FF: Big Thing

Big Thing #1-4 by Colin Upton.

This series is probably called Colin Upton’s Other Big Thing (Upton had self-published more that 60 mini-comics by this time, and one larger one, which was called Big Thing, so this name makes sense), and then Colin Upton’s Other Slightly Smaller Big Thing (when it went to a smaller size).

Phew.

Anyway, we’re talking about slice-of-life stories with a particularly late-80s flavour. Even if we’re in the early 90s.

The stories are mostly slice-of-life, but mostly not really in the tradition of Harvey Pekar or R. Crumb. Instead they’re mostly anecdotes of interesting things that have happened to Upton, and you could imagine him telling you these over a cup of tea somewhere.

Not extremely soul-searching or harrowing, and you can see Upton chafing under (imagined?) pressure to be more “raw”, which may explain the quip up there about Graphic Story Monthly.

It’s not all autobio, though. There’s the occasional, er, whimsical? story like this one, with angels and devils:

But it’s mostly anecdotes, and some of them aren’t very exciting:

That’s it.

As for the art, it’s kinda lumpy, isn’t it? It’s clear and understandable, but I just… don’t really enjoy it much.

In perhaps the most exciting tale in these issues, Upton joins The Haters (GX Jupitter-Larsen noise/performance thing) for a performance, and there is So Much Drama. Mostly because Upton is so scared of getting arrested that it starts being annoying in the retelling.

But it’s a good story. And above we see Roberta Gregory, first drawn by Upton and then by Gregory. Always fun to see two autobio depicting the same scene. Compare and contrast.

Upton visits Fantagraphics.

The third issue is mostly about participating in demonstrations against the … er… first Bush gulf war? I’ve lost count at this point. It’s a very angry issue, and it should be.

*sigh*

And then!

Oh, it’s a parody.

Yeah, yeah… 1991 was a sucky year to try to get non-genre earnest work published.

“No apologies to the guy who draws Faust.” Heh heh.

Anyway, that was it. After four issues, Big Thing was cancelled.

I remember reading this at the time and enjoying it quite a bit (especially the political angry bits), but the series has problems. There’s nothing wrong with doing anecdotes, but cumulatively they don’t really seem to be going anywhere.

It’s a nice series, but it’s not all that memorable.

I vaguely remember Upton doing a series after this called Buddha on the Road. (I probably have it in a case here … somewhere…) Let’s see… *google* *bing* *yahoo* Oh, yeah, he (ironically enough) did a porn series called Incubus. I think I have that here, too… But other than that, there doesn’t seem to be that much more published after the mid 90s?

Oh, and he has a comic book store now.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF: Bad Comics

Bad Comics #1 by JR Williams.

A previous #1 had been published a few years earlier by Cat-Head Comics, and if I remember correctly, it was much like this one: A random collection of funny comics by JR Williams.

Like Sam Henderson, he’s someone who seems to know the mechanics of telling a joke well, and subverting your expectations is what it’s all about.

Like this comic about some yokels hooking up with some city ladies…

… ending like this:

And stories about really bad boys doing bad stuff:

So it’s all quite simple and funny.

A couple of the pieces use a very different rendering style, though, like this Skinboy two-pager.

So what can I say? It’s slightly gross and quite funny. Johnny Ryan would take this style to another level about ten years later…

Williams mainly published minicomix and in the small press, but I think Fantagraphics did a few more one-shots in the mid 90s. In which case I’ll get to them later, I’m sure.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF: Graphic Story Monthly

Graphic Story Monthly #1-7 edited by Gary Groth.

Graphic Story Monthly was Fantagraphics’ second attempt at a “general” comics anthology, following hot on the heels of Prime Cuts.

In some ways, it’s just a continuation of that series under a new name. Many of the same contributors and features continue on from the first series, so I guess the point was just to have a new number 1 to boost sales or something?

This is January 1990, and it would take a couple more decades for Tardi to get a substantial part of his work translated into English, unfortunately. Anyway, just like in Prime Cuts, Kim Thompson writes introductions to the translated material…

There’s some older stuff reprinted (Ward Kimball here)…

… and there’s newer, funnier stuff (like this Paul Ollswang/Jim Carpenter groan-worthy, but beautifully drawn work here). All in all, it’s a pretty good package. While Prime Cuts felt slap dash at the end, some new enthusiasm seems apparent in Graphic Story Monthly.

Speaking of Ollswang, he goes all weird in the second issue. It’s a very strange piece, but oddly and abstractly amusing.

