Oh, Magic Whistle. What do you have against a table of contents? If you’re intimately familiar with all the artists listed in the tags, you’re in luck! If, like me, some of the names were at least mildly unfamiliar, best of luck to you in determining who did which story. Except for the Sam Henderson bits, of course. If you’re not familiar with his style, I don’t understand why you’re buying Magic Whistle anyway. Or how you can draw breath without a functioning sense of humor, but that’s your problem, not mine. So we’ve established that all right thinking people love Sam Henderson, what can I tell you about this issue specifically? There’s the Lonely Robot Duckling story by Steven Weissman, a haunting tale of living too much in the digital world and getting advice about disconnecting from it all. Also featuring horrific violence, of course. There are a couple of strips done in old timey comic strip art, with boxy panels and tiny writing underneath. Possibly by Jim Campbell? They were also my clearest indicator yet that I am seriously getting old, as the tiny text was too tiny for me and I gave up on both of the strips. But if you’re still young and healthy and haven’t had terrible eyesight for most of your life, have at them! Stay Out of the Closet by Jen Sandwich tells the story of the time she ruined Christmas, but mostly it let us peek into the world of her family, her parents, and the various tricks they all played on/to each other around the holiday. Yellowed Kid by Roy Tompkins shows us a “3D” space adventure featuring Frankenstein’s monster and a planet filled with cheese. Finally Honey by ____ shows us a disturbed peeper (more disturbed than most based on the subject matter of his peeping), the ways that the family deals with said peeper and their delightful holiday meal. And I haven’t even gotten to Sam’s bits yet! There’s the immaculate conception of Dirty Danny, a sentient snowman discovering heroin, even the return of Gunther Bumpus and his cat door. And lots more (Sam probably contributed to about half of the comic), but why spoil it? If you’re already a fan you either already have this or are going to get it now that you know it exists. For the rest of you… take a chance on laughter! $9.99
Full disclosure time: there are comics where I feel like I have no business talking about them. Mostly from people like Eddie Campbell, Dan Clowes, Chester Brown, or the Hernandez Brothers, people who influenced my comic tastes so completely that it feels silly to even pretend that I have anything of value to add to the conversation. Then again, if I start thinking of reviewing comics in those terms I’m doomed, so it’s best to ignore that impulse. Still, Steve Weissman is not far removed from that list, with his L’il Tykes books being read to pieces (literally, in one case) by me and various friends back in the 90’s when they came out. I’d kept track of his work in fits and starts, but Butter and Blood has made finding out what happened in those missing years an instant priority. This is a collection of short stories and also a bit of a sketchbook, but the single page images here are past the level you find in lots of sketchbook comics, so maybe it would make more sense to call them “uncategorized.” Sounds gross, but also more accurate than sketchbook. Anyway, his style has changed over the years, but there’s still lots of little things tying him to his roots. Lots fewer little kids running around and more adults (and assorted odd creatures), but there are still some kids, mostly in his “trading card” pages. I could do the whole review on those pages alone, but it’s best for you if they stay a mystery, so I’ll just say that they’re single pages with nine images of cats in clothing, or babies, or a cat and a rat becoming friends, or a baseball team made up of snacks found at a ballpark, and I already feel like I’ve given too much of the mystery away. Stories in here are all over the place, but some subjects include a haunting lightning storm/frightened horse beatdown, a recurring gag of Slash and some other members of Guns and Roses working at a diner, the rabbits from Watership Down all grown up and wearing clothes, the embarrassing origin story of Eagle Man and Hatboy, and a literal condiment fight. If you’ve read any of Steven’s other comics over the years, you are in for a real treat here. If you’ve somehow made it this far into your life without ever hearing of the man, maybe start with Champs first or one of his more linear comics/collections, but really this would be a fine introduction to his work too. $13
Alternative Comics #1
This was the comic that was free on Free Comics Day a couple of months back, so I’m honestly not sure if you can get it online anywhere or not. Check the website and e-mail somebody, otherwise check out your local comic store to see if they have any left, because it’s a great piece of work. The idea is to showcase all of their artist’s best work and they pull this off beautifully. Sure, Sam Henderson could have had more than a page out of his sketchbook, and I would have liked to see more out of Steven Weissman than a cover, but overall everyone associated with the company (again, check the website, as I’m too lazy to type everybody in) had either a good or a great short story in here. There were links to everybody in the book as well, meaning that anybody who picked this up randomly could find whoever they liked best, and that’s the point of this book. Kudos on a job well done, and I’d have to think that this did a better job of promoting the medium than almost anything else could have. After all, it was free!
