Neil the Horse and the Big Banana

While tidying the basement, I found these tapes:

It’s an old radio show featuring Neil the Horse, originally broadcast on Canadian radio around 1982.

So I was like 14 at the time, and I was a major fan of the Neil the Horse comic book series by Arn Saba. I think there was an ad for the radio series in one of the issues, so I sent off for a copy. From Arn Saba personally?  Hm.  I don’t recall any more.

Anyway, Neil the Horse is making the world safe for musical comedy, and apparently this radio show is not available anywhere?  And since the comic book is finally re-released by Conundrum Press this year, I’m celebrating by uploading these tapes to Youtube.

(If anybody, especially Katherine Collins, objects, please let me know and I’ll remove them.)

[Edit: There’s a brand new interview with Katherine Collins up at tcj.com just a few hours after I posted this.]

The show’s in five parts:

Possibly the Greatest Underground Comix Ever

I’ve been somewhat disillusioned by underground comix lately, but when my ebay search alert for “mark beyer” dinged the other week, I bought this:

Lemme Outa Here! is published by Print Mint, and you don’t get more underground than that.

I knew nothing else about this when I bought it (other than it having a Mark Beyer piece), but I finally read it tonight, and I’m flabbergasted.

It’s from 1978, and it’s edited by Diane Noomin. And she was able to get a pretty amazing line-up.

There’s a cute one-pager by Robert Armstrong.

An intricate autobio thing from Bill Griffith, that I happened to have read previously in An Anthology of Graphic Fiction etc edited by Ivan Brunetti, just a few days ago.

Robert Crumb, doing one of his rarer childhood remembrances.

Kim Deitch, with a six page thing about a lecture on “classic” American TV.

A somewhat incoherent remembrance of shame and chaos by Justin Green.

A back cover by M. K. Brown.

Diane Noomin does a super-dense story about Didi Glitz’ childhood. The artwork is as intricate as the story.

And Mark Beyer, who, of course, doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the gang (all the rest are veterans and Beyer was, I think, unpublished at this time (except for some self-published comics)), and delivers a page that’s both typically him and quite different.

It’s all rather spiffy, isn’t it? But then there’s this, that pushes it over into “whoa” territory:

Aline Kominsky does a nine page story that’s almost as dense as Noomin’s, that deals with her experiences at camp, intercut with later scenes that deal with her father’s reaction to her (sort of) boyfriend.

This anthology is so amazing: Not only has Noomin managed to get all these super-stars to contribute, but she’s apparently persuaded them to deliver their A-games. There’s not a single unsatisfactory page in this 32-page book.

Unfortunately, Noomin didn’t edit any further anthologies until Twisted Sisters in the 90s (which is also rather fine). I’m not sure this book (which I’ve never heard of before) has convinced me that there really is a bunch of undiscovered underground gems to be unearthed, but it does leave me a bit more hopeful.

War, Comics, Commerce

“Literary” comics are sometimes more faddy than “genre” comics. Whenever there’s a comic that breaks through to the general public and becomes a hit, it seems like all the major publishers call all available agents and put in an order of whatever genre somebody else had a hit with.

After Fun Home (by Alison Bechdel) became a phenomenon a decade ago, you had a few years where all the major publishers were cranking out coming-of-age autobio books. Some were good, but most were wretched.

The next fad every publisher were ordering metric tons of was artist biographies (often drawn in the style of the subject artist). I hope that’s peaked, because while that wave of coming-of-age autobio books weren’t much cop, at least the artists themselves found the subject matter (i.e., themselves) interesting, so it wasn’t all bad.

However, with artist biographies, you can tell that even the people doing the biographies have little interest in whatever they’re drawing. They’re just making product to fit publishers’ schedules.

Who can begrudge artists accepting advances from publishers, even if they come with strings attached? People who make comics make almost no money as it is, so it must be tempting.

(I’m not sure what the original artist biography that started this fad was… Anybody know?)

So it was with some trepidation I set out reading this month’s stack of comics, fresh(ish) from the presses, because I noticed something new:

These books look suspiciously like somebody looked at the astounding success of The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf and thought: Perhaps if we mash up “growing up in conflict zones” with a Joe Sacco-ish “comics journalism from conflict zones” we’ll have a new, successful genre on our hands?  Comics take so long to make, so time-wise it seems plausible.

Perhaps it’s just a fluke? Perhaps this isn’t that bad? Perhaps these are just personal expressions that have nothing to do with Arab of the Future and/or Joe Sacco?

Let us examine.

Saigon Calling by Marcelino Truong (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Well, perhaps this won’t be too bad… It’s not from Simon & Schuster or anybody, but instead a Canadian publisher I’ve never heard of before.

But it is bad. Very bad. That’s not Yvette yawning and stretching contentedly, but instead she’s waking up from a nightmare, like people do, screaming.

It’s about the Vietnam war, and it’s badly constructed. Most annoying of all is the way the author repeats the same basic anecdotes. “Puppet.”

Then a few pages later: “Puppet”. He does this (with different anecdotes) about half a dozen places, which leads me to believe he wasn’t really paying much attention himself while making this book.

But the art is nice enough, and the story itself isn’t that bad.

I know nothing about this war, and he’s probably right in all the numbers he’s giving, but there were so many places where I was thinking “but is that a lot or a few”? If you have 2.5 million people incarcerated for 19 years, and only 165 thousand people die during that time, then that must be an awesome concentration camp with an excellent medical staff, because that death rate is half the natural one.

