Tagged: Village Voice

Martha Thomases: Robert Morales

Robert Morales 2 I don’t even remember the first time I met Bob Morales.  We might have met when he was an intern at the Village Voice and I was a freelance writer, but I have no memory of that.  When I was publicity manager at DC Comics, he was always around.  As a writer and editor – for Reflex, for Publishers Weekly, for Vibe – he was an invaluable asset for me to exploit.

But he was so much more.

Bob was a world-class gossip.  If you read Bleeding Cool over the last 20 years, you’ve read one of Bob’s stories.  He would, occasionally, let me use him to snipe at someone who was annoying me, on the condition that Bob agreed the person in question deserved it (he always agreed).

Bob was a brilliant writer, of comics and of prose.  Most comics fans know him from his work on Captain America, but he was a brilliant critic, and an hilarious comedian.  He wanted to do an Elseworlds Batman story with Mark Twain as Batman, just so he could refer to “Twain Manor.”

Bob was connected.  He was editor and literary executor for writer Samuel R. Delany, and he helped put together the graphic novel Delany wrote, illustrated by Mia Wolff.  He helped me to get this interview with Harlan Ellison.  He talked about working with Neil Gaiman on packaging a line of public-domain novels.  He knew everyone in science fiction.  He knew everyone in hip-hop.

Bob was vicious.  If you ever crossed him (and didn’t try to correct your mistake), you were on the list.  And if you were on the list, he would do everything he could to destroy you.  Because he was so connected, that meant a lot.  If he found out you were looking for a new job, he’d make sure the stories of your treachery reached human resources at your hoped-for employer.

And yet …

Bob was a pussycat.  If you were his friend, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you, as Heidi describes in this memory.  He always called you on your birthday.  He called all his friends who were moms on Mothers Day, and all his friends who were dads on Fathers Day.  He called me on every Jewish holiday.  He was thoughtful in ways that were unpredictable and touching.

Bob was my family.  He babysat for my son, and told me stories about my son’s other life, when he was his own person and not just my kid.  He introduced me to the woman who became not only one of my best friends, but also my son’s West Coast mom.  He stayed in my apartment when we went out of town so the cats wouldn’t have to be alone.  Quite often – almost always – some horrible mechanical event would occur in my building, and he would deal with it.

This is from Alan Moore (slightly edited), sent to be read at Bob’s funeral.

“I’m going to miss the savvy New York creak his conversation had as much as I will surely miss his writing; the commitment, insight and rare passion that he brought to every story, ever feature, every line. One of the comic field’s conspicuously rare voices of colour, he was also one of its most gifted and original contemporary writers. As a genuine creator of integrity, inevitably he came into conflict with an industry that much prefers a bland subservience in its employees to the fierce, ungovernable talent of an actual artist who has something deeply felt to say and does not care to compromise a work which he or she believes in…Moving with no apparent effort between his extraordinarily diverse realms of endeavour, Bob was like a human cultural adhesive that connected up a vast cobweb of people who, in every probability, would never have been introduced to one another save through him. One of the last authentic hipsters, he was sharp, astute, and very, very funny. If I’m honest it might be his anecdotes that I’ll miss most of all, the unexpected courtesy and deference extended to him by a crowd of strangers at a party whom, it transpired, had been informed Bob was a Puerto Rican mafia prince… Robert Morales had a fine and blazing life, a side or two of classic vinyl that I’m convinced will replay unendingly, just as I entirely expect to pick the ’phone up for an interview with Vibe, one day back in the hectic1980s, and commence a long, sweet friendship full of warmth and great ideas and lots of memorable laughs.  So long for now, Bob, from me and Melinda, and I’m looking forward to enjoying that mafia anecdote again.

The last time I saw Bob was on Saturday, April 13.  He’d been taking care of my cat while I was in Japan, and while I was gone he came down with a stomach flu.  He swore he was over it, but he insisted on doing the laundry before he left.  While we waited on the machines, we watched Rock of Ages on HBO, agreeing that Mary J. Blige should have been the main story, and that Catherine Zeta-Jones looked like Marie Osmond.

