Latest Posts

Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Early Corporate Digital Comics

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Mr. Action!

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Ignatz Issues Linger

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: White Donkey Review

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Festival of Cartooning Notes

So last weekend was the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning, a show put on to celebrate comic strips, editorial cartoons, and the creators who make them. It was the first time I'd been able to go at all, and my only disappointment was that I hadn't been able to get there sooner.

The setup is pretty straight-forward. In the Kenosha Public Museum, they have one of the galleries set aside for comic art (this year, the focus was on women in cartooning) and then they have a series of talks from a half dozen or so working cartoonists, each lasting about 45 minutes. All of which is free to the public. Although the Museum Gift Shop had a few books available, there's no real commercial aspect to the festival. No vendor tables or anything; even the creators there didn't have books to sell. It's really all about the capital-A Art.

The whole thing was organized by Ann Hambrock and emceed by Tom Racine. I was able to hear Rob Harrell, Eddie Pittman, Wiley Miller, and Ann Telnaes all speak and, to no real surprise, they all had great anecdotes and insights into their work and their processes. I found Miller's and Talnaes' talks the most enlightening with regard to their work processes, but everyone had plenty to share. Pittman was probably the most popular, judging by the crowd, in large part because he's done a lot of work on the Phineas & Ferb cartoon, and there was definitely a crowd of kids who came just for that. But the variety of approaches they take, and their respective paths to cartooning were all deeply fascinating, and I quickly added several book titles that I have to be on the lookout for now. (The Gift Shop didn't have all of their work.)

I'm always interested in studying original comics art to see how each artist tackles the actual process of drawing. From the tools they use to their basic methodology, there any number of things you can pull out from an original that you just can't get from the published version. Miller's approach to providing his strip in both horizontal and vertical formats for example. Or the sketching Fran Hopper did on the side of the page to figure out precisely what she wanted a character's eye to look like. Or the ink wash technique that Edwina Dumm used to let some elements drop to the background of a panel. Some incredible stuff! The exhibit runs through the beginning of October, so even if you couldn't make the festival, stop by to check this collection out!

I was really pleased to be able to go this year. It's not a large show, but that's part of what I enjoyed about it. There was definitely a level of intimacy there that you don't see at a lot of other places. I'd been eager to go since they launched, and it did not disappoint! And now I can personally recommend putting the next on your calendar. The next one won't be until 2019, but I'm already looking forward to it!
The White Donkey, the debut graphic novel by Maximilian Uriarte, came out last April but I've heard surprisingly little press about it. And what I have heard came from decidedly outside the comics community. Uriarte is a former Marine who served for four years, with multiple deployments to Iraq. He'd been working on a strip called Terminal Lance that was published in the Marine Corps Times and this book is an outgrowth of that.

The story is about a young man, Abe Olsen, who signs up with the Marines in search of... something he can't exactly define. After some harsh training, he finds himself shipped off to Iraq and experiences the war there in much the way any US Marine might. He eventually comes home and, suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, loses himself in alcohol. The book details Abe's journey along this entirety of this difficult path, showing just how war can change a man. Although Uriarte is very clear that this is a work of fiction, it's also obvious that he's not exactly making this up either. The story here is based on his and his friends' experiences, and thus comes across as being brutally honest even if the specific events depicted didn't actually happen. This is the life of a US Marine today.

Uriarte does a good job of presenting everything through a sort of everyman perspective. And despite Olsen being the protagonist here, we also get some slightly differing perspectives via some of his peers. While I don't think it conveys the entirety of a Marine's experience, it certainly goes a long way to informing someone like me, who's got no real military background. (Both my grandfathers served, but also died when I was too young to really learn much directly from them.) And like, I expect, many joining the military for the first time, readers don't always get complete explanations for military terms and behaviors. Olsen, during his training, asks questions, but is as often as not given incomplete answers if any at all.

I'm actually a little ambivalent about how I feel about this story. I mean, it's well done and Uriarte clearly knows how to craft a solid story, but the content itself pulls at me in two different directions. First, it does provide, as I suggested above, good insight into what a soldier today has to deal with. PTSD is not just that they saw a friend die. There's a great deal to learn here, I think, about the type of things a soldier deals with, ranging from "mundane" hazing to, yes, watching your friends get blown up. It's that full gamut that changes them -- the entirety of the experience can be traumatizing.

But on the other hand, I'm bothered by the obscenely casual racism, sexism, and homophobia that permeates the story. Yeah, Olsen points out that making a joke about Taco Bell at his Latino friend isn't cool, and that the guy they keep calling "Charlie" isn't even Vietnamese, but that doesn't deter anyone. Even the most powerful (to me) exchange, when an Iraqi police officer dresses down Olsen for his arrogance, the very culture of the Marines seems to allow Olsen to let that wash off his back. Throughout the entire book, the culture that's shown is one of deriding everyone and making sure that you don't see anyone else as fully human.

