Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1684- Richard F. Outcault: The Yellow Kid Comic Strips 1895 - 1898

Many students of comic books have heard of Richard F. Outcault's Yellow Kid comic strips, but I'd venture to guess that a relative few have actually read them.

Outcault is often credited with the first comic strip, though that is debatable. Less debatable is his simple innovation that would change comics forever: the speech balloon.

I'm not sure that in itself warrants reading the comics, but the art isn't bad. Mostly depicting children from a fictional slum and home to a large immigrant population, the line work is somewhat reminiscent of John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Many aren't true comic strips but rather cartoons (single panels and therefor non-sequential), but even these are filled with activity and detail. I would not be surprised to hear that they held influence on Norman Rockwell or Will Eisner as I can similarities in both.

The writing is, however, not great. I suppose some of it is lost through time. No doubt some of the satirical targets have been forgotten. But attempts at humour are not great. It's mostly people spouting misspelled phrases (trying to capture accents and grammar, I suppose) and some poorly done slapstick.

It's also racist but perhaps not in the way you'd think. While "yellow" is sometimes used by racists to refer to Asians but in this case it only refers to the colour of the kid's gown. Black people, however, are really treated poorly; as caricatures, as lower-class. The N-word is used, as is the word "coon."

UP History and Hobby who published this collection was careful to note these offensive depictions but offering the book as is nonetheless as a historical artifact. That said, they could have taken more time with the production. It's really just coloured photocopies of the originals and so, some of the text is too blurry and should have been restored. One page is photocopied twice.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reader's Diary #1683- Jacques de Pierpont (writer), Hervé Bourhis (artist): Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal was my first music love. So, when I found this "Little Book of Knowledge" on the subject, I had high hopes that Jacques de Pierpont and Hervé Bourhis would do for the genre what Ed Piskor did for Hip Hop. I also hadn't been really attentive to heavy metal for sometime now and so I was hoping that it would help me get caught up.

First off, it's not as readable as Piskor's books which tend to treat hip hop legends almost as story characters. Heavy Metal is more like a chronologically arranged book of heavy metal trivia. As luck would have it, I'm also a fan of trivia so this wasn't a huge problem.

Secondly, a large portion of the book dealt with the history of the music and so I didn't necessarily brush up on as many new artists as I'd hoped. Still, it was nice to revisit some facts and figures that I'd forgotten and I did get a few new names and songs to add to my playlists. I also never really paid much attention to anything heavier than thrash and de Pierpont more than adequately delved into death, black, and doom metal.

Bourhis's illustrations were good; stylistic, heavy on the black ink (appropriate), though without much of a narrative, it's hard to say how he'd deal with sequential art.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reader's Diary #1682- Anna Paquier: A Potted Cactus

Anna Paquier's "A Potted Cactus" is labeled on the Short Edition website as humorous, and indeed it's that. There's a quirky sensibility that is helped by the quick pace of the tale.

It is, however, still about a young man who has been hit by a truck and near death. There are themes about the afterlife and it could provoke readers to consider what they would do with their own lives if given a second chance.

Plus, it's set at Christmas, so an all around good read!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reader's Diary #1681- Gemma Correll: The Worrier's Guide to Life

Gemma Correll's The Worrier's Guide to Life reminded me somewhat of the type of humour my best friend/ cousin and I had as children: to be funny, you just need to escalate the punchlines to the point of ridiculousness. Of course, being young boys we had a lot of diarrhea jokes thrown in for good measure and Correll's comedy is decidedly much more mature than that, but the idea is the same. Take a milk moustache and then explore other dairy-based facial hair: yogurt unibrow, pat o' butter soul patch, etc.

So yes, it's funny and I'm sure most will find it amusing, but it's also a bit formulaic (list heavy). I'm not sure that it wouldn't grow tiresome in a longer or second book but that's for Correll to worry about.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Reader's Diary #1680- Kris, Rob, Matt and Dave: Cyanide and Happiness

Cyanide and Happiness is the kind of comic I think of when I think of webcomics. Simple, not particularly well-done art and quick punchlines. None of that is necessarily a criticism; as Scott McCloud explained in Understanding Comics, sometimes it's the simplest of cartoons that resonate the most.

