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.

FF1991: A Couple of Winos

A Couple of Winos by Matthias Schultheiss from a story by Charles Bukowski.

Fantagraphics’ early attempts at publishing European comics was often rather awkward, trying to fit material made for different formats into something they could entice an American audience to buy. But this time it kinda works.

Schultheiss’ artwork here looks like a mash-up of Moebius and Hermann, which is very appropriate for the material. It looks like it was drawn with black-and-white in mind, and this desert comic looks good on newsprint.

So there’s no disconnect between the format and the contents, and the story is a short one (originally a short story, I guess? or an excerpt from a novel? I was unable to google it, and there are no story notes in the comic itself) about a drifter getting a job from that truck driver up there.

I’ve read a couple of Schultheiss’ other books, and they are science fiction, if I remember correctly, and drawn in a somewhat different style than this. They’re in colour, for one. I just googled his oeuvre, and he’s apparently published a number of Bukowski adaptions, but none of them have been published in English. Too bad, this is very good.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1991: Check-Up/Unseen

Check-Up #1, Sight Unseen by James Sturm.

We last saw James Sturm just a few days ago in this blog series with his Cereal Killings comic book.

Check-Up seem to be going for a classic Fantagraphics single author anthology vibe: It’s even published in magazine size, just like Neat Stuff and Lloyd Llewellyn.

So you have a number of unconnected bits plopped into the package without much cohesion. It looks like Sturm’s interest in cereal mascots was an early obsession…

Most of all, it’s just not that funny. I mean, I look at that panel, and the father (on the couch) has a pleasingly deranged face, but the humour seems so forced.

I dunno. I’m just not seeing it. That the artwork is so basic doesn’t help. That’s a pretty weak parody of a fight scene.

Sight Unseen was published in 1997, and is a collection of strips originally published in The Stranger. The Fantagraphics edition is slightly smaller than a standard American comic book.

I think what Sturm is going for is dream logic…

… what with the visit to his high school and all. But it’s not really convincing as a dream. It has too much logic and the plot, as it is, has a conclusion, if not entirely satisfactory.

The story has a very improvisational feel to it. Or perhaps a more half-assed feel to it. Or perhaps I’m just extra cranky today.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1991: Loose Teeth

Loose Teeth #1-3 by Scott Musgrove and Brian Sendelbach.

Both Musgrove and Sendelbach had appeared in various anthologies before doing Loose Teeth together. This series has solo pieces from both of them, but they also collaborate on a number of stories.

The first issue opens with a competition of sorts: Readers are invited to send in scripts for one-page stories and Musgrove or and Sendelbach will illustrate them.

Loose Teeth is a humour anthology, of course. A quite violent one. These recurring characters, The Fruitheads, are maimed and killed over and over again.

The art styles vary quite a bit from piece to piece. You have these quite amusing stories allegedly written by a seven-year-old in this scrappy, scratchy style.

But you also have this more carefully worked-at early-Baggesque style for several stories. (Not that Peter Bagge would ever use such dadaesque humour.)

Apparently nobody entered the competition…

Now that’s humour.

And then it all comes to an end. Fantagraphics comics are usually cancelled without any notice, so that’s nice.

I am wholly unfamiliar with either artist, but googling a bit now, it looks like Musgrove took one of the characters from Loose Teeth, Fat Dog Mendoza, over to Dark Horse after the cancellation of this magazine. (He’s one of about half a dozen that’s taken the exact same route.) Musgrove seems to be doing art these days.

Brian Sendelbach has worked more extensively in comics after this.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF2004: The Mystery of Woolverine Woo-Bait

The Mystery of Woolverine Woo-Bait by Joe Coleman.

This is the third and final internet-acquired comic for this blog series (sorry!): Some books are just impossible to find. I can perhaps understand the scarcity of copies in this case. Joe Coleman is a pretty famous artist, and this is his only published comic book.

That is, it was originally published in 1982, and this is a reprinting (with a bonus back-up features).

It’s less psychedelic than I thought it would be. It has a kinda coherent storyline, but perhaps the story isn’t the most important thing going on here. For some reason or other, I was reminded a bit of Gravity’s Rainbow (especially the first 70 or so pages).

I KNOW.

The scan for this comic could have been better: The original artwork must have been so detailed, but much of it’s lost here. I think I’ll pick up a copy if I find one, but there’s no time in this blog series. It’s all over soon!

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.