Comic Art #9 (Buenaventura Press)

comicart9-header.jpgThis latest issue is a strange, rough mix of scholarship and funkiness.



208 pgs. FC; $19.95

(W / A: Various; Ed: Todd Hignite)


The Comic Art annual, particularly in this latest issue, is a strange, rough mix of scholarship and funkiness.

The scholarship takes the form of extended, dry musings on the careers of long-time-dead innovators like New Yorker warhorses Gluyas Williams and Richard Taylor (I hadn’t heard of them either). A piece on Bauhaus figure, painter, and cartoonist Lyonel Feininger is a clinical appraisal, in marked contrast to the surreal, Edward Lear-esque vibe he brought to his early 20th-century Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World newspaper strips.

More modern glimpses at the careers of guys like Jerry Moriarty, a creator of "sequential paintings" heavily influenced by Edward Hopper and Balthus, are a tonic. His personal evolution as an artist is related by a series of unadorned quotes from an interview – it’s a direct, refreshing method. (And Moriarty’s take on Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, a strip that inspires violent loathing and affection all at once, is priceless: "I didn’t like Nancy as a kid, so I feared for my mind now that I looked forward to it every day.")

The cover to Comic Art 9. Click for a larger image.Talented fiction writer Tom De Haven reveals his obsession with Dick Tracy, and how he personally divides and subdivides Chester Gould’s impossible-to-ignore achievement into various periods of top-notch or moribund work. De Haven notes how the art changed over the four-plus decades (!!) that Gould drew the strip, and when Gould’s sadistic side and political axe-grinding began to loom especially large. De Haven makes some really perceptive comments about Tracy’s lack of personality – it’s true, you know, the guy was a stick-in-the-mud – and the raw violence and pacing of the strip, which is pure, masculine "comics for guys who like comics." The critic is at his best when he remembers the artist at his best, turning out images that had a knack for worming their way into kids’ dreams: "a midget cobbler hunkered inside a supposedly automatic coin-operated shoe-heeling machine… a black Plymouth floating down a river in a cake of ice in a blizzard," and so on.

The mag also features a career history of the cryptic Abner Dean, who drew books full of pointed, whimsical-yet-grave visual gags about human foibles – what, exactly, he was pointing at, only he seemed to fully know.

Dan Zettwoch’s imaginary history of his father’s forays into printing up church bulletins, "Spirit Duplicator," is a love letter to Mimeographs, Ditto machines, and all manner of printing tech.

Sci-fi legend Ron Goulart (in the same issue as Tom De Haven!) waxes nostalgic over Tarzan comics illustrator of the 50’s Jesse Marsh, and, in an entertaining sidebar, Adrian Tomine interviews Gilbert Hernandez on the latter’s appreciation for Marsh, too.

Interior art from Dan Zettwoch. Click for a larger image.My personal favorite in Comic Art #9 just happens to be written by Ben Schwartz, who wrote my personal favorite in Comic Art #8. The articles are about two guys who crossed paths at New York’s School of Visual Arts in the late 70’s: Drew Friedman in #8, and Kaz in #9. Kaz, like Friedman, inflicted his own unique and bizarre sense of humor on an unprepared world. Many are familiar with Kaz’s sick-yet-cute four-panel black-and-white strip Underground from its syndication in alternative newsweeklies through the 90’s. Schwartz’s stroll down memory lane includes a look at Kaz’s punk-rock influences, his long relationship with mentor Art Spiegelman, and a mention of the crumbling, crime- and drug-infested neighborhood Kaz once called home, which surely influenced the crumbling, crime- and drug-infested setting of Underworld.

I had no idea Kaz had lent his darkly hilarious talents to a number of episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. Schwartz’s description of what Kaz was able to get away with (a decomposing sea creature called "Ma" who screams "You’re just waiting for me to die!" from her wheelchair) is unreal. The article has a great selection of early rarities from Kaz, but might have benefited from reprints of a few more of his classic four-panel depraved delights. (See for more.)

The lagniappe packaged with the issue is a small, 79-page book, Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. In his conversational voice, the self-effacing Chicago artist details the lesson plan from his 15-week step-by-step class on making successful comics. It would seem that with the hard work and simple exercises Brunetti advocates, any artist can’t help but journey deeper within him- or herself to draw out more of the stuff that makes good comics.

And so any reader of Comic Art ends his/her journey through the thick periodical with a sated feeling, having learned something new, and encouraged to go seek out more works by groovy creators heretofore unknown. | Byron Kerman

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