Choosy Beggar Books

Astro City

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by m on April 23, 2018

Image result for astrocity dark ageI never particularly enjoyed superhero comics, but as a youngster, the two that I enjoyed were “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen.” Their deconstruction of superheroes and the superhero genre was novel.

The style of those two comics, with first-person narrative and moral challenges, were then copied and hacked to death.

Rather than deconstructing the superhero genre, “Astro City” comics try to construct it by placing heroes in a living, breathing world where life goes on not because of their heroic actions but despite their heroic actions. The focus of Busiek’s best stories is on the citizens who look up at the heroes briefly and then carry on with their daily work. They are irritated by the distractions superheroes cause or, perhaps, they are themselves super-powered folk who use their abilities to further their careers rather than save lives.

Image result for astrocity dark ageIn “Astro City: The Dark Age,” a two-part series, Charles and Royal struggle with their relationship to superheroes in Astro City. Their strained relationship is centered on their mutual distrust of superheroes and villains. Superheroes come and go throughout the book in a rather blasé manner as Charles and Royal evolve. The two books in the series unfold slowly over the course of about twenty years with flashbacks and shifting narrative perspectives.

Because of the dull, repetitive stories in the superhero genre, I have ignored it. However, I was attracted by the lovely and often incongruous painted covers of “Astro City.” Fortunately, the stories were equally interesting and equally engaging.

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“The Tick”

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by m on May 5, 2017
The-Tick-1-cover“The Tick” is one of the most infuriating comics ever, despite being one of my favorites. That there are so many reprints under different titles and in different trade paperbacks makes it extremely difficult to follow.
Still, there are few funnier comics. From Arthur to Chairface Chippendale, from his creator Ben Edlund to his worthy successor Sean Wang, the comics I’ve read have been great. They’re slapstick and satirical. It’s been eleven years since a new comic was published. Fortunately, it looks like there will be a new “The Tick” comic in August this year.

Apparently a new show is going to air on Amazon TV and the new comic will coincide with that. Why the original show was cancelled after just a handful of episodes we’ll never know. I sincerely thought it was funny, as good as the cartoon show.

“The Tick,” like the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” earlier, is a success story from the ’80s of independent comics getting picked up and turned mainstream, with good reason.

Nostalgic Politic

Posted in Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous Comics by m on February 5, 2017
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“Groo the Wanderer,” by Sergio Aragonés

My brother and I read  “Groo the Wanderer”for many years. While buying a “Barbie” comic with my daughter today, I felt nostalgic and grabbed a few yellowed Groo comics. Great stuff. It always gives me some genuine smiles.

The editor was Mark Evanier, a well-know writer himself. I looked him up on the ‘net and found that he is quite politically opinionated and unafraid to discuss his ideas. In addressing his criticisms of Trump, it occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons he dislikes the new president is that Trump has, at best, a mocking and condescending toward Latin Americans. As the editor of various Groo titles over the years, Evanier is no doubt still close to Sergio Aragonés, the Spanish and Mexican author.

Where would we be without people like Aragonés, who have provided many of us with laughter for years? Where would we be without people like Sanchéz, who kept us dry by hot-tarring our roofs? Where would we be without people like Ramiréz, who has kept track of our blood pressure for years and stitched our cuts and helped us get healthy?

These people belong to our country and deserve to be here as much as my immigrant ancestors. To scapegoat them is a disservice to what makes this country great. Just as Aragonés’ contributions to comics have been invaluable, so have the contributions of immigrants from any number of countries. For this reason, attempts to wall them out, ban them, and otherwise minimize their potential contributions will have a detrimental impact on our quality of life, as well as theirs. Let’s say “no to the wall” and “no to the ban”

Juanito

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by m on June 4, 2015

I’m not sure when I made these little cartoons with “Juanito,” but I like them! I’m guessing they’re from about fifteen years ago. –Matt

Juan Waiting for Bus

Juan at Home Juan and Friends Juan Keeping Goal Juan at the Rio Rojo

Favorite Comic Strips

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by m on December 18, 2012

While sequential art has been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, comic strips are a relatively new invention. They were added to newspapers starting in the late 1800s. Hundreds of strips have come and gone in the United States. Perhaps thousands have come and gone in major newspapers all over the world. I can’t say that I’ve read even a fraction of the titles that are out there; however, of those I have read, four keep coming back to me. These four comics, for me, are the best of the comic strip medium.

