Saturday, July 31, 2010

Art In Time, edited by Dan Nadel

(Guest Review by RObert Dayton) (Abrams ComicartsArt Out Of Time was an incredibly important and absolutely awe-striking book containing examples of comic art stories that would literally transport the reader out of time and leave them wanting more. And more they did. Collections of Fletcher Hanks, Boody Rogers, Rory Hayes, Gene Deitch, and Herbie soon followed (and, hopefully, we’ll one day get a collection of Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein).This new companion book Art In Time does exactly that. It keeps you in time. There’s just not nearly as much ‘wow factor’ as its’ predecessor. Much of this collection, while still rejecting the notion of a comics canon, is of genre work in the adventure, detective, hero, and sci-fi comic fiction molds- with some drippy hippy stuff thrown in to boot. Much of it is technically well-crafted and/or stylistically interesting. This might not convert the uninitiated but there are some tantalizing bits for comics fanciers.
Original Wonder Woman artist (for seventeen years!) H.G. Peters has a slightly Victoriana-bent to his style yet also heaps on the dynamism with his loose brush.  His character Man O’Metal only turns metal when exposed to fire or electricity so numerous freak accidents occur on every second page: exploding light bulb, cigar snubbed out in his eye, whirring metal blades catching on each other and causing sparks. Oh, he also becomes shirtless upon transformation.  Art In Time also has some great examples of John Stanley’s rare horror work with some crazy twist endings.
Though it just doesn’t compare with Art Out Of Time, this is a good book. The editorial choices of selections leave you feeling satisfied, like you’ve been given just enough.

PuPu Summer Fashions 2010 by Ginette Lapalm

(Guest Review: Robert Dayton) ( In this saddle stitched and photocopied hand drawn booklet, Ginette reveals all the Summer fashions. Cutesy gals don such items as poop studded shorts and sponge heels. Don’t be left in the dark, get on the fashion tip! Ooh!

Street Napoleon by Shay Semple

(Guest Review: RObert Dayton) (order from Candles abound. In fact, many of these full colour painted portraits look like they were candle lit. Numerous deformed variations of Klaus Kinski peer out incandescent and clandestine from the darkness, costumed for various roles that he took for the money. Thumbing a nose at modern white fear, there are also various revisionist takes on Blacula. As well as  a cat nonchalantly caught up in spider webbing that keeps right on walking, a coupla pen ‘n’ inkers with a  bit of a Pettibon vibe, and lotsa hand brushed street poetry. Moooooooody funny!

Melvin Monster Volumes One and Two: The John Stanley Library by John Stanley

(Drawn and Quarterly) (GUEST REVIEW by ROBERT DAYTON) Imagine the man behind most of those Little Lulu adventures doing his take on the monster revival! Neat-o! Fits in well with Mad Monster Party, Spike Jones In Stereo, the Addams Family, and the Munsters! Melvin Monster is a green-skinned, pointy-headed kid with a monster dad named Baddy and a Mom named Mummy who’s a-you guessed it! Melvin seems a little too nice for monster-hood much to his parents’ dismay! Collects just three issues a volume of Stanley’s mid-60s Dell Comics series. The hard cover design, though lovingly done and pleasant, is too austere and stiff for the loose-and-easy ‘read while eating ice cream’ style of John Stanley. I would have loved to have had the original covers reprinted and even used for the covers of these collection instead, especially considering how kids-friendly these comics still are after all these years. Light-hearted, slightly morbid ghoulish fun by a master of exceptional pacing who, like Carl Barks and Bob Bollings,  is highly revered in humour cartoon afficiondo  circles. I personally prefer Volume One over Volume Two. Volume Two features mostly shorter, more gag-oriented variations on characters and situations introduced in Volume One. That said I can’t wait for the third and final volume!

The Selves by Sonja Ahlers

(Drawn and Quarterly) (GUEST REVIEW by ROBERT DAYTON) Before blogs, before zines, there was scrap booking: the root of it. Reconfigured and recontextualized. Deeply loaded images of feminine archetypes: a multiplicity of selves, whether through growth or through differing facets, Sybil references abound. A book to fall into. Published by Drawn and Quarterly but this is not a comic book, it’s more of an art book; a funny, haunting, mostly visual thing; scant text that encourages multiple readings.    The Selves  is less flip and more focused, more nuanced, than her previous book Fatal Distraction. I particularly enjoyed the carefully sprinkled images of a pre-teen Lady Diana vacantly watching TV and reading romance novels. This leads up to the pivotal final girl Jamie Lee Curtis screaming as, on the next page, a beauty clay mask Diana hovers on a balcony, looking much like Michael Myers from Halloween. Delicate yet pointed collage with a flowing script commentary and sharp asides all lurk inside a soft pink cover for a book that’s tougher than that.

