FF2004: Trucker Fags in Denial

Trucker Fags in Denial by Jim Blanchard and Jim Goad.

This is a collection of a monthly single page comic that was originally serialised in Exotic magazine. Jim Blanchard is perhaps still most famous as the inker for Peter Bagge’s Hate in the 90s, but he’s also released a number of solo collections.

This comic is a high concept story where, basically, all you need to know is in the title.

While the humour is meant to be offensive, it’s less dedicated to offence, than, say, Angry Youth Comics.

There’s quite a bit of sex here, and the storyline isn’t very well-developed, but it’s pretty amusing. The artwork is rather basic, though, with stiff figures and not very convincing faces. I like the line, though.

And there’s merchandise…

… a resource page…

… and an activity page. What more can you ask for?

I didn’t buy this comic at the time, so I had to buy it now. The price it demands now is pretty steep.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1994: Pressed/Weasel

Pressed Tongue #1-3, Weasel #1-7 by Dave Cooper.

In my mind, Dave Cooper was part of a movement towards “body horror” in 90s comics, as exemplified by Renée French, Al Columbia and (somewhat earlier) Jim Woodring. All these artists are technically proficient and create dark, “squishy” pages that straddle the line, uneasily, between horror and humour.

Cooper had published a number of series at various publishers (like A Big Someplace for Iconographix), and had appeared in all the comics anthologies of the time, but I think it was Pressed Tongue that made quite a lot of people start paying closer attention.

It’s drawn in this incredibly meticulous, expressive, ink soaked style.  While there isn’t much (or any?) explicit sex here, shipping it through Borderlinx caused the package to be stopped and pulped.  So Coopers sweaty art style is still unnerving for people in Ohio.

As in many of his stories, one of the protagonists is a comic book artist, and this one draws a comic book that quite resembles the one you’re reading.

The book seems to start off with something resembling a normal 20s slacker plot (think Crap or Hate), but veers off into different lands only a few pages in. The central story is about that pus encrusted guy up there that discovers that if he smears the shit from the 20-somethings’ baby on his skin, then the faeces clears up his sores.

Yes.

Most of the characters are drawn pretty much realistically, but this guy has a nose that keeps growing throughout the series into satanic proportions.

Both in Pressed Tongue and Weasel, there isn’t a single drop of ink on the pages that hasn’t been hand drawn by Cooper.

Look at this letters page. Just look at it.

In issue three, Cooper announces that the series is coming to an end. And not for the usual reason for an alternative comic book series (i.e., low sales), but because the story is finished. Which took me by surprise, since it kinda seemed to be structured as a longer story…

… but then Cooper wraps everything up in an ingenious way by introducing more overt metafictional elements like this fanatical Dave Cooper fan.

And, yes, the ending makes complete sense. In a kind of Lynchian sense, but by the final page of this issue (which is on the back cover), we have a very satisfying, and slightly unnerving, finish to the story.

I was extremely surprised.

After this, Cooper serialised the Crumple story in Zero Zero and released a few stand-alone books. Suckle? Something like that, but of these mid-90s works, I think Pressed Tongue is the strongest. And the rest aren’t bad, either.

Cooper returned with a new series of floppies in 1999, this time called Weasel, and in a very handsome, smaller, almost-square format. Physically, these are quite attractive objects, exquisitely designed. And instead of doing a single story, Weasel was designed as a classic single-author anthology, where Cooper could just dump all of his projects.

However, the main serial, “Ripple, a predilection for Tina” was to take up the vast majority of the pages. Cooper’s drawing style has changed dramatically from the Pressed Tongue years. Instead of the relentlessly overworked panels, we here get this sketchy, scratchy line that I really like. I love the way he’ll fuzz up almost all the lines with those zig-zags.

And this time, there’s no overt horror or fantasy elements, but a pretty straight-forward story of sexual obsession.

The protagonist is a cartoonist, of course, and the framing story is about him drawing the story that we’re reading.

There are shorter backup features in each issue, though. The most puzzling one is this encyclopaedia in this apparently made-up language. It goes on for pages and pages. I suspect a lot of pot smoking is involved.

There’s also this serial drawn in this more cartoony style that seems pretty much improvised. Horrible things happen.

Pat McEown contributes this spiffy piece that has a lot of concurrent stories going on at the same time. The rows on the pages are both rows of panels and floors in a house, and some of the stories are told left to right, and some are right to left, and sometimes they change floors. It’s fun.

There’s quite a bit of sex in Weasel, and most of it’s not very pretty. Very moist.

