Dear Comic Lovers,
My name is Nick Gazin, and I am VICE's art editor. Every week I review and write about comics, books, zines, and anything nerdy or arty that I think is worth discussing.
Here are this week's reviews. The main meat of this column is an interview with Tom Scharpling. I also chatted with Benjamin Marra.
Scharpling and Wurster: The Best of the Best Show
By Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster (Numero Group)
We live in an age where everyone can be cool by gleaning the secret knowledge of coolness from Tumblr. But when everyone's cool then nobody's cool. How do you tell who's actually an informed enthusiast of culture? The only realm working test of whether or not a person is cool anymore is if they listen to the Best Show or not.
The Best Show began life as The Best Show on WFMU and is now a live podcast that people call in to. It's like a G-rated Howard Stern Show based out of New Jersey that discusses obscure rock and culture references like they're commonplace knowledge. The show doesn't wait for you to catch up to it. The show is hosted by Tom Scharpling, a quick-witted and impatient comedic genius who regularly hangs up on bad callers while saying "Get off my phone!" or "Heave ho!" or playing Bad Company's song "Bad Company" over callers who drone on.
Trying to explain something this sublimely good is impossible. You could fill a book trying to describe why The Best Show is the best thing ever and still fail to accurately describe it. Or maybe it's just my limitations as a writer that make it hard to describe. Either way, it's the best. It's like The Simpsons, Monty Python, Achewood, or Mr. Show. It's endlessly quotable, and when you find someone else who likes it, you know you've found a kindred spirit. Smart, interesting, curious people like this show. Dumb bores don't even know this thing exists.
Although almost every episode of The Best Show is funny from beginning to end, the core of what makes the show so popular is the phone calls from Superchunk's Jon Wurster. Each week Wurster calls in as new and familiar characters, some based on real people and some totally invented. His most popular is a goofy Philadelphian dirtbag named Philly Boy Roy, but he's also called in as Marky Ramone and Todd Palin. Jon and Tom will perform these loosely scripted comedy bits in the middle of the show each week, which are naturally woven into the show and dealt with as if they're just regular calls.
is a giant boxed set that includes 16 CDs of the best material from The Best Show on WMFU, the same material plus a little more on a flash drive disguised to look like a Radio Hut cassette tape, a big hardcover coffee-table book, and a little envelope of postcards and stickers and a fold-out map of New Bridge. It's $100 and it's great. It's insane that you get this much beauty for this price. This box set over-delivers so hard that my reaction is equal parts joy and confusion. How did they make this?! If you like The Best Show and have been listening for free for years, this is a good time to give Tom your money and also give yourself the greatest gift of all, this box set.
Damian Abraham interviewed Tom Scharpling for Noisey recently, but here's an interview I did with Tom too. If you can't tell, I was terrified during the course of the entire conversation of being a jackass and then I came off like one anyway.
VICE: At what point did you decide to revive the Best Show after ending its run on WFMU?
Tom Scharpling: When we were wrapping up The Best Show on WFMU, I always felt like we weren't done yet. The show was still a lot of fun to do, and I felt like there were still places we could go with it. If we were running on fumes in the last year of the show it would've maybe been a good time to pull the plug, because I couldn't swing the time and energy commitment to the show anymore without it having some chance to bring in some money at some point. But I was still into it. And the S and W calls had reached a place that we hadn't been yet—the rhythm that Jon and I had going on the calls was ridiculous; there's a Philly Boy Roy call that went 150 miles an hour.
So there was stuff to explore with what we were building as well. So it was always in the larger plans that we weren't finished with the show when it ended on WFMU. But where the show would end up and what it would look like was a mystery.
You bring up Philly Boy Roy, who is probably the most popular character who calls into the show as performed by Jon Wurster. Do you imagine all of Jon Wurster's characters looking like him in different costumes?
It varies. Sometimes I do see the characters are literally being Jon, and Roy is one of those characters. But it's a strange thing when we're doing a call. I am completely inside the call from a performance angle, reading along with the script or the notes and knowing what I have to do to keep things on target. But, in another way, I'm picturing everything happening as it's happening on the call. I can suspend my belief while being caught up in the whole thing. It's pretty strange when I think about it.
I missed the show very much during its absence. What did you do in the time in between the WFMU show ending and the new one beginning?
