Of Ape and Ape-Men

If I learned one thing from reading TitanBook’s reprinting of artist Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan series (which ran weekly for 12 years), it’s that the African jungles are lousy with nefarious hunters, deadly beasts, savage tribesman, and hot women.

Most of us familiar with Edgar Rice Burrough’s noble savage ape-man recognize his human gal-pal Jane, but here, in this gorgeously illustrated and well-crafted tales, Tarzan is the Lothario of the jungle beat.

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The brunettes…
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The blondes…

 

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The simian…
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Everyone fights for Tarzan

In most cases, Tarzan works as an intermediary between the cruelty of the civilized world and the violently defensiveness of Africa. But in every case, there is a princess, a hunter or prospector’s daughter, or a lion-tough Amazon warrior, ready to become swept up in Tarzan’s mighty arms. But there’s never any kissy-face. Remember that this is a family strip.

Instead, Hogarth and writer Don Garden build adventure on adventure never relenting from the action and, like Tarzan, swinging from one predicament to the next. Ignoring the socio-political arguments of Tarzan’s Brit-gone-wild savior of the African planes colonialist wet dream, these stories are a ton of fun. It’s easy to see why an America reeling from The Great Depression would love this escapist fantasy. Here is the son of nobility turning his back on the outside world to live a live free and, at the same time, working to bridge cross-cultural gaps. In every few pages Tarzan raises animal armies to fight advancing invaders, mediate conflicts between tribes, and fights to keep peace in his land. Or at least long enough so he can get a night’s rest.

TitanBooks once again provide gorgeous reprints and color enhancements. The text is clear and the lines are tight.

Hardcovered Time Machinces

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Hagar the Horrible: 1979 to 1980
The Wizard of ID: 1973
Titan Books

For anyone who has ever held a newspaper, there are more than a  few icons of the Funny Pages; but none as lazy, boorish, or endearing as Hagar the Horrible.

Maybe it’s nostalgia or reminiscence of a simpler time, but these strips hold up in the same way that your grandfather’s jokes hold up. They are a time capsule from when humor was a play on words or snare drum rim-shot.

Hagar, for those not familiar with this King Features Syndicate classic, now finds new life from Titan Books in a beautiful hardbound collection. The strips are a bit dated and the humor tends to arouse chuckles rather than the guffaws of childhood, but they are presented with reverence and care for the original strips. Hagar is the ubiquitous nuclear-family father figure; a man who gets no respect and doesn’t necessarily deserve any. His family works better without him and the jokes are at the expense of his alienation and being the dumbest guy in the room who still manages victories.

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Like its historical counterpart The Wizard of Id, Hagar relishes in anachronism and playing loose with the source material of pre-Christian Scandinavia or the England in the Middle Ages. But if you came here for a history lesson, you may be in deeper intellectual trouble than Hagar.

The Wizard of ID of course it a tale of medieval knights and wizards juxtaposed over contemporary issues. It reads like Archie Bunker in that the progressive issues of the early 1970’s are approached with jovial charm and the joke is almost always on the one’s behind the times. My favorite of the pack is the one in which a woman draws four queens during a poker hands. The punchline of course reads:

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I’m not implying many of these jokes hold up. Many fall flat and have corroded with age, but it does bring me back to a time when gin and tonics were king, golf was a sport for suburban men, and America laughed at things that made it uncomfortable.

Review: Flash Gordon: The Fall of Ming

Flash Gordon: The Fall of Ming
Sundays 1941 – 1944
Alex Raymond
Titan Books

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The Story So Far…

It’s been sixty-nine years since Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon graced the full color Sunday comic sections of local newspapers. Since that time, Flash has been the subject of movies, Saturday morning cartoons, songs, and fueled countess homages. But time has managed to do what his arch nemesis Ming the Merciless could never do: relegate him to relative obscurity. Ask a baby-boomer and they’ll bend your ear about the exploits of the world’s greatest interplanetary traveler and man of valor. Ask a Gen-X’er and they’ll tell you about Queen, tight white T-shirts, and kitsch.  Ask the folks at Titan Books and they’ll tell you about Alex Raymond: Flash Gordon’s creator, its greatest writer/artist, and a run that ran every Sunday for nearly ten years.

Freed now from a tomb of relative pop obscurity Titan Books has put together three volumes collecting Raymond’s work. Each page contains a week’s strip in saturated full-color printed on heavy paper, bringing it leagues away from its inaugural appearance on flimsy newsprint. It is more than a coffee table book: it is a time capsule. Much like Flash’s own narrow weekly escapes, these pages preserve a story rich in sci-fi operatic and fine beautiful line-work from falling into history’s dark corners.

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Each installment overflows with rich imagery, expressive characters, and compulsive visual world-building. There are no corners cut in these panels; no black backgrounds and no half-tone filler. Instead we get detailed views of pre-computer schematics, diverse alien landscapes, and tables littered with utensils and discarded missives. This is a world to lose oneself in and study. Raymond invites us to be flies on the wall and witnesses to daring escapades and nefarious plots. We become the hero’s unseen companion and invisible conspirator.