When he left, he said he was glad he could help me get away for a real vacation.  I think –  I hope – I told him I loved him.  On Thursday, I got the call that he had died.

Bob was a talker.  He’d call and say, “Hey, got a minute?” and you’d be on the phone for an hour, minimum.  I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this new free time, but it won’t be nearly as much fun, nor as valuable, as what I did with Bob.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

Dennis O’Neil Is Not Jules Feiffer?

O'Neil Art 130418So there I was, standing in…no, make that sitting in for Jules Feiffer at MoCCA, a two-day long expo-type event sponsored by the Museum of Comic Art and held at the big armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Talk about your bait-and-switch…folks come expecting to see and hear one of our era’s defining and multifaceted talents, a man who has done exemplary work in cartoons, playwriting, screen writing – an innovator and astute observer of manners and morals, a social commentator…This is the giant they anticipated and instead they got…me. Sitting, not standing, on a platform with Peter Kuper, Gabrielle Bell and Paul Levitz. talking about comics and the counterculture.

It’s a big and pretty complex topic and Jules Feiffer – the real Jules Feiffer – might have done it justice. Me – not so much.

Though the kind of comics I’ve been professionally involved in were a far stretch from the innovative, angry, and occasionally profane “undergrounds” that emerged from the turmoil of the Sixties, I guess the superhero stuff I did qualifies as at least marginally countercultural because, after the witch-hunting Fifties, comics of any ilk were not respectable. (Didn’t the Catholic Digest say they were trash? Weren’t there public comic book burnings? Didn’t that some senator or other hold hearings about them?) But, though we did hiccup out a bit of social satire/commentary here and there, we were never in the business of putting it to the man, making granny blush, calling for revolution.

Okay, maybe Feiffer didn’t work those sides of the street, either. Not exactly. But the kind of humor he practiced in his eponymous feature, first in The Village Voice and later in syndication, helped create the societal climate in which authority could be questioned – even mocked! – and the nooks and crannies of our national psyche theretofore ignored by our purveyors of comedy could be acknowledged and explored.

Now, some 55 years later, we can watch Louis CK push in the same direction.

Feiffer’s been on my radar since the aforementioned Fifties and I don’t know who put him there. Somehow, in St. Louis, attending a Jesuit university, I came into possession of Sick Sick Sick, a paperback collection of Feiffer’s early Voice pieces and…well, it wasn’t the brain-wrencher that Kerouac’s On The Road was to be, or, in a very different way, Salinger’s short stories were. But I thought it was funny and it was differently funny and that difference hinted at something out there, beyond the limits of school and parish and neighborhood, something past the boundary of the Mississippi, something that would be good for me to know.  Something that would nourish me.

Something that eventually put me onstage with Bell, Kuper, and Levitz, filling a seat meant for Jules Feiffer and grateful for the opportunity.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Martha Thomases: Printing Punk

Like many old people, New Year’s Eve makes me remember earlier times. When I was young. When I knew who the new bands were. When I was cool. Once one has children, one is never cool again.

There was a period of time in the mid-1970s when I dropped out of college and went to work for an antiwar magazine. We had a barter arrangement with lots of underground newspapers and magazines, so I got to read CREEM magazine, and from that and the Village Voice, I knew who all the cool bands were and where to see them in New York.

When I decided to go back to college for my degree, I kept up subscriptions to CREEM and the Voice, and it was from these that I discovered Punk.

Not the music, although also the music. No, I mean Punk, a magazine that combined my two greatest passions, comics and rock’n’roll.  It was hand-lettered. It was rude and crude and hilarious. I so wanted to work there.

After I graduated, I moved to Manhattan and tried to get a job in journalism. I applied at straight places, like Time-Life, Condé Nast and Hearst. And I walked into the PUNK office, then on Tenth Avenue, to see if they would hire me. When I said I had worked for an antiwar magazine, Legs McNeil, the Resident Punk, leaped on top of a desk, pointed at me, and yelled that I was a Commie.

That didn’t stop them from letting me do some typing for them, when they needed labels for a mailing. And it didn’t stop me from becoming friends with Legs and John Holmstrom, the editor.

