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[whitespace] Toke,Mon Weed the People: Kieron M. Dwyer's 'LCD' takes a poke at Pokémon.

Four on The Floor

A critic surveys the comics that accumulated during his much-needed vacation

I TOOK A BREAK from the comics column for two months, mostly to accommodate my vacation--and because of the lack of comic books strong enough to write about. Re: the vacation, no comics fan in Nashville should miss artist Red Grooms' Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel, located where Broadway meets the Cumberland River.

The grotesque and delightful figures on the ride are based on Grooms' colored-pencil drawings. The merry-go-round is the most lovable thing in that hard-to-love town. Grooms' work, although technically "fine art," seems much like high-quality cartooning. It's amusing, accessible and popular in Japan and--in the case of the carousel--tells a sequential story, like a comic strip, about the history of the Volunteer State.

Grooms' carousel ride is popular with the tourists; not surprisingly, the ticket is pricey. Like the comics themselves then, Grooms' carousel is one of those illegitimate children of art and commerce, to use Art Spiegelman's phrase. Oddly, the comics waiting for me when I got back all seemed to be grouped on the struggle of art and money:

Taxman (Comics Conspiracy, 115-A Fremont Ave., Sunnyvale, 94087; $2.95) Doug Miers is the scripter, with artists Don Walker, Jason Maranto and Kevin Senft as his collaborators. The full-color one-shot was published to commemorate that Day of Wrath, April 15. The story takes place in a futuristic, technophobic, totalitarian world patrolled by Jack Taggett, an armed and merciless tax auditor. The harshness of this post-apocalyptic world is nicely executed, although the plot is easy to second-guess. I wanted to get further than just seeing how the ruthlessness of the hero is tested and bested.

What really seems worthwhile in Taxman is Miers' autobiography on the last page, an essay titled "Broken Circles," in which he chronicles his career. Miers describes how he fell in love with Marvel Comics at Stanford, how he wrote a six-issue miniseries that he hoped to bring to Marvel but which never made it past the receptionist's desk, and how he wrote $50 scripts for a below-the-radar comics company that folded.

Miers founded the direct-sales shop Comic Conspiracy in Sunnyvale in 1992, selling it to work full-time on comics just as the pulp glut and video games nearly destroyed the comics market. Finally, Miers went into self-publishing. "Taxman is the pinnacle of my comics career to date," he writes. "I may not work for Marvel or DC or Image, I may never work for those guys, but right now, knowing what I know, that doesn't matter anymore."

Fortune and Glory--A True Hollywood Comic Book Story #1-#2 (Oni; $4.95) The quest for Hollywood option money is enough to gloom-poison the most optimistic. Brian Michael Bendis is the Cleveland-based author of the black-and-white graphic novels Goldfish and Torso. After Bendis was profiled in Spin magazine, a circle of industry types just smart enough to read Spin made Bendis "hot"; his phone started ringing, and the games began. (Actual quote from one of the executives: "Pauly was born to play this guy. Can you see it? Pauly Shore is Goldfish!")

In Fortune and Glory, which details the sordid story, Bendis gets told off by HBO and finds a mentor in director Gary Fleder, auteur of Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead. ("The movie was well made, well acted, well lit, smart and edgy," exults Bendis, which will come as a shock to anyone who saw the hunk of recycled genre.) Although barely illustrated, Fortune and Glory proves useful and entertaining. Bendis' continuing story explains the movie-business rapes ... excuse me, the ropes.

I preferred this book to Lynda Obst's much-vaunted Hello, He Lied as an explanation for how so many dog-meat films get made. Bendis' work records not only triumph but also the endless agonizing waiting for the deal to be struck. ("You hate yourself. You hate yourself for getting into a situation you have no control of. You hate yourself for wanting it so badly.")

LCD #0 ($2.95, Kieron M. Dwyer, P.O. Box 591134, San Francisco, 94159-1134; $2.95) How refreshing to turn from hope to happy, squalid nihilism. Dwyer is an artist less interested in Marvel or Miramax than in untrammeled self-expression. LCD (Lowest Comic Denominator) comics provides a marvelous cavalcade of gross-outs wrapped a million-dollar-idea cover (see illustration).

Dwyer channels the old-time spirit of Mad Magazine and Zap with his tales about the disgusting misdeeds of Dingleberry Dog, a visit to Red McNeck's unborn-veal parlor (their motto: "I'm Pro-Life and I Eat Veal"), and XXX-rated pages of robust scatalogy and blasphemy. The art's not bad at all, which helps matter out.

Fear of a Black Marker (Manic D Press; $11.95) Keith Knight, last seen in his book Dances With Sheep, is now enjoying a modest double success with his syndicated strip and his band, the Disposable Prophets. Knight's undeniably cute drawings take up the fun and grotty side of San Francisco life: the visitors, the housemates, the food-faddism.

He retains the sensitivity of an outsider in the Outsider's City. The charm of Knight's characters makes his own scatology sweet and harmless; and of the comic artists mentioned here, Knight seems most likely to hit not only artistic satisfaction but the jackpot as well.

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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