Yesterday, Sunday TODAY’s Willie Geist remembered mirthful Marie Severin, who designed, sketched and colored covers for many of the most famous characters in the Marvel Universe, including Doctor Strange; The Incredible Hulk; Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner; Spider-Woman; and the parody series Not Brand Echh, and who died last week at age 89.
Dave McKean is a deeply classy cartoonist, the kind whose work is as likely to be first shown on the walls of a gallery as in a publication somewhere. And even his comics that do appear alongside other comical funnies are more serious and elevated than their peers — aiming to be Works of Art and not just entertainments.
Sometimes this can be exhilarating, since creators working at a high pitch can bring audiences up to their level. And sometimes it can be annoying, as when you’re trying to read over two hundred pages of far-too-stylized Dave McKean lettering on a tablet, with the pages just that little bit smaller than they would be on paper.
McKean is never going to go out of his way to make it easy for you to read and understand his work — not physically (just understanding the words and images) and not conceptually. He’s simply not interested in an audience that isn’t going to work at least as hard as he does.
Pictures That Tick 2 is a 2014 collection of McKean’s short comics; it’s so classy that it’s subtitled “Short Narrative Exhibition.” Set your expectations appropriately.
It’s also so classy, or so heavily designed, that it has a short comic even before the table of contents, and a title page that primarily consists of squiggles laid out to look like words but which cannot be ready, on a typically moody McKean background. You know, I like his work, but often a little of it goes a long way.
Oh, and another short strip interrupts the title/copyright page — McKean is never not futzing around with book design if you let him.
Finally, about a dozen pages in, you’ll finally get that table of contents, in a small scripty font on a red-and-black mottled background. (One suspects no one ever actually explained the importance of legibility in book design to a young and impressionable McKean, but instead expounded the virtues of drama.)
There are about five substantial stories here — two creation myths from an aborted project where McKean would be a showrunner for a third incarnation of the Storyeller series for Jim Henson Productions, and three projects that were art exhibitions/installations converted into comics. Also included are about a dozen shorter pieces — dreams, posters, wordless pieces, evocative comics for a jazz CD, and other random stuff.
The two creation myths are fairly straightforward: they’re very Dave McKean-ish comics, so the words are sometimes hard to read and the virtuosity of the art sometimes obscures the meaning, but the story isn’t difficult to follow or deliberately obscure.
The three gallery pieces are more evocative, designed to be fragments or moments that gallery-goers will experience probably but not necessarily in this order, and so the bits have to be more independent and separate. One is a journey around part of England’s coast, as a woman chases her runaway husband and finds the art he has inspired in his wake. Another is a series of bits of dialogue related to a true story from McKean’s youth, about something bad he did that he doesn’t quite explain or detail. The other one, “The Blue Tree,” which comes first in the book, is the closest to a conventional narrative and relates pretty closely to the two creation myths — McKean’s notes say he was explicitly trying to combine religious and scientific ways of looking at the world, from his two immediately preceding projects.
I’m not sure what size Pictures That Tick 2 is in the physical world. I hope it’s as large as possible: McKean’s work is best the more you can submerge yourself into it, to have it surrounding you on all sides. (So he’s probably best at gallery shows, and second best making movies.) These are comics to think about and ruminate on and read slowly, teasing out nuance and detail. But they will probably be slightly annoying, at least at moments, even to readers who like and enjoy McKean’s work, just because of the barriers McKean puts up between his work and the audience. So make sure you know that going in, if you do decide to go in.
BURBANK, Calif. (Sept. 6, 2018) — It’s not a stretch to say audiences have missed their favorite family of Supers over the past 14 years. Disney•Pixar’s Incredibles 2, the sequel to 2004’s beloved Oscar®-winning The Incredibles, received a mega-strong reaction from critics and audiences — earning a 93 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, rocketing atop the list of highest-grossing animated films, and surpassing $1 billion at the global box office. Fans can reunite with this incredible family of Supers instantly on Digital in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ and on Movies Anywhere on Oct. 23, and on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD,™ Blu-ray,™ DVD and On-Demand on Nov. 6.
Family members of all ages will be hypnotized by hours of delightful entertainment, with never-before-seen Incredibles 2, bonus material highlighting the beloved characters in the film and the filmmakers who bring them to life. When audiences instantly bring home the film two weeks early on Digital, they will receive additional exclusive featurettes, including two SuperScene Breakdowns and Samuel L. Jackson discussing his character Frozone a.k.a. “The Coolest Guy in Show Business.” Overall bonus includes an all-new mini-movie Auntie Edna, which gives a glimpse of fashion visionary Edna Mode’s all-night endeavor to design a suit to best harness baby Jack-Jack’s expanding super powers. Also included are an inside look at the impressive production team at Pixar Animation Studios; documentaries highlighting the film’s relatable characters and stand-out scenes; 10 never-before-revealed scenes; filmmaker commentary; the touching theatrical short “Bao” and a corresponding featurette about how the dumplings sprung to life; and much, much more.
Incredibles 2, is packaged and released in several different ways, offering families the flexibility to watch the movie instantly and on a variety of devices of their choosing, including Digital 4K Ultra HD, HD and SD and physically as a 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Copy), a Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy) and a single DVD. Additionally, the Digital HD/SD, Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film have been modified in an effort to accommodate photosensitive viewers, however individual sensitivities may vary.