John is, in my opinion, the most ripped-off man in comics. I mean, lots of early comic book creators were screwed financially by their publishers. And lots of early comic book creators have been imitated by the artists who followed them. John, however, created a style that was part Harvey Kurtzman (a mentor of his), part Bazooka Joe, part Basil Wolverton, but uniquely his own. In no time at all, and with not even an acknowledgement or thanks, he was co-opted by every art director at every publisher and every ad agency in the world.

But John was more than an innovator. He was a great patron of new talent. Not only did Punk do stories on new bands, but they published work by new cartoonists. For example, John was one of the first person to publish Peter Bagge.

It has long been my contention that the comics and rock’n’roll share the characteristics that both are uniquely American art forms, but only gained respect when English people did them. John combined them in astonishingly simple ways, by drawing his interviews, or staging fumetti stories that starred Richard Hell, Debbie Harry, the Ramones and Andy Warhol, among others.

It’s not just nostalgia at Auld Lang Syne that has me thinking about how cool Punk was. Harper Collins has just published a big, beautiful hard cover volume, The Best of Punk Magazine that brings those late 1970s/early 1980s days back to life. It’s on much slicker paper than the original, but it still has the brattiness that made the original so much fun.

It’s a book that will get up on a desk and yell at you, and then bum money for cigarettes and beer.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman’s… Lists

 

MARTHA THOMASES: More For The Gift-Giving Challenged

I don’t know about you guys, but I could use a laugh. One would think comics would be a great place to look for laughs, since, you know, they’re called “comics.”

And yet…

But I don’t want to bitch and moan about stuff that’s not funny. I’d rather celebrate what is. Different people find different things amusing, but I suspect that at least one thing on this list will do it for you.

Here, for your entertainment pleasure and in no particular order, are some really funny books, done in the graphic novel format.

Kyle Baker is one of my favorite humans. There isn’t a book he’s done that doesn’t thrill me. The Cowboy Wally Show made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe. And if you want to know how he does it, you could do worse than track down How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning, which is more hilarious than any educational book needs to be.

Another funny guy who works in the comic book business is Evan Dorkin. And luckily, Dark Horse has published a collection of his flagship series, Milk and Cheese.

Howard Chaykin is a known more for his elegant drawing style, his brilliant use of page design, and his sharp insight into the dark side of human society. I, however, love his sense of humor, which I first discovered in American Flagg. I mean, the man made up a character named Pete Zarustica. I’m in love.

Another comics genius known primarily for brilliant use of the medium and his expansive and cosmic intelligence is Alan Moore. He’s funny, too! One of his first series, D. R. and Quinch, is available in a collected edition. It’s like, totally amazing.

Am I stuck on English language humor? Maybe. It is the language I speak and the language in which I form thoughts. That said, I am no cultural imperialist. For example, the Japanese series, What’s Michael, is my idea of brilliant. There are more than a dozen collections, but this Dark Horse edition is a good place to start. Warning: It probably helps to live with a cat.

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no Internet and people got their news from newspapers, and, when they wanted other points of view, from alternative weekly newspapers. These papers were great places to find brilliant comics, starting with Jules Feiffer in the Village Voice (also syndicated to “normal” newspapers). After a few decades, there were syndicates for these cartoonists, and, today, it’s possible to buy collections of two of my favorites. You don’t have to be queer to laugh at Dykes to Watch Out For, but you do have to be able to recognize that “political correctness” started out as a left-wing joke. If you followed my advice and bought The Complete Wendel you’re familiar with this meme. Ripped from the same pages, and long before The Simpsons, Matt Groening was giving us a guided tour of hell. The nuclear family and all its intermeshed relationships were never so radioactive.

The comics page in daily newspapers is still alive, if not always well. If you miss your laugh a day, you can catch up with excellent compilations. I’m always happy to read Get Fuzzy and would enjoy a whole bunch of them together. And one of the great, and most hilarious, strips of all time is now in one big book. It’s enough to make a person love alligators.

