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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Comics Legend Murphy Anderson - From 2001



Murphy Anderson must be a liar and artist. His birth certificate claims he was born in 1926, but that's impossible considering the incredible volume of artwork produced by this master cartoonist.

The prolific artist is one of the giants of the "Silver Age of Comics" that began after World War II. An inker and penciller, Anderson is best known for his distinctive penciling style. Scratchy, dynamic and firmly planted in the tradition of adventure comic strips, Anderson's lanky characters were always instantly identifiable as his own. In particular, his beautiful, powerful women set the stage for the 'liberated' super heroines that followed.

Seldom imitated but broadly influential on those who followed him, the comics artists and writers school he founded played a major role in educating the talented creators of the '80s and '90s.

Anderson's major comic book work includes: DC--Adam Strange ('59-'64,'70), Atom ('61-'64), Atomic Knights ('60-'64), Batgirl ('69-'70), Capt. Comet ('51-'54), ('72-'73),Clark KentDr.Fate/Hourman('64-'65), Elongated Man ('67-'68), Flash ('60-'65, '70-'71), Green Lantern ('60-'64, '69), Hawkman ('63-'71, '78-'79), House of Mystery ('55-'71, '73-'82), Jimmy Olson ('70-'72), John Carter ('72-'73), Legion of Superheroes ('72-'78), Mystery in Space ('51-'61), Our Army at War ('54-'56, '70),Phantom Stranger('52-'53, '70), Spectre ('66-'69), Star Spangled War Stories ('54-'56), Strange Sports Stories ('63-'73), Strange Adventures ('51-'64, '70-'71), Superboy ('70, '73-'77), Supergirl ('69-'77), Superman ('69-'74, '77, '83-'84), Tales of the Unexpected ('60, '69-'70), Witching Hour ('70-'74), Young Romance ('70-'73); Fiction House--Star Pirate ('44-'47); work for Pines, Deluxe, Eclipse, Gold Key, St. John and Ziff-Davis.

He also produced magazine and advertising art, model kit boxes, worked on the Buck Rogers ('47-'49, '58-'59), Flash Gordon ('53) and Our Changing World strips.

The artwork of Murphy Anderson helped to define DC Comics in the '50s and '60s, and is highly recommended.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Neal Adams - From 2001


Comics legend Neil Adams has raised the standards of comic book art, the hackles of comic book publishers, and improved the lot of comics professionals in a career than spans more than four decades.

Born in 1941, Adams established himself as a comics master without ever exclusively focusing on a single comic book or strip title for more than a handful of years. In addition, his internal fight with publishers and syndicates to regain ownership, win compensation for reprinted work, and to increase pay for comics creators has improved the working situation for thousands of comics professionals.

Primarily an artist, Neil Adams brought a heightened reality to comics in the 1960s and ‘70s in titles like Deadman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow. This was partially done through his dedication to correct perspective and anatomy. In addition, his close attention to human expression and body language in his characters “raised the bar” for artists in an industry too long known for speed instead of accurate visual detail. By doing so, he also influenced a realistic depth in comics scripts that continues to influence both comics artists and writers today.

Samples of Adams’ extensive comic book work include: DC--Batman (1970-77), Deadman (1967-68/70), Green Lantern (1970-72), Green Lantern/Green Arrow (1970/ 72-73);Marvel--Avengers (1971-72), Conan (1974/76/80), Epic Illustrated (1981), Thor (1970), and many more. His company, Continuity Associates, produced many comics titles including Crusty Bunkers.

Neal Adams’ strip work includes: Bat Masterson (1959), Ben Casey (1962-66), Big Ben Bolt (1978), Juliet Jones (1966), Peter Scratch (1966) Rip Kirby (1968) and Secret Agent Corrigan (1967).

He has also produced advertising art, magazine, book and record album covers, theatrical designs, posters and storyboards. Adams’ awards include the ACBA Shazam, Fandom’s Alley, and Fandom’s Goethe.

The work of Neal Adams is highly recommended.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

War Story - From 2001


D.C. Comics' new limited series, War Story, is off to a pretty good start. The first issue features a World War II story entitled "Johann's Tiger." In it, a German tank commander named Johann Kleist becomes guilt-ridden over the atrocities he has committed for the Nazis. As a result, he formulates a plan to desert, seeking to deliver his tank crew to the mercies of American forces, and then to die in battle. The best-laid plans...

Writer Garth Ennis seldom disappoints when it comes to characterization. Most of his work, however, tends to be of the "mature" variety, with plenty of profanity, as well as other objectionable material. While this tale over indulges in "reality" language, the story doesn't suffer too greatly for it. Actually, it smacks of the realities of war; watching as fellow soldiers meet their ends, (each onlooker wondering if he will be next), as well as the horror of coming to grips with past sins. The later is where Ennis soars in this story.

