Sunday, 28 February 2010

I wish this was still available

(click on image for more details)

Review: Haspiel & Fieffe: Brawl

This neat little three issue package published by Image comics is the print version of two comics available to view online at the Act-i-vate site. Dean Haspiel you may know for his recent work with Harvey Pekar on his adolescent memoir The Quitter, and in Immortal his square-jawed art is a little more rough around the edges, with a dynamic use of perspective that probably earns him the right to the quote on the front of the first issue calling him a 'heir to Kirby'. The whole thing is ridiculously tongue in cheek, and is intended to be fast-paced, two-dimensional, and a bit tacky. The dialogue is a series of one liners bounced back between the protagonist Billy Dogma and his girlfriend Jane, dialogue that comes across like 50's street talk. For me the whole thing is a little two dimensional and the artwork a little too unimaginative (although we do get a nice comic-within-a-comic moment when Dogma, swallowed by the monster that cannot love, learns of the monsters fate via a series of hieroglyphs carved on the inside of its stomach). I can try and take Immortal for what it is, but even if it is a creative attempt to reinvent the superhero genre slightly while still reveling in the silliness and the fun of it all, it doesn't quite hit the mark for me.

Michel Fiffe is a newcomer in my eyes and an artist whose work I would class as 'emo'. By this I mean he has an artistic quality that you'd find gracing the album covers of emo bands around the world, the kind of tortured distorted adolescent thing I should probably be ashamed of liking at the age of twenty four. The story sees our teenage reluctant hero (Augustus) run away to the city where he constantly finds himself in the wrong place at the right time. He also has this odd (and massively angstridden and metaphorical) condition brought on by anxiety and panic, where his whole body melts/warps into weird shapes, and generally has a mind of its own, usually landing him in more trouble. He meets a girl called Valencia who offering protection, really intends to exploit his special 'talents'. Plot wise this has a little bit more depth than Haspiel's story, with even a slight hint at a back story, but it is Fiffe's seemingly endless visual variations on Augustus's condition and his innovate use of panels, and beautiful line work and shading that really keeps me gripped here. It also features the weirdest sex scene I've seen in a comic for a while (I'll give you a hint: two become one).

To get a real sense of Fiffe however, I feel you have to be view him in colour, and to do that you can check out his webcomic Zegas on the Act-i-vate site, a brother and sister relationship story with a sci-fi twist.

Ahead of his time: The Big Yum Yum Book by R.Crumb


Written and drawn when Crumb was 19 and still a virgin, this early graphic novel shows something about Crumb which I feel is often overlooked about him in favour of his more controversial and sexual material, that is, his own disillusion with and critical distance from the very counterculture that embraced him. In the R.Crumb handbook Crumb talks about Janis Joplin advising him to grow his hair long and wear bell bottoms in order to get more women but Crumb stuck to his suit and fedora, his old records, and even his first encounter with LSD (although inspiring some of his most memorable and strange comics and characters) left him feeling slightly uncomfortable(*). And it is the amazing perception, cynicism and wit that he displays towards the counterculture (in the case of The Big Yum Yum Book the 50's beat generation) academia, religion, and the world of big money that surprises me here. For Crumb to display such an individual opinion at the age of 19 shows an amazing level of maturity.

Stripped down to its basic elements The Big Yum Yum Book is a modern take on the Jack and the beanstalk fairytale with a down on his luck toad cast as Jack and a plump rosy-cheeked Guntra as the giant. Crumb met his first love and first wife Dana during the book's completion and therefore she saw it as their love story, and was given the rights to it as part of their divorce settlement. It is sweeter and gentler than his later work and you can tell the young Crumb put a lot of himself into his protagonist. Lonely, frustrated, trying to find his place in the world, the only difference between Crumb and Oggie the toad is intellect.

He is sent to university by his father in the hope that he will one day join the management of his Mud Works. In order to try and fit in at university, Oggie tries to get in with the intellectual crowd, listening as they pour out bad Allen Ginsberg type poetry in coffee houses, attending political rallies with them, listening to their stories of worldly experience, attempting to create art, enhance his intellect, and make love to women, all in order to carve an identity for himself. However none of this works, and in this sense Oggie could be seen as being naive, but to me he possesses a kind of wisdom (a wisdom he himself is unaware of) that is more real, more pure than the pontificating of pretentious intellectuals and artists. The fact that Oggie doesn't fit in does nothing to discredit Oggie and in fact shows up the other charecters and the flags they fly as being superficial, meaningless facades-just a fashion like the 60's love generation would eventually become. In the end, after Oggie turning to drink in frustration kills the ladybug crones that inhabit his room, a giant beanstalk grows from their buried remains, taking Oggie with it to a paradise in the sky. And here he is finally happy, no one to tell him who to be or how to think, he enjoys good food, nature, beauty and solitude, and meets his love/his obsession
Guntra (who continually tries to eat him). In the end he returns to the city to find it cut off by the beanstalk and he is dragged to court where they sentence him for the city's fate. His friend Lampe the cat (the token pipe smoking intellectual) comes to the prison to offer his advice and in a brilliant summery of everything that is pointless about academia tells Oggie of his plans to write a study of the beanstalks effects on the morals of the city, speaking as if this one book, and the actions of the artists and the intellectuals, will be enough to save the city, and keep culture alive. In the end Guntra climbs down the beanstalk, throws it into the city and eats the entire cities population save for Oggie who she kisses, turning him human, and they both live a happy blissful 50's suburbia life.

