« The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. » — Oscar Wilde
Marc Caro, born in 1956 in Nantes (birthplace of Jules Verne!), was never a prolific bédéiste, quite possibly because he liked to spread his talent around: musician, animator, film director, designer, art director… et j’en passe!
Back in the early days, though, while juggling animation projects and musical gigs (ah, youth!), Caro created a clutch of brief and brutal vignettes for such fabled publications as Métal hurlant, Fluide glacial, Charlie Mensuel and, on this side of the pond, Raw. Most of these strips were crafted using the daunting technique of scratchboard; done right, it’s strikingly effective, and in Caro’s nimble hands, it’s done right. Another master of the technique is Switzerland’s Thomas Ott.
Our featured piece was translated into English by Elisabeth Bell and lettered by Lea Hernandez [psst: someone left out a word in the first panel…]. It appeared in The New Comics Anthology, edited by Bob Callahan (1991, Collier Books). In this case, Caro is using a combination of scratchboard and Craftint.
Sadly, this printing doesn’t quit do justice to the finesse of Caro’s rendering. Compare with an excerpt from the French original:
While concocting a post on a favourite oddball obscurity, the one-shot Alphabet Soup Kitchen (1990 Jabberwocky Graphix), I decided to reach out to one of its co-creators, the dapper Wayne ‘Wayno’ Honath, to see if he could shed some light on this delightfully batty project of yore. And did he ever come through!
In one of those happy cases of talent and perseverance rewarded, Wayno®nowadays splits creative duties on syndicated strip Bizarro with its originator, Dan Piraro (since 2018, though he’d been part of team Bizarro going back to 2009), with Wayno® ably handling the dailies and Mr. Piraro the Sundays. It’s a fact: Wayno®, thanks to his crisp visual style, sharp gag writing and encyclopedic grasp of cartooning history and archetypes, was just the right ink slinger for the task.
Without further delay, I cheerfully yield the floor to Wayno®, his superbly lucid recollections, and some choice letters from the Alphabet Soup Kitchen!
Sure, I remember doing Alphabet Soup Kitchen! Ted Bolman and I had traded minicomics through the mail, and appeared in some of the same publications. We may have collaborated earlier, but I don’t think so.
I don’t recall whose idea the book was, but it sounds like something I’d have done. I liked to define parameters or constraints for projects, and then work to complete the parts. We split up the alphabet so Ted would do the first half of “A,” then I’d do “B,” and we’d alternate to the end. We sent the pages to each other by mail.
There were two different printings. I printed it as one of my “No Way Comics” minis. The interior was black & white, and the wraparound covers were brown ink on an off-white textured stock. I used a local printer for my minis, and most of them were offset printed, not Xeroxed. (I did several “secret” publications in editions of 50 or fewer, and those were Xeroxed.) They’d offer a free ink color once a week, and that’s how the brown ink on the cover came about. I drew the inside cover endpapers.
After my minicomic version was published, Brad Foster contacted me about doing a larger reprint under his Jabberwocky Graphix imprint. I drew a new wraparound cover featuring characters from the interior. I included a photo of two men wearing some sort of jaw-braces to represent the Boho Brothers, and also drew these guys on the cover. I can’t recall whether the endpaper drawings were included in this edition. I have a copy somewhere, probably in my office/storage space. I believe that Brad Foster may have done the color work on the cover. Yes, just confirmed that on the Poopsheet Foundation webpage (a good source of minicomics images and info).
I also included copies of my original printing in one of two multi-packs I offered for sale. This was in a set called THE NO WAY MINICOMIC FUNBAG, which included Boho, Uncontrolled Copy, The World’s Most Dangerous Animal, and one bonus minicomic from my backstock. They were packaged in a plastic bag with a wraparound cover.
That’s as much as I can come up with off the top of my head!
I mentioned to Wayno® that I enjoyed his cover work for Dana Countryman’s Cool and Strange Music magazine (28 issues, 1996-2003), to which he responded:
Cool & Strange Music was great! I’m still friends with Dana Countryman, and I still admire that he was able to continue self-publishing it for so long, and always on schedule, and he always paid for the art. He was more reliable and professional than a lot of bigger mainstream publications I worked with!
Once more, three cheers and my most heartfelt thanks to Wayno® for his generosity and kindness. Best of luck with everything!
« Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back. » — Marcus Aurelius
The other day, I chanced upon a Rick Geary piece about tangos with the Angel of death, which returned my mind to a time, when I was but six years of age, and that my parents had gone holidaying, leaving me in the care of some old friends. At their home, I recall perusing some back issues of that evergreen Reader’s Digest (the French-Canadian edition, called Sélection du Reader’s Digest), wherein I encountered some memorable articles, including one about the miraculous survival of people who tumbled from great heights*, unencumbered with parachutes, and another that grimly recounted the calamitous landslide that one night engulfed a village, Saint-Jean-Vianney, just a few kilometres from my hometown.
Ah, but human memory is notoriously fallible and self-deceiving. So I deemed it prudent to inquire whether the events were truly as recollected. A quick call to my folks confirmed that yes, they did toddle off to Europe for three weeks in November of that year (I think my parents are delighted when I quiz them about such matters). The landslide took place in May, so that fits too.
As the close shave lends itself well to comics, I’ve gathered a potpourri of short pieces on the topic. Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a rough ride!
Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, don’t tease the wild animals, wear your life jacket, look to both sides before crossing the road, and don’t forget to floss. Oh, and call your mother more often; she misses you.
*the fellow whose tale stayed with me was most likely Lt. I.M. Chisov, « … a Russian airman whose Ilyushin IL-4 bomber was attacked by German fighters in January of 1942. Falling nearly 22,000 feet, he hit the edge of a snow-covered ravine and rolled to the bottom. He was badly hurt but survived. »
Among the good-to-great (well, to my taste) were a score of short-lived onomatopoeic humour anthologies such as !Gag! (Harrier), Honk! (Fantagraphics), Splat! (Mad Dog Graphics), Bop, Buzz, Twist (along with the venerable Snarf, all from Kitchen Sink)… the mutant progeny of Zap Comix, I suppose.
It was within the pages of Honk! that I was greeted by such across-the-pond talent as Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Phil Elliott and Paul Grist. Their work provided a sorely-needed gust of English country air to the superhero-fatigued reader, though one had to keep both eyes open, as alternative comics publishing in the ’80s was a maddening mixture of whack-a-mole and ‘throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks‘.
Now that the stage is set, I’ll share some of my favourite Dakin strips. He’s been a busy chap, creating several solo series: Temptation, Captain Oblivion/Abe Rat, Robot Crusoe; collaborations: Paris: the Man of Plaster (with Steve Way), Mr. Day and Mr. Night, The Man From CancerandGreenhouse Warriors (all with Phil Elliott), as well as YA novels (the spooky Candle Man) and animation (the astonishing Shaun the Sheep).
Today, I’ll focus of my very favourite Dakin creation (his most understated and personal), the fancifully autobiographical Abe Rat.
Dakin’s comrade-in-ink Eddie Campbell (Abe’s his fave Dakin strip too) provides the introduction to the collection, and therein shares these thoughts: « Back when we were doing our little photocopied comics (what I term ‘small press’) in the ’80s, we constantly challenged each other to take the comics form in new directions. Dakin evolved in exciting ways in his Abe stories. The were autobiographical, but more concerned with the inner life than the physical one. He arrived at an approach which I termed ‘discourse’. He would devise characters and symbols, and borrow others, combining them in argumentative juxtapositions. There would be passages where he’d use a character from history or a novel to push his contemplation towards a resolution. Once he even called a halt to proceedings and ran a variant ending. »
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed making Abe’s acquaintance.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom beyond the seven seas, a little boy lived under the name of Scott Richardson in a seaside town (let’s call it Gloucester and pretend it’s in Massachusetts). His whole family were artists, and he would watch his grandparents paint the sea, the ships that sailed it and the people who commanded the ships. It must have come as no surprise at all when the boy, too, started to draw. Eventually, he grew up, moved around a lot, almost started a major war and somewhere along the way, acquired the nom de plume of Tony Millionaire (which, according to him, « comes from Old French. It means a person who owns a thousand slaves. Serfs, not slaves. »
How’s that for a little fairytale? You will forgive me for the jejune introduction, but something about Millionaire’s art is magic. It is easy to underestimate how good an artist he is because his art is so cartoony, and his characters so outlandish: his award-winning, syndicated strip Maakies, for instance, concerns itself with a perpetually blotto stuffed crow (Drinky Crow) and his best pal, a sock monkey (Uncle Gabby). Both were TM’s childhood toys. All children make up stories about their playthings. What’s magic isn’t that he was able to create a world for his toys to inhabit, it’s that he was able to pull us, the audience, in with him.