Pat McEown explains why he won’t be appearing in any further Weasel issues.

Cooper’s characters are incredibly expressive. Have a look at that dissatisfied coffee drinker up there, and that glowing nerd. Perfect.

And look at that angry, jealous nerd here.

Weasel won the “best new series” Harvey award that year, which is understandable.

Mike Mignola draws an apparently non-narrative piece where the script is the same as used in that imaginary encyclopaedia. Very odd.

Then Cooper announces that he’s ending Weasel in its current incarnation, and again he manages to finish his storylines.

So many alternative series just stop instead of having an ending, so I really appreciate Cooper sticking to his guns.

I would not normally think that Cooper’s work would lend itself to franchising, but if you were to make a toy from his characters, it’s probably a better choice, commercially, to go with Eddy Table instead of that pus-filled nose guy from Pressed Tongue.

The final two issues of Weasel are squarebound books collecting paintings and drawings “of mostly pillowy girls”, as the covers say. And that’s what they are: No comics inside.

Just pages and pages of stuff like this.

With a fold-out centerpiece that’s, I think, the best thing in these books.

I don’t think Cooper has created any comics after Weasel was finished. At least I’m unable to find any trace of that on the web. Instead he seems to be a full-time painter and illustrator. He’s such a good storyteller, so that’s a disappointment to me, at least.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1982: Hugo

Hugo #1, Hugo (second series) #1-3 by Milton Knight, jr.

Hugo was, I think, Fantagraphics third comic book (after, ahem, Flames of Gyro and Love and Rockets). It’s been a while since I’ve read these comics. I can’t imagine I’ve looked at them since they were published, so that’s 30 years?

Let’s re-read.

The first issue is magazine sized, although it wasn’t originally drawn for that format (as evidenced by the banner on top of the pages). This was the one issue I didn’t have back then, and it’s distinctly more primitive than I remember the later issues being.

The readers aren’t left to puzzle out the influences themselves, but I think I also see a Floyd Gottfredson thing going on with those black-clad anarchists up there?

This is what I remembered Hugo being like: Male rights movement funnies. It’s probably a bit too subtle for Breitbart, though. Trish, the Princess, tortures Hugo, the jester, who’s in love with her.

But Hugo also plays these games, and Trish isn’t a cipher, so reading these comics I got a somewhat different vibe from what I remembered.

Trish even saves Hugo from serious dangers.

Knight has most of the characters talking in this dialect. I don’t know… it doesn’t feel as natural as (say) George Herriman, but, on the other hand, that’s a pretty high bar to set, isn’t it?

Knight is obviously pretty good at drawing in the Max & Moritz tradition. The characters are very lively, expressive and malleable, always dropping off into extreme expressions and postures. His thick-and-thin line is very appealing.

I think the most successful story in these four issues is “Hugo Meets the Baron”. That’s the baron up there, who correctly identifies Hugo as an “Angora cat”…

… and then regales the court with tales of how he used to track down, kill and eat Angora cats in his youth. The metaphor is pretty obvious, but there’s a sheer visceral horror permeating this story that makes it really effective.

And so the story ends with a ba-dump. Or ouch.

The major story in the second issue (which is about Hugo finding self-expression as a comic book artist before being shut down by the marketplace, I meant the Church) is less effective.

And yet another iteration of the “Trish playing with Hugo’s feelings” story is downright boring…

… until it turns horrifying. That’s not fun.

So I guess I’d rate it “problematic”.

What I remember Hugo best for was R. Fiore’s “best comics of the year” column in… er… one of those years, where he proclaimed that Hugo was better than Love and Rockets, which is probably something that’ll go down in Early 80s American Alternative Comics Aficionado History. (i.e., I remember it.) I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, because obviously Love & Rockets #1 was the best comic ever published (except for Love & Rockets 2, 3 and especially 4), while Hugo #1 was an amusing bagatelle.

Perhaps it was a political thing. He’s written really confused stuff more recently. Perhaps the Hugo thing was just foreshadowing.

Milton Knight, jr. has occasionally published comics after Hugo stopped, but he’s mainly been working in animation.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1986: Anything Goes!

Anything Goes! edited by Gary Groth.

I just realised that the end was in sight for this blog series, so my enthusiasm returned. There may be some slight pauses before we get to the end, as I’m waiting for some issues to arrive to complete some runs…

Anyway! Anything Goes! is, perhaps, not formally a Fantagraphics series: It’s published by The Comics Journal as a benefit series to help pay the costs from the lawsuit brought on by Michael Fleisher.

