NICK GAZIN's COMIC BOOK LOVE-IN #14
It's been a pretty good two weeks for getting free books in the mail. Chip Kidd's new Shazam book arriving made me more excited than my last three birthdays combined. Then I got to talk to him about this awesome book. Man oh man it's good to be a living human in this day and age.
Seriously, though, this Shazam book. Ungh.
Some other books came out too and they were either good or bad. I'm in a Shazam fog right now.
SHAZAM! The Golden Age of The World's Mightiest Mortal
Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear
Chip Kidd is a multi-talented work monster whose influence and vision have severely improved the aesthetics of print. The first time I took his work home, it was the Jurassic Park novel with his cover. The next time was when my father and I discovered his book Batman: Collected at the Warner Brothers store and were so awestruck by its beauty and how immediately happy it made us feel that we bought it despite it costing fifty freaking dollars. Batman: Collected was a showcase for Kidd's extensive collection of Bat junk and it's so pleasing and wonderful, it's like slipping into a warm bath at an amazing gallery show.
I never thought there would be anything like a sequel but last year he premiered a book similar to a sequel called Bat-Manga! which showcased Japanese Batman merchandise, mostly produced during the height of the character's sixties popularity. The Japanese take on Batman was amazing and the colors were beautiful. I was so jazzed up that I bought the hardcover version with the signed bookplate and badgered Chip into doing an interview about it for the Vice Guide to Comics. I didn't expect another book of obscure pop culture merchandise from Kidd and Spear so soon but it's here and I think it's the best one they've made yet.
"But what exactly is a Shazam?" you may be asking in between sloppy gulps of Four Loko. "I know what Batman is. He's that guy in the videogames but who's this guy with a lightning bolt on his chest?"
The story behind Shazam is a fairly simple one. Superman was making a ton of money for DC so Fawcett, a different comic book company, said to some guys, "Make us a guy like that guy." And make a guy like that guy they did! The origin for Captain Marvel goes like this: Billy Batson is a newspaper-hawking orphan who follows a strange character onto a magic subway car which takes him to the lair of a Wizard named SHAZAM. SHAZAM gives the youngster the power to turn into an adult man named Captain Marvel who wears a cape and possesses the power of Greek Gods. Then SHAZAM is smooshed by a giant stone block that he was sitting under for some reason.
The comic became real popular real fast and its sales surpassed Superman's by 14 million issues a month. Shazam appealed to kids in a big way because the world of Captain Marvel was much more geared at children than even Batman or Superman were. The linework of the comics were thick and bouncy, the villains were nonthreatening and goofy. It was insanely popular for a short time and it inspired serial films, and all kinds of merchandising. Captain Marvel was given pals including Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel. Later they introduced Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny. Eventually DC decided that the best way to compete with Captain Marvel was to sue Fawcett for copyright infringement and it worked. Later on DC acquired the character and he's belonged to DC ever since, the dicks.
Every object showcased in Chip Kidd's new book is strange and interesting. They were selling Captain Marvel-branded magic flutes AND magic whistles; a puzzle called "Captain Marvel Rides the Engine of Doom," which portrays the Captain flying through the sky on what appears to be a large steam-powered dildo with guns on it; tin toys; beautifully crude patches; a whole line of girls' clothing based on Mary Marvel; and my favorite item, the Captain Marvel Play Cape, which looks like Captain Marvel's cape and has a strange portrait of the Captain in the corner where he appears to be pouting in frustration. Underneath the copyright info a disclaimer proclaims "PLAY CAPE - DOES NOT POSSESS SUPERHUMAN POWERS." This is especially funny if you've read Seduction of the Innocent, the famous book by some asshole psychologist that condemned comic books and led to the Comics Code and all that shit. There's a point in the book where said asshole describes a child who jumps off a cliff with a cape and before he dies in the hospital tells his mother,"I flew! For a moment I flew!" Which probably didn't happen.
Anyhioux, this whole book is just great from beginning to end. It's beautiful, funny and unfamiliar. When Chip Kidd makes a thing you fork over your money. That is the comic book law. Chip was also nice enough to talk to me about his book. Thanks, Chip!