His art is also stunning on a purely technical level: the impeccable geometry of his Victorian houses, the zest of his epic battle scenes (often between a whale and a kraken, it should be noted), the lushness of the gardens inhabited by fairies, gossiping insects having tea, and mice with puritanical sensibilities.
A couple of other things about Tony Millionaire: he’s really funny (or “drunkenly charming”, if you prefer; read his interview with John F. Kelly from 1999), and he clearly loves drawing tentacles, gleefully sticking them hither and tither. He’s clearly long overdue for an inauguration into the elite hall of Tentacle Tuesday Masters. I’m not here to provide you with hard facts about when and how, either about the newspaper strip Maakies or about the comic series Sock Monkey. You can get that from elsewhere. But I do believe that this is the only website where you can get your tentacle fix *and* your TM fix all at once (courtesy of co-admin RG who did all the scanning work!)
Anyway, enough of this chit-chat, and let the tentacles abound!
« Maakies is me spilling my guts… Writing and drawing about all the things that make me want to jump in the river, laughing at the horror of being alive. »
As fun as Maakies are, I find that one gets weary of them quickly – they’re like chips that burst with flavour to the point of causing desensitization. I believe that Sock Monkey is where Millionaire really gets to shine; I fondly remember being bowled over by Sock Monkey: the Inches Incident, in which TM really put his nautical sensibilities to use. The other books from this series only reinforced this impression – the art was so much lusher, and the moral complexity of these stories made each tale bittersweet. The artiste himself summarized it well, stating that « Sock Monkey is me trying to rise above all that bullshit, to be more poetic, looking at the bright side, remembering the things that used to delight me as a child. At the same time, the main theme to all the Sock Monkey books is the crashing of innocent fantasy into bone-crushing reality. »
Fantagraphics published a full collection of Sock Monkey strips, but you can also read three of them right here online. I would of course strongly suggest supporting the publishing house and the author by purchasing the book, but what kind of high moral ground can it be if one is not offered a choice?
« Sharon… Marilyn… Jayne… Eva… Claudia… plus bits and pieces of bit part actresses. » — Prof. Shelley recites Cadavera’s recipe
In the early 1990s, Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics were in choppy financial waters. To save the ship, they went commercial… in their own fashion. Two speciality imprints were launched, most famously Eros Comix, but also the lesser-known Monster Comics.
My own contender for the finest of Monster releases adroitly straddled both the erotic and the monstrous (and a few other genres besides): a two-issue wonder, Cadavera, was the hallucinatory, disembodied brainchild of Memphis cartoonist auteur John Michael McCarthy. Sadly, this raunchy-in-all-the-best-ways, rollicking saga-in-the-making, fireball of jolting ideas did nothing to help its publisher climb back into the black. But hot damn, did it ever give its all. However, in the speculator-frenzied, Image Comics-happy US marketplace of ’91? Oh, just forget it.
I know I could pull striking samples from these skinny pamphlets all the live long day, such is their level of visual craft and quotability, but I’ve checked, and you can still get copies for a song, so why spoil your eventual pleasure?
Anyway, all the gooey goods are accounted for in this « unofficial death certificate for unpopular culture »: punk rock, tabloid journalism, fascism, hot rods, hillbillies, Nazis (the original and the currently popular Neo (in)breed), mad science, robots, bunnies, Vice-Prez Chas. Manson…
The amazing Mr. McCarthy, after giving comics his more-than-game try (with Eros entries Supersexxx and Bang Gang, the one-shot movie tie-in Damselvis Daughter of Helvis and one of my all-time favourite series, Kid Anarchy, written by his pal George Cole), went the Roger Corman route and became a micro-budget filmmaker. There may be zero bucks in it, but that’s still a rosier financial situation than comics could offer.
