Comics: A Beginner’s Guide

1
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Children’s Comics

The Brown Wedge13 comments • 1,220 views

The last item (bar a bonus insert) in this series was on European comics. Two of the all-time great children’s creators could have been covered there. It’s worth noting that comics have been a medium aimed overwhelmingly at children, especially in anglophone countries, for most of their existence, so unsurprisingly some of the best cartoonists ever were in that market.

Rene Goscinny

I won’t say too much about him, because everyone knows Asterix (with artist Uderzo, who continued writing it after Goscinny died). His writing is a constant delight not just on this, but on Ompa-Pa (a Native American; artist Uderzo again), Iznogoud (a vizier in a 1001 Nights world; artist Tabary) and especially cowboy Lucky Luke, with Morris. (Asterix is easy to find, but the others are less common, though there are English-language editions.)

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7
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Horror

The Brown Wedge4 comments • 544 views

EC

It was, more than anything else, EC’s powerful horror comics that led to uproar and US Senate hearings in the ’50s – and for years afterwards, comics were aimed more squarely at children than any time before or since.

They don’t seem so scary today, over 50 years on. The twists are often predictable and kind of repetitive when you read a lot of them, and the insistence on describing everything in captions (the panel outlines and caption lettering were produced before the artists got to start work) is wearing. Nonetheless, they had lots of terrific artists: Johnny Craig, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, George Evans, Jack Kamen, Reed Crandall, Graham Ingels. Ingels was particularly strong on creepy characters and atmosphere, but the general standard was exceptional.

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10
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Adventure Strips

The Brown Wedge5 comments • 608 views

All of my favourite newspaper strips were at the comedy end of the market – and it is worth noting here how big an influence Segar’s Popeye was on adventure strips. Nonetheless, there were some great adventure strips, back in the days when there was room for more than talking heads in comic strips. All of them feel old-fashioned these days, it should be admitted.

Roy Crane

As Popeye took over Thimble Theatre, so Captain Easy took over Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs strip – indeed, the Captain appeared just a few months after Popeye in 1929. He was a much more straightforward hero, shifting what had been a comedy adventure strip into more serious territory. Captain Easy was a definitive influence on adventure strips – and comic books too: he was an archetype who is seen in Superman and Batman and many others. He followed this with Buz Sawyer in 1943, a straight adventure strip. Roy Crane, more than anyone else, evolved the style of the adventure strip, in terms of art, story and character.

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14
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Stretching the Superhero

The Brown Wedge10 comments • 1,068 views

Having mentioned ’60s superheroes, at Marvel and DC, and Alan Moore, I thought I’d talk about those who tried to take the genre somewhere else in past years.

Steve Gerber
It was Steve Gerber who got me back into comics in the ’70s, after dropping them when younger, and he’s still one of my two or three favourite comic writers ever. He wrote a swamp-monster comic called Man-Thing, making the stories about characters and issues rather than horror or superheroics. In an issue of the gloriously named Giant Size Man-Thing, an odd guest character appeared: Howard the Duck, a cynical and sardonic talking duck from another dimension. He proved popular enough to get his own title, in which he sneered about this world of talking apes and got involved in parodic superhero adventures. It was sometimes terrific satire, but also substantial human drama, with the quiet moments among the best. A great series, and there is a fine Essential collection.

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18
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Underground Comix

The Brown Wedge6 comments • 2,047 views

American comics were almost entirely childish and pretty insipid after the Senate hearings in the mid-’50s. Unsurprisingly there was a reaction to this, and some cartoonists started putting out alternatives, full of drugs and sex and anti-establishment politics. It got very tied in to the burgeoning hippy movement.

Robert Crumb

One all-time comics great came out of this movement. Crumb is a pretty twisted person with various misogynist attitudes – the saving grace is that the comics don’t read as if it’s someone telling you how women are, but as confessions of the creator’s wrongheadedness. This was new. He’s produced tons of great comics himself, and he married another extremely talented cartoonist, Aline Kominsky. He got his start working for Harvey Kurtzman on Help! (his successor to Mad), where Fritz the Cat debuted, and then started putting out his own comics. His drawing is superb, harking back to illustration styles before comics, as well as earlier comics like Popeye, and his writing is scabrous and impossible to ignore. As well as being a great creator, he was also the inspiration for the movement, and an influence on pretty much all of it. Crumb’s work has been extensively collected, and most libraries will have something.

