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Fantagraphics


TOPHATS AND FLAPPERS: THE ART OF RUSSELL PATTERSON
Edited by Shane Glines and Alex Chun and Designed by Jacob Covey

To date, we’ve seen the gentlemen behind this volume put their focus on artists like Dan DeCarlo, Don Flowers, and Jack Cole. Each of those men drew fetching females, but their focus was on gags and sequential pieces. Patterson shares those men’s gift for women, but his talent took a different route.

Patterson was an energetic pen and ink artist who put his abilities into play by providing some of the most beautiful magazine cover art of the 20th century. Magazines such as LIFE and BALLYHOO were graced by Patterson’s magnificent work, not to mention the work he did in the interiors. His line-work provided illustration for many articles as well, not to mention assorted books and pamphlets. Patterson also offered a correspondence art school, proving him a bit wiser and more ambitious than many of his colleagues at the time.

What impresses about Patterson’s work is how well he varied his style. He did simple pen and ink that was more of an approximation of realist work. His did painted work that graced those magazine covers. He did set design for film. He did movie posters, including Fred Astaire’s THE GAY DIVORCEE. And even though it wasn’t his strong suit, he did attempt to do some gags. As you read this book, you can scarcely believe that much of this work was done by one man, there is so much variety involved.

The textual component of the book, however, pales next to the work itself. Patterson’s story reads pretty flat, not really giving you a sense of depth about the man or his life. But the book design and package itself sort of balances that, as this is one of the finer pieces that this crew has put together. As a total package, this is a fine piece of work that perhaps lacks a hook in its brief narrative that takes it to greatness. However, that may be more than enough.

Marc Mason

THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1961-62
Written and Drawn by Charles Schulz

Few things are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Rain in the middle of a Phoenix summer. A perfect margarita at the end of a long week. Salma Hayek smiling on the silver screen. And a new volume of THE COMPLETE PEANUTS.

These two years find Schulz reaching his early creative heights. Most of the characters are in place and resemble those we’d come to know over the next forty years; their “voices” were essentially in place. During this era, Linus would begin his hunt for the Great Pumpkin, and Sally would begin kindergarten, but it was other classic moments that stand out. Charlie Brown sending Linus to scout their baseball opponents only to discover that Linus accidentally scouted his own team through his blunt assessment of what he saw. Some of Lucy’s classic attempts to get rid of Linus’ blanket came during these years, too, particularly when she used it as a kite and let it loose in the sky and send it on a cross-ocean voyage.

But it was in the small moments that PEANUTS was at its best, and there are plenty of them here. One brilliant strip finds Snoopy lamenting his stagnant, unchanging life. His solution? To lay his head at the opposite end of the doghouse. Schulz’ sly commentary on human nature would have landed with a dull thud had he used any other character for the gag, but Snoopy is just perfect.

The one new character of consequence introduced during this time was Frieda (“I have naturally curly hair.”), and it’s refreshing to see just how unabashedly, egotistically obnoxious she was, and that she survived in the strip. These days, a focus group would have tried to have her kicked out, but Schulz new that those kids are tough to get rid of in real life, so there was a place for one in his cast.

If you haven’t checked out this magnificent, essential series of archives yet, now’s the time. This is truly classic material that holds up to this day.

Marc Mason

THE LEFT BANK GANG
Written and Drawn by Jason

Like Chris Ware, Jason is one of those wildly praised creators whose work has never been able to penetrate my tastes. I can recognize, reading his earlier books, his talent and his gift for storytelling, but his work has never found an emotional footing with me. I’ve found it sterile, more impressed with its technical achievements than delivering an impact. But I may have to rethink that opinion.

Why? Because with THE LEFT BANK GANG, Jason shows something different to the reader, and I enjoyed it immensely. This is really the first time where I felt like Jason was having fun with the creative process, and that fun spills over to the reader.

GANG is set in Paris in the 1920s. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, and Joyce are still amazing, but struggling, writers… but the dominant culture form in Jason’s re-imagined world is comics, and those masters are creating comics and graphic novels, making them artists as well. But as their fortunes lag, and Zelda Fitzgerald becomes more difficult towards Scott, the group decides to change their lives by robbing the box office at a local prize fight.