Gary Groth explains in the editorial here.

I found that if I read this editorial using Comic Book Guy’s voice, it’s funnier.

The contributors to this series is mainly people who have regular series with Fantagraphics, which should perhaps not come as much of a surprise. But there is a handful of “name” artists (and writers) unaffiliated with Fantagraphics that pop up here with pieces done specially for this series: Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Sim, George Perez, Alan Moore…

Above we have a panel from a very violent four page, er, story by Gil Kane, that seems to point to Kane doing a new His Name Is… Savage! series soon. That didn’t happen.

Beto Hernandez illustrates a funny, apparently autobiographical story by Jan Strnad. Hernandez also contributed a solo piece later that talked more directly about the issues surrounding the series; one of only two strips to do so, I think.

It’s not all superstars, though. Here’s Mike Baron and Dave Garcia. I wonder what the editorial practices are when doing a benefit book. If somebody sends you something that’s… not good, then do you reject it? That seems kinda rude. This story isn’t that bad, but there are some real clunkers later in the series that are barely readable.

Sorry, I meant barely unreadable.

The only story that’s had much of an afterlife is this one: “In Pictopia” by Alan Moore, Donald Simpson, Pete Poplaski and Mike Kazaleh (*phew*). It the kind of elegiac fan service piece that Moore excels at, about (basically) how comics these days suck. Allegory alert!

It’s a pretty effective and affecting story.

Jaime Hernandez pops in with an amusing four page Locas story. Those were the days.

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott team up for the first time in years.

Dave Sim does a very text heavy three page vignette, and is the only other person (other than Beto Hernandez) to refer to the Fleisher case. The case was about Harlan Ellison calling Fleisher “bugfuck” in an interview in the Comics Journal.

Sim’s prose is as leaden as always. If I ever re-read Cerebus, I think I’ll just skip past all the non-comics pages.

The colours have to be mentioned. SM Graphics did the separations, and they’re as muddily psychedelic as always. (See the Dalgoda article for further, er, appreciation of their… singular vision.)

Has Daniel Clowes ever looked as Bernie Kriegsteinish as he does in the Lloyd Llewellyn short in issue four? Perhaps. But not a lot. I love the stiffness.

Hey! Whatever happened to Alec Stevens? He’s a very distinctive stylist… Hm… oh, he’s now totally christian and an instructor with the Kubert school, according to Wikipedia. That may explain why it’s been a while since I’ve seen any work from him…

By issue four, they started padding the issues with reprints and stuff. I know the point is to make money to pay the lawyers, but it still feels like a cheat.

Groth takes the Gracious Winner of the Year award. Just kidding! I would have been gloating like that, too, if something as stupid as the Fleisher lawsuit had ever happened to me (and I’d won).

Like I alluded to above, I have no idea how the editorial process for a book like this works. Here we have a couple of pages from a rather delightful Arn Saba/Trina Robbins collaboration, and Robbins is the only female artist that appears throughout these issues, which is beyond strange. (Nadine Messner-Loebs collaborates on the writing of a short Journey strip with William Messner-Loebs later in this series, and that’s it for women.)

A Robert Crumb strip from 1977 is reprinted in the fifth issue. We here see Crumb’s prescience: He correctly foresees The Walking Dead 35 years later.

The final issue is inexplicably in black-and-white. (An old Eddie Campbell piece above.) Which makes me curious: Did Fantagraphics, I mean The Comics Journal, make much money off of this series? Making any money from publishing alternative comics is a pretty chancy thing, after all.

But perhaps they did sell a shitload of these? Somehow? You can pick up pretty much all the issues for less than cover price now, which seems to indicate both that they’re commonly available, and… that people didn’t feel the need to hold on to them.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1989: The Natural Inquirer

The Natural Inquirer by R. L. Crabb.

Crabb is mainly known for his underground series Tales of the Jackalope. This book has a few pages of jackalope lore, but most of the pages concern other species like:

The is not a comic book per se, but is just a series of these drawings and descriptions.

Crabb is still active today.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF2006: Uptight

Uptight #1-5 by Jordan Crane.

This is one the very last floppies Fantagraphics has published, and it doesn’t look much like Fantagraphics comic book comics usually look. There’s no verbose indicia (“any similarities to etc”), no UPC code, it’s cheap, the cover stock is the same as the interior stock, and the first three issues are only 20 pages each. (Well, plus the 4 from the cover. Everything has to be divisible by 8, you know.)

