Mad Magazine #504 by Various

Categories:  Reviews

Mad Magazine #504
By Various

mad504coverI regretted my response as soon as I tweeted it, really. R. Sikoryak posted an image for a piece he’d drawn for an upcoming issue of Mad.  My reaction, naturally, was one of general enthusiasm for the artist, a promise to pickup an issue or two, and the decidedly snotty declaration that I hadn’t read Mad since I was in my early teens.

It was a true statement, of course, but really its hard to overlook some parallel between such a comment and the stock reaction when trying to engage the majority of the public in a conversation about comic books—even in this arguably slightly more enlightened age.

For the past half-century, Mad has been a right of passage of sorts for American (let’s face it, largely male) teens with something approaching a sense of humor. I use such tentative terms not as a reflection of the quality of artists who have graced the pages of this publication (beginning, unforgettably, with the likes of Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, and the like), but rather because, let’s face it, ages 13 to 15 are very much a rather awkward period of growing pains for comedic sensibilities (along with pretty much everything else).

Like so many other rights of passage, Mad is oft regarded as a stepping stone toward more mature pursuits. On a personal level, the magazine filled a gap between the entry-level comedy of the Sunday funnies and the absurdist prose of Douglas Adams and, later, Kurt Vonnegut. As soon as my interests transferred to those latter works, my dedication to Mad Magazine largely fell by the wayside.

Strange to think that, in the three years I’ve been running this site, I’ve never picked up an issue. Underground giants Jaffee and Sergio Aragones have long been cornerstones of the magazine. And then, of course, there’s World War 3 Illustrated’s Peter Kuper, who took over the beloved Spy vs. Spy strip in 1997.  I’ve had a number of conversations with artists who have mentioned contributing to the magazine, as well, but for whatever reason, I always assumed that such pieces were few and far between.

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Blindspot #1 by Joseph Remnant

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Blindspot #1
By Joseph Remnant
Self-Published

josephremnantblinspot1coverThere’s a surprising lack of classicism amongst the younger generation of cartoonists. While it’s logical, in sense, for most budding comic artists draw a majority of their influences from the previous generation, one would think that some of the profound influence comics of the 60s and 70s had on the medium would have seeped into the pens of today’s artists in a more direct fashion.

Take Robert Crumb, the undisputed king of UG comix. Few of today’s cartoonists under the age of, say, 35, bear the influence of his unmistakable style not filtered through the work of a more contemporary name. Joshua Cotter is a notable exception. His Skyscrapers of the Midwest and bits and pieces of Driven By Lemons wear the influence of Fritz the Cat on their fuzzy sleeves, whilst establishing a style clearly their own.

Joseph Remnant is another. His style is unquestionably indebted to Crumb. In fact, anyone who has seen Remnant’s work in the context of online Pekar Project or in the pages of Mineshaft, alongside a slew of the 60s and 70s biggest cartooning talents, may well have mistaken him for the master. Really, if there’s a complaint to be had with Remnant’s work on the former, it’s that the artist may, perhaps, be too indebted to Robert Crumb. Mimicry is a leading criticism among talented young artists, but even the harshest of Remnant’s detractors (if they do, indeed, exist) have to acknowledge that the he is unquestionably a rather skilled draughtsman.

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The Complete Ouija Interviews by Sarah Becan

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The Complete Ouija Interviews
by Sarah Becan
Shortpants Press

ouiI pity the ghoul who hasn’t played with a Ouija board.  Sometimes they’re unresponsive but more often they’re eerily insightful and communicative.

My cousins and I once made a Ouija board, drawing the appropriate letters and numbers on the back of some other board game and using the lid off a heart-shaped box as the planchette.  Believe it or not, you don’t need Milton Bradley to manufacture a Ouija board.  Pretty much any style board will do.  And really, because we made our pitiful board from our own tools and youthful cunning, it was even more thrilling than it ought to have been when the ghosts started talking to us.

In this Xeric Award-winning book, Sarah Becan illustrates real conversations with dead people that she and others had using a Ouija board in Nantucket.  Why Nantucket?  Well, although the island’s small size apparently makes it a magnet for ghosts, Becan was drawn there because her brother worked in a Nantucket hostel.  Still, after learning a thing or two about ghostly romances in the after-life, I’m inclined to think a certain limerick is to blame for all the dead in Nantucket.

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Set to Sea by Drew Weing

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Set to Sea
By Drew Weing
Fantagraphics


drewweingsettoseacover“There’s something missing.” It’s a statement of frustration, more than anything else. Inspiration, it seems, is rarely found while going through the paces. It must be sought out. Or if you’re lucky enough, perhaps some evening it will hit you over the head—sometimes rather literally, as in the case of Drew Weing’s unnamed protagonist, a lummox of a novice poet attempting in vain to create something of some significance.

There’s a simple message here, of course: it’s necessary to live life before one can accurately depict it in verse (or, taken more broadly, any artistic pursuit). And surely there’s something to be said for this age-old sentiment-that perhaps, in the case of the aforementioned poet, late night at some darkened harbor bar isn’t the best place to pen sweeping epics about the sea—not with the waves crashing against the pier a mere feet away.

It’s fitting, in a sense, that Set to Sea shares a title with the book of poetry penned by Weing’s protagonist upon discovering precisely that missing thing on the deck of an embattled pirate ship. At its core, this book imbued with appropriately romantic notions of what living one’s life truly means.