Although the artwork is charming and cute (it is coloured with pencils and the publishers have been true to the original deciding not to patch up any areas where the colour has faded with age) it is the simple yet poignant message of the book that really does it for me.

The Big Yum Yum Book is Crumb at his best, and if you have ever been to university, are at university now, or met any self-proclaimed 'artists' it's probably a book to which you can relate.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Book cover of the week

A classic piece of Penguin Design, simple yet bold, the photograph reminds me very slightly of that famous photo from the Vietnam war of the execution of the Vietcong officer by Eddie Adams.

Friday, 26 February 2010

When fine art meets comics: Olivia Plender and Kerry James Marshall

Forget Lichtenstein, forget Warhol, these artists turned temporary comic artists are really worth a look at.

Kerry James Marshall is better known for his paintings and sculptures of black figures and black life, influenced by his time spent in Watts, Los Angeles around the Black Power and Civil Rights movement, however Marshall also created an intended for gallery display comic book entitled "Rythm Mastr". With each of the superheroes and their powers being based on an African mask and with an urban setting, the comic was a direct response by Marshall to what he saw as a significant lack of black figures (unless they were stereotypical or very minor bit players) in the comics. Some of the colour pages display the most energy as well as the mock up covers resembling blaxplotation cinema at its best. Strangely from what I've seen of google images, the inside pages aren't as visually stunning, almost like one tone manga with clumsily placed text in speech bubbles, but having never read the full thing, and realising its importance in comics history, it would be something I'd still love to own if they ever got around to releasing it in book form. For more information on the history of black images in comics you wouldn't go far wrong by buying this book.

I first heard of Olivia Plender's 'The Masterpiece' by reading about it in Paul Gravett's 'Cult Fiction' book. Olivia Plender is a British multimedia artist (now based in Berlin) who dabbles in installation art, performances, writing and drawing. 'The Masterpiece' again was for gallery display only and drawn beautifully in pencil with collaged and typewritten text. Its gritty yet somehow elegant shading really evokes the era she is writing about (that is the 1960's) and although some websites compare it to pulp fiction books (yes) and b-movie stills (not so much) it reminds me distinctly of 1960's black and white fashion photography, film posters, and in particular the film Blow Up. The plot revolves around an atypical tortured artist whose weekend away in the country gets mixed up in the weird world of the occult (one website refers to these elements of the plot of being a bit like a Hammer Horror movie, which is great). The element of satire aimed against the middle class escape to the country artistic milieu reminds me a lot of Posy Simmonds who was perfectly suited to printing her cartoons in The Guardian as she would often lampoon writers and grow-your-own organic enthusiasts. Again a book I'd love to see in print. But all is not lost, she does a graphic novel out about the history of the Modern Spiritualist Movement and its links to woman's suffer age,working class struggle, and the anti-slavery movement called A Stellar Key To Summerland (going for used at Amazon for £50!)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Date for your diary: Comica Argentina

On Friday the 2nd of July at Kings Place, St Pancras (London) 'Man at the crossroads' Paul Gravett will give a talk about the history of comic art in Argentina to accompany an exhibition and the screening of a animated short 'For a tango' by Sylvia Libedinsky. Tickets for the event cost £6.50. For more details, click here.

First look: Dash Shaw's Bodyworld in print

Dash Shaw has posted this picture up on his website showing the print version of his groundbreaking webcomic Bodyworld (which if you haven't already read it, click on the picture above). It has been designed to be read vertically, so all the wonderful effects you get when scrolling down the page on the Internet are not lost (the only moment of conceptual brilliance in webcomics I've found that comes remotely close to this is this Drew Weing Pup comic) . Although I haven't read Bottomless Belly Button his contributions to Mome and Vice Magazine are quite impressive and it seems like his talent and ideas are bound to grow (he's been trying his hand at animation too, which you can view here).

