Comics

Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #82

By Nick Gazin

Dear Discriminating Reader,

How are you? I am fine. This is my mostly weekly column for VICE in which I review comics and share images, news, and reviews related to comics, illustration, fine art, and nerd stuff.

Did you ever see this old Mad magazine take on punk music? There's nothing old punks love more than parodies showing how far off the public impression of punk was at the time. This actually looks and sounds pretty accurate though. I like that the band is called Johnny Turds Commodes.

Josh Burggraf made this cool comic where he took two separate panels and made them make sense.   

This is a great new drawing by Carly Elizabeth Schmidt. It appears to be a self-portrait as Sailor Moon.   

This may be the final Curt Swan drawing going for $95 on eBay right now. Curt Swan is probably the best person to ever draw Superman comics. His drawings had a purity to them and all of his work was flawless. His faces, lines, and shading were always perfect. People in their 50s and 60s who love comics know who he is, but his name doesn't seem to be as big with the younger set. He was for Superman what Dick Sprang was for Batman. And they both had great names.

According to the person who listed this drawing, Curt was commissioned to do illustrations for a book called the Encyclopedia of Video Game Characters. He passed away before finishing the project, and this was his final submitted sketch. I don't know who the seller is and can't vouch for the validity of this art.  

I want to drink Batman juice. Anyway, here are some reviews.

#1
Electrical Banana Masters of Psychedelic Art
Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel
Picturebox

Dan Nadel and Norman Hathaway made a book about psychedelic art! And it's great! And I love it! And you'll love it, too! One of the biggest mindblowers of this book is that it starts off with a two-page interview that Norman Hathaway did with Paul McCartney. There was no warning of this on the front or back cover, which is strange, because if you got an actual Beatle to give you something like an exclusive interview it seems like you would advertise that. Not mentioning it is one of the coolest and most tasteful things they could have done.

The book is mostly rad images and good interviews with seven important artists who were all good choices. It is a perfect book and you should own it if you are a book lover. 

Here's an interview I did with Norman Hathaway.

VICE: I first heard about your book while having breakfast at Disneyland. My mother saw it in the New York Times and thought it looked neat. I smugly mentioned that I knew the guys who made it. Thank you for helping me feel like a BMOC with my mom.
Norman Hathaway: You're very welcome. Your mom seems like a badass so I'm happy to know she showed interest.

This book is great. So, so, so great. I like that you decided to really put a spotlight on seven specific artists instead of having each page or spread be by different people. I don't think books like that are necessary thanks to the internet. Books like this are, though. How do you feel about the way the internet has changed the art book scene?
Well, I feel it's a double-edged sword. On one hand, the freedom to research is another world compared to what it was like pre-internet. But sadly, I feel the duration of people's ability to cherish something has been hugely reduced. There is now a waterfall of visual material. That wouldn't bother me so much if there was also related texts or criticisms of the work. It ends up being a bit like an echo chamber though.

The book starts with an interview you did with Paul McCartney about the visual sensibilities of the '60s, but there is no warning on the front or back cover about an interview with a Beatle. Why not? Also, please tell me everything about doing this interview.
I must have been two-thirds of the way finished with the book before I realized McCartney had either worked with, or knew personally, the majority of the artists included. I've worked on projects for him as an art director for years and years and had chatted to him a little about the scene in London back then. It finally hit me that he would be a perfect person to provide the context of what the scene was like. I wrote an email to his HQ asking if he'd be up for it. His people thought my chances wouldn't be so good as he was preparing to tour and about to get married, but he responded right away and agreed. Then it was a matter of logistics.

He set a time that would be good for him but it was when Dan and I were in Tokyo to interview Tadanori Yokoo. I was trying to arrange it so I could Skype at a friend's place at 3 AM, but that fell through. Then, when I got back to Brooklyn, I was standing in line to send my mother a Barbara Stanwyck movie on VHS when my phone rang, and the voice told me Paul would be calling in 15 minutes. I ran home and had to get all set up to record and get my questions out. He rang and was nice as could be. He emphasized how much everyone was sharing information with each other even across disciplines then, and also how tiny the scene was. I wrote twice as many questions as I'd predicted he'd have time for, but he was very kind and stayed on to answer all of them.

He asked if there was anything else and I inquired whether the little mural Dudley Edwards painted for him was still in his house in London. It kind of freaked him out because he said just two weeks prior he and his wife decided to redo the room, but he had someone cut the mural out of the wall to preserve it and put it into storage (what timing!). He arranged to have it photographed for us.