Some jokes are universal, and then there are inside jokes. They not only make us laugh but they also make us feel understood. For us comic fans, I recommend Fred Hembeck who was a regular feature in The Comics Buyers Guide. His work is really dense, and really funny. I also adore Keith Giffen, for his Justice League, his Legion of Substitute Heroes, especially when he’s working on Ambush Bug with Robert Loren Fleming.

I’m sure I’ve left out some brilliant work, but you could do worse than start here when the holiday cheer gets you down.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

Review: ‘Typhon’ Vol. 1

Review: ‘Typhon’ Vol. 1

Typhon

Dirty Danny Press, $24.95

At 50, I’m pretty set in my comic book reading habits.  Having been raised largely on the output from DC Comics and Marvel, I have fairly mainstream tastes.  Now and then, though, I push myself to see what else is out there. As a result, reading Danny Hellman’s recently published Typhon anthology was an eye-opening experience.

The 192-page full-color trade paperback allows me the chance to see who else is producing comic book work.  Typhon takes its name from Greek mythology and is a creature with hundreds of hissing serpents, outdoing the Medusa. Venom was said to drip form their eyes and lava to be spit from their mouths. There are no super-heroes, no continuing characters, nothing based on a media property (although Droopy appears in one story).  Each tendril from the creature’s head is the product of the fertile imagination of the 42 creators who contributed to over the course of several years.

Hellman may be best known for his Legal Action Comics in addition to his own work at Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and the Village Voice. Promoting the book, he said, “I realized that I was looking at a far more ambitious book than what I’d done previously. The work presented in Typhon covers a wide spectrum of what’s possible in comics, from zany, offbeat humor to unnerving existential angst, and on to chilling horror, all of it brought to life with breathtaking, cutting-edge artwork.

“Anthologies give us the opportunity to enjoy work by talented cartoonists who, for whatever reason, don’t produce enough material to fill out solo books. As an editor of anthologies, I’m excited to provide a showcase for artists and work that we might not see otherwise. Diversity makes for a richer comics scene.”

Everything he says is correct and to be applauded. I really enjoyed the colorful, inventive use of the page from Hans Rickheit, Rupert Bottenberg, Tobias Tak, and Fiona Smyth.  They created visually arresting images and used color in appealing ways. On the other hand, I could not make heads or tails out of Bald Eagles’ eight page head trip that is hard on the eyes and unreadable.

On the other hand, way too often I’d reach the end of these short works and scratch my head.  “What the hell was that all about?” was a repeated refrain. I’m used to stories about character or stories about something.  Yet, these works seem to be characters and situations that begin and end and say nothing.  Too frequently, I think the creators were out to amuse themselves, forgetting their audience. Rick Trembles’ “Goopy Spasms” feels like it was done because he could not because he had something say or share and was generally off-putting.

Hellman told Tom Spurgeon, “…It can be tough to pin down precisely what ‘good drawing’ is. Ultimately, beautiful art is a matter of taste. Drawing chops, anatomical knowledge, the ability to recreate the natural world in two dimensions and have it be both accurate and pleasing to the eye; these are important. But what’s really vital is that we connect with the art on an emotional, perhaps spiritual level.”

I’m all in favor of creative freedom but if someone wants my $24.95, then the editor of the collection has to step up and guide the talent to make certain their point, if there is one, gets across, from page to reader.  Here, Hellman spectacularly fails.

He kicks off the collection with his own “The Terror in Peep Booth 5” which looks and reads closest to a mainstream comic, complete with beginning, middle and end. After that, though, it’s all over the place.  Perhaps the most moving piece is Tim Lane’s “The Manic Depressive from Another Planet”.

I enjoyed being exposed to new voices and talents but come away disappointed that there are all these people with very little to say.

Keith Olbermann reads the comics on Countdown

Keith Olbermann reads the comics on Countdown

Last Friday, Keith Olbermann pulled a Fiorello LaGuardia and read a cartoon from this week’s Village Voice on his MSNBC show, Countdown. The cartoon, "Bill O’Reilly’s Very Useful Advice For Young People (As Channeled By Vile Left-Wing Smear Merchant Tom Tomorrow)" can be seen here, and the reading– well, just watch:

Remember kiddies, that’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and if you watch it, you’ll go to Hell too because you hate America. On the other hand, if you’re going through Daily Show and Colbert Report withdrawal as the writers strike drags on, give it a shot.

