Comics — In Praise of the Indie Comics

Eightball

By Daniel Clowes

The first (and sadly only) encounter that many have with indie-auteur Daniel Clowes comes in the film adaptation of his wonderfully cynical Ghost World.

Zwygoff’s interpretation does fair justice to the source material but many have felt that it lacks the somber charm of Clowes in general. In the latest installment of Eightball, Clowe’s semi-irregular book, the story of Andy (a.k.a. the Death Ray) a melancholy loser in high school, living in a broken home with only his friend Louie (himself a triumph of loserdom) and his pen-girlfriend Dusty. Andy discovers that cigarettes provide him with super strength and that his late father bequeathed unto him a death ray. But Andy’s abilities are far from the focus of the book. Rather, like much of Clowe’s lexicon, Eightball is about a certain simmering misery that inhabits everyday life. Andy’s powers do nothing to add to his existence, except maybe to make it more woeful. As he struggles to make his way through the hazings of youth, navigate awkward friendships and manage a disintegrating household his sole triumph is the mere ability to keep surviving. Like many of Clowe’s works The Death ray is about depressing actualities, that for many people, life is a depressing, nonsensical futile mess whose only reward is its own perpetuity. While this is certainly bleak Clowe’s world offers the unique vantage point from which to view the minor miracles that punctuate this otherwise morbid affair. When these epiphanies and singularities occur they are folded into life, becoming a slipped stitch in a greater tapestry and adding that touch of asymmetry to the picture that makes it art. Clowe’s work is a wonder and anyone interested in modern fiction should embrace it.

 

Kid Firechief

By Steven Weissman

Steven Weissman knows charm.

Whether it’s in the form of a talking bear who can’t help but remind us of his miraculous ability to speak, a herd of wrasslin’ dinosaurs, an infant rap duo or a time-traveling child fireman named Olaf Oedwards. Olaf, like all great heroes, had his parents (themselves potent firefighters) snatched away at a young age by his family’s age-old nemesis–fire.

Now as Milltown’s youngest firechief Olaf protects the city from carelessly discarded cigarette butts, flammable and inflammable materials and disgruntled ex-jockeys with magically ever-burning feet called Hotfoot. All the while accompanied by his uncle Smokey Joe and school paper reporter “Nosy” Rosie, Kid Firechief is alternatingly sweet, charming and hilarious. With a wonderful sense of self-awareness Weissman has crafted a singular book. Melding vintage Sunday comic schmaltz and pomposity with a modern snarkiness Kid Firechief is a gem. The art is evocative, inked in red-tones on yellow (psst! Like fire, get it!) Firechief is a plucky tale of a scrappily pulp hero engaged in PG hijinks across space and time. You really can’t ask for a simpler joy than watching dinosaurs fight as a 6-year-old combats a raging forest fire–it just doesn’t get any better.

 

Vaughn Bode’s Lizard Zen

By Art Vaughn Bode

Editor Marc Arsenault

Legions of graffiti artists will attest to the genius of Vaughn Bode’s figurative style.

The seminal ‘60s cartoonist made a name for himself with iconic characters such as Cheech. Bode’s influence ripples throughout the earliest days of hip-hop (popping up in the work of Afrika Bambaataa, the Beastie Boys and the like) and practically defines the primordial roots of New York graffiti. Lizard Zen, made in collaboration with Bode’s son Mark, is a collection of Bode’s unpublished materials. Although this is not the seminal collection, it is intriguing to see some of the hidden gems of Bode’s work, especially his sarcastic shilling of the LSD Records catalog of music.

His caricature, iconography and prose display wonderfully trippy grit, an elegant mix of hippie wonder and ghetto squalor. For any Bode enthusiast, graffiti connoisseur or budding artist Lizard Zen serves well.

For the rest of us, it is best, perhaps, to aim for one of Bode’s more robust collections like Junkwaffle, Bode’s Erotica or Deadbone.

All of the books reviewed are available at fine local comic stores, bookstores and on the web from Fantagraphics Books at www.fantagraphics.com


— Glenn Given

  

 
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