Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/12/2019 – 05/18/2019, Recent Underground Collections

As fate would have it, four lengthy collections of old-school underground comics that I’d been slowly but surely working my way through all made it from my “to be read” stack to my “finished” stack (okay, my bookcase) this week, and so, while each of these probably deserves a full-length review of its own, I can’t pass up on the opportunity afforded by fate/coincidence to make a Weekly Reading Round-Up column out of ’em. Note that these are all published by Fantagraphics Books, two under the auspices of their standard imprint, hereafter referred to as FB, and two coming our way courtesy of their “micro-press” Fantagraphics Underground label, hereafter referred to as FU.

Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology (FB) is an exhaustive collection of the late, pioneering cartoonist’s work that showcases the more “cartoony” side of underground cartooning, although there’s still plenty on offer here that’s well out of touch with modern sensibilities when it comes to sexism and misogyny. Lynch was far from the worst offender among his ilk in that regard, though, and mostly this is pretty sharp, satirical, and reasonably thought-provoking stuff with a fairly generous dose of metaphysics and spirituality thrown in for, as it turns out, quite good measure. All of Lynch’s popular Nard n’ Pat strips from over the years are presented herein, as well as a number of stories from Bijou Funnies and, more recently, Mineshaft, as well as mind-bogglingly cool art that Lynch produced for Bazooka JoeWacky Packages, and Garbage Pail Kids. Some solid collaborations with the likes of Ed Piskor, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb, along with superb and highly-accessible text pieces assembled by underground scholar extraordinaire Patrick Rosenkranz, round out what can only be considered a very impressive package that provides great value for its $34.99 asking price.

Warrior Women : Spain Vol. 2 (FB) continues the Rosenkranz-edited ongoing — and sure to be massive — retrospective series dedicated to the late Spain Rodriguez and, perhaps as an intentional counter-point to the near-rampant misogyny on display in the first volume, the focus this time is on his so-called “strong female protagonists,” from Nasty Elaine to the Leather Nun to Mara Mistress of the Void to Granny McGurk to Rita Velveeta to Sangrella to, of course, the legendary Big Bitch. Not all of these women are the well-rounded figures of female emancipation the collection bills them as, and slapping the title “Spain Loved The Ladies (And They Loved Him)” on the actually-quite-nuanced-and-even-touching text essay that accompanies the strips certainly wasn’t the smartest move — I’d even go so far as to call it “tone-deaf” — but on the whole this is, of course, a breathtakingly well-illustrated volume that showcases its subject at the very height of his considerable creative powers. Yeah, it still betrays some regrettable attitudes that were rampant throughout the underground, but in many ways the majority of these strips really were well ahead of their time. Spain’s body of work is a complex and contradictory one, but one that is compelling as hell and very well worth exploring (or re-exploring) — and you get more than your money’s worth for your $34.99 with this one, as well.

Dave Sheridan : Life With Dealer McDope, The Leather Nun, And The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (FU) is a handsome over-sized hardcover edited  by Mark Burstein that presents not only a generous selection of the gone-too-soon cartoonist’s solo work (mostly featuring the characters referenced in the book’s title), but a number of his collaborations with Fred Schrier and Gilbert Shelton, as well. Sheridan’s illustration work for beer companies, album covers, and sex products is also well-represented, and the biographical text segments are just plain out of this world. Sheridan was one of the best pure artists the underground ever produced, and this book is both long overdue, and a fitting tribute to his life and career. At $35 it’s an absolute steal — something you can’t usually say for the small-print-run FU titles — so if you pass on this, you’re just plain crazy.

Doll (FU) by the great Guy Colwell may have originally seen print in the late-’80s and early-’90s, but Colwell himself was an underground veteran, and it first came out by way of Rip Off Press, so — this is an underground collection, in my book, as well. And it’s an essential one at that, telling a long-form story focused on the basest and sorriest instincts of man (okay, of men, specifically) that are triggered when an artist constructs a realistic animatronic sex doll for a deformed “40 Year-Old Virgin” who serves as a precursor to the pathetic “incel” demographic of today every bit as much as the titular doll accidentally predicts the infamous “Real Doll” that, I believe, is still very much a popular item among the sexually deprived. Colwell’s linework is gorgeous, his writing incisive, and frankly the narrative itself is far more subtle than one would expect given the ease with which it could have become a heavy-handed morality play in less-talented hands. An interview with Colwell conducted by feminist cartoonist Katie Skelly appends the volume and puts a nice finishing touch on what is well and truly a timeless and prescient work. Possibly the best $30 you’ll spend on comics this year.

And that, friends, is another week’s reading in the rear-view mirror — although it took me a lot longer than a week to read ’em, and I fully expect that none of these books are really anything I could truly say I’m “done” with, as they are sure to be re-visited frequently in the years to come. Nothing left to do then but remind you all that I’d sure appreciate your support on my Patreon site, where for as little as a dollar a month you can get thrice-weekly updates from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. There’s a bunch of content up on there already, so you’re sure to get plenty in return for your pledge, and your patronage also ensures a steady supply of free stuff both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to have a look and consider joining up by directing your attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Vintage Collections

Another day, another year end “Top 10” list! This time around we look at my favorite collected editions of vintage material published in the past year, “vintage” in this case being work originally produced prior to the year 2000. Eurocomics and Manga are both eligible here, as well, as long as they first saw print prior to all our computers failing, the electrical grid going dark, the food supply collapsing, and civilization falling apart on December 31st, 1999. Remember those crazy times?

