Half Page BD: An RT Investigation

A while ago I read the following in an article on Hooded Utilitarian:

[…] the revolution that really drove Heavy Metal was very distinctly French and had a lot more to do with the format of how French comics were serialized than with any kind of musical aesthetic, something that is largely transparent to Anglophones. Instead of serializing stories 22 pages at a time on a monthly basis, French BD magazines serialize their stories half a page at a time in weekly anthologies and have done since the 50s. It was a technique made popular with Tintin magazine, and perfected by Spirou. By the end of the 60s, Pilote (under the editorial guidance of Rene Goscinny, not coincidentally, the writer of Asterix) was the big boy on the block, largely due to this production methodology.

The collected editions of popular stories and characters would stack half-pages together to create magazine-sized albums. Take a look at any French (or European) BD collection produced before 1970 – Asterix, Valerian, Corto Maltese, Blueberry, Philemon, Spirou – and you will notice a white gutter running horizontally through the middle of almost every page in the book. This is a direct artifact of the serialization methodology, regardless of whether the story was actually serialized or not. There were occasional splash pages in these books, but that’s more of an exception than a rule.

While I recognised the “half page” phenomena in virtually all older Frenchey (that’s a word) comics, I was rather puzzled. The standard post-war European comics length is 46 pages. Two times 46 is (where’s my slide ruler), er, uhm, 92. Stay with me here, even though the math is getting complicated.

So, 92 half pages on a weekly schedule. That would be… like… a year and a half to read an Asterix or Blueberry story. I know the French are very cultured and stuff, but that French children were this patient, even in the 50s and 60s, didn’t seem intuitively correct.

And some stories are even longer: A 58 page length isn’t uncommon, either, especially in the 70s. Were 70s children that patient? Two years for a Spirou story?

Now, if you’re American (and so many people are these days), you have no idea what I’m talking about at all, so allow me to illustrate with some pictures taken from a couple of random bande dessinées (that’s Frenchey for “comics”).

First we have a page from a 70s Spirou page by Fournier (in a recent Danish edition).

As you can see, the page is as described in the quote. The page has a gutter in the middle.

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Above the middle gutter, the artist has written “9A” in a box.

And below the second part, the artist has written “9B”.

I’ve never seen any of the original magazines Frenchey comics were serialised in, and the A/B thing has intrigued me ever since I was a child and read stacks and stacks of Frenchey albums (translated into other languages, since I don’t understand French. Much).

So that’s the explanation, eh? Incredibly patient French children? My!

But!

In case you don’t read Danish (and if you’re American (it happens) you probably don’t), it says that these pages were originally published in Spirou from issues 1682 to 1710 (that’s 29 issues (math again)) in the period from July 9th 1970 to January 21st 1971 (that’s about half a year (guesswork again)).

And this story is 58 pages long.

If we, again, apply our fantastic maths knowledge here, we see that instead of publishing half a page every week, this story was published at a rate of two pages per week. That is, French children were only a quarter as patient as originally suggested.

Still pretty good, but not extraordinary.

But that may be a fluke. Let’s look at another example. Above is a page from Valérian et Laureline, the album version of Le pays sans étoile, collected in 1972. It, too, has the half-page division and the A/B numbering on most pages.

This page says that it was “44 planches dans Pilote no 569 à 592 et couverture du no 570”. Like I said, I don’t know French, but I’m going to take a stab here and say that it says something like “44 pages from Pilote issue 569 to 592 with frog legs and potato au gratin”.

That’s (MORE MATH!) 24 issues. As this is a 46 page story, that’s about (NOO!) 1.9166666 pages per issue. WHICH DOESN”T MAKE SENSE.

Perhaps they overslept one week.

In any case, it’s more than half a page per week.  Again.

(As an aside, Mezieres uses quite a few non-regular non-half-page layouts, too, like this one, which has a rare A/B/C marking.)

