FF1987: Jim

Jim #1-4
Jim vol 2 #1-6
Jim Special: Frank’s Real Pa
Frank #1-4

By Jim Woodring.

Jim (the series, not the author) started off as a collection of material that Jim (the author, not the series) had published in the 1982-86 period. The first four issues are magazine sized… and very strange.

The dedication in the first issue is probably a joke, but it’s rather apt.

Har de har. Anyway, I was 17-ish when I read the first issue of Jim, and I clearly remember how exhilirating and inspiring it all was. You have these gorgeous, yet squicky pages:

But the bulk of the first two issues are pages and pages of stuff like this:

Stories that seem to be written semi-automatically with little regard for consistency, but funny and disturbing at the same time. I remember doing some writing in the same style at the time (fortunately all gone now), and here this stuff was being published in a real magazine.

There are also some more traditional-looking comics pages here, and they are more overtly dream based than the text pages.

And here’s the first of the Jimland Novelties. I assumed at the time that it was all a joke, but reading these pages now, I can see how all these could perhaps be real items. And in later letters pages, Woodring claims that they took a long time to produce when somebody ordered them, so perhaps they were?

The Big Red stories appear occasionally throughout the Jim issues, and are probably the most realistic anthropomorphic cats in comics.

The first two issues were published a few months apart, and then there was a one year pause before the third issue, and then almost a two year hiatus before the fourth and final issue.

The two final issues also drastically reduced the number of text pages: A couple in the third, and none in the fourth. Instead almost all the stories are now in this style, and deal almost exclusively with retelling dreams. At least that’s what I assume they are, because the way Jim’s (the character, not the magazine) thoughts shift emotionally between the third and the fourth panel is just like being inside one of my dreams.

There’s a three year pause between the final issue of the magazine-sized first Jim series and the standard comic book sized second Jim series. During that time, he’d published the acclaimed Frank in the River story and the Tantalizing Tales series (co-created with Mark Martin) at Tundra. But then he’s back at Fantagraphics for another go with Jim Volume 2.

All issues are on shiny paper and is a mixture of black and white and colour work. Above we see another dream sequence. I can relate.

Running text under the horrifying, horrifying manhog story above was apparently the major controversy of the day.

For the third issue, Mark Landman did what I assume to be computer 3D modelling of the Frank story… or perhaps just very computer-assisted colouring. It’s pleasantly weird.

Woodring had used variations of this shading technique for a while, but I think this story in the fourth issue is the first instance where it looks just the way it’s going to look from now on: Stark and almost inhuman. It gets more and more regular as time goes on, and you can still see that it’s drawn by a hand here, but it’s getting there.

In the sixth issue Woodring announces that Jim (the series, not the character) is being put on the back burner. No subsequent issues were released, but the aforementioned Frank series did a few months later.

I don’t know what he’s been persuaded to do, or by whom. Looking at his bibliography, there doesn’t seem to be any major work from this era? I may just be blanking here, and this work was published later, but I can’t find much (other than the Frank issues discussed below), until the Frank book The Lute String in 2005 and the amazing Weathercraft in 2010.

I must be missing something.

Anyway, the next thing to be published is Jim Special #1: Frank’s Real Pa. It was originally published in the Whole Earth Catalog, one panel per page. It was reformatted some before being collected to make the panels fit better.

I didn’t realise that “Frank’s Real Pa” would work as a pun until I thought about it real hard, and then it was “d’oh”. But apparently the pun wasn’t intended (no pun intended), but instead refers to this:

Are those two bristly looking guys Frank’s real and faux pas?

Yes! Because that’s just how Frank’s going to look when he gets old, and we all resemble our parents.

Mystery! Solved!

Anyway anyway, the Frank series lasted for four issues, and had pretty much the same format as the Jim II series. Only very Frank now.

This comic was later reprinted in a book that accompanied a Bill Frisell CD. Or the other way around. I saw Frisell in concert a few years back (well, I’ve seen him dozens of times) where he accompanied a number of silent films. At least one of them were animated Frank cartoons. Very nice, I seem to recall, and the place was absolutely packed.

By the end of the Frank run, the “novelty” section had grown less… novel. Well, all good things apparently have to end for some reason or other…

The major feature of the last two issues of Frank was a serialisation of a new, long story called Frank’s High Horse. I can’t find anything on the web about it being finished or collected, which is a shame, because it was (well, duh) very good.

Jim Woodring is still publishing, and everything he does is still wonderful.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1987: The Wandering Stars

The Wandering Stars #1 by Stuart Hopen and Sam Kieth.

Another entry in the “Fantagraphics sci-fi cancelled mysteriously” series, this one lasted only one issue and ends with the words “to be continued…”

And it’s a very nice issue indeed. Kieth would later switch to a more decompressed art style, but here he crams a lot in. And not only is it very pretty, but it really works. The aliens fit into the environment as well as the humans do.

I’ve snapped a detail here from a panel. Look how awesome it is in its Bernie Wrightnosequeness, and with all these details you can skip or sit and admire (like that thing slurping the woman’s drink).

Oh, yeah, the story… It seems to have potential to get quite interesting. It’s a melancholy story of a post-faster-than-light society in decline peopled with interesting characters. But even as crammed as the pages are here, the plot moves quite placidly, so it’s difficult to tell where this all would have ended up if the series had continued.

It’s a comic book that you sometimes see on the “hey, whatever happened to…” lists, so it’s something that people seem to remember fondly.

My research team was unable to determine why no further issues were published (low sales? Kieth wanting to write his own stuff? something else?).