All of this makes me wonder whether this series is really more distributed by Fantagraphics than really published by them. Jordan Crane used to self-publish his work… Let’s see… Hm, didn’t the URL used to be different? Anyway, I’ve bought quite a lot of things from him directly, and his own things have pretty much the same aesthetic as Uptight. Although he screen-prints a lot of stuff instead of having it printed on an offset.

Anyway! Uptight started in 2006 and the fifth issue was published in 2015, so that’s a pretty lethargic publishing schedule. The main serial here is Keeping Two, which I’ve read before in a different format… Oh, yeah, he self-published it in a smaller pamphlet form. But wasn’t that a while ago?

Confusingly enough, Keeping Two isn’t concluded in Uptight, but I think it was in the pamphlets? So confuse.

Anyway anyway! Keeping Two is about a guy sitting at home imagining what may be happening to his girlfriend who’s late, and stressing out completely. The shifts between reality, remembrance and fantasy are really well done: It’s almost always clear what’s going on, but it’s still unnerving how fluid this all is.

Crane switches between various art styles a lot. The Keeping Two one uses nose-less faces, for instance, while his other pieces don’t. There’s a prevailing feeling of unease and melancholy in all of the stories, though, even the funny ones.

This story, about a guy who imagines (perhaps) his girlfriend being unfaithful is very handsomely rendered, and again very differently from the other pieces. However, I did find the “guy obsessively pondering his girlfriend” repetition somewhat worrying: By returning to the same theme in the same issue, the reader may well start thinking more about Crane’s motivations than the characters’.

And then there’s this really goofy and funny story about these kids (and their cat) getting lost in the air conditioning system at their school, drawn in this open, bright style.

When I reached the back cover I thought “hah! Fantagraphics put some UPC stickers on there!” and then I started scratching at it with my nails. And it’s not a sticker! It’s a perfect trompe l’oeil of a sticker. You can tell that Crane is a designer.

And then we’re on to the fifth issue, which isn’t a thin floppy at all, but a hefty squarebound one. While all the previous issues were printed on thick, absorbent paper (in Canada), this one is printed on thin, shiny paper (in South Korea). The paper is so thin that there’s a lot of bleed-through, and the whole thing feels rather read. As a physical object, I mean.

Crane’s also using these more abstract sound effects more prominently here, possibly inspired by Japanese comics? Of course, there the sound effects in Japanese comics aren’t really abstract to people who know Japanese…

This is still from the Keeping Two serial, but this is from the bit where the protagonist is chilling out by reading a book, and this part is from the book he’s reading. I think.  So we have these shifts between reality and fantasy (or rather, depicting the emotional state graphically) in the story-in-the-story, too…

And then there’s a sci-fi thing in colour. More loss and despair, of course, but that’s what we like.

Hm… but what’s Crane up to these days? Hm… Wow. That’s a much expanded version of Keeping Two as a web comic? Huh.

Oh! Wikipedia claims that Keeping Two will be getting a collected release in 2017. Well, that makes sense. I’m looking forward to it, and it’ll be the third time I’m buying it.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF2003: The Pogostick

The Pogostick #1-2 by Al Columbia and Ethan Persoff.

We’ve seen both Al Columbia and Ethan Persoff before in this article series, and here they turn up with a collaboration. This book has an unusual format, being smaller than standard-size comics and printed “sideways”. Sort of.

Based on the indicia and guessing, this was probably written by Columbia and drawn by Persoff.

Well… “drawn”… I guess the artwork was created in a very computerey process. It looks like each element was created once and then moved around on the screen a lot.

The story is about a very unpleasant, possibly insane guy who works the night shift at a rivet design company. So it’s what you’d expect from both Columbia and Persoff, really.

The second issue is printed much lighter, ink-wise, than the first issue: It looks slightly bleached out. I would assume that this is a printing error, but you never know…

Persoff’s approach to the artwork isn’t very appealing, I think. Of course everything looks stiff and awkward, but that can work to your advantage. The main problem is that it’s just difficult to tell these people apart, or to read their intentions when they all look like that.

For instance, in this pivotal moment, I was wondering whether the guy to the right up there was the same as…

… either of these two guys here, but he isn’t. Flipping back and forth this way to clarify stuff like that doesn’t really help much with enjoying the book.

The first issue was 32 pages and the second was 24, and I have no idea whether any further issues were planned or not. I guess you could say that the plot, as it is, had reached a natural conclusion, or they could have continued in this vein indefinitely.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.