Half character drama and half Tarantino film, LEFT BANK is a fast-paced hoot of a book, taking the normal anthropomorphic look of Jason’s world and translating into a place where literary giants must not only deal with their spousal problems but with the details of turning to a life of crime. This book is simply fun, eschewing pretentious purpose for entertainment value. I honestly didn’t think Jason had it in him. Now I just hope he remembers to use it again.

Marc Mason

UPTIGHT #1
Written and Drawn by Jordan Crane

Alt-comics star Crane delivers a new set of slice-of-life stories in UPTIGHT, a title that is a bit of a metaphorical stretch, though I concede that a literal title (like “Jordan Crane Obsesses On Death”) would be overdoing it. Of course, to carry it out, “The play’s the thing,” but as it happens, the play’s pretty damned good.

Story one, “Below The Shade Of Night”, is a bit more circumspect in how Crane gets to his near inevitable conclusion. Young Robert is tired of his parents’ rule and he’s obsessed with motorcycles, a combination that has never gone together quite like peanut butter and chocolate. Why it works, rather than feeling cliché, is that Crane skips some of the obvious beats and delivers a conclusion that’s both resonant and satisfying. You really have to think about what happened, and it spurs a re-read of the story. I appreciate that from a storyteller.

The second half of the book presents “Keeping Two”, which keeps Crane on a theme. A man ruminates upon his past and the beginnings of his belief that death uses the number three as part of its power, all the while not understanding how that belief has altered his own fate. But after the death of his mother’s dog and a friend named Ted’s brother, he finds himself steadfast in believing that someone else near to him will soon follow. It is then that Crane leads us down a path as to whether or not this will become truth. It is only in a careful reading of the final two pages that you fully understand the amazingly subtle ending Crane provides.

However, “Keeping Two” is almost too esoteric in the storytelling choices Crane makes, and some of it is confusing, which is why the story never achieves the heights that “Shade” does. However, this is still a terrific book, easily recommendable for the intelligent, advanced reader who is looking for something different from their comics experience.

Marc Mason

LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #8
Written and Drawn by Gilbert Hernandez

It can be extremely difficult to review Beto Hernandez’ work. He’s been creating the adventures of Luba and her extended family for so long, and at such an extraordinary level of quality, that you generally run out of new adjectives to describe his greatness. Certainly, as this series draws to a close, and we see more pieces of how the family’s destiny plays out, you can really only nod silently and acknowledge that the man hasn’t missed a beat as he crafts these tales.

The majority of this issue follows Luba’s daughter Guadalupe. She’s putting together a charity benefit on the professional front, but her life is truly consumed by regrets involving her ex, Hector, and the divisions between Luba and Guadalupe’s aunts. However, what reads on the surface as sort of a linear look at a period of angst for Guadalupe is deepened by picking apart the quiet character bits Hernandez places throughout the story.

Guadalupe lacks the self-confidence or awareness to see that many of her behaviors are eating at her life. When she puts the benefit together, and manages to get her Tia Fritz sober enough to put on a grand performance, instead of feeling elated, she devolves into self-pity. (“I felt tired and disappointed, like after having casual sex.”) She catches herself doing it and chastises herself, but in the next scene, she’s at the beach with Hector and their kids. Even though Hector and she are through, and he’s very happily married, she wears the least modest suit she possibly could, again openly displaying her inner conflicts. This doesn’t make her a bad person, and she never makes an overt move in his direction, but it clearly helps push her to more mistakes as the story moves on. It’s simply excruciating to see her degrade herself, which demonstrates the power Beto has over the reader.

Hernandez will be continuing his stories about these characters in other series, but the good news doesn’t stop there; Fantagraphics is collecting both Gilbert and Jaime’s classic LOVE AND ROCKETS material in affordable omnibus editions beginning this year. If the $50 price on the PALOMAR and LOCAS hardcovers were too steep for you, then these editions are a must. Along with the PEANUTS and POPEYE collections, those will be Fanta’s most important and anticipated releases this year.

Marc Mason

 

Clerks II - July 21, 2006

The Important Stuff!!!

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