PX01: Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids

Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly (242x340mm)

The first Little Lit book wasn’t… very good, and this one doesn’t even have Chip Kidd as a co-designer. So let’s have a look.

Heh, that’s pretty good… (Kaz.)

That’s not bad, either. (Art Spiegelman.)

There were quite a few of these activities pages in the first book, but only one here. (Martin Handford.)

OK, this is much better than the first book. (Ian Falconer and David Sedaris.) The pieces here are generally longer, more inventive, and things that I can see actual kids would actually enjoy. And that makes for a better experience for us childish adults, too.

Perhaps it was the fairy tale theme that messed up the first book?

It was difficult to find anything in the first book that actually worked well, but basically everything here’s either fine or very good indeed. (Claude Ponti.) There’s a great variety in the approaches, from the formal play here…

… to the straightforward storytelling in Posy Simmond’s story.

The book reprints a bunch of oldee things from famous illustrators, like Jules Feiffer here, as well as Maurice Sendak and Crockett Johnson. I guess these are just things Spiegelman really enjoyed… but they’re not the strongest pieces in the book.

Nice. (Kim Deitch.)

The Crocket Johnson thing is pretty cool. Gotta love the Futura.

Lewis Trondheim does a very playful thing where you have to choose your way among branches.

And finally, Loustal and Paul Auster does… er… uhm… Well, it’s a good story, but it feels very out of place in this book.

So! That was a really good book, which I didn’t expect after suffering through the first one.

Ng Suat Tong writes in The Comics Journal #244, page 38:

With the success of the first Little Lit
volume, immaculate reputations, money,
a good publisher and a sizeable contact
list, Spiegelman and Mouly had one
potential stumbling block when it came
to editing the second volume of their
children’s comics anthology. The ability
to truly “edit,” to chop and to cut and to
refuse without severely offending. In
essence, do you ask Paul Auster and
Jacques de [nustal to contribute some-
thing and proceed to tell them that their
story is average and really not a very good
children’s story? Do you ask an old
friend, a distant contact or an artist
whose merits equal or exceed your own
to remove, redraw or otherwise com-
pletely alter a story which he has worked
long and hard on? Was it within the abil-
ities of Spiegelman and Mouly to edit,
strongly direct and advise on their con-
tributor’s works? Did they even the
chance to exercise this ability? I
know. If they have had this opportunity,
then their collective “taste” is wholly cul-
pable in the debacle that is L;ttle Lit:
Strange Stories for Strange Kids. If not,
they have knowingly succumbed to the
pitfalls of the “strong” contributor list.
The latter is the lesser of the two evils but
the editors remain guilty of producing a
very mediocre book in what can only be
described as the optimum conditions.
Let us begin with Spiegelman’s story,
“The Several Selves of Shelby Sheldrake, ”
a clear indicator that he is ill-suited to the
production of children’s comics.

[…]