Do you see a potential follow-up? Are there other psychedelic artists from this or other eras you want to showcase?
Well, it was unquestionably a labor of love. It took well over five years of research and assembly, so chances are a bit dim for a second volume. But there a definitely a few others, some in fact that were originally intended to be in the book but never came together for various reasons. For example, we got the best interview ever from Alan Aldridge, but had problems gathering his work. I'm still in pain over not getting Michael English, particularly his pre-Hapshash work. I feel he's an important link that transitioned pop to the psychedelic. And of course Moscoso, who's never had the proper treatment he deserves.

What about Peter Max? Why isn't he in here?
We tried really hard to get Peter Max to take part, but it was tough going. Dan met with him twice but he just wasn't interested. We both feel he was important, and if we'd had the opportunity I think we could've presented a compelling edit of his early work. If you strip away the commercial stuff everyone's familiar with, it's immediately obvious how good of a colorist he was and what a strong command of composition and repro he had.

How do you feel about modern psychedelic art? Is there any point in talking about it or is it all just a rip-off of older stuff?
I don't see much of interest, though I did surreptitiously allude to that on the final page of the book. I'd agree the majority is ripping off, but Gary Panter is definitely very strong and doing something new with it. I like Jessica Ciocci's work, too.

Thanks for talking to me!

You can all buy Electrical Banana here

#2
Pure Pajamas
Marc Bell
Drawn & Quarterly

No one makes comics like Marc Bell's. I wish he made more, but he is mostly just in the fine art world nowadays, making compositions and objects that are not comical. Even though the comics in this book are old, they are all great. Marc Bell's characters bobble around, walking through carefully constructed dreamy realms and saying funny things. In addition to random comics that originally appeared in VICE and elsewhere, there are some neat full-page compositions where he has all the lyrics to specific songs accompanied by drawings illustrating every element in the lyrics. There's even some Shrimpy and Paul in here. The last quarter is kinda crude early stuff. I love you, Marc Bell. You're what the comic book game's been missing.

Buy Pure Pajamas here

#3
God And Science: Return of the Ti -Girls
Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics

This is a big oversized hardcover reprinting a story that was serialized in the second Love and Rockets series.

It starts off with Maggie, Jaime's main character, revealing to her younger friend that one of her tenants is a superhero. The young girl, Angel, makes a costume and tries to join in. From there the normally realistic world that Jaime draws turns into a 1960s DC-style superhero story. There are some familiar characters involved. Penny Century finally achieve her oft-mentioned goal of getting superpowers and she turned into a humongous threat.

Unlike every other Jaime comic, I found this book difficult to follow or care about. I love the kind of stuff he's referencing and I like his art, but this book's story is confusing. One of my problems with reading the Hernandez Brothers stuff is that they both have so many damn characters and the comics jump around in time and it's hard to remember who everyone is.

A lot happens in this book and it all looks great, but it's hard to be invested in. I think it's cool that Jaime will make a comic with no sci-fi or fantasy elements for decades and suddenly remind us that the world his comic is set in is capable of housing superheroes. I own all of Jaime's stuff.

Buy God and Science here.

#4
Prophet : Remission
Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, Simon Roy
Image Comics

I wrote a mixed review of some of the issues collected in this. Being able to read this collection, which puts together five issues in one book, makes the comic easier to follow, but it's still kinda jumbled. This is a lot like a sci-fi comic by Paul Pope. The art's good and there are cool sci-fi inventions and ideas, but the story is not as important as the art or various inventions.

I like looking at this comic, but I couldn't really tell you what the story is. As far as I can tell, it's about a human being who wanders across an alien and inhospitable Dune-like planet with weird mutant animals and humans who have devolved back to monkeys and everything is gross and scary. The human character we follow, John Prophet, is a clone of another John Prophet and there are a bunch of other clones, too. I don't really get what he's trying to achieve.

It's not great storytelling, but Brandon Graham is more of a worldmaker than a narrative guy. He makes places that feel real and he makes drawings that look fun to make. For ten dollars, this book is worth getting.

Buy Prophet here.

#5
Star Wars Art: Illustration
Abrams

This is a big, fancy, 40-dollar book that collects a bunch of illustrations of Star Wars stuff for official Star Wars purposes. Most of the art in this book is from the 90s on. I don't see a lot in here from when the original films were made, which I think would have been interesting. This is almost interchangeable with the Star Wars comics book that Abrams released. Same format, same style of art, mostly. I like Star Wars and I like illustration. I like this book too, but I don't love it. I don't see a lot of Star Wars fans wanting it for 40 dollars, but, hey, I could be wrong.

Buy Star Wars Illustration here.

Previously - Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #81

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