Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Thursday, 23 February 2012
The story of how I got the book: The short story is, my parents got it for me for Christmas. The long story is that my Dad likes to do online surveys and is rewarded by the companies that run them with vouchers that can be exchanged for credit at online shops. So it has become something of a Christmas tradition for my Dad to ask me to convert these virtual vouchers to Amazon credit and then tell me to order something for myself for Christmas up to the value of £20 and no more. Some might say that this process is sapping the spirit of gift giving out of the festival but I don’t mind. As long as I get something that I want.
Kamandi The Last Boy On Earth: As a boy, I loved Jack Kirby’s Silver Age artwork but always felt disappointed by the stuff he was doing during the seventies. I remember owning a couple of issues collected in this book at one time and feeling that his frequent use of the splash page and double-paged spread was at odds with everything else that was happening in mainstream comics at the time. How was I to know that this was all you were going to get from comics thirty years later? I was, of course, wrong to feel this way, and one of the pleasures I have as an adult is buying collections of his work from this period, such as the Captain America Omnibus and The Eternals, and being able to recognise how great it is.
The surface premise of Kamandi is often described as a cash-in on Planet Of The Apes which was hugely popular at the time that the comics were originally published. Kamandi is a disturbingly muscular boy, like those troubling images of children who take part in body building competitions that your mates post on Facebook from time to time, who surfaces from an underground bunker he’s lived in for all of his live one day to discover that nature’s order has gone topsy-turvy. Humans are now stupid beasts and the animals are vertical, articulate and sophisticated people. There are communities of tiger-people and bat-people and dog-people and ape-people scattered across the shattered American landscape. Any animal you can think of is now evolved, except for horses for some reason, which every other creature rides around on.
The obvious narrative threads such as the animal-people never thinking of Kamandi as anything more than a beast beneath them despite him speaking their language and other demonstrations of intelligence are ever present throughout the twenty issues collected here. But Kirby’s thing is also to throw other back-of-the-brain elements into the mix such robot gangsters, nuclear men and mutant misfits. It makes this a conceit that could almost write itself into something that only Kirby could do. I’ve also grown to love Kirby’s story telling from this period where he drops us straight into the middle of the action from the start with a splash, elaborates with a double-paged spread and then makes fantastic sense of it all with oddly constructed narration.
The book production: I’m perfectly happy with the paper stock DC uses for these collections. It’s a low grade stock meant to represent the reproduction processes of the original comics. But I do know from talking to friends that not everyone is as laid back as I am about this and would prefer a glossier paper and so it’s something I thing DC should reconsider. I do, however, agree with the point of view that the binding of these books is too tight. It’s not just the double paged spreads where artwork is lost in the centre. Even single pages take a bit of spine cracking to read fully.
Final thought: I’m intrigued, when DC have flogged to death every other Jack Kirby creation from this period, such as The Fourth World, as to why Kamandi has seemingly been left untouched. The answer can’t be something as depressingly simple as it not being set in the DC Universe, can it.
Friday, 17 February 2012
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
You may or may not be surprised to learn that I am still reading CLiNT. Two issues ago I came THIS close to stopping except that Mark Millar promised in an editorial that a full episode of Kick Ass 2 would appear next time after months of drip feeding readers the story with tiny glimpses and on this occasion his boast stuck. (I actually renewed my subscription because of this, meaning that I get a twenty percent discount on a £4.25 issue.)
Since I last wrote here about CLiNT, the good news is that it’s no longer pretending to be a lad’s mag and has come out as a comic. The bad news for the team of features writers is that most of the their content has been dropped. All that remains is the Badass Cinema column and, more fittingly, a major article on comics. So far we’ve seen pieces on upcoming Millar projects and an interview with Garth Ennis. In this issue, there’s a big twelve page piece on contemporary Marvel taking the form of interviews with three high ranking editors. I skimmed through that one and there was little of interest there that I could see although it was accompanied by some nice artwork. The illustrations seem to fall into two categories; 1) groupings of superheroes assembled using random-generator software and 2) various different versions of Spider-Man.
Thankfully, it’s another big episode of Kick Ass 2 this issue which sees the start of the big, bloody show down between the good guys and the bad guys. One of Millar’s boasts about Kick Ass which never stuck is that it is a whole new level of realism in superhero comics. Really, what we have is a hyper-violent version of early Spider-Man but without much of the humanity. Millar doesn’t want his bad guys to be anything more complicated than arseholes for fear that it will compromise that moment of exhilaration as they get their just deserts.
