Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
The advertising industry tends to be met with superficial scorn and cynicism, but some of our most inspired artists got their start hocking goods in catalogues. Long before they were household names, Dr. Suess was sketching out pesticide bottles and Andy Warhol was selling ladies shoes. Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising stretches back to the early 1900s when ad space was the canvass for sophisticated, intricate work that delighted as much as anything found on the funny pages. The most amazing facet of these antique ads is how dense they are with information – story lines, panels and paragraphs coalesce into gorgeous line work to show some real labors of commercial love. It’s a stark contrast to the minimalist banner ads that fight in a crowded marketplace for an attention deficit population. These colorful illustrations are propped on thick matte paper on a just-right 9 1/2 × 12 1/2 page, festooned with knowledgable, and often passionate, commentary from editors Rick Marschall and Warren Bernard. This historical treasure chest also sheds light on history and culture as well, diagramming political campaigns, war-time propaganda and great depression solidarity. This gorgeous index shows that selling out was one of the best decisions a cartoonist could make at the dawn of the 20th century. (SE)
Top Shelf / Knockabout, 2011
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been an exercise, but was it ever this exhausting? 1969 is the second of three slim softbound volumes that make up the third series. If you haven’t checked in since the second trade paperback, Mina Parker and Allan Quartermain hung out with Prospero in the Blazing World, turned immortal, and are now in a polyamorous relationship with Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. They’re also trying to prevent the birth of the Moonchild, a stout Antichrist type whose arrival is the goal of main villain Oliver Haddo, an obscure old Crowley stand-in created by W. Somerset Maugham. Moore makes hay with pop culture’s on-and-off-again love affair with black magic and the supernatural, drawing in analogues for the Rolling Stones at their most Satanic and obliquely referencing Jack Parsons, while explicitly mentioning Rosemary’s Baby, The Rutles, and Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius, among others. It’s less a satisfying story than an elaborate game of spot-the-reference (or, more likely, let-Jess-Nevins-explain-the-reference-to-you). Random cameos from Andy Capp and the British Sanford and Son just make me hungry for Hot Fries and mid-eighties TBS. The occasional poignant character moment, like Mina’s discomfort over her immortality, are buried under endless references and unnecessary upskirt shots. At least you can admire Kevin O’Neill’s ridiculously detailed artwork, including a pivotal Brandon McCarthy style acid trip climax. (GM)
Vertigo Comics, 2011
A cop and an FBI agent go deep undercover, approaching the same sprawling case from different angles. Neither one knows about the other while they unravel business deals between a seemingly respectable company, a drug-running rap label boss, and a born-again Imam from the streets whose urban mosque might be considering a little taste of terrorism. There are no Triads or Yakuza, but basically every other type of gang pops up, from aging Sicilians to machete wielding MS-13 knockoffs. It’s not the uninspired gauntlet of stereotypes it easily could have been, though, and that sweeping macro overview of contemporary organized crime and how everything interconnects resembles Soderbergh’s Traffic. Phillips doesn’t belabor how basically every major player in the book is living a double life or operating under an affected persona. The bloody climax hinges on a seemingly minor point from early in the book, but refreshingly illustrates how personal choices, poor impulse control, and unrestrained egotism can, in the absolute worst case scenario, get, like, two football teams worth of people killed during fancy steak dinner. With its compelling kitchen-sink plot, unexpected conclusion, and characterization that often avoids the expected clichés, Cowboys is one of the better books in the Vertigo Crime series. (GM)
The title here should let you know pretty near immediately if this book is for you. Are you either too stupid or too snobby for puns? Then Josh Hechinger’s ability to tiptoe across the chasm of “not funny” that surrounds the western genre will not impress you. I found The Grave Doug Freshley to be nearly pitch-perfect in its evocation of conventions and its gently goofy tone, a shade more serious than Support Your Local Sheriff but in the same ballpark. Its tale resembles that of the Jonah Hex movie (zombie cowboy out for justice), and it has plenty of gravity in the actual material (murdered parents, horses shot and squished, our hero feeling a bullet hole in his own forehead), but Hechinger relates it all with brio and style that make it seem more cinematic than grittily real. He’s helped along by Mann’s breezily composed panels, which use sound effects nicely as a visual element. The coloring is a little drab, but better that than the usual barfed rainbow of so many contemporary books, and the book is a well-packaged object, adorned with clever tag lines and some smart graphic design. (HB)
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