There’s a part of me that thinks “if your comic doesn’t have a cover like this, you should just go home.” I mean, holy crap – what’s even happening?! I can’t really describe the physics, or even the spatial relationships here, let alone the completely jarring and horrific juxtapositions of digital textures, but the fucking CHAOS of this image is fantastic. I want to see what’s inside even before I notice that old-fashioned box in the upper left corner, and I realize Chick Publications is at it again.
The Crusaders has been a longstanding subject of this magazine’s fascination; cat yronwode first reported on the series in issue #50 of the print edition, from October of 1979. By that time, the series was already five years old – the creators are Jack T. Chick and Fred Carter, the former a semi-legendary impresario of giveaway comic book tracts with a severe fundamentalist Christian bent, and the latter a startlingly vivid, muscular artist who began drawing tracts for Chick in ’72. The Crusaders is their full-sized comic book series, a color side project to the b&w tracts, affording them greater space to expound upon top threats to Christian living such as rock music, evolution and Jesuits, all filtered through the often disquietingly gruesome adventures of Tim Clark and Jim Carter, men-of-action and (one suspects) strapping fantasy stand-ins for the authors themselves.
This marriage of Chick’s rigid theology to Carter’s art proved irresistible to a certain type of post-underground comics reader, even after the series launched into an exhausting 150-page unfinished serial narrative of Roman Catholic skullduggery that brought the whole enterprise screeching to a halt with issue #17 in 1988; the series would not resume until 2007, at which point it returned to self-contained stories but employed its action heroes mainly as vessels for listening to other characters’ testimony on Mormons or whatnot. By that time, admirers had sussed out Carter’s identity; like Carl Barks, his prior works had been created under a company brand, though, like a Disney cartoonist, his anonymous art had reached a terrific mass audience. He is probably one of the most widely-exposed black cartoonists of the 20th century, though even today Chick’s infamy eclipses him so that many readers of tweeted excerpts and parodic Photoshops assume that Chick draws everything himself. And unlike Walt Disney, or Stan Lee, Jack Chick actually does draw a lot on his own – but he does not draw anything like Fred Carter.
Times have changed. Carter is fully credited in the new issue #22, which finds him firmly in the grip of contemporary digital textures. The heart of his drawing is still present — the vivid, just-shy-of-caricature faces of his people; the rich, darkened welts of whipcracked flesh, ropes of blood coiling off leather in the air — though his use of digital elements gives settings a garish and collage-like appearance. This, I admit, is somewhat fitting for “Unthinkable”, which is adapted from a 2008 prose book: John P. McTernan’s As America Has Done To Israel, which from the evidence here seems to be one of those God-takes-revenge-on-us-with-weather-and-stuff things I used to find under my windshield wipers in tract form back in 1998. All of those were about abortion; this one is about Israel, and how God definitely does not think we in the United States are doing enough on its behalf.
“I don’t understand,” says Jim Carter to Ms. Cohen, an elderly woman he and Tim are comforting following the hate crime death of a beloved rabbi as the issue opens. “Our country has always been good to the Jewish people.” What results is a careening journey through the ages, leaping from the anti-Semitism of Henry Ford to a retelling of the exodus from Egypt, stopping in to reflect on the godliness of George Washington and the critical role financier Haym Solomon played in the American Revolution. FROM THAT DAY UNTIL THE DAYS OF 33RD DEGREE MASONIC PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, GOD BLESSED THE USA, BECAUSE THEY BLESSED ISRAEL – so barks the running narration (emphasis as provided), leaving the reader to wonder what pissed God off in 1906 to bring about the San Francisco earthquake.
A lot of what happens on subsequent pages finds Carter drawing historical figures from what I presume are photographs, given how tame his predilections toward drama become. The digital collage of his panels is apropos because his pages become like infographics, communicating data from a distance on how poorly every President since Bush I has done in terms of contemplating any territorial compromise re: Israel/Palestine, their affronts placed in ‘telling’ proximity to earthquakes, forest fires, Hurricane Katrina, the global financial crisis, etc. No word on abortions, although given that I used to live in a Catholic area, those tracts may have been Jesuit false flag ops.
Not every latter-period issue of The Crusaders is like this. Issue #21, “Black Angel”, is a very straightforward comic book account of a Latino gang member’s coming to Christ, allowing Carter a lot of room to draw a wide variety of people caught in his vivified sense of human drama, a drug-diseased arm at one point pulsing with hallucinogenic demons; it’s the best of his recent color work. In here, we have to make due with pages such as the above, depicting the aftermath of God’s destruction of an American Nazi hangout via a 1938 storm; the rotting, wilting trees of panel two seem overtaken with a thick, mossy disease, popping nicely next to the cloud-parted sky of panel one, a television test-pattern shirt centering a riot of clashing debris textures – these images seem both loud and still.
Meanwhile, back in the framing story, Tim and Jim are faced with a dilemma; despite everything they’ve just been told, they know that all Jews will nonetheless burn in Hell unless they accept Christ as their savior. Calm and practiced, Jim asks Ms. Cohen how God can stand atop a mount of olives as described in Zechariah 14:1-4. “I have wondered that myself,” she remarks, at which point Tim notes that the ascension of Jesus occurs on the mount called Olivet per Acts 1:12, and three panels later the lady is on her knees accepting Jesus Christ as her personal savior, which I found roughly as convincing as the bit in Batman v Superman where Batman calls off his mission of vengeance after finding out Superman’s mom was *also* named Martha. But then, we all have genre expectations to meet.