At this point, I feel like it’s time to go out on a limb here and call it: Classic Frenchey comics were not serialised at the pace of half a page per week.

But there is a phenomenon here: There’s the A/B thing on a vast majority of these pages. What does that mean?

Perhaps… even if the normal pace was two pages per week, perhaps they were published in half-page layouts? Every page half-full of ads? Sounds awfully uncultured and un-French, but at this point we have to use not math, but Google Image Search.

Here a very helpful person has written about an issue of Pilote from the 60s.

Scrolling down that page, I don’t see a single half page comic. Virtually all of them do use the “gutter in the middle” layout, though.

(To digress a bit more from this in-depth investigation, I didn’t know that these magazines used to run a logo (and stuff) at the top of each page. That explains why albums are kinda “squat” format wise, since these logos are excluded in the collection.)

Googling for pages of the Spirou magazine is slightly more difficult, but here’s one, at least:

It’s from the mid-60s, and … it’s a full page. The only half-page results I got in the search were Gaston Lagaffe, but they are half-page gags and were apparently run on the covers for a while.

So: European comics were not published on a half-page-a-week basis, and they were published as full pages.

So what’s up with the A/B thing? WHAT? Was there a paper shortage and everybody just drew on smaller paper? Is it more ergonomic with smaller page?  Less stretching over the drawing table? Were the comics reformatted into smaller books? Were the editors just peculiar? WHAT?!

tabaryGoogling for people at their drawing tables (“table à dessin”?) from olden times is difficult. I found the drawing above by Tabary where he does show himself with half page pages, but that’s not exactly a smoking gun, evidence wise…

Finding modern artists is easy, and they draw full pages, but that’s no surprise since they don’t use the half-page layout.  Usually.

This investigation has gone as far as it can (i.e., I’m hungry now and I have to go make dinner), so unless something extraordinary happens (like somebody who knows what’s up with those A/B half-page layouts leaves a comment here), I guess we’ll just never know.

Fantagraphics Floppies Redux

Done!

_1320185Perhaps I should just leave it at that, but I feel like bloviating a bit. (“NO!  REALLY?”) But at the end of this post, there’ll be an index. Feel free to skip to it if you’re the index reading kind of person.

(The following should probably be read in the voice of Comic Book Guy.)

Last winter, I decided I had to re-read all of Love and Rockets, because… it’s Love and Rockets. And I had finally (sort of) gotten the comics sorted after being stashed in various places for decades, so it seemed like the time.

But then while doing all this arduous sorting, I was happening onto other comics that were singing a sirens’ song. Like… DalgodaJourneyPrime Cuts! I MUST RE-READ ALL THESE COMICS!

And, besides, it sounded like a fun project to chase down the comics I hadn’t bought at the time. (This part turned out to take more time than I had imagined: Of the comics I read for this project, I would guess that about one tenth were newly acquired. Thank you, Mile High Comics, Ebay and (*phooey*) Amazon.)

My original idea was to re-read everything Fantagraphics had published. Then I took a look at the comics.org listing for Fantagraphics, and then I thought… “well, OK, just the comic books. The floppies. The pamphlets”. And then I though “OK, dump Eros Comix, too. And Monster. And Hard-Boiled. And Ignatz?”

I used comics.org to source the list of Fantagraphics comics, and scribbled something to filter out the imprints. I think the final list should be pretty complete, but it’s probably not. And I’m not going back to fill in anything I missed.

So for this most nerdy of nerdy projects, I ended up with a list of *gulp* 231 comic series.

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I almost stopped then and there, but now I had invested all this time (several minutes at least) into the project, so it was obviously too late to abandon it.

And it’s been fun, mostly. I did re-read Love and Rockets, and it was amazing, and I did discover new old comics that were really good, like Art d’Ecco. But there was a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about, or never had known about, that didn’t exactly set my couch on fire. Where my time would probably have been spent more productively doing something else than reading these comics.