In Incredibles 2, Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.
BONUS FEATURES (may vary by retailer)
The Coolest Guy in Show Business – In this partially illustrated documentary, Samuel L. Jackson reflects how his childhood and love of comics shaped his passion for film and imaginative storytelling.
2 SuperScene Breakdowns – Casual commentary-style pieces looking at specific scenes in the film (The Racoon Fight and Mrs. Incredible) through a particular creative focus like action choreography, set design or story.
Blu-ray & Digital:
All-New Auntie Edna Mini-Movie – When Bob Parr visits super-suit designer Edna Mode looking for help with his high-energy toddler Jack-Jack, Edna pulls an all-nighter designing a suit to harness the baby’s seemingly limitless powers.
10 Deleted Scenes With Introductions – Suburban Escape, Kari Revisited, Return of the Supers, Chewed Out, Late Audition, Slow Day, Frozone and Honey, Restaurant Robbery, Fashion Show and Security Breakdown.
Super Stuff – From buildings and vehicles to costumes and props, every action movie requires a lot of really cool stuff. Meet the makers and learn what it takes to design and build such a uniquely incredible world.
Heroes & Villains – A collection of mini-docs about the backstory and major design ideas behind the “Incredibles 2” characters — featuring voice actors, director Brad Bird, and Pixar artists talking about the many elements that make these characters feel real.
Ralph Eggleston: Production Designer – This short piece explores the many ways a single production designer has influenced the look, feel and character of the Pixar universe, culminating in Incredibles 2.
Strong Coffee: A Lesson in Animation with Brad Bird – Brad Bird’s passion for animation dates back to his childhood and mentorship under Disney’s Milt Kahl, and that enthusiasm and powerful insight emanates from every film he’s made. Take a deep dive into Brad’s early years at Disney Animation Studios and his time at Pixar.
Paths to Pixar: Everyday Heroes – At its heart, Incredibles 2, is about family dynamics and the challenges of being a working parent. Meet the parents of Pixar as they discuss their personal connections to the film and their experience with stretching to balance work and family.
SuperBaby – A documentary/hip hop music video hybrid hosted by Frankie and Paige from Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark. This piece explores how Jack-Jack came to life onscreen — from design to special effects to animation — all set to a hot beat.
Commentary – Get inside commentary from animators Alan Barillaro (supervising animator), Tony Fucile (supervising animator, story artist and character designer), Dave Mullins (supervising animator) and Bret Parker (animation second unit and crowds supervisor).
Theatrical Short: Bao – An aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy.
Making Bao – Director Domee Shi shares her secret recipe for making an animated short — discussing how her rich cultural heritage, unique relationship with her mom, and her love of food all informed the making of the food-fantasy Bao.
Outtakes & Stories – Raccoon Fight Story, Evelyn Animation Outtakes, Puppet Animator Interview, Outtakes Goofy Arms Story and SuperBaby Music Video.
Character Theme Songs, Vintage Toy Commercial TV Spots , Toolkit Montage and Global Incredibles 2, Trailers
Theatrical Short: Bao & Commentary
Incredibles 2, Cast and Crew
Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson return as the voices of Helen and Bob Parr, who still struggle to juggle their duties as parents and Supers. Sarah Vowell once again provides the voice of the teen-queen of sarcasm Violet, while Huck Milner joins the cast as the voice of 10-year-old Dash, and Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as the voice of Lucius Best – aka Frozone. Incredibles 2, also features the voices of Brad Bird as fashion visionary Edna “E” Mode, Bob Odenkirk as savvy businessman and Super fan Winston Deavor, Catherine Keener as tech pro Evelyn Deavor, Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Sophia Bush as up-and-coming hero Voyd, and Isabella Rossellini as an influential ambassador and advocate for Supers.
Written and directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and produced by John Walker (The Incredibles, Tomorrowland) and Nicole Paradis Grindle (Sanjay’s Super Team short, Toy Story 3 associate producer), Incredibles 2, is executive produced by John Lasseter. The Incredibles was the film that introduced Oscar®-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Tomorrowland) to moviegoers, and he returns to the Incredibles universe to create the score for Incredibles 2.
Product SKUs: Digital = 4K UHD, HD, SD Physical = 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (4K UHD+Blu-ray Feature+Blu-ray Bonus+Digital Copy), Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray Feature+Blu-ray Bonus+DVD+Digital Copy) and DVD
Feature Run Time: Approximately 118 minutes
Rating: PG in U.S., PG in CE, and G in CF
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Resolution: 4K UHD = 3840 x 2160, HD = 1920 x 1080, SD = 720 x 480. Some flashing-lights scenes in 4K UHD (physical and digital) versions may effect photosensitive viewers.
Audio: 4K UHD Blu-ray = English Dolby Atmos, English, Spanish and French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio 4K UHD Digital = English Dolby Atmos (platform dependent), English 7.1 (platform dependent), English, Spansih & French 5.1, English, Spanish & French 2.0 Blu-ray = English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDHR, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio DVD = English, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio HD Digital =English 7.1 (platform dependent), English, Spansih & French 5.1, English, Spanish & French 2.0
Subtitles: Blu-ray = English SDH, Spanish and French Subtitles
Closed Captions: Digital = English; DVD = English
One good joke can you pretty far. Ask anyone who’s ever headlined a sitcom or had a popular stand-up act. 
