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.

FF1992: Trailer Trash

Trailer Trash #1-9 by Roy Tompkins.

If you were to rifle through Trailer Trash, you would probably assume that this was going to be a book of nihilist violent gross-out fun like, say, Angry Youth Comics.

The internal monologues from the viewpoint characters keeps on coming, which seems rather outdated these days, I guess: Every motivation every character have are spelled out.

The character design is incredibly strange.

These characters aren’t presented as looking freaky or anything. They just look this way, and nothing is said about it. Reminds me a bit of Crap, which was also published around this time. Perhaps something in the air.

And, of course, since this is a comic with hillbillies, you have conspiracy theories about Elvis.

So this is really what it seemed like? A wild and woozy nonsensical single author anthology as it looks like?

No. It’s a coherent, traditional story of Harvey (to the left up there) who is a rather shy, and rather dim, fellow who has a crush on a girl and hangs out with his slacker friends. It’s way, way more Hate than Schizo.

This disconnect between the bizarre way it looks and the traditional way it reads doesn’t work in Tompkins’ favour.

There are some bizarre shorter pieces in the first few issues that don’t have this problem, though, but they soon make way for all-Harvey issues of moping around and getting drunk and arguing with parents.

Harvey is basically a decent, moral kind of guy, but he’s so feckless that it’s rather hard to get any momentum built up, story wise.

There are other characters that have intersecting storylines with Harvey that are more propulsive, like that drug dealer who has a necrophiliac downstairs neighbor, so it’s not all like this, but the prevailing feeling is one of a 90s tv drama.

The artwork is obviously very much influenced by Charles Burns. Not layouts or character design, but his linework is a dead ringer.

And predictably enough for someone who obviously puts so much work into his shading, he finds time to, er, critique other, lazier comic book artists.

Several of the back covers feature these slightly porny collages.

Oh! I forgot to mention that the first six issues weren’t published by Fantagraphics, but by Tundra. And scrolling all the way to the beginning of this article is too much work. Obvs.

In 1993, Kevin Eastman, owner of the money hemorrhaging Tundra comics, paid Kitchen Sink to take over, and the first thing Kitchen did was ax all the titles that were losing money hand over fist. (Officially Kitchen bought Tundra, but I think that summary is accurate; it’s all based on rumours of what really transpired.)

Trailer Trash was one of the casualties, but Tompkins announces that he’d be looking for a new publisher.

Fantagraphics took over with the seventh issue, three years later. Tompkins’ art style has changed a bit, but not dramatically.

The story continues from where it left off, and the characters do their wordy as-you-know-Bobs to bring new readers up to speed.

The eight issue is odd in several ways: Eight interior pages are on newsprint, and the other sixteen are on white paper. I’m assuming a printing error.

But it’s also the only issue to have colour printing on the inside covers, and Tompkins uses it to throw shade on such commercial sell-outs as Hate and Eightball, also published by Fantagraphics.

The storyline of the issue also diverges from the usual slacker shenanigans, and instead tells the story of one of the kids, and it’s about drugs and sexual abuse. Much heavier than the earlier issues.

The final issue is a grab-bag of various odds and ends. For instance, there’s this three-page adaptation of an urban legend.

For the conclusion to the main storyline (which I suspect Tompkins had gotten really bored with by this point), Tompkins shifts to a simpler art style, complete with zip-a-tone and everything. To tie everything up, he (*spoilers*) just kills off two of the main characters.

Like I said: Bored.

Most of the pages are taken up with earlier works probably intended for anthologies. They are drawn in magazine size ratios.

The most interesting is perhaps the (seemingly) autobiographical one about one of his high-school friends who had a mother who was a hoarder.

And… that’s it. Not a very satisfactory ending to a series that was kinda interesting.

As far as I can tell, Tompkins has not published any further comic books after Trailer Trash was abandoned. He seems to be working in illustration these days.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1993: Idiotland

Idiotland #1-7 by Doug Allen and Gary Leib.