OK, let’s establish a baseline here. Eddie Campbell makes the point (I think) that it’s unfair to compare comics to literature because most comics suck. (Is that a fair summary?) Instead we should be content to enjoy sucky comics because it’s fun to read comics.

So instead of determining whether it’s worth spending time on these comics by, say, imagining that I’m re-reading Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf instead, let’s benchmark to a slightly humbler work. Something that’s unassuming, not generally thought of as a masterwork, but is still something that apparently sane people spend time with and get some enjoyment out of.

Let’s use Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson.

The question then becomes: Would I (and therefore everybody else since my taste level is impeccable) rather be reading this Fantagraphics comic than Unbeatable Squirrel Girl?

I think Fantagraphics starts off pretty well, roundly winning on the USG scale with comics like Love & Rockets, Neat Stuff, Usagi Yojimbo, Captain Jack, Sinner, and on and on and on. But when you get to the 90s, things get rather dicey.

While Fantagraphics had published comics with money in mind in the 80s (Doomsday Squad, Thun’da Tales, Anything Goes!), they seemed to stop doing that in their main imprint in the 90s. Instead they started publishing porn under their Eros Comix imprint, which should perhaps have enabled them to be more discerning for their main line. But things seemed to go in the opposite direction, and this is during a time when publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Tragedy Strikes kept their lineups impeccable.

Looking over the Fantagraphics 90s lineup, I’d say that more than a quarter of the comics fail the USG test. On an issue-by-issue basis, the ratio looks much better, because most of the worst series were cancelled pretty quickly, and the best series (Eightball, Hate, Naughty Bits, The ACME Novelty Library) went on for quite a while.

But if you stumble on to a 90s Fantagraphics series you haven’t heard of before, it’s likely to not be USG worthy. There isn’t a lost treasure trove of Fantagraphics gems. There are publishers that have almost perfect track records (Vortex, Tragedy Strikes, Black Eye, Uncivilized and the ever-lovable Drawn & Quarterly (at least I think so, perhaps I should re-read all their comics? (NOOO!)))), but Fantagraphics isn’t one of these publishers. And I had forgotten.

The past couple of days, I’ve also read We Told You So, the Fantagraphics hagiography, I mean oral history. I learned a lot about crazy interns, but very little about the comics they published or why they published them. I didn’t really expect to find any explanation for WTF-ey items like Butt Biscuit, but there was very little discussion about their publishing, er, strategy in the 90s at all.

The closest I got was a sentence by Kim Thompson saying that he would agree to publish things in the hope that the next thing they made would be better, and that that usually didn’t work out. So it’s more of a “throw shit at the wall and see what sticks” kinda strategy. (That they had no money probably didn’t help much.)

That approach worked great for Fantagraphics in the 80s. Artists like Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Jim Woodring and Joe Sacco weren’t critically and/or commercially successful when Fantagraphics started publishing them, but they stuck by them and they turned into critically and/or commercially successful artists after some years. (All those artists, and more, then left Fantagraphics for greener pastures, and published their most significant works (critically and/or commercially) with other publishers. Except the Hernandezes. And a couple have returned this year.)

Perhaps the strategy didn’t work very well in the 90s because the most talented artists went with other publishers? Reading interviews (and That Book), there seemed to be a general feeling that Fantagraphics didn’t do publicity for any of their creators other than their top five artists. And their publici_1320186st seems to confirm that rather bluntly in The Book.

(And to digress a bit: We Told You So is a frustrating reading experience. The cut-up “oral history” style sometimes devolves into an American TV documentary style with a sentence from one person, then a paragraph from another, then back to a sentence from the first person. If you want to be really mean about it, reading it is like watching a forty-six hour segment from 60 Minutes, with the narrator’s voice edited out. What is the audience for this book?)

 

And perhaps the explanation for the less stellar comics is simpler than all of this: Many of the books were created by coworkers and pals from Seattle, and they thought “hey, why not”.