Any semblance Of an engaging plot is
suffocated by Spiegelman’s rough, unfin-
ished line and flat, frigid narration. His
desire to amuse his young readers With a
repetitive, claustrophobic explosion Of
imagery is both ill-judged and tedious.
Our eyes glaze over with disinterest upon
encountering each monotonous page of
this four-page offering.
Where Open Me — A Dog suc-
ceeded to a certain extent as an amusing
novelty book, Spiegelman’s children’s
comics are hampered by overportentous-
ness and his unwillingness or inability to
change his drawing style to suit his pur-
pose. His story in the first Little Lit
(“Prince Rooster”), for example, replaced
fun and excitement With unleavened les-
sons for the day. One does not question
the right of an editor to include his own
stories in his own book, but I do wonder
what hidden forces compelled him to
place his middling stories at the forefront
Of his collections not once but twice. The
utter lack of insight in this respect from
someone so experienced is astonishing.
More importantly, Spiegelman
should eradicate his delusions of
grandeur about producing comics for
children in a day and age when no one is
producing comics for children.
Spiegelman and Mouly appear to have so
distanced themselves from comics in the
intervening years since the publications
Of Raw and Maus that they no longer
have a feeling for or knowledge of the
various delightful children’s comics that
have surfaced in recent years.
As if to prove my point, the pair of
tales that bookend Little Lit II are an
example of the worst kind of children’s
comics. The calamitous closing tale
(“The Day Disappeared”) is by two
otherwise exceptional talents, Paul
Auster and Jacques de Loustal. It is a
metaphorical tale of how a man loses and
then finds and saves himself in the course
of a day. Auster stubbornly refuses to
abandon his roots in existentialism and
adult fables for the sake Of a “mere” chil-
dren’s comic and Loustal, for his part,
struggles gamely along, creating art per-
fectly compatible with Auster’s very dour
purpose. In truth, Loustal cannot be
blamed for his writer’s ultimately disas-
trous foray into the realm Of the gravity
laden children’s Story. As a fairy tale for
adults, “The Day I Disappeared” is
remarkably shallow compared to any of
Auster’s existentialist tales in The New
York Trilogy and yet almost certainly
beyond the comprehension of young
children. It lacks the swift movement of
plot requisite of childretfi stories and fails
at every turn to produce the careful and
uncluttered delineation of emotions,
replacing this with drawn out, silent,
morose exposition.
In truth, the distinguished contribu-
tor list of Little Lit II is nothing more than
a mirage; a whispered hope and a ceaseless
dirge that masks the tepid quality of the
book. Jules Feiffer, a wonderful writer and
artist, produces a story that I would not
put beyond the worst Of Mantel hacks.
One does not suspect some sudden emas-
culation of his artistic prowess but a fail-
ure to undertake a proper and recent
review of children’s comics and literature.
“Trapped in a Comic Book” is about a
child who encounters and annoys a car-
toonist only to be sucked into the very
comic the cartoonist is drawing. Feiffer
adopts a tonal dot pattern to indicate that
we are deep within a comic page, blowing
up the printing deficiencies of the four-
color world of comics. It is a deadly com-
mon trick — which is not a criticism in
itself, since it •would be too much to ask
every artist to create elements of daring
innovation every time they produce a
new comic. Yet Feiffer’s art is inadequate
to the job Of conveying the fantasy he
means to communicate. His harried
linework (so essential to the meter Of his
cartoon strips) has a severe distancing
effect here in view Of its lack Of clarity
both narratively and figuratively. It is a
defect further exacerbated by the flavor-
less narration ofa trite plot.

[…]

Some of the other editorial choices
also help to lift Little Lit II beyond the
zone Of death. Richard Maguire produces
a technically interesting “Can You find”
activity page filled with twisted shapes
and unusual perspectives. Lewis
Trondheimk amusing cartoon maze is a
few minutes of harmless entertainment
Which is bound to generate more neural
connections in the minds Of young chil-
dren, and Roca makes a good, if
somewhat traditional, account Of himself
With a surreal “Can you Spot the
Mistakes” page. Claude ponti also deliv-
ers the goods in his pleasantly related
story of “The Little House That Ran
Away From Home,” a tale filled with
touching pictures ofa house weeping and
other worldly Dr. Seuss-like creatures
collecting “happy sounds” and “smoke-
plumes-that-rise-in-the-distance. ” To cap
all this Off there is a well known intro-
ductory tale from Barnaby which appears
to be slightly edited When compared to
the first Barnaby collection published by
Henry Holt and Company.
Only time will tell if the series has
sufficient weight to generate the clouds
of nostalgia that inform an appreciation
of a Barks Duck story, a Stanley Little
Lulu or a Lee and Kirby story from the
Silver Age. I would suggest, however,
that one hardly needs to journey to the
island Of Patmos to discern that Little Lit
Will not be looked upon (if at all) With
kindness in ten years’ time.
Children are not a very demanding
audience but they are terribly exacting in
their requirements. In the case Of Little Lit,
Spiegelman and Mouly have subscribed to
the ultimately false and Kitile values of
choosing the most “name” artists they
could muster in order to produce a chil-
drenk book Which is, simply put, merely
lukewarm water meant to be spat out.
They have declined to look beyond an
artises past laurels and hence blinded
themselves to those with less prestige but
proven abilities in a combination of both
comics narrative and the childrer* story.
This is ultimately the path of safety. There
is a sense of security inherent in such a
position; a feeling of warmth and comfort
in the nebulous cloud of quality inherent
in the flock of “names” surrounding your
project. But it is not necessarily the path
to artistic success. With all the resources
eminently at Spiegelmank and Moulis
disposal, no excuses are sufficient to justi-
6′ such a failure.

