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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Hello, I Must Be Going

So it has come to this...

What's this, you say? This, my friends, is where Black & White and Bronze Age Comics goes on hiatus. Yesterday's closing review of Maus was not only the realization of a long held goal (and labor of love) to review that classic tale, but somewhat coincidentally it marked exactly one year since publication began in this little corner of the Internet.

I'd mentioned back in June that I thought posting had the potential to become sporadic. Although the first month of my summer vacation, June was particularly busy for me family-wise. But I caught a second wind and was able to spend several days through the end of the summer getting ahead. In fact, by Labor Day I'd scheduled all the way to the end of October! That was a good feeling, since I knew this school year was going to present many new challenges for me. I've been appointed to a new position, largely administrative, and it has greatly restructured my life with numerous meetings and classroom observations each day - and consequently made the nights challenging for writing from an energy and focus standpoint. So it's best to lay this thing to rest, at least for the time being, while its pulse is still strong.

Here's what I said as this blog began:
" initial ambition is to highlight Bronze Age artists who excelled in the black and white format. In the future, you might see reviews of full stories or of pages or even panels. I'll identify the penciler and inker, and sometimes we may just discuss that pairing  - was it a good fit? On other days you may see sketches, or pages of original art. And we won't necessarily be limited to just the Bronze Age - watch for anything from Golden Age Batman newspaper strips to Jeff Smith's Bone to pencil art from Batman comics of the last decade. While my personal comics wheelhouse of 1973-1980 may receive the bulk of attention, hopefully there will be at least a little something for everyone!

Just to give an idea of where this may go, here's an incomplete inventory from my comics library:
  • Planet of the Apes Archives, volumes 1-4
  • Savage Sword of Conan, volumes 1-4
  • Doc Savage Archives, volume 1: The Curtis Magazine Era
  • Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume
  • Batman: The Dailies, 1943-1944, 1944-1945, 1945-1946 
  • Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, volumes 1-2
...and several Marvel Essentials collections, numerous Artist Editions, etc."
If I self-assess, I'd say I met those goals and then some. Throughout the year I received some nice recommendations here and on Twitter. I read some Vampirella stories for the first time, as well as Solomon Kane. I stumbled across a hardcover reprinting of the Blazing Combat series while in Washington, DC last July and purchased it. What a Wow!-factor that book had! I love the diversity of the black & white format, and the roll call of spectacular artists fluent in the genre never ceases to amaze.

But it's been a nice run. Here's a tale of the tape, current the night before this posts.
Posts: 111
Pageviews: 58,500+
Comments: 680

Most viewed post: Claws vs. Talons, in the Savage Land Sky!
Post with most comments: John Byrne's Star-Lord
Number of reviews: 50
Number of creators mentioned: 118
Thanks for putting up with me, and for your interest in the material I've covered. My love of this material has grown over the past several years, but definitely during the past 12 months. I appreciate those who made recommendations to me, and pledge to enjoy those resources moving forward. My "tolerance" for non-superhero comics continues to improve, and I've experienced real joy in some of the new genres or books I've tried. As my friend Karen long ago said, we live in a Golden Age of reprints, and I am so very thankful that much of the black & white material from the Silver and Bronze Ages is readily available to fans.

Be sure to use the navigation features on the sidebar to get at old reviews and artist appreciations. And leave a comment - I'll see it and will interact.

Be well - and whenever I decide to scratch a new itch, I will certainly publicize it on Twitter so that you might come back and enjoy some pretty pictures and perhaps a bit of conversation. Thanks.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, Chapter 5 - a Review

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began (1991)
"The Second Honeymoon" - Volume 2, Chapter 5
Art Spiegelman

After a year of once-a-month reviews, we have come to the conclusion. In storytelling time, we've bridged 1978-1991; the events therein covered nearly 60 years. It has been a tale of scope and of scale, and in my mind this is one of the most important comic books ever produced. One can argue about other books' lasting impacts, or financial appreciation. But Maus was somewhat of a game changer across the market, as it brought "comix" to a mainstream audience and caused the general public to take notice of the genre and its storytelling possibilities. I long ago lost track of how many times I've read this, but I don't care - I know I'll keep coming back.

In this final chapter we wrap the events of the war years, and see the almost-end of Art's and Vladek's relationship. It's a fitting curtain drop, one that is poignantly touching.

100-Word Review:
As Art set about continuing his work on the second volume of Maus, he was interrupted by a frantic call from Mala, his stepmother. She’d gone back with Vladek, and they were in Florida. Vladek was quite ill, and Art needed to head south to help them return to New York. Once stabilized, Vladek told Art about the days immediately following the war - but he was separated from Anja, his wife. After time in Displaced Persons camps and another bout with typhus, he eventually made his way back to Sosnowiec, where he was reunited with his beloved. He was later able to secure employment and rebuild his finances, and the Spiegelmans made their way to the United States.
Most of this chapter takes place in the present. It is a satisfying finish to the telling of Art's and Vladek's stormy relationship.

The Good: Art's a good son, in spite of how crazy his dad had driven him through the years. Art felt a real sense of responsibility to Vladek and to Mala. It's pretty clear that the role of caretaker was not comfortable for Art, but he did it and did it well. I thought, especially given the way the first volume had ended, that the story had a bittersweet ending. "Happy" was probably out of the question, but I didn't walk away in a fit of depression.

It was important that Vladek related the trials he faced in reuniting with Anja. It should not be lost on anyone that upon liberation, survivors had no assets. And when we see stories of the murders that took place in Poland when Jews tried to return to their former homes and property, the barriers to normalcy seem all the steeper. News in those days of course traveled slowly, and knowing the destruction of German infrastructure it's a wonder word made it from place to place at all.