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, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. 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. You could always just buy nothing.
Solomon: Royal Edition: This week I’m going to deliberately spotlight one publisher, since I’ve never seen any of its wares distributed by Diamond before – Kingpin Books, a Portuguese comics retailer that’s been producing original books and translations of English works for at least ten years. Indeed, artist Carlos Pedro has been publishing with them since 2006, although this particular work has taken a circuitous route befitting the global scene. Originating in 2014 as a b&w self-published English-language work, Solomon was brought by its artist to the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds, where it caught the eye of Richard Starkings, who then offered Pedro work on his Image series Elephantmen – Starkings now authors the introduction to this expanded and colorized 48-page hardcover album edition from Kingpin. It appears to be a metaphorical story about a dock worker facing monsters; $13.99.
Kong the King: This one, meanwhile, takes a more direct route to international accessibility, insofar as there are no words at all. Artist Osvaldo Medina has worked extensively with Kingpin in the past, and here he offers a 144-page take on the island-to-NYC narrative, albeit now with a human native coaxed into navigating rapacious civilization instead of a giant beast a la the 1933 motion picture. I am unaware of any prior work from this artist in North America; $17.99.
Malice in Ovenland Vol. 1: Not an enormous number of original works catch my eye this week, but I like the coloring in this kids’ fantasy comic from artist Micheline Hess, and the way she draws her main character’s glasses in a sort of Joe Sacco way in some panels; it’s a fantasy story about an adventure-hungry girl who gets sucked into a greasy adventure in an oven. Rosarium Publishing collects 124 pages of color comics in this softcover edition; $14.95.
Angora Napkin: Cuddle Core Collected Edition: Now we enter into a long stretch of reprints, all of them in their publishers’ wheelhouses. For example, IDW is currently publishing a comic book miniseries version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as adapted by artist Troy Little (previously a 2015 graphic novel from Top Shelf, which was acquired by IDW the same year). This, now, is a 320-page collection of a prior series Little had begun with IDW in ’09, though there was also a webcomic and an animated cartoon pilot, the latter of which I think will also be included on a dvd. It’s about a group of girls in a band who have comedic encounters with the supernatural; $29.99.
Monster (&) ABC Warriors: Return to Ro-Busters: Two here from Rebellion, though not necessarily dealing with 2000 AD. Monster, for instance, originated in Scream!, a very short-lived (March-June, 1984) IPC horror anthology that ultimately saw its viable contents folded into the more venerable kids’ comics forum Eagle. A creature-on-the-loose concept, it’s notable in that its first episode was written by Alan Moore, who was succeeded by John Wagner and Alan Grant. Art by ‘Heinzl’ and Jesús Redondo across 192 pages. ABC Warriors, on the other hand, is much newer and firmly 2000 AD, seeing writer Pat Mills and artist Clint Langley (the latter shifting between b&w and color ink work and the CG/photocomic stuff with which he’s probably most associated) on a 2015-16 storyline from the long-lived robot action series, presented as a 96-page hardcover; $25.99 (Monster), $18.99 (ABC).
RG Veda Book 1 (of 3): And here is Dark Horse, offering older manga in a 600+ page omnibus format. RG Veda was the professional debut of CLAMP, an all-women art collective who would eventually become superstars, though at the time they were a dōjinshi circle seeking to enter the professional ranks. The series — an older-skewing shōjo fantasy take on Indo-European mythology — facilitated this ambition, beginning in 1989 with over half a dozen members in the studio, its ranks whittled to the now-familiar four by the time the series concluded in 1996. Tokyopop handled the initial English release, but the Dark Horse editions will be more lavish at 5.75″ x 8.25″ dimensions with various color sequences preserved. Samples; $24.99.
The Sensuous Frazetta (&) Wally Wood’s Jungle Adventures with Jim King & Animan: A pair from Vanguard, which has produced a good number of books on both of these artists. The Sensuous Frazetta is a 160-or-so-page compendium of Frank Frazetta pieces from men’s magazines and spicy novels of the 1960s. Wally Wood’s Jungle Adventures collects somewhere south of 200 pages’ worth of just those types of comics from across the genre comics great’s career, including a witzend story our own Dan Nadel interpreted as “a thinly veiled rant about being misunderstood by society,” underscoring both Wood’s supreme skill at drawing and an unwillingness to depart from the pulp mode of his commercial work, even when given unprecedented freedom. Note that both of these are the softcover editions, with other formats also out there; $24.95 (each).
Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Hard Goodbye – Curator’s Collection: That’s right, it’s a book of prominent popular comics reproduced in color from the original art and printed at full size. Dark Horse is doing that now, via its Kitchen Sink Books imprint run by Denis Kitchen & John Lind, and there is probably no safer place to start than the complete original 1991-92 Dark Horse Presents serial that offered writer/artist Miller new direction for an era of superstar creator ownership. A 15″ x 21.5″ hardcover, with a Miller interview and an introduction by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez also in its 224 pages. Samples; $175.00.
Forging the Past: Seth and the Art of Memory: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is a University Press of Mississippi release of a 208-page study by Daniel Marrone on the topic of the Canadian artist Seth, concerning “the various ways in which Seth’s comics induce readers to participate in forging histories and memories…. suffused with longing for the past, but on close examination this longing is revealed to be deeply ambivalent, ironic, and self-aware.” A hardcover edition, priced for the classroom; $60.00.