THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/25/15 – Shades of the Grey Lady)


It's always a pleasure when an old favorite is in the news, or at least connected to recent news, so I hope you'll indulge me another trek to the house of whipcord, i.e. the oeuvre of New York City's own Eric Stanton, sub-underground fetish comics legend and the pornographer in attendance at the birth of the Marvel Universe - which is to say he was seated across the room from studiomate Steve Ditko whilst many a massive missive manifested. "My 'Aunt Mae' is the Aunt [May] in 'Spider-Man'," Stanton revealed to Eric Kroll in the 1997 Taschen retrospective The Art of Eric Stanton: For the Man Who Knows His Place, but while this does add a certain spice to the wheatcake batter, it's not just those funnies which inspired so much of our current cinema that were kissed by Stanton's devilish gaze.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an excerpt from a forthcoming memoir by Guggenheim fellow and True Blood scriptwriter Chris Offutt, also an author of fiction and non-fiction prose, though the most exacting nerds among us may recall his contributions as writer to a pair of Dark Horse comics anthologies: Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist #6 (2005) and Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics (2009). As it happened, the Times excerpt also had a comics connection; in searching through the archives of his late father, Andrew J. Offutt -- a Kentucky novelist with credits on popular mainline fantasy series such as Thieves' World, but also a prodigious pornographic output under a variety of pseudonyms, most prominently "John Cleve" -- C. Offutt came across 120 issues' worth of a never-published comic book series titled The Saga of Valkyria Barbosa. Written and drawn by A. Offutt in the '50s & '60s, these 4,000 or so pages of comics concerned fantastical scenarios of women under the sexual domination of other women; the artist had begun drawing images of ladies in torment at age 14, a predilection which seems to have served as lodestone for fearsome guilt on the part of the artist - "full of my shame and my wickedness and my weakness."

The excerpt was widely shared online, but what really piqued my interest was a tweet from Rodrigo Baeza, suggesting that A. Offutt *did* publish some erotic comics. In fact, "Turk Winter" -- another of Offutt's pen names -- served as writer for several of Eric Stanton's self-published comics, most notably Blunder Broad, a potpourri of image suites, often wordless, depicting a top-heavy parody of submission enthusiast William Moulton Marston's famous heroine Wonder Woman in varying states of agony and humiliation. This was in the '70s ("my father’s most prolific and energetic period," per C. Offutt), after Stanton had broken off his association with Ditko and shifted his artistic practice to maintaining a mail-order catalog of booklets commissioned by private parties and subsequently offered in reproduction to the rest of the punters.

Often, the commissioning party would serve as de facto writer, whether credited or not, although in his introduction to the 1991 Glittering Images collection Blunder Broad - A Comix Serial, Marco Giovannini implies that "Turk Winter" and the commissioning party behind Blunder Broad may have been different people. Eric Kroll is no clearer in the Taschen book, though he does profile Winter for a few sentences, describing him as a Kentucky-based correspondent who'd discovered Stanton through The Kinky Hook (a slightly earlier collaboration with either Steve Ditko or somebody doing history's greatest Steve Ditko impersonation) and later wrote over 60 Stanton booklets, at one point even traveling to New York to meet the man in his studio - very possibly on the same 1973 NYC trip C. Offutt mentions in the Times excerpt as solidifying "John Cleve"'s relationship with Grove Press.


All of this is a very long way of getting around to the images here, which represent exactly how deep the rabbit hole gets. You see, "John Cleve" was also an Eric Stanton scriptwriter. The Punished Publisher (1976) is a fairly well-known Stanton title, if not very well-remembered by its artist; Stanton mentions to Kroll how this and two other books had originally been sold to readers in pieces, as some of Stanton's stories had been since the '50s, until a printer convinced him to allow small collected editions to assembled. The printer then ran off with much of Stanton's share of the profits. Exactly why A. Offutt would deploy a different pseudonym while working with what was essentially a one man show by that point is unknown, though it's possible him and Stanton were making some attempt at attracting Clive's own pornographic readership - or, as C. Offutt suggests, the Clive name may have simply been appended to what A. Offutt considered his better work.

Set in the glamorous and highly erotic world of book editing and publicity, The Punished Publisher concerns the trials of Robert Caswell, callow old money heir to Dolphin Press, who's more than delighted to "go along with the gals" by releasing a trendy new women's liberation manifesto by the statuesque Ann Adams - particularly if he can get Ms. Adams over to his manor to discuss 'revisions' while his wife's away. Alas, a fight soon breaks out: Ms. Adams is tired being called a girl, tired of the sexual harassment, and tired of Mr. Caswell's invasion into her private affairs with long-suffering Dolphin EiC Joy Sloan. But because her publisher insists upon first-hand research into the sexuality of the liberated woman, Ms. Adams relents, stripping down to her underthings, crushing the man's weak shoulders in her embrace, and whipping that motherfucker in the face with a 10-inch dildo. "I carry this lovely strap-on piledriver around in my purse just for darlings like you," states the well-prepared author, quickly exploring means of ingress via what the fanfic writers call a "dubcon" or 'dubious consent' scenario - VERY dubious in this case, particularly after she invites the editor Joy over for the party with her own prodigious toy. The women laugh, the women lash; they hold the bound man's wee-wee when he has to pee and boast about how much more money they'll be making now that they're quitting work with him. Finally, they tie him up in the foyer with one used dildo lashed onto to his face and the other plugged in his ass, as a special treat for his wife to discover.

In a later Taschen collection, 1998's Eric Stanton: The Dominant Wives & Other Stories, editor Dian Hanson fondly recalls discovering The Punished Publisher upon its initial publication and mistaking it for an actual statement of solidarity with the feminist struggle; of course, it was just a pair of guys getting their jollies by imagining the pleasure of a man's degradation. But then, this doesn't sound much like Valkyria Barbosa at all - it sounds like the kind of rather specific porn that made Eric Stanton a living legend for a while.