Blog of the week: Covered

Click here to visit Robert Goodin's blog 'Covered' where he posts well known and lesser known artists tributes/reinterpretations of comic book covers, from classic to slightly obscure. A great way to discover hidden talents.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

10 magazines with great design (and content too)

The New Yorker

The New Yorker has always had close ties with the world of classic cartooning. Charles Addams, Gardener Rea, William Steig, James Thurber, Sempe, Peter Arno, Saul Steinberg...need I go on? However since Fran├žoise Mouly (the wife of Art Speigelman, co-editor of RAW and the fantastic Little Lit series) took over duties as art editor, we've been treated to lushious covers by some of comics modern greats-Adrien Tomine, David Heatley, Chris Ware, Seth, Joost Swarte, Dan Clowes Ivan Brunneti, Richard McGuire etc. I'm particularly fond of Richard McGuire's playful optical illusion covers which force you to interact much more with the cover, turning it upside down, searching for visual clues, he comes across a bit like a cartoon Escher in these instances.

Mad Magazine

Probably the most famous cover of Mad magazine (and a perfect example of classically simple design) is the infamous parody of Life magazine drawn by Basil Wolverton to which the editors of Life took considerable offence. Some other great feature of Mad are the fake adverts, Harvey Kurtzman's hand drawn borders and the insides of letters which are insanely and hilariously detailed. Artists like Kurtzman and Will Elder carried a great sense of design in their art (Harvey Kurtzman pre-mad comic 'Hey Look' is fantastic), Elder himself was fond of sticking about ten different jokes (with fake brand names etc) in per panel. His later work with Kurtzman on Playboy's Little Annie Fanny is pretty sensational too (being in full gorgeous colour). After Mad Kurtzman's Help looked a little more like your standard magazine (Kurtzman had always sought to publish a big budget magazine) with understated photographic covers instead of cartoons and bold but relatively straightforward fonts. However it did boast some brilliant fummeti's (photo comics for those not in the know) starring a young Woody Allen and John Cleese. The John Cleese one is particularly brilliant and stars Cleese as a man who becomes dangerously obsessed with a Barbie doll, and Kurtzman's then assistant Terry Gilliam directed the comic, sparking the first meeting of the two Pythons.

Comic Art

This magazine edited by Ivan Brunetti really upped the stakes in design terms with it's last two issues. Issue 8 featuring a wraparound cover by Richard Mcguire and a nice pocket size book by Seth, presented with his usual visual nostalgia (in the introduction to the book done in comic book form Seth tells us about discovering gag cartoons and in particular the early cartoons of The New Yorker which if you look at Seth' s work you can clearly see he is influenced by). Issue 9 has another great pocket book 'Cartooning Philosophy', this time by Brunetti himself, done in his stick figure style

Giant Robot

Aside from great covers Giant Robot lets us delve into the world of kitsch and cute, from toys to comics to Asian trends. But despite this Giant Robot is much more than just an Asian and American-Asian pop culture magazine, and as well as reviews of canned coffee drinks and instant ramen packs it has also featured historical articles on foot binding, the Yellow Power Movement, Asian-American gangsters etc. This brilliant magazine is in financial danger at the moment, and need your help, to donate click here.

Little White Lies

A nice little compact independent film magazine which often themes issues around a particular film and has great covers.

Electric Sheep

Now switched to a purely online version Electric Sheep is another independent film magazine which uses illustrators and comic artists to bring a sense of design. Tom Humberstone being one such contributor.


Graphic magazine is the kind of overpriced graphic design magazine that grows in abundance in London, but the new narratives issue I picked up (for a measly £18) features interviews with and reproductions of artwork by Killoffer, Matt Madden, and Jochen Gerner, and a great interview with one of the people responsible for the Orange adverts you see just before the start of a film in the cinema.


80's seminal anthology/magazine which came after Art Speigelman and Bill Griffith's Arcade. It had a changing headline each issue ('the graphic magazine that lost its faith in nihilism') and features never before translated comics by European and Japanese artists, and generally had a more artistic and in depth feel than Mad or some of the 60's undergrounds, yet didn't really loose it's satirical edge.

True Detective Magazine

Classic pulp fiction pin ups and painting 50's style, you can buy a big hardback book covering many of the main true crime magazines of this era here.