I think he didn’t like it? But he did like the first book?

Well, OK!

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.

Comics Daze

I wasn’t gonna do another comics reading marathon today, but I totally messed up my sleeping patterns.

Look! It’s the middle of the night! This is no time to get up! So now I just wanna read comics and eat crisps until dawn.

Let’s get started.

The Meters: Gettin’ Funkier All The Time (6): Be My Lady [New Directions]

00:38: Š! #43 (Kuš)

The theme this issue is “scientific facts”, and we start off in the best way possible:

Not cargo shorts! Nooooo!

But most of these pieces are very, very chatty. I mean, they’re interesting, but…

Some of the pieces go more ruminative.

Lots of very pretty artwork.

And some funny bits.

Well, it’s not the best Š! issue, but it’s pretty good.

Various: Café Olé (1): Mixed By The Cube Guys

01:14: “That Woman Must Be On Drugs” by Nicole Hollander (St. Martin’s)

This is a very early Sylvia collection — from 1981.

It’s fun, but I think Hollander got even funnier later? She’s got the rhythm down already, but she gets sharper later in the 80s.

Various: Café Olé (1): Mixed By The Cube Guys

01:39: Skiw Death Zero by Jon B. Cooke & Ronald E. Turner (Last Gasp)

Slow Death #1 was the first thing Last Gasp published, so to celebrate the 50th anniversary, the anthology returns as this handsome squarebound book.

These are not reprints — it’s all new comics. (Charles Schneider and Rick Altergott.)

As expected, most of the bits here are really… er… verbose. In the oldee tymey underground comix way.

It’s a nice mix of older and newer talent — here’s Richard Corben (!) and Bruce Jones (!!).

Peter Kuper does a fun (well…) thing that has to be read backwards, but you only discover that when you reach the end.

Most of these pieces are pretty depressing, but Hunt Emerson brings the fun.

Rick Veitch has switched up his art style, eh?

One piece here sticks out like a sore thumb: The rest of the stories are basically eco horror/fantasy things, but M. Yafa and Kellie Ström do a story about Assad’s Syria, and it’s got more emotional heft than the rest of the stories put together.

It’s a good anthology.

Various: The Recommended Sampler 1982 (1)

02:40: World War 3 Illustrated #50: Shamless Feminists (AK Press)

There’s a wide variety of approaches here, but things are definitely more accomplished than back in the early days of WW3. (Susan Willmarth.)

Lots of new people, but also people who’ve been doing comics for quite a while. It’s always fun to read a new Jennifer Camper story. (And this one was quite amusing indeed. And kinda wistful.)

I guess most of the pieces are pretty traditional (storytelling wise), but this piece by Seong Eun MacFarlane was pretty intriguing.

One of the most interesting stories here is this thing from Isabella Bannerman — I’m guessing it’s Bannerman’s … grandmother’s (?) story from WWII Italy. It’s got that unstructured reminiscence thing going on, and it’s both charming and feels truthful.

But I think my favourite strip is this one by Carly Shooster, which juxtaposes Yoko Ono’s Cutting piece with er personal stuff.

Don Armando’s 2nd Avenue Band: Don Armando’s 2nd Avenue Band

03:57: Canardo by Sokal (Comic Factory)

I remember Canardo strips would show up here and there in various low, low rent anthologies in the 80s (badly printed and in black and white), and… I never much liked the strip? But some Danes released a collected edition, and I apparently bought it for some reason.

