling, 1920’s-set detailed thing about a woman who falls into murder-for-hire, and the trouble-prone pimp with whom she becomes connected; lots of racial concerns, family drama. I liked it; $29.99 (Corto), $29.95 (Miss).
Last Man Vol. 2: The Royal Cup: Also a continuing French comics translation, this time a manga-influenced series from Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville & Balak, published by First Second. A worthwhile exchange between critic Zainab Akhtar and Balak on the book’s gender portrayals can be read here; $9.99.
Roger Dahl’s Comic Japan: Best of Zero Gravity Cartoons from the Japan Times: Your AUTHENTIC MANGA of the week comes from a long-lived English-language Japanese newspaper, where Roger Dahl has been contributing political cartoons and comics on the expat life since 1991. It’s the latter that makes up this 168-page softcover from Tuttle Publishing, with bonus contextual introductions and musings from the artist; $15.95.
Prince Valiant Vol. 11: 1957-1958 (&) Mike Zeck’s Classic Marvel Stories – Artist’s Edition: Large books of old comics. Fantagraphics is behind the new Hal Foster, 112 pages at 10.25″ x 14″, with a bonus suite of the creator’s advertising art. IDW handles Zeck, an action comics artist’s artist, with 192 pages’ worth of superhero original art at 12″ x 17″, with portions of the original The Punisher miniseries and Kraven’s Last Hunt included among other pieces; $34.99 (Prince), $125.00 (Zeck).
On the Graphic Novel: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week, a University Press of Mississippi release of Bruce Campbell’s translation of a formal/cultural study by Spanish artist and critic Santiago García, “illustrat[ing] how the graphic novel, with its increasingly global and aesthetically sophisticated profile, represents a new model for graphic narrative production that empowers authors and challenges longstanding social prejudices against comics and what they can achieve.” It’s 375 pages; $60.00.