Or a big comic strip, more to the point.
The early days of newspaper strips are a treasure trove of great examples: the same artists would have dedicated space in their paper, but not always be producing the same strip. So if a guy had a funny-kid joke that day, it might be one strip, and if he had a two-Irish-guys joke, it might be a different strip.
(I can’t see modern audiences standing for that, but modern audiences have been spoiled horribly.)
Frederick Burr Opper’s most famous strip was Happy Hooligan, but that was mostly just his hook to hang “jokes where someone tries to help, and it turns out badly.” He had plenty of other strips to be hooks for other jokes, too — but this is the one his audience loved best, so he tried to tell it as much as he could.
I should admit that I didn’t actually know most of that: Allan Holtz’s informative introduction to this recent selection of Happy strips (edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt, containing about ninety strips from the high years of 1902-1913) gave me the background, along with a quick sketch of Opper’s life and career.
Happy is the kind of old-timey that’s still funny quite a lot of the time, but the cartooning expectations are different enough — a frozen “camera,” lots of wordy explanatory dialogue, drawing that looks a bit stiff to modern eyes — that the reader needs to settle into it and get used to it before it starts to be funny.
Well, there’s one other thing: you have to find that joke funny. That is the problem with a one-joke strip, whether it’s Happy Hooligan or Cathy or Garfield.
In Happy‘s case, the joke generally involved Happy getting pummeled by someone — usually a policeman — after trying to do something nice and inadvertently causing havoc by his clumsiness. Many fewer people in 2018 think violence is funny than did in 1902, so Happy has not aged as well as it might have. (On the other hand, a lot of strips of the same vintage are horribly racist, and Happy sidesteps that by mostly makes fun of British people, at least in the strips reprinted here.)
Happy Hooligan is an important milestone in the development of the American comic strip — Holtz’s introduction is good at making those connections, tracing the developing single-panel in Punch (where Opper worked before starting Happy). Now, “important” is not always the same thing as “still entertaining to read,” but Happy still largely works, if you’re willing to meet it half way and get used to its older rhythms and expectations. And that’s pretty impressive for something that appeared in a disposable newspaper more than a hundred years ago.
 You might be a redneck if. What’s the deal with. Watermelon. Seven words. Yo mamma.
Bit by bit, the cool, overlooked films of previous decades are finally being spruced up and released on Blu-ray. The most recent example comes from Lionsgate and is Francis Ford Coppla’s terrific Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Starring Jeff Bridges, it tells the story of Preston Thomas Tucker, a man who saw a different, better way to design, build, and sell cars. Many of his inventions attracted attention and were clearly ahead of their time.
Ever see a Tucker Torpedo? Not a surprise the answer is a no since only 50 true Tuckers were ever manufactured. Tucker (1903-1956) was an inventor and engineer, including auto racecars, a combat car and gun turret during World War II, and even aircraft. Once the war ended, he was determined to build cars, dreaming of models, as Detroit’s Big Three were content with the models form 1941.
The 1988 film shows how Tucker was thinking big and as early as 1946, had an idea for new features — disc brakes, seat belts, a pop out windshield, and head lights which swivel when you turn – for the next generation of automobile. The war weary public is fascinated and the Tucker Corporation sells many shares and there’s general excitement.
Under Coppola’s steady hand, we watch how the dream turns to ashes, one disappointment at a time, and his various innovations are discarded by a nervous Board of Directors. Tucker also had to deal with the wrath of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler in addition to Michigan Senator Homer S. Ferguson (Lloyd Bridges) orchestrating government interference.
You admire Tucker and root for him thanks to Bridges’ winning performance. He’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Joan Allen as his wife Vera, Christian Slater as their son Preston Jr., Martin Landau as Abe Karatz, his lead financier, Elias Koteas as his engineering partner Alex Tremulis, and Dean Stockwell as Howard Hughes.
The film is a story of American innovation, chasing the American Dream, and a cautionary tale about corporate power. There’s a definite Frank Capra quality to the narrative, which makes sense since the screenplay comes from Capra collaborator Arnold Schulman, who shares the credit with David Seidler.
It’s a fine drama and well worth watching. Interestingly, Coppola initially considered this as a musical, similar to his One from the Heart, and in one extra, we see a shot of him with the legendary Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden discussing the project. Coppola, a better filmmaker than businessman, never got to realize that dream, but got some financial help from George Lucas, to make this movie.
The movie never connected with its audience, despite solid reviews, and Paramount Pictures took a loss on the release. Even Landau being nominated for an Oscar and winning a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor, didn’t help the film’s home video release.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream gets a loving 1080p transfer in 2.39:1 and in addition to the Blu-ray disc, you get a 4K Digital HD code, which is cool. We can appreciate the work from cinematographer Vittorio Storaro with rich colors that have been well presented. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is just about a solid match.
We also get Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, a Francis Ford Coppola Introduction (3:39), which goes into the background; a Deleted Scene (4:11) with optional commentary by Coppola; Under the Hood: Making Tucker (10:02), assembles archival material complete with comments from Lucas; Tucker: The Man and the Car 1948 Promotional Film (14:54), a promotional piece that clearly inspired the director, who provides optional commentary.
TV or, not TV, that is the question. The answer is TV.