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23
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: SF

The Brown Wedge7 comments • 766 views

I guess the place to start for SF comics, particularly on a British site, is 2000AD. Its title now makes it sound very unlike SF, but it’s been running future adventure stories for decades. It’s never been consistently great, but it’s had lots of great strips over the years: Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s future-Locas series Halo Jones, Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s superhero strip Zenith, Pat Mills’ future-inquisition story Nemesis, with lots of artists, but most famously, Judge Dredd. I don’t know how many Dredd stories there have been by now, but nearly all of them are at least pretty good – Mills and John Wagner managed a strong standard for a very long time. It’s hard to know where to start with highlights, but the early Judge Death stories, with art by Brian Bolland, are wonderful (a sample is shown, a favourite comic moment of mine), and Mike McMahon’s art in the same era is as good as British action art has ever been – well, except he may have beaten it on Pat Mills’ Celtic fantasy series Slaine, also in 2000AD.

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28
Jul 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Modern Humour Strips

The Brown Wedge1 comment • 525 views

The second half of the 20th Century was far less rich in great humour strips than the first half. Having said that, there were a couple that rank with the best ever.

The only place to start is with what was by far the dominant humour strip of that era, Peanuts. Charles Schulz throughly earned his place in the hearts of millions around the world, with one of the great casts of characters and some wonderfully subtle comedy writing. Some great humour writers would take pride in a strip being taken as against both sides of an argument; Schulz felt that way about one strip that was taken as in favour by both sides, the issue being prayer in school – I guess this is the difference between a satirist and someone with as much human warmth in his work as Schulz. Perhaps his artistic limitations would have been more exposed in earlier decades, when comic strips were a lot bigger, but he found a style that worked very well for him. Peanuts was a magnificent strip, particularly so soon after he’d found his stride, in the ’60s especially. In Charlie, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and Peppermint Patty in particular he created some of the best known and most loved comic characters ever.

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4
Aug 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Grant Morrison

The Brown Wedge7 comments • 683 views

Grant Morrison may well be my favourite comic writer ever, by now. I find him and endlessly imaginative, exciting and delightful writer, one who maintains my faith in buying individual comics rather than, as many have, buying the collections – he writes such great single issues, and I love the feeling of waiting impatiently for the next instalment. I’d maintain that his first great work was a comic called St Swithin’s Day, with Paul Grist, in which a young man dreamt about shooting Margaret Thatcher. Of course, since I edited that, I may be biased.

He started at DC around that time. On his own recommendation, I have never read the first four issues of Animal Man, but the fifth, centred around a version of Wile E. Coyote, is dazzling, and the meta elements of the rest of the highly imaginative series are extraordinary. His Doom Patrol run may be even better, bursting with strange ideas and breathtaking stories, and some great characters, not least Danny the Street, a superpowered street.

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7
Aug 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Koike & Kojima

The Brown Wedge1 comment • 1,120 views

If you like Kurosawa’s samurai movies, it’s a very good bet that you’ll like Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s comics – it’s the closest movie/comics match this side of Sin City, which is kind of cheating given Frank Miller’s involvement in the movie too.

Koike is as superb a craftsman as you’ll find writing comics anywhere. You get very substantial characters, thematic content, motif and strong stories. His knowledge of Japan’s history has immense breadth and depth – he gets at the motivations and circumstances of the times with genuine insight, as well as doing his research thoroughly. Best of all, he creates some extraordinary characters, and drives the story from them.

Kojima was a world class comic artist, immensely powerful and exciting – think of the battle climax of Seven Samurai. His work is gritty and flowing, fast and as muscular as it gets, with exceptional control of the very different pacing Japanese comics offer. He also provides great moments – there’s a shot of a pair of eyes in one Lone Wolf & Cub story that I’ll never forget.

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13
Aug 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Indie Comics

The Brown Wedge5 comments • 1,111 views

Don’t let any perfectly sensible distaste for indie music let my terminology here deter you. I’m using it to collect a few creators I want to mention who can’t be pegged into a genre easily, perhaps more akin to modern underground comics than anything else.

Daniel Clowes gained fame when Ghost World was made into the best comic book movie ever. His work generally focusses on odd outsider characters, alienated and often kind of grotesque, written and drawn with a cool clarity, with a huge enthusiasm for pop culture. I find his work compelling and often shocking (he edges towards horror at times), with genuinely memorable characters. As well as Ghost World, any of his collections (mostly previously serialised in his Eightball comic) are worth reading – I’d particularly recommend David Boring and Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron.

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