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Underground Station | comic | book | column | Lollipop

Underground Station

By Bruce Sweeney

How I Avoided Summer Camp Dept.

One way out of being shipped off to summer camp by Papa is to exceed the age of 28. Since I had accomplished that with no problem, the next solution was to go overseas for a couple weeks. I spent two weeks in England and had a memorable time. For one thing, I got up to the North Sea to visit British illustrator, Bryan Talbot.

Bryan is an artist who graduated from the British answer to American underground comics and went on to illustrate some very forceful, highly-awarded illustrated books and graphic novels such as his Adventures of Luther Arkwright and One Bad Rat, both garnering international acclaim and awards.

Currently, Bryan is putting together a story for Fables #11 titled Bag of Bones, a U.S. Civil War era story. This will be published by DC/Vertigo around March 2003. It'll feature 22 pages by Bryan and will be rather reminiscent of a dark Gone with the Wind. It tells the story of an Army deserter who captures the Devil, a pig, and a couple of hens in a gunny sack. I saw the first few pages and it's riveting work (how did Bryan ever know that PBS would re-run the famous Ken Burns Civil War saga in September 2002?).

From there, it was down to Birmingham to catch up with Hunt Emerson, another successful ex-underground artist who has a lot of explosively funny material available from Knockabout (10 Acklam Road, London W105QZ UK). Hunt says that Knockabout will have the Firkin book out any day. This 144 pages of his character Firkin, 50% in color. Hunt is also at work on Firkin and Phenomenocomix. You can visit Hunt's website at www.largecow.demon.co.uk (please note that the title illustration for this month's article is done by Hunt Emerson).

The owner of Knockabout Publishing, Tony Bennett (don't start) is one of the brighter, more capable editors in the business alongside Ron Turner of Last Gasp, Denis Kitchen of the late Kitchen Sink, and the Fantagraphics gang. These are people – so very few – who can look at a handful of pages, spot the crap from the brilliant, recommend minor strengthening suggestions, and lay out a graphic book product that will grab, excite, and sell.

Tony has been doing it for years, in early years balancing U.S. contributors like Robert Crumb, Spain, and Gilbert Shelton with British luminaries like Emerson and Talbot. His current strong title is The Best of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, which is sort of Cheech and Chong go to comix. The Freak Bros. ran for years, from the late '60s through the '90s, although they fell back on reprints largely because the creator, Gilbert Shelton, moved to Spain. Tony, who knows all these guys, organized the truly best reprint of the Freak Bros. ever, and it's currently available through Knockabout. It's done, however, in conjunction with Rip-Off Press, which published the bulk of the Stateside Freak Brothers. This is a massive piece, and while the majority of it is in black & white, there are 32 (!) pages of color reproductions of their covers and sensational posters. Is it worth $32.95? Shit, yes.

According to underground artist/illustrator Spain, he and Justin Green will have a weekly cartoon strip running in the L.A. Weekly. Justin Green is sort of the grandfather of autobiographical comics who seems to be everywhere as an accepted venue. For example, Top Shelf has a new title, called Double Cross – More or Less which does a great job of telling an autobiographical tale of a young man who nearly gets cheated out of the three thousand dollars he invested in getting his comic book printed. It's by newcomer Tony Consiglio and the comic goes for $4.95 from Top Shelf (PO Box 1282 Marietta, GA 30061).

But then, Top Shelf owns a certain niche of independent one-of-a-kind titles. Just to rattle off some of the most immediate items there are: Happy #2 at $3.50; Land of O at $3.95, Egomania, Trenches at $15.95, After the Shooter at $14.95, What a Long Strange Trip it's Been at $12.95 (and very funny), Creature Tech at $14.95, and Three Fingers at $14.95. A rich, unique experience.

On a rainy late September evening, I trundled over to Wordsworth's in Harvard Square to catch two terrific illustrators, Dan Clowes of Eightball fame and Kim Deitch, a brilliant underground comics artist. Kim has a terrific new book out from Pantheon books titled Boulevard of Broken Dreams ($17 at Wordsworth). I foolishly thought that I'd get a chance to meet these guys. Moronic. There were almost a hundred people in attendance, and after their presentation and the subsequent Q & A period, you'd get in line to buy their book and then get into a second line to try and get your books signed. I decided to wait and try it by mail. The question period was interesting, but can you believe that someone asked them where they get their ideas from? The answer, a no-brainer from Dan Clowes, was "everywhere."

I haven't seen the product yet, but I ordered from Eureka Productions (www.graphicclassics.com) two of their three featured titles. One is a collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe illustrated by Maxon Crumb (you-know-who's way-crazed brother), Spain, Rick Geary, and others ($8 plus shipping for 136 pages of black & white with color cover). The other is a collection of interpretations of nine H.G. Wells stories featuring interpretations by Skip Williamson, Sherry Flenniken, and others. It's going to cost me a modest $20 for both comics, which sounds about right.

Fantagraphics (www.fantagraphics.com) is announcing a couple of interesting titles that don't seem to be quite ready yet but should be by the time this sees print. One is Beg the Question, a collection of their comic book line Minimum Wage by Bob Fingerman, a line of semi-autobiographical stories about Rob and Sylvia, two realistic 20-somethings from Brooklyn. This was/is (?) a great series with a lot of humor and warmth. This particular portrayal will be 240 pages of Minimum Wage reprinting with over 40 new pages with a substantial amount of revision and re-drawing. The ad says $24.95/$17.95 Canada, but I'd imagine it's the other way around.

Their other book of note is Rebel Vision: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975 by Patrick Rosenkranz for $34.95. Mr. Rosenkranz did a book about underground comix many years ago, and I would've guessed at the time that it was an extension of some Master's thesis somewhere. It was a bit stiff to read, but his facts seemed to be overall straight, his observations were on the money, and the illustrations were stupendous. I'm going to give this some serious consideration, but I'd guess that it will appeal to about three of our readers.

Of more likely appeal is something that I'd consider a tad more mainstream. I ran into the title in England, but since it's Marvel's Spider-Man's Tangled Web, I'd be surprised if it's not readily available here in the States. Now, I don't usually respond to comic books about caped superheroes, but this one is a terrific piece of full-color action. Especially engaging are the pencils of John McCrea, who sets all the action with a film editor's point of view. Great stuff. And all this color for $15.95? It'd be hard to beat unless many of these standard comic books are starting to grow into bright, provocative items. Ya think (naa-ah, can't be, right?)?  


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