PX90: Come Over, Come Over/My Perfect Life/It’s So Magic/The Freddie Stories

Come Over, Come Over/My Perfect Life/It’s So Magic/The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry (229x153mm)

I’m not sure whether it’s because of the way I’ve read Barry’s collections over the years (I’ve tended to stumble across a copy here and a copy there in bookstores, without knowing that the book existed, and in no particular order), or it’s something innate in the work itself… but Barry’s books about Marlys (and the rest) seem less like fictions created by Barry, and more like a reality that Barry has somehow excavated.

I realise that when I’m thinking about these characters, Marlys, Maybonne, Arnold, Arna and Freddie are real to me, emotionally speaking: When Barry was still doing these books, when I found one of them, my brain would go “Yay! Now I can find out what’s happened to them since last time” in a distinctly different way than with other works I’ve followed for decades (like Jaime Hernandez’ Locas characters), that remain resolutely fictional to me.

If I’m counting correctly, there are nine of these collections, which means that there are about 550 strips collected. But Barry has worked on this weekly strip for about 27 years, so there should be about 1400 strips out there! MY GOD!!! There’s more Ernie Pook that hasn’t been collected than has been?! *image of me having a nervous breakdown*

But let’s have a look at the final four of these collections. I mean, I’ll start reading them now, and I’ll let you have a look at some of the strips, m kay?

The previous collections had focused on Arna and her cousin Marlys, but Maybonne (Marlys’ sister) had been introduced, and was in the margins of the series.

Come Over, Come Over flips that completely — now Maybonne becomes the main character, and Marlys is seen from her point of view (instead of Arna being the viewpoint character). (And Arna, Freddie and Arnold aren’t mentioned at all in this book, I think?)

Another difference is that we get more of a continuity between strips. The previous books had mostly had free-standing strips — moving to more continuity gives a very different reading experience; it’s less choppy, less dense.

And this strip is, I think, the first one to be partially “drawn by Marlys” (I seem to remember that becoming more of a thing in later books).

The strip had also, pretty much, been of the “steady state” school of storytelling. That is, nothing much changed over the course of the strips; you could read the strips in pretty much any order, and it’d make as much sense. Here there’s real, life-changing events: the sisters move to their grandmother, for instance.

Oh! This longer story was originally printed in Raw. It was awesome there, but completely without context. Here it fits neatly into the storyline, so it reads very differently. It’s… it’s even better here? It seems impossible, because it was the best thing in that Raw issue, but it is, indeed, even better in this collection.

Marlys introduces My Perfect Life on the back cover, saying that it depicts one year in the life of Maybonne. And… that’s what it does. This strip is now one long narrative, where we follow Maybonne’s life (which deals a lot with her friends and boyfriend drama).

And in the middle of it, we get another longer story that originally ran in Raw. I didn’t quite clock that it was about Maybonne when I read it there… and it doesn’t totally fit in here (it seems to contradict some other bits in the surrounding strips). But, again, it’s still an awesome story.

In earlier collections, I was impressed by how crotchety Barry kept Marlys, but in Maybonne’s eyes, she’s a much more lovable character. Or perhaps Barry has softened some.

My Perfect Life is pretty perfect. I laughed, I cried, etc.

Then it’s It’s So Magic, the final collection from Harper Collins.

This one starts with a presentation of all the characters.

The previous two collections had been about Maybonne, and Maybonne is still (mostly) the viewpoint character, but we shift back to focusing on Marlys again, and Marlys continues her journey into becoming more lovable.

After the deep turmoil in the Maybonne stories, it’s nice to pull a bit back… but… Marlys’ stories feel a bit like a retread?

It’s also a partial return to Barry’s very dense style from early in her career. I’m not complaining; it’s pretty funny.

However, the many strips that are drawn by Marlys do nothing for me graphically. Yes, they’re really convincing recreations of how children draw, but Barry’s normal drawing style is stunning, so I just get impatient and want to turn the page to see whether there’s anything good on the next page.

These strips are mostly from 91 and 92, and as in the previous two books, it’s one continuous story — but it’s a bit more episodic than the Maybonne epics.

Freddie (the younger brother) returns, and… then they all go back to live with their mother again.

Sounds delicious! Fried baloney, mayo, lettuce, crisps and banana sandwich. I’ve gotta try it. Freddie is a culinary genius!