A lot of the year was spent working on stuff associated with the show; Jon and I put together the big boxed set that Numero Group is putting out. We never really had a chance to go through the stuff we did and reflect on the past because there was always another call to write for next week. But with no more shows, we were able to reflect a little bit and listen to what we did, which was nice. Then we worked on the Adult Swim infomercial based on our characters from the show, which took up a lot of the year. And then there was working on actually bringing the show back and figuring out where it would be and what it would be and all that. There were a couple rough patches along the way. I got robbed at one point and all the equipment that I had for the new studio was stolen. But what can you do? It's not like the jerk-off who stole the stuff had a vendetta against The Best Show. He was just a jerk-off.
I'm sorry to hear about your getting robbed. That really sucks.
Thanks. It really did suck. All the equipment that I had been accumulating to build the new Best Show studio got stolen. It really set me back at a point when I was looking to gain some momentum on getting the studio rolling. I was kind of leveled for a couple days, but then I just decided that the person who stole the stuff was just a garden-variety scumbag and not someone making a statement about the show coming back. They had no idea what the equipment was for. So to let this incident count against getting The Best Show back on track wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. It's been a crazy run the last year or so.
I find myself wanting to ask you questions, but I am also scared of piercing the veil and ruining the magic of the reality of the show. Are many of your fans terrified to meet you?
It's funny that people think I'm gonna yell at them if they run into me and they say something nice. I really beat everybody down over the years, I guess. I mean, who would be mad at someone saying that they like the thing you make? It's funny to me because I think I'm an all right sort. I like meeting people and talking to people! You met me when we were both out and about and it was perfectly fine, right?
And the veil of the show will go back up once things get consistent and we're back for the long haul. Doing interviews is fun, but I'd rather do all the talking through the show.
Meeting you in real life has involved a lot less getting yelled at than I might have expected. I know it's a little late now, but have you ever considered keeping up the pretense of the show and its characters in interviews?
No, that would be exhausting. And as I get older I'm more interested in real stuff, or at least striking a balance between real life and fiction. And the biggest part of that is that Jon has worked so hard for so many years on the calls, and there's a strange unfairness to never saying his name. He deserves to be recognized for his greatness.
I preordered the CD box set of The Best of the Best Show. It seems like you're selling it for pretty cheap. Sixteen CDs and a book seems like a lot for a $100. Are you seeing a return on this? What's the packaging like?
The packaging is insane. It comes with a 100-page hardcover book and a poster and other stuff. It's amazing. A big part of why we are able to keep costs down is because we are the owners of the content and there wasn't all the licensing that goes into putting together big box sets. We will see "a return" on it. What are you, my accountant?
I apologize for turning this interview into an audit. I'm not your accountant, but I am a super consumer and appreciator of cool objects. $100 just seems low to me for what you're delivering.
I think 100 bucks is perfect for the box set. It's enough of a commitment that you know you're getting something really substantial, but it's not so prohibitive that it excludes people from being able to swing it at some point in their lives. There will be plenty of chances for people to buy things as the show keeps growing. So don't worry, I will be asking for your money very soon.
Assuming that you're doing the new show out of your house, is it weird to have Mike Lisk in your home on a weekly basis now?
I'm not doing the show out of my house. That was an early decision that I don't regret for a second. For me at least, it's important to go to a place to do a thing. That's why I hardly ever write at home—I need to sit at a Starbucks or somewhere other than my house. I end up watching all the horrible panel shows on ESPN2 for hours and nothing gets done. And for your information, A. P. Mike is as normal as can be. If the show was happening in my house, I would have no problem having him there every week. Mike is a good dude.
I apologize for maligning A. P. Mike. It's hard to know where the show ends and reality begins. What is Mike like off the air?
It's all right. I'm the primary offender with creating this alternate version of what Mike is like. Mike is a completely normal and thoughtful guy off the air. He has great taste in books and movies.
Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror)
By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)
Benjamin Marra makes comics that are about comics more than about story or characters. His beautifully stiff and crude drawing style never allows you to forget that you're looking at a drawing. His bizarre writing never feels like natural dialogue. His work is like a self-taught high-school kid who learned anatomy from looking at action figures and pornography. The focus is on making things look shiny and ignoring proper anatomy.
Previous comics of his include Gangsta Rap Posse, which is about an N.W.A.–type rap group if N.W.A. were as nuts as they claim to be in their songs. He has another called Night Business, about strippers. There are some other good ones. A couple years back he made a cool giant poster zine of drawings based on American Psycho, which was very different than his previous work. You may know his work from his covers for Lil B or Madlib.
This is the weirdest and longest comic that Ben Marra's made yet. The concept is that after 9/11, George Bush assembled an anti-terror squad called the Terror Assaulters. This book focuses on the current activities of one of the members of this team named One Man War On Terror.