The description in the introduction declares that there'd be a really good chance, especially if under 15 and over 50, that readers would be offended. A fan of dark humour, I welcomed it but many pages in, I wondered when it would ever become offensive. Then there was a comic strip in which a woman declares she's pregnant. The man in the strip kicks her in the stomach and says, "problem solved."

Yeah, there's dark humour and there's distasteful. The next strip was undoubtedly written to balance it out. In this one, a man says that he wants kids, a woman kicks him in the groin and again says, "problem solved." No, that's not even close to equivalent.

However, it's clear that the punchline in a good many of these is shock. I don't necessarily believe these guys condone the behaviours, but when shock is the entire joke, it's lazy. I would have loved it at 15.

I did like some strips at 40 though. More than just shock, I mostly appreciated the ones with puns and off-the-wall humour. My favourite in the book featured a son talking to his father. He asks how squids have sex and the father responds, "the same way I have sex." [pause] "With squids."

Finally, I enjoyed reading a little about how the comics came together. Apparently the four creators hadn't even met each other until four years after writing the comics together online. And, as each writer signed their own strips, I tried determining if I appreciated one creator over another, but it was remarkable how similar they all were.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Reader's Diary #1679- Nick Spencer (writer), various artists: Secret Empire (collected)

When Marvel announced that their Secret Empire story line would see Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, revealed to have been a sleeper Hydra agent, it was met with a fair bit of controversy. (Okay, mostly Twitter controversy, so not really.) It seems that for many long time fans, Hydra was synonymous with Nazis and this was akin to sacrilege. Creators and publishers involved quickly came to the defense urging fans to be patient and watch the story unfold.

More of a fan of the collected volumes and trade paperbacks anyway, plus never having been a huge Captain America fan outside of the movies, I was content to wait it out and weigh in after the fact.

I quite enjoyed it. In fact, as Marvel events go, this was one of my favourites. Never have I seen such a large cast of characters handled so well. Yes, I noticed the absence of a few (Spider Woman, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, etc) and yes, some had little more than a single line or appearance in a single panel, but by and large it was very well balanced. Much more so that any of Jim Starlin's major event storylines back in the day and everyone seemed to love those.

The story revolves around a bunch of cosmic cube fragments that have the ability to alter reality. The biggest change, which is revealed from the get-go, is that the star character Captain America has secretly been a villainous Hydra agent all along. He proceeds to encapsulate many New York superheroes within the city, bar the superheroes in space from entering Earth, and compete against the remaining superheroes to gather up the rest of the fragments. Once he gets those he plans to alter even more history and on an even grander scale: in this new reality Hydra will have always been in power.

It's not perfect. The use of various reality-altering gems, cubes, and other paraphernalia is so overdone by Marvel at this point that those aspects come across as a little lazy.

Still, it's entertaining and provocative but in a good way. With Trump having usurped and bastardized the American dream, the themes in Secret Empire are timely and thoughtful.

As for all the controversy, it wasn't the real Steve Rogers anyway and that was made clear right from the beginning. Furthermore, if anyone suggests that it glamourizes Nazis or even the fictional Hydra, they clearly haven't read a page of it.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Reader's Diary #1678- Sarah Anderson: Adulthood is a Myth

Continuing with my self-guided education of webcomics, Sarah Andersen's Adulthood is a Myth began life which began online as Sarah's Scribbles saw me laughing out loud late one night all by myself. Why is it that doing so instantly makes you feel pathetic? Like there's a shame in laughing?

In any case, Andersen's brand of introspective, self-deprecating, observational humour is right up my alley. Sure many of her cartoons are about being a millennial and menstruation, neither of which I can relate to, I definitely saw myself in the rest of these: the imposter syndrome! the social anxiety! the insecurities! Sounds like a downer, doesn't it? But no, it's all done in a friendly laughter-as-therapy sort of way, a solace-in-the-fact-that-others-feel-the-same approach.

Even the cartoons that would otherwise be just mildly amusing are elevated to hilarious in the simple but expressive cartooning. Andersen accomplishes so much just with eyes alone: altering the size of pupils, a few stress lines here or there, and so on, all to comedic and satirical effect.