Norman Mailer, Neil Gaiman Fanboy

Norman Mailer, Neil Gaiman Fanboy

Norman Mailer died this morning, age 84, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. You can scour the news to read about his importance to literature in the Twentieth Century, from his ground-breaking novels to founding the Village Voice. But did you know he also helped change comics?

One night, we had a dinner party for the express purpose of introducing Mailer to Neil Gaiman. Neil, as was his habit, was so charming that Norman wanted to read Sandman. He liked the series enough to provide a cover blurb for the next trade paperback collection. Neil later reported that bookstore buyers told him that the Mailer quote persuaded them to stock graphic novels. And the rest, as they say, is history. Ancient Evenings is an awesome book. Start there.

COMICS LINKS: Inferior Five Edition

COMICS LINKS: Inferior Five Edition

Comics Links

Hipster Dad thinks that there should be an Inferior Five collection.

Comic Book Resources talks to Christos Gage.

Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog presents more evidence that Bob Kanigher was a mad genius.

Greg Burgas of Comics Should Be Good reviews this week’s comics, starting with Batman Annual #26.

Brian Cronin of CSBG reviews the unpublished graphic novel Division Shadow.

Living Between Wednesdaysweekly reviews start with Countdown to Adventure #1.

The Daily Cross Hatch interviews Peter Kuper about his new book Stop Forgetting to Remember.

Comics Reviews

Fantasy Book Critic reviews The Nightmare Factory, a graphic novel based on four stories from the collection of the same name by Thomas Ligotti.

Wizard reviews the covers of three recent comics.

Blogcritics reviews Good As Lilly by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm.

Panels and Pixels has a manga review roundup.

The Daily Cross Hatch reviews the first collection of “Perry Bible Fellowship” strips by Nicholas Gurewitch, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto.

The Savage Critics reviews:

 

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MARTHA THOMASES: Dorothy Parker

MARTHA THOMASES: Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was a poet, short story writer and critic for The New Yorker in its heyday. When I was first writing, I wanted to be Dorothy Parker. Well, actually, I wanted to be Nora Ephron, who wrote a column in Esquire at the time, and who said that she had once wanted to be Dorothy Parker. A quick trip to the library, and I had an entertaining week reading her poetry. You probably know at least one of her poems, “News Item,” which goes:

Men seldom make passes

At girls who wear glasses.

Her literary and theatrical criticism, under the nom-de-plume of Constant Reader, was also hilarious, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can catch up with her poems, short stories and reviews in the omnibus Portable Dorothy Parker.

Mostly, however, she was celebrated for being the only woman at the Algonquin Round Table. In a group that included Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott and others, Parker was the only woman considered witty enough to be a regular (although Edna Ferber and Jane Grant, Ross’ wife, sat in occasionally).

It was an attractive fantasy for an unpopular girl in boarding school. I was not a person who got to sit at a table with boys. The only males who listened to me were my teachers, who were paid for it. Naturally, I looked for a way to be sought after, instead of merely tolerated. I spent the next twenty years writing, trying to earn my place at the table. If only I had known that the easiest thing to do was to work for a comic book publisher.

I’d freelanced for Marvel in the 1980s, but being on staff at DC was an entirely different animal. All of a sudden, I had everyone’s telephone number, and if I called someone for no apparent reason, my call was still answered happily. I could go to one of the Warner Bros. movie screenings and have people save me a seat. I could sit at any table at any bar near a convention and be welcome. In fact, I was often the only woman at the table.

It was heady stuff. True, these were not the prep school boys whose attention I had craved in my teens, but instead comic book editors, artists and writers. They were often smart and funny, but hardly ever blond or WASPy. Still, it felt as if I was sitting at the table with the cool kids. I was getting laughs telling jokes to guys who weren’t my husband. This was better than therapy!

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