Vice: I always loved Captain Marvel reprints I had when I was little due to his thick Al Capp like linework and the element of magic. Not to be that asshole who finds perversion in beautiful things but there's something interesting about Shazam that's a little weirder to me than Batman and Superman. The idea of children being in perilous situations seems natural as a child but as an adult seems tragic and reminds me of abused and neglected kids. What do you think the world of Captain Marvel and his his Marvel family is about at its core?
Chip Kidd: What did all of this mean? The obvious and literal answer is that it's about the empowerment of children, and that their pure ideals make them the ones who can best wield such power. The less idealistic answer is that Fawcett wanted "a Superman, only let's make him a 13-year-old kid." This eventually proved to be their undoing, which is a true shame and as much the fault of DC as anyone.
Isn't it odd that Captain Marvel Jr. is always drawn as a beautiful and more realistically rendered person than Billy Batson who is always cartoonish?
That's something I touch on in the book. The Captain Marvel Jr. stories were drawn by an artist named Mac Raboy, whose realistic illustrative style was totally at odds with all the other artists who drew the Marvel family (chief among them C. C. Beck, who co-created the Captain and was not a Raboy fan). How exactly this arrangement came about I have no idea, but the general consensus among the Fawcett art staff was that they were pretty much in awe of Raboy's talent, but regarded him as a moody dilettante who wanted to be a painter and didn't make it. He went on to draw the Sunday comics' Flash Gordon page and died of a heart condition in his 50s. But back to the original question, it is weird--one cannot imagine such a situation with, say, Batman and Robin.
His drawings are unbelievably great, especially considering the standard quality of his peers. Captain Marvel Junior is so beautiful and sensitive looking that I wonder if Raboy was gay.
I can see we are of like minds. I too wondered about Raboy's sexuality (how could I not?), but by all accounts he was not gay. He was married (I know, I know) and was also moody and chain-smoked, though that's not proof of anything other than his premature death. But his achievement was truly extraordinary and if I can bring more attention to that, I am thrilled to do so.
Which things in the books are your favorites?
The Raboy art, especially the fully-painted Captain Marvel Jr. headshot, which has never been published before. Also the stuffed Captain Marvel and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny toys. They are extremely rare and part of my personal collection. I also shamelessly included photos of me in CM costume from Halloween 1974 (fourth grade).
I was initially reading the book in a restaurant and a woman next to me noted that the Hoppy the Bunny doll was eerie.
I also heard that about the Hoppy doll, that it looks creepy. That probably has as much to do with the lighting on it as anything. What I think is more significantly odd is that the Hoppy doll is a good five inches taller than his Captain Marvel counterpart.
Do you see yourself continuing to produce books that follow in this vein?
I am working on a new superhero book proposal but it's not exactly like this one--more like Bat-Manga (hint hint). For me to do a book like Shazam, several key factors need to be in place:
a) I need to be an ardent fan of the subject,
b) it has to have never been done before,
c) I need access to the material (obviously) which is ideally in one place, and
d) I need permission and a publisher.
There are several other factors, but those are the main ones. As an example of something I'd like to do but most likely won't be able to, one of my dream projects would be to do the definitive book on the art of the Fleischer brothers' Superman cartoons. There simply aren't enough of the originals that have survived. So unless someone has the mother lode and decides to share it, that's one for the eternal to-do list.
I Want You #2
Lisa Hanawalt is so great. She draws as well as she jokes and let me tell you, she draws and jokes GOOD. Movies keep getting worse, music's over, bookstores are dying and so are newspapers, but comics keep getting better and better. A big part of that is Lisa Hanawalt. This issue of I Want You contains some funny and awesome comics. She Moose goes to the sex store and each panel is full of funny animal porn jokes and dildos shaped like antlers and stuff. Then there's a gift guide full of terrible gifts, bad pets, bad sandwiches, how to get a haircut, things to pack in your toolbox for your roadtrip. Most of Lisa's comics aren't so much comics as they are very funny illustrated how-to's or lists of bad things that you should never do. Lisa is an all-around great artist and comics is lucky to have her unless she goes all Hollywood on us.