But the 90s aren’t all dire. There are things that pass the USG test with flying colours, like Carol Swain, Renée French, Al Columbia and Dave Cooper. And as the 90s waned, so did the shit deluge. (OK, now I’m overstating the case: There’s little that’s actually crap. Deluge of mediocrity? That doesn’t have the same zing to it.) In the next decade Fantagraphics got their, er, shit together, and these days most of what they publish is, again, pretty spiffy.

I don’t mean to sound so down. Fantagraphics is a very important comics company, and comics history would have looked very different without it.

But in conclusion: If you ever feel like replicating this reading project… don’t. Just read the good comics they’ve published instead, and you know which ones they are.

And then you can decide whether to read Unbeatable Squirrel Girl afterwards or not.

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HERE”S THE INDEX!!1!ONE?

I’ve grouped the comics lightly. It’s not by “genre”, but by… er… grouping… Yes! I’ve grouped them by grouping.

The ones marked with ★ pass the USG test, I think.

Art

The Adventures of Mr. Pyridine ★ (1989), Flash Marks ★ (1989), The Librarian ★ (1992), Way Out Strips ★ (1994), Empty Skull Comics ★ (1996), Ape ★ (2003), Worn Tuff Elbow ★ (2004), Holy Moly ★ (2004)

Alternative Comics

Love and Rockets ★ (1982), Mechanics ★ (1985), Street Music ★ (1988), Yahoo ★ (1988), Love and Rockets Bonanza! ★ (1989), Unsupervised Existence ★ (1989), Eightball ★ (1989), Hate ★ (1990), Laundryland ★ (1990), Naughty Bits ★ (1991), Kid Anarchy (1991), Cud ★ (1992), Ten Years of Love and Rockets ★ (1992), Brain Capers ★ (1993), Crap (1993), Acme Novelty Library ★ (1993), Meat Cake ★ (1993), Nurture the Devil ★ (1994), Doofus (1994), Minimum Wage (1995), New Love ★ (1996), Whoa, Nellie! ★ (1996), Rollercoaster ★ (1996), Trailer Trash (1996), Maggie and Hopey Color Special ★ (1997), Penny Century ★ (1997), Artbabe ★ (1997), Sight Unseen (1997), Luba ★ (1998), Black Hole ★ (1998), Hate Jamboree ★ (1998), Death & Candy ★ (1998), Top Notch Comics (1998), Pop Life ★ (1998), The Bradleys ★ (1999), Love and Rockets ★ (2000), Luba’s Comics and Stories ★ (2000), Junior ★ (2000), Hate Annual ★ (2001), La Perdida ★ (2001), Tales from Shock City ★ (2001), Raisin Pie ★ (2002), The Pogostick (2003), Monster Parade ★ (2006), Swamp Preacher ★ (2006), Uptight ★ (2006), Cosplayers ★ (2014), Blubber ★ (2015), Love and Rockets ★ (2016)

Squishy Comics

Jim ★ (1987), Jim ★ (1993), Grit Bath ★ (1993), The Biologic Show ★ (1994), Pressed Tongue ★ (1994), Jim Special #1: Frank’s Real Pa ★ (1995), Frank ★ (1996), Weasel ★ (1999)

Underground

Shadowland ★ (1989), The Natural Inquirer (1989), Amazons ★ (1990), The Fauna Rebellion (1990), Avenue D ★ (1991), Adventures on the Fringe (1992), The Boulevard of Broken Dreams ★ (1993), The Mishkin File ★ (1993), Waldo World ★ (1994), Guttersnipe Comics ★ (1994), Self-Loathing Comics ★ (1995), Art & Beauty Magazine (1996), Villa of the Mysteries ★ (1996), Mystic Funnies ★ (2001), Stuff of Dreams ★ (2002), Belly Button Comix ★ (2002), The Mystery of Woolverine Woo-Bait ★ (2004)