The previous book was published in 94, and then The Freddie Stories, the next one, is from 99, and is from Sasquatch Books (and I see that Matt Groening is no longer funklord of the USA in the indicia) — definitely not as huge an outfit as Harper Collins. What happened over these five years? It’s So Magic felt a lot less… urgent… than any of the previous books, and all those strips that were drawn in the style of children drawing might not (and I’m just guessing) be very commercially appealing.

Was Barry dropped by Harper Collins? Did she stop doing the strip for five years? So perhaps there’s no collecting gap? I’ve tried to google this, but I can’t find anybody that’s written a historical overview of Ernie Pook’s Comeek and its publishing history. You’d think that would be a thing that would exist on the interwebs, but nope.

This future sucks. No flying cars and no Ernie Pook chronology.

Again, we start with an introduction… and this book is printed on bright white paper with a fair bit of bleed-through. Those Harper Collins books looked and felt just right, while this is just kinda brittle.

Hey! That’s a re-run of the baloney strip (but redrawn). Still sounds good.

These strips aren’t dated (all her previous strips have been), so I’ve no idea whether these were made over a number of years. The art styles Barry uses vary a lot — here she’s doing a kinda smudged, rough style.

There’s always been heart-wrenching things happening in this strip, but for the first time, it just doesn’t feel convincing. In this book, Freddie is involved with a case of arson (that he tried to stop happening), landed in jail, got bonked on the head so that he saw everybody as burning skulls, he’s raped, rapist dies, he gets a fever, becomes semi-autistic and… I’m sure I’m repressing a few of the atrocities.

It’s just a lot. And it’s really harsh, with barely any light let in. It’s like… what happened to sour and curdle Barry’s outlook on life?

The art style continues morphing… now she’s doing Dame Darcy? It’s a very luxurious title.

And then the lettering grows really really big, which I take to mean that the newspapers running the strip reduced the size, so Barry had to up the lettering size.

The Freddie Stories is a depressing book. And not in a good way.

Brian J. Dillard writes in The Comics Journal #215, page 43:

Like Roberta Gregory or Aline
Kominsky-Crumb, Barry’s work is often dismissed
because it’s “sloppy.”

[…]

Debbie Drechsler’s work approaches the verisi-
militude of Barry’s, but its heavy tone sometimes
sinks into maudlin excess. David Kelly has tackled
similar issues of gender and childhood, but his
scenarios lack Barry’s nuance and authority. Not
even Julie Doucet’s dream comics, which are richer
visually, embody such a perfect synthesis of clever
scripting and freaky pictures. Fans ofall these artists
would do well to step outside the comics shop and
into a newsstand, where Barry’s strips will be avail-
able week after week, long after The Freddie Stories
goes out of print.

That was the stupidest review ever. Dismissed as sloppy!? Yes, I’m sure that’s true, but only by the most moronic of morons, presumably, so why mention it?

Darcy Sullivan writes in The Comics Journal #140, page 45:

Lynda Barry’s
Come Over, Come Over

[…]

Why does Barry’s sweetness — Maybonne
says the book is “mainly about how life can
magically turn cruddy then turn .and
then back to cruddy again” — still seem so
fresh? partly because it’s so unique. The cur-
rent “adult age” of comics has misplaced
goodness. Our honest-John super-heroes have
become dark blights, sneaky sadists who bleed
like hemophiliacs. Baker considers his book
“mature” because the characters smoke and
drink and cuss before they heft the rocket
launcher.
Things aren’t a whole lot better in Barry’s
own genre, the family comedy. It’s all the rage
for dads, moms. and siblings to trade savage
wisecracks in series like Roseanne or The Cosby
Show, but any problem can be solved with a hug.
Pundits rave about the reality Of The Simpsons,
a droll but stale brood Of Fred Flint-
stone fathers Dennis the Menace (the women,
inexcusably. are disposable — this is another
bonding-with-dad dream). But even this quar-
relsome family is never more than a commer-
Cial break away from a cure-all embrace; the
treacle here is only mitigated by the fact that
Bart is such a little shit.
Lynda Barry’s sweetness seems much more
bearable, mainly because it’s more than Offset
by abject terror. Hugs won’t keep her Mullen
family from disintegrating. In Come Over, Come
Over Maymnne and Marlys, the tux) sisters who
have held Barry’s “Ernie Pook’s Comeek” since
1988. live with their divorced mom until they’re
Shunted away to grandma’s, where they again
see their alcoholic, estranged father. Tossed like
hot potatoes, they attempt to hide their feelings
and to order their world by constructing some
sharp categorizations, like the “cruddy” and the
“beautiful”.
That dichotomy says a lot about Barry, but
even more about Maybonne, whose letters and
diary entries relate most of this volume’s strips.
Maybonne, 14, is growing up here, groping her
way through puberty and a shattered family. At
times her observations seem too wise, too
philosophical, the straining voice of her author
rather than her soul. But, for the most part,
Maybonne struggles with a really tough part of
maturity: the breakdown of classifications.
Barry has always given us lists, multiple-
choice questions, labels (as has, more famous-
ly, Matt Groening). Sometimes these take the
form of jokes: one strip, “Marlys’ Auto Bingo,”
bullets 23 familiar items to look for on car
drives. More subtly, the characters classify each
other. developing codes to help them understand
their lives.

