Have you heard of China's most popular comic strip, 'Sanmao'? It's about as funny as crib death. Sanmao is a starving urchin child who has a distinctive hairstyle that consists of three large strands, the unfortunate result of malnutrition.
Dear Funny Bookers,
How are you? I am fine.
If you read silver age DC comics there are these comic-style ads for monster model kits in which a mad scientist, an Igor-style minion, and a Vampirella-style lady vampire go out, kidnap a screaming woman, and take her back to the torture chamber.
The idea was that you could buy, build, and then play with your own torture chamber. I'd never seen what the actual model kit looked like until the other day. This is is it.
Sigma, the company that made a lot of cool and perverse porcelain Star Wars stuff in the arly 80s, also made these very pretty placemats. I like these a lot.
I think these are so beautiful.
Have you heard of China's most popular comic strip, Sanmao? It's about as funny as crib death. Sanmao is a starving urchin child who has a distinctive hairstyle that consists of three large strands, the unfortunate result of malnutrition. He was invented in 1935 by an angry alcoholic communist who based him on the starving, homeless children who lived and died outside his house. Throughout the decades, Sanmao has been depicted at various important periods in China's history and has also existed in the future and explored space. He is currently depicted as a healthy student.
Here's a Sanmao movie from 1949.
You can find out more about Sanmao at Asia Obscura. What's amazing about Sanmao is that not only does it popularize a hellish life, but the kid's image is reproduced around China like he's Tintin. It's like if Anne Frank served the role in our culture that Mickey Mouse does.
Here's a Sanmao comic in which Sanmao tries to offer himself up for sale. Ha ha ha!
These are the complete strips by the way. There's no other punchline or moral to this. Sanmao is begging on the corner, he's hit in the head with a bottle, and then he's on the ground bleeding and crying as a drunk, white(?) sailor looks on. I guess if you see enough misery you don't look for punchlines and stop believing that there is a meaning to suffering.
Do you know about Tijuana Bibles? They were porno comics that were made long ago in the 30s by unskilled cartoonists and were usually about popular cartoon characters and movie characters. You can see a bunch here.
Here are some reviews of things.
Gary Panter is good and everything he makes is good too. This book is a fine example of his goodness. The problem with writing about things that are good is that it's hard to define what makes a good thing so good. Bad things are usually bad because they are easily understood but good things are special because we can't completely explain or define what they are. Gary Panter is good and it's hard to confidently explain his goodness because it was made to be absorbed and enjoyed, not explained to you by a critic. "But you are a critic so explain Gary Panter to me," you say. "Do your job!" You add, while thinking to yourself that you could do my job better than I can. So I say OK and try even though it's pointless.
Gary Panter is a great artist who has attained success in almost all creative fields and if you don't know his name it's because he is too nice and humble to get out there and try to claw his way into the spotlight. Gary Panter is a true experimental artist in that he never makes things in the same way for very long. He explores a style and moves on, which is very exciting for someone like me, who can relate. I want to see and do everything and I feel like Gary does too.
The Dal Tokyo book is hardcover and 17 inches wide, six inches tall, and almost an inch thick. The cover is printed in a very pleasing green and brown that reminds me of avocados. A series of maps are printed on acetate on top of each other detailing totally different places. Then there's an introduction by some guy. Then there's a shorter introduction by Gary Panter explaining that the comic is set on Mars in a city built by Japanese and Texan people. Each page collects one of Gary's comic strips, which originally appeared one at a time. The comics start off somewhat followable and are about a character named Mr. Gabble who is in an auto accident, and Okupant X, who is following around a guy in a fedorah and taking private eye photos. I guess it sorta reminds me of the movie Repo Man in that it's kind of a sci-fi noir story. The plot is hard to follow for me though, so I mostly look at the art.
The first 63 comics were made from 1983 to 1984, and by the end of that initial series the comics became less consistent, style-wise, and more abstract. In 1996 the comic restarted with strip number 64. Gary's drawing style is noticably different. The lines are generally thicker and brushier and the world inside the comic looks less harsh. It initially starts off following the previously established characters, but eventually turns into something else. By strip number 90 it feels more like poetry with accompanying images. The strip continues as a thing where it seems like it's Gary Panter drawing whatever is interesting to him at the time that he's drawing it with a collection of his written thoughts and feelings. In one strip he brings back his most popular character, Jimbo. In another each panel is just Gary drawing in the style of psychedlic 60s rock poster art. At some point the comics seem to change so that you are meant to read them from right to left or maybe they're supposed to work when read in both directions. I am assuming that this was because the comics were being published in a Japanese magazine.
Although trying to follow the story like it was a traditional comic is hard it feels like we're seeing the inside of Panter's brain. We go where he wants to take us and the landscape reflects his current mood and interests. Not everybody can do whatever they feel like and make it as interesting as this book. That might be why I think Gary Panter is so great.
I asked Gary some questions about Dal Tokyo and he answered them because he is a nice guy.
