December 14th, 2002

smokin'

A wide variety of posts to choose from

Hello, young people. This is a friend of yours.

I've got several post-it notes cluttering up my work area, and I need to clear them out so I can get down to writing some commercial-type comics. So, here we go:

Fans of the semi-obscure and not so semi-brilliant comic strip Barnaby, as well as the beloved Harold and the Purple Crayon series of children's books, take note of the Crockett Johnson homepage:
http://www.ksu.edu/english/nelp/purple/index.html

If you're unfamiliar with Barnaby, get thee hither and roost about. It's a terrific strip that desperately needs to be reprinted. There are two old hardback collections that you can often find in used book shops, and a series of paperbacks that aren't that easy to find. Some of them are expensivo because they reprint material that isn't in the two original collections. Anyway, this is classic stuff, check it out if you have a care. I also believe there's a print magazine collecting Barnaby, Comics Revue or something like that. I'm too lazt to do any actual research, so use the internet and find out for yourself.

Folks on various websites are reporting -- and Amazon has listings that bear this out -- that there will be forthcoming two harcobver, translated collections of the work of the late Yves Chaland. I am a huge fan of his work, some of which was serialized in Heavy metal (I never read HM, preferring actual pornography, but Bob Fingerman clipped some Chaland stuff for me a few years back). I've obtained several pricey Chaland collections over the years, by hook or by original art swaps, so it would be very welcome indeed to be able to actually read the stuff. Chaland worked in the clear line European style, and he's my favorite of that bunch. Ilk. Contingent. I have a feeling the stories themselves are pretty straightforward and nothing spectacular, but the man was a master cartoonist and designer. I stare at his work and want to die. Some people get the hands and the brains, some create Milk and Cheese. They're my "shoddy line" style, ha ha.

My thanks to those who bid on our recent e-bay auctions, thanks, now we can buy shoes for the cats. We're most likely putting some new pieces of art up any day now, along with some items we have doubles of or are just culling from the HOF library.

I had some reprints of my stuff running in the Spanish comics magazine El Vibora, which was really neat. But I think they're dropping me, which is really sucky, to use the technical term. Interestingly, two El Vibora artists will be illustrating the two-part Marvel fill-in story I'm supposed to be working on right now instead of posting this nonsense. I've rarely had my work translated overseas, so at least I entertained/bored/confused some folks in Spain for a few months.

I recently completed my EC boxed set collection, a collection begun back in...cripes, 1983! Yikes. I bought my first Russ Cochran EC library after working at Jim Hanley;s Universe for $2 trade, $2 cash. My initial objective was to bring the boxed Tales From the Crypt set home (the second objective being alcohol and tix for punk/ska shows at CBGB's). Over time I picked up a few others, but I couldn't afford many of them and of course, a bunch of them went out of print and ended up doubling if not tripling in price on the secondary market. I mamnaged to pick several up on sale, several of the spendy ones on e-bay at decent prices, and finally picked up the last one I needed, the set featuring such box office hits as Psychoanalysis and Extra! Some friends think I'm nuts for picking up the truly minor titles, but I decided I was going whole-hog archival on the series and wanted them all (even the generally moribund pre-New Trend romance, crime and western titles). I really love the EC line, even the lousy titles and stories hold a kind of historical fascination for me, and the art is the major backbone of the EC line anyway. Recently there's been some noise from some quarters in the alternative press castigating the supposed blind devotion fandom holds for the EC line, but they can go take the gas pipe if you ask me. I hold no love for fandom, as you all might well know, and I'm not a blind defender of the EC line -- much of it was lousy. But EC strove to do better comics than what was out there, they're a historically important company which had the best out and out creator roster until Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly hit their strides. On sheer craft alone these books are worth more than one look, , and in my big little book, EC deserves a pass from the curmudgeons on the strenght of Kurtzman's output and Mad alone. Throw in the horror books and the house editorial style that predated Stan the man and you get what you paid for -- an Entertaining Comic. EC never said it was creating art for the ages, tilting at the EC windmill just doesn't make much sense to me other than trying to stir up a tempest and upset some uptight fanboys (fanmen?). The main problem I've had with the (admittedly) small spate of EC-bashing isn't even really the argument against, but the lack of good p[oints in said arguments against EC's place in comics history, high level of craft, influences on the undergrounds and medium, etc.

