FF1987: Frazetta

Thun’da Tales #1
Untamed Love #1

By Frank Frazetta and various.

There’s no text in these comics to explain why they exist beyond what’s on the covers: “finally presented in a quality full-color edition!” So my guess is that these are comics from the early 50s that had somehow fallen into the public domain, and Fantagraphics thought that they could make some money off of publishing them.

The first of the pair is about, well, Tarzan. But he’s called Thun’da here because that’s what the natives here called him after he fired off his gun. Or something.

Frazetta is known for his lush and … heroic rendering, but his anatomy is sometimes kinda wonky. Although very heroic.

Oh, yeah, there’s dinosaurs, too. But isn’t that just a lovely panel?

Much Betty Page. These stories were written by veteran Garner Fox, and they don’t really make that much sense, but they’re not any worse than most comics in this genre… and that includes Tarzan.

That’s a very Fletcher Hanks insane stare.

The second book here is a collection of early 50s romance tales. And as the indicia says, any similarity between the emotions here and those of real persons is purely coincidental.

But it’s very nicely drawn. Even better than that Tarzan book. I mean Thun’da.

The colouring is by Henry Mayo, and it’s very sympathetic. Just look at this page and how he makes everything light and breezy to fit the story:

While these two books do not advance the art form noticeably (which was apparently the point of publishing Savage, covered earlier today), they’re nice enough. The main point is just to look at the purdy art, though.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1982: Gil Kane’s Savage!

Gil Kane’s Savage! by Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin.

I think this is Fantagraphics’ third comic book, after The Flames of Gyro and Love and Rockets, so it’s historically interesting.

It’s a reprint of a magazine published in 1968, and RC Harvey gives some context in an opening essay:

He then goes on to talk a bit about the redundant text over each panel, and then a bit about how His Name is Savage! may be thought of as an early graphic novel.

And he’s totally correct about the redundancies. If you just skip the text, it’s a rather lively read, but with the text, it’s rather… plodding. But the thing is, I don’t really see how you could make a claim for this being an early graphic novel. For one, it’s not very long. It reads very much like a particularly over-written action comic strip, like if Secret Agent X-9 didn’t just have a daily recap panel at the start of each strip, but recapped endlessly…

The distinguishing feature is the hyper violence, I guess. This is a rather tame sequence; there’s real abuse later on.

In the interview, Kane describes the text above this panel to be the impetus to the entire book, sort of. Growl!

Well, I don’t know…

Oh yeah, there’s two interviews at the end. (Excerpted here we learn that few of the EC artists achieved distinction without the leaden prose of Feldstein or Kurtzman.)

One interview by Gary Groth, and one by Will Eisner, of all people.

I happened on to a mention of Gil Kane the other week while reading Pencilhead by Ted McKeever. In it he claimed that Kane used to steal original art from the Marvel offices. Apparently a lot. I thought “whoa, there’s going to be a reaction to this on the interweb”, especially since Kane is dead and can’t defend himself, but I haven’t even found a tweet about it.

Very odd.

Not this book; it’s not odd at all, but that Pencilhead thing…

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Hate

Hate #1-30
Hate Jamboree
Hate Annual #1-10

By Peter Bagge.

Hate is Peter Bagge’s smash success series after winding up Neat Stuff. (Which wasn’t, I guess.  A smash success.) It’s also the last of the, er, “institutional indie” comics that Fantagraphics published in the 80s/90s in this blog series, after Love and Rockets, Eightball and Naughty Bits, so I wondered whether I should save it for the end of this blog series…

But then I thought “what. evs.”

Hate is quite different from Neat Stuff. While Neat Stuff was a classic one person anthology, with lots of short stories and random neat stuff thrown into the mix, Hate is basically one long continuous tale about Buddy Bradley.

While re-reading Neat Stuff earlier this year, it was rather obvious that Bagge had gotten tired of most of the regular characters in Neat Stuff, except for the characters in his Bradleys stories, so it’s no surprise that he decided to concentrate on Buddy Bradley (and his cohort).

