I don’t think anybody out there does silent comics better than Renee French. Granted, this graphic novel isn’t completely silent, but the sheer amount of silence really magnifies the few words that do make it through. This is the story of Edison Steelhead… hey wait a minute, doesn’t she already have a graphic novel about Edison Steelhead? Yes she does, and if you were mystified by that book, it ends up serving as a great companion piece to this book, as that’s a series of drawings and this character is an artist. Anyway! We see Edison born, we see that his mother didn’t survive the birth and that Edison was born deformed like his father. He basically looks like Tina from “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron” by Dan Clowes, what with eyeballs on the side of his head and all. We gradually (and I really need to emphasize “gradually,” as Renee’s ability to reveal these story bits piece by piece is remarkable) see Edison grow up, see when Edison figures out that his father had had cosmetic surgery to fix his deformity, and see Edison’s own struggle to either cover up his appearance like his father or embrace it and take on the world. It does say which way he decides on the back of this book, but I consider that a spoiler and it’s not like you’re reading the back of the book right now anyway, so I’ll leave it a mystery. The story scrapes right up against “uplifting” a few times but never quite makes it, which was the perfect tone for it. I also have to point out the existence of Edison’s adopted sister and how much I love that the obvious questions about her existence (you’ll know what I mean when you read this) are never addressed. This book somehow snuck by me when it was released in 2005, but if you’re looking for a hefty graphic novel from this woman then you’re in luck. And if you’ve heard her name and aren’t sure where to dive into her work, I can’t imagine a better place to start. $20
It’s actually called Rosetta: A Comics Anthology, but you all get that, right? As for the book, it’s pretty much your average anthology, in that some of it is great (John Porcellino, Marc Bell, David Collier, Ron Rege), some of it is not so great (James Kochalka) and some of it is downright incomprehensible (M.S. Bastian, Renee French). Don’t get me wrong, I usually love James Kochalka’s stuff, it’s just that I really didn’t need to see the breakdown of one of his diary pages. Isn’t it self-explanatory enough as it is? Overall the whole thing is definitely worth a look, as more of the pieces are good than not and the production of this book was pretty amazing. It looks great. Unfortunately, that great look makes it $20, unless you go to Amazon quick and get it before they take the discount off. Another good thing about this is that there’s a lot of international talent, something we don’t see enough of in general. One problem I had was with Megan Kelso’s story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, it’s just that it was the length of a regular comic and it seemed sort of out of place in this setting. I say this fully knowing that I’m going to get her collected story when it comes out… Anyway, worth a look, but I’ve seen too many great anthologies this week already to get too excited over this.
Yes, I’m finally getting around to reviewing a Big Book. It only took me about 3 years after I put the page up, but it turns out that there are a lot of mini comics coming out on a regular basis, and that’s what the page is all about, after all. This is just in case there’s anybody out there who still doesn’t know about this marvelous series. What they do is take a subject (scroll around for more of the titles) and examine it from every angle, using a variety of some of the best comics illustrators out there. Here’s a partial list, leaving aside the fact that the whole thing is put together by Gahan Wilson, and shame on you if you don’t know who he is: Bob Fingerman, Hunt Emerson, Renee French, Ivan Brunetti, Rick Geary, and Glenn Barr, along with about 40 others that you’ll probably recognize at least a little bit but be unaware where you recognize them from, if you’re anything like me. Anyway, obviously, this one is all about freaks throughout the ages. Yes, they deal with the politically correct way you’re supposed to say “freaks”. In here you have ancient legends about giants and other oddities, freaks of nature like Chang and Eng (the first Siamese twins, and the reason that they’ve all been called “Siamese” since) and the Elephant Man, P.T. Barnum and his business dealings, flea circuses, snake charmers and “geeks”, bearded women and tattooed men, faked freaks, and personal lives of freaks such as Zip, Baby Ruth, Lobster Boy, and the gentle giant of Alton, Illinois. Whew! There are pieces, here and there, where you wish for a bit more personal detail, but there’s not going to be a lot of personal detail with a lot of these stories because it’s ancient history in a lot of cases and their real stories were usually closely guarded, so as to avoid people finding out the truth. That’s the only minor complaint I have with this book, however. If you’re curious about anything above what’s in here, there’s an extensive bibliography in the back. I love the fact that it’s a different artist for every story, as it gives a lot of incredibly talented people a chance to give their interpretations of many, many odd people. I remember this as being one of my favorites of the bunch, and I’ll probably put up a few more reviews before three more years pass, but I have to point out again how wonderful these books are. Anybody, comics fan or not, can pick one of these up, read it for a few hours, and come away knowing somewhere between a lot and a little more than they started with. There were a few things I picked up this time that I hadn’t before, and I’ve read this thing probably three times. A fantastic, indispensable book, and cheap enough at $14.95 that it’s hard to resist. If you haven’t seen any of these before, and you don’t have a weak stomach, I’d say start with this one.