Anyway, if your only familiarity with EC is with the shitty HBO Tales From the Crypt rigamarole, there are paperback reprints available of many of the EC titles. I recommend, of course, the early Mad material (the first 6 issues of which has been released in a handsome hardcover Archive edition by DC), the Johnny Craig crime material, Kurtzman and co's war stories in Frontline Combat and Two Fisted Tales, and of course, the silly but tons of fun horror and S-F comics. I think Gemstone has thick paperbacks available for around 7 to 10 bucks, in color, a nice introduction to the line. If you already dig that crazy stuff, treat yourself to the Tales of Terror compendium co-published by Fantagraphics and Gemstone (featuring interviews, a history of the company, a complete cover gallery, unpublished art, title rundowns and publisher Bill Gaines testimony to the 1954 senate subcommitee on comics and juvenile delinquency). Also from Fantagraphics is the handsome Bernie Krigstein retrospective, B. Krigstein. The books ain't cheap, but they are worth it and are welcome additions to any comic aficianado's library. Or pile by the bed/in the milk crate. You can also find the Fantagraphics-published latest issue of "legendary" EC fanzine Squa Tront, which features a great old interview with Kurtzman, Arnold Roth and Al Jafee, among other gems and trivial hoo-ha. man, someone at Fantagraphics really digs EC.

The latest Comic Book Marketplace has nifty features on Milton Caniff (IMHO more interesting for the photgraphs of Caniff at work, in the studio, with his character models, on the whole) and an interview with Marc Hempel, along with some crap about slabbed comics and what prices retail stores are getting for old comics and how the internet is killing the brick and mortar store, et al. Sure, the internet kill shops. Shitty shops.

Okay, that's the big rundown covering all those post-its. After this, two short posts, one is a plug and the other is a plea for sanity.
smokin'

Twink

Twink is a picture book and compact disc by one Mike Langlie, released last year or so by Dyspepsidisc. The book is about a rabbit and his toy piano, it's, like most storybooks, simple and, unlike many storybooks, adorable as all get-out. It's a beautifully printed and designed 32-pg little pantomime. The disc is an oddity, 25 songs built around the toy piano, accompanied by accordian, autoharp, hurdy gurdy, see n' say, xylophone, flute, banjo, slide whistle, finger cymbals, rhythm machines, squeak toys. Not as pretentious or experimental as you might fear, it's really nifty sounding stuff and along with the booklet is a beautifully designed little package every little kid should have, and every big kid would be crazy not to like. The contact info for the publisher is http://www.dyspepsidisc.com

I think this would make a fine gift for your son or daughter, niece or nephew, your sweetie or yourself. Fans of James Kochalka would very likely dig this, fans of children's books, toy pianos, avante garde but not avante pretentious music, etc. It's described as "whimsical", a word that usually means obnoxious, but this really and truly is whimsical in the best sense. And it's just plain f'n cute. If you don't like it, you're some kind of a creep.
smokin'

Man the buckets

I've been long worried that the comics industry is headed towards another disaster, much as it alwways does when it smells money and doesn't exhibit common sense or caution. I'm talking post-Turtles black and white boom and bust, variant covers/bagged books/gimmick covers boom and bust, erotic comics boom and bust (no pun intended), pog mania, small press direct market action figure frenzy, bad girl goofiness. Following trends and acting stupidly isn't restricted only to the comics biz, but unlike stock market collapses, noteworthy comic industry collapses seem to occur somewhat often -- and as an industry we learn nothing from these events. Nada. Zip. The goof retailers and publishers and creators and con organizers and distributor(s) who managed to survive the post-Turtles "buy 'em all" bloodbath heartily opted in for the Image era of horseshit speculation, the pogs, the variant covers, the bagged books -- always losing sight of the fact that each trend burnt off more of our readership, that gambling on orders never actually pays off enough to justify the game playing, that riding trends at full gallop to make quick money now bites you in the ass later when the horse you didn't get off of inevitably hits a wall. During these crazes the only people who really benefit are certain creators and publishers, all at the expense of the market and readership. No one can relax, no one can calm down and think things through -- even worse, few seem to be able to resist strip mining the field knowing full-well that it will cause serious damage in the long run. If there's a quick, short-term buck to be made everyone dives in like piglets at their mother's teats, drying the old sow out until there ain't no more, and then everyone goes hungry.