It’s seemingly a big penultimate episode for Superior too. Just like in Kick Ass 2, the bad guys are indiscriminately taking innocent life en mass without being burdened by something as inconvenient as a conscience or doubt. One of the bad guys is an empowered twelve year old who never once stops to think that maybe he’s going too far in his slaughter and, disappointingly, Millar never once stops to wonder why he doesn’t. It’s a twenty-four pages long fight scene built for the big screen and even tributes the climax of the second Superman movie. It’s a shame because despite what can be achieved using modern special effects, superhero fight sequences are still something comics can do better.
Zombies/war mash-up strip (yawn; zombies), Graveyard of Empires, I consider to be out of CLiNT’s scope. I understand now that the comic is limited in the amount of originated material that it’s able to run (despite often soliciting for submissions that, probably, never get looked at) that it needs to run reprint material but does it have to be non-UK? Another of Millar’s boasts that didn’t stick is that CLiNT is a British comic continuing the tradition of The Eagle and 2000 AD but surely he can at least run Image Comics material with more of a British feel to it such as Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine and Shaky Kane or Mud Man by Paul Grist.
Monday, 13 February 2012
I have On The Ration stalwart, Rob Wells, to thank for me reading this after his reviews of books from this series he posted here. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have imagined myself reading Popeye comics. For me, Popeye had been defined by the cartoon show of the 70s/80s in which the character fought Brutus (or was it Pluto) for the romantic attentions of Olive Oyl who was usually holding a crocodile’s mouth open with her outstretched legs. Popeye would squeeze a can of spinach into his mouth, punch Brutus/Pluto into the sea, save Olive from the beast before going through the whole sorry process for another ten minutes immediately after. Of course, like most extra media interpretations of comic strips, this cartoon series was several Chinese whispers removed from the EC Segar’s source material of which this is the second collection.
Popeye originally appeared in Segar’s daily newspaper strip Thimble Theatre ten years after it had started during the late 1920s. He proved so popular that it wasn’t long before he was the main character. It is easy to see why. Ugly of face, one of eye, big of heart, free with his fists and his manglification of the English language; Popeye was flawed but honest. He is what he is.
The first half of this book collects a run of daily strips from 1930 to 1932. Each day’s strip is usually six panels long, although it is not uncommon for the space for two to joined together for an extra sized one, and is part of a larger narrative. Popeye starts this volume by visiting the West, which as a sailor used to water he doesn’t like, before travelling around America and the world for other adventures.
The second half features the colour Sunday strips from this period and is why the volume is the cumbersome A3 size that it is. Popeye occupies the top two thirds of the page while the bottom third is taken up with another Segar comic called Sappo, a humour strip about a seemingly childless middle aged couple. Popeye’s Sunday adventures are based in and around the same local and like all good sitcoms features a regular support cast and locations. Although usually part of a longer narrative, these are accessible alone. In this volume, Popeye’s Sunday adventures usually involve him preparing for a big boxing fight by playing craps with his mates down at the docks, eating hamburgers in Rough-House’s restaurant, wooing Olive and getting arrested for brawling. Often, he escapes jail by punching a hole through the wall to defeat his opponent in the highly anticipated boxing match before going back to jail of his own accord to serve the rest of his time.
Clearly, these are brilliantly drawn strips filled with full figure exuberance and very few close ups. Segar was prolific producing six daily strips and a Sunday’s page of a substantial size. But they are joyfully written also. Popeye speaks in a highly original mangled English but Olive and Wimpy, who makes his first appearances in this volume, have their own distinctive speech rhythms too. Segar was a great chorographer. In one Sunday strip, Popeye argues with Rough-House about his upcoming boxing match with a gorilla while Wimpy tries to help himself to a free hamburger (again).
I’m surprised at how timeless these strips seem to be. Or are these depression era yarns just relevant again? One reoccurring theme is Popeye receiving a windfall of money for a good deed and then going down to the docks to lose it all in a game of craps. The worrying theme seems to be that people like Popeye, people who have never had very much, don’t know what to do with money on the rare occasions that they get it. A couple of times, he tries to put it to good use. In one of the daily narratives he opens The One-Way Bank so he can make individual donations to the homeless. Unfortunately he was unable to resist giving attractive brunettes huge sums of money for fur coats and the like. In another story, he buys an orphan enough clothes to last her life time in a misguided attempt to provide her with security. Later he manages to reunite the girl with her millionaire parents. In a surprisingly moving moment, Popeye offers the rich father all of his sprize fight money to spend on his daughter.