Doug Allen is best known for Steven, I think, while Leib has appeared in a number of anthologies. Idiotland was a shared series: They both do solo pieces, but the majority of the work seems to be collaborative.

This is a humour anthology with about half a dozen recurring or continuing storylines. The most endearing is perhaps this shopping crazy pair who are always on the lookout for a bargain.

Really bad puns abound.

And there’s the occasional art lesson.

Mostly, thought, it just absurdist nonsense. Even the longer, slightly more cohesive storylines are apt to end at any point.

The artwork has a kinda old-school underground vibe going, with characters that are semi-cartoony/semi-real.

And you can’t deny that some of the jokes are pretty on fleek.

There also seems to be meanings hidden to be teased out. For instance, why is the number “12” repeated over and over again? But, on the other hand, perhaps stuff like that is just put in to satisfy the paranoia of the presumably extremely high target audience.

Even though there’s different characters and milieus, all the stories feel pretty much the same. I guess you could say that that lends a certain cohesion to the book. The only bits that stand out is this nonsense song by Ernest Noyes Brookings…

… and this Julie Doucet homage/parody/whatever.

And then the series in the traditional Fantagraphics fashion, with all the strips saying “to be continued”.

Idiotland was nominated for “Best New Series” for the Harvey awards in 1994, so I guess quite a few people liked it.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1993: Palestine

Palestine #1-9 by Joe Sacco.

Last time we visited Sacco (which was with Yahoo), we saw that he had gotten a burgeoning interest in journalism, war and Palestinians. So doing an extended reportage tour to Palestine (and Israel) and a comic book series was the logical progression from that.

Tackling a serious subject doesn’t mean that Sacco abandoned his crazy foreshortenings and perspectives. This miasmatic maelstrom of words and images reflect Sacco’s ambivalence to the entire project perfectly: One the one hand, he wants to portray the situation honestly and try to bring people’s awareness to what’s going on. On the other hand, he also feels like a tourist that can’t really make any difference.

Sacco doesn’t make a secret of where his sympathies lie. Well, not much.

The book is about Sacco, too, where his feelings toward this project shifts between the grandiose and benevolent…

… and a cynical, fed up attitude. This isn’t “objective” reportage, but I think by involving and inserting himself into the narrative all the time gives it a powerful verisimilitude. Or at least the feeling of one.

As Sacco explains in the only “note” in this series, he spent two months there during the 1991-92 winter. The first issue was published in early 1993, and the last in late 1995. By that time, what he was writing about was four years in the past, which is the most frequently heard argument about comics as journalism: Drawing comics just takes so darn long. If this had been a prose book, Sacco could probably have had it completed four months after his sojourn instead of four years.

Sacco is just brilliant at depicting these topsy-turvy action scenes: Everything is askew: The perspectives, the captions, the panels, the fish-eye lens effect. It’s also pure comics, with no nods to filmatic techniques. And it’s easy to see why it took Sacco this long to complete the series: The artwork is meticulous, with all that hatching all over the pages.

In the second issue, Sacco experimented with putting in a long text section. I could speculate that this might have been done to save some time, and fortunately Sacco doesn’t repeat this in later issues.

A recurring theme in later Sacco works have been the uneasy relationship he has to “real” journalists. He wants to be one, and he admires them, but they’re way more cynical than Sacco ever wants to be. Here a journalist critiques a photo Sacco took of the police dragging a woman during a demonstration.

Sacco is often exasperated with the naked and not very photogenic racism the Palestinians have towards the Jews. Sacco’s mission is obviously to humanise the Palestinians (which he does admirably), but he doesn’t shy away from depicting them saying horrible things, either.

We’re regaled with story after story of Israeli “enhanced interrogation” techniques (i.e., torture), especially at the hands of the secret police. That’s a pretty good joke up there.

