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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hydraulic Leg #1 - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004

In theater, actors are encouraged to "break a leg" before going on stage. Hydraulic Leg is definitely broken. Wait a minute, Mr. Reviewer. Is that an endorsement or a criticism? It is both.

Each art form has its strengths and weaknesses, and work in one does not always translate well into another. Hydraulic Leg is well-done animation not perfectly translated to the comic book page. The art in Hydraulic Leg is minimalist and therefore features few visual details. In fact, it is excellent minimalist art, dynamic and colorful, and breaks every leg and foot bone available. This style, however, is generally identified with TV cartoons for young children, but not many young children read comics. Not many adults watch television animation.

The hero in this first issue is a young boy with a metallic leg that allows him to fly and do all sorts of nifty stuff. He reminds me of television's Astro-Boy, a Japanese inspired (produced?) television show from my boyhood. This hero has a partially robotic dog and a cute girlfriend. In general, he saves the day and a boy from thugs. Mighty Mouse also saves the day, and the subject of Hydraulic Leg will be most attractive to that audience, not to most adults. Comic book sales figures don't lie.

Leg is well written with a minimum of dialog (like most animation) and characterization. Like a cartoon, the first issue takes about three minutes or less to consume. That means that, if Hydraulic Leg were a movie, it would cost you $90 to buy. So Hydraulic Leg is very well-written and drawn, but has shot itself in its expensive foot because it probably won't reach the audience it deserves. Nevertheless, I wish it the best.

Hydraulic Leg #1/24pgs & $2.95 from Hydraulic Leg Inc/Michael Cassidy & Greg Furie, writers, Dan Schoening, penciller/sold in somics shops and at

Review by Michael Vance

Hairbreadth Harry - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004

He escaped by the breadth of a hair. That's why Comics Legend Charles William Kahles called his comic strip Hairbreadth Harry.

Our Hero's Hairbreath (misspelled) Escapes began publication in 1906 in the Philadelphia Press newspaper. Harry, who started his melodramatic adventures as a boy, matured into manhood and invested most of his time rescuing his beautiful but powerless girlfriend. His cliff-hanging episodes included a mustachioed villain and unusual attachments to railroad tracks and sawmill blades.

Among the first comic strips produced, Hairbreadth Harry would become one of the most widely read paper dramas of its era and one of the least remembered "funnies" of today. That is an undeserved distinction.

Before its descent into obscurity, Hairbreadth Harry was also featured on the silver screen in a series of short movies produced until the demise of silent films. The strip was also reprinted in issues of Famous Funnies, the first comic book ever published.

Hairbreadth was drawn in a clean, abstract style with minimal background detail. Harry and villain Rudolph, who was always in top hat and tails, vied for the feminine hand (and minimalistic mind) of Belinda Blinks. Tucked not so subtly within was biting social commentary on the silliness of the day, and all was done with tongue firmly placed in cheek. For foreign readers, that means that Kahles was laughing at himself and with his audience at that most ridiculous subject, man.

When C.W. Kahles died (1931), Hairbreadth was written and drawn by several cartoonists until its end in 1940.

Kahles' comic book work included: Famous Funnies (1933--?, Eastern Color); A Carnival of Comics (1933, Eastern Color); and Funnies on Parade (1933, Eastern Color). The strip is also featured in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.

The work of C. W. Kahles is highly recommended. MV

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