Well, I always said that sooner or later I’d get around to reviewing this, and it turned out to be much, much later. And even then it was mostly only because Top Shelf sold it for so very cheap. Oh well, at least now I get to see how Renee does with a children’s book. All I’d seen was the book above, which didn’t seem like it would be the kind of thing that children should be reading at all, so I had my doubts… which were crushed completely after reading this. It’s done as a children’s book, like I said, with one panel per page and the text beneath the illustration. It’s the story of a lady made of soap who comes up out of the lake and befriends a young boy who’s trying to win a bet with his mother by staying clean for a week. She cleans him up and then gets to work cleaning up the whole forest, but people have a tendency to fear things they don’t understand, and, children’s book or not, I don’t want to give away the ending or anything. Oh, and I also don’t usually mention the blurbs on the back of the book, but this one is notable because they’re from Penn Jillette and Arthur Penn (director of Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man), not your usual quotable for a comic. Great stuff, I wouldn’t hesitate at all in reading this to a child. it’s $19.95 at cover price, but I’ll bet you could find it for cheaper if you did some digging. Oh, and here’s her website!
I’ll post a full review of this later, as it is possibly the single most disturbing collection of comics that I’ve ever seen. With an introduction by Jim Woodring (who is probably my single favorite living artist today), this thing starts off bizarre and just gets weirder. Buy it, you absolutely, positively won’t regret it. Note from 3/1/02: I may or may not review this at any point in the near future, as I’m still recovering from the last time I read this, so here’s what “to stew in one’s one juice” means, from A Hog on Ice and Other Curious Expressions: To suffer the consequences of one’s own act. This, or its variant, ” to fry in one’s own grease'”, is very old. In the latter form it appears in a thirteenth-century tale of Richard the Lion-Hearted, and there is a French equivalent, cuire dans son jus, It is presumable that the older expression, at least, was originally literal; one fried in his own grease when, having committed some act punishable by such means, was burned at the stake.
Only Renee French could take a story about a ball of crap, a dead guy, a
sandwich and some tiny rodents and make it into a thing of beauty.
Apparently these images were done first in an online strip and in a much
tinier format, so if you’re looking for her usual gorgeous level of
detail, you’re going to be disappointed. Still, I don’t know about you,
but I go to Renee French for her writing much more than her drawing,
because the mind on that woman is unmatched by anybody I’ve ever known
or read. The story begins with Preston finding a tiny ball of crap, who
shows it to his friend Moe, who immediately takes credit for it. They
leave the crapball with Aldo, an even tinier rodent who seems obsessed
with the thing, as they go off exploring. This leads them to what
appears to be a dead body (or at least I hope it was dead as Moe was
crawling around in its eyeball), while Aldo finally cracks the crapball
open and we get to see what’s inside. I can go through the whole story
here, but why bother? Chances are you know already if Renee is somebody
whose work you like, and if she is I can’t imagine this description
would lead you away from checking this out. She also has a crap gallery
in the back, featuring crap drawing from such luminaries as Jim
Woodring, Dylan Williams and Penn Jillette. There’s also a nice blurb
from Jenna Fischer from The Office (NBC version), and it always makes me
happy when vaguely famous people push work like this, as this is the
sort of thing that should be read by humans everywhere. $10
Edison Steelhead Now Available! $9
With Renee, most people already have their minds made up. If I say that this book is a series of drawings of deformed girls and rabbits, accompanied by a brief description of the subject and the circumstances where the drawing took place, you’re probably either intrigued or just think she’s being “weird” again and you have no interest. To which I say, well, more for us I guess, although you should really think about expanding your horizons just a bit. This is a fairly simple concept, as I described above, but I found myself eventually being drawn into the sad life of the fictional sketch artist, Edison Steelhead, and his sad, lonely life, told only in the briefest of descriptive sentences. Add to that the sight of a lineup of deformed rabbits and little girls and it’s hard not to be the slightest bit moved by the whole spectacle. All told, it’s another unique and indispensable comic from Renee, like everything else I’ve seen from her.
Legal Action Comics Volume 1 Now Available! $14.95
I could go on and on and tell you that the proceeds for this go to a great cause, and one that is vastly important to free speech in general. But if you want to know why Dirty Danny and Ted Rall are in court these days, you should go to the homepage of Danny Hellman and see for yourself. Or I could run down the stories and tell you what I thought of each one. Instead of wasting your time with that, if you read all about the lawsuit and still don’t think you should give money to this guy, I’ll just let you know who’s in this benefit, and this collection of talent should pretty much speak for itself. Tony Millionaire, Sam Henderson, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Renee French, James Kochalka, Marc Bell, Johnny Ryan, Steven Weissman, Ron Rege, Doug Allen, and Spain, among MANY others. I hadn’t seen most of the stuff in here, although I don’t know if it’s pulled from other stuff or mostly original. Whatever the case, it’s all really good, and I’d never had a chance to see Danny Hellman’s stuff before this and I like it quite a bit. Did I mention that this is over 250 pages? What the hell are you waiting for?