The mysteries of shopping.

Ah, the first sixty pages or so are the strips I vaguely (don’t) remember reading back then. These are four-to-six page strips, and they’re… er… “sardonic”. And I guess the art style can be summed up as “somebody read Franquin’s Idées Noires”?

The other three albums collected here are in colour… repulsive colour…

The stories are basically Noirish pastiches, and they’re all hyper violent tragedies. Canardo doesn’t have a consistent character, and the world depicted in the pages seems to vary according to Sokal’s mood (in the early strips, the main gag is that Canardo’s a private eye on a farm, but he doesn’t quite get that it’s the human that’s killing the animals, and then he’s living a more human-style life, and finally (in the fourth album) humans are a myth).

I can see why somebody would be into this — the art’s pretty good, and it’s “transgressive” and vaguely funny at times — but it was a chore to get through.

Google translate:

It is true that the cynical and dramatic side often takes precedence over the rest. However, I find that the message sent by the author takes on a special meaning. There is a whole atmosphere that I really liked. Humor is not forgotten. In short, an excellent cocktail!

Jerry Harrison: The Red And The Black

05:53: Jeremy Brood by Richard Corben and Jan Strnad (Fantagor)

I got this more than a year ago, and then I totally forgot to read it. Looks like it’s prime Corben at his most sculpted.

But he varies the rendering technique a lot — Brood himself is very airbrushed while the aliens are more gnarly.

Oh, I just realised — most of what I’ve been reading tonight has been from the early 80s — Sylvia, Canardo, this, and Slow Death’s last issue was from 81, I think, and World War 3 Illustrated started in 81-ish, and even the music I’ve been listening to have all been from 80-82.

I didn’t plan that or anything.

What does it all mean!

Jerry Harrison: The Red And The Black

06:14: Tinfoil #2 edited by Floyd Tangeman

I’ve had this for a while, too — I’m digging deep down into my unread stack tonight.

It’s really cool.

I like all the different approaches here. The longest piece, though — the zombie history — seemed pretty out of place, but perhaps that’s the point.

Yves Tumor: Heaven To A Tortured Mind

06:30: The New Graphics Revival by David Heatley and Bert Stabler

I’ve had this for quite a while, too… I have no recollection of how I got it, though.

This is conceptual — they editors apparently sent out these kits to people? Containing pencils and ink and paper, and instructions.

So this book is just one-pagers from a bunch of people — kids and adults, professionals and not-so-professionals.

I was sceptical at first…

But this is really good! Of course, not everything is super interesting, but cumulatively it’s very readable and interesting. That it’s just single pages helps with the rhythm of the reading, I think.

I give it all my thumbs up.

Irreversible Entanglements: Who Sent You?

07:08: Les passagers du vent, tome 8: Le sang des cerises, livre 1 by François Bourgeon (Cobolt)

Oh! This is a continuation of the album series from the 80s, which was five albums. But this is album 8? So I’ve missed two, if my math education can be trusted.

I remember… thinking the original series was kinda turgid? It was a big deal back then — it was a big, huge epic, translated to all European languages… very portentous. But I have absolutely no recollection what it was about, beyond what I just wrote.

So this is set in the late 1800s…

AND OH MY GOD IT”S SO BORING. I don’t know whether this genre has a name… “nation building?” It’s people standing around recapping titbits from history, and participating at the edges of Major Important National Events, so it’s a word salad of names and places.

And, of course, they meet Latrec and Satie etc and it’s all mostly really, really tedious. And all the faces look like he’s tracing photos.

But.

In between the “as you know, Bob, the Prussians lay a siege around Paris” there’s some scenes that really work? In a sort of grandiose French historical movie way? So it’s not all bad.

Let’s see what Frencheys on Goodreads say.

Monumental work as always with this author but this time I am rather annoyed by the too many history lessons but above all too little subtly placed in the mouths of the protagonists. As a result, the dialogue rings out of tune and there is too little room left for the plot, the story with a small “h”.