10. Brat Pack By Rick Veitch (IDW) – Arguably the last great work of super-hero revisionism prior to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, Veitch’s bleak and unforgiving look at the teen sidekicks of Slumburg is as shocking, ugly, and mean-spirited as ever — not to mention gorgeously illustrated. IDW pulled out all the stops with this one, loading it up with “behind-the-scenes” bonus material that all crusty aficionados of this rank, but spot-on, unpleasantness will surely find illuminating and engrossing. I still feel like I need to take a shower after reading this book to get the stain off — and yes, I mean that as a compliment.

9. Death Stand And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 22) By Jack Davis And Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) – The harrowing reality of combat stress has arguably never been rendered in comics with more authenticity than in these classic EC strips illustrated by Davis and (largely) written by Kurtzman. Even people who think they probably don’t like war comics owe it to themselves to give this collection a shot and see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

8. New Gods By Jack Kirby (DC) – This one probably deserves to be ranked higher purely on its merits, as many of the very best of Kirby’s Fourth World stories are in here, but considering that all of it was included in last year’s Fourth World Omnibus, this really just represents an essential purchase for absolute completists, or anyone who took a pass on the omnibus for budgetary or storage space (hey, it really is a beast!) reasons. Some of the finest comics ever made by anyone are found on these pages, though, so it earns a spot on the list even though it comes hot on the heels of a larger, more comprehensive collection.

7. Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Underground) – Far and away the most disturbing book on this list, Osborne was probably the most grotesque and unsavory of the “first wave” of underground cartoonists — as well as one of the most talented, producing work so rich in detail and meticulous in its execution that it still literally boggles the mind. Editor Rosenkranz deserves tremendous credit for collecting all of this less-than-prolific artist’s work between two covers, and Dennis Dread’s detailed biographical sketch of Osborne’s troubled life is a terrific piece of comics scholarship. Not for all tastes and sensibilities to be sure — but if your “wiring” is as off-kilter as mine, this is an essential purchase.

6. Corto Maltese : The Golden House Of Samarkand By Hugo Pratt (IDW/Euro Comics) – One of Pratt’s finest and most ambitious Corto stories finally gets the deluxe treatment that has been lavished on the character’s previous adventures. If you’re a fan, that’s cause for celebration, and if you’re not — well, now’s the perfect time to become one! European genre comics simply don’t get any better than this.

5. best of witzend Edited By Bill Pearson And J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics) – Anyone who couldn’t fork over the cash for the complete witzend slipcase collection a few years back will be overjoyed to find this well-curated collection of the finest strips to appear in Wally Wood’s legendary “pro-‘zine,” as editors Pearson and Catron present groundbreaking cartooning from artists that truly “run the gamut,” including Bernie Wrightson, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Jim Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Art Spiegelman, Steve Ditko, Vaughn Bode — and, of course, Wood himself. A superb selection that will leave your head spinning and that, crucially, “ports over” the exhaustive historical essay work presented in the earlier, larger publication.

4. Master Race And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 21) By Bernard Krigstein (Fantagraphics) – The premier visual innovator in comics history, Krigstein’s astonishing work finally gets a truly deluxe presentation in this painstakingly-restored collection. The scope and grandeur of Krigstein’s imagination still positively boggles the mind, and its fruits have never looked better than they do in this sumptuous volume.

3. Love That Bunch By Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Drawn+Quarterly) – Okay, yeah, some of the material in this comprehensive retrospective came along after the year 2000, but the vast majority predates it, and it would be absolutely criminal not to find a list to include this on. I’ve always preferred Aline’s work to that of her more-famous husband, and these largely-autobiographical strips will probably go some way toward winning over even the most understandably reactionary fans who reflexively eschew anything with the “Crumb” name attached to it. I’m not here to judge how and why she can survive a marriage to one of the most talented-but-unsavory people in comics, only to state that her own work stands on its own merits and communicates a positive, empowering message in endearingly neurotic and self-deprecating fashion. I do, indeed, love that — meh, too obvious, right? Just buy the book, you’ll never regret it.

2. Kamandi Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – Finally! The amazing adventures of the last boy on earth get the “omnibus treatment,” and the result — while hefty both physically and financially — is nothing less than magic. One of Kirby’s absolute best comics ever, this is also one of the most imaginative, rip-roaring, and just plain fun works in the entire history of the medium. Nothing short of comic book perfection.

1. Dirty Plotte : The Complete Julie Doucet By Julie Doucet (Drawn+Quarterly) – Pioneering feminist auteur Doucet finally gets her due with this beautiful, two-volume hardcover slipcase collection that features all of her work from her legendary Dirty Plotte series, as well as a good chunk of material that was published before and since, a wide-ranging interview with the artist, and essays of appreciation from top cartooning talents. This was one of the formative works of the 1990s that helped blaze a trail for any number of women cartoonists, and is every bit as powerful, authentic, idiosyncratic, and funny now as it ever was. Doucet is, simply put, one of the most outstanding talents to ever draw breath. Here’s all the evidence would could possibly need to buttress that assertion.

And that’s four lists down, with two yet to come! Next up : the top 10 “special mentions” of the year, an eclectic category of “comics-adjacent” work that includes no actual comics per se, but narrative works (illustrated or otherwise) either by cartoonists, or about comics. It’ll make much more sense when I post it (probably tomorrow), I promise!