Note: The following is from Ben Durgin, and it was on a forgotten page here, put into limbo after a past update of the whole website. No idea how this came about or why it’s here (thank you brain, for losing that memory completely) but, as it’s a great synopsis of the actual legal case involved here, thought it best to put it on the “main” Danny Hellman page.
Danny Hellman is in a bit of a rut right now. In addition to being doomed in the highly unrecognized field of comics, he is facing a $1.5 million lawsuit. Well, we’re four years into this mess, and since the fall of 2001, I’ve had a wonderful lawyer named Erik Jacobs handling my case pro bono, says Hellman. For me, as a struggling artist, the most emotionally devastating aspect of the lawsuit was the expense, and thanks to Erik, these last two years of the lawsuit have been a lot less stressful for my wife and I than the first few.
The lawsuit is over an e-mail prank Hellman circulated and a cartoon he drew of fellow comic book author Ted Rall. Rall had written an article for the Village Voice boldly criticizing Art Spiegelman, the well-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus. Hellman says the cartoon that he circulated came out a day or two before the prank.
The cartoon consists of Rall drawn as a small dog in a park, peeing on a statue of Spiegelman. The prank came after Rall and Hellman exchanged several private e-mails about Rall’s Village Voice article. Hellman says he found Rall’s e-mails to be snide and decided to write an e-mail mocking Rall’s article.
The e-mail, which is entitled Ted Rall’s Balls, featured a faux Rall bragging about his testicular fortitude, which he earned by criticizing Spiegelman, the chain-smoking Napoleon of comics. The e-mail welcomed it’s recipients to join a list serve where the topic of discussion would be Ted Rall’s balls. Hellman says he sent the email to approximately thirty people, most of whom were already well-acquainted with his juvenile jokes. Rall was also included on the list.
That e-mail was followed by a series of faux disgruntled responses from well-known voices in the publishing industry. They were actually written by Hellman himself. Within a couple of days of the Ted Rall’s Balls e-mail, I was receiving cease & desist letters from Rall’s attorneys, threatening legal action, and demanding an apology, as well as a five figure sum of money, he explains. I provided an apology immediately, but declined to offer any cash, (as I felt none was deserved). Within a few weeks, Rall’s attorneys filed a $1.5 million dollar libel suit against Hellman. In Hellman’s opinion the whole prank was completely harmless.
Regarding Rall’s article about Spiegelman, Hellman says, The Main thesis of the piece, (as I remember it) was a dark portrait Rall struggled to paint of Art Spiegelman as a petty, power-mad tyrant of the New York cartooning scene, without whose consent no aspiring cartoonist could ever hope to advance professionally. Hellman says Rall even attacked Spiegelman’s smoking habits.
Danny Hellman isn’t a millionaire who can easily pay a settlement to Ted Rall. So he has put out a benefit book called Legal Action Comics Volume 1. The second volume of his anthology is also available .I’d wanted to do a comics anthology for years. And had tried a few times to get such projects off the ground, with little success, says Hellman. I had done a mini comic in the early 1990s called Legal Action Comics, which reprinted two strips I’d done for Screw magazine parodying Superman and the Simpsons. So in a sense, there were precedents that led to 2001’s Legal Action Comics Volume 1, but I’d certainly had no plans to print such a book prior to the lawsuit. The anthology contains work from some very well-known people in the world of comics such as Robert Crumb, Sam Henderson, and Art Spiegelman. The second volume contains some returning contributors from Legal Action Comics Volume 1 and some new talents as well.
Hellman also has gotten some help from M. Doughty, former front man of the band Soul Coughing, whom he calls a very gifted writer (as one can tell from his lyrics). Hellman says he got acquainted with Doughty a few years ago at the New York Press offices, and at the newspaper’s legendary lavish parties. Doughty had been a writer and an illustrator for the paper for several years. Hellman says that Doughty was possibly the funniest writer the New York Press ever had.
When I got into legal hot water, Doughty and his band Soul Coughing were generous enough to headline a benefit concert the New York Press had organized on my behalf. (Soul Coughing disbanded shortly after that December 1999 concert, and I’d like to think that the sight of me in clown makeup had nothing to do with that breakup).
Danny Hellman doesn’t have any specific plans for the future. He says he has made a living as an editorial illustrator and hopes to have continued success in that field. I enjoy doing comics, and hope to do more of that, in spite of the meager financial rewards and limited audience. Perhaps he’ll continue to get by with a little help from his friends.