Mcsweeny's Quarterly Concern Comics Issue

Not exactly a magazine but this literary journal that comes in various shapes and sizes and always has a pretty strong design outlook came up trumps when it got Chris Ware to edit and design its comic issue. With a removable cover that folds out into a poster which is a mock up of an American Sunday comics supplement (the flip side is a poster by Gary Panter with extensive written references) it has gold leafing and the combination of its covers, end pages, title and contents page are down to Panter, Heatley, and Brunetti. The content is pretty spot on as well.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Some experimental Tezuka animated shorts

I've just found some experimental short animations by God of Manga Osamu Tezuka on YouTube. Memory (from 1964) is my favourite, as it mixes lovely flat colour and simple line drawn backgrounds (which remind me of the modernist almost jazzy style of animation which was popular in America with classics such as Gerald McBoing-Boing), photo collage, great cartoon sound effects, and its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The second short, Push (1987) is less visually experimental than the first but has a simple but effective message about greed, consumerism, and the price the world will have to pay.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Find of the week: William Schaff

By now I've pretty much exhausted the comics section of my local library except for some incomplete volumes of classic manga and a graphic biography of Charles Darwin but every now and then I pick up something suprising like Dead in Disemboque, a comic book written by author and musician Robert Araellano and with each chapter of the book done by a different artist This book is inspired by the hugely popular pocket sized Mexican comics (historiete) which is something I instantly want to know more about. Two of the chapters are visually mediocre at best, the second chapter being competent in ability but not really interesting stylistically. It is the first chapter of the book, done by William Schaff, which really knocks me out. Best known for his album covers for bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor! William Schaff hasn't really dabbled too long in the world of comics, but is one of those artists who has tried his hand at everything. On his Flicker profile he says that he wasn't so much interested in the narrative qualities of comics as he was in making every page a work of art, and this is something he has achieved while still not interrupting the narrative flow too much (although his is the chapter in the book that uses the highest level of Spanish dialogue, leaving gaps for the non fluent reader). His visual style is a mix of collage, scratchbook art, and dark inky surrealism with a distinctly Mexican flavour to reflect the setting of the book. One website compares him to the German expressionism of Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann, but I can see traces of the German expressionist woodcuts and the early woodcut novels of Fran Marsereel, Lyn Ward etc. At his worse Schaff's artwork ever so slightly resembles the kind of rockabilly illustration that you'd associate with bad tattoos and Sailor Jerry Rum, but for the most part it's stunning. I'm also a big fan of his calculated imperfections. The fact that you can see quite clearly where he has cut out and pasted the images adds a certain charm to it, and his sudden transition in the final panel of the second to last page to the kind of drawing style you'd see attached to a fridge by a proud mother, is done skillfully (not like the pretense and pretending of Paper Rad, which I will probably come to rant about at a latter date) and acts as a useful full stop to the pace of the chapter.

To see more of William Schaff's art, visit his Flicker profile here.

Why can't we have exhibitions like this in the UK?

For more info on what it's all about, click here or go buy this book

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Kenneth Anger and Mickey Mouse

Click here to see a creepy 10 minute film 'Mouse Heaven' by cult director Kennith Anger.
The film itself doesn't really have a point, and some of the effects are a bit cheesy in my opinion, but there is some great black and white artwork at the start of the film, putting Mickey onto some lush backgrounds alongside Felix the Cat and characters from George McManus's Bringing Up Father (there are other comic characters but I don't recognise them).

Rickie Trembles: Purveyor of filth!

Canadian Rickie Trembles (real name Rickie Tremblay-son of anti-Nazi comic artist and book illustrator Jack Tremblay) is one of those enviable, multi-talented bastards, like Richard McGuire, only less clean cut (I can imagine if he did a children's book it would come out slightly different). He plays guitar and sings in post-punk group The American Devices, makes strange alien like sculptures (which remind me a bit of Jim Woodring), makes films and animation, and of course produces some excellent comics (as well as hosting a Motion Picture Purgatory radio show). Of course modest Trembles would probably call himself a jack of all trades and a master of none, claiming especially that his artistic skills are less than perfect, but I think his slightly pixilated neon stick figures are hilarious and unique. He would probably fit into a school of aesthetics known as 'American punk' (or at least this is what Stephen Heller calls it in his book 'Graphic Styles) which covers the appropriation of the cut up collage style of punk flyer's to the aesthetics of RAW magazine and comic artists such as Gary Panter, Kaz, Mark Beyer and Julie Doucet

Although he started out doing lurid autobiographical comics in his music fanzine turned comix 'Sugar Diet' (which were famously branded disgusting by no less than Robert Crumb!) it is his sometimes scathing (and always brilliant) comic strip reviews of cinema old and new that grabs my attention the most. He is pretty unforgiving when it comes to a lot of modern films, and by placing quotes from the films against his surreal 2D interpretations he shows up just how ridiculous the film in question is. He also takes a pretty refreshing view of CGI which I can happily say that I agree with (he think it's shit!)

It is clear that although Trembles is a fan of some arthouse cinema and documentaries, his real passion lies in trash. Old horror/slasher films, exploitation cinema, and nudity with an absurd storyline seem to be Trembles main concern (he cites some of his favourite films as Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, Videodrome, and Flesh Gordon) and he is a master of unearthing obscure oddities .