Which brings us to the possibility of another disaster on the horizon, namely, the book store graphic novel trade. A wonderful thing, no? Getting comics into "real" book stores, with public bathrooms and cappucino and everything. Allowing the general public to see and buy comics in a non-threatening environment. Giving comics some sorely-needed visibility and credibility and dear god in heaven. sales. And apparently sales ain't that bad, sales of manga, especially, are supposedly terrific. Yes, it's a good thing. A beautiful thing. Watch us ruin it.

Watch us do what we did after the Dark Knight/Maus and Watchmen trades sold well in bookstores in the mid '80's, when we were getting mainstream press and Hollywood started eyeing comics as a good, cheap petrie dish for properties (sound familiar?). Watch us flood the market with too many titles, too many collections, too many reprints, too many original graphic novels, too many translated titles. Watch the small press pump out as many books as they can finish, watch the bigger publishers do the same, as well as slap any four crappy issues of any crappy title into a book whether or not the material warrants being collected . Watch everyone follow Maus and Dark Knight and Watchmen with the Death of Jean DeWolff and countless other quickies to maintain rack presence, title counts and supposed profits. Watch us kill the goose that might one day lay a few bronze eggs, if not golden.

Now, I'm not saying this will happen. I'm a pessimist by nature, and I'm wrong about most things. I certainly don't want this to happen, believe you me. But from what I'm seeing and from what I've been hearing and what I've seen of this industry from behind a retail counter, behind a con table and behind a drawing table -- well, I'm just worried, is all. I'm worried that even level-headed publishers will find it impossible to not pump books out to keep their place amongst the other publsihers, and to (hopefully) keep their profits up. I'm worried that everyone will confuse selling with sell-through. I'm worried that without proper marketing of the comics medium first and foremost, there won't be an audience for all these books (Manga will very likely continue to do well despite any setbacks -- manga and anime have slowly but steadily made serious inroads on american pop culture over the last few decades, and whether your average comics fan, retailer or fanzine likes it or not, manga is selling, manga has a support base and the comics shops aren't taking in the majority of manga sales). I'm worried about a severe trade paperback glut swamping the small publishers and crippling the big publishers and sending this stupid, immature, ailing industry into yet another cardiac arrest.

Maybe I'm just a worry-wart. Fine, please, let me be wrong. let me be very wrong. Let the book store trade take off and pump readers, accolades and money into the heart or comics. Let us all be happy and let everything sell well. Let good comics sell, let bad comics sell, let manga readers discover home-grown books, let fans discover manga, let some kids discover comics, any comics, just as long as its comics. The book stores can help. They can't "save" comics, but I don't think anything could other than perhaps George W and Britney Spears proclaiming comics to be "the bomb" (and even then...). I just don't want this opportunity turned into a wasted opportunity. Or worse, a self-made disaster -- another boom and bust everyone can blame one another for afterwards, all the while limping in the dark and reaching desperately for the next band-aid to slap across the industry's slit throat.
smokin'

Speaking of a trade glut

Sarah's just put the cover for the next Dork collection up on the front page of the HOF site (click on the link above to get there muy pronto), The second trade -- Circling the Drain -- is due out in May 2003 from SLG, and collects issues #7-10 (with a 16 page color section, to bootsky). I think the cover came out pretty nifty, feel free to take a look.