Greetings! After the discussion of Jacques Tardi’s West Coast Blues in my last post, I wanted to turn to another gritty crime-thriller, Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot from 1939.
Now, if “Mickey Mouse” and “gritty crime thriller” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence, I would encourage you to think again. While nowadays, Mickey Mouse is essentially a mascot for the Disney corporation, in the 1930s and ’40s, he took down crime syndicates, solved mysteries, fought the Nazis, and more, all under the pencil of Floyd Gottfredson. If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion of Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic work, you can feel free to read my earlier post here.
At its core, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot is a classic Gottfredson caper, beginning with Mickey being called in by police chief O’Hara (by 1939, Mickey had already helped the police several times) to assist in an investigation into a series of robberies. All the police have to go on is the fact that the sole target of all of the crimes is one particular type of camera, and a series of enigmatic notes signed “The Blot.”
“And that which has happened before is happening again: George GERFAUT is cruising the outer lanes of the beltway that encircles Paris.”
So begins West Coast Blues, Jacques Tardi’s adaptation of the 1976 novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette. At its core, West Coast Blues is a tense thriller that features the gritty style that readers of Tardi would expect, but what gives this adaptation staying power is its ability to present heavy postmodern themes as casually and effectively as it presents its brutal violence.
West Coast Blues follows the story of George Gerfaut, a young Parisian sales executive who is dissatisfied with the world that he finds himself in. He has a wife and child, but spends his time driving around Paris at dangerously high speeds, drinking Four Roses bourbon with his barbiturates and listening to American West Coast-style jazz music on the tape deck of his Mercedes. While on an inane family vacation to the beach, he is attacked by two hit men, prompting a violent escape from his buttoned-down, comfortable life.
Greetings comics fans! For my first post in a long while, I would like to do a brief spiel about one of my favorite suspense and horror illustrators, Reed Crandall (1917 – 1982).
Reed Crandall had a long, productive career with masterful artwork that spans several different genres. But what I would like to focus on in particular is his work with suspense and horror comics, beginning with his illustrations for E.C. (Entertaining Comics). Crandall was a relative latecomer to the E.C. crew, illustrating his first story for the company with “Carrion Death!“ in 1953’s Shock Suspenstories #9. Crandall’s work was an immediate asset to E.C., particularly in its crime and horror titles. This wasn’t just due to his ability to draw a shambling corpse, which he could certainly do, but primarily due to his attention to detail and ability to use that detail to highlight a character’s desperation.
“Carrion Death!” shows Crandall using this detailed close-up technique to great effect, pushing a relatively simple story — one of a criminal on the lam finds himself handcuffed to a dead policeman in the middle of the desert — into the realm of pure graphic brilliance. Crandall juxtaposes close-up panels with wider shots of the surrounding desert that highlight the vastness of the wasteland around the main character, heightening the suspense of the story as our anti-hero escapes justice only to find himself at the mercy of a different, crueler fate.
Over the years, there have been countless examples of fantastic science fiction depicted in the comics medium. This last week I was reminded of one of my absolute favorites, The Long Tomorrow.
Written by Dan O’Bannon (perhaps best known as one of the screenwriters for Ridley Scott’s Alien) and drawn by Jean Giraud (perhaps better known by his pseudonym Moebius) in 1975 while the two were working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s tragically unrealized film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, The Long Tomorrow has an impressive science fiction pedigree — one that it more than lives up to.
Greetings bores and ghouls! For this week’s installment, I’ve decided to continue in the same vein as my previous post and take a look at another one of Junji Ito’s fantastic yowl yarns, Gyo.
In Gyo, Junji Ito creates a landscape of terror that is much more rooted in recent history than the surreal nightmare portrayed in Uzumaki, making it a more traditional narrative, but also meaning it hits closer to home. I say traditional in a comparative sense, because although the main structure of Gyo’s plot is more conventional than that of Uzumaki, it is still very original.
Essentially, Gyo follows a young couple, Tadashi and Kaori, in a story that is similar to apocalyptic zombie tales, except that rather than simply using the living dead, Ito portrays rotting fish equipped with mechanical legs overrunning Japan. As bizarre as that may seem, it only gets stranger, as it is explained that what is actually going on beneath the surface is a viral plague in which the germs take control of host bodies, generate an odor close to that of rotting flesh, and then use the bodies as batteries to fuel their mechanical leg structures and further spread the plague (it goes even deeper, but I’ll leave that for you to find out).
“Such forces cannot be named, cannot be spoken, cannot be imagined except under a veil and a symbol, a symbol to the most of us appearing a quaint, poetic fancy, to some a foolish tale. But you and I, at all events, have known something of the terror that may dwell in the secret place of life, manifested under human flesh; that which is without form taking to itself a form.”