One of the points the book brings up is that soldiers that do suffer from PTSD not only ignore symptoms but go out of their way to hide them from others. I've heard elsewhere that it's because soldiers are taught that is a weakness. I'm left wondering if maybe the real weakness is learning to see others as something less than human. Thanks to this book, I can appreciate more of how soldiers are indoctrinated into a culture they might not have actually embraced beforehand, and how that in turn has helped to give rise to post-service problems they might have. I have greater empathy for soldiers of all types now. But less respect for the military establishment they serve though.
I was poking around on ebay and came across this page of original art from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #162 by Kurt Schaffenberger. I recognized it immediately as one of the comics I had as a kid. That image of Jimmy swinging away from that bed of spikes was very eye-catching and, although I hadn't actively thought about it in probably thirty years, it was still stuck in my brain.

(To give you a sense of how long it really has been since I thought about it, until I saw this, I could never have told you Schaffenberger ever even worked on the title! It was from a time before I really even understood that people had to create these comics, much less there might be a credit somewhere for me to read.)

As it turns out, I still actually have that issue. It's coverless now, yellowed and dog-eared. The first page is barely held in place. It's about in as bad a condition as it could be, but still be readable.

The story in question is called "The Savage Who Stalked Mr. Action" and it features a big game hunter named Savage who's carrying out a vendetta against Jimmy for busting her illegal fur trading deal. Oh, yeah. "Her." That's part of the big "hook" for the story... this mystery would-be killer is "just a girl" in Jimmy's words. The story isn't particularly good in and of itself, with some overly and unnecessarily complicated traps that Jimmy avoids fairly easily before tricking Savage into one herself, but it does sport the typically wonderful art of Schaffenberger.

But here's what caught me most off-guard: Jimmy Olsen is going around solving crimes and calling himself "Mr. Action!" It's played straight, with Jimmy as an adventurer/hero type. Almost like the Robin solo stories that were also being published as Batman backups around the same time. As near as I can tell -- I don't have the entire series and the internet seems awfully vague on this portion of Jimmy's long history -- the Mr. Action stories began in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #158, and carried over into Superman Family until #167.

Generally, the only time the Mr. Action stories are brought up are when someone trots out Jimmy Olsen #159 in which Jimmy dresses up as a woman to evade police. But what makes that notable is largely Schaffenberger's art because he could seemingly not draw an unattractive woman. Meaning that we see a very shapely Jimmy sporting a mini-skirt and tight top that he seems completely comfortable in. Couple that with some blatant sexism permeated throughout the story (Jimmy is discovered because he didn't wear nail polish... because evidently all women wear nail polish and men never do) and it makes for a kind of bizarre tale.

Overall, it's a kind of odd take on Jimmy Olsen throughout the series. That he not only has the physical prowess and detective skills almost on par with Batman, but that he also goes out of his way to market himself as "Mr. Action" -- a name that only sounds cool if you're 7 -- seems totally at odds with every other incarnation of the character I've seen. I suppose that's why it's a concept that didn't last very long.

Still, there's some wonderful Scaffenberger art that came out of those stories, at least!
Back in the 1990s, the internet was still this wild and woolly space where there was a lot of promise but no one really knew what the hell they were doing. At the time, Marvel still considered themselves a comic book company and their first forays into internetting remained focused on that. One such attempt was a digital weekly newsletter sent to subscribers via email. It was, not surprisingly, mostly promotional in nature highlighting what issues were hitting the stands and upcoming storylines and such.

After several weeks, Marvel decided that they could include actual comics in the newsletter as well. But rather than rehash old material, they hired Joe Kelly and Walter McDaniel to craft entirely new stories. These were serialized over the weeks, one page at a time. And, while Kelly and McDaniel worked in a standard pamphlet comic format (possibly so that it could be printed later -- although that never happened) the pages themselves were formatted to 8.5" x 11" so readers could print them off on their home printers more readily. Hence, there's a fair amount of filler on each page.

The first story launched, as I said, a few weeks into the newsletter's run and ran for twelve installments with the last one being a two-page, horizontally formatted conclusion. "The Quest for the Eleventh Ring" featured the Fantastic Four battling the Mandarin.

The last story finished about a year later, and ran for fifteen installments. It diverged significantly from established continuity in a number of ways, not the least of which being some radical changes to Dr. Doom, his mother, and their relationship. The story was mostly centered around the Thing and was called "Grim Temptation."

Despite the experiment running for about a year, Marvel obviously wasn't seeing much benefit from it. Particularly with the cost of new comics that had no direct means of seeing any ROI. It was an interesting experiment, particularly for a large corporation like Marvel, but it ultimately proved financially unsuccessful.

I've collected all the installments into two PDF files if you're interested...

The Quest for the Eleventh Ring
Grim Temptation
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Art Board Changes

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: First Love

Comics Alternative: Webcomics: Reviews of The Red Hook, Kill 6 Billion Demons, and Rice Boy

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Byrne's Giant-Size FF #1

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Change A’Comin’

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Your Favorite Superhero Sucks Review

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Go to Kenosha!