But the first issue has one of the rare non-Bradley stories in the Hate run (well, the first 25 issues of it; after that it changes a bit), and its about why Bagge decided to go in this direction.

He depicts himself trying to get some advice from his publishers, and Gary Groth says basically “we certainly don’t know”, while Kim Thompson suggests that Bagge concentrate on Buddy Bradley.

Whether these conversations happened or not, it certainly shows that Bagge was thinking about what other people would be thinking about this change in direction.

He’s quick to point out in an editorial that he’s not a sell-out… but that Hate is selling. But not out.

If I remember correctly, it certainly felt (at the time) like Hate was a big thing. It seemed to fit in with the whole Seattle grunge/slacker thing absolutely perfectly.

I really enjoy Bagge’s hatching in this period. It’s strange and moody.

The letters columns throughout the series sometimes seems like an endless litany of people accusing Bagge of selling out. No matter what Bagge does, there’s usually a letter or two of this kind. It’s downright weird, especially reading this comic book series twenty years later.

In the early issues of Hate, Bagge ran two competitions: One for finding Stinky a girlfriend (and many of those were featured in one-page gags later), and one for finding a Buddy Bradley lookalike. Here we see Stinky’s reaction, which is a send-up of Chester Brown’s autobiographical depiction of himself masturbating. Tsk, tsk.

The most notable response to the competition was, I think, this page from the wonderful Carol Swain.

A question that’s never really resolved is just how many of Buddy Bradley traits are shares with his author. Does Bagge despise people with CD players? If so, does Bagge think that he’s being ridiculous for despising people with CD players? Or is he just plain making fun of people who despise people with CD players? I think this gives the series an added tension: You’re never quite sure where you have Bagge (or Buddy).

One thing about Buddy’s personality that seems to line up with Bagge’s is their distaste for loud rock music. Which makes it even more amusing that Hate is seen as the essential grunge comic book.

The band is called “Slutburger” and “Tales of the Beanworld” later…

I hate rock music, too!

By 1992, merchandising has taken off. In addition to all the collections, t-shirts and postcards, you also have trucker hats (note! ironic trucker hats!), rubber stamps and Zippo lighters. Big time!

A rare autobio backup story, where Bagge bitches about his neighbours. I mean, the child doesn’t. I find that these short pieces liven up the book a lot. It’s not that the Buddy Bradley saga is boring or anything (quite the opposite), it’s just that it trundles along, and they prate and they prate, and things happen but not really… Just look at my excerpts here: Very little from the main feature seemed interesting enough for me to call to your attention to in this blog article…

Hey! An early Zack Soto drawing on the letters page.

Oh, yeah, about the main feature: It’s mostly about Buddy meeting two insane women who become his girlfriends (I mean, consecutively, not in parallel). And after a couple of issues they both grow less insane. But still lots of drama, which is OK when you’re getting freak-out drawings like that.

Oh, I have to mention the long, long editorials in every issue, which are mostly recommendations of other comic books and fanzines. Giving shout outs like this was quite common in indie comics at the time, but Bagge takes it to another level. So many of them!

The first issue of Hate had a Groth/Thompson comic strip, and the 15th has one too, because in it Bagge announces that he’s taking a short break and will return with a slightly different approach…

And that new approach means colour, shiny white paper, and a radically simplified drawing style. Instead of all the interesting cross-hatching and shading, you now have characters that look easier to draw. But he’s moving from three row pages to four row pages, so he’s able to cram more story onto every page. I guess the colour makes the pages easier to read: If he’d done this with his old rendering style, and in black and white, the pages would have looked kinda cluttered.

And Bagge has also gotten an inker, Jim Blanchard, on board. And I think Hate changes in tone pretty dramatically, too. Some of that may be because Bagge decided to move his characters back to New Jersey (from Seattle, where they were hanging out with alternative types) where they’re moving in with Buddy’s parents in the suburbs.

In issue 20 we get another tweak to the format. Bagge introduces a bar code to the cover! *clutches pearls* And ads! *gasps* And sorta beigeish, non-shiny paper. *twirls*

Apparently, all this is because Hate is now so successful that they want to sell it in non-comic book outlets, and besides, paper had gotten more expensive.

But back to the Buddy Odyssey: While reading these issues, I found myself growing increasingly fed up with the domestic antics and the constant fights and bickering. Yes, those are very bratty brats, but reading this isn’t funny, it’s like being in the same room with those brats. And there’s pages and pages of this stuff, and I found myself just wanting to do anything but carry on reading.

And it isn’t just those no-neck monsters: Literally every interaction is a shouting match, actually. (I’m using the modern meaning of the word “literally”.) It’s just exhausting.

And I won’t even mention the lame sitcom antics they get up to. This shtick was old in 1933.

The ads aren’t all bad. Here’s Jaime Hernandez drawing an ad for The Action Suits (where Bagge played drums). That seems like a very accurate representation of Bagge up there.

With issue 26, the format is tweaked again. It now moves to a 48 page kinda-like-a-magazine format. That is, the first half is all Buddy Bradley, and the last half consists of humour columns like the one above, ads, other Bagge strips, ads, and short (usually one page) pieces by other cartoonists. Still without changing the price from $2.95.  And ads.

While I think that the general impression is of Buddy as a sympathetic protagonist, Bagge sure has him doing a lot of assholish stuff.

Excerpted above is the quite amusing backup piece (written by Bagge and drawn by Adrian Tomine). That squid is an aspiring autobio cartoonist being gently rejected by all the publishers at a comics convention, starting with Kim Thompson.

And here’s Bagge illustrating a story written by Alan Moore. I wonder how that came about, and I didn’t see any explanation in the editorial…

Which announces that Hate is cancelled. And in an extremely unusual twist for Fantagraphics, it’s not because of low sales, apparently.

Speaking of low sales, Rick Altergott’s Doofus had been running as a backup feature since the early 20s, and every time I read one of his pages I just had to wonder… why? Reading the letters pages, that was something that a lot of people was wondering, too. I guess the humour here is that it’s so lame and unfunny that it’s funny?

Or is it because of the incongruous art style (all Wally Wood all the time)?

I have no idea. It’s a mystery to me.

A few months after Bagge cancelled Hate, we get a slightly oddly formatted … thing … called “Hate Jamboree”. It’s tall and narrow and printed on newsprintey, absorbant paper. It has lots of never-reprinted obscure stuff, like the page above, which was Bagge’s first published work.

But the main feature is a long text that details Bagge’s life and career. Above we get the reason for the name change from Neat Stuff to Hate. (In short: Bagge was being a contrarian.)

Bagge also explains why hipsters stop liking things when they get popular, like Hate did, but pretend to only like the old stuff.

There’s also interviews with other people who worked on the book, like Jim Blanchard. Here he explains that he’s not super-wild about Bagge’s work after it got popular, but that he likes the old stuff.

And here’s a great example of the good old stuff. Man, that’s a great panel.

It’s not just old work. There’s a number of recent pieces reprinted, too, like this one where Bagge reports from a standup comedy festival. It’s too bad the production on some of the colour stuff  is so bad. This one looks OK, though.

A useful Bagge bibliography is included. Somebody should type all that into Wikipedia. Hint, hint!

And rounding off the Jamboree, we get a short text each from the two Fantagraphics publishers. The one by Kim Thompson is rather moving in retrospect.

While the one by Gary Groth isn’t.

Next up is Hate Annual, which started in 2001, and was published slightly less than yearly after that. It’s a rather odd beast, but quite charming. First of all, it continues the Buddy Epic right from where the regular series left off. Bagge moved back to three row pages, though, so they seem more stream-lined and simple than in the main series.

But the bulk of the issues seema to be a compilation of everything Bagge did for various outlets since the previous issue. So you get these random-seeming illustrations…

… and columns that Bagge did for various Internet outlets, like suck.com. A couple of the issues have more text pages than comics pages, I think, but overall it’s more comics.

And the columns are fine. Bagge is dispatched as a journalist to various events, like the Republican convention, and brings back a report. They’re not the height of humour, but they’re fine.

The collaborations continue, too. Here’s one strip (“Dildobert”), which is quite post-9/11.

Of the weirder venues: This serial ran on the Adobe web site, apparently. And internet addiction was a thing people were talking about even back then. Of course, by now we’ve all learned not to spend that much time at the computer.

Now we have phones.

Bagge explains that he wasn’t kidding when he said he hated rock. But while all sensible people hate rock, what Bagge likes instead isn’t sensible: He likes A-Teens, B*Witched and Spice Girls, and all the rest of the drek churned out by Scandinavian producers.

And apparently Hillary hatred was a thing back then, too.

Meanwhile, Buddy becomes even more cartooney. By this point, I think Bagge is just fucking with us.

Hm… interesting observation…

Interesting new art style (from 2010). But it’s only for two pages.

And that brings us to the final issue, published in 2011. It has one quite long Buddy chapter, and you can keep yourself amused by counting how many times Buddy’s eye patch straps change direction.

And I think that’s the final appearance of these characters. The story doesn’t really have any kind of resolution or ending in this chapter, but how could it? Having it end here is OK, I think. The characters are mostly settled into their lives, and there’s nothing major to have resolved…

What surprised me about rereading Hate was just how focused the storyline is. The issues dribbled in over a 20 year period, and I would read them as they were published, and then not think about it much. I had gotten the impression that it was more disjointed. But it’s not: It’s one continuous whole.

I liked the earlier, funny ones the most.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Lust of the Nazi Weasel Women

Lust of the Nazi Weasel Women #1-4 by Mitch Manzer.

Manzer had previously done the very amusing Rory Randall, the Singing Cowboy serial, but Lust of the Nazi Weasel Women is his first (and only, I think) solo series.

As with the Rory Randall series, what we have here is a number of really silly concepts mashed together (Hitler as a parakeet, I mean parrot; the Easter Bunny smuggling eggs), and then the action takes off from there, but doesn’t really go in any particular direction.

Instead we get a number of gags piled on top of each other. If you string a lot of bad jokes together zanily enough, you get a cumulative effect.

Manzer’s day job is as an animator, and you can really tell. Some sequences seem like they could have been storyboards for a cartoon, but it works on the page, too.

While most of the artwork is fast and friendly, there’s also the occasional freak-out, like in this drug induced sequence.

A lot of stuff happens in these pages, but you can’t really say that there’s much plot development. The first four issues were all about our hero getting a crew together to fly a plane for the Easter Bunny, and by the end of issue four they’re finally in the air. And then the series just stops.

We never get to see any Nazi weasel women.

Manzer doesn’t seem to have published any comics after this series was cancelled, but he seems to have been working in animation ever since.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Kuper

It’s Only a Matter of Life and Death
Bleeding Heart #1-5
Wild Life #1-2

By Peter Kuper.

Around this time, Fantagraphics published a number of magazine-sized single creator collections of work previously published in various anthologies: Mostly Fantagraphics anthologies like Prime Cuts and Graphic Story Monthly.

It’s Only a Matter of Life and Death is yet another one of these, but most of the material here comes World War 3 Illustrated and Heavy Metal.

Among these is the famous One Dollar story, that I think was extended and published as its own book later? Although the Internet disagrees with me here, which just goes to show that you can’t trust the Internet any more.

Most of the stories are in Kuper’s familiar scratchboard-like style (but not done on scratchboard, I think), but there’s a couple of completely oddball pages like this one.

And Fantagraphics have even splurged for an additional colour on one of the stories!

Rounding out the magazine, we have an early travel comic from Kuper. These are usually taken from his notebooks that he draws while out travelling, and is in a completely different and more spontaneous style than his normal style. This one deals with a rather harrowing border crossing into Germany in the good old days (i.e., the 80s).

Next up we have the five issue Bleeding Heart series, which is in standard US comic book size, and continues the reprints from WW3 and Heavy Metal (and Real Girl, Itchy Planet, etc).

My, that’s a very handsome page.