I know, I’ve spent the past five columns writing about a TV show and not comic books, and also four out of the five columns before that doing the same. But sometimes these TV shows are just asking for it.
Like “By His Own Verdict,” the November 15, 1963 episode of 77 Sunset Strip. Okay, most of us weren’t even born when this episode first aired. And those of us who were – like, gulp, me – couldn’t shave yet. But the law involved in the story hasn’t changed in the almost fifty-five years since the episode aired. In fact, it’s been the law since 1910, which is before all of us were born. So the topic is still topical, even if it’s not timely.
Joseph Cotton played Arnold Buhler, a criminal defense attorney who was about to retire. His last case was defending Max Dent, a petty criminal played by Nick Adams who was on trial for murder. Right after the not guilty verdict, Max verified that because of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the 5th Amendment, he couldn’t be tried again for the murder. Then he told Arnold that he was guilty; he killed the man.
All of this took place in the teaser, before the opening credits. In my day, people wrote compressed stories that weren’t being padded for trade paperbacks or season-long story arcs, things actually happened. And they happened faster than a frat boy’s Friday night dash to the toilet bowl.
Arnold was upset. He had prided himself on being able to tell whether a prospective client was guilty or innocent and only representing the ones who were innocent. Max not only blemished that record but that also meant Arnold was complicit in a miscarriage of justice. So Arnold hired private investigator Stu Bailey to investigate and try to determine whether Max was truly guilty.
Stu took the case but without the usual aid of the other members of the 77 Sunset Strip team. This was an episode for the 6th season, after Jack Webb took over as producer, decided the show needed to be film noir rather than light-hearted action adventure show, and jettisoned everything that made 77 Sunset Strip 77 Sunset Strip except for Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and the title. And the title didn’t even make sense any more. Stu’s office wasn’t on the Sunset Strip, it was in the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles.
While Stu was helping his friend from America’s Old Bailey, we viewers were hoping what Stu would really do was find the old Bailey. Alas and alack, that was not to be. Instead of classic 77 Sunset Strip, we got a muddled story that suffered from a loss and a lack of legal accuracy.
Before Stu had finished his investigation, Arnold began, for want of a better word, stalking Max. No, not for want of a better word; there is no better word. Arnold was stalking Max. Following him around. Bothering him. And finally, hinting that he wasn’t glad to see Max, that was a pistol in his pocket. Arnold told Max that while Max couldn’t be tried in a court of law again, he could be tried by Arnold. Arnold would be Max’s judge, jury. And executioner.
Meanwhile, Stu learned Max was as irredeemable as a book of expired Green Stamps. So, just in time for the fourth act, Arnold announced he had reached his final verdict and went looking for Max.
Arnold found Max in the train yards. Max ran. Arnold chased him, usually with his hand in his pocket where the gun was. While Arnold and Max were playing Hide and Seek, Stu and Marty Kline, the DA who prosecuted Max, were looking for Arnold to stop him from killing Max.
As the doctor in the Myanmar epilepsy ward said, that’s when the fit hit the Shan. Max, after pleading with Arnold to stay away to no effect, pulled out his own gun and shot Arnold. As Arnold lay dying in Stu’s arms, he explained that he had set the score right. Arnold goaded Max into killing him. But Arnold didn’t really have a gun, so Max couldn’t claim self-defense. Max had murdered Arnold. Now Max could be prosecuted for murder again, just a different murder.
Marty the DA lamented to Stu that Arnold wouldn’t get the result he had desired. As Arnold had provoked Max, the best they could do was prosecute Max for manslaughter, not murder.
Bob, the former public defender, lamented that self-defense law must not be on the curriculum in California. Because neither Arnold nor Marty had the slightest idea how it worked.
A person may defend himself when he has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat of physical harm to his person. In defending himself, the defender may use the same amount of force being used by person against whom the defender is defending himself. Max reasonably believed Arnold was chasing him with a gun and was going to kill him. That’s what those of us who know how self-defense actually works, call deadly force. Because Max reasonably believed Arnold was going to use deadly force, Max was entitled to use deadly force to defend himself against Arnold.
But, wait, Arnold didn’t have a gun, so he wasn’t going to use deadly force against Max. Doesn’t that disqualify Max from asserting self-defense? Do you really think I would have wasted all these column inches, if the answer to that were yes? If the person has a reasonable belief he is in danger of being killed, he may assert self-defense, even if he is, in fact, mistaken in that belief. Like I said, that’s been the law of the land since at least 1910. Probably longer.
In order to goad Max into killing him so that Max could be prosecuted for his murder, Arnold spent a good part of the episode convincing everyone, especially Max, he was going to kill Max. Max had a reasonable belief Arnold intended to kill him. Meaning Max had a right to use deadly force to defend himself, even though Arnold never actually intended to use deadly force. Max didn’t commit murder or even manslaughter. Max didn’t commit any crime at all. Nick Adams might have been guilty of overacting a bit, but Max, he was as innocent as Dr. Richard Kimble, Jason McCord, and all of Perry Mason’s clients. Combined. (Wow, I really have to kick this fixation on old TV shows.)
Arnold, you knew less about the law than a first year student at the worst law school in the country. And because of that, like Narcissus withering away by that pool of water, you died in vain.
