Posted by: John Kane on January 5, 2013
Tags: Brannon Costello, Brian Hibbs, Gilbert Hernandez, Graeme, Howard Victor Chaykin, Jeff Lester Works Hard For The Money, John K (UK), Kim Thompson, Mickey Rooney, Muppets, Popeye, Richard Corben, Roger Langridge, Snarked
I do so hope all across the globe had a happy holiday and got stuff and ate stuff and watched stuff and generally did stuff where stuff was involved. I did, which is why I’ve been AWOL so sorries and all that but here’s my wrap up for 2012. A year I paid little attention to while it was going on, made no notes and am now left floundering for stuff to write! Appetising, non? Anyway it’s Saturday night and I’ve places to be, people to see, y’know how it is. Yes, I am lying. This is all I have. Anyway, let’s see how this goes. My money’s on – badly.
Well, don’t look at me. I only read what I bought and I only bought what I could afford and, worse, I only bought what could afford from my LCS in England. So, no, Chris Ware isn’t here, nor is Michel Fiffe, nor LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES. And if none of them are here then this is a piss poor reflection of the worth of the year indeed. So, rather than do a list of comics I’ve sort of done a list of people because, amongst other things, 2012 was the year it finally sank in that people are quite important too. Oh, don’t worry they still aren’t all that important or anything. Not important enough to be dealt with equitably or decently or any such pinko nonsense. But they are important because if it wasn’t for people I wouldn’t get my comics! Also, some people who don’t even make comics were quite important in my enjoyment of the year and while there are no doubt umpty billion lists praising SAGA there probably are only two lists with Graeme McMilllan on (this one and The Pulitzer Council) Which seems a bit off balance. So here’s my 2012 via some people I managed to think about some words for. Just be thankful I didn’t call it a sideways look at 2012. That’s always a golden invitation to run screaming in the opposite direction; a sideways look at…! Christ.
Of the comical periodical stuff I did read I’d have to say it was Richard Corben who ruled the roost for most of the year. It’s unfortunate that Richard Corben is 72 years old since there’s naturally assumed to be some degree of special pleading involved; “Y’know it may look like a pretzel in a pool of sick but, bless, he tried and, really, what can you expect at that age? It’s just sweet he’s still breathing unaided.”<pats Ricard Corben on head in patronizing fashion> But NO! I say thee nay! This year via his RAGEMOOR series, shorts in CREEPY and EERIE, his DARK HORSE PRESENTS Poe pieces and, at year’s end, his issue long masterpiece of luridly coloured puppets and profanity THE CONQUEROR WORM Richard Corben took comics by the scruff of the neck and shook it until its celluloid collar popped open and its top hat lay askew. The stronger stories may have benefited from the presence of Jan Strnad and John Arcudi lending form and shape but even when Corben scripted unaided there was no doubting the colossal talent gracing the page, talent the continuing development of which was a sight to recoil from in stunned disbelief. In 2012 Richard Corben was subsumed entirely into The Eisner Hall of Fame. It wasn’t enough but it’ll have to do.
I didn’t see a lot spoken about Corben’s work this year and part of me suspects it was because he confounded expectations by keeping the hefty teats of yore largely under wraps. It was as though without the usual easy ingress to an automatically superior vantage most critics were held at bay. As a theory this was utter tosh of course and belittling to the fine critical minds which scrutinize comics on a daily basis (“All-New X-Men gave sight to the blind! And made the lame to walk!“). But yet it was utter tosh I could easily apply to the almost deafening silence which greeted Gilbert Hernandez’ FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS. This was a delightfully rough and ready thing which seemed like something scribbled in a notepad during the course of a particularly somnolent double period of Chemistry by a randy and imaginative teenager. Its excess of imagination coupled to a compulsively crude execution was one of the most refreshing things I read in 2012. It was a throwback to the days when comics weren’t respectable and didn’t give a shit. It was a throwback to The Golden Age and not just because if Gilbert Hernandez is producing comics then it is a Golden Age anyway.
