Hello Young Lovers of Comics,
I'm Nick Gazin, VICE's art editor and comics expert. This is my weekly column in which I review and discuss comics, zines, art books, and anything nerdy or arty that gets sent to me to review.
This is my 100th comics column for VICE and although this is a weekly column, the week since my 99th has lasted 11 months. I kept trying to think of a way to make the 100th column special and psyched myself out. Like Dean Haspiel always says "When you think, you stink." Overthinking can ruin your productivity. Instead of trying to make the 100th column special, I just decided to get it done and get back to doing this column weekly again. Unless resentful cartoonists kill me, I'll be back with this column again next week.
From the first to the worst, from the best to the last, here are ten reviews of comics in order of quality.
Real Deal IS the real deal. There is no realer, better comic out there. This is high, high, high comics art. Each issue is a constantly escalating explosion of violence, violent sex, and hostile violence, but made beautiful through the drawings of the self-taught Lawrence "Raw Dog" Hubbard.
Although the first issue came out in 1989, the seventh just came out this summer. When you look at Real Deal, it's clear that Raw Dog was about 20 years ahead of his time because modern cartoonists only started drawing stuff like Real Deal in the past five years. Raw Dog's drawings are crude and unorthodox, but really fucking good nonetheless. The abstract qualities of his drawings are beautiful. The lines and placement of fields of black, and especially his work with color, are genius-level good. His comics are also like the dirtiest, most offensive shit you ever saw.
With the help of the owner of Meltdown Comics, Raw Dog has received wider promotion and has even done a Snoop Dogg/Dam Funk album cover and a series of shirts for Stussy. He's also done one comic for this site, and we interviewed him a while back.
The story of Real Deal #7 is that G. C. and his friends are shooting craps in an apartment. After they notice one guy shooting loaded dice, an ex-boxer in the group beats him to death, and they toss his corpse in a closet and continue the game. Then some younger kids rush in and try to rob them at gunpoint, but they also get killed. The story climaxes with G. C. and his friends going to the home of a guy in a wheelchair who ratted them out. After tricking him into shooting his own mother, they stomp him and chuck him out the window and go to Slop Burger. And that's the end.
Here's a little Q and A I did with Raw Dog.
VICE: How did you learn how to draw?
Raw Dog: I just started drawing on my own when I was about three. I started drawing school bus crashes with kids hanging out of the windows and the bus on fire. I started drawing in perspective when I was five. I love trains, and I remember my kindergarten teacher hung it on the wall because she was excited that I drew it going away in perspective when everyone else was drawing flat. I also loved Saturday morning cartoons, Mad magazine, and most all comic books. I've taken various art classes in school, but basically I'm self taught because I love to draw.
Your stories in Real Deal are insane. Are any based in reality at all or are they just all fantasy?
Most all the Real Deal characters are based on real people me and my close friends have known throughout life. G. C. is based on a guy up in Oakland who my friends used to party with. One night he was drunk and high, and he threw a large potted plant through a picture window. Ace Brougham was based on a barber I knew, and the other characters are people we partied with and ran the streets with, just slightly exaggerated. Most of them were in and out of jail all the time and had lots of cool stories.
My favorite thing you make is the cover art. Your colors and patterns and lines are phenomenal. How'd you get such a great sense of color? I see dozens of people coming out of art school who don't get color like you do.
Funny you should mention that. An art teacher I had way back in high school said, "Lawrence, you have a good eye." I don't know—I just see it in my head and then put it down on paper, and I do it with art markers. Later on, I would like to get into oils and acrylics.
It seems like there's been a surge in awareness of you and your work in the last few years. Wilbert Cooper interviewed you for VICE, and Stussy did some clothing with you. Have you been getting attention from any other places lately?
Yes. There will be a companion hardcover book of all seven issues and other art I have done throughout the years that my manager Adam will be putting together. A while back I did four skateboard designs for Patsy's skateboards. I'm still waiting for those to come out. And we're working on a deal to have my art shown in a Tokyo Gallery. I've always wanted to get my work over in Japan.
By Simon Hanselmann, Pigeon Press
When I try to turn non-comics readers onto comics I show them Megg, Mogg, and Owl. Simon Hanselmann is a master at telling funny stories that move quickly and are beautiful. Seriously, if you don't like Megg, Mogg, and Owl, then I hope you fucking die an idiot's death.