His movie review strip 'Motion Picture Purgatory' was serialised in The Montreal Mirror until the end of the 80's when the slasher movie craze ended and a new era of political correctness began to dawn. Trembles has been accused of being anti-women, despite being a strong supporter of feminist activist/musician/screenwriter/comix writer Lydia Lunch and pointing out that the review he did that was rejected for being sexist was for a film written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown. He did work for various other publications and returned to the Mirror in 98 (click here for a visual history of these events).
He has just released the second volume of his collected Motion Picture Purgatory strips which you can purchase off Amazon or via his website, and he continues to record and play with The American Devices.

More, better resolution images to come!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Book cover of the week

Gorgeous hardcover edition which is apparently soft to touch (perfect for those long lonely nights), and with gold embroidery. The design wraps from front to back, and there are printed colour endpapers inside. The design is by Stanley Donwood and is very reminiscent of the London flood prints he did for the Thom Yorke album The Eraser.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Comics and controversy

Following on from a comment I made in the post above, I've decided to compile a short list of cases of censorship, criminal trials, and even death, all related to the world of comics. The majority of these cases have to do with the underground comics of the sixties, a time where head shops were constantly raided for such material, and the export of underground comics to the UK was strictly monitored:

(1 The Oz School Girls Issue

I remember watching an episode of The Secret Millionaire in which the presumably well educated millionaire confesses to the camera about his expulsion from college, not on the grounds of smoking drugs or being violent towards a member of staff, but simply for reading and being in possession of what the college obviously considered dangerous and radical material, that is Oz magazine. Oz was a counter-cultural magazine started in Sydney Australia in 1963 which moved its based of operations to London in 1967. It was the famed 'School Kids Issue' that became the centre of one of the longest obscenity trials in the UK. The issue was a response to the criticism that Oz had lost touch with the kids, so the editors of the magazine invited a whole host of secondary school children (mostly all from public schools) to edit an issue of Oz. The image/s in question that caused the Obscene Publications Squad to clamp down on Oz, was an act of simple schoolboy humour produced by a 15 year old school boy: the pasting of Rupert the bear's head, onto the body of a character of one of Crumbs obscene cartoons, to give everyone's favourite British institution of childhood innocence, a sexual edge. The trial was pretty well publicised and defence witnesses included DJ John Peel, artist and drugs activist Caroline Coon, and academic Edward De Bono . John and Yoko even became involved forming the Elastic Oz Band and writing a song 'God Save Oz' (later renamed 'God Save Us' to minimise confusion with the US listeners) to raise publicity and funds. The 'Oz three' (as they came to be known) famously turned up to the trail wearing rented schoolgirl costumes and wigs. The result of the trial was that the attempted charge of 'conspiracy to corrupt public morals' failed to stick, however, this didn't stop them from being charged for two lesser offences, and being sentenced to imprisonment, the final nail in the coffin being the police shaving their heads upon arrival at the prison. A copy of the School Kids issue currently goes for between £80-£180 on ebay!

(2 The Trial of Nasty Tales

Another UK obscenity trial, again sparked by the reprinting of a Crumb comic, was sparked when an eight year old boy managed to buy a copy of the adult comic Nasty Tales at a newsagent, and his mother complained to the police (it was later revealed that his mum put him up to it). The police proceeded to raid the offices of Nasty Tales and made off with several boxes worth of the comic. The charge brought against the editors was that of 'possessing an obscene publication for gain' although as one of the defences witnesses (none other than Germaine Greer!) boldly stated: 'Among comic strips and comic books this is rather better than most and a good deal less insidious in its effect on public taste than Superman'. A similarity between this and the Oz obscenity case was that the prosecution seemed to jump on the representation of (and therefore encouragement of) 'perverse' sexual behaviour such as sadism, and (shock horror!) homosexuality. The verdict was an outstanding 10 to 2 of not guilty and Nasty Tales celebrated by printing a comic book version of the trial transcripts drawn by Dave Gibbons, Edward Barker, Chris Welch, George Snow, and Martin Sudden (a comic which you can still see lurking around on Ebay now again, and it's quite cheap at that!)