Segar uses asterisks and hash-tags to cover for expletives, a method still used today in comics, usually those published by Marvel or DC. For example, if you’re reading an Avengers comic written by Brian Michael Bendis, you know he’s substituting these symbols for phrases like “mother fucker.” While reading volume one of Popeye I substituted these bits of texts with words like “fucking” and “shit”. It wasn’t until this volume that I realised that Segar was probably covering for words like “damn” and “hell”. The moment I used these words instead, a whole new rhythm opened up.
Of course, Popeye is all about the fighting. In the dailies, weeks can pass by before Popeye starts to lay into someone with his fists and its usually exhilarating when he does so because some sneaky bastard is getting his comeuppance. Even in these circumstances, it’s not unknown for Popeye to shake hands with him afterwards out of good, ol’ fashioned respeck. A Sunday strip, however, rarely concludes without Popeye having beaten somebody up. In the main it’s somebody who deserves a good sockin’, like some arsehole in the park looking for a scrap, but Popeye isn’t averse to laying an innocent passerby among the sweet peas if no one else is available.
It’s the fallout of Popeye’s violence that breaks the spell of the book for me occasionally. It’s not uncommon for Wimpy to end up with a black eye or for Olive to end up in a state thanks to him. A couple of times, Popeye violently shakes Olive in frustration. It’s shocking to my modern sensibilities to see this and confusing as to how to take the rest of the violence that occurs. Can it ever be slapstick if a man slaps a woman he’s in a relationship with in the heat of an argument? Even if he expresses regret later? Regardless, I get enough enjoyment from these strips and have enough faith in Segar as an artist not to let this put me off reading the rest of these collections.
What has surprised me the most about EC Segar’s Popeye is that it’s laugh out loud funny. In one strip, Popeye is being escorted in handcuffs to jail by a policeman but this doesn’t stop him going to the docks for a game of craps or visiting the restaurant for a sanrich. When he falls asleep under a tree, the obliging policeman frees himself and cuffs another, this time obese, officer to Popeye. When he wakes up he bursts out laughing and says, “Well blow me down! Tha’sa good joke on me!!” In the One Way Bank, a homeless guy repeatedly appears at the counter asking for money looking slightly different each time. He’s shaved his moustache off, he’s put on a pair of glasses, he’s wearing a false beard. It’s the humour that’s the most humbling thing about EC Segar’s Popeye for me. Each new generation thinks that they invented humour but it turns out that our great grandparents were much funnier than we ever are.
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Despite the comic reading world becoming increasingly aware of the tiny, if any, royalty cheques silver age artists get from Marvel for reprinting their work, I still crave this book. Due out in a couple of months, it collects together Amazing Spider-Man issues 39 to 67 as well as annuals and other odd and sods from the first couple of years after Steve Ditko stopped drawing the character.
I can’t help it. I love Marvels Omnibus books. Actually, I love Marvel’s Omnibus books when they collect comics from this period. I don’t really care for material from the mid eighties onwards, but prior to that, I’m usually very tempted and if it features artwork by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, then I am usually overcome with desire. Unnerving, middle-aged longing. Of course, this book doesn’t feature artwork by either of those guys, it’s mainly by John Romita SR, an artist who I will confess passed me by a bit when I was a kid, so my pining for it makes it all the irrational.
Unfortunately, getting a copy of this book cheaply is proving to be very difficult. I’ve been watching it on Amazon UK and the lowest the price has got (for the tribute cover) has been £49. Currently, it’s listed at £56. I have a copy on order from Forbidden Planet International for £46 including P&P. If you order it from them now, then you can get it for fifty quid but I was able to order it for less because of a promotion they had when the book was first offered by Marvel a couple of months back.
Anyway, if Marvel are reading this, please can you publish the following Omnibus books; Fantastic Four Vol 3 (by Lee and Kirby), SHIELD (Silver Age Kirby and Steranko), Sgt Fury (Lee and Kirby) and Doctor Strange (by Steve Ditko)? I did tweet you this request a couple of months ago but nothing’s happened yet. You’re not ignoring me are you?