In my favorite series of strips, “Upside-Down World”, Raymond flips the panels as our protagonists find themselves trapped without gravity. The end result leaves us unsure as to whether we should read the panels first or focus on the art. The effect is one that mimics the same strange sense of disorientation Flash and the gang must feel. There are no editor’s explanation or fan forums to detail the rationale, Raymond assumes that we invisible onlookers simply understand it is all part of the adventure.

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As the age of Sci-fi serials died and WWII ushered in a wave of existential cynicism, Flash couldn’t keep up. The age of wonder became an age of fast cars, Rock’n’Roll, and superheroes. Without Raymond’s sense of story pacing, his eternal supply of cliffhangers, and precision line-work, Flash appeared even more lost. But Titan has preserved those glory years and transcended time and space. They have given us a crystal clear view into a world many of us never knew existed.

The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction

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Jack Kirby.

I really feel that name alone should be the push you need to run out and buy Titan Books’ The Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction. If it isn’t, allow me to expound.

First, this gorgeous coffee table book contains Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s science fiction tales from 1940 – 1966: That amazing time of wonder, cold war paranoia of the Bomb, and expostulation on the world to come. The draw though is reproductions of the classic newsstand adventure ‘Blue Bolt’.

“Blue Bolt” is a precursor to the type of hero Kirby will perfect during his Marvel years. In these pages, American son Fred Parrish is imbued with lightning powers to fight the Green Sorceress who wants to rule the world and continually get knocked unconscious. These stories are incredible pulp adventures with only an occasional hint of camp or kitsch.

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As the years go on, the stories become tighter and Kirby’s art builds into his iconic line. There isn’t anything here nearly as strong a ‘Street Code’, but tales like ‘Space Garbage’, ‘The Space Court’, and ‘The Boys from Up There’, perfectly capture the popular Twilight Zone form of story telling that ruled pulp publications.

After reading through 348 pages of gorgeous reproductions on the highest quality paper these tales have ever been printed on, we are treated with a view of Jove U.N. born and his Check Mates. It’s Simon’s  proposed tale of ‘an unknown soldier, all but destroyed by nuclear warfare, who was rebuilt by scientists….’ Jove’s face could be transformed into various ethnicities and he had a female companion for each identity. It’s an idea so embedded in ‘60’s spy silliness, I’m surprised that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely haven’t revamped it.

Titan Books have a history of putting a ton of love into each of their collections: The colors are vibrant, the extras exhilarating, and the content unearths pivotal moments in comic history.

Joyland by Stephen King

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And he thought he heard the echo of a penny whistle band
And the laughter from a distant caravan
And the brightly painted line of circus wagons in the sand
Fading through the door into summer
“The Door into Summer”, The Monkees 

As I hit the midpoint of the Joyland, Stephen King’s latest novel, I began to fret that I missed the plot. Based on the gorgeous Glen Orbik cover and flavor text, I anticipated a ghastly killer fun-house or a crazed madman ripping through teens like cotton candy. What I didn’t expect was the most profound reminiscence of youth and growing up since King’s The Body (later titled Stand By Me).

For 135 pages, we watch Devon Jones learn the ropes of the carnival circuit, reel in the wind after the loss of his first love, and leave youth for adulthood. And to be honest, I stopped caring if a crime story ever developed. Certainly under all of the character building a lone ghost haunts the House of Horror crying out in the darkness, but that’s just an apparition. The flesh and bones of the novel are built around friendship and the unparalleled value of life.

As the second part of the novel picks up speed, there is a touching moment when Devon mispronounces one of the victim’s names and is immediately told that these were living souls and that they deserve the respect of their names said correctly. It’s a sublte statement, but in a society were we race to shove news down the throats of anyone who’ll listen and sell violence on 15 minute prerecorded loops, we forget about humanity. We forget that victims had lives with their own history and their own stories and their own voice. In today’s timeless news loops we silence the victims and reduce them to caricatures and carnage. King’s Joyland seeks to remind us about their humanity and the stories we carry.

Stephen King has not written this summer’s best selling thriller. He has written this year’s finest work of fiction.

Harlan Ellison – Web of the City

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Cover by Leo and Diane Dillon

Web of the City
Harlan Ellison
Hard Case Crime

But listen boys and girls
You need not be blue
And life is what you make of it
It all depends on you”
– Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

”They said all teenagers scare the living shit out of me
They could care less as long as someone’ll bleed
So darken your clothes or strike a violent pose
Maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me.”
– My Chemical Romance

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Rusty Santoro, ex-president of the Cougars, is having it rough. Real rough.

His shop teacher has been helping him break free of his gang. He is one strike from prison. His sister has joined the Cougars as a female auxiliary member. He is friendless. His father is a drunk and his mother desperately trying to keep it together. Of course all of this is nothing when compared to the fact that the new president of the Cougars wants him gutted.