How did you get the name Dal Tokyo?
In 1972-4, when I started mashing Texas and Japanese culture together as a premise for my comic drawing, Dal Tokyo was what I called the fantasy land I was inventing without thinking about it a lot as an effective title. I don't think it is a great name but it kinda gets the idea across without beating you with it.
Once I dreamed Captain Beefheart said to me "How is your old Dal Toe?" I tried variations—DalTok Dalto etc. and did lots of variations in the run of the strip.
I notice that the comics start out looking a little like your early Jimbo stuff and then after a while they get blacker and blacker and less "fun" until the comic ended in '86. Then it reappears in the mid 90s. Did the comic get visually bleaker as your second marriage was ending? Can you tell me about what was happening in your life?
I am not interested in discussing failed marriages, but no—I was having fun in LA. I had thought about the strip for a few years and drawn it in all kinds of approaches before I started drawing it in a formalized way rather than notes and prototypes. And so I was trying to get all my ideas about the place onto the printed paper. Then I decided that it could be a branching sci-fi strip forever or it could be something weirder. There is a dark section when my close friend and painting teacher, Bruce Tibbetts, was dying a hard death. So that is something you can see in the drawing for a while. I wanted it to go beyond a space opera to something more like painting experiments, so I kept blowing it up. In the first years I was drawing it with a rapidograph and I switched to a Kohinoor art pen, which went out of production. A lot of the style change, past a point, was caused by the tools I was using to make it.
I stay at home and try to make art a lot, wherever I am. In LA I have lots of friends from those days, '76 through '85. While I was drawing Dal Tokyo and Cola Madness, I was making a record called Pray for Smurf for Overheat; working on the Pee Wee stage show; writing a script with Paul Reubens for a Pee Wee adventure movie that never got mad; hanging out with Matt Groening, Bob Zoell, Lou Beach, Steve Samiof, Mick Haggerty, Byron Werner, Byron Coley, Jay Cotton, Tito Lariva, Richard Duardo, Joe Clower, Monitor, Rick Potts, Shizuo Ishii, Georganne Deen, Robert Williams and Suzanne, Glenn Bray, Lena Zwalve, Billy Shire, Claude Bessy, Richard Gehr, Paul Reubens, Jay Cotton, and lots of other people; teaching at Otis Parsons; doing album covers... it was a busy time, but not as busy as nowadays. I was struggling to make money and survive.
When the comic returned your ratty lines had transformed into a different kind of mark-making and focus. It seems like your psychedlic poster style suddenly appeared. Is that just from mellowing out with age?
I started using the Japanese comic dip nibs. The G series. They are pointy and have good metal and want to make certain kinds of lines. They make more of an 18th century line, so that made the strip look more old timey. Plus, I always loved John Tenniel, Durer and Nast, and have moved into studying Gillray, Cruikshank, Grandville etc. Crosshatchers. In my early 20s I was looking at Cal Schenkel, Bob Zoell, the Hairy Who, Jack Kirby, Peter Saul, HC Westermann. Crazy fine artists.
The psychedelic-looking part of the story is about these skateboarding kids, Prairie and Nabcig, who find a pile of psychedelic moving picture magazines in the desert and they trip out on them, so that is the section with the Rick Griffin/Victor Moscoso/Martin Sharp/Heinz Edelmann look.
When I was young I wanted to make futuristic comics and I invented a jagged woodcut kind of cubist image overlay or angular style and did it for years. It would be sad to just milk the same thing forever, so I always felt like moving along and have gone to the surrealistic 1700s type of style in my comics for the moment.
I will probably become more mellow and confident as I get older, until I wear out, but I have felt pretty much the same all my life. The same guy looks out my windows.
Buy Dal Tokyo from Fantagraphics.
Too Much Horror Business
More like "Just Enough Horror Business." This is such a fun book. Kirk Hammett is a severe collector of horror movie posters and memoribilia and he made a really top-notch book full of pretty photos of them and some writing about what the horror collector scene is like. There are also some photos of him in costumes surrounded by skulls and stuff. I like Kirk but didn't really care about seeing photos of him with werewolf fangs. I guess a lot of Metallica fans need that for them to care, but Kirk's collection and music are enough for me. I love you, Kirk. You made a great book, especially by ultra-famous rock star standards cause you could have just phoned it in. Why am I writing directly to Kirk Hammett? He'll never read this.
Summing up: If you even sort of like poster art, horror movies, toys, or collecting you will be overwhelmed by the greatness of this book. There have been books LIKE this before but they were never this beautiful, well organized, complete, or labor intensive. This goes on my shelf next to my books that Chip Kidd made of his Batman and Captain Marvel collections.