This book looks very much like it’s going to be a parody of The Family Circus. There’s a male cartoonist, his beautiful and pearl-wearing wife, their four chibi children, and the round single-panel that encompasses all of them.
But creator Benjamin Frisch apparently wasn’t interested in a re-run of the Dysfunctional Family Circus, and so The Fun Family is a more free-floating parody — maybe of self-actualization and the search for meaning in life, maybe of just life itself.
Robert Fun’s family mimics the Family Circus closely: wife Marsha, sons Mikey and Robby, daughter Molly, baby J.T. Robby even takes over the comic strip, as metafictionally the Keane kids have the Family Circus and in real life Jeff Keane has actually done.  It even begins with a famous Family Circus trope: Robert Fun’s mother, “Grandma Virginia Fun,” has just died, and almost immediately appears as an angel.
But there’s no grandpa alongside her, and this dead grandma is a lot more demanding and specifically religious than in Family Circus. In fact, everyone here is spikier and quirkier than in the soft-focus Family Circus. Dad has a strange collection that he’s obsessive about, Mom abandons her husband and falls under the spell of a succession of gurus as she tries to find happiness, and both of them seem to ignore the fact that these kids seem to be no older than six or seven, leaving them to fend for themselves most of the time.
(But this is not a particularly realistic world to begin with: Frisch lampshades the children’s ages by pointedly noting that they do not age over the year or so that this graphic novel covers.)
Things spiral out of control after Grandma’s death, in several directions. I’ve mentioned the two parents’ obsessions, but the kids are nearly as crazy, building religious monuments or burying themselves in comics-making. The kids just want their parents back together, but instead they all just go further apart.
Eventually, there’s a break, and a confrontation. But it doesn’t go the expected way. Fun Family has a “happy” ending — everyone has things they want, everyone is successful, and so on — but it’s not at all the happy ending we expected, or the ending we would get from Family Circus. (Where, of course, nothing ever changes to begin with — nothing like this story could ever happen there.)
I’m not entirely sure if Frisch had a point in Fun Family: it feels like it’s trying to say something about family and work and happiness and self-understanding, but he’s throwing blows in all directions, which obscures anything positive he might be trying to say. Maybe there is nothing positive; maybe this is exactly what Frisch meant: happiness is based on delusions and monomania, so find the things that can make you ignore the outside world (which will only give you grief).
Fun Familylooks a lot like the book I thought it would be — cute, rounded, with a great eye for classic cartooning and lots of dot eyes. But it reads like something darker and more savage, underneath all of the happy talk. It implies a deeply nihilistic view of life, for its its gospel of wealth and angelic dead grandmas. Perhaps it’s best Bil Keane was safely dead before Frisch took up his pen.
 I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your career be drawing cartoons about your own fictionalized fifty-years-ago childhood, following in the footsteps of your dead father. But “Jeffy” lives that.
I don’t know why the story reprinted in I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League so obviously positioned itself as a one-time one-off. As a former editor and current marketer, I’m strongly against interrupting customers while they’re buying your stuff, but I’m not DC Comics.
And this book does make it clear, in little ways all the way along, that this will be just as much of this silliness as we’re going to get, so you’d better enjoy it now while you have it. (“Now” being 2005, in this case: and it’s true, we haven’t gotten any more, in the more than a decade since then.)
Maybe that was because writers Keith Giffen and J.M DeMatteis realized the high bwah-ha-ha style was harder and more demanding than they remembered, and wanted to get back to simpler punch-fests. Maybe this was all the time for penciller Kevin Maguire that they would ever get again, and they wouldn’t dream of doing it without him. (I think inker Joe Rubinstein was game for more of this, but maybe not?)
But, still: generally, during a story, you don’t look askance at your readers and mutter things like “are you actually reading that?” under your breath. Unless you’re DC Comics, obviously.
If that kind of thing annoys you, you probably don’t want to read I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League. Other things might trigger that reaction: superheroes who crack jokes, running gags, repeated extreme facial expressions, sitcom-level character comedy, naivety and assholishness equally played for laughs, and lots of dialogue. (You can’t have character-based comedy without letting your characters talk.)
This follows immediately on the heels of the prior story: the Super Buddies still haven’t had a first case, but are caught up in dram with their new neighbor, a bar being run by a former (very minor) supervillain…and his partner, who turns out to be everyone’s least favorite Green Lantern, Guy Gardner. (I think at this point he had some other kind of power ring, but the story doesn’t explain — he has a ring, he can do stuff, that’s good enough.) He and Power Girl — the superhero with the famous “boob window” — are our new characters here, replacing Captain Atom, who is quietly recuperating from the events of the prior story and will not return.
The plot, such as it is, sees the Super Buddies first go to hell, and then to the usual alternate world populated by evil versions of themselves. (Is that Earth-3? I can never remember. This is probably pre-Flashpoint, so I don’t think there even was an Earth-3 in those days.)
They run around, complain, yell at each other, make jokes, and occasionally do something heroic when they’ve exhausted all other options. It’s gloriously fun and silly in an over-the-top way, in the way that superhero comics are rarely allowed to be. (The silly comics of this decade tend to be much smaller scale, for whatever reason.) Maguire is still one of the very best artists at depicting facial expressions, and he has a lot of scope here — these folks are making allkinds of faces all the way through. He has a funny script to work with, of course, which definitely helps: these are broad characters, pushed to be silly, and Giffen/DeMatteis have long experience making them funny.