(3 The Pirate and the Mouse

In 1971 a group of underground cartoonists lead by Danny O'Neil were foolish enough to take on Walt Disney when they printed two issues of an underground comic called 'Air Pirate Funnies' in which they had characters that strongly resembled Disney characters (O'Neil had claimed that changing the names would dilute the satire) partaking in sexual activities and drug taking. O'Neil saw Disney as a symbol of conformist hypocrisy in America and therefore as being ripe for satire. This of course is not a unique case of satirising Disney see also: Will Elder's 'Mickey Rodent' from MAD magazine, Wally Wood's 'The Disneyland Memorial Orgy' spread from The Realist magazine, and even the Swedes were in on it at some point with Charlie Christensen's Arne Anke(*1). Apparently O'Neil was so keen to be sued by Disney that he had copies of his comic smuggled into a board meeting at the company, by a board members son. By the end of 1971 O'Neil got his wish and Disney filed a lawsuit against him and the other members of the Air Pirates for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition. The first impression was that they were going to loose, and O'Neil urged his fellow Air Pirates to settle with Disney and let him carry on the case defending himself. During this time the remaining members of the Air Pirates went against a temporary restraining order and published more material intended for the third Air Pirates comic, in a comic called The Tortoise and The Hare. 10,000 copies of this comic and Disney won a preliminary hearing of $200,000 and another restraining order, which O'Neil continued to defy by drawing more Disney characters. Other underground comic artists also began selling original artwork (mainly of Disney characters) in order to raise money for O'Neil's defence. The case dragged on for several years and finally in 1978 O'Neil lost the case (although they weren't able to pin trademark infringement on him) and in 1979 the court refused to hear an appeal. However it wasn't over for O'Neil yet, in mid 1979 he formed a secret artist organisation called The MLF (Mouse Liberation Front) holding an art show in new york and creating another four page Disney story, which with the help of sympathetic Disney employees he delivered in person to the Disney studios, where he posed at an animation table drawing Mickey Mouse, and apparently smoked a joint in the office of the late Walt Disney. Finally weighing up the massive legal fees and loss in damages, Disney finally agreed to drop the charges if O'Neil promised to no longer draw Disney characters. Opinions on what good this case actually did for the comics business and freedom of speech/the press are divided, and some people believe O'Neil set satire back 20 years.

For more details about this case and to see some original Air Pirates art, you can buy Bob Levin's book on the subject, published by Fantagraphics books, entitled 'The Pirate and the Mouse'

(4 Hector Oesterheld 'disappears'

Argentinean journalist and writer of graphic novels and comics goes missing in 1976 (presumed dead) and a year later his four daughters and their husbands are arrested and never seen again. It is widely believed that the reason for his disappearance is linked to the publication of a biography of Che Guevara published a year after his death and removed from circulation, with the original artwork destroyed by the Argentine government. Now I'm not exactly pro Che's actions and think the prevalence of Che's face in popular culture today is a bit odd (I love to quote Mark Corrigan from Peep Show at this point, where he calls the phenomenon 'the ironic verification of tyrants') but I think this is an interesting and extreme example of censorship and comics. Osterheld's work had at this point become increasingly political, (although sometimes disguised as science fiction) and he was also (along with his daughters) believed to be part of a leftist guerrilla group called Montoneros. Whether or not this political activity had anything to do with his disappearance remains to be seen, to me it seems a bit far fetched that he would be kidnapped and killed on the basis of a comic (Alberto Breccia the artist behind the biography was not punished) but when an Italian journalist asked about his disappearance in 1979 he was met with the reply: 'We did away with him because he wrote the most beautiful story of Che Guevara ever done'.

(5 Busted Jesus Comix

Another American obscenity trail and the first recorded trail to land a cartoonist with a criminal conviction in America. In 1990 teenage school janitor Mike Diana began producing issues of his own adult comic book Boiled Angel using the school's photocopying machines. In 1991 while investigating a Florida murder case, a police officer came across a copy of Boiled Angel and desperate for clues, phoned Diana to inform him he was a suspect, and requested a blood sample. The real killer was soon apprehended and Diana was not pursued. However the police officer in question collected additional copies of Boiled Angel and sent them to the State Attorney's Office where they went on file, and two years later the Assistant State Attorney came across the comics and sent Diana a certified letter telling him that he was being charged for three counts of obscenity under the Florida Statute 847.011-that is for publishing, distributing. and advertising the material. Diana was found guilty on all three counts, and was sentenced to a three-year probation, during which time his residence was subject to inspection to determine if he was in possession of or was creating obscene material. He was to avoid all contact with children under 18, undergo psychological testing, enrol in a journalistic ethics course, pay a $3,000 fine, and perform 1,248 hours of community service. He was also ordered to cease drawing for personal use, and his place of residence was to be open to inspection by the police, without warning or warrant, at any time, for illustrations violating this ruling. He was not sentenced to any jail time, but spent four days in jail between the dates of the verdict and the sentencing. To fulfill the requirement of undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, Diana was informed that the doctor whom he would see charged $100 an hour, which he would have to pay for himself, and that his evaluation would take two hours. After the evaluation, Diana was informed the session would cost $1,200 because the doctor claimed to have spent 10 hours reading Boiled Angel in preparation. Out of funds, Diana was unable to pay, and the doctor refused to give her evaluation to the court, effectively making him in violation of his probation. Diana was eventually allowed to move to New York to serve the remainder of his sentence and his legal ordeal inspired a 2005 off-Broadway play called Busted Jesus Comix. Despite all this, the cynic in me can't help thinking that the legal proceedings and the eventual conviction gave Diana a lot more publicity and acclaim than if it never happened, because upon looking at extracts of Boiled Angel, aside from the nice use of colour in parts, I am reminded a bit too much of the sex blood and shit shock tactics of Vice magazine's resident cartoonist Johnny Ryan (whose only work of merit in my opinion is Prison Pit Volume 1-which yes, is a blood and gore fest, but done in a manga style similar to Tokyo Zombie, which makes it acceptable)(*2) , and perhaps some of the gorier aspects of Ivan Brunetti.

(6 The Infamous Dr Wertham

No list like this would be complete without mentioning Dr Wertham's notorious tirade against the comics, in particular the crime and horror comics of EC, the summary of his ideas (comics as the cause of juvenile delinquency) can be found in his famous book 'The Seduction of The Innocent', which even if you don't agree with it, still makes for a fascinating read. Modern day critics like Bart Beaty have returned to Wertham to suggest that he wasn't as right wing as his most famous work suggested. He was actually anti-censorship, and did a lot of work on the psychological effects of racial segregation in school children, and was a key speaker for the defense in the famous Brown vs Board of education case to end segregated schools in America. In fact the main misunderstanding in the whole Wertham affair is that he wanted to burn comics and ban them all together, he just wished for a system whereby comics were classified as having adult material and therefore could not be bought by children. Whatever you think of him however, without Wertham and the introduction of the Comics Code (which he didn't agree with anyway) things might not have shaped out in quite the same way for comics as we know them today, the underground comics being a direct response to the kind of moral panic Wertham set in motion.

(7 Metro banned

In April 1008 Egypt's first Graphic novel 'Metro' by Magdy L Shafe was banned and all copies seized after the Egyptian courts ruled the author and the books publisher guilty of printing and distributing a publication infringing public decency, and handed down a LE 5,000 fine against both of them. The obscene content in question was the limited sexual content of the book which the author and publisher had tried to safeguard against by putting 'for adults only' stickers on the books. Arab Network for Human Rights Information director Gamal Eid said that defence lawyers submitted to the courts images published in daily newspaper Rose El-Youssef which were "more lewd" than the graphics in "Metro" that the court objected to.

(8 The Anti-Cartoon Legislation and beyond

In 1897 the advancement of printing creates a powerful surge of political cartoons, in response to this politicians in America create an anti-cartoon legislation to regulate political cartoons (the last anti-cartoon legislation is put in place in 1913). In 1903 the regulation of cartoons comes to a head when Walter McDougall challenges Pennsylvania's law forbidding the depiction of political figures of animals. His drawings of Governor Pennypacker, as a tree, a beer, mug, and a variety of tubers leads to the law's repeal.

(9 Those Danish cartoons

There's almost an air of 'the Scottish Play' about me posting about this, but I am of course talking about the twelve editorial cartoons published in a Danish newspaper back in 2005 under the heading 'The face of Muhammad' the most famous of which was Kurt Westergaard's depiction of Muhammad as a man with a bomb in his turban. The details are too extensive to go into in any great detail here, but the backlash from the Muslim community was enormous, with more than 100 people dead in protests around the world, and the burning of Danish flags, and indeed Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. There was also a recent attempt on Kurt Westergaard's life. For more information on this, wikipedia have a pretty extensive account of the event (and if you type Danish cartoons into google this is the first thing that will come up) and The Comics Reporter has a regularly updated news item which follows critical responses. There is also a critical book on the controversy surrounding the cartoons called The Cartoons That Shook The World (by Jytte Klausen), which I will be taking out from my library very soon.

(10 The Beano and Ideology

There are numerous creative rights cases in the world of comics, perhaps the most famous of which was the Siegel and Shuster case for the rights to their creation of Superman(*3), but I thought I'd include a homegrown favourite here instead. Inc 1980 Leo Baxendale (the creator of beloved comic strips from our youth such as Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids, and Little Plum) started a seven year legal battle with DC Thompson over the rights of his characters, eventually settling out of court. Baxendale wrote a book on the subject called 'On Comedy: The Beano and Ideology', and now runs his own publishing company (Reaper Books) and continues to self-publish his comics.