Catland Empire by Keith Jones

(Guest Review by ROBERT DAYTON) (Drawn and Quarterly)  The Multiverse, God-like figures of time, space, and the universe, cute cats in suits, and the destruction of earth all come to play in this flip graphic novel. The uniformity of line, computerized colours, and the strong presence of anthropormorphic characters give it the appearance of kids’ lit. Where Keith Jones is strongest is in the more detailed pages of which there are too few of. That aspect is best served by his non-narrative work, such as his art book Bacter Area and his pages in Nog a Dod where no matter how cluttered and microscopic the picture gets, his art looks incredibly clean.

Hot Potatoe by Marc Bell

(Guest Review by ROBERT DAYTON) (Drawn and Quarterly) The perfect coffee table book. The perfect coffee table book should overwhelm. Dense in every which way, including loose goose and tight ships. It’s too much. A compendium of ornate excess. Where will the eye go in this loving volume of an innovator? What should the eye focus on? What am I following? Oh, his path. As intentionally indirect as humanly possible. He’s on a  cartoonified trip or something blending with the art world. High? Low? Ya know, if you have to ask...Screw that.
Luckily, the different sections break it all up into fine aht werks, comics, collaborations, mixed media drawings collaged and drawn and sculpted, a few extreme close-ups, his address book, and essays about/not about Marc Bell, some true, some not.  I two-headed dog dare you to find anyone in all of comic-dom as over-saturated/stimulated as this DoodleKing.
Heavily layered, so layered that there are images of layers. Layers of skin? Layers of the earth? He’s even got a strip in here called Layers of the Eath. Earth? No, eath. Multiple textures encapsulating everything from crackers to meat to bark to nuts-he’s nuts. Friggin’ wizard with a footloose and ever-patient rapidograph crystallizing to his own ever-loving and unique style.
Depths and heights of nonsense, absurdity. Everything comes to life with big eyes and feet: layers of the eath, buildings, air.
Like soft diagrams decontextualized with text labels that contain references to everything including reference letters and reference books: all that comes to life, too!
His later work seems to have drawings of organic pieces that hang out and nearly fit together while surrounded by stylistic, squiggled line ornamentations.
Great care has been put into this book in terms of reproductions, colour separations, etcetera. But if you read it all in one sitting, your brain will be put into permanent flip-flop mode.

Wilson by Daniel CLowes

(GUEST REVIEW by ROBERT DAYTON) (Drawn and QuarterlyThis is a comic event! It isn’t every day that we get new comic work from Daniel Clowes. The last issue of Eightball was six years ago. Having a book of all new Daniel Clowes work is just cause for excitement.
Right from the front cover there stands a solitary figure: Wilson. Name above him in cartoony font. Wilson. That is who this book is all about, pure Wilson. A comic book character study. We’ve never met him before but his all-too-real traits seem familiar. He’s a total misanthrope. I recently saw that movie Greenburg with Ben Sandler as a misanthrope who finds love or something, different from Wilson, I mean Greenburg’s too good looking, isn’t he? On the cover of this book stands Wilson, pure misanthrope. Schlubby. In a stained white shirt, grey undershirt peeking out, pencil peeping out of his black pants pocket, brown shoes, thinning brown hair, scraggle beard, glasses: it’s all conveyed.
Wilson is completely self-absorbed, he has total self-blockage. In one page he sits looking at the ocean, ”I feel like I’m on the edge of a profound personal break through!” (pause) “Fuck it, this is a snooze-fest.” (walks away) He does not edit himself in his dealings with others- “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?”- he actually says what so many of us want to say!
This realism is contrasted with cheery soft colours and comic styles that vary from page to page between cartoony and realistic, never missing a beat to capture a particular feel and always funny as Hell. Wilson is set-up, like much of Clowes’ recent work, as a series of one-pagers that connect and progress through character dynamics. These one page dosages (that take place over the span of several years) seem to show that life with its’ infinite mysteries is all small stuff. Free of pity.
Contained herein are the fumbled grasps for meaning in life, the missed connections, the lack of personal connections: does anyone truly understand each other here? Wilson visits his dying Father for what appear to be selfish emotional reasons. Wilson acts with complete obliviousness until he realizes that he’s all alone, this causes him to take action, yet still remain somewhat oblivious for our enjoyment.
Wilson, like many newspaper strip characters, has a habit of talking aloud, seemingly to no one in particular. And it really works for Wilson, I developed a certain empathy for this self-motivated individual (who does make certain flawed efforts at reaching out and building a life) and couldn’t wait for what he would say or do next.

