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Tentacle Gazing

[whitespace] Murder Can Be Fun
Kids Say the Darndest Things: On the back page of 'Murder Can Be Fun,' Evan Dorkin collects some of the lamest excuses ever offered for crimes big and small.

Proof that no good comic book goes unremembered

By Richard von Busack

SITTING AROUND, feet up, listening to the romantic patter of a full month's worth of rain, Claude "Chuck" Debussy on the stereo and a big rotting stack of mid-60s Jimmy Olson--Superman's Pal at my elbow ... at times like this, I start thinking over the past year--debts unpaid, friends betrayed, enemies unflayed, cats unspayed. How could I have let Chinese New Year come and go without cataloging all of the recent comic-book art that deserved note?

For example, I didn't once mention the story "Shamrock Squid--Autobiographical Cartoonist!" in Hate #28 (Fantagraphics, $2.95), Peter Bagge and Adrian (Optic Nerve) Tomine's very mean parody of the autobiographical cartoon glut. Squid's own "moanalogue" in his self-published zine Tentacle Gazer summed up a hundred bad comics I came across in 1997: "I'm such a nostalgic fellow. I hate computers! I wish it was the '70s!" Look closely, and you can see San Jose's Dan Vado face to face with the famous squid.

Speaking of Vado, in 1997 I failed to flag my two favorite comics produced by his prolific Slave Labor Graphics. I loved the back page by Evan Dorkin of Murder Can Be Fun #7, in which Dorkin illustrates the explanations of various murderers under the age of 15 (one bad seed of 1940 excused himself with "because she would not let me go to the picture show"). My other favorite is Amara and McCarney's Sky Ape (Les Adventures) #1 (Slave Labor, $2.95), the continuing story of a wealthy gorilla who owns a jet pack, a pair of goggles and a little art-deco helmet with fins on it.

A gorilla with a jet pack is the second-best idea in the history of comics. The first is my unsold script for the Macaw. The Macaw! That mysterious scarlet-plumed crime fighter whose unearthly shrieks leave thugs jumpy and prone to capture. O, festive tropical scourge of the lightless hours! A punk's worst nightmare--also a publisher's worst nightmare, according to the wrong-headed rejection letters I've been receiving.

But how more wrong-headed, really, are the rejections Keith Knight endures, as limned in Dances With Sheep (Manic D Press, $11.95). Knight, autobiographical cartoonist and half of the hip-hop duo the Marginal Prophets, tells tales of dealing with racists (active and passive), cultural history, siblings and San Francisco--which is, as novelist Knut Hamsun said of Christiana, a city that no one escapes before it leaves its mark on you.

Knight is a shining disarmer. Perhaps the best strip in Dances With Sheep features his anecdote about one of his housemates. She was a Skinny junkie (I mean Skinny Puppy) who subsisted entirely on eggs. Eggs missing? It could be a job ... for the Macaw!

Ex-Metro staffer Jonathan Vankin's The Big Book of Scandal! (Paradox Press/DC, $14.95) was completed too early for the most recent round of Clintonian troubles. But it does have 54 other equally noisome outrages, described by Vankin and illustrated by dozens of cartoonists--that's only 27 cents a scandal!

Condensed into cartoon form are the adventures of E. Donald "Don-Don" Nixon, Christine Keeler, Richard Secord and many others who brought entertainment to us all, if only for a brief moment. Especially fine are Rick Geary's imaginings of the making of the 1962 Cleopatra and Sergio Aragones' low-key, witty drawings of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas affair. And someone ought to congratulate Eric Shanower for his dedication in using the historically accurate but difficult-to-imitate style of the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in depicting the Evelyn Nesbitt/Harry Thaw/Stanford White murder case.

AND LASTLY, I must offer overdue commendation for Brad Teare's handsome graphic novel Cypher (Peregrine Smith, $18.95), which could be called The Further Adventures of Eraserhead. His character--the Cypher of the title--has Henry the Eraserhead's toque-like quiff of hair and the just-awakened-from-a-nap facial expression characteristic of the late, great Jack Nance.

Teare's hero wanders through perplexing adventures. He's menaced by uncanny paintings, colossal statuary, sinister museums, hellish movie theaters and (in a guest appearance) Salvador Dali. Teare works in scratchboard, "the poor man's woodcut," using that psychosis-inducing medium like a master.

Inspired by Teare, I turn back to the beleaguered Jimmy Olson. For the hundredth time, I reverently repeat the Bizarro Code: "Us hate beauty, us love ugliness. It am big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!" Amazing to me that a manifesto can be buried in a kid's comic book--just as amazing that so much great comic art gets so little notice. But discovering great comic books where they hide is an adventure in itself. As a good chum once said, "Anyone can find art in a museum."

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From the February 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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