He does an admirable job of portraying the suffering German officer, tormented by memories of various forms of abuse delivered to others by his own hand, all for the sake of Hitler's Reich. Now, seeking to deliver his fellow deserters from Nazi retribution, Kleist is a strange protagonist, indeed.

The art, courtesy of penciler Chris Weston, is extremely enjoyable, with the real payoff being in the strong facial expressions. Kleist is a deeply burdened and tortured individual, and it shows. Without even one written word, this character's pain would be obvious to any who happened to thumb through the book.

Though certainly not recommended for children, War Story is a very interesting look at a couple of things that really makes us human; the ability to repent, and to change.

War Story can be found at comic shops and some online retailers and auctions. Locate your local comic book store by dialing 1-888-comicbook.

War Story is published by D.C. Comics, 64 pages, $4.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Wake - From 2001


A clutch of spaceships and alien mind readers search for planets to colonize, and find a jungle-infested one and a savage girl named Navee. She was shipwrecked as a baby and orphaned, just like Tarzan. Wake is the name of the alien convoy that threatens her world and titles this new adventure series from NBM publishing and Frenchmen Phillippe Bucket and Jean-David Morvan.

The art in this reprinted European title is magnificent. For the sake of brevity, everything is technically done right, and the artist's style is distinctive and dynamic. Especially impressive are his panoramic jungle scenes, and this artist can draw banks of gadgets and gaggles of robots as easily as the banks of rivers and gaggles of geese. That degree of versatility is a rare talent.

The writing on Wake is no less impressive. For the sake of brevity, everything is technically done right, and the writer's style is distinctive and dynamic. Especially impressive are plot twists that elevate this series beyond "just another homage to Tarzan", characterization that ignores stereotypes, and crisp, believable dialog.

In the wake of such praise, is there no weakness, no flaw in Wake?

Navee looks thirteen years old, and jumps and swings across these comics pages naked except for a loincloth. That is considered child pornography under American law and business as usual in France. Therefore, a black strip was added across Navee's chest for the American edition. It may surprise readers who know this reviewer is Christian that he suggests the strap is both silly--and welcomed. This self-censorship is silly because Navee's nudity is no more salacious than a photograph of a naked baby. It is meant to suggest her innocence. That strap, however, is welcomed because all of her readers are not innocent and, necessary or not, it does nothing to detract from the graphic novel.

Wake is highly recommended for truly mature readers who can discern between lust and artistic license.

Wake/48 pgs., $9.95/sold in comics shops, at nbmpublishing.com, and in bookstores.

Review by Michael Vance

Usagi Yojimbo - From 2001


Meet Miyamoto Usagi. Usagi is a ronin, or "masterless samurai," who lives in the turn of 17th century Japan. On the tail of civil war, the samurai has become the ruling class throughout the land, living by the honor-code known as "bushido." Oh, did I also mention that Usagi is a..., well, a rabbit..? Yes, a rabbit.

Now, before you totally disengage, let me say that this is NOT another "funny animal" book. Far from it. In fact, if there is any comic work that deserves notice by the community outside of the largely-disinclusive comic-reading public, it's Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo.

Why?

Because it contains all of the elements that make, not just a great comic book story, but a great story, period. Interesting characters set against intriguing backgrounds and locations, intelligent storytelling, action, suspense, humor, romance,...if one looks long enough at the volumes of this work that have been collected, all of the above can be found.

Sakai has mastered the art of telling a fine story, especially where depth of character is concerned.

After several years of publication, Usagi has a rich supply of recurring characters, all of them captivating in their own right. But, from what I can tell, Usagi was every bit as enthralling at the beginning as it is now. Nothing like witnessing a fine creator put his world together.



The artwork, also handled by Sakai, is very clear and distinctive. It is rendered in a very light-hearted, cartoony style that, by some miracle of the pen, does not rob the book of one iota of its dramatic charm. When appropriate, it can serve comedic purpose, then set a dark, almost brooding tone on the next page. How he does it isn't important; that it works is.

Several volumes of this work are now available, and come highly recommended for all ages.

Usagi Yojimbo volumes can be found or ordered wherever comic books are sold.

Usagi Yojimbo, published by Fantagraphics, and Dark Horse Comics, 144 pages, $14.95.

Review by Mark Allen

True! - From 2001

TRUE! 143 pages & $12.95 from Plan Nine Publishing. Sold in book stores, comic shops and on the internet at www.plannine.com.