One fun bit here is that he’s added a couple of pages to one of the pieces he’s reprinting giving it a critique.  I don’t know whether the coda was added for this printing or the previous one, though. I remember reading it before, but it may be from when I read this comic book originally in the 90s or when I read it in (I think) WW3. Aren’t I a bundle of knowledge today! Hm… comics.org seems to imply that it was added for this printing.

The travel stories are very exotic. Here they are in Tanzania.

Here we see Donald Trump building a wall across Manhattan to keep the poor out. This seems eerily prescient.

I’ve always wondered how Kuper achieved this stencil look. Is he somehow using an airbrush to get the effect? Perhaps I should do some research!

*time passes*

Oh, apparently he spray-paints over stencils… I guess you get that shaded effect by slightly lifting the stencil. Or something.

Speaking of stencils… My, that’s a handsome spread.

He continues to offer the occasional critique of the older stories throughout the series, but I think the last couple of issues are mostly original work.

From “What’s Bad About Men” where he illustrates some reflections on men by some women.

So true.

Finally, we have the Wild Life series, which only lasted two issues before being cancelled. The stories in the second issues have the text “to be continued” underneath the final panels, but I don’t think they ever were.

Anyway, the stories are autobiographical, and are all about sex and drugs and growing up. While interesting and phenomenally drawn, they seem perhaps a bit slight in comparison to the material in Bleeding Heart. Bleeding Heart really worked as a comic book: The mix of stories (some angry, some political, some very personal, some funny) felt well thought out and makes for compelling reads. Wild Life is a bit more one note, but doesn’t really offer increased depth in exchange for the loss of variety.

I think.

Peter Kuper is still active today, and has published quite a few amazing books over the years.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Har Har Comics

Har Har Comics #1-2 by Mike Kazaleh.

After Captain Jack was cancelled, Fantagraphics gave Kazaleh another go with this very short-lived series: One issue in 1990, and another in 1992. (The indicia in the latter issue lists it as being published “bi-annually”, which I guess is right in some jurisdictions.)

The two issues mostly consist of short gag pieces, but there are also some longer stories, like this one about anthropomorphic pets. It’s consistently amusing, and sometimes quite funny.

But the main charm of it all is Kazaleh’s irresistible cartooning. It’s just so lively and perfect. I’ll read anything he does just because I want to look at these drawings.

Some of the stories are touching, too, like this one about Hyper Al’s birthday.

On the other hand, not all the gags really fire on all cylinders. But that’s fine.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Fission Chicken

Fission Chicken #1-4 by JP Morgan and Kyle Rothweiler.

Fission Chicken ran in Critters for most of that magazine’s run. I think I mentioned in that blog article that I wasn’t much fond of Fission Chicken when I read it in Critters as a teenager, so I didn’t buy this series when it came out. But re-reading those Critters issues now made me realise just how funny this stuff is, so I’ve now bought the Fission Chicken solo run.

And it’s super-silly and thoroughly amusing.

If this type of thing isn’t your type of thing, then it’s not your type of thing. But it is mine, and I laughed quite a few times while reading this series. It doesn’t really develop much during its very short run, but it’s consistently amusing (when it isn’t hilarious). Morgan found his voice during the Critters run, and he’s going with it.

The backup feature in the series is Duck “Bill” Platypus by Kyle Rothweiler. His drawing has a nice organic thing going on, and his storylines consist of piling insanity upon stupidity until the whole thing resolves itself in the end. It’s a bit exhausting to read, but if you’re in the mood, it works.

Fission Chicken gives a critique of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. And there’s nothing organic about Morgan’s artwork.

And after four short issues it’s over (due to bad sales). Too bad there wasn’t a market for this kind of humour back in the early 90s.

Fantagraphics indicia is almost never humorous, but this has some wry touches.

Hey! Let’s say that’s a reference to Tuxedomoon, and here’s the song where that lyric is from:

Morgan continued publishing Fission Chicken sporadically during the 90s via Shanda and Mu. After that, Fission Chicken was published online until 2010 when Morgan died. No collected edition seem to have been published.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.