More to the point is Wynne Evans’ “Mary Worthless” story. I mean, it’s a parody, but it works on its own, too. The artwork’s pretty basic, though.

Perhaps the most notable work in issue three is Patrick Moriarty’s very first comic. It details Moriarty’s harrowing sorta-kidnapping and the less than stellar response by the police. But Moriarty’s lack of experience in telling a compelling story is pretty easily evident: While the facts presented are hair-raising, the strip itself isn’t really that emotionally engaging. And his artwork at this stage hasn’t really found it’s style. I’ll be doing his solo series later, and I remember that as being a lot better than this…

Issue four starts a new serial by Jack Jackson, who is a real underground comix veteran. (He published one of the earliest underground comix back in the 60s.) The serial is in his usual milieu, but it manages to be both slightly boring and abhorrently gruesome at the same time. Not his best work. But some of the artwork is lovely.

Speaking of not-quite-good-enough autobio, Craig Maynard does yet another story from his horrible, horrible childhood. And while there are things I like about his drawing (the artificiality and the starkness of the black bits), the story doesn’t connect. It’s like “see, my life was awful” and I go “OK, it was awful”.

Jared Osborn’s piece is an outlier here. All the other stories in Graphic Story Monthly are very focussed on narrative, and there’s barely any formal experimentation whatsoever. This is a more abstract kind of… thing… and it’s pretty nice.

There’s a lot of humorous stories in between all the seriousness, and they’re kinda hit-and-miss. This one, by Tom Roberts and Jim Siergey, seems to ask the question “how do you do a story about a pompous bore and make it funny”, and the answer is “we don’t know”.

This story by Roger Langridge (Professor Cucumber and His Stereotyped Assistants) was pretty amusing. And meeting up with Uncle Scrooge inside a temple is a pretty good idea, especially since Fantagraphics a decade or two later became the main Barks publisher.

I enjoyed this Linzee Arnold story, which was allegedly based on a tape clandestinely recorded of Buddy Rich ranting to his musicians. The scratchy artwork goes really well with the deranged verbal diarrhoea.

Roberta Gregory, who had recently launched her Naughty Bits comic to great success contributes a story about… well… I guess it’s really about being conflicted by the success of Bitchy Bitch, if I’m to make a guess.

Up until the sixth issue, the schedule had been true to the name of the anthology: It had been published on a monthly schedule. Before the seventh and final issue, there’s an unexplained five month gap, and everything seems to have changed.

Until this issue, Graphic Story Monthly has felt very 80s. It could have been published four years earlier and nobody would have been the wiser. But with the seventh issue, we get coming super-stars like Joe Matt, doing three of his way-too-intimate and way-too-crowded autobio pages. I love them, and I remember being excited back in the 90s whenever an anthology would carry a couple of these, seemingly at random. It’s the perfect way to read them, I think.

And the same issue has the backlash to autobio stories, as if tailored to Matt’s contribution:

Autobio (as a comics genre) had detractors from the very beginning, but it really seemed to take off around this time. The story, by “Dennis Pimple and T. Motley” (presumably an acronym), isn’t very original or clever, but it is kinda funny. 25 years later it’s Joe Matt people remember and not “T. Motley”, so I guess the joke’s on them.

And that’s it. No more issues were published, and no explanation why, but it probably didn’t sell very much. As an anthology, it felt old-fashioned, and the Drawn & Quarterly anthology that would cover the same field (started in April 1990) did a better job at capturing what was going on in comics at the time.

But it was perfectly nice while it lasted.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

WFC Chile: La Nana

This wasn’t what I expected at all. Judging by the the DVD cover it looks like some sort of screwball comedy. And it is funny, but it’s really a complex, intense drama. Nerve-wracking.

I love the actors, but I’m not sure the really grainy natural-light (I’m guessing here) film (I mean digital) is a net win…

But it’s really good. South America is currently leading the Best Part of the World for Films competition.

The Maid. Sebastián Silva. 2009. Chile.

  • 12 parts ice cubes
  • 4 parts pisco
  • 4 parts orange juice
  • 2 parts sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 part sweet vermouth

Run everything through a blender until smooth. Pour into a highball glass. Garnish with some lemon twists.

This post is part of the World of Films and Cocktails series. Explore the map.

FF: The Flames of Gyro

The Flames of Gyro by Jay Disbrow.

I don’t have a complete set of all floppies Fantagraphics have ever published, so while writing this series I’ve started to buy the stuff I’m missing.