Well, the book I’ve been holding my breath for since I heard about it in the planning stages is finally here. All the best small press people, all in one book! All Bizarro stories, all the time! Little seen talents finally getting a chance to shine on the big stage! And the end result is… mixed.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are moments in here that make it worthwhile, enough so that I can recommend getting it. You could probably wait for the softcover to come out and save $10 or so, because there’s nothing in here that couldn’t wait a few months. If you don’t know the concept, DC apparently decided to give all these “no name” people a chance. If anybody knows the complete story behind this book, let me know. I’m curious as hell to see how this got organized. And whose decision was it to put pairings on all of the stories instead of just letting one person shine? Granted, some of the pairings boggle the mind: Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel, James Kochalka (writing and not drawing!) and Dylan Horrocks, Jef Czekaj and Brian Ralph, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin, Evan Dorkin and Steven Weissman… it’s a hell of a list, don’t get me wrong. But most of these guys spend their time doing their own thing and I think it would have flowed a lot better if they had been allowed to do that here. Granted, you would have to bring in a color guy for most of these people that have never used it, but they do everything else themselves.
The story (such as it is) is this: a creature called A comes to Mxyzptlk’s world to try and take over. He challenges M to a best-of-seven of games, but M is disqualified and has to choose a champion. Remembering his past problems, he chooses Superman but can’t find an appropriate alternate universe substitute after the original one doesn’t believe him, and accidentally chooses Bizarro. Make sense? It doesn’t matter. Bizarro decides to win the contest by drawing a bunch of stories, and these stories are all the ones by the small press folks.Â When it goes back to the “story”, these comics are promptly forgotten about and the challenges begin, but not before they get an insult or two off about the quality of the comics. Which, I’m sure, is just an insult in the story directed at Bizarro and not the creators, but it’s pretty easy to take it the wrong way. The main story takes up about 60 pages of a 236 page book, which wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t mostly suck. It has a few moments, but the thought that this story was expanded upon at the expense of some of these extremely talented guys doesn’t make sense at all to me.
Flipping through this again to write this, I see that I enjoyed almost all of the shorts in this. I didn’t really like Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Tot, Help! Superman!!, Batman, and The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All! Compare that to the 23 other stories that I liked a lot, and it looks like they have a winner here. The Bat-man (by Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire and strangely, the only black and white story in the book) is brilliant. Old school classic Batman here, and he’s ugly as hell. Hawkman (James K. and Dylan Horrocks), while not drawn by James, has the same feel that I’ve come to know and love from all his work. Kamandi (Nick Bertozzi and Tom Hart) takes the cake for me as the best story in the book, but I’m hopelessly biased because Tom Hart drew it. That’s Really Super, Superman (Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin) is a close second, and First Contact (Mark Crilley and Andi Watson), about the Atom, is up there too.
I was expecting a hell of a lot from this book, and I’m not sure that I got it. What I did get, however, is a thoroughly entertaining look at a lot of DC universe told through the eyes of some of the most talented people working in comics today. If I cared at all about the characters this probably would have been a great book, or maybe if they had allowed them to work by themselves, or maybe if DC had given them a little more room (and a lot more people. The names excluded here are too numerous to mention, although I am surprised and gratified by some of the selections) to the creators. All in all, if you like even half the people in this book, get it. If you like Evan Dorkin, Sam Henderson or Dylan Horrocks, they’re all in here a few times writing and drawing but not, as I’ve made pretty clear by now, doing both things at once. The Matt Groening cover makes the book, too. And yes, I did see the Dan Clowes cover in The Comics Journal and I thought it was great, but I think this is a better cover for the tone of the book.
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.