Choosy Beggar Books

Nostalgic Politic

Posted in Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous Comics by mvblair 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 mvblair 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 mvblair 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 mvblair 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 mvblair 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 mvblair 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.

A King Comes to Print

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by mvblair on May 1, 2012

A typical "The Little King" strip

Late in 2011, IDW released “Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and the Little King.” Although collections are still in print in Portuguese and French, this is the first time that “The Little King” has been made available to the US public since the strip ended in the 1970’s. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong). “Cartoon Monarch” collects dozens of “The Little King” strips, as well as a run of the off-shoot “The Ambassador.”

In the introduction, one of the editors mentioned that they first read Otto Soglow’s work in a collection of “The New Yorker” cartoons at the library (don’t get me started on “The New Yorker”). It was the same for me. After seeing “The Little King” in one such book, I looked up and down for a copy in print and found a Dell comic from the 1950’s titled “The Little King” and featuring the King, but obviously not written by Soglow. It was a standard Dell comic with a couple 10 page stories that cashed in on the popularity of the strip. I was disappointed. This collection of “The Little King” is the first time I’ve really been able to read the strip.

According to the introduction, Soglow got his start in leftist newspapers before moving on to “Collier’s” and “The New Yorker.” Soglow joined William Randolph Hearst’s King Features Syndicate. “The Little King” quickly became an advertising juggernaut, pitching everything from Standard Oil (BP, Exxon, Chevron) to Pepsi to toys.

There are hundreds of “The Little King” strips in “Cartoon Monarch.” The strips are presented in a very nice hardcover (IDW has really nailed publishing cartoons with class). The printing is nice and clean, so I assume they had to go back and clean up scans from old newspapers or whatever old copies they could find. I’m not sure why the publisher chose to print the first quarter of the book in color and the rest in black and white. It certainly does not detract from the book in any way, because I prefer black and white.

I'm not sure if this is included in the book, but this strip is on Soglow's page at the National Cartoonist Society. "The Little King" is not exactly a pantomime strip, but the gags shine.

The introduction is nice because it includes some fun samples of Soglow’s work before “The Little King” as well as examples of his advertising. The introduction puts a little too much emphasis on Soglow’s early cartoons for politically left newspapers. There don’t seem to be many years in which he was cartooning for such papers, so the thesis that “The Little King” represented Soglow’s inner struggle between leftist social views and his marketing machine seems off. Soglow was all-in for making money.

Artistically, I enjoy looking at “The Little King.” The lines are tight, rigid, and mathematical. A lot of people, including the editors, think that Soglow is one of the most economical cartoonists out there. I disagree. Every strip has several unnecessary panels that add nothing to the final gag. Such panels are visually pleasing, but they serve only to show the process of the King as he drives in a car or walks past his guards or runs down a hallway (but mostly drives in a car). The whole strip could often be presented as the first panel and the final “shock” panel. This is not economical to me, which isn’t a bad thing because the art is pleasing.

There is one thing about the art that makes me cringe. When I’ve seen “The Little King” in microfiche, some of the pictures are very dated because they have racist images of Africans or people of African descent. Drawing an entirely black face with enormous white lips and a tiny cranium was pretty common in the 1930’s and Soglow wasn’t alone. The animated adventures of “The Little King” (another marketing ploy) had even worse images of African tribes-people, so the book, which has only one or two such images in the background, is relatively tame. I imagine the editors tried to keep those types of images out of the book, even though they are important from a historical and social perspective.

Soglow’s jokes are as consistent as his controlled lines. In each final-panel, the King is put in a very un-regal position, whether he is chasing a pretty blonde, joining a mob, or trying to put the Prince to bed. Each gag has a lot of build up and no disappointment. It’s not exactly a pantomime strip because most strips have speech that set up the scene; however, the words are sparse compared with other strips.

I’m very happy to finally have the chance to read a huge chunk of Otto Soglow’s strips.

Archie: American Pinko

Posted in Miscellaneous Comics by mvblair on April 18, 2012
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Archie Andrews represents all-American values, like liberal marriage, Democratic endorsements, and occupying Pop’s Ice-Cream Parlor

Slate.com has a great article about Archie Andrews today. They document Archie’s recent history of “liberal” ideas. Most notably, the comic has included a forward-thinking gay military officer (whom Veronica unsuccessfully tried to court), President Obama’s endorsement of Archie for class president, Archie’s future interracial marriage, and the gang’s involvement in the Occupy Riverdale movement. I’m not kidding about any of that.

As a former reader of “Jughead’s Double Digest,” I can’t say I’m shocked. I knew the comic was becoming more progressive when Jughead was diagnosed with Type Two diabetes. It was a long, downhill struggle for him, but the story arc brilliantly wove strands of the national health care debate into a tapestry that included Jughead’s inability to find organic food alternatives to Pop’s greasy hamburgers.