Also, this comic marks Alvin Buenaventura's return to publishing. Buenaventura was a great little company that made things equally excellent and relatively affordable. It was a real bummer when it went away. But now it's back to let you know that it can really shake 'em down. Unh!
Archie Firsts Special Edition
A bunch of guys
If you grew up reading Archie comics anytime past the 40s the comics snuggled inside this book may seem very alien to you. The first Archie comic is especially odd since the drawing style that they've been using for the past sixty years wasn't in place yet. Archie looks like Howdy Doody and acts like Tom Sawyer. When he meets Betty Cooper, who appears to be eleven, he tells her to call him Chick. Jughead looks like a homeless thug walking around with heavy-lidded eyes and a pair of overalls with a patch on the knee and only one shoulder strap. It's actually really confusing at points. When Veronica Lodge is introduced she's a long eyelashed sex goddess from New York who Archie is writing fan letters to.
There's some other odd stuff in here. There's a fairly offensive drawing of a black train porter whose first piece of dialogue is "Take yo luggage, suh?" Betty picks up her father's shotgun from the shotgun repair shoppe and doesn't understand that the reason people are doing what she wants is because she is pointing a gun at them. What else? Oh yeah, Betty's uncle Oscar, who is a clown, lets her borrow his clown car and when she's pulled over it shoots out a boxing glove that punches a policeman in the face.
It's fun seeing America's boringest teenager at a time when the comics were a little edgier, weirder, and Betty acted like a blonde high-functioning monkey girl. I recommend this highly.
Smoke Signals Number 6
Edited by Gabe Fowler
Desert Island Comics
It's another free tabloid-sized anthology comic, published by Desert Island Comics, the coolest comic store in New York. Michael Deforge did another comic about cute parasitic monsters. Emily Flake did a comic that was a hilarious bringdown about housesitting her boss's mausoleum of an apartment. Sam Henderson contributed some of his standard greatness as did Marc Bell, Tom Gauld, Jesse McManus, Dane Martin, and Martin Cendreda. I'd like to dedicate the rest of this review to dissecting the comics, intentions, and psyches of Koren Shadmi and Jon Vermillyea.
Jon Vermillyea handed in another pretty good comic in which he takes some existing property and makes it perverse. In this case t was the Smurfs. I'd like to see him do something that doesn't rely on He-Man, the Smurfs, or some other huge pop cultural nostalgia trip. Koren Shadmi, another guy I no longer talk to, did a comic in here. Like Jon, he often goes for ideas that are easy. Jon goes low-brow and references things that people remember from their youth. Koren tries to make comics that are high-brow and are about New Yorkery bullshit. Both are inadvertently making work that's overly self conscious. Jon's work is bursting with rage, but he never totally unleashes it. Koren is trapped by his yearning to appear as an intelligent poetic bohemian. Koren's comic is about how sad it will be when they tear down an old post office. Koren also drew a character who is clearly based on me, but significantly chubbier. Then he drew a caricature of himself that looks self deprecating on the surface but is actually flattering.
Conan Volume 9: Free Companions
Timothy Truman, Joe Kubert, Tomas Giorello, Jose Villarrubia
Dark Horse Comics
Conan comics are usually pretty similar, well drawn, and fun. This comic doesn't step very far outside those bounds. It is mostly well drawn and it is insanely violent.
The book starts us off with the first pages of Conan comics ever drawn by Joe Kubert. I'd always guessed that Kubert drew Conan at some point since the logo for his comic book school incorporates a barbarian that looks like and could be Conan, but nope. This is the first Joe Kubert Conan and it's good and solid and everything looks slightly furry. Sadly, Kubert only does a few pages in this first issue. The rest is done by the series' decent writer but mediocre artist, Tim Truman. He knows how to write him some stories but his drawabilities aren't half as strong as Kubert or the other two artists in this book, who can each draw all sorts of stunning bodies, violence, animals, and nature scenes. Tim Truman, you are not a terrible artist but your style makes more sense with Vertigo books. Conan comics should only be drawn by the megatalents. I miss Greg Ruth.