The Search For Smilin’ Ed by Kim Deitch

(Fantagraphics(Guest Review by ROBERT DAYTON) I never thought that this story would ever be collected. When I helped interview legendary underground cartoonist Kim Deitch for the Ink Studs radio show a couple of years back, it seemed like it wouldn’t happen. I’m thinking that it was because he is a quality draughtsman and storyteller that is hard on himself- too hard on himself! I don’t know how what convinced him to get The Search For Smilin’ Ed collected, I’m just glad that it is! Kim Deitch is my fave of the original still-active underground crop. This serial originally appeared in the late 90s for the comics anthology Zero Zero and is not only up there with his other work, it ties into it quite neatly as well.
Much of Deitch’s work weaves an elaborate, yet inviting, mythos of his own possible creation mixed in with an unsentimental awe of numerous past eras of American entertainment. This particular graphic novel features an actual 50s Children’s TV host named Smilin’ Ed who one day just disappeared...Throw in some demons- including Deitch’s long-time character Waldo the Cat, midget men, miniature aliens that film everything that humans do, as well as Kim Deitch himself acting as a storytelling conduit for narratives that dwell inside and alongside other narratives!
Kim Deitch’s father is the legendary Cartoon Modern animator Gene Deitch and the classic cartoon look is in Deitch’s work, except that he utilizes elaborate detail in skewed panel arrangements and elaborate tableaus. His smooth hatching adds layers of dimension and causes the page to glow.
The Search For Smilin’ Ed contains a brand new essay on Kim Deitch, a full colour fold-out of the Kim Deitch universe, and a new silly comic about beaver evolution.
For anyone who has not entered Deitch’s universe, fear not: it is remarkably easy to access, one does not need a map to enter or understand. It will most likely make you want to explore his other works, much of which have also been collected in graphic novels in recent years causing many to at last wake up and praise the Deitch!

Stooge Pile by Seth Scriver

(Drawn and Quarterly(Guest Review by ROBERT DAYTON) Total goofballz. A cryptic, funny-as-all-get-out art book. When I say cryptic, I don’t mean that the funny is elusive. What I mean is that it may not be possible to pinpoint exactly why this is just so damned funny: it just is, know what I mean? This ain’t no pinpoint book, no no no, it’s full of airbrush renderings of- hey, waitasec, who airbrushes anymore? The real Seth does! Cartoony and colourful airbrush renderings of Canadian randoms, bums, characters, glad sacks, sacks of garbage, sacks of money that cause a duck to drool, and an imploding Garfield. Accurate lumpy portraiture. Mystery fun and loads of yuks. Some pretty next-door-neighbour level heady brews. Stooge Pile even contains a do-it-yourself section of Crafts that one can make at home, excepting that they are pure uselessness (pure delight/nonsense). One craft involves a live cat, a cat brush and drawings of goofy faces to put old cat hair on in a step-by-step classic craft book manner (right down to the bright construction paper backdrop). This is an art book that’s small enough to put in your back pocket with your hankie.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Frank Zappa - The Freakout List DVD

GUEST REVIEW  by  Gary Pig Gold
Long before the Valley Girls, Jewish princesses, mud sharks, dental floss, yellow snow and, tragically, the cancer which claimed him in 1993, there was simply Francis Vincent Zappa, a young kid with an above-eclectic record collection who escaped the confines of Lancaster, California to arrive in Hollywood with his rockin’ teen combo The Mothers of Invention in 1965. His career on stage and disc thereafter caused countless unsuspecting youngsters such as myself to immediately set aside their Monkees albums in order that we could join our newest mentor upon this most adventurous of all, as it turns out, musical paths.

