Comics

Hero-A-Go-Go!

61CDYqFHMlL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Michael Eury’s Hero-A-Go-Go! is a loving and meticulously-researched tribute to the Camp Age, an all-too-brief bygone era when superheroes and other pop-culture phenoms didn’t take themselves so seriously. Fittingly, Eury’s study begins with a meditation on what may represent the pinnacle of 1960’s camp culture, the Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Arguing that Batman in particular and the camp movement more generally emerged at a time of great tumult and uncertainty in American history, Eury provides a convincing context for anyone wondering how heroes like Super LBJ and Fatman (The Human Flying Saucer) ever gained traction — even briefly — in the American imagination. To wit: Camp provided an amusing and much-needed distraction from the heaviness of world events.

Beyond the first few pages, Eury shifts from examining the social context of the camp movement to cataloging the wide range of characters that the movement spawned and offering the inside scoop on how many of these characters came into existence. In addition to Batman, Hero-A-Go-Go! examines a wide range of (relatively) well-known campy heroes like Plastic Man, Maxwell Smart of Get Smart, and the Mighty Heroes, but where the book especially shines is in Eury’s excavation of obscure camp figures like Captain Nice, Mr. Terrific, the Fighting American, and the Fat Fury (among many, many others).

Also noteworthy are Eury’s examinations of comic book incarnations of pop-culture icons like Jerry Lewis (whose adventures as a DC comics character had him somewhat inexplicably crossing paths with Superman, the Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman) and former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose comic book alter-ego, Super LBJ battled Super Commie, Super Poverty, and Super “Ignerance.” Along similar lines, Eury also reveals some camp-ified versions of well-known comic books that (perhaps thankfully) never made it past the earliest pilot stages, the most egregious example being a proposed Wonder Woman series that imagined the title character as a socially awkward superhero living with her nagging Greek mother in a cramped apartment.

Eury also provides readers with a healthy selection of interviews with those most intimately involved in the creation of camp-age classics: Bill Mumy (Will Robinson of Lost in Space fame), legendary cartoonist Ralph Bakshi, and Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean, regarding their album Jan and Dean Meet Batman) to name just a few.

All told, Hero-A-Go-Go! offers an exhaustive compendium of all things camp from the 1960s, the perfect read for anyone who loves comic books or simply thrives on historic pop-culture arcana.

Side note: I found Eury’s book to be so inspiring that I had to try my hand at writing and illustrating my own campy comic, the questionable results of which can be found here: The Indelible Half Halbert.

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Germ Warfare

Cold and flu season is upon us, so what better way to celebrate than with a bit of germ warfare — or at least a copy of Germ Warfare: An Anthology of Comics for Germs and their Generous Human Hosts?

This bizarre collection of comics takes a microscopic look at the world of infectious bacteria and offers, among other things, a germ’s eye view of the atrocities we humans commit every time we pump a dollop of sanitizer onto our hands or take a dose of penicillin.

Other highlights include several visits to the home of germaphobes Stew and Berryl Sterrel as they struggle to remain germ-free despite the best efforts of their baby and a comical retelling of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds.

Overall, this collection carries a strong underground comics vibe — none of the offerings more so than the Mark McGinty penned and Lupi McGinty illustrated “Perched on the Denim Slope,” a graphic homage to JG Ballard’s “The Drowned Giant” whose art is reminiscent of Charles Burns and the Hernandez brothers.

Bizarre, funny, and kind of gross, Germ Warfare is the perfect gift for the germ warrior in your life!

-Review by Marc Schuster

Muktuk Wolfsbreath: Hard Boiled Shaman

Originally appearing in the pages of Cud (Fantagraphics) in the mid 90’s and then in a three-issue miniseries for DC comics in 1998, Muktuk Wolfsbreath has found new life in the form of an online graphic novel by wizard of suburbia Terry LaBan. Part Neil Gaiman-esque fantasy, part Sam Spade detective novel, Muktuk Wolfsbreath: Hard Boiled Shaman follows the adventures of the eponymous hero as he plumbs the depths of the human soul in prehistoric Siberia.