Indeed.

Joan as Police Woman: Cover Two

08:46: Le club des predateurs 1 by Mangin & Dupré (Zoom)

Looks like another one of those French Victorian pot-boilers, which I usually like well enough.

… but the storytelling is really choppy. There’s about thirty characters here, and they’re basically indistinguishable from each other (with a couple of exceptions).

And it putters along in this quite normal way, and I guess some kids might find it entertaining… But then the final few pages. Man. Those are the among the most grisly and gruesome ones I can remember ever seeing in a French comic book.

Just… eurgh.

David Allred: Living Things Living

09:23: Le club des predateurs 2 by Mangin & Dupré (Zoom)

Unfortunately I’ve already bought the second tome.

This one’s nauseating, too. (I’m not showing any of the offending pages here.)

The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices feat. Lisa Gerrard: Shandai Ya

09:42: Seeds and Stems by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics)

Hanselmann explains what this book is.

This is such a cute little book. But thick. It feels very generous — 350 pages of full on Hanselmann.

However, the small format makes it more approachable than it would have been as a big, hefty tome, but some of these strips didn’t survive the size reduction. And while the choice to print most of the pages on coloured paper is really cool, the low contrast makes some of these strips kinda eye-strainey.

But whatever — this book is compulsively readable and hilarious. This is some of Hanselmann’s best stuff collected here — there’s no need for “structure” or “character development” here (which was the problem with his last book — was it the Bad Gateway thing?) which can bog stuff down. Here’s it’s just funny/tragic, and it keeps on going. It’s wonderful.

Various: Pacific Breeze Volume 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986

11:34: The End

But I’m exhausted now, so I think I’ll try to get a nap in before I go to bed.

PX00: Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tales

Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tales edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly (242x340mm)

I didn’t originally plan on including anything from the Raw Junior, LLC line of books… but I thought it might be interesting to at least talk about the first spate of Little Lit books.

These are published by HarperCollins, but apparently put together by Spiegelman and Mouly (with Chip Kidd co-designing). The selling point, I think, is what’s in the orange line at the bottom there.

“Comics: They’re not just for grown-ups anymore!” the back cover tells us. Which is a hackneyed joke today, but twenty years ago, it was a pretty novel idea in the US (before all the Raina Telgemeiers and the Dav Pilkeys).

There was a real push to do comics for kids in the late 90s among alternative cartoonists (perhaps because so many of them now had kids). They all had one thing in common: Not a single actual kid would touch those comics with a ten foot pole. It’s instead be older fans of the cartoonists other work that would buy those books and then go “most whimsical! most whimsical!” while stroking their necks beards.

(I should get a shave.)

So… we open with a… most whimsical “Fairy Tale Road Rage”… game from Chris Ware, which has things like “Minor Chest Pain”, something all six-year-olds relate to naturally.

The theme for this handsome book is fairy tales, which I guess should guarantee that no kid would ever want to look at it. (Art Spiegelman.)

As usual, the artists lean hard into “whimsy”. (William Joyce and Ever Meulen.) The main problem is that they’re jamming so many things in here — I think there’s 18 pieces over 64 pages. I don’t have my calculator on me, but I think that translates to “not a lot of pages per thing”. Virtually none of these stories have room to develop, so they read like weird non-sequiturs.

Daniel Clowes does his creepiest story ever.

It’s not just that these are bad comics for kids — they’re just bad comics all around. Except this one! It’s, of course, Joost Swarte, and it’s good.

The worst are the ones that just recap a fairy tale kinda straight, like David Macaulay here.

Ooh! Charles Burns!

OK, this Kaz thing is pretty good. Kinda gruesome, but good.

And finally we get the instructions for how to play the Chris Ware game. All the six year olds probably spent hours and hours on this, right?

So what we have here is a classic example of the How Not To Do Comics For Kids genre. (To see what kinds want, go to the nearest bookstore and look at the stacks of Dog Man books.)