Web of the City, originally published in 1958, outlives its slightly dated version of New York delivering one of the most frightening depictions of post-war teenage life ever recorded. Of course it should. First, it is written by Harlan Ellison; A man who pulls no punches and for whom literacy mercy doesn’t exist. Second, it is culled from the ten weeks he spent as ’Cheech’ Beldone in New York’s Barons. The prose is gritty, remorseless, and yanks the stints from the heart of darkness.

For those whose knowledge of 1950’s youth culture is Happy Days, Web of the City will rip your eyelids open and force you to see why and how teenagers were America’s biggest fear in the years following World War II. But there is also an honest feeling of frustration and angst as we watch Santoro fight to stay on the right side of law. Like watching someone dig on the beach, every time Santoro makes headway the walls cave in trapping him with no way out.

Hard Case has done an amazing job repackaging Web of the City with three additional tales of violence and dread. These alone are worth Ellisonphiles adding another copy to their collection as the men’s magazines they came from are either impossible to find or secured by collectors in steel strongboxes.

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Glen Orbik Cover

Additionally, when I started this site, I released two podcasts highlighting Ellison’s career.

Volume 1 –

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Volume 2 –  

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Next month I will be releasing   the third installment: The Glass Teat – based on Harlan’s columns about television.

Tank Girl – Mahfood/Martin

Everybody Loves Tank Girl
Jim Mahfood / Alan C. Martin
Titan Books

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If the original Hewlett and Martin Tank Girl series were dope and beer fueled explorations of pop culture, low brow humor, and sexy women with guns, then the Mahfood and Martin series is an acid trip through Carnaby Street in the ‘60’s. There is, in every page, a frantic sense of ink splattered motion and frenetic lines which twist and turn with the motion of lurid dreams and trippy black and whites mating with muted zip-tone palettes.

When I first met Mahfood in ’99-’00, it through his heavily Hewlett influenced art style, the 40oz message boards, and SDCC. In fact, I helped publish three comic anthologies with others from the boards. Mahfood’s ability to mix pop culture was, even then, far superior to most. One of the best parts of each tale was the accompanying hip-hop, soul, and funk soundtrack meant to enhance the reading experience (also liberally sprinkled about here as well).  Reading Mahfood is to please and delight the senses.

In 1991, I discovered Tank Girl though the Dark Horse Comics reprints. My oldest and dearest friend and I horded every copy we could grab and distributed them like X at a rave – we just wanted to share the love.

So it was a collision more impressive in scope than that chocolate and peanut butter thing when Titan teamed up with IDW to release Everybody Loves Tank Girl.

Because everybody does.

Honesty, think of the people you know. Now think about which ones hate Tank Girl. Right? They are the ones you’d shove into a lava field with no remorse or sense of loss. Ah, but those who like Tank Girl, even remotely, are the ones you’d lend your shirt to. Just not your Limited Deadline Tank Girl T.

Since Martin relaunched the franchise, he has been surrounding himself with some fantastic and talented artists (Bond, Wood, Dayglo), and, despite their additions to the legacy of fine art and finer women, the writing has been wrestling with the same ideas: the concept of celebrity, the reception of the film, and artistic control. I’d love to see Martin develop TG into something more streamlined and move away from the past. What I really loved about Tank Girl was the promise that comics could be unrestrained, wild, and unpredictable.

This is, in no way to imply that the stories here are weak or hack. In fact, I think this is the strongest Tank’s been in years. I love the litany of allusions, the poetry, and especially the ‘The Cosmic Beam from Outer Space’ intro. I am ready to take the giant leap forward, I’m ready to let go, and I’m ready for the Golden Age of Far Out-ness.

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Titan Books
Jim Mahfood
Alan C. Martin

Deadpool Killustrated and Frederic Wertham

Long ago there was a prevelent thought that kids couldn’t learn from comics.

This, of course, is a myth. With Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics that idea has shifted. Incidentally, and hoping to fill the audience,  I should mention my participation on a panel at the Rhode Island Comic Con about bringing comics into the classroom.

Well, Marvel has decided to push back the clock.
In the best way possible.

In December, Deadpool will be skipping through the literary classics killing various characters and altering our beloved literary canon. Perhaps Moby Dick’s coolest moments now will not just be about Queequag.

On the topic of comics casting a dark shadow over adolescents and warping the minds of the youth, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read is The Ten Cent Plague by David Haju. Its a great window into the 1950’s fear of teenagers and youth via the evil eye-gouging, crypt robbing, torpedo breasted depictions of the lewd in zip tone.

 The Ahab of this voyage to destroy comics and their creators was the nefarious Dr. Frederic Wertham. Wertham, the Tipper Gore of his time, sought to save the youth of America by cleaning up comics…only to see the evil of his ways and recant many years and lawsuits later.

In 2013,  Max Allan Collins turns Seduction of the Innocent into a murder mystery featuring a fictional Wertham…guess who the victim is. The book will also feature 16 pages of Terry Beatty art who you know through Road to Perdition and the criminally out-of-print Ms. Tree. Seriously, Max, please reprint Ms. Tree.