You might prefer your big superheroes to be serious: it happens. If so, this is not a comic for you. You can pick, oh I don’t know, literally anything else featuring any of these characters.
You know, I think Gabby Schulz may just be a tad bit dramatic.
It’s a feeling I have — partially based on my readings of his earlier books Monsters and Welcome to the Dahl House
, partially because he can’t seem to decide if he is “Ken Dahl” or “Gabby Schulz,” and partly because Sick is possibly the most self-dramatizing book I’ve ever seen in my life.
Admittedly, it’s the record of a time Schulz thought he might be dying, which does tend to concentrate the mind. (But, then again, says the contrarian part of my mind — didn’t he recover from this fever without any medical intervention? Isn’t it possible that he’s just really, really whiny when he’s sick?)
And, of course, it’s a book: the only record we have of Schulz’s sickness is what he tells us himself, on large comics pages soaked in bile and misery, full of jaundice yellow and starless black. It could all be fiction. Just because it’s by someone named Gabby Schulz and about someone named Gabby Schulz doesn’t mean it’s meant to be taken literally.
But I think it is. I think Schulz means every word, every pen-stroke of this book, and that’s the way he works in comics: heart on the sleeve at all times, everything out there and exposed, all raw nerves and naked emotion and pure pleading about what he thinks are the most important things at every moment. It would be an exhausting way to live; it can be overwhelming even in a short graphic novel like this one — particularly one so oversized and focused on the negative as Sick.
Gabby Schulz is negative. Everything I’ve seen of his work, under either name, is all about the things he loathes and can’t stand — himself always first and foremost among them. Schulz is the kind of left-winger who is both contorted into knots by his unearned privilege as a white American man and sent into a frenzy by the horrible treatment he continuously endures as an unskilled worker in that clearly hellish American society. His getting sick seems to mostly be of interest as a way to ramp up the self-loathing to ever greater heights — to show how much he can really hate things when he gets going.
Sick is a book in which there is nothing good. There can be nothing good. To be Gabby Schulz is to be cursed: the most horrible human that ever lived, worthless and pitiful and also complicit in the worst society in the history of the world, a pyramid of horrors piled on top of each other without end.
Schulz realizes this, in a way: the book is in large part his own arguments to himself that life — his life, specifically — is worthless and horrible and better ended, and his feeble occasional moments of fighting against that sense.
It’s not a book to read if you are in any way depressed, or suicidal, or unhappy about life. Only the sunniest of Pollyannas could read Sick without flinching, or worse.
All this is presented in vibrant, eye-catching, torn-from-his-heart art — glorious in its hideousness and spleen. And his words are precise if not measured: always pushing further and always obsessively circling that same central conceit: that to be Gabby Schulz is a horrible, terrible, worthless thing, even more so when he has a fever.
I can’t exactly recommend this book. It’s so far over the top there’s cloud cover obscuring its lower reaches. It is absurdly strident about its every last thought. But it is hugely impressive, and uniquely powerful, and utterly itself. It is Sick. Take that word in whatever sense you like.
It’s been universally accepted that San Diego Comic-Con is the place to be when it comes to elaborate comic-con parties, including a slew of more exclusive events. For no other genre convention do multiple news outlets make long, detailed lists of where to go for a (potentially) good time each evening.
And while the party scene may be shrinking due to companies focusing more on the activations, there were still plenty of parties to fill out your SDCC weekend.
I’ve been covering the SDCC party scene for years now. And while I haven’t been to every party (because to do so I’d have to propagate more clones of myself than Spider-Man ever had), I’ve been to enough fab parties and flops that I both think it’s worth it to make the rounds if you can, and know the downsides that go along with trying to do so.
Before I get into this year’s parties, let me share a few things I’ve learned about the SDCC party scene:
Unless you are a Legit Famous Person, getting into invite-only parties can be a crapshoot. Even with my consistent press coverage at SDCC and other cons, as well as writing about genre entertainment throughout the year, I’ve had years where the people who immediately put me on the list the previous year didn’t even respond to an event inquiry, and years where the opposite happened or I receive an invite to an exclusive party I didn’t even know about. There are some companies that are more (what I see as) loyal, and consistently invite you to their SDCC parties and treat you well, and some companies that are weirdly flaky. And then, there are events that only happen in that particular way one year; or where you manage to squeeze onto the list for one year, but a spot can’t be spared another despite your knowledge that it’s not personal; or where the rules change so that one year only people who directly work with the company are invited. Sometimes, invites seem random; and sometimes, you truly do have to know someone. But also, even if you are on the list, SDCC is so chaotic that if the person at the door can’t find your name, you might still be screwed (depends on how understanding the check-in staff is, really). Or you’re definitely on the list, they’ve got your name right there, but it turns out the party is already “at capacity” thirty minutes in. Like I said – crapshoot.
It is often impossible to predict how good a party will be. I’ve been to amazing parties that were not that “exclusive,” and really-hard-to-access parties, with famous people right nearby, that turned out to be kinda lame. (And yes, I’ve even crashed some parties. That’s not a predictor either, although it is occasionally a good time.) What’s fun about this spectrum of events is even a lame party is still a party (possibly with free drinks!) and you can always leave if you’re bored (oh, except for that one nightmare time I got stuck in the literal cordoned off press pen they set up at The Last Ship party a few years ago, where we weren’t allowed to go to the actual party if we’d said we’d take red carpet pics first; there was no food or water or seating; and we were told we couldn’t go to the restroom or we wouldn’t be let back in. It was awful and I’m still bitter and PR people take note: press never forget being treated like second class citizens. Anyway. Moving on!)