The book keeps you at a distance at all times. The colors in the book are just the primary colors and black and white used aggressively. The cars are all drawn super angular and boxy with a ruler, like a child drew them as best he could.
The dialogue in the comic is primarily the characters describing what they are doing or what is happening to them. The main character, O.M.W.O.T., consistently uses sentences that begin with the words "Let's just say..." When asked what his name is he answers, "Let's just say... I kill the bad guys."
In a lot of ways the comic feels like a child's understanding of violence and sex based on watching the hyper-violent action films of the 80s, where dozens or hundreds of characters are killed by the hero without any thought as to why. The good guy just has to kill the bad guys and always win, and both men and women find him intensely attractive. It seems to be a statement about America's shittiness.
The comic looks great and it's funny, but it's sort of an assault on the senses and it seems to deliver the same basic thing over and over for the length of the book. It's hard to really have much of a reaction to it after a point. It's a fast read and I'm glad it exists, but the whole story sort of blends together.
Because I wasn't really ever fully invested in the world of the comic, I find myself thinking more about Marra's inner world than the inner world of the characters. So I decided to ask him about this book.
VICE: Why does O.M.W.O.T. see King Arthur in the sky at the end of the book?
Benjamin Marra: O.M.W.O.T. sees King Arthur in the sky because he's having a vision of his ancestry, and link to the Merovingian bloodline, which is, as legend has it, a continuation of Jesus Christ's bloodline, shared through European royalty. It's intended, yet willfully opaque, meaning is for O.M.W.O.T. to realize even though his life has changed, there is some things that will always be permanent: who he is, his true nature, where he comes from.
Are we going to see other former Terror Assaulters? Are there going to be sequels?
I have an idea for the continuation of O.M.W.O.T.'s adventures. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get to writing and drawing them in the future. I hope so. There will definitely be other Terror Assaulters in those adventures.
What is this comic about? Why did you make this?
This comic is about the American attitude toward the war on terror, and the world in general. O.M.W.O.T. is intended to represent America, mostly during the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld era and the application of neocon philosophy on the world. It's also about the action-movie genre. I wanted to make an action comic. I wanted to depict sex as graphic as the violence. It's a bit clichéd to think about how violence and sex are treated in the media, where one is more acceptable than the other. One, which is about destruction and the emotion of hate, is perfectly tolerable, and the other, creation and love, is suppressed. It's also about the form of comics themselves. It's a formal experiment in breaking the rules of comics creation. The words and the pictures often overlap in the information they convey. This is something of a sin in creating comics.
Are you bisexual? What made you want to show O.M.W.O.T. doing it with so many dudes and ladies?
No, I'm heterosexual. I wanted to show O.M.W.O.T. having sex with both men and women because it made sense for the character. He kills and fucks without discrimination. He's a walking shooting gun, a walking punching fist, a walking fucking cock. It felt inconsistent with his character if he didn't have sex with both men and women. He's hyper masculine, and he doesn't really have any thoughts about his sexuality, he's the ultimate lover. But it's also an illustration of America and the perception of America in the world: America fucks anyone and anything.
Thank you for talking to me. Buy the book from Fantagraphics.
Over the Garden Wall #1 of 4
By Pat McHale and Jim Cambell (Kaboom!)
Over the Garden Wall is a ten-episode animated cartoon show that aired on Cartoon Network. It's primary creator is Pat McHale from Adventure Time. Nick Cross and Tom Herpich also were key people. Jim Campbell who drew this comic did some character design for the show. Pat McHale who created the show wrote this comic.
The show's a really dark but fun and fantastic story about two half brothers lost in a magical forest. It feels a little like the Narnia books and a little like a Ghibli movie. It's beautiful, funny, scary, and one of the best animated works I've ever seen. It manages to be a lot of things at once and succeeds at all of them. I watched the entire series one evening, and then the next night I watched the whole thing again. The desire to live in the world of the show was very strong for me, and so I was grateful to see that a comic series was released.
Unlike a lot of the comics based on Cartoon Network's shows, this comic actually feels like the show. I don't know why it's so hard to make a comic match the tone of an animated show, but The Simpsons comics never really felt like the show, and the Adventure Time comics feel off as well. But this really feels like an extension of the show. A large part of the reason for that is that it's made by people who made the show, but it's also just made well.
This comic tells a story of Greg, Wirt, and their talking bluebird friend, who come across two bonneted sisters who ask our heroes to do their chores for them. The sisters' directions are vague and misleading, and when Wirt follows their directions the girls just get madder and madder. Haven't we all been in working or romantic relationships with people who seemed to give us intentionally vague directions only so they could get mad at us later?
Jim Campbell has been one of the greatly unappreciated super talents of comics for the last decade. Everyone else got their due. When does Jim Campbell get his?
Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
By Akira Toriyama (Jump Comics)
This untranslated Japanese comic is about an Ultraman-type character whose ship crashes to Earth. With the help of an old inventor and a pop star, he attempts to repair his ship while also helping to save people on Earth and avoid government agents curious about his existence.
Although the comic is in Japanese, the story is completely followable and you can typically understand the subject of discussion. That's the mark of great comic-book storytelling. The great Japanese and European comics seem to get it more than a lot of the popular American comics that just overload the panels with too much dialogue and fail to embrace the filmic qualities of the medium.
Akira Toriyama is best known as the creator of Dragonball, and this comic even ends with a connection to Dragonball. We see a very young Bulma and we see scenes of Goku as a child, when he was still evil in his Saiyan garb, as well as scenes of Goku's mother and father sending Goku to Earth.
The drawing style is less angular than some of Toriyama's stuff in the 90s and has a nice, smooth, rounded quality, although things haven't reverted to the squishy-gag manga style of his Dr. Slump work. It's highly enjoyable, and the version I picked up comes with a keychain and pin.
By Chris Cilla (Revival House Press)
This is a real zany comic that tries some new formal stuff. Instead of the comic starting on the inside pages, it starts on the front cover. We see a character on the cover discussing his own slow destruction while sitting in a diner. Once we go inside the book, the focus shifts to the people sitting in the booth next to them, insulting the guy from the cover. The comic's wandering eye jumps around to the different denizens of the luncheonette with little organization or clear purpose. It's just teeming with activity, and we are trying to take it all in.
Halfway through, some of the characters wander over to a giant, indoor miniature-golf course and arcade, and there's a spread where half the panels are right-side up and upside down. At this point you can turn the comic upside down and read the other story that starts at the back of the book. Both stories sort of end in the middle of the book. Flipping the book over and starting from the back, the story is titled "Grape Seeds," but that disappears and there's a new title page called Chamber of Cilla, which begins with the cartoonist admonishing his own laziness. He hangs out with his roommate, who is a bug guy, and the bug guy is eventually drawn into the mini-golf maze.
Does this sound appealing to you? It's hard to describe these things accurately sometimes. It's not really made to be summarized.
I think Sammy Harkham made this. It's a risograph zine of blue and white images that mostly are production stills from horror movies. The inside covers are taken from other magazines. It's sort of like if a really great Tumblr became a really great object.
By Sam Alden (Space Face Books)
Lydian is a perfect-bound, square-shaped comic with one panel on each page. The art is all done in an 8-bit videogame style. The text is all first-person stuff said to us by the faceless pink guy on the cover. There's a mixture of video game fantasy and real-life mundanity and fear, and nothing is explained or clear. It's a pleasant read. I don't think it's a game-changer, but it's pretty and enjoyable.
By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
It's a horrible world of brutality, rape, and shit in Gilbert Hernandez's comic. We just see invented beasts doing seemingly natural things that are the most horrible shit you ever saw. It's a horrible affirmation of your worst fears by one of the consistently best guys in comics for the last 35 years.
First Year Healthy
By Michael Deforge (Drawn and Quarterly)
This is a little pink hardcover book told in a style like children's books. Michael Deforge does his Deforge-y thing with meta-style storytelling and weird monsters. It's pretty and it's good, but it's not his best work, which is still his comic series, Lose.
Me Nut Nut Nut #3
By Jason Murphy (Space Face Books)
Jason Murphy should try harder. He's got some really nice lines, but he's trying to get by on attitude instead of heart or quality ideas.
A man, a lady, and a spider converge in space and their body parts fly apart. Some other hard to understand or describe things happen that look heavily Guston influenced, and then there's some typed text. It's kinda pretty, but there's not much to say about it, and there's not much need to own it. Just read it in the store.
Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay
By Harlon Ellison, Juan Ortiz, Scott Tipton, David Tipton, and J. K. Woodward (IDW Publishing)
Most Star Trek fans agree that the best episode of the series was the Harlan Ellison-penned "The City on the Edge of Forever." Ellison has publicly hated the edits that were made to his script for decades, and copies of the original script were subsequently published. Now it's also this shitty book.
After reading this comic, I have decided that the version that was made into a TV episode was stronger and that the edits that were made strengthened the story. The art in this book captures the likenesses of the actors, but the painting technique is muddy and ugly and everyone looks waxy.
Don't buy this book, just go watch the "The City on the Edge of Forever."
That's it for this week. See you next week. Follow me on Instagram.