What’s especially striking about this series is that, as its epigram suggests, throughout the proceedings LaBan pays loving tribute to the classics of the noir genre. Our first glimpse of Muktuk is that of a reluctant hero: down on his luck and haunted by his past. Then in a walks a beautiful woman with troubles of her own. Though Muktuk never spells it out in so many words, it’s easy to imagine Humphrey Bogart narrating the opening frames of the story with something along the lines of, “Of all the bearskin tents in all the tundras in all the world, she had to walk into mine…”

From there, things take a turn for the fantastic as Muktuk gets drawn into a bitter confrontation across spiritual planes with his rival, Umiak Birdbutt. The result is a wild hallucinogenic ride that’s light years away from LaBan’s more recent depictions of the foibles of suburbia in the daily Edge City comic strip. Indeed, if Edge City represents LaBan’s day job, then Muktuk Wolfsbreath is where the artist/writer goes at night — to dream, to dazzle, to go a little crazy, and — most of all — to explore. Here, we see an artist experimenting with forms, mixing and matching to create something new. What’s more, the fact that LaBan is giving it all away for free makes it all the more appealing.

All told, a funny, inventive, and intriguing comic.

Click here to check it out!

–Review by Marc Schuster

Howie Action Comix

I hardly ever laugh out loud at anything I read, but a few nights ago, Howie Action Comix by Howard Chackowicz made me do just that. The culprit in this case was a single-panel cartoon in which a man stands on the ledge of a building contemplating suicide while a police officer shouts up at him, “Don’t jump, you piece of shit loser… We can talk!” If, like me, this kind of thing makes you laugh (or, in my case, cackle), then you’ll love this bizarre collection of comic strips, line drawings, and gag panels. If not, then you might want to forgo this one in favor of the latest Foxtrot collection.

The range of subjects Chackowicz covers in his collection is as wide as it is bizarre. In one strip, a man gets into an argument with his erect member while a commentator in a parallel strip tries to figure out exactly what’s going on. In another, a squirrel lover dons a suit made of bread and lies out in a park to commune with nature. And in a series of recurring strips, Chackowicz turns somewhat autobiographical, depicting himself as a maladjusted overweight ten-year-old who parades around town in his birthday suit.

Beyond being weird for the sake of weird, however, Chackowicz also explores some deeper themes throughout Howie Action Comix. Loneliness is an obvious one in that all of his characters are searching in vain for some way to connect with the world at large. Yet the biggest theme Chackowicz tackles (for my money, anyway) is the meaning of life, a mystery he explores in a vertical strip titled “Sam and Tuna in: Bottomless Pit.”

In this strip, a pair of characters are seen falling, as the title suggests, down a bottomless pit, and Chackowicz depicts them at various points along the fall: two hours, two days, a week, four months, and forty years. Throughout most of the journey, Sam and Tuna are scared speechless, and it isn’t until the last panel that one finally attempts to open up to the other. By then, however, it’s too late: the other has passed away.

The strip, in my humble opinion, is a metaphor for life itself: we’re always in some form of free-fall, trying to make sense of the world around us, and afraid or otherwise unable to communicate with each other until it’s too late. To put it another way, we’re all falling through the bottomless pit that is life — our journey through time and space, through the sliver of eternity that we get to experience — yet we’re so busy chasing our tails (or anything else that the world tells us is important) that we never take the time to appreciate each other’s company.

In many ways, I have to confess that I like Howie Action Comix because it resonates with some of my own work in terms of tone if not style. In relation to more prominent cartoonists, though, I’d say that Howie Action Comix reads like something New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast might write after a night of heavy drinking — or, more accurately, over the course of a month-long binge. It’s fun and weird and crazy and sick, but it also says something about the human condition. All of this is to say that Howie Action Comix is everything an underground comic should be.

-Review by Marc Schuster