Another fun thing is the coolest party you go to might be a nice surprise because it’s a thing you didn’t expect. (The downside, of course, is if you roll the dice on two simultaneous parties and it turns out the one you didn’t pick was The Best Thing Ever and all your friends ended up there and had a blast. Oh, FOMO, how I wish you didn’t exist.) This is because a cool venue and big-name company, property, or guests are no guarantee of a hit. What really matters is if there’s stuff to do (this could be literal stuff, like gadgets to play with, photo booths, a game to watch or play, artists to watch as they draw, etc., or interesting people to talk to, including creators and celebrities who actually enjoy mingling instead of being cordoned off at their private tables the whole night, or friends who have been permitted to attend as your plus-one), thoughtful theming in both decor and good food and drink, and people treating each other well and like we’re all people even if we’re not all famous. This is why even the open parties can be a blast if done right (the Nerd HQ parties, which I mourn the loss of, being one example).
Some parties really are just The Best Thing Ever. Events that stand out over the years include the NickelodeonDouble Dare party (put that one in the Hall of Fame, it was perfect!), the American Gods rooftop party, the Scholastic parties, the Dent the Future cocktail parties, the Fashionably Nerdy cocktail hour, the NVE + Nylon Mag parties, the Nerd HQ parties, Michael Davis’s shindigs, and, of course, that time I went to a club to see Elijah Wood DJ on a whim and it turned out he was really good.
So given that, what parties did I hit up this year? And which ones were the most fun? Well:
Wednesday night is usually low-key, since preview night runs until 9 and can be exhausting. This year we stuck with what’s become a tradition and headed over to Basic Bar/Pizza with a small group of friends. Basic does a really good pizza, and is also the location for Gabe Eltaeb’s Annual Comic-Con Kickoff Party, now in its 5th year. I’ve been to every one of these, and although I confess when I walk in the door the biggest thing on my mind after preview night is “food!” the event is also really neat. They have quality artists doing live sketches which they raffle off along with other prizes to raise money for the Hero Initiative, which helps comics creators in need due to medical or financial crises. This year, the live sketches were done by Gabe Eltaeb (Harley Quinn), Todd Nauck (Deadpool), Jim Calafiore (Exiles), Chad Cavanaugh (The Map), and Jeff Martinez (Skull Thumper); and other prizes came from companies like Blizzard, Funko, and Dark Horse Comics. It’s a cool, laid back event to try on the first night, you can usually walk in without too much trouble, and it’s done for a good cause. And even while rapidly consuming large quantities of pizza, I appreciated both the atmosphere and the party music coming from the event side of the bar.
This year, it seemed like almost every single party I wanted to hit up was on Thursday night. I made it to four of the five I’d decided I might be able to get to based on start times (I really wanted to make the Dent the Future Reception, too, but I confess I took a nap instead). Here are the ones I got to:
Tor Books / Den of GeekHappy Hour – this was at the Horton Grand Hotel Courtyard, and was an invite-only party for industry insiders. The setting was nice (an airy open atrium area with a connecting indoor room) and they had open bars in both rooms with themed cocktails (The Superhero and The Supervillain – I got the Superhero, which had blue curacao and vodka, pineapple, triple sec, lime juice, and soda, and it was mighty tasty), hors d’oeuvres, and a full dessert table. They also had a variety of swag, ranging from funky branded sunglasses and Den of Geek’s SDCC magazine to a gift bag with a bunch of Tor books. I always like it when parties have something fun to do, and this one had a photobooth with great props that I hopped into with NPR’s Petra Mayer, YA author Alexa Donne, and other friends. I also had fun chats with the delightful author and co-editor of Boing Boing Cory Doctorow, YA author Scott Westerfeld, and other industry greats. This party was excellent, and I only left because I didn’t want to miss…
The Scholastic GraphixParty – this was on the pool deck of the Hotel Palomar, which is a great outdoor venue, and was an invite-only party. I always make sure I stop by the Scholastic shindig, which has good food, themed desserts, and open bar; nice (if heavy!) swag bags of books; usually at least an activity or two going on; and fun guests – plus, at this event not only are there friends around, but also I somehow always end up running into at least a couple of industry friends I otherwise might not have seen all con (this year it was author and editor Joe McCabe). This year’s party featured guests such as Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Ian Boothby (Sparks!), Jarrett Krosoczka (Hey, Kiddo), Molly Knox Ostertag (The Hidden Witch), Aron Nels Steinke (Mr. Wolf’s Class), and Gale Galligan (The Baby-Sitters Club), as well as Jim Kay, Daniel Jose Older, Victoria Schwab, Maggie Stiefvater, and Scott Westerfeld (again!). I couldn’t stay at Scholastic forever, though, because I didn’t want to miss…
The Lion ForgeTalent Reception – this one was an invite-only gig at The Bootlegger (and I’m a sucker for anything with a speakeasy feel, so I loved the venue choice). To be honest, that’s about all of the setting I noticed at this party, because my entire time there was spent catching up with the wall-to-wall awesome comics creators and industry folks I was surrounded by – including Gail Simone, Dean Haspiel, Ben McCool, Reilly Brown, Ben Fisher, and Jim Calafiore. (I also got to attend the Lion Forge Fall Preview panel on Sunday, where they talked about a slew of great comics coming soon from names like Michael Uslan, Andrew Pepoy, and David F. Walker, and announced that Gail Simone will be the “Chief Architect” of the Catalyst Prime line of comics. More about that in another piece). How did I end up at this party? Well, let’s just say Ben Fisher and I are working on an exciting new project! As much fun as we were having, though, I still had one party on my list, and I couldn’t miss out on saying hey to the crew at…
The Line Webtoon Green Room Party – this one was an invite-only event at the Altitude Sky Lounge, and it was over-the-top excellent, as are all Line Webtoon parties I’ve attended. (P.S. If you haven’t checked out their comics, you really should. They have a great variety of cool stories you can read for free on their super easy-to-use app.) The view was amazing; they had a crazy setup with green lights everywhere; and we all got casino chips with which to “gamble” before using them to try to win a big ticket raffle item. There, Ben and I met up with Thom Zahler, Luke Daab, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, Tony Fleecs, and so many more. It was a great end to a pretty crazy night, and the swag bags had several cool items, including a classy set of branded coasters. Everything Line Webtoon does has style, and this party was no exception.