Well, that’s better.

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.

PX89: Heck!

Heck! edited by Bob Donahue (214x768mm)

Donahue claims in the introduction that this is the first paperback anthology of all-new comics. Can that be true? Er… Well, Raw #8 was squarebound… and… uhm… *ponder* What about Blab? Wasn’t that before this?

Anyway, he talks a bit about Underground comics here, and it’s clear that he sees this anthology as coming from that tradition.

But it’s a quite varied selection of artists — mostly pretty fresh ones, like Carol Tyler, who opens the book.

Then straight on to Carel Moiseiwitch.

Many of the Raw regulars put in an appearance. Here’s Mark Beyer with a Thomas House sequence I can’t remember reading anywhere else.

Mark Marek does an illustrated noir thing.

It’s hard to say what the aesthetic here is, really. You get whiplash from the sudden changes in approaches… but I guess the main theme is… being funny? The vast majority do gag strips.

For instance, Mary Fleener does a very funny anecdote about corpses.

Kaz gets really out there in this one-page strip. Most of the contributions are two pages or longer.

Almost all the contributions are heavily narrative. I think John Howard is the only one that goes more abstract.

*gasp* Julie Doucet! Well, Donahue obviously has great taste — he’s including basically everybody that were hot in 1989.

And some surprising choices, like Lee Binswanger, who is the only one who does formal comics play.

Mario Hernandez!

And, of course, Richard Sala, who was in All The Anthologies around this time (and they were all the better for it).

Huh. A very unusual Aline Kominsky strip — I don’t think I’ve seen her do collage strips before?

And, of course, there’s a quote from Art Spiegelman at the back.

So! That’s a rather excellent anthology. I thought it was gonna feel like a choppy read (due to the number of people included), but it hangs together well. It’s not a very weighty book — it’s all mostly yuks — but it’s well done.

And while typing this… There’s an unusual number of women represented here (for this kind of thing, at this point in time), isn’t there? Let’s see… There’s 32 pieces, and (if I’m counting right) nine women, which is (/ 9.0 32) => 28% women.

I’m unable to find any reviews of the book (either contemporaneous or on the web now), so it looks like it pretty much sank without a trace?

Yup. You can still pick up copies pretty cheaply. (I bought my copy at the time.)

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.

PX86: Demo #1

Demo #1 edited by… Mary Fleener? (216x142mm)

I was ebaying for “punk comics”, and this mini came up. It features stuff by Mary Fleener, so I thought “what the hey”. So let’s have a very quick look at it.

This is a very good looking mini. (It’s of the sheet-folded-in-half type.)

Most of the comics are by Mary Fleener and Dennis Worden, but other people show up for a page or two.

And an interview with Worden.

It’s the Fleener material that’s interesting here. Some of it’s in Fleener’s well-known Cubismo style, but she also experiments with other styles.

Hey! It’s autographed! Vernon!

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.

PX83: Casual Casual #1-9

Casual Casual #1-9 by Peter Dako (140x217mm)

Casual Casual turned into an anthology later (covered earlier in this blog series), but I stumbled across somebody selling the original mini-comics cheaply on ebay, so let’s have a quick look at them.