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Indestructible Universe #1 by Morgan Pielli

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Indestructible Universe #1
By Morgan Pielli

morganpielliindestructible1A successful comic convention is like a bender. A lost weekend, and when you wake up and it’s all over, there’s only a blur of disjointed memories—though a decided benefit to the whole process is the fact that you walk away from it all with a bag full of comics, instead of a head full of regrets.

I’ve spent many post-convention weeks weeding through piles of minis, trying to put faces to covers and attempting to remember the exchanges that led yet another book to wind up in my already over-crowded bag.

Honestly, I don’t remember how I came to possesses Indestructible Universe Quarterly. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met or otherwise conversed in some manner with Morgan Pielli. And honestly, while I’m pretty sure I acquired the book at this year’s MoCCA, I can’t really say for certain. Somehow the book ended up in a pile that I finally worked my way through this week.

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The Search for Smilin’ Ed by Kim Deitch

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The Search for Smilin’ Ed
By Kim Deitch
Fantagraphics

deitchsearchforsmilincoverThe first time I ever really spoke to Kim Deitch was during an interview for this site. I’d met the artist briefly a handful of times, standing on the other side of a table at shows like MoCCA, but we’d never really shared more than a couple of words. After a few shows, I finally asked Deitch if he’d be interested in speaking with me for the Cross Hatch. He agreed, suggesting that we conduct the interview at his apartment on the upper west side.

When I arrived for the interview, Deitch’s wife Pam answered the door. Deitch himself was doing sit ups in front of a small television playing a tape of ancient black and white cartoons. The apartment was largish, I suppose, by Manhattan standards—though anyone who has spent any time in New York City can tell you that such a statement isn’t really saying all that much, and given the enthusiasm Kim and Pam devote to the pursuit of antiquing, they couple could have no doubt filled an apartment several times the size.

Along one wall was Pam’s collection of black cat dolls—knockoff Felix the Cats that had served as the jumping off point for Deitch’s Alias the Cat, a book I had recently finished, lending an air of surreality to the whole pursuit. The sense was only compounded by the presence a stuffed Waldo doll with a $1,000 price tag attached. A similar doll had also made an appearance in Alias. The resemblance was uncanny.

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Animal Crackers by Gene Yang

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Animal Crackers
By Gene Yang
SLG Publishing

geneyanganimalcrackerscoverThere are few cartoonist working today who make books as easily likable as Gene Yang’s. The simple, yet affective art, the complex characters, the storytelling’s ever-present—yet largely unforeseeable—twists into the fantastic. All are present in this collection of early works by the American Born Chinese artist.

Actually, “collection” feels like too grandiose a term—there are, after all, only two stories full stories present (the newly-minted 11 page bonus story, while interesting as a peak into the author’s creative process, really plays more like an afterward to the book). And, thanks to the presence of shared characters, the two tales play off one another as two slightly dissonate pieces of the same story.

“Gordon Yamamoto and the Kind of the Geeks” and “Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order” share more than just overlapping characters at the same school and similarly structure names. Both are tales of youths thrust into larger fantastical worlds. Gordon Yamamoto, arguably the dumbest oaf in his school, enters bumbling into a vivid dream world. Loyola Chin, a lifelong member of the honor roll, knowing thrust herself in, through odd combinations of late-night snacks.

In some sense, however, both are chosen by their respective tour guides—albeit for very different reasons.

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Wilson by Dan Clowes

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Wilson
By Dan Clowes
Drawn and Quarterly

dancloweswilsoncoverSurely Dan Clowes has one of the toughest jobs in all of comics: being Dan Clowes. Such a statement is by no means an attempt to pass judgment on Mr. Clowes’s daily life. Dan Clowes may, on a whole, be a perfectly satisfying thing to be. Some time ago I learned the dangers of projecting the fictional traits of one’s characters upon their creator, and as such, I would never go so far as to suggest that Clowes is somehow the embodiment of the those sad sack outsiders figures who so often populate his panels.

Rather, it’s hard not to imagine any artist operating on Clowes’s level being, in some sense, in the shadow of his or her last great work. For Clowes, it’s been a career teaming with last great works, and in no sense has the artist lost his stride. Over the years and decades his approach has become, perhaps, a touch more subtle, but, save for the most radical of tranformationalists, nuance, quite understandably, has often becomes the currency of seasoned artists.

Hard to believe, but it’s been a half-dozen years since the masterful stroke of The Death-Ray (Eightball #23) and nine years since Ice Haven appeared in its original, floppy form (Eightball #22). I won’t bother to go any further. That would sort of timeline will likely make us all feel ancient.

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The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City by Brendan Leach

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The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City
by Brendan Leach
Self-published

pterosOh man, I love dinosaurs.  So let’s be upfront.  I was really psyched to read this comic and it did not disappoint.

Brendan Leach‘s latest comic is called The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City. It explores what what life would be like if pterodactyls survived into the last century.

Why, they would terrorize mankind of course and must be destroyed.  Though it is implied that the pteros might have feelings or relationships with other pteros, it is not apparently accepted that they are sentient, thus the Dinotopia-like dream that we would befriend or tame and ride them was never explored by these people.  Any response to the pteros seems to be universally charged by anger or fear.  The pteros eat people, so they’ve simply got to go.  Nobody is bargaining for their survival.  Not even science.

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The Daily Cross Hatch 5.22.10

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wolv012

[Above Wolverine sleeps soundly in the latest issue of Girl Comic. Below the eye-opening Dispatch.]

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