Pogo and the Deacon from “Pogo”

“Pogo” by Walt Kelley – No other comic strip matches the intense situational comedy and characterizations in “Pogo.” The art is lush, fluid and organic. The writing is clever and sharp. The characters are true. Their language is melodic, but never forced, and often backed up with lovely calligraphy. I can’t ask for more in a comic strip. Several story arcs occur at the same time and some of the arcs last several months, giving a great sense of depth from each story. Because he frequently touched political nerves, some newspapers censored “Pogo” at times, causing Kelley to lash out in the introductions of his uncensored paperbacks. The satirical references to J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon B. Johnson still make sense and are funny, even for readers unfamiliar with the times. “Pogo” is absolutely beautiful literature.

Opus and Milo from "Bloom County"

Opus and Milo from “Bloom County”

Bloom County” by Berke Breathed – My older brother liked “Bloom County” long before I did. I read my brother’s paperback collections as a kid and now I am collecting the new hardback editions. Although there are some older cultural references to Tammy Faye Baker and Boy George, the strip holds up extremely well. “Bloom County” relies on the characters and Breathed is not afraid to change them, so the strip never falls in a rut. Because he was able to talk about cultural and political topics (even getting his strip put on the editorial page of some papers), Breathed always had new gags and ideas. “Bloom County” never fails to make me laugh and that’s the mark of a great strip.

Professor Yorgle, King Aroo, and a bird

Professor Yorgle, King Aroo, and a bird from “King Aroo”

King Aroo” by Jack Kent – In college, I spent a lot of time reading comic strips on microfiche. I discovered a few months worth of “King Aroo” and I fell in love with it. The characters are innocent and enjoyable, defying the stereotypes of a royal kingdom. The entirety of the strip pushes the innocence of his characters into wonderful and humorous situations. What impresses me the most about Kent’s writing is that he squeezes several puns and gags into every daily strip. It’s thick with humor. Kent’s art is loose, but very pretty. IDW released the first two years of “King Aroo” in hardback a year or two ago with promises to release the other eight years (we’ll see if it happens). It is great fun to read.

"Calvin and Hobbes"

“Calvin and Hobbes” getting ready for a talk

Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson – After Woodie Harrelson, Paul Brown and I, Bill Watterson is probably Ohio’s favorite son. “Calvin and Hobbes” lasted only ten years, but glorious they were. I was fascinated by the strip for years. In retrospect, it’s amazing that Watterson squeezed so many silly gags out of so few characters. For the entire run of the series, Calvin tries to avoid work by sneaking into fantasy worlds and misconstruing traditions. Most stories last about two or three weeks and those story lines are frequently invoked, such as Calvin’s trials with his babysitter or his science fiction alter-ego getting lost. Artistically, the weekdays strips are economic and bare while some of the Sunday strips are colorful and detailed. A 20 pound “box set” of strips called “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” was recently published. It is very pricey, but nice. Fortunately, paperbacks can still be found pretty cheap.

“Persepolis” and “Zahra’s Paradise” – Comics from Iranian Authors

Posted in International Comics, Miscellaneous Comics by m on October 15, 2012

A typical panel from “Persepolis,” a narration followed by an illustration.

“Persepolis” is a comic written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. It follows a one or two year period of Satrapi’s life at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was first published in 2000 and has gone on to sell over a million copies in many European languages (though not in Farsi, the language of Iran).

“Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic drawn by Khalil, an anonymous Arab artist, and written by Amir, an anonymous Persian writer. The story is set just after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution in Iran. It was published on the internet starting in 2010 as a web comic translated in many languages, including Arabic and Farsi. In 2011, it was published in a hardcover format in English.

The ten-year-old protagonist of “Persepolis” is well-versed in Marxism.

Naturally, the two comics draw a lot of comparisons because they are both set in Iran. “The Independent” from England compared the two, saying the were very similar comics. They are not similar.

A typical narration/demonstration panel from “Treasury of Fact and Fiction” (1961). “Persepolis” uses this same narration/demonstration style, although the fact that this is about Karl Marx has nothing to do with Satrapi’s initial interest in Marxism.

“Persepolis” is a good piece of literature; however, it is more like an illustrated book than a comic. There is a small narration followed by a picture that demonstrates the small narration. This technique is somewhat outdated. Being Satrapi’s first comic, I would not expect “Persepolis” to have the artistic richness that combines words and images to create a verbal and visual masterpiece. Librarians who don’t follow the medium absolutely love this style, though. It is easier to for the non-comics fan to digest and the Spartan pictures are appealing because they are “adult.” There is no need to contemplate the art. There are no difficult visual cues or graphic themes. It’s just a simple narration with pictures.

