Sunday, December 26, 2010


Ok, so the rules are a little floppy here. These aren't strictly 10 different comics, but rather creators, series, or comic-related ephemera...

1. ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 - Discontent, narcissistic and generally in over his head. While these traits apply to most of us, they are evident throughout the life of Jordan Lint. Cartoonist Chris Ware brings us the life of Lint, from conception to death, in 72 pages. Lint as a young man is frustrated by his surroundings and situation, yet humbled by the reality of being a dreamer with no ambition. In his journey he cyclically finds and loses love and fortune, all the time hanging onto regret and the childhood death of his mother. In his inadequacy, we see bits of ourselves. A narrative triumph.

2. CHUCK DIXON - Chuck Dixon, whose work is dependably entertaining, wrote the rough equivalent of 3-4 comics a month this year, and for him that's taking it easy. He continued his fast-paced run on the monthly G.I. Joe flagship title, as well as a three-issue arc in "G.I. Joe: Origins" (yes, he's managed to make Zartan cool). Editors know he's the go-to guy for action, tapping him for the comic prequels for The A-Team and The Expendables. I never saw the movies, but the books were a fun read. He managed to capture not just the flavor but the humor and Leone pageantry for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly series. Speaking of humor, his overlooked Simpsons stories rival the cleverness of the TV series. An avid history buff, he and artist Gary Kwapisz released a second volume of Civil War Adventure from their own History Graphics Press. He's also done a couple of snappy Airboy stories for Moonstone's Air Fighters anthology. If only they'd have Dixon do his own Airboy series so we wouldn't have to sift through the dreck that dominates Air Fighters.

3. WILL EISNER: PORTRAIT OF A SEQUENTIAL ARTIST - A two-hour documentary on the life of one of comics great innovators and the greatest champion of comics as an art form. From his early career running a comics "shop" operation, to his groundbreaking Spirit Section, to using comics educate, and then his last three decades as graphic novelist and elder statesman. Truly a career worth investigating and celebrating. The real treat for me, though, are the DVD extras which include the audio to his "Shop Talk" interviews from the 1980s Spirit Magazine. Interviewees include Phil Seuling, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Kubert and some guy named Caniff. It's a comic book master class and historical treasure trove.

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA/CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN - The Reborn mini-series, which brought Steve Rogers back from the "dead", tumbled into 2010 in kind of a publishing snafu between the regular series as well as the Avengers titles. The Reborn ending, that Steve Rogers was back, wasn't spoiled, as that was the point of the series. The surprise, to some, was that Rogers decided to let his old partner, Bucky Barnes, stay on as Captain America. Writer Ed Brubaker then plunged him into a storylines where Barnes must confront his feelings about his past as a brainwashed assassin, and of being unworthy of being Captain America. First he must battle a true pretender, the 1950s Cap, who has been corrupted by militant terrorists. If last year's epic battle with the Red Skull wasn't enough, he must take on one of Cap's other great foes, Baron Zemo. The first Cap storyline I ever read that really thrilled me was the DeMatteis/Zeck run in the early 1980s that featured Zemo, so this brought me back home.

5. BACK ISSUE - Speaking of the DeMatteis/Zeck Cap work, it was featured in issue #41 of Back Issue, Michael Eury's magazine devoted to the comics of the 1970s/80s and recent past. This patriotic issue also covered the classic Roger Stern/John Byrne run on Cap. This mag consistently feeds my nostalgia jones, because its comics of yesteryear are from my yesteryear. Byrne's a popular topic of Back Issue, as his She-Hulk run was highlighted in issue #39. Byrne's long run on Fantastic Four was the main topic of issue #38, as well as everything you need (or don't need) to know about the Wonder Twins. Top ten list...activate!

6. COMICS REVUE - This feast for comic strip fans had all the trimmings this year. Great strips by some of the best illustrators to hold a pen. For most, this is stuff outside their best known work and rarely seen. The Phantom by Lee Falk (1941-43), Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane (1960-61), Alley Oop by V.T. Hamlin (1938), Flash Gordon by Mac Raboy (1956), Tarzan by Russ Manning (1973-74), Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff (1970-71), Krazy Kat dailies by George Herriman (1934), Tarzan by Bob Lubbers, Secret Agent Corrigan by Al Williamson, George Evans and Archie Goodwin (1976). Each issue includes eight slick color pages as well as Gasoline Alley and Steve Canyon pages in color.

7. COMPLETE PEANUTS 1975-1976, 1977-1978 - Of the two volumes, the first is the best. It has the introduction of new characters Truffles, Belle and Spike. It's chock full of classic sequences: Charlie Brown again tries to meet his hero, Joe Schlabotnik. Peppermint Patty tries out the pumpkin patch with Linus. Charlie Brown refuses to leave the pitchers mound during a rainstorm and ends up floating away. And Peppermint Patty utters her classic rejoinder to Charlie Brown - "Don't hassle me with your sighs, Chuck." Essential reading for all humans.