For more information, and a pretty good timeline of censorship and comics, go to
The Comics Legal Defence Fund

(*1) Arne Anka was a Donald Duck satire that when the artist was threatened with legal action, he responsed by drawing a story where the duck had plastic sugery to replace his rounded beak with a pointed one, thus erasing the resembelance.
(*2) I'm not against blood and gore in comics, far from it, I just think there's a certain way of doing it that's trying too hard to shock us (e.g. the whole severed head doing something sexual) and as a result falls a bit flat
(*3) Another famous case of property rights in the world of comics was when Crumb had to pay out thousands of dollars when it was decided that 'Keep on truckin'' was an image in the public demain, and therefore did not belong to him.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Around the world in eighty comics: Serbia

Born in 1963 Serbian underground comic artist Danilo Milosev (a.k.a 'Wostok') comes across as much more experimental both visually and narratively than his perhaps better known contemporary Aleksandar Zograf (the author of Regards from Serbia, a picture postcard/diary/personal reportage of the war in Serbia). Visually he never stays in one place for long, skipping between crude primitive scrawls (which he classes as 'constructive dilentasism'), garish colours and surreal yet cute imagery, noir/50's horror leanings, and a use of collage that reminds me of The Situationist Internationals hijacking of popular comic books for political means.

I first came across Milosev via Facebook when I received a group invitation from the Croatian comics publication Komikaze Comics where he has had a lot of his work published, and who have also done work based on his comic scripts.

His involvement with the Serbian scene is pretty well established and he is a regular contributor and editor of the exceptional comic magazine 'Pantagonija' and has produced up to 460 issues of his own personal zine 'Krpelj' ('The Tick') which features work from other comic artists as well as collages, (anti)literary works, photographs, and illustrations.
He also has a close creative relationship with writer and fellow townsman Nabor Devolac who writes the stories behind a lot of his comics. These collaborations are amongst my favourite of Wostok's comics that I have seen, especially the cartoonist jam session he did that resulted in 'The man from the well' which can be seen in its entirety on Milosev's Facebook profile. He has even been featured in famous critic and theoretician Ranko Munitic's new book 'The Ninth Artform, Comics'

Being a bit of an armchair activist I often take the romanticised view that countries/cultures that are 'impoverished' or have been oppressed in some way, produce better, more meaningful and therefore political valid) art (*1), and it seems to me that you can't escape the political in Wostok's work (even when the content of the story isn't overtly political). His bio gives as the general theme of his comics as "a subversive take on the suffocation of mans creativity by authority, mass media and political manipulation".His drawings posses an almost juvenile anarchistic energy which reminds me slightly of Peter Kuper's stencil work, only a little less obvious and a little less restrained (Peter Kuper's political slogans/editorial work can be the equivalent of Banksy in terms of the obviousness of the message they put across, and Milosev seems a little less afraid to show something that might turn your stomach to think about). Wostock presents a twisted world of mass media icons (mainly Disney characters and comic book heroes) acting in ways outside of their usual comfort zone, or as being past their prime or uncomfortably grotesque (in his strip 'Balkan express' we meet Popeye, Tarzan, and Spiderman, all missing vital limbs). However it is the recurring appearance of certain characters of his own creation that dig at the depths of the Serbian national character that are in my opinion, more interesting and unique.

Of course the question of what difference these drawings could possibly make politically springs to mind, and as always there is a danger of preaching to the converted because despite the power of 'silly little cartoons' to cause outrage, police action, even death (I'll come to this later on in the blog), I'm not sure a cartoon has ever changed policy or caused a massive shift in the political consciousness (please someone tell me if I'm wrong).

As well as comics Milosev also makes films and music and writes scripts for other comic artists.

Thanks to Wostok for making his bio avalible in English for me and or giving me permission to publish his work, you can find his Facebook profile here
If Wostok is anything to go by I look forward to discovering other interesting Serbian comic artists in the future.

(*1) although having said this, my experience with art made under harsh political conditions has generally confirmed this view-take for example the animation of Russian greats Fyodor Khitruk and Andrey Khrzhanovskiy which are not only stunning pieces of art, but subtle political fables about bureaucracy and the suffocating presence of the state.


Welcome to my blog, a (hopeful) haven for all things weird and wonderful in the world of comics, cartoons, graphic novels, animation, illustration, book design etc. Bringing you profiles of artists from around the world, reviews, news, interviews, links and lists galore (in a horrible Nick Hornbyesque top 10 fashion nonetheless).

I've been into comics for about four years now (I rediscovered them in their adult form through watching the film American Splendor), and it's got to the point now where a hobby has turned into an obsession. I haven't got to the stage where I'm backing comics with card and wrapping them up never to be read, but I have considered paying fifty pounds for a copy of the Comix 2000 anthology published by L'association, and I have also thought about buying a different edition of a novel I already own just because the cover of this edition was done by Chris Ware, so I guess I probably am beyond help.

The type of comics and artists I'll mainly be focusing on fall somewhere under the 'alternative' and 'underground' labels but I'll be looking at some classics as well. (I may even end up reviewing everything I read, even if it's been out for quite a long time).

If you think you may have something of interest for me to consider for the blog, you have any comments to make on the blog, or you just wish to share your obsession, I'd love to hear from you. Email me at