Okay, so Thursday was pretty wild, and we paid for it on Friday. I ended up skipping a couple of planned parties (Sorry to miss you, Nerds of Color/Women in Comics mixer!) but did make it to:
The NatGeoand Nerd NiteMars Party – this party is consistently quality, and this year was great from the get-go – from the reasonably-sized VIP line to the cool red glowstick wristbands. Set on the pool terrace at the Hotel Solamar, this party had a ton of good food, free drinks, and the coolest entertainment I saw at any party – performers inside giant LED-lit hula hoops, whirling and twisting between the crowds and the pool. Advertising the NatGeo series MARS, which begins again November 12, the party had a projection of Mars on the side of a building, a glowing red décor, MARS pillows, miniature MARS cornhole games, and “astronauts” on stilts handing out Mars Bars. And on top of all of that, it featured a number of talks about real science, featuring Alejandro T. Rojas from Den of Geek, Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Emily Manor-Chapman, Bobak Ferdowski, Systems Engineer with Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA, and Leland Melvin, former NASA astronaut. This party is a combination of awesome fun and real nerd substance, and it was an absolute blast.
One thing I love about SDCC is that sometimes, randomly, an awesome event pops up for the first time; and if you’re lucky enough to hear about it, you can end up being one of a select crowd of folks enjoying something that may eventually become another crowded, sought-after evening event; or may be that magical unicorn that only occurs once and that you got to experience. Either may happen with the fun event I went to on Saturday night:
The Bootsy Collins House Party, hosted by DJ Lance Rock and featuring Tom Kenny & the Hi-Seas Rocknsoul Revue. I don’t know how the other attendees got the word on this party, but I lucked into it when I texted Tom (best known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and other great cartoon voices) a couple of weeks beforehand to see if I’d be seeing him at the con. At that time, the event was just coming together, and even Tom wasn’t sure quite what to expect. It was held in the courtyard of the San Diego Central Library, and had the charm of being lively, funky, and a bit unpredictable. I arrived as the band was setting up, only to immediately run into the delightful Fred Tatasciore (best known as the voice of The Hulk). We caught up as Tom warmed up the crowd with an amazing “mic check” song, and then all hung out with DJ Lance Rock until the Hi-Seas, dressed in New Orleans-themed sequins, were ready to go. They are super talented, and Tom, along with being such a versatile voice actor, is a fantastic singer. He’s also a super energetic performer, and totally into it, which makes it more fun for the crowd to let loose.
One of the fun things he did was take down the barriers that had been set up between crowd and performers and invite little kids, and anyone else who wanted to, to come up and dance. A bunch of kids went up, along with a variety of adults including at least one couple who were dressed in classic clothes and could have easily won a couples dance contest. It was great to watch everyone dancing, as well as to see Tom roaming out into the crowd to interact with attendees. The band also sang Happy Birthday to a few folks; and eventually, performed some SpongeBob songs. Around that time I was dying for some food – but happily, the Central Library snack bar had stayed open, so I chilled in the back with Fred and ate a sandwich while the music went on. And then came Bootsy Collins. How do you describe Bootsy Collins? I mean…over the top? The sparkliest man I’ve ever seen? Extremely warm and giving to his fans? (The first thing he did was dance out into the crowd, take a million selfies with anyone who indicated they wanted one, and sign some autograph books, all while grooving to the beat). He was great to watch, and along with performing, hosted a dance competition with Tom (I couldn’t see everyone who won, but congrats to the Death cosplayer who was dancing up a storm and won the first round). The whole thing was crazy fun, and I’m so glad I got to go.
And that was the end of the party scene for me this year – although I also want to mention the fun I have just chilling with friends in the evenings between the other excitement. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need at SDCC to balance things out and recharge – so shout-out to all my friends who invited me to come relax the rest of the night away at bars and hotel room parties. Cheers to you, fellow nerds. You’re what makes life precious. See you next time!