Category Archives: Art

Japan Before The Last War

Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s masters of animation and cartooning. He specializes in yokai, cultural anthropology tinged with the supernatural and filled with animals thought to possess magical powers, some of them taking the form of monsters (think: Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). At age 92, however, Mizuki has turned his gifts on the even larger, stranger animal of his homeland, to create a four-volume portrait of twentieth-century Japan thousands of pages in length (this volume alone has 560 pages). Daunting as that sounds, Mizuki is as playful as he is thorough, using a narrator named Rat Man, who serves as his guide through the wreckage.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first volume of this epic, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly, which published his stunning look at World War II from behind Japanese lines, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, two years ago. That book was drawn almost entirely from his own experiences during the war, in which he lost his left arm to an Allied bombing, nearly died from malaria and was a prisoner of war on New Guinea.

Showa is as brilliantly drawn and meticulously footnoted as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. It is also a chilling reminder of the relentless plodding toward world war that began as early as the aftermath of the “Great War” (World War One). Showa takes Japan right up to the brink of Pearl Harbor.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn & Quarterly, 560 pages, $24.95, www.drawnandquarterly.com



Picturing Punk

Cafe 9 Photo show

Tom Hearn grew up in Cheshire with a guitar in one hand and a camera in the other. On Friday night at Café Nine, his two hands come together, so to speak, at the opening of an exhibition of his rock ‘n’ roll photographs. Hearn, whose boyhood buddies Eddie “Legs” McNeil, John Holmstrom and Ged Dunn left the suburbs to start Punk magazine, was never without his camera when he went into Manhattan to meet up with his Cheshire posse. Many of the photos—which are in living/breathing black and white—are from forays into New York (and CBGB, et al), but others document the burgeoning punk scene in New Haven. Think the Ramones, Debbie Harry, the Dolls, Link Wray, Robert Gordon.

The photos will be on view at Café Nine for the month of March. The opening reception is Friday, March 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Café Nine, 260 State Street, New Haven, 203-789-8281, www.cafenine.com

The legendary Furors will be providing music at the reception.

At one time, the fate of the nation rested in the hands of these three gentlemen from Cheshire pictured below (L-R) John Holmstrom, Eddie “Legs” McNeil and Ged Dunn, at the “Punk Dump” in New York. Photo by Tom Hearn.

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Clever Like The Fox

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At first look, The Fox is just another comic about a costumed hero who makes wisecracks while engaged in pages-long scuffles with equally outrageously dressed opponents. But there’s something special about how this five-issue miniseries—a modern reboot of a classic MLJ Comics hero from the 1940s—plays it all close to the ground.

The backstory is short and sweet: “Paul Patton Jr. was a photojournalist who couldn’t seem to find the story, so he became a crimefighter to make the story come to him.” Patton, whom we rarely see out of his sharp-eared dark blue skintight costume, is shown to be so old-fashioned that he still uses a film-based camera and believes in things he can see with his own eyes. Mark Waid scripts the series with an aw-shucks realism, while artist Dean Haspiel (who also provided the story outline Waid worked from) renders The Fox with a slump-shouldered, hangdog expression despite that sleek tight fox suit. It’s such an amiable, colorful, upbeat and fast-paced comic that when various evil entities begin emerging from the depths of the netherworld it still seems snappy and breezy and entertaining. The series is about to culminate in a big battle involving some of The Fox’s colleagues from the MLJ/Mighty Comics/Red Circle/Spectrum Comics universe, such as Inferno and the Shield. It’s getting busy, but The Fox’s simple and direct nature cuts through the muck. If you’re looking for a comic that’s not afraid to act old-school, keeping the action strong, the wit sharp and the outfits ridiculous, this is the one.



“Please Don’t Make Me Hate You