— Arthur Machen, “The Great God Pan”
Junji Ito, writer and artist for noted horror comics Uzumaki, Gyo, and Tomie, among others, is certainly no stranger to the idea of terror dwelling in the secret place of life, veiled behind a symbol. With Uzumaki in particular, Ito channels cosmic fear in a way that firmly places him alongside the likes of Arthur Machen and H.P Lovecraft. Uzumaki is centered around teenager Kirie Goshima, her boyfriend Shuichi Saito, and the spiral. It is this last element that ultimately makes Uzumaki so terrifying, because unlike most horror narratives, there is no tangible villain to put a face on, let alone battle, but a terror that is so ultimate that it must remain veiled behind a simple symbol.
I recently caught myself going through old papers of mine, when I came across some old pieces of tracing paper (I’ve never claimed to be much of an artist) that I had used around the 2nd or 3rd grade. Featured prominently on one of the pages was a tracing of a ferocious dogfight from a beloved childhood comic involving an intrepid pilot trying to take down a villainous pirate airship. This bold hero that I had so lovingly (albeit crudely) rendered was none other than who is arguably the most classic cartoon character of all time, Mickey Mouse, circa 1933.
Mickey Mouse is an interesting character to analyze. His fame and popularity have grown immensely over the years since his creation, but despite his ubiquity, relatively few know very much about what makes him tick which is in large part a result of Mickey’s massive success. Walt Disney made the conscious decision at a certain point to make the mouse a fairly one-dimensional character because he was quickly becoming less of a character and more a symbol for the ever growing Disney corporation. Between this tragic business decision and Mickey’s creation and introduction in 1928, however, lie some of the greatest comics ever written.
Patience, the latest graphic novel from Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron), presents a story that is very much rooted in themes that the author has been exploring for some time, but also reaches beyond anything that he has done previously. The plot of Patience revolves around Jack Barlow, a man who travels through time to prevent the murder of his wife Patience. From that basic premise, Clowes is able to accomplish a great deal, exploring masculinity, justice, anger, the nature of consciousness, and love, in what is arguably the most firmly developed narrative found in any of his books.
Patience continues in the science fiction vein last explored by Clowes in his 2011 novel The Death-Ray, with time travel being a significant vehicle for the plot. The science-fiction aspect of the story is never overemphasized, however, leaving much more time for the human element to be examined. The novel opens in 2012, with Jack and Patience living together as a happy but anxious couple who are madly in love and about to become parents. It is implied that Patience has had a troublesome and abusive past, about which Jack knows very little. I never got the sense that this is because of outright callousness, however, but rather due to Jack not wanting to even think about Patience suffering. This bubble is burst when he arrives home to find Patience dead on the floor of their apartment, a narrative box telling the reader, “And this is where my story begins.”
Hello, fellow comic fanatics! While this is technically the second installment of Words an’ Pictures, it is the first in which I will actually be primarily discussing comics and not just rambling about myself (as I did in my introductory post). As such, I figured that it would be good to kick things off by discussing a true classic, and the first thing that came to my mind were the many fantastic comics published by E.C. (Entertaining Comics) way back in the 1950s.
For those unfamiliar, E.C. began as Educational Comics, and was run by a man named Max Gaines from 1944 up until his death in 1947. After this, E.C. was taken over by Gaines’ son, William, who not only changed the name of the company to Entertaining Comics, but also proceeded to change the world of comics forever.
E.C.’s landmark titles included Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Two-Fisted Tales, Weird Science Fiction, and Mad, and they were written and drawn by some of the absolute best talent the medium has ever seen. These comics had such an impact, even, that there was also a cult television show produced by HBO in the 90s devoted to adapting E.C’s horror and crime stories that borrowed the Tales From the Crypt moniker(an excellent examination of which can be found in JFR Blog Editor Michael Lane’s series here).
To try to discuss all aspects of E.C. comics in one post would be insane, so instead I will focus in on one particular title this week — and it is arguably my favorite of their catalog: Shock Suspenstories. The stories contained within it proved that aside from being masters of science-fiction, brilliant humorists, and slingers of gore, the good “boils” and “ghouls” at E.C. were true patriots.
As far back as I can remember, I always read comics.
When I was a kid, a large part of my life was made up of the stories that I read, and the earliest memories I have of reading come from comics. From the heroism of Tintin and Mickey Mouse, to the fearless wit of Harvey Kurtzman, to the profoundly human attempts of Calvin and Hobbes to understand the world around them, it seemed like everything I needed could be found in the pages of a comic book. And as I have grown older, I’ve found that very little has changed.