This starts out as an eight page comic (i.e., two sheets folded in half), and then becomes a three sheet book. The first half dozen issues were published weekly, which is pretty impressive… I mean, if he drew them in that time, too.

Which I guess he could have.

The first few issues are about the Casual Casual band — here we have an overview of members who have left the band.

And they apparently had a weekly gig? Perhaps Dako sold these comics at the gigs? Makes the weekly schedule more urgent.

But the subject matter starts deviating, and soon the book isn’t about the band at all.

And here’s an illustrated version of Dead Joe.

The Birthday Party - Dead Joe

(The Birthday Party for reference.)

In the final issue I have here (after the book moved to a monthly schedule), the art starts getting more interesting.

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.

PX98: The Jew of New York

The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor (212x221mm)

I’d forgotten about this book! I thought it was another one of the Julius Knipl collections, but it’s a totally separate work.

It’s a very handsome book. Almost square, and with these thick, rough-hewn covers… designed by Chip Kidd, of course.

One of the plots in this book is about carbonating Lake Erie, and then supplying cities with soda water on tap. Let’s read the first three pages:

This may not be Julius Knipl, but it’s very Ben Katchor: Everything is told in a slightly oblique way. It’s not that it’s obscure or anything, but (as usual) I find that I have to backtrack a lot to actually take in what’s happening. There’s something oddly dream-like about Katchor’s way of presenting things that just makes the reading… slippery…

It’s one long story, but Katchor introduces so many different characters and situations that I found myself wondering whether Katchor was just doing a shaggy dog story.

He also references a lot of 1800s folklore (and stuff), and I don’t know whether any of it’s real or just made up by Katchor. But it doesn’t really matter much — it reads as if it’s real and has significance.

Hm. Did they move Jerusalem? That’s difficult to google.

In the last half of the book, Katchor finally stops introducing new characters and locations, and we get on with the action (so to speak), which involves putting on a theatre play called The Jew of New York, written by a rabid anti-Semite, as well as a guy swindling another guy out of some beaver pelts, and… it all ties together! Sort of!

It’s a pretty thrilling book to read, but it’s… hefty. It’s under a hundred pages, but I feel like I’ve spent all day reading it. Hm. Which I have.

It’s dense. But totally worth it.

(And I didn’t mention how gorgeous the artwork is, because you can see that yourself, right?)

Kim Thompson writes in The Comics Journal #211, page 26:

Katchor’s Whirligig

The title of Ben Katchor’s phenomenal new
graphic novel, set in the hustle and bustle Of
New York City in the year 1830, is a deliberate
play on that other notorious anti-Semitic Eliza-
bethan drama (the one that didn’t bequeath
unto the English language the word •shylock”),
Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.
Katchor’s book strikes the theatrical note im-
mediately: On the title page the main charac-
ters are presented as little cut-out paper dolls
for a children’s theatre, and the story proper
opens with the New World Theater company
readying itself for the production Of a play
called The Jew of New York” —which is, in the
words of the scenic designer Samson Gergel
(the lone Jew of the company), a •cheap bur-
lesque” of the life and achievements of Mordecai
Noah. Few details of the play are revealed. but
the fact that Noah has been renamed “Ham”
suggests its anti-Semitic nature (while doub-
ling as a theatrical pun). And when the author
of the play shows up later in the book, he turns
out to be a fervent admirer Of Marlowe, and is
tickled when a viewer (the visiting Noah, exhib-
iting surprising good humor in the face of
abuse) picks up a reference to Marlowe in the
text.
The Jew Of New York” becomes something
Of a fulcrum for the graphic novel. Not only
does the mounting of the play form one of the
major plot threads of the book (and when
things go lethally wrong in the last quarter,
almost all the disasters have to do with the
play), but the character who eventually im-
poses himself as the protagonist, Nathan
Kishon, has an indirect link: he was one of the
members of Noah’s doomed attempt to estab-
1ish a Jewish colony in Upstate New York (a
central element of the play-within-the-book).
The Jew of New York’s back-cover notes
confirm the authenticity ofboth Mordecai Noah
and his colonial venture, but in this age of put•
ons, metafictions, and deceitful “based on a
true story” credits, it seems necessary to point
out that Noah (“the most influential Jew in the
United States in the early 19th century,”
Seymour Brody calls him in Jewish Heroes and
Heroines of America) is an authentic historical
figure whom Katchor has shanghaied, Ragtime•
style, into his irreverent and playful fictional
universe. (This caveat seems especially neces-
sary since the period advertisements and pam-
phlets that dot the book, scrupulously “dis-
tressed” for maximum credibility. are in fact
fake.) Noah, a successful entrepreneur. politi-
cian. military man, and playwright, did envi-
Sion a Jewish colony on Grand Island in
the Niagara River, and this venture that
ended in failure. (l)

