Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Read This Comic: The Return

Many years ago, one of the Internet mailing lists I joined was Comix@ - supposedly devoted to alternative comics, but actually anything was fair game. I made a lot of good friends on the list, and was sorry to see it eventually die - done in by message boards and websites. One of the conceits of the list was "Read this Comic" in which one recommended an obscure or odd title. Here's some that I wrote up years ago. Perhaps I'll start doing this again - but meanwhile anyone can play! Mail them to me and I'll post them.

And now, Read this Comic, circa 2000 - a bit dated (Lynda Barry and Ted Rall have both lost plenty of newspapers unfortunately), but still perhaps of interest:

--Xeric-winner Ellen Forney's collection of strips from Seattle newspapers "I was Seven in '75" (ISBN 0-9660258-8-1) recalls the horrors of the Seventies in ways that retro-fashion trends can only hint at. From her brother's swept back Farrah Fawcett hair, to her mother's nudist tennis game, to Forney's favorite rainbow-stiched pants, it's all here. Her autobiographical style is a pleasant stroll compared to much of the genre. Hopefully, she'll be able to break into to a larger syndicated market and compete with Lynda Barry and Ted Rall's mean streaks.

--The strangest comic that I've read by far this year is Life with Archie #129 (January 1973). Al Hartley wrote and drew the issue around the time he began producing Christian comics . Hartley's style is instantly recognizable for his amazing overuse of facial expressions and floating objects around heads like hearts, stars, sweatbeads, speed lines, etc. In many ways, it's a very appealing style. Archie and the gang are magically transported back to the 1890s in "Nostalgia Gets Ya!" There's no attempt at an explanation; when Archie asks for one, Betty says "Nothing's impossible, Arch! If you believe in miracles, they come true!"

The gang walks four miles to school (oddly enough, I thought sprawl was a post-WWII problem) and Archie discovers that "Mr. Weatherbee seems bigger to me!" Jughead notes, "He seems to have more confidence!" as Betty remarks, "Everyone seems to know what they're doing!" presumably including the janitor Swensen, shown in the background.

Later that evening Archie calls on Veronica for a date. Mr. Lodge spends the entire time with them and as Archie is leaving, Veronica apologizes. Archie responds, "I'll bet some girls wish their fathers would pay attention to them! You father's a busy man! I'm flattered that he took the time to keep me out of trouble!"

The weirdness continues and Dilton, (the brain of the group, for those who didn't grow up on Archie) is able to draw some conclusions. "No one calls a policeman a pig! And women are treated as more than equals! People take pride in their neighborhood!" Archie agrees, "There is something different about these people." Veronica sums it up, "Everybody's going in the same direction! They have unity! But where do you look for it?" And Betty provides the capper, "That's easy! You look up!" I must confess that, as a historian of sorts, I did find his longing for a mythical golden age in the 1890s rather tiresome. After all, this is the time period when Jacob Riis was producing his photographs of child labor, published in How the Other Half Lives. Hartley didn't work for Archie much longer after this comic came out, but while he was there he created some .... memorable work. Good luck finding this.

--Another 1 para RTC: Don Rosa's Life of Scrooge McDuck series (Uncle Scrooge 285-296) is a tour-de-force. Originally done for European publisher Egmont in 1991-1993, these were published in America by Gladstone in 1994-1995. In 12 stories, the self-admittedly-obsessed Rosa pulled a multitude of facts about Scrooge from Carl Bark's original classic stories and wove them into an entertaining story. He covered Scrooge's life from 1867-1947 including the Alaskan gold rush. Rosa frequently refers to his work as overly-detailed, but he's obviously lovingly studied Elder's early Mad art. Rosa's stories work on several levels so this can be enjoyed by children and their parents. The story was recently collected by Gladstone.


kevin said...

I've always been a bit intrigued by Hartley's, uh, distinctive Archie work.

I think the oddest Hartley story I have is "Think Lincoln" (which is reprinted in Archie Comics Digest 64). The tale begins with Sabrina overhearing Big Ethel complain about how unattractive she is. "I want to VA- VA VOOM! I want to be a REAL WOMAN and please REAL MEN!"

Sabrina promptly casts a spell that turns Big Ethel into a beautiful movie star. It doesn't really help, says Ethel, "I've got the world at my feet but I'm still not happy!"

On cue, swirling colorful mists appear and from them steps an unnamed woman clearly intended to be the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. So Ethel's not happy? Well, says Marilyn, "Welcome to the club , dearie! I was the toast of Broadway and Hollywood! My name made headlines! This is the last headline I made!" And she shows us a newspaper announcing her own suicide.

"I've got to get out of this make believe world!" says Ethel. Sabrina returns her to Riverdale and tells her that inner beauty comes from within. "We don't remember Abraham Lincoln because he won a beauty contest!" The last panel shows Sabrina staring lovingly at a Lincoln quote: "let us bind up the nation's wounds and find peace among ourselves and all nations under GOD"

Mike Rhode said...

Thanks for the post, Kevin. Yeah, me too. Hartley's just in a world of his own. I picked up his slim autobiography recently, but haven't read it yet. I see I've also got the Spire Christian Comic "In His Steps" lying next to the computer - picked up solely for Hartley's work.