Sam Kieth, of course, was to become a very famous artist (and writer) a few years later, starting with The Maxx (from Image).  And I’ll be covering his anthology series I Before E later in this blog series.

Stuart Hopen later published a science fiction novel.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1987: Dinosaur Rex

Dinosaur Rex #1-3 by Jan Strnad and Henry Mayo.

What a fun series.

This is another one of the comics from the Upshot imprint, edited by Jan Strnad.  The imprint was supposed to be action oriented entertainment, I think.

They only managed to publish three series before cancellation (Dalgoda: Flesh and Bones, The Miracle Squad and this one), but at least one more was featured in the ads, although I forget what it was called.  (So research.)

Dinosaur Rex is ostensibly an action adventure series about hunting dinosaurs, but it is, at heart, en hommage to the Jeeves series by PG Wodehouse. Above we have Wooster. And it’s very amusing.

Henry Mayo’s artwork is quite well suited for this type of thing, too. It has an old-fashioned kind of sheen, reminding me a bit of 70s artists doing versions of Al Williamson. He does leave quite a bit of open space that colourist Tom Luth fills in ably.

The backup feature in all three issues is a story by William Messner-Loebs and Dennis Fujitake that seems to be another homage: This time to Keith Laumer and Retief. It’s about a bureaucrat who has to deal with an invasion of (yes) dinosaurs. Weirdly enough, Jan Strnad’s next project would be to adapt Retief for comics, so some synergy was going on here…

And, as always, I adore Fujitake’s artwork. All his people look like aliens and all his aliens look like people, so it all just works so well on the page.

The last two issues are in black and white. Mayo adapts his artwork substantially to the new format: It becomes more detailed, and has more shading and more solid blacks. I think it looks even better than in colour… more stark and moulded.

Kim Thompson takes over as the editor (from Jan Strnad) this issue, and explains (at length) why the book dropped the colour (sales), and hints at why he’s taken over as editor (personal falling out between Strnad and… people?).

The Wodehousian hi-jinx aren’t much affected by the behind-the-scenes drama.

Both the main feature and the backup feature reach their very satisfactory conclusions in the third and final issue.

Somebody should reprint both stories somewhere, because they’re very funny. Finding a venue might be difficult, but isn’t everything digital these days? Huh? Where’s my lawn?

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1987: Dog Boy

Dog Boy #1-10 by Steve Lafler.

Lafler had (self-published, I think?) Dog Boy under the Cat-Head Comics moniker for a few years, but moved to Fantagraphics in 1987, and restarted the numbering.

I didn’t read Dog Boy back in the 80s. That is, I had the first issue, and I vaguely remember being vaguely puzzled. Vaguely. I liked serious comics, and I liked funny comics, and I loathed “spiritual” stuff, and I can see why I wouldn’t find Dog Boy appealing.

But I got all the issues now, so let’s read.

Ah, yes. Very undergroundish: Bikers, werewolves, werewolf bikers and super-exaggerated cartooning.

This page is rather representative. Dog Girl has a machine gun, Dog Boy tries to break in, violence ensues, and then you have a non sequitur. It’s amusing… The Dixie cup telephone is Zippy-ish, but the violence isn’t. It’s a bratty, drunken, druggy update on 60s underground tropes, I think?

I kinda like the tension between the cartoony Dog Boy head and the more non-cartoony figure work.

That is pretty funny, I have to admit. But vaguely. I only admit it vaguely.

The third issue is the “How To Publish Comics Books: The Direct Market.” issue. It’s mostly just jokes about Dog Boy wanting to start his own comic book, but there’s one pretty incongruous page:

That sounds like actual advice. Reading Dog Boy I get the feeling that he has less of a plan on how a story is going to unfold than most cartoonists.

Lafler vaguely apologises for getting very political this issue, but I think there’s like three pages of overtly political stuff here, and the rest is the normal goofiness.

Lafler explains his technique, and I think he was accelerated here:

Much cosmic.

And very political, too!

I’ve been wondering who Lafler’s art reminds me of, but I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it. But this drawing from a late issue, at least, looks quite a bit like Kim Deitch…

After ten issues, Dog Boy was cancelled due to low sales. Lafler has continued to do comics, and is still active today.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1986: The Miracle Squad

The Miracle Squad #1-4 by John Wooley and Terry Tidwell.

This comic book was part of the Jan Strnad-edited Upshot line of comics, which didn’t last very long. And this was, I think, the only one that Strnad didn’t write himself.

It’s in colour, which I guess means that Fantagraphics thought that this 30s B-movie inspired series would sell. Reading it now, it’s difficult to understand why that is: The story (about gangsters inexplicably trying to take over a movie studio) isn’t very exciting, and the artwork is… basic? I think that’s the right word.

The colouring, by Tom Luth (who’s been colouring Groo the Wanderer all these years) isn’t as trippy as some comics Fantagraphics were publishing around this time, but it’s still slightly odd. Perhaps it’s the work of the colour separators, S*M Graphics?

Oh, yeah, the people who work at the studio help protecting the studio. Frankly, the storyline doesn’t make much sense, but, then again, as Wooley writes in the essays on b-movies in the back of each issue, that’s what those films were like.

But I bet you they weren’t this boring.

The essays are kinda interesting, but there’s too much of the stuff above. C’mon.

The last two issues were printed in black and white, so I guess the series didn’t sell after all. Whoda thunk. Gary Dumm (of American Splendor fame) took over the inking, which beefed up the art considerably.

A second series of this stuff was published by Apple Press. Tidwell seems to have done quite a bit of work for adjacent publishers, like Eternity, but apparently stopped doing comics after a while. And the same with Wooley, but he’s now a writer.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.