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Ventriloquism School

It’s been just more than a month since Joe McCulloch was last with us, but it feels like years. But he’s back now with a review of Berserker #1, a new magazine from Breakdown Press, and suddenly the world feels all right again.

As far as first impressions go, this new comic book-format Breakdown Press magazine is a total success. You can’t tell from my scan at left, but the cover stock is so extremely thin and glossy as to seem perpetually wet; running your fingers up and down the surface, prints trailing, you can almost feel the slime on the skin of that Robert Beatty alien, his Martian sky moist from evening humidity, prison brick wall dripping from new-sprayed paint. Yet this is not a soft world – the interior stock, non-glossy, is quite heavy and firm, so that one senses not only flesh from touch, but the easy peeling of such skin from bone: a hardness only suggested by Beatty’s painting, but vivid in your hands. Who picked out the paper? Was it Joe Hales, the print producer? Someone at Hoddesdon’s Crystal Press? They did a wonderful job.

Reading the magazine is not so uncomplicated a pleasure, though at least it has cohesion of its side. The editors are Tom Oldham, a Breakdown co-founder, and Jamie Sutcliffe, a writer-on-culture and one of the operators of Strange Attractor Press, a house devoted to books on marginal and esoteric subjects, among them several fictions by the magician and comics writer Steve Moore, who (among other things) devised the “Future Shock” format for twist ending short stories in the UK’s venerable genre comics weekly 2000 AD. And — beginning on the inside-front cover, where we approach the “Nerve Centaur” to encounter Low Priestess Kleax Nix Vizz, the magazine’s maniacal host — it is clear that Berserker wants to evoke the immediacy and thrill-power of Britain’s history of serial comic venues, if in part, one guesses, as conceptual binding. Or, to hear it from Oldham: “There’s a lot of people producing comics who are working in genre, whether that’s formally or in terms of content. There’s also a lot of contemporary art floating around that’s sort of mining genre narrative and genre narrative aesthetics. We just wanted to do something that presented that work, and the format and mode that we chose to present it in was that of a European science fiction anthology comic à la 2000 AD.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Roz Chast appears on Fresh Air this week. She also talks to the New York Times about her reading habits.

The last book that made you laugh?

“Trashed,” the graphic novel about a garbage collector that I mentioned before. At one point, the garbage collector is taunted by a jerky kid. Later that day while on his route, he sees that kid from behind and throws a bag of garbage at him. When the kid turns around, he realizes it’s just some poor bespectacled shlub who happens to be wearing the same shirt as the taunter. He muses about how, for the rest of his life, that kid is going to wonder why a trash collector threw a bag of garbage at him.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles Gene Luen Yang.

In the mid- to late ’90s, Yang hadn’t seen a viable career as an illustrator, and instead became a computer programmer, then a teacher, after graduating from UC Berkeley. The comic book industry was threatened with collapse as Marvel Comics declared bankruptcy. “So I just thought, ‘Some people spend money on golf to relax. I will spend money on making comics,’” Yang says.
As a child, Yang read comics in secret, hiding from disapproving parents, sneaking out of the library with a friend to a nearby comic book store. “We’d check out these coffee-table size books that we could sneak our comics home in,” he recalls.

Curbed briefly talks to Julia Wertz and excerpts her new book.

Wertz hesitates to categorize the book as any one genre; though it has elements of a guidebook, or a memoir, and (most notably) a history of the city, she says it’s really “a canonization of my obsessions in New York City.”


—Reviews & Commentary.
Robert Boyd writes about the painter (and former PictureBox artist) Trenton Doyle Hancock, and the connections between artists, comic books, and recurring characters.

For Hancock, the idea of making characters involves the whole universe of modern capitalist trademarked characters. That includes making toys of characters; Hancock is a devoted collector of toys.

As I talked to Davenport, we both realized that for most of art history, artists had a bunch of characters they could use over and over. Biblical characters are obvious choices, and mythological characters, and historical figures. What is different about those characters and modern corporate characters is that no one owned Jesus or Zeus. Disney owns Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man. Warner Brothers owns Batman and the Teen Titans. And artist can use these characters once or twice, but if they try to create involve bodies of work using these characters, they’ll get legally shut down. Spider-Man is just too valuable to Disney to let Trenton Doyle Hancock or any other artists to do with it whatever they want.

—Misc. The Washington Post writes about a new Charlie Hebdo initiative to cover the United States for an American audience. It looks so far to be a great deal less caustic than the magazine’s traditional product.

On Wednesday, the newspaper released a lengthy report in English on the so-called American resistance, with a particular eye to what remains of the U.S. left. The project, titled “Feeling the Burn: The Left Under Trump,” will appear online in weekly installments in the form of a graphic nonfiction novel, which will permit the newspaper to continue with its visual trademark: caricatures and cartoons.

The online Paris Review has a story about an impromptu sorta-collaboration between children’s book author Sandra Boynton and New Yorker cartoonist George Booth.

This past August, Boynton, sixty-four, wound up in Brooklyn at a block party with bipedal George Booth, the legendary New Yorker cartoonist, ninety-one-years young and known, among other things, for cartoons of dirty garages and pets forced to endure lunatic owners. He spent that afternoon parked in a folding chair drawing cartoons for the neighborhood children. As Motown music played, the nonagenarian quickly sketched a couple hapless dogs on a piece of printer paper—one sitting down, one mid-twirl on one leg—and gave them to Boynton as a gift. On the car ride home to Connecticut, with the drawings on her lap and the music playing in her head, Boynton conceived of the whole story.

Lynn Johnston does an “unboxing” video (!) to mark the first volume of IDW’s complete For Better or Worse.


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