The Comics Journal #231, page 52:

I heard Little Lit recently
described (Oh, 0k, I happened to be in the
Fanta offices and overheard one of the phone
guys talking about it, so I eavesdropped, big
whoop) as “A children’s book —well, more of
a book for children with their parents.” That’s
right: t appears to be a childrens’ book but
really isn’t.
As you can already tell, my review of Little
Lit is harsher than a book ostensibly written for
kids probably seems to warrant. This is because
the publishers are trying to do something new
and interesting, which merits closer scrutiny
than standard comic book fare. And the stan-
dards of things for children are different than
the standards of things for parents, which are
much different than the standards of those two
demographics combined. Also, I’ve gotta lot of
rage. But please keep in mind, there is not a
book in the world that couldn ‘t benefit from a
few of Lies basic structural concepts (read:
earnestly intended mistakes).
Let’s start this time with Chris Ware, the
man who, if you lived in a box, you would
probably believe invented comics jut a few
weeks ago. The “story” included here is a mas-
terful game entitled Fairy Tale Road Rage. Mr.
Ware, please note: if you’d really like us to start
constructing these things (and the temptation
is growing to irresistible) please insist on hea’+
ier cardstock Or consider switching to differ-
ent materials altogether. (Who among us
wouldn ‘t blow $14.99 of our next paycheck on
a Ware-and-Kidd-designed board game?)
Please, consider my suggestions. Thanks!
Yet the game itself seems to be a fun cross
between Mad Libs and an actually enjoyable
board game. Seems, I say, because I didn’t put
the thing together. Before we begin to play, we
must read the directions thoroughly. And
that’s when we realize that Ware is taunting us.

[…]

Which seems like a pretty good place to
mention Charles Burns. Burns, who in my
opinion has matured from a damn good
comics artist with Big Baby to one of the better
storytellers today with Black Hole. This being
said, however, he really isn’t appropriate to the
expressed theme of Lit, unless you’re really
pushing the old German fairy tale themes of
death, destruction, terror and bloodletting. In
fact, Burns shouldn’t be even mentioned in
the same room with under-14s until they have
proved themselves worthy, and this from the
same Ms. Penmark who feels we should give
away gay porn in the public schools because
we’ve been neglecting the queer youth of
America for too long. Under no conditions
should even the worst of children be subjected
to Charles Burns. The stuff is too scary.
Yet it just underscores my theory that Lit
isn’t really for kids at all, despite the back of
the book’s proclamation: “Comics. They’re not
just for grown-ups anymore.” The comics and
games, some more traditional than others, are
a good mix of funny, gory and sweet. Some of
the stories will be above children’s heads. Or
rather, the underlying gist of some of the stc»
ries will be (kids will enjoy the book solely
because it’s a fancy book made in part for
them) except for the Burns, by which they will
be scared, and it will make them run away and
hide, and possibly never look at another book
again in their lives for fear there could be
inside more black and white line drawings of
things that should be a little bit funny, but
really are the most terrifying things ever
imaginable. Anyway, the thing of having
adult jokes wedged into kids stuff is real-
ly popular right now, and plus, it
makes the kids feel intelligent when
they get the jokes, which is a nec-
essary confidence-booster for
most kids.

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.

11×10%

It’s that time of the month where I give a report on how my possibly Quixotic mission to get the Emacs bug tracker down to a managable size is going, because:

This stretch stated August 15th, and had a target of 269 bugs, and that’s what I just reached. But did the bug tracker shrink any, or was it all new windmills? I mean bugs?

It wasn’t all new bugs — we’re still trending downwards. The period started with 2690 open bugs, and we’re now down to 2585, which is, like, 100 fewer.

One good thing about this stretch is that many of the newer closed bugs weren’t much work for me — there’s been a lot of smaller patches submitted by people that I’ve just been applying, which is nice. New contributors is always fun.

I’m not gonna do a whole bunch of statistics like the last time around, but just note that we’re back to a 2013 level of open bugs.