8. JOE KUBERT - Our greatest living comics artist had a vibrant year, both with new and reprinted work. On the reprint side, Showcase Presents: Sgt. Rock Volume 3 reprints his Easy Co. stories from "Our Army At War" #149-180 in black & white. Getting the full-color treatment were his Viking Prince stories. These tales from the 1950s "Brave and the Bold" title are new to most comics fans, some not having been reprinted since the '70s and some never before reprinted. Kubert worked with son Adam on a new Sgt. Rock story for Wednesday Comics, the collected edition of last year's experiment where comics were printed on newspaper-style broadsheets. A simple request from a Vietnam veteran compelled Kubert to tell the story of the vet's unit in Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965, in which a small advisory force of U.S. faces an overwhelming hostile attack. The art is printed directly from Kubert's pencils, which not only evokes the rough realities but also the immediacy of the situation. A detailed account from the veterans depicted in the story complements the book.

9. RIP KIRBY V. 2, 3/X-9: SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN V. 1 - Three exquisite tomes from the Library of American Comics and Dean Mullaney. 2010 gave us a double shot of "Rip Kirby", Alex Raymond's sophisticated detective. Kirby solves his cases with his intellect, but don't count out those fists. We also got the first of what will hopefully be eight volumes of Secret Agent Corrigan. Kudos to Mullaney for not trying to go back to the beginning of the strip (1934), but rather focusing on the 1967-1980 run by Al Williamson, Raymond's artistic heir. Williamson was paired with writer Archie Goodwin. The two would later collaborate on the "Star Wars" comic strip and the "Empire Strikes Back" movie adaptation.

10. GLAMOURPUSS - Speaking of Rip Kirby, Dave Sim continues his examination of the story behind the strip in this bi-monthly series. Of concern lately is the fatal day that Alex Raymond was in a car accident with fellow cartoonist Stan Drake. Drake survived, Raymond did not. Sim has broken down the day, September 6, 1956, to the molecular level, providing an inspiring investigation of minutiae as well as subtly dark conjecture.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


These will have to be short and sweet, as I'm running behind and Santa's on his way. Nothing stands out as a #1 pick, so these aren't in any order...

Live in London - Regina Spektor - Spektor's "Far" was my top album of 2009. Most of the songs of that disc found their way into her live set, making this a must pick for 2010. Her inclusion of older songs makes me feel guity for not having yet explored her back catalogue. Truly a treasure as a quirky vocalist and songwriter.

Croweology - the Black Crowes - A gift from a friend and my only Crowes album (no, I don't even have "Shake Your Moneymaker"). This album acts as a "best of", though re-recorded and unplugged. I'm really diggin' this groove. The packaging is funky, too, with weird pockets and a pop-up inside.

American VI: Ain't No Grave - Johnny Cash - After he lost his wife June and was near death himself, Cash spent any energy and will in the studio trying to record as much as possible. Like "American V", Cash's ability to face his mortality through song is uplifting and inspiring. Producer Rick Rubin, who revived Cash's career with 1994's "American Recordings", honors his friend with this posthumous release.

Praise and Blame - Tom Jones - Yes, that Tom Jones. Forget about the repeated pop comeback attempts. This is an unexpected turn for the listener, Jones as gospel blues growler. When he sings about pain, self-doubt and being tested by God, we believe him.

Here's an abridged version of the review by my pal, Jim Bates. Reprinted and edited with permission, you can read the full version here. Mojo - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - In its heart of hearts, Mojo is a blue album. Yes there is some Zep rock (“I Should Have Known It”), a jam (“First Flash of Freedom”), some bubblegum (“Candy”), Mudcrutch influenced county (“No Reason to Cry”), a trippy story song (“The Trip to Pirate’s Cove”) and even a reggae-tinged stoner song (“Don’t Pull Me Over”), but the vast majority of the album is blues. There’s 'she’s so heavy' blues (“Good Enough”), slow lovesick blues (“Lover’s Touch”), fuzzed out blues (“Taking My Time”), traveling acoustic slide blues (“U.S. 41"), urban blues (“Let Yourself Go”) and even Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings blues (“Jefferson Jericho Blues.”) Who knew the Heatbreakers were a blues band? The songs are fun, but like many blues they have one weakness...the lyrics don’t make much sense. Tom is kind of cheating here. The words may sound good in the tune, but they don’t say anything. Heck I’m not sure what “Trip to Pirate’s Cove” is really about, let alone why Thomas Jefferson is driving to Jericho. Kind of a far drive from Monticello isn’t it? Especially as Henry Ford hadn’t invented the Model T yet, let alone a submarine car.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Before I reveal my top five new albums to a grateful public, I wanted to highlight some of the great old or previously unreleased material that came out this year:

LUNCH - RUTLES - The Rutles, the brilliant Beatles parody band, are back, but in an unofficial capacity. The Rutles, also known as the pre-fab four, were the comical '70s take-off on the Beatles music and colorful legend. The Beatles' own late '90s release of their "Anthology" sets inspired the Rutles to reform for a new album called "Archaeology". Now a fan has taken it upon himself to use music from both releases to create "Lunch", a response to "Love", the mash-up Beatles soundtrack to their Cirque du Soleil smash. The result is a satisfying, craftily engineered romp through a Beatlesque fantasy. It's available streaming online at

APPLE REISSUES - The Beatles launched Apple Records in 1968 as a label for both their own music and for artists that they would discover and produce. The results ranged from the successful (Badfinger) to the still obscure (Sundown Playboys). While their have been reissues over the years, this year's near wholesale remastering and re-release of the catalogue is unprecedented. Brought to you by the team that remastered the Beatles for 2009, the project includes 14 albums and a two-disc singles compilation. The CDs, almost all of which have bonus tracks, can be purchased separately or as a massive 17-disc box set (which is now under $200 on Amazon, which ain't bad). A nice overview of the CDs and tracklistings can be found here.

JOHN LENNON SIGNATURE SERIES - When these came out in October, I had a whole post about them, which amounted to something of a half-hearted recommendation. While I still have issues with specific aspects of the project, overall I think it's a good thing to have these in-print and all together. It's something we've seen for George, at least theDark Horse Years. We'll never see a complete box for Paul (too profilic) or Ringo (too much detritus). It's almost sad that we've got a complete box for Lennon, who never got the chance to be profilic. We've just got his eight albums, of varying quality, with the last one before he died kicking some major songwriting a**.

THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL.9: THE WITMARK DEMOS: 1962-1964 - BOB DYLAN - In 1962, a few months after singing with Columbia Records, Dylan signed a music publishing contract with M. Witmark & Sons. He would cut demos of his songs for them, which they could then try to sell to other artists to cover, such as Peter, Paul & Mary. The resulting tapes are a record of a young singer/songwriter who quickly transformed into a prolific genius. Most of the 57 songs found their way onto his live peformances and his first three albums. Some are heard here for the first time. This is essential listening for lovers of early Dylan.

THE PROMISE - BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - I'm an odd Springsteen fan in that I came to him late (1995's "Ghost of Tom Joad") and have been remiss in picking up his back catalog. So, while it's a huge deal to Boss fans that he's reissued "Darkness on the Edge of Town" as a new box set, I've never heard it (or "The River" or "Nebraska", but shhhh...don't tell). So, in my backwards way I've bought "The Promise", a two-disc collection of rare tracks he cut when he was recording "Darkness" but never released. It's available as part of the box or, thankfully, on its own. Some artists record only the songs they'll need for the album, maybe a couple extra for B-sides. Springsteen, unsure of what he wanted, recorded 70 songs. The result is an interesting historical document, a peephole into the studio. It's a satisfying mish-mash of full on E-Street Band jaunts a la "Born to Run" to the more introspective "Darkness" (or so I'm told). Some of these we've heard already on Tracks, his 1998 four-disc box set of rarities, but now they're in context, reunited with brothers from their era. The real promise of "The Promise" may be that it shows "Tracks" was not exhaustive and there's plenty in those vaults for future reissues.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Above is the teaser strip for 'Terry & the Pirates' from 1934. It was part of Heritage Comics Vintage Comics and Comic Art auction held November 18th in Dallas. While all the press went to a high grade, single owner copy of Detective Comics #27 which sold for about half a million, this Caniff original was no slouch. Its winning bid was $38, 837, which, according to, was "one of the highest prices Heritage ever realized for original daily comic strip art."
I was confused by the sale, because I had seen this original strip in person at the Geppi's Entertainment Museum in Baltimore last August. I contacted the good people at Heritage. They did not tell me the seller, only that it did not come from Geppi's. Perhaps when I saw it at Geppi's it was on loan from the owner. Or, maybe Geppi is quietly selling different items to recover from ongoing money woes. The strip was reprinted in 'The Complete Terry & the Pirates: 1934-1936. According to Dean Mullaney, the book's editor and designer, it was at Geppi's when they scanned it for inclusion in the book. I was going to contact the Museum, but their website was down as of this writing.
Mullaney also shed light on my conundrum from August. The first 'Terry & the Pirates' daily was on October 22, 1934. This teaser strip announces that the strip "starts in this space tomorrow." But October 22nd was a Monday, so the previous day would have been a Sunday. The Sunday paper would have its own separate comics section, not the internal pages where the strips ran Monday through Saturday. So, it wouldn't have run on a Sunday. But then it wouldn't have run Saturday for the same reasons. Mullaney's theory is that this teaser strip was for paper's who were picking up the storyline midway. It could be used as an introduction to the characters for new readers so they wouldn't be lost the following day. Thanks, Dean, for solving the mystery (which was probably only a mystery to me)!