Worst Behavior is a 60-page digest-sized book telling one long story that is easy to digest and never gets dull. We join Megg and Mogg ordering a complex pizza feast only to have their nebbish friend Owl walk in asking if they're ready to go eat at a fancy French restaurant with him for his birthday. Werewolf Jones shows up with a cape and a voice modulating toy and shit just snowballs from there. Owl's birthday gets destroyed, Megg has a shit fit, and there is a major revelation about Werewolf Jones that only raises more questions.
Some people I spoke to about this book claimed Simon is starting to repeat himself. They need to step the fuck off and just let the master work. You know who you are.
You can read more Megg, Mogg, and Owl on this very website.
Adventure Time: The Art of OOO
By Chris McDonnell, Abrams Books
Hooooooooooolyyyyyyy shhiiiiiitttttt! Yesssssssssssssss….
If you're an Adventure Time fan this is now the most essential piece of Adventure Time merchandise. There was an Adventure Time book that came out a year or two ago that just contained information you would glean from watching the show, and it was fine, but it wasn't really what I, an adult-ish man, wanted. This book is what I wanted.
This book is page after page of drawings you never saw before and information that you didn't know about how Adventure Time and its characters evolved from ideas to concepts to finished episodes. It basically explains how a bunch of geniuses exploit their imaginations and creativity to make one of the best things ever put on television.
This isn't just another diversion or piece of random information. This is a tool that can inform you on how to potentially make your own Adventure Time.
Also shout-outs to master book designer, animator, comics guy, and handsome man Chris McD for designing this thing so good.
Hip Hop Family Tree: Book 3 1983–1984
By Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics Books
Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree is back in another great big comic book that tells the history of hip-hop culture. The last two books were great, and this one is too. There are no major surprises or changes—just more goodness. HHFT is Ed Piskor's attempt at weaving together the history of hip-hop into one graphic narrative.
This book covers the events of 1983–84. Piskor shows the Beastie Boys go from punks to rappers. We see Rick Rubin join forces with Russell Simmons, the discovery of LL Cool J, KRS-One's rotten childhood, the Fat Boys' rising popularity, and the whole UTFO/Mr. Magic Roxanne beef.
If you love hip-hop culture or comics, you have to get these books immediately. If you hate hip-hip culture or comics, then these books will convert you into a lover of both.
I do have to mention, though, that I ran into Wild Style director Charlie Ahearn and when I brought up this book series the first thing he mentioned was how inaccurate a lot of the stuff in the books are, like teeny rooms are suddenly giant ballrooms in the comic. I wouldn't let that discourage you from reading and loving the book, though.
By Lauren Monger, Space Face Books
Lauren Monger makes comics that go up on this site every Monday. This book is like those comics, but longer. It's about a bunch of talking animal people who are punks. The main animal punk is a possum named Clementine. She and her mammal pals hang around the house and bust each other's chops before going to a music festival that leads them to a lame punk-house party. Despite so little actually happening, the comic is a totally satisfying read.
Lauren Monger draws each person as a different animal and paints them with watercolor. Monger is masterful at pacing and her comics are hyper-readable. It's my philosophy that a comic panel shouldn't take much longer to read than it should to absorb the image. She knows how to tell a story visually where the reader can perceive what's happening, and then the next thing you know the characters are chiming in with their reactions. It really feels like you're one of the gang.
Increasingly, the alt-comics world is being made up of people who can draw but can't really create characters or stories. If you like what Simon Hanselmann is doing, check out Lauren Monger.
Angry Youth Comix
By Johnny Ryan, Fantagraphics Books
Fantagraphics made me pay full price for this book, those cheapskate motherfuckers.
Anyway, this book collects all the great issues of Angry Youth Comics, from its hilarious first issue where Loady McGee creates a whorehouse of humanimals to the dark final issue where Boobs Pooter thoroughly ruins one man's life. All the memorable funny and hilarious and deeply upsetting stories like Hipler, Comic Book School, Blecky, Gags, and the Whorehouse of Dr. Moreau are bound up like a fancy man's book, and it only cost me $50.
By Sam Alden, Study Group Comic Books
Sam's a hot young talent.
We see a young hunter emerge from an increasingly defined forest, shoot at a fantasy animal, chase it after missing, and then discover a temple where there is treasure and an evil version of him, which hunts him. It's very pretty and reminds me of the water-temple level in Ocarina of Time.
By Jed McGowan, The Secret Headquarters
Control Room is a digest-sized science-fiction comic without any dialogue, and we never see the characters' faces. The drawings and style feel borrowed from the late 70s, and it's done beautifully.