I know, he said “up to” on both those numbers, but it’s just bad propaganda to present us with such a weird set of numbers.

I’m just pointlessly nitpicking because I’m generally annoyed at this book. Never mind!

Fad-Real Score: 1-0.

Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me by Lorina Mapa (Conundrum Press)

This one can’t be that bad! It’s from Conundrum Press, another Canadian publisher who’ve published a lot of good stuff. And the name is kinda funny.

Uh-oh. The artwork is super-basic. The faces and figures are passable, but it’s just so dreary to look at. The gazillion different grey-tone backgrounds just makes everything blah.

It’s also super-wordy and uses an annoying typeface. It’s technically good (lots of variation in the letter forms so that it looks less mechanical), but it’s still not pretty.

The bits that work in this book are the reminiscences from the author’s childhood. Lots of funny and sweet anecdotes. Perhaps a bit treacly at times, because she doesn’t leaven the sweetness by any realness. Apparently she had the greatest family ever in the history of great families. And good for her.

The bits where she tries to conform to the possible journalistic comics fad are less successful. She explain so much about the Philippines, and … nothing ever sounds convincing. Here she explains that while her country is super-duper religious, it’s still awesome because the people there are just so great.

And did you know that the sorta peaceful overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos was the thing that led to the Berlin Wall falling later? Not many people are aware of that fact!

*rolls eyes*

Fad-Real Score: 2-0.

Beirut Won’t Cry by Mazen Kerbaj (F. U. Press)

Hm… that name seems familiar. Hm… I saw him in concert earlier this year! He’s fantastic! And surely F. U. Press (i.e. Fantagraphics) doesn’t hand out large advances, anyway.

*phew*

This book is not part of the possible current publishing fad. It just looked vaguely like it from the cover, and having an introduction by Joe Sacco didn’t help with that impression.

But this is a collection of blog posts Kerbaj did in 2006 while Israel was bombing Beirut. So chronologically it doesn’t work for my hypothesis at all, and it’s not even a comic book.

Much.

It’s really good. It’s very angry and angsty (as it should be), and seems very raw and true. It’s quite interesting.

But this is ruining the entire blog post!

Fad-Real Score: 2-1.

Poppies or Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (Drawn & Quarterly)

I mostly enjoy Trondheim’s comics, and Drawn & Quarterly are usually pretty dependable. But this was apparently originally published in an app and on the Le Monde’s web site, which isn’t a very reassuring pedigree.

And it’s a lot worse than I would have guessed. The artwork is basically pointless: It would have worked just as well as a podcast where somebody just read the captions.

It’s not that the anecdotes she tells are that bad, but they’re sometimes trite (the “refusing” thing which I think is now compulsory to have in any book about the Middle East (to the left)) and sometimes just tedious (recounting the many, many upheavals in Iraq, mostly in no particular order (to the right)).

We very seldom get pages like this: The spread kinda works. It’s funny and surprising. Yes, you could just have told the punchline in the hypothetical podcast and it would have been almost as funny, but let’s be generous here.

And variations on this, which Trondheim uses to illustrate various troop movements, is very cute.

But is it a good book, or part of a publishing strategy? I think the latter.

Fad-Real Score: 3-1

So to sum up my findings: I think it’s likely that we’re seeing the first wave of an onslaught of these books. I don’t know what the publishing category will be called yet… “Conflict cosies”? “Comics autojournalism”?

And I predict that all these books will be getting glowing reviews in all major outlets.  Let’s see…

Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup.

Beware.

Responsive Comics

The other month I was staring at the Diamonds Previews interface that I hacked up last year. Its main purpose is to allow me (and anybody else) to go through the monthly listings rapidly, without all that clicking and stuff.

I was wondering: Has CSS Flexbox technology progressed to the point where the interface could be transformed “responsively” (i.e., via CSS selectors) from the wide design above to something that fits on a cell phone. It would require a completely different layout; shifting from the three column layout with many sub-boxes into a single column where some of the boxes would move up and some down and some become a line of buttons here and and and…

The answer seems to be: Nope. While googling for this stuff, everybody seemed to be saying “just add a div outside the other div and then div it up and then you can sort of move some bits around. If that div is placed before that div”.

CSS still, after 20 years, sucks at layout.

*sigh*

But once I had started tinkering with this, I couldn’t just give up, so I just wrote a bunch of JS to transform the layout, and presto:

So purdy! So UX!

And so I started wondering whether this might make sense as an app, so I wrapped it up in Cordova and shipped it over to Google…

Who rejected it outright because of copyright violations. “But,” I said, “this is like a sales catalogue and isn’t it fair use to show covers in a sales catalogue, man? Man?” And they said “nope; go away”.

While waiting for them to reject the app, I started thinking about… sharing… “Wouldn’t it be nice to make it possible for people to ‘curate’ lists and share these with others?”, so I read up on Firebase and presto: “Curate” button.

Firebase is surprisingly nice, and has a lot of documentation. The main problem is that Firebase covers so many, many use cases that trying to find the correct approach for Goshenite entailed scratching my head for a few hours.

But when the app rejection arrived I just thought, “eh, whatevs”, so it’s a bit lacking in features that are probably not going to be implemented, so it’s more of a toy than anything.

The source code can be found on Github, as usual.