Thankfully, female secondary sexual characteristics are not a staple of the work of Roger Langridge. This is extraordinarily fortunate as there was a bit of a creepy trend developing there wasn’t there? It was all getting a bit unsettling, but you can all breathe easier as now we’re on about Roger Langridge, who is decency incarnate. Langridge was a busy little bee this year but his busyness had little impact on the quality of his work. First on my radar was his JOHN CARTER work for Marvel which was a fine (if editorially meddled with) slice of pulp pie indeed. Then he wrote and drew the SNARKED series which was a continuation/expansion of the work of Lewis Carroll with a few surprises chucked in ( A Derek and Clive cameo anyone?) As beautifully illustrated in Langridge’s signature clear lined big foot style as ever the real surprise in SNARKED was in the writing. A funny, eventful romp brimming with incident and intelligence it may have been but at the end, at the last, it punched you right in the sternum with an ending which was at once heart rending and uplifting. A great ending for a great book because SNARKED was a great book but Langridge didn’t stop there. Oh, no, no, no. No. Next up we had THE MUPPETS: FOUR SEASONS which was from Marvel so, rather classily, it didn’t have Langridge’s name on the cover. This was a neat little comic and was certainly better than The Muppets movie. Admittedly I saw this movie slumped on the couch in someone else’s house on Christmas Day with sugar fuelled children interrupting my viewing at intervals that could almost have been scientifically calculated to result in maximum irritation. The highlights of The Muppets were Chris Cooper and the fact that Mickey Rooney is still alive! Holy shit! Let’s put on the show right here, Mickey Rooney! The film was okay but Langridge’s comic was better. Which is probably about right for POPEYE too. I’ve never seen the Altman film but Langridge’s POPEYE was a pitch-perfect resurrection of Segar’s classic creation being both loony and lovable at one and the same time. Some great art too by a bunch of fellas including Langridge himself.
It wasn’t just comics though! There were also books about comics and chief amongst these was Sean Howe‘s MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY. I’m such a shitty critic that, unlike the rest of comicdom I haven’t got around to that yet. It looks fine enough but it isn’t the book I want about Marvel. I know that without cracking it open because its publication wasn’t accompanied by news footage of the Marvel building webbed with yellow Crime Scene tape, long shots of people in Hazmat suits on rain misted moors next to excavated piles of dirt, thirty-something men in sloganed T-Shirts and cargo pants with black bars over their eyes weepingly describing whizzing into milk cartons and coiling into pizza cartons while grainy phone footage of a single nightmarish toilet floated in the top right of the screen, the RSPCA triumphantly releasing the mangy chimp Brian Bendis had held captive for over a decade, Gary Friedrich eating a warm meal under a roof he owned free and clear, herky-jerky footage of a judge with screaming eyes banging a gavel in a room full of people rising as one in a blizzard of paper and the face of Jack Kirby sharing the screen only with the word “VINDICATED!!!”. No, there wasn’t any of that but there were good reviews so I’ll probably give it a go at some point.
I did read CONVERSATIONS WITH HOWARD CHAYKIN, which actually came out last year but I’m counting it because I read it this year and, y’know, my house my rules, kids! Also, pick your clothes up or you’ll get the back of my hand! CWHC was pretty great being as it was a collection of interviews with the self proclaimed Jew from The Future spanning so many decades I didn’t so much feel sad with age but glad I’d made it this far. I’m glad HVC has as well since he is always such an enjoyable natterer. Brannon Costello does a nice job picking interviews that chronologically flow nicely through HVC’s career showing his changes in attitude (well, refinements) to his work, comics and his position therein. Unavoidably there’s some repetition but it’s the kind that just cements how fundamental some things are to the HVC world view. Since this is an entirely legitimate and productive use of repetition kudos to the author are dutifully tendered. Although I imagine the time spent with the great man himself in order to provide the career-overview-thus-far interview which rounds out the book was a reward worth more than riches. More than rubies. Costello is entirely fair to his subject who comes across as an ‘umble man who tries to produce the best work he can despite the restrictions of the marketplace. Oh, and he likes ladies.
There are a couple of omissions here (or, rather, not here); the first being my personal conversation with HVC:
JK: Your seminal work of the ‘80s, and here I’m thinking specifically of AMERICAN FLAGG! and THE SHADOW, seems to contain a strong John Severin influence amongst the customary Toth and Gil Kane elements. In particular the faces have a crispness to the definition they previously lacked. Would it be true to say that it was at this point that you began to fold Severin into your style?
HVC: Bojemoi! What are you doing in my bedroom? It’s three in the goddamn morning! Who are you? Who sent you? I have a gun! Jesus, what’s wrong with your teeth?
Back in the real world, this volume does not include any of The Comics Journal interviews with HVC. Hopefully this is because TCJ are going to publish a big ass lavishly illustrated landscape format volume of them like they did with the Jack Kirby (KOIBY!!!) interviews. Even more hopefully the HVC volume has only not come out yet because they are working on a Gil Kane volume. It would be nice if TCJ did this, particularly as it would count as some small measure of recompense for their poaching of the younger Savage Critics like some journalistic pied piper of fucking Hamlin. A second reason is that TCJ interviews are always good readin’. Particularly those with Gary Groth. Younger readers (i.e. under 40) may not be familiar with the particular and recurrent joys of a mainstream creator getting Grothed. Things would usually start out all chummy with the interview containing a slow but insistent buttering up along the twin lines of “you’re much better than this genre” and “you must have lead an interesting life”. This apparently innocuous praise would lead to the creator foolishly stepping right into Groth’s Horns of The Buffalo whereupon they would snap closed behind them and the hapless chump would be battered by a tirade of variously worded interrogatives, the common gist of which would be that they were letting down themselves, their family, the medium, the children of the world, generations yet unborn, art itself, human civilisation and Bea Arthur from Golden Girls by choosing to draw Spider-Man rather than document their family’s hard scrabble immigrant struggle to survive. Good times, I miss them still. Ah, got a bot off track there. Focus, John!