The story itself is pretty basic sci-fi fare: Two sisters are on an alien planet, some alien entity kills one then takes over the body of another before returning to Earth, presumably to devastate humanity.
Jed McGowan's handling of the story is really great, though, and all the art is very neat.
The Eltingville Club
by Evan Dorkin, Dark Horse Comics
The Eltingville Club was a comic that appeared in Evan Dorkins's comic, Dork, and was about four awful high-school-aged nerds who were obsessed with sci-fi, fantasy, comics, cartoons, and toys. Each story about them would involve them all being mean to each other, swearing a lot, and inevitably ending up in the hospital or burning down a comic store or something. Looking back, it felt very Kevin Smith-inspired. It eventually got turned into an animated pilot for Adult Swim but sadly didn't get green-lit.
This is a full 24-page comic about the characters who haven't spoken in about ten years and are all running into each other at San Diego Comic-Con. Except for one of the group, all of the main characters have become disgusting misogynistic adults. Things start bad, and turn darker than any previous Eltingville story. This isn't the place to start with Evan Dorkin, but if you remember liking Dork, this will certainly be a depressing little check-in with characters you may remember from 17 years ago.
By Scott McCloud, First Second Books
I hated, hated, hated this book. I hate this book so much I'm shaking and frothing at the mouth. I don't know if I've ever hated a comic as much as I hate The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. But I couldn't stop reading it—it's like a car wreck, but even more tragic.
The Sculptor is a 500-page garbage opus that tells a ridiculous and overlong story about unlikable people. The book starts with the main character, a 25-year-old sculptor named David Smith sitting in a diner. He's soon joined by his uncle and through their conversation we learn that David is broke and all his family members are dead and that he also has no career prospects, and then he yells at the waitress. Throughout the book, the main character is constantly having temper tantrums and yelling at people. You find yourself rooting against him almost immediately. After David abuses the waitress, we learn that his uncle is actually dead and the person he's sitting with is Death masquerading as his dead relative. Dead Uncle gives David a really lame Faustian deal of having super-sculptor powers in exchange for only getting to live for another 200 days and David takes him up on it. He then makes terrible, corny sculpture pieces. When we see the terrible art the hero of the book makes, I found myself thinking, They should give this to terrorist training camps to inspire them to hate Americans more.
David is then pranked in a wholly implausible way and throws a temper tantrum and then falls in love with a lady who was part of the group that pranked him. Even though she has a boyfriend, she goes on many dates with David because like David, she is also a terrible and immature, awful shithead. The most memorable part of the book is this cringe-inducingly corny point when the female lead points at her own tits with both hands and says, "Men are only interested in two details." Then she dumps her boyfriend, and David reveals he is a 25-year-old virgin. I think in the context of the book it's supposed to make him seem sensitive, but being a 25-year-old-virgin might actually be a sign that someone is a creep and might kill you.
All while this is happening, David has superpowers to manipulate solid matter as if it were soft clay, powers he uses to make corny, sub-Banksy-style street-art sculptures. Somehow he doesn't figure out how to make any money. Anyway, the comic ends with the main character and his terrible girlfriend dying and some pretentious stuff happens.
I'm an artist in New York and I meet people like the character in this book all the time. New York is full of no-talent artists who don't get to have careers and that's just the reality of being a bad artist. A lot of good artists don't make it, too, so it's hard to care about a bad one who is also unlikable.
Scott McCloud is best known as the cartoonist behind the important and valuable Understanding Comics, a book that is used as a college textbook all over the world, has been translated into dozens of languages, and has never been out of print. Understanding Comics defines comics as a medium and explains how the medium works. How could the preeminent expert on comics make such a piece of shit? I think the answer is that Scott McCloud understands comics, but doesn't understand people. In a lot of ways, this comic is reminiscent of the horrible and shitty Strangers in Paradise comic series by Terry Moore. I read Strangers in Paradise through middle school, but by the time I was 14, I recognized that the characters were actually terrible, immature, and codependent. There was nothing cute or sympathetic about them. My mother would worry that if I looked at Playboy magazines as a kid it would warp my brain and make me objectify women, but I think that something like the The Sculptor or Strangers in Paradise is far worse than any pornography because it teaches kids that sick, obnoxious people and codependence are normal and cool.
That's it for this week. See you all next week! Follow me on Instagram.