Seventy-five percent of hardcore comic book and strip fans will not think TRUE! is a comic book or comic strip. (Source: I made it up). But ninety-nine percent will enjoy it. (Source: Daryl Cagle’s talent).

TRUE! is an “Encyclopedia Of Amazing Facts About Us All” compiled in single-panel cartoons by prolific cartoonist Daryl Cagle.

These statistical “facts” cover everything from what scents arouse males to which pretzel shapes are preferred by men or women. If you are not excited yet, these facts were culled from such diverse sources as The Book of Lists, Harper’s Index and The Roper Organization. As example, did you know that after criticism over “Teen Talk Barbie” [the doll] who said ‘Math class is tough’, Mattel [the toy manufacturer] introduced teacher Barbie? No? Were you in the know that after only two weeks in show business [the horse] Bamboo Harvester’s name was changed to Mr. Ed [for the television show] and he was castrated? Neigh? Do you still doubt that the reviewer’s promise that ninety-nine percent of TRUE! readers will enjoy this anthology?

Oh true unbeliever, this is because you have not seen Cagle’s interpretation of dry statistic through wry art. Cagle’s art and approach seem heavily influenced by Mad magazine in its lunatic heyday as filtered through the cartoonists own life experiences and beliefs. His minimalist style adds a sparkle and visual wit to these boring statistics that transforms each fact into delightful fancy. His tools are exaggeration, his vivid imagination, and a wonderful sense of what is visually funny.

TRUE!, while not exactly a laugh factory, is nevertheless recommended for quiet fun and reflection.

Review by Michael Vance

Think Outside the Cat Box - From 2001


This comics anthology is for people who love cats, and people who hate cats. If that sounds illogical, you have never met a cat.

Think Outside the Cat Box is a comic strip anthology that offers an easy way to meet cats at a distance, which is the best place for any frustrating feline.

Frustrating?

For one reason, cats shed hair like Think... sheds light on cats. "Listen," complains a lady holding a puss before a puzzled salesman. "I'm sick of vacuuming fur-could you just color-match a carpet to this?"

For another reason, picture a long-haired cat standing on a mountain above a mob of felines. In the crook of his arm is an engraved tablet that reads "Thou Shalt Not Obey."

Got the idea? Good. Now, the art.

Of interest is that the art in Think..., while obviously sufficient, is not out-standing. Minimal attention is paid to correct anatomy, perspective or lighting. There is little attempt to ape reality.
This is common in widely popular comic strips that focus on idea over art. It is no longer true in comic books where art overshadows every other aspect of storytelling and readers are leaving in droves. Isn't it a purrrrfect shame that readers rarely get great idea and art?

If art does imitate life, maybe some clever editor will discover this secret when he imitates cats and sleeps on it.

Think.... is recommended for all ages.

Think Outside the Cat Box by Mark Parisi/$12.95, 148 pgs., Plan Nine /sold in book and comics shops, by mail and at www.plan9.org.

Review by Michael Vance

Sojourn Prequel - From 2001


Crossgen Comics has chiseled out a niche of epic proportions for itself in the highly competitive world of comics. At the very least, this new publisher is uninterested in the very least. Crossgen is interested in BIG.

Their plots span eons. Settings are interplanetary or transdimensional. Cities, nations, and planets wage massive wars.

Crossgen's Sojourn Prequel battles for market share.

Exhibit A: Plot. Lord Mordath has subjugated five nations to his will, but a mysterious warrior and 15,000 of his followers now besiege the walls of Mordath's fortress, challenging his unjust and iron rule. The clash between man and monster is huge, eating up almost every page of the first issue of Crossgen's newest title.

Exhibit B: Prose. The melodramatic and too grammatically correct dialog spoken by both lords and grunts actually works. It does not distract from an otherwise well-crafted "scene one" in this vast fantasy play yet to unfold. That is no simple task.

This collision of flesh and resolve on a mammoth scale is linear, a straightforward and exciting depiction of man and demon tottering on the threshold of death. This expository crash is not meant to reveal or develop character or establish history, and does no more than hint at events to come. Sojourn Prequel simply sets the enormous stage.

Exhibit C: Art. That stage is better set by the art than the story. That art, precise and clear in its visual story telling, is reality-based. But it still flirts with fantasy on every page. Demons and winged humans share panels with costumes and buildings that are obviously medieval but not of our earth.

This first issue is a tease, posing more questions than it answers, and is meant to leave readers sharing a question whispered at its end by an ominous Sojourn priest, his cowled face hidden in shadows:

"I can't wait to see what happens," he hisses.

I agree.

Sojourn Prequel/32 pages/words: Ron Marz; pencils: Greg Land/available at comics shops, by mail, or at www.crossgen.com.

Review by Michael Vance