Oh, and the previous post totes went viral. Unfortunately, instead of the “hey, Emacs development is cracking along at a pretty decent pace nowadays with lots of new contributors, eh?” effect I’d hoped for, somebody felt the need to air some sour grapes, and that seemed to be the main focus.

Oh, well:

PX05: We All Die Alone

We All Die Alone by Mark Newgarden (198x223mm)

Unusually for a Fantagraphics book, this book has a very… extra… physical appearance: The cover is bound in a felt-like material, so it feels like fondling… moleskin pants or something.

It’s very Indesigney.

Ah! Edited by Dan Nadel (i.e., Picturebox) and designed by Helene Silverman. You can tell just by touching this book that it wasn’t designed in-house.

We start with a ~20-page introduction by Nadel, which… is probably a good idea? Normally when opening a book like this and then confronted by somebody exhorting me to realise what a genius the creator is (I think this covers 97.9% of all introductions in comics books), I just get annoyed and skip it; it sours the reading experience. Nadel manages to write interesting stuff about Newgarden’s work, which makes a change.

I mean, much more interesting than this blog series. (I’m so self deprecating, see.)

Nadel says that Love’s Savage Fury, Newgarden’s piece from 1986, “remains unsurpassed today”, which is both correct and a sort of… dig… at the rest of the contents of this book. Because as hard as he tries to provide context for the reader to appreciate Newgarden’s 90s work, it’s an uphill battle.

I mean, What We Like and Love’s Savage Fury are absolutely, mind-bogglingly fantastic, but the big-nose stuff…

This feels like a very thorough career retrospective. Newgarden invented the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, and we touch upon that.

And then we get to the main part of the book, which is the weekly strip he did for New York Press in the early 90s. And… some of it’s amusing, but most of it’s just tedious. At least in the context of this book.

Perhaps it was a pleasantly surreal experience to stumble upon this in a newspaper, but the pay-off here is marginal.

What? Only a single page of AIDS jokes?

I mean… I think he’s going for pleasantly absurd slash scathing satire, but…

I don’t really know what to say.

After reading a couple of these, it’s hard to not lose confidence. In interviews (which reviews parrot) he talks a lot about pain:

On Mr. Newgarden’s studio wall hangs what looks like a ruler. On closer inspection it turns out to be the Johns Hopkins Pain Rating Instrument, a plastic strip with a slider that a patient can move along a numbered scale to indicate how awful he feels. The scale ranges, in increments, from no pain to “worst pain imaginable.”

For Mr. Newgarden it serves as an existential barometer.

“It tends to stay on worst pain imaginable,” he said. On cue he laughed. Uproariously.

In his late-80s work, the pieces had huge emotional resonance. I just don’t see it in these pages.

At least the strips that print toilet paper wrappings (there’s twelve of these pages) are more directly confrontational.

(For some reason, New York Press cancelled the strip shortly after.)

But this book reprints all the hits, of course, like Pud + Spud… but shrunk down. I mean, I like the graphic quality of this, but it’s a pain to read.

And then we finally get 40 pages of Newgarden influences.

Putting this book together was probably a lot of fun.

Reading it — not so much.

I think they liked it:

Archetypes of American wholesomeness are paired with philosophical musings on the meaning of life and death—a coupling that jolts the viewer out of complacency and urges them to investigate the subtext of our omnipresent banal surroundings. That’s one way to describe the book; the other is to label it “by the guy who created the Garbage Pail Kids,” and let readers discover the true subversion for themselves.

They all like it:

The drawings here work perfectly as quickie cartoons, but they also extend themselves, turning into desperate, hysterical rants.. From an ad for the Little Nun’s stigmata gloves and edible rosary to an exhibition of real toilet paper wrappers, Newgarden treats nothing as sacred. In fact, he suspects that we cherish whatever distracts us from our problems. Beautifully produced—the covers are black velvet—this book shows the results of his study aren’t exactly comforting, but they are fascinating and funny as hell.

This blog post is part of the Punk Comix series.