[…]

The Jew of New York came to
me with a reputation as a “dif-
ficult” work —
a reputation
that, upon reading, seems un-
deserved. Yes, the heavily-captioned, compli-
cated narrative and tiny panels do make it a
dense work (your average Drawn & Quarterly
cartoonist would have required five novel•
length books to get this much sheer story
across): you have to stay on your toes to keep
the interlacing narrative threads straight. And
I’ll admit that Katchofs gallery of similarly-
designed players can confuse the eye and the
mind in spots. But his decision to stay with one
thread for the first third of the book sharpens
the focus, and once the narrative begins rock-
eting from one character to another again, it’s
less daunting than it might otherwise have
been.

[…]

A word on Chip Kidd’s striking design.
Kidd,who has designed books by Nabokov,
McMurtry, Leonard, and Amis, has a particular
flair for comics-related graphics: he was in-
volved in the production of two books on
Batman, and has used cartoonists for some Of
his projects (such as the Peter Mayle book
Anything Considered, whose uncredited Chris
Ware cover illustration caused a number of
double takes among comics readers browsing
at their local Barnes & Noble). With The Jew of
New York’s title printed roughly on thick, un-
finished cardboard (held up by two characters
who exist only as stenciled line drawings), all
the relevant information that normally goes on
the back cover is printed on a loop of paper that
can be removed by those readers who enjoy the
pristine cardboard. (In fact, the endpapers,
which are loaded with art and copy, can only be
read if you slide this loop off, or at least back
and forth.) This may all seem a
little over the top to the reader
wary of graphic pretension, but
theresults are a delight to hold—
and The JewofNewYork is one of
those rare books that will look
better the more beat-up it gets
through subsequent readings; in
a few years, copies may Start to
look like authentic documents
from a century and a half ago: the
paper is a creamy, faded off-white
already.

[…]

As any juggler can tell you, one of the
hardest parts is stopping. With something like
a dozen plotlines spinning through the air,
Katchor eventually lets half of them drop to the
ground to shatter: Four of the main characters
are killed in the last 20 pages: a fifth will almost
certainly go to the gallows for One Of the
killings; a sixth engineers a scam and goes
underground, to what is essentially a living
death. This may be one or two deaths too many
(and I’m not even counting a shipwreck, re-
vealed late in the story, which ruins a seventh
player): it suggests a slight desperation to •get
off.” to use the appropriate vaudeville term.
Moreover. in a story where the main romantic
subplot consists in a lunatic’s onanistic obses-
Sion with flyers depicting a wooden-legged
actress, the semi-romantic ending for Kishon
comes somewhat out of left field.
Then again, it’s hard to imagine how else
Katchor might have ended this insane whirligig
of a yarn, and in the face of such wit, craft, and
inspiration, any carping is ultimately beside
the point. The Jew of New York is a rich, heap•
ing, and delicious meal, and the only proper
response, really, is thank you.
Or perhaps grepts. +

Kim Thompson is insightful as always.

Seems like it was well received:

A word about the physical book itself: The spidery drawings of Katchor’s ”historical romance” are elegantly bound between two pieces of embossed but unfinished cardboard and augmented throughout by an assortment of fake documents, facsimile handbills and period maps. ”The Jew of New York” is not only something to read but to ponder — an object nearly as strange and striking as the story it contains.

See?

Katchor’s ingeniously meandering tale uses multiple, overlapping story lines to illustrate aspects of urban and frontier life. Characters overlap, pass each other and return in a rich stew of hucksterism, scientific idealism and trashy popular culture that fancifully recreates the advent of a new mercantile age.

But perhaps not by the comics crowd:

There are a lot of great moments embedded in this narrative but it takes a committed reader to dig many of them out this time, and if you aren’t already a fan of Katchor’s urban magic realism you may not enjoy having to concentrate that hard.

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.