“Persepolis” is self-indulgent at times, as are all autobiographies. The protagonist enjoys discussing her rebellious ways as she tries to figure out the Iranian Revolution. While you would think that a ten-year-old would be naive and pitiable, Satrapi is able to discuss revolutionary theory with the best of them. Her ironic demeanor outsmarts her parents and teachers. Perhaps this is not an unrealistic character trait. Perhaps it is a national flaw: at a time when Iran was delirious, the child remained sane.

The art and words of “Zahra’s Paradise” are both needed.

“Zahra’s Paradise” is the optic opposite of “Persepolis.” There are long-running artistic themes from panel to panel as well as spreads that add to the artistry of the script. The imagery is always amazing. Individual panels often have powerful artistic effects and always have beautiful pictures. This artistic vision holds its own against the best comics. It is easy to dote on the art, which is rich, expressive, and organic.

Page from “Zahra’s Paradise” that demonstrates beautiful art and realistic writing.

The writing and story also stand out. “Zahra’s Paradise” takes place in the days after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution, a protest movement that was violently squashed. Mehdi is a fictional protestor who goes missing. His college-age brother and mother try to find out what happened to Mehdi. As the story progresses, the reader meets a hodgepodge of realistic characters, including the mother’s chain-smoking best friend, a copy shop owner who pirates anything the regime doesn’t like, and bureaucrats who are forced to tow the line despite their better judgment. The comic evokes political figures like Ayatollahs, mullahs, and Neda. It could have easily been written as a hard-boiled detective story but the author went out of his way to write a story with tangible characters who act logically.

Both books are definitely worth reading.

“Persepolis” is a librarian’s dream. It is a quick, easy read that provides a look at one family’s view of the Iranian Revolution. While it might not be the comic critic’s most beloved format, it is certainly important because the style reaches a wide audience. “Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic reader’s dream. It requires attention to both the story and the art as it describes the Green Revolution. It is rich in artistry and prose, making it a wonderful piece of literature.

“The Dark Knight Returns” Movie

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by m on August 20, 2012

Panels from “The Dark Knight Returns”

I’m not a big fan of superheroes. The genre just doesn’t draw my attention, with the exception of Batman.

“The Dark Knight Returns,” published in 1986, is a deconstruction of superheroes and is the best comic published heretofore. “The Dark Knight Returns” picks up Batman’s career 10 years after he supposedly retired. Batman realizes that the world has gone cynical, calling him a superhero fascist, accusing him of child abuse by recruiting Robin, and finding out that Catwoman, his ex-lover, now runs an escort service.

“Batman: The Animated Series,” run in the ’90s, is the best incarnation of Batman, despite being run as a kid’s show. It was dark and sparse, capturing a perfect feel of Gotham City that until then had been hokey in comics, on TV, or in cinemas. It could have done well as an hour-long show and, truthfully, I didn’t like the episodes in which villains were introduced with the same, tired plots, but it was nevertheless a good show.

Now, it looks like the producers of “The Animated Series” are making a movie out of “The Dark Knight Returns.” I can think of no better producer, because they captured the feel of what I want Batman to be. I’m glad that it will be an animated movie, too. A bigger budget Hollywood movie would lead to some of the ridiculousness that we’ve seen in prior Batman movies (and even some of these new ones). After watching the sneak peek on Youtube, it looks like it will be very faithful to the comic. Alfred looks just as I remember him from the comic, as does Robin, the villain, and Batman, shooting through the night sky with lightning in the background.

Thanks to Rodrigo for telling me about the movie!

King Aroo to the Rescue

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by m on May 17, 2012

Jack Kent’s “King Aroo” has beautiful, organic art and fantastic gags.

In college, I spent way too many hours reading old newspapers on microfiche. I always jumped to the comic strip section. After reading several months of “King Aroo,” fell in love with it.

The characters are innocent and gentle. They find themselves constantly mixed up in awkward situations. Their attempts to resolve a crisis usually result in the creation of another crisis.

IDW’s imprint, The Library of American Comics, reprinted two years worth of “King Aroo” in a wonderful format.

There are three strips per page, reprinted at a nice size, making it easy to read. According to the publisher, they did not want to interrupt the continuity of the weekday stories, so the colored Sunday strips are collected toward the end of the book with one per page.

The reproductions of the black line art are just wonderful. Even without looking hard, you can see the smooth lines and pick up on the general emotions of the characters because of how clean the art is. As I understand it, the Kent family gave the publisher access to much of the original art. The publisher did a wonderful job maintaining the integrity of that art.

Both Kent’s art and writing could stand alone. Combined, they show just how wonderful comics can be. I look forward to other “King Aroo” books from this publisher.

I thought I put this up in April, but it looks like it didn’t take.