Sacco consistently portrays himself as being not very brave, as here when a demonstration erupts and he tries to force himself to not run away, but instead stay and take pictures.

Palestine was originally planned as a six issue series, I think, but in the fifth issue, it was announced that it’s going to be nine issues instead. And Sacco mentions in one of the early issues that he wasn’t going to go into details of the refugee camps that much. But then issues six to eight are subtitled “In The Gaza Strip”, and are mostly all from the refugee camps.

Sacco feels it necessary to mention that the facts he’s reporting the people as saying are from 1992, not the present time.

I think Palestine is a powerful work, but I think Sacco is painfully aware of potential problems for the reader: “In other words, let the tales of woe begin!” By the third issue I was starting to think “geez! I’ve got six more issues of tales of abuse to read”. It’s exhausting and it’s relentless. Sacco does include lighter moments, but they’re pretty far and wide.

Sacco’s art changes radically for the Gaza issues. Instead of the flowing, exaggerated layouts, it’s mostly on a grid, and a grid that looks ruled, too, and there are gutters and everything. Only the captions are allowed to retain their organic look.

I must admit I was a bit confused by the ending: I thought perhaps that there would be another issue that I had somehow just never bought. But after a few seconds I got it, and it’s a perfect ending.

*slow clap*

Palestine has been published in several collected editions over the years and has gotten rewards and was positively reviewed at the time.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1996: Villa of the Mysteries

Villa of the Mysteries #1-2 by Mack White.

My goal for this blog series was to (re-)read all Fantagraphics comic book comics, but, dear reader, I have to let you know that I failed! Failed, I tell you! I have been unable to acquire the third issue of this comic, even going so far as to try to buy a copy from Mack White himself.

But no reply.

So sorry to let you down, reader.

But what are the first two issues (which I bought in the 90s) like?

From the name, cover and introduction, it would be natural to assume that this would be about Greek stuff, just like first generation underground artist Frank Stack was doing around this time.

I guess you could sort of call Mack White a third generation underground artist.

He started off in the 90s, published by storied underground publisher Rip Off Press, and his artwork has an underground comix vibe. It’s rather stiff, but it has a kind of inhuman sheen to it that I find very attractive.

And as with previous generations of underground artists, there’s a lot of drugs (especially psychedelic ones), rock music and sex in his comics.

Oh, and conspiracy theories. White loves conspiracy theories, although it’s sometimes hard to tell if they are parodies of conspiracy theories or real ones. That’s all part of the conspiracy! To confuse us!

There is also a lot of references to weird religion, and here (as with the conspiracies), White seems to both make fun of them and admire them at the same time.

The first issue is brimming with ideas and concepts, and is rather fascinating.

The second issue is a bit different. The centrepiece of the issue is a strip about the Branch Davidians (those cult people who killed themselves in Waco in the 90s, for you youngsters). For the first page or so, I thought that this was going to turn out to be another poke at conspiracy theorists…

… but no, it’s an earnest piece on what the remaining Branch Davidians think happened, which includes, of course, mass murder by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Because…

Yes, that… once… sounded crazy…

There’s even a postscript where White lays out further possible conspiracies, which includes Bill Clinton getting his hair cut by one of the cult members (at which point I decided that he must be telling this joke with a straight face) and … Vince Foster. And perhaps Koresh was a Mossad agent.

It’s all very perplexing. And now Trump is president. Surely it all ties together somehow.

The longest piece in the issue is a kind of riffing off of the David Koresh tragedy, where our heroine (who turns out to be a brainwashed CIA agent) visits a religious compound, lured there by this very Jack Kamenesque little girl. (Another underground connection: Being EC comics fans.)

And again the ATF kills them all, but only on this material plane.

I still don’t know whether White is taking the piss or whether he’s sincere (sometimes). Perhaps he doesn’t know either. It’s possible!

It’s all very puzzling.

Mack White seems to be doing book illustrations now and has a talk radio show.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.