Now that Stanton and A. Offutt (and John Cleve and Turk Winter) are dead, it's difficult to determine the provenance of their collaboration. Was Offutt a patron of Stanton's, funneling some money from his own erotic endeavors to another's? To some extent, I think this is possible, but I also suspect Stanton and Offutt came to understand one another as professionals, both of whom enjoyed erotic work, personally, but produced so much of it in the '70s as a means of raising their families. They were prolific and disciplined, and truthfully - they did not have very many peers. No, John Cleve is credited with "DIALOGUE" on The Punished Publisher, and my supposition is that it happened because Stanton just felt this novelist could write better dialogue, nimbly exploiting the social justice issues of the day as a most novel and modern justification for longstanding pleasures. In other words, it was work. Andrew Offutt was no comics amateur. He was a marginal pro, but a pro nonetheless.


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.




Seraphim: 266613336 Wings: In which Dark Horse again presents comics by the late, revered animated film director Satoshi Kon, this time a 1995-96 serial from the pages of Animage, created from a story by another anime auteur, Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell. Or, maybe I should cite his opaque 1985 OVA Angel's Egg, since this story concerns a plague that gives humans dead, divine bodies. Know that this work was left unfinished at the time of the artist's death, much like last year's DH/Kon release Opus. Vertical plans to release Dream Fossil, a collection of Kon's short comics, later this year. Preview; $19.99.


Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 1 - Phantom Blood Vol. 1 (of 2): Now this is a treat. A treat that's been available in digital form for months now, yes, but still a treat! Since 1986, Hirohiko Araki has been chronicling the never-ending battles of the Joestar clan, a family of heroes who've managed to fit themselves into basically whatever sort of comic their creator feels like drawing. This VIZ hardcover collects the earliest stuff, a riotous supernatural melodrama set in the sort of 19th century terrain you might find in a very pretentious '80s hair metal video, in which good noble boy Jonathan Joestar tries to be friends with his new, malevolent adopted brother Dio Brando, to extremely tragic and over-the-top results. If you want classic shōnen excess from straight out the economic bubble, consider your appointment made; $19.99.



566 Frames: Ahh, Eastern Eurocomics! Not the most well-represented in English, but this UK import from Borderline Press should help out - it's an English translation for the 2013 expanded print edition of a webcomic by Polish artist Dennis Wojda, who set out to tell the story of his family one daily panel at a time. The results are in the title of this 292-page softcover. Note that Wojda is also in Zombre, a themed horror anthology also out this week from the same publisher; $23.95.

Love: The Tiger: Moving westward, here is an 80-page, 8.5" x 11" hardcover album from Magnetic Press, a wordless piece from scenario writer Frédéric Brrémaud and artist Federico Bertolucci, who's done a number of Disney comics in Italy. It looks like a wordless account of the tiger in nature, rendered in a very lush approach reminiscent of animation concept art. Additional volumes concerning The Fox and The Lion are already out in continental Europe. Preview; $17.99.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula: Andi Watson is one of those cartoonists who's been doing his own thing for long enough now that keeping track of him is maybe a bit slippery, in that his signature approach just seems like a natural element of the comics ecosystem. I suspect First Second is a good fit for him, and what he's produced here is a cute-looking YA story of food services and executive administration in the underworld. And friendship. Preview; $14.99 (softcover), $19.99 (hardcover).

The Manara Library Vol. 6: Escape from Piranesi and Other Stories: Being the final volume of Dark Horse's effort at putting a lot of Milo Manara's major works back in print - if you count the three Manara Erotica books and the recent, similarly-designed collection of The Borgias, this is actually vol. 10. I don't know of anyone who considers 2002's Piranesi to be among Manara's better works, but Heavy Metal pushed it pretty hard for a while, so I guess it's nice to have it around - I'd be more on the lookout for The Snowman, a late '70s collaboration with writer Alfredo Castelli that's among the Other Stories. Samples; $59.99.

Dredd: Urban Warfare: The soft performance of director Alex Garland's 2012 Dredd has not dissuaded Rebellion from using the movie's universe as an alternate continuity in Judge Dredd Megazine, and here is a 96-page hardcover collecting those somewhat more procedural and SF-toned works, most of them written by Arthur Wyatt, with art by Henry Flint and Paul Davidson; $20.99.

Garbage Pail Kids: Love Stinks: An IDW licensed comic, with the interesting participants IDW licensed comics sometimes get - Peter Bagge, Dean Haspiel, Shannon Wheeler and others. Samples; $3.99.

Criminal: Special Edition: Some of the older Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips Criminal stuff has already come out through Image - this is the multi-generational crime saga they were running at Marvel for a few years through the creator-owned Icon imprint. Now that they're camped at Image, current working on the period mystery series The Fade Out (the first collected edition of which is also out this week), here is a 48-page re-introductory comic book with some new content included, available in both standard and magazine-sized formats. Actually, The Fade Out #1 also had a magazine-sized variant, which I thought worked great - I'd have bought the whole series like that, although I suppose it wasn't financially viable for the creators; $4.99 (regular), $5.99 (bigger).

The Metabarons: And finally - it's gotta be nice to be dealing with a writer who has a formidable reputation in the cult cinema, because sometimes you can get Kanye West to say kind things about him. I wonder if Kanye's more a Technopriests guy, though? Regardless, here is Humanoids' newest 7.9" x 10.8" hardcover edition of all 544 pages of Alejandro Jodorowsky's collaboration with Juan Giménez, now with a new afterword by movie big-timer David S. Goyer. Samples; $59.95.