Autobio

Real Life ★ (1990), Real Stuff ★ (1990), The Dead Muse ★ (1990), It’s Only a Matter of Life and Death ★ (1990), Walking Wounded ★ (1990), Colin Upton’s Other Big Thing ★ (1991), Little Italy ★ (1991), Bleeding Heart ★ (1991), Jizz ★ (1991), True Confusions ★ (1991), The Cheque, Mate ★ (1992), Collier’s ★ (1992), Suburban Voodoo Comics (1992), In the Days of the Ace Rock’N’Roll Club ★ (1993), (You and Your) Big Mouth (1993), Wild Life ★ (1994), Life Under Sanctions ★ (1994), Psychonaut ★ (1996)

Humour

Neat Stuff ★ (1985), Lloyd Llewellyn ★ (1986), Good Girls ★ (1987), Lloyd Llewellyn Special ★ (1988), Blite (1989), The Eye of Mongombo ★ (1989), Pedestrian Vulgarity (1990), Har Har Comics ★ (1990), Lust of the Nazi Weasel Women ★ (1990), Art D’Ecco ★ (1990), Leather Underwear ★ (1990), Tales from the Outer Boroughs (1991), Test Dirt ★ (1991), Cultural Jet Lag (1991), I Before E (1991), Knuckles the Malevolent Nun (1991), Loose Teeth (1991), Check-Up (1991), Completely Bad Boys (1992), Zoot! ★ (1992), Griffith Observatory ★ (1993), Idiotland (1993), Bad Comics ★ (1994), Martini Baton! ★ (1994), Damnation! (1994), Whotnot ★ (1994), Spotlight on the Genius That Is Joe Sacco ★ (1994), Prick Comix ★ (1995), Bummer (1995), Sleepy: The Early Daze (1996), Primitive Cretin (1996), The Nimrod ★ (1998), Spicecapades (1999), Steven Comix #2: Steven at Sea (1999), Steven Presents Dumpy (1999), Goody Good Comics ★ (2000), Monkey Jank (2000), Angry Youth Comix ★ (2001), Trucker Fags in Denial ★ (2004), Tales Designed to Thrizzle ★ (2005), Runaway Comics ★ (2006)

Parodies

WildB.R.A.T.S.: Bad Redundant Art Teams (1992), Verbatim (1993), Filibusting Comics ★ (1995)

“Funny” animal

Hugo ★ (1982), Hugo ★ (1984), The Adventures of Captain Jack ★ (1986), Usagi Yojimbo Summer Special ★ (1986), Myron Moose Funnies (1987), Dog Boy (1987), Usagi Yojimbo ★ (1987), Christmas with Superswine (1989), Grootlore (1989), Stinz ★ (1989), Usagi Yojimbo Color Special ★ (1989), Fission Chicken ★ (1990), A*K*Q*J ★ (1991), Aesop’s Fables (1991), Grootlore (1991), Omaha the Cat Dancer (1994), Poot ★ (1997), Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville ★ (2001)

Anthologies

Prime Cuts ★ (1986), Critters ★ (1986), Honk! ★ (1986), Anything Goes! (1986), Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy ★ (1987), Bad News ★ (1988), Critters Special ★ (1988), Itchy Planet ★ (1988), Graphic Story Monthly ★ (1989), Fox Comics Special ★ (1989), Fox Comics ★ (1989), Real Girl ★ (1990), Different Beat Comics ★ (1994), Girltalk ★ (1995), Zero Zero ★ (1995), Storylines: An Anthology of Emerging Cartoonists ★ (2003), Blood Orange ★ (2004), Bête Noire: The International Comic Art Quarterly ★ (2005)

Documentary

Palestine ★ (1993)

Drama

Playgrounds (1991), S.O.S. (1992), The Cereal Killings (1992), Holy Cross (1993), Frederick & Eloise: A Love Story ★ (1993), Black Dogs ★ (1993), An Accidental Death (1993), Alex (1994), Insomnia (1994),