There were many reasons to thank Jeff Lester this year. The nauseated awe engendered by his latest meticulously reported dietary fad (in 2013 – it’s dandruff and vole tears!), the unending hilarity of hearing him justify his consumer choices to people who don’t really care beyond the initial act of poking him with a stick, his grace and manners when I E-Mail him to ask a stupid question and, of course, thanks to Jeff Lester I saw a movie I enjoyed. I know Jeff Lester enjoyed this movie because he kept banging on about it like my Uncle kept banging on about God after that piano fell on his head. It was called THE RAID: REDEMPTION and it was very violent which is why I took to calling him Gentle Jeff Lester. I never said it was clever! Or funny! Anyway this was certainly the best movie I’ve ever seen in which a bunch of Indonesian police get out of a van, cross an Indonesian street and enter an Indonesian apartment building filled with Indonesian criminals whereupon -everyone tries to kill each other for the next 90 minutes – Indonesian style! It’s an Indonesian film, as you no doubt gathered, so we went for the dubbed version. I know, I know, purists are balking here as subtitles are the way to go with the old foreign flicks. Hey, we did try the subtitled version but, being a bit out of practice, I soon grew tired of looking down to read “Look out!” only to look up to find three characters were now dead. As you can tell there isn’t much plot but that’s okay, there’s enough plot to hang all the fighting on and this is some fighting alrighty. The main character has a pregnant wife and his brother’s involved and his Dad looks at him meaningfully so there’s no doubt at least one 20,000 word piece on Culture of Carnage: Tradition & Responsibility in The Raid: Redemption floating about on The Internet. One thing did puzzle me about the film i.e. how outlandish was it? I’m not terribly informed about Indonesia but is it in fact the case that every man Jack of them has a BA Hons in Hurtin’? I like to think so. I like to think that at any moment an Indonesian altercation could escalate from harsh words into a whirlwind of expertly choreographed brutally inventive violence. I bet chucking out time at the pubs is interesting in Indonesia.
This year it was difficult not to believe I had personally wronged Graeme McMillan and that as a consequence my mind was crumbling under the weight of my unassaugable guilt; so often did I glimpse his name in the periphery of my vision like some vengeful phantom in a wordy nerve shredder from the turn of the last Century. But, no, the man who gave up his heathy homeland for the Love of his lady was merely trying to earn a crust. I hope the crust was large and tasty because 2012 was the Year Graeme McMillan would not, could not and did not stop. Graeme McMillan worked so hard this year that I think he broke a fundamental Law of Nature. How else to explain that although no one on all the planet had the time to read everything he wrote Graeme McMillan, just one frail man, somehow had the time to write it? And like the hero of his own story he was, at last, in Time. Graeme McMillan, although with your persistent pace of production you shame all we shirkers I offer you this small reward, I offer you an answer to your question of “What if Brian Bendis wrote Star Wars comics?” Answer: Shit. But in space. No, thank you, Graeme McMillan.
Kim Thompson worked hard this year. Kim Thompson worked so hard Kim Thompson deserves recognition. Particularly so as his hard work had no concrete result. Kim Thompson was the man who tried to corral Dave Sim. After offering a sugar lump of hope to the “controversial “ creator his efforts at open negotiations were met only with finger nips and shoulder bumps as the recalcitrant creator purposefully avoided the proffered treat before, finally, dumping a big load on Kim Thompson’s metaphorical brogues and hee-hawing off with another’s saddle on his back. A fancy gold saddle he had cruelly hidden from Kim Thompson’s view all the while. Not only that but Kim Thompson had to put up with everyone chiming in (mea culpa! Mea bloody culpa!) which while entertaining for the rest of us must have tested Kim Thompson’s patience somewhat. Although it is to be hope that Kim Thompson found some respite in the humour afforded by the rather, er, special fan of Sim’s who dominated proceedings and that writer fellow unsubtly jockeying for work doing introductions. Well, they made me laugh and that’s what’s important. Me.
Baby-faced Brian Hibbs was of course important to me this year because, well, he’s Ballistic Brian Hibbs! Whaddya want, I should draw you a diagram?!?!
No doubt Bashful Brian Hibbs would like me to point out that
What will 2013 hold then? Haven’t the foggiest, mate. But it’s sure to contain COMICS!!!
The very best to all of you and all of yours from me and all of mine!
All Steve Ditko art from THE STEVE DITKO OMNIBUS VOLUME ONE (DC Comics)
Joe Kubert art from JEW GANGSTER (ibooks)