But exactly how did this seemingly unassuming composer/guitarist with a penchant for sinister footwear become one of the most musically and socially iconoclastic participants of the 1960s? A fascinating new documentary from Sexy Intellectual, Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List uses the
179 names listed within the original 1966 issue of the Mothers’ debut album Freak Out! as a guide to explaining, well, why the music therein sounded the way it did.
As in, sounded like NOTHING ELSE released that year …or ever since, for that matter.
Setting aside the litany of Zappa’s friends, teachers, business associates and various showbiz personalities (such as Lenny Bruce and John Wayne) to concentrate instead on the seventy-one musical figures listed (which Frank said at the time “have contributed materially in many ways to make our music what it is; please do not hold it against them”), The Freak-Out List and its superb cast of interviewees – including three former Mothers and the University of Southampton’s Professor of Music David Nicholls – duly cite the connections between, for example, Bob Dylan and “Trouble Every Day,“ not to mention The Cadillacs and the Cruising with Ruben and the Jets album …yet I’m still not exactly sure why Frank dedicated one of Freak Out’s most alarming numbers, “Help I’m A Rock,” to Elvis Presley (though I have my theories).
It is in its detailed examinations of the classical composers and rhythm ‘n’ blues musicians however, who first awoke young Frank to the possibilities of a life and career submerged in musical exploration, which truly give this film the meat of its matter. Of course the quote “The present day composer refuses to die!” will be familiar to anyone who read the fine print inside the Mothers’ key early albums. But as The Freak-Out List explains, the man who first uttered those defiant words in 1921, French composer Edgard Varèse, remained a major influence upon, and inspiration to, Frank Zappa throughout his life.
Since first reading his name in a 1953 Look Magazine article and subsequently unearthing his Complete Works Volume 1 album, Zappa took to Varèse’s above-free-form, percussion-based experimental/electronic work, referencing and returning to it often for the remainder of his life. In fact, so utterly besotted was he with the man, the young Zappa convinced his parents to allow him a long-distance phone call to the composer as a fifteenth birthday present. (Most unfortunately, the two never actually met: Edgard passed away just months before the Freak Out! album was released).
Likewise we learn of, and actually hear via side-by-side audio/visual clips, the above-obvious influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Film Score” on Zappa’s very own film scores, and precisely how snatches of Holst and Stravinsky end up weaved into the Mothers’ Absolutely Free album of 1967. Why, as Frank himself told the likely bemused readers of Hit Parader that year, “buy everything that you can by Igor Stravinsky and dance to it.” Hotcha!
Zappa biographer Ben Watson rightfully warns us, however, that such “spot-the-musical-quote” playing misses the point. One should instead concentrate on “how Frank makes you think about classical music” while you’re trying to get jiggy with, say, “Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin.”
Now, on the all-important flip side of The Freak-Out List lie the many doo-wop and r ’n’ b artists Frank was also seriously grooving to, as he mastered drums then guitar in his very first Lancaster desert garage bands (…when he wasn’t locked in his room composing film scores, that is). For instance, it is impossible to hear any of Zappa’s multitude guitar solos, recorded or otherwise, without being directed straight back to the magnificent Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and The Freak-Out List presents joyous, yet ultimately heartbreaking footage of the two’s final musical get-together chez Zappa.
Elsewhere, we’re shown how no less a kindred musical spirit as Miles Davis, and his In A Silent Way album in particular, helped create a context for Zappa’s landmark “jazz-rock” (as it would be pigeon-holed today) Hot Rats. Yes, although he once (in)famously claimed “Jazz isn’t dead; it just smells funny,” Frank obviously kept his fair share of Eric Dolphy records alongside the Varèse, and co-operated so fully – and so successfully – in jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s King Kong project that Ponty ended up as an actual Mother himself for two entire tours.
So, then: Dozens of albums, hundreds of compositions, and thousands of performances later, we still may not be able to get a sufficient grip around the art, or as some would say artifice, of Frank Zappa. But ever since leaving on what was called his final tour, just before 6 pm on Saturday, December 4, 1993, all we have left are his dedicated scholars, followers, and now films such as The Freak-Out List (plus Sexy Intellectual’s companion DVD  Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention In The 1960s to guide us towards our understanding and appreciation of a figure so prolific, so public, yet so baffling.
In an interview with Jazz & Pop magazine in 1967, Zappa explained “that whole Freak Out! album is to be as accessible as possible to the people who wanted to take the time to make it accessible. That list of names in there, if anybody were to research it, it would probably help them a great deal.”
As always, however, just don’t hold it against them.