Across the entire narrative, I was impressed by Vladek's resourcefulness. The vignette about selling hosiery (out of place in the chronology of Vladek's biography but told as such because it was topical to the narrative of that page) was amazing. I'd not call Vladek a scammer, but I would say he was more adept than most at sniffing out a deal.

The reunion of Vladek and Anja was appropriately low-key. Art let the event speak for itself.

The Bad: Over the past couple of chapters, I think we really got a taste for the absence of Anja's perspective in the events at the end of the war. Vladek's destruction of her diaries effectively omitted a large wedge in the narrative pie. When she is present in the story again, there's a weight to those pages in which she was absent. I don't know that it overall diminishes the impact of Maus - after all, that her diaries were destroyed is an important ongoing element in the relationship between Art and his father. But it certainly would have added to the trajectory of chapter 4.

I am never able to understand Vladek's motivation for having his picture taken in a camp uniform. I'm glad Art used it in the book, but it's never clear to me why anyone would want to be near that. When I see those uniforms on display at the United States Holocaust Museum, I always have a sense of revulsion. To stand mere feet away, and to know what they may have been used for and most certainly what they symbolized, sweeps me with emotion.

The Ugly: The above-mentioned pogroms and killings in Poland and elsewhere at the conclusion of the war. As Vladek relates, for this they survived?

For those of you new to this series, I'd invite you to use the Repository of Reviews for links to my thoughts on each of the 11 chapters of Maus. And to anyone who has been along for the entire 11-month ride, I thank you. I've remarked along the way that this has been a real labor of love for me, and these reviews are a goal I've long held. It has been gratifying to see the "project" come to a conclusion; I hope you've appreciated the story as much as I have.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez: We're All Thankful for the 1982 DC Comics Style Guide!

The 1982 DC Comics Style Guide was such a monster, I had to split it into three posts to enjoy all that goodness. And I've only shown you the black and white side of things. All of these (and more) were also in color, and all were rendered by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. I hope you've enjoyed our previous forays - and if you missed 'em, then by all means make up for lost time!

And come right back on Monday for the conclusion of my year-long series of reviews of Art Spiegelman's Maus.






Monday, November 18, 2019

George Takei's They Called Us Enemy - a Review

They Called Us Enemy (July 2019)
George Takei/Justin Eisinger/Steven Duvall Scott-Harmony Becker

I became aware of the book early last summer via Twitter. I follow George Takei and saw him with some pre-release publicity. I was fortunate to snag myself a copy when I was working at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum near the end of July. I didn't get round to reading it until early in August, but was quite impressed when I started. It's about a two hour read cover-to-cover, and time very well spent. Let's dig in via the usual methodology.

100-Word Review:
George Takei’s illustrated autobiography takes us from Los Angeles to two of the Japanese internment camps used by the government of the United States of America to imprison American citizens of Japanese ancestry, as well as Japanese resident aliens. Takei details his family’s dehumanization, loss of civil rights, and the lasting impact of these events on his own life. The story is juxtaposed with Takei’s reflections and actions at later points in his life. The story is largely played out through the eyes of Takei as a boy, and his innocence in the early 1940s only heightens the sadness of the situation.

The Good: Where to begin? How about Harmony Becker's art? You know me, I've always favored the graphic side of the writer/artist equation. Becker's style is pitch perfect for this story. I think you'll see from the samples I've provided that there is a conservatism of lines that give off a children's storybook feel. And that is wholly appropriate. It's quite beautiful, and she cuts no corners. The backgrounds are wonderful, the zipatone adds texture every now and then, and her attention to detail on structures and setting give the entire scope of the tale authenticity. This art is as effective as was Nate Powell's work in John Lewis's graphic autobiography March.

Justin Eisinger and Steven Duvall Scott bring the events of George Takei's life to readers of all ages in a way that is easily understood. While the issues within are complex, the presentation is in such a fashion that the young (and novices to the history) can comprehend the magnitude of what happened to Japanese-Americans during the War years. But this isn't just for kids. While I'd call it appropriate for children, I felt immediately drawn in and really disliked that I had to finish the book the day after I began. It's cliche', but yeah - it's a page turner.

Because the book is relatively new, I've only included art samples from the first third or so of the story - I don't want this review to be spoilerific. The narrative covers the entire war and liberation (freedom? The experience and circumstances felt by Jews and other victims of the Nazi camps system was different from what occurred in the States mid-1945). Somewhat echoing Art Spiegelman's Maus, there are a few vignettes of an older George speaking with his father about their wartime life. When I got to those scenes, one in particular interested me. George lost his patience with his father's explanation of a question George had asked; I thought back to Art's anger and disgust with Vladek when it was learned that Anja's notebooks had been destroyed. Other valuable scenes included a speech George made at FDR's Hyde Park (NY) estate, and a prolonged discussion of the internment issue as dealt with decades later by the Reagan and Obama administrations. Lastly, Takei ties his story in with current issues involving immigrants and detention centers along the southern border of the United States. All ages-appropriate, yes - but not kid's stuff.

The Bad: Just look at that first set of pages I posted, above. That's about all you'd need to grasp the intensity of George Takei's story. But as you progress through the various samples, you get to some of the outright bigotry demonstrated by those elected and appointed to safeguard our freedoms. All our freedoms. Not just freedoms for some of us.

There were times I had to move away from the book for a few minutes for some personal meditation and contemplation.

The Ugly: Really, all of this. That the Takei family, and the many other families affected by this held firm and maintained their humanity as their own government treated them as "less than" is a testament to their spirit. I did not always agree with the policies of George W. Bush, but I will always recall immediately after 9/11 a call to civility toward American Muslims. He knew the history, and he was not going to lead us down that path again. My heart broke when I came to the last panel on the page below, at right. George was so excited to get to sleep where horses slept. Through the eyes of a child... but think about that.

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