« To hell with all those near-fatal quests and celebrity body parts! »
« I saw old Autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence, listening to silence. » — Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
Jim Woodring‘s Frank, cogently termed « a bipedal, bucktoothed animal of uncertain species » was introduced to readers on the cover of Jim no. 4 (Dec. 1990, Fantagraphics), virtually straight from his genitor’s id. He would turn out to be Woodring’s most enduring creation. I was absolutely in awe of Woodring’s original, somewhat autobiographical showcase title, Jim. But it practically sold in the negative numbers (I recall an admiring / dismayed Dan Clowes stating something to that effect during an interview), and dammit, a genius like Woodring should be able to earn a living in freedom and dignity, so I understand the slight shift in gears. Though I miss Woodring’s tremendous verbal gifts, Frank’s is a rather extraordinary universe.
Speaking of Tundra, its tale is quite a colourful one: it was the publisher that The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles built; an act of atonement? « Tundra was certainly, not to put too fine a point on it, the biggest and most absurd (as well as the most idealistic) publishing catastrophe in the history of comics — maybe in the history of the print medium. » [ source ]
Woodring, nearly three decades down the line, has stated that he’s ‘extremely interested’ in wrapping up Frank’s adventures.
From the earliest issues of Love & Rockets (circa the early 1980s), it was quite evident that Jaime Hernandez was a cartoonist of the first order.
At first, he kept the tone of the proceedings fairly jovial; but gradually, a little darkness crept into the ambiance. Not systematically, mind you: it was just the natural course of things. For all that, he didn’t sacrifice one bit of his light touch; he was just expanding his range, the simple process of his artistic maturation.
The first time he fully demonstrated that he could evoke the texture and the essence of terror… was a milestone. In 1989’s Flies on the Ceiling, he stunned readers with a dizzying, yet understated tale that lifted the veil on a murky chapter of Izzy’s past. In the telling, he adroitly looses a startling panoply of techniques and ingredients that this reader wasn’t nearly prepared for. A true brain-singer.
Jaime occasionally returns to the realm of the uncanny (we’ve featured him in a past countdown entry), but never treads the same path twice. A few further samples, if you will:
« Here’s to the thugs and maniacs who fill each book with concepts so damnable, so putrescent, that they make the EC horror magazines of yore seem like mere cocktail napkin doggerel. I salute you. Now I’m going to take a bath in quicklime. » — Harlan Ellison toasts Death Rattle (1986)
In the 1980s, with the Comics Code Authority in its death throes, you’d think horror comics would have made a massive comeback. Well, they did… and they didn’t. Since there had been plenty of black and white magazines to operate outside of the Code’s restrictions, bringing bloodshed and mayhem to colour comics made the much-anticipated liberation a bit of a non-event. For my money, the truly interesting horror material opted for different approaches, now more experimental, then rather whimsical, at times clinical, sometimes abstract. Underground comix publisher Kitchen Sink, surviving thanks to its eclectic spirit, revived its early 70s horror anthology in 1985, an adventure that this go-round lasted eighteen issues and unleashed cutting-edge, nostalgic, shiver-inducing, thought-provoking and gut-busting efforts by such talents as Richard Corben, Rand Holmes, P.S. Mueller, Jack Jackson, Stephen Bissette, Mark Schultz (his Xenozoic Tales were introduced in Death Rattle 8, in 1986), and, on this unsettling cover, Charles Burns.
Before this cover, and speaking of clinical horror, Burns had earlier provided one of Death Rattle’s most harrowing gut-punches in issue one’s Ill Bred: a Horror Romance. I wouldn’t want to give away too much, but here are a few samples from this queasy masterpiece of gender fluidity, body horror and (justified) insect fear, seemingly inspired in equal parts by David Cronenberg films, Japanese art prints and Burns’ personal demons. Not for the queasy, but peruse it here if that ticks any of your happy boxes.
« Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain, For strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain. America, America, man sheds his waste on thee, And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea. » ― George Carlin
On this day, the forty-ninth edition of Earth Day, we feature some little-seen work (by his usual audience, at any rate) by Jim Woodring and his collaborator Scott Deschaine*. Given the current political climate, an increasingly dire state of affairs, I’ll (mostly) skip the chit-chat and make with the visual riches.
*French family names, after spending some time in English-speaking lands, tend to distort in interesting ways: “Deschaine” makes no grammatical sense. It likely started out as “Deschaînes” (of the chains), or its homonym, Deschênes ou Duchêne (of the Oaks or the Oak). Sometimes, the name gets so badly distorted that it’s quite unpronounceable: Shia LaBeouf (Leboeuf, the ox) or Cara Delevingne (Delavigne, of the vine)… not that I’d want to utter these names, save perhaps as curses.