European and South American

Sinner ★ (1987), Perramus: Escape from the Past ★ (1991), Grenuord ★ (2005), DKW: Ditko Kirby Wood (2014),

Oldee Tymee Comics

Frank Frazetta’s Thun’da Tales (1987), Frank Frazetta’s Untamed Love (1987), Steve Ditko’s Strange Avenging Tales (1997), Mabel Normand and Her Funny Friends (2003), Fatty Arbuckle and His Funny Friends (2004)

Adventures

The Flames of Gyro (1979), Gil Kane’s Savage (1982), Don Rosa’s Comics and Stories (1983), Journey ★ (1985), The Doomsday Squad (1986), The Miracle Squad (1986), Journey: Wardrums ★ (1987), Evil Eye ★ (1998)

Comics Aren’t Just For Adults Any More

Kaktus Valley ★ (1990), Measles ★ (1998)

Science Fiction

Dalgoda ★ (1984), Flesh and Bones ★ (1986), Threat (1986), The Wandering Stars ★ (1987), Keif Llama — Xeno-Tech ★ (1988), Neil and Buzz in Space and Time (1989)

Fantasy

Dinosaur Rex ★ (1987), Tatto Man Special (1991), Coventry (1996)

Literary Adaptations

The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Stories (1988), Kafka: The Execution ★ (1989), A Couple of Winos ★ (1991)

Philosophy

Stickboy (1988), Doofer: Pathway to McEarth ★ (1992), Schizo ★ (1995)

I Just Don’t Know

Crucial Fiction (1992), Sap Tunes (1992), Duplex Planet Illustrated (1993), A Vast Knowledge of General Subjects (1994)

What The Fuck

Teaser and the Blacksmith (1989), Butt Biscuit (1992)

Yes!  I’ve read them all this autumn!  All 1063!  And now I’m going to just read books for a couple of years.

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FF2016: Love and Rockets

Love and Rockets volume 4 #1 by Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez.

So here we are: The final post in this blog series about Fantagraphics comic book comics. And eerily enough, we end with the same series we started with: Love and Rockets. I didn’t plan this, but the first issue in the new series arrived the other week, and what better way to close than with a classic dramatic return to the original scene of the crime?

VERY CLOSURE!

Fantagraphics are really getting in touch with modern times: Not only relaunching with a new #1, but variant covers! Step aside, Marvel!

Just kidding. An endearing thing about the Fantagraphics/Love and Rockets relationship is how much Fantagraphics has been pushing Love and Rockets onto anybody remotely likely to be interested in it for decades. Format after format, repackaging after repackaging. They’ve always known that Love and Rockets is incredible, and they aren’t shy about selling it.

Tastefully, of course.

Jaime’s story starts off seconds after the last page from the previous volume. It’s both reassuring and perhaps slightly arrogant: Yes, it’s a statement that we’re just going to keep going, which reassures old people like me, and Jaime is apparently confident that new readers will just immediately find whatever’s happening here interesting.

Which I think is correct. I think you don’t need to know who these people are at all to find this intriguing. I’ve been reading about them since I was, er, thirteen: They’ve basically been with me most of me life, and it’s difficult to disentangle nostalgia from other feelings, but: I loved this little story. To bits.

And Jaime also sorta reintroduces us to these younger characters, and relatably enough puts them at a comics convention. Aww.

I was wondering what Gilbert was going to do: Something new and whacked out, something Palomarish, or continue the endless Fritzian odyssey? We seem to be going with the third option…

… but then Gilbert drops these metatextual things into the mix. So it’s an even wackier Fritz thing than usual.

(The lettering here and there looks badly reproduced: Like it was scanned at very low resolution.)

Gilbert has been very playful lately, especially with the recent Blubber series. It’s very X-rated, and I wonder whether his heart is more there than in trying to keep up with the complex Fritz mythology.

After a lot of tits with “must be 18” boxes over them, we get this one. I think he’s working off some aggression towards some critics with this tomfoolery.

So it’s a fun new episode, but it’s even more confusing than normal, because Fritz has all these dopplegangers, and they have all now changed their names. I think I basically knew who everybody was at all times.  Possibly.  I’m not overly confident that this is all going to cohere to something significant in the end, though.

And then Jaime ends the issue with a fun and slightly obscene superhero goof. With no “must be 18” signs anywhere!

Very nice. I’m looking forward to getting a regular Love and Rockets dose every few months again.

So that’s it! This blog series is over! You can all breathe a sigh of relief! No more endless nattering on about old comics that nobody has heard of, and which are mostly impossible to get a hold of these days.

So useful.

Freedom! But I may do one summing up article with an index to the previous posts.

And then I’m probably not going to be reading any comics for the next few months.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Fringe/Fauna

The Fauna Rebellion #1-3, Adventures on the Fringe #1-5 by R. L. Crabb.

Fantagraphics had previously published The Natural Enquirer by 70s underground veteran R. L. Crabb. The Fauna Rebellion was apparently created in the mid-80s, but not published until 1990.

It’s about animals staging a rebellion against humans. The joke above is typical for the word-play here.

It’s an action-filled adventure, with plenty of murder and mayhem.

Also practical tips about how to spike trees to make it more difficult to cut them down. That was a popular way to protest in the mid-80s, wasn’t it?

Not all humans are bad!

Oh, how nostalgic…

Adventures on the Fringe is a very different kind of comic book. Well. “Comic book.” I guesstimate that about two-thirds of the pages are straight-up text pages like this. And they haven’t received any kind attention from the Fantagraphics designers, so it doesn’t look very interesting graphically.

Crabb insists that these issues are all true, all autobiographical.

Oh, and by the way, this issue was seized by Borderlinx and pulped because of “drug use”, which is kinda ironic, since there isn’t much.

Don’t you think?

A story about going to visit Hunter S. Thompson at his 1990 trial features heavily in the first issues.

Yes! Where are the comics?!!

There are more comics in the fifth, final issue. Crabb says it’s being cancelled because of low sales and because Crabb was burnt out.

Crabb is still working today.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF2001: Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville

Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville #1-5 by Ted Stearn.

The physical format of this series is reminiscent of La Perdida, published a few years earlier: It’s slightly smaller than standard US comic book size, is thick (most issues are 48 pages) and has stiff covers.

We last saw our plucky pair in the Zero Zero anthology, and the action picks up pretty much directly from that, er, plotline.

The artwork is very different. Gone is the obsessive cross-hatching and condensed action, and instead backgrounds are mostly AWOL and there’s zip-a-tone instead. Especially in the first issue; the hatching and the background returns after a while…

The action is quite decompressed, and reading these five issues was very breezy. They were published over an eight year period, though, so creating them wasn’t as easy, I guess.

As with any Fuzz & Pluck story, perhaps it’s better not to try to recap anything. Things happen, and then more insane things happen, and then…

… you have half-insect half-fruits working as gladiators. It’s the kind of thing that happens. It’s fun.

Stearn explains who the book is for.

Pluck explains the plot.

This series was given an Ignatz nomination for best comic in 2003. Stearn hasn’t published much in comics since this series ended, but Fantagraphics released his The Moolah Tree in 2016.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1991: Perramus: Escape from the Past

Perramus: Escape from the Past by Alberto Breccia and Juan Sasturain.

Hi! I had hoped to end this blog series about Fantagraphics last year, but having the scheduling slide is so very Fantagraphics, isn’t it?

Only three more posts to go, though.

Very early-90s Fantagraphics design courtesy of Dale Yarger.

Anyway, strangely enough, I did not buy this series at the time, so I had to buy them now. These comics were definitely the most expensive items I had to procure for this blog series. Which is both odd and perhaps not so odd: These probably had a minuscule print run, so they’re rare, but on the other hand, they’re translated reprints that are widely available in other languages…

They were originally serialised in Italy in 1983, but Breccia is Argentinian and the plot lines clearly reflect that and the post-Junta time they were produced in.

Fantagraphics helpfully provides these footnotes (seen above) that carry both translations of Spanish text on walls and in sound effects, and also explain who some people are.

Fantagraphics published Perramus in four forty page magazine sized issues, and there are two clear stories being told. The first half is about Perramus, an amnesiac escaping a dictatorship. Hi-jinx ensue. Sorry. It’s all very symbolic and strange, and occasionally gripping.

The artwork is rather lovely, isn’t it? Done with ink washes, perhaps? I’ve seen European editions of Breccia where they’ve printed the artwork with several different grey inks, which looks really good. Fantagraphics have opted for the cheaper rastering method, but it looks fine, too. It’s sometimes a bit more washed out than it should be, I think.

The first issue has a brief Breccia autobiography and timeline.

Breccia’s artwork tends towards abstraction.

And sometimes it teeters on the brink of incomprehensibility, but it doesn’t really ever tip over.

Hey! That’s a reference to The Eternaut, a 60s (I think) Argentinian serial that was reprinted by Fantagraphics in 2015 to great acclaim and attention. Breccia drew a reworked version of that work in the early 70s, which I haven’t seen.

The final issue is printed on newsprint, which I take to mean that Perramus sold even worse than projected. This reduces legibility even further, and also gives the story a kinda Warren 70s feel.

The cover promises “CLIMACTIC FINAL ISSUE”, and the latter part is true, but climactic? It’s very metaphorical, though.

Breccia died in 1993. He hasn’t been widely translated into English.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1996: Coventry

Coventry #1-3 by Bill Willingham.

Willingham is known these days for writing Fables, the Vertigo series re-appropriating fairy tale figures, but in the 90s he was doing things like Ironwood and Time Wankers for Eros Comix, the Fantagraphics imprint. I think I assumed at the time that Coventry was more of the same, but it turns out that it is not porn.

Willingham’s rendering is lush, as always.

It turns out this book is a precursor to Fables of sort: It’s about angels and werewolves and witches living in modern-day USA, and there’s a private investigator (or two) who’s trying to track down supernatural murderers, etc.

The artwork is very un-Fantagraphics: It’s based heavily on photo reference and is rendered in a manner that reminds me of other self-publishers around this time, like Terry Moore and Dave Sim: Facile brush work or something.

Willingham predicts the current Golden Age of Quality TV.

To a T.

Willingham explains that Coventry is the book that he’s going to do until he’s dead, and reading it, I do get a feeling that this one is a keeper. It’s well paced and plotted, with interesting characters and situations.

And my guess about photo reference turns out to be right: Each character is based on a specific person, and he’s collected around 300 photos from each of them.

There’s even a map of Coventry and a description of the various sections. Willingham really did seem like he was going to keep at this book, with its odd price point ($4, which was a lot in the 90s for a comic book), printed one nice white paper, with cardboard cover stock.

Sometimes it seems like Willingham can’t quite make the various photos he’s using match up all that well, which can be somewhat disturbing.

And so the third and final issue ends.

Willingham later wrote two novels set in the same universe, but the reasons for abandoning the comic book series aren’t clear. Low sales? Dissatisfaction with Fantagraphics? This is a really odd book for them to have been publishing. The only thing that comes close to this is Castle Waiting, and that was a decade later.

It’s a shame, because reading this was such a welcome change from the other Fantagraphics books I’ve been plowing lately: It’s a breezy, delicious romp.

And with that, we’re going to take a break for a few days.  I had hoped two wrap up this blog series before the holidays, but we still have four more posts to go before we sleep, and those comics are still in the mail due to lousy planning.

See you on, like, four or five days.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.