Like most Conan comics, we see Conan being arrogant and then he gets surprised. He nails some ho's but gets bored because he can't be tied down, even when he's in a powerful position. He gains everything, loses everything, sees ghosts, almost dies a few times, and then on the final page he cuts his enemy in half at the waist and a metal-bikini'd barbarian girl covers her mouth with tears in her eyes as his foes' guts spill all over her. If you love watching Conan killing the shit out of hundreds of people, and I mean really love it, you will find no greater pleasure than reading Conan Volume 9: Free Companions.
Thun'da: King of the Congo
Frank Frazetta, Bob Powell and Gardner Fox
This book is a little bit of a scam. See, Frazetta's art is on the front and back cover and it contains the only single issue of comics that was entirely Frazetta, Thun'da #1. Which, oh by the way, is pretty damn good. A pilot crashes in a kooky lost jungle of dinosaurs, giant snakes, and some laughably racist, pointy-toothed black savages. He gets a loin cloth and becomes really strong and makes friends with hot jungle women in furry bikinis. If you like seeing comics featuring Frazetta rendered scenes of cavemen battling on the edge of a cliff, lush jungle scenes dripping with vines and tits galore then look no further than the first issue of Thun'da.
Unfortunately if you do look further, you'll see that Frazetta quit the book after the first issue and some guy took over who draws in the standard, lumpy golden age hack style. The other guy's comics have their charm but Frazetta is a fucking genius of fantasy illustration and although this isn't his finest work, it's got a lot of the great stylistic flourishes that you would associate with the master.
Also, not to get all undergraduate people's studies here, but it's not easy getting over the black cannibals. Whether you find them severely offensive or severely hilarious I dare you to look at some of these pages without saying out loud, "What the fuck am I looking at?!" Just peep Frazetta's cover for Thun'da #1. At one point Thun'da heroically shoots one through the back of the neck with a bow and arrow while declaring himself the king of the jungle after having been there for a couple of days. Way to go, Thun'da.
Cages was originally published as a ten-issue series from 1990 to 1996 by the dearly missed Tundra and Kitchen Sink. It's been published in a collected format a few times now. People seem to keep caring about it. I used to but that was back in my Sandman-liking days. Like most not-totally-fucked-up people I went through that phase at 17 too. Dave Mckean is the talented guy who did all the Sandman covers we all loved before we came to terms with just how corny and pretentious the whole thing was.
The covers of this series are in the mixed-medium style that he's known for, but the interior pages are drawn in an angular and scratchy penstyle that's similar to Bill Sienkewicz. When I was first learning how to draw I related to McKean's ways of doing things a lot. He draws in a way that's very natural for someone using a scratchy pen and I guess that's cool, but the hard part is making it do things that are not natural. I like Egon Schiele too but he wasn't purely angular. He threw some sophisticated curves in there occasionally, which made a heap of difference.
This book reminds me of the past, but not in a wistful, thinking-back-on-your-first-time-getting-laid way. It's more a first-time-getting-caught-jerking-off-by-your-mom sensation. I guess I once worshipped this guy, learned some easy tricks and lessons from his work, and now I see it as beneath me. If you love this book and think I'm just some know-nothing asshole, you're probably right. I also hate cats and intellectuals with ponytails always remind me of Daryl from Kids In the Hall.
This little zine still smells like the black magnum marker used to handwrite the logo. There are xeroxes of photos of horses and the Rolling Stones, some of them manipulated by dragging the image across the scanner while being copied. It ain't bad but is not a hell of a lot different from the kind of thing every artsy girl makes at some point in high school.
The Savage Sword of Conan Volume Seven
Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse sure publishes a lot of Conan comics. Who's buying all this Conan? If you're into the idea of 550 pages of black & white Conan comics then maybe it's you. I found this impossible to read. Like, I tried to read it and my eyes kept veering off the book and careening out into the middle distance before blasting off to orbit (which is what I call sleep).
Teenage Dinosaur and Sparkplug Comic Books
This little gross-out is a revoltingly-drawn comic about characters who all look like overstuffed cushions. That's all I got for you.
See you in two weeks and keep watching the skies!
Please send me zines, comics, artbooks, or anything nerdly or artish to review. I am at Nick Gazin C/O Vice Magazine, 97 N 10th St, Suite 204, Brooklyn, NY 11211.