This is one of them.

The Flames of Gyro (featuring Valgar Gunnar) is the first comic book that Fantagraphics published, and it’s… not a harbinger of things to come. As far as I can tell (by Googling just now), Jay Dibrow published a number of comics in the 50s, but then went into illustration. Gary Groth gave him complete creative freedom to create whatever he wanted without any editorial interference (because that’s what he does), and this was the result: A sci-fi action adventure tale very much in the Flash Gordon tradition, as the cover says.

And it’s very 50s, what with the captions explaining everything that we see, and also in the way the people are clothed: 50s sci-fi clothing.

The artwork is quite 40s: Stiff postures and over acting, but it’s also quite pleasant to look at. The (pencil based?) half toning is nice, and the figures have pretty good anatomies, and I like the folds in the clothing…

And the way the soldiers in the image above are descending from the sky is rather spiffy. Shades of outsider art; shades of hipster comics to come.

But mostly, it’s not exactly very good. I mean, look at this awesome space battle. Hm… Nope.

And the plot is a mish-mash of more things than you’d think would fit in a 32 page comic book. Yes, Flash Gordon has to return the Ring to Mordor.

That’s a great security measure!

But that’s a very nice drawing. The proportions are slightly off, giving it a spooky insectile look, somewhat presaging what Charles Burns would do later. But perhaps accidentally.

And it’s educational. “Thews”. That’s a phrase I’ll have to start working into casual conversation. “Mighty thews”.

Indeed it does.

Spoilers! Don’t look at the next picture if you don’t want to know how this ends, because it’s a doozy:

Our hero drops the ring, I mean locket, into the Flames of Gyro, I mean Mordor, and the whole thing blows up, killing the people who were living in and around the mountain. (We’re told that this would happen prophetically earlier in the issue, so it doesn’t really come as so much a surprise.)

The surprise is that after committing this genocide, Valgar is just so, so, so happy.

Perhaps this books is an understated critique of colonialism.

Anyway, perhaps I’ve been slightly overly critical here: It’s a book that’s very easy to mock. But it reads quite well. It proceeds at a brisk pace and looks rather pleasant. I’ve read many, many, many 50s sci-fi comics that are way clunkier than this book.

After doing this book, Disbrow continued making various books. This overview by Joe McCulloch is very readable. And he did a web comic for about ten years starting in the mid 90s.

So that’s a pretty unusual career.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF: Girltalk

Girltalk #1-4

The cover of the first issue says “1st full issue”, but that’s because a sort of “preview” issue was included with issue seven of Real Girl.

No editor is listed, but Isabella Bannerman and Sabrina Jones seem to be the central people here, perhaps. This anthology sprang out of the venerable World War 3 Illustrated anthology (which is still going strong).

And the concerns, at least in the first issue, square up with a typical WW3 issue pretty well, what with stories from squats and stuff, like in this piece by Fly.

Art-wise, most of the features would also fit well in WW3, like this teriffic spread by Melinda Beck.

And they apparently had support from a grant from New York.

It’s all very New York, isn’t it?

Anti-Catholic gags are always fun. (The pope later gets turned into a nun and realises what a dick he’s been. (By Peggy Doody.))

Wowza. A cubismo story of rape by Vicky Rabinowicz.

I love the drummer’s pose. (By E. Fitz Smith.)

And another ob/gyn strip. Ursula O’Steen.

I love the artwork on this two-pager by Luella Jane Wright. It’s slightly adjacent to Chantal Montellier? Hm… Perhaps not… Very pretty, though.

Actually, I find myself with not much to say about Girltalk. I enjoyed reading these comics back in the 90s, and I enjoyed re-reading them now, but it’s not an anthology that’s very distinctive. It doesn’t really cohere — the pieces don’t seem to “come together”, thematically or emotionally. And great anthologies do. So it’s just a nice, good anthology, but not very… er… interesting.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

WFC Venezuela: Pelo malo

This is really good! I love all the actors, especially the mother. And the cinematography is both fantastic and real at the same time.

Everything’s so tense.

Bad Hair. Mariana Rondón. 2013. Venezuela.

Playero

  • 2 parts coconot flavoured rum
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part gin
  • 1 part lemon soda
  • 1 part coconut water

Mix rum, lemon juice and gin in a highball glass with ice. Top up with lemon soda and coconut water. Garnish with a cherry.

This post is part of the World of Films and Cocktails series. Explore the map.