Silver Surfer: Parable
Moebius, Kieth Pollard and Stan Lee
Marvel reprinted the two issues of Silver Surfer that Stan Lee supposedly wrote and Moebius drew. The 50 or so pages that are drawn by Moebius look great because Moebius drew them. I haven't actually been able to focus on much of the text. The thing is that when you buy this book it's a hardcover that's wrapped in plastic. When you unwrap it you find out that more than half the comics in this book are by some asshole I never heard of named Keith Pollard. The final quarter of the book is Moebius's account of making the comic, some sketches, and other pieces of Marvel comics-related art that he did. I don't know why they padded this book with stuff drawn by some guy who is not Moebius. Probably because they wanted it to be thicker so they could charge $25 for it. It's kind of like buying a Macbook from a guy on the street, but when you get home the box just has a brick inside it.
I just went on eBay. You can buy the original comics for like five bucks as a set. I shoulda done that instead of buying this book.
Drawn & Quarterly
This book has been on the shelves for a while but I liked it a lot and just put off reviewing it because I lost it in one of the many piles of books that have made my apartment impossible to traverse.
I always like Brian Ralph's drawings. There's something about the way he draws rubble and splintering wood that is very comforting. His lines and sense of volume and reductive drawing style are approachable, but he's always good with textures. I think I know what his drawings would feel like were I to exist within the world of his comics. I don't know if I ever read a longer work by Brian Ralph that I cared about too much but I cared about this one.
The big cool concept of this book is that you are seeing the world from the protaganist's point of view for the duration of the entire book and there are no "cuts." In a lot of ways it feels like a video game in a good way. The storytelling device is a big success and totally immersive.
The story begins with you waking up by a pile of rubble. You are then greeted by a friendly one armed man who helps you and takes you on a little adventure. The storytelling technique works well and this is a great comic. I feel bad that I didn't review it earlier.
Eros Gone Wild
Eros Gone Wild is an oversized hardbound anthology of short European comics about sex. Some of the comics contained herein are realistically drawn and have graphic sex scenes that were made with the intention of turning the reader on. Some are more cartoony and goofy. Some are both goofy and porny.
The cover is definitely my favorite part of this book and the sexiest thing the book presents. The gaze of the woman, the various greys and browns used and the texture of the wall behind her are very similar to Moebius and are full of the best aspects of European comics and illustration. I'm not as in love with the rest of the book as I am with the cover. Also I just noticed that it costs 90 dollars which is quite an investment for an anthology, erotic or not. This book may be sexy but for 90 dollars you could probably just pay someone to blow you or buy enough coke to convince some girl to do it with drugs.
At least 12 of the comics in this book are Christmas-themed porno comics, which makes me think that at some point this was intended as a Christtmas-themed porno book. Lots of people try to make themed anthologies and then after months of frustration drop the theme and allow any sort of comic in. A lot of the comics seem to be about men and women who don't like each other or are tricking one another. To me that's not very sexy. There are some rape stories too, which are also a bummer to me.
I remember discovering Blab and being into it about ten years ago. It was a crazy era where everyone was a street artist and there were like a million street art magazines that were all trying to turn into VICE-inspired culture mags. And I cared a lot about Juxtapoz. Blab still gets published, which is something I didn't know.
Most of the artists are great but I feel strange looking through a hardcover anthology of comics and illustrations. I think it's because this book is not as good as Tumblr. It's good but it feels limited. I feel the same way when I look through magazines. You look at Playboy and if you are lucky enough to find pictures of a girl you think is hot stuff there's only like five photos of her and the internet has taught you to expect to see like 50. If I see an artist's work I want to see more, not just a few.
Blab isn't bad but it feels unnecessary and like a relic that reminds me of the past but not in a nostalgic way, more like when you see a big old cell phone.
The New Yorker's had a few controversial covers in the past few decades and it's had even more that no one ever saw. Francois has finally shared the covers that boring old people would find offensive in this book. Some are nice illustrations, some are kinda stuffy. My main reaction is that people who read the New Yorker are old and stiff.
Andy Warhol's New York City: Four Walks Uptown to Downtown
The Little Bookroom
This is like the ideal stocking stuffer book for teenagers who are into Warhol and have a lot of energy and are going to be visiting New York City soon. I feel like this is the kind of gift that someone would give someone and then reveal that they were taking them to New York City. What a surprise! And the long skinny format of it seems very stocking oriented. Maybe it's made that way to fit in your pocket as you go on the walks that the book suggests as you visit the locations where things that Warhol used to like stood 30 years ago.
Overall this is a fun little book with good design, but they had someone imitate Warhol's illustration style, which I find to be totally uncool and lame. If you're paying homage to an artist then be legit. Don't make drawings that look like he drew them. It feels like cheating.
XXL Dec/Jan 2013
You know what I didn't like about Chris Brown? All that apologizing! This magazine's kinda pointless but there's a neat little feature profiling the members of A$AP Mob.
Legend of the Scarlet Blades
The art in this book about samurais is almost elegant but it's so over rendered and the colors are too thick. I don't understand how European comic styles went from the greatness of stuff like Manara, Moebius, and Hugo Pratt to this overdone computer painting stuff that's been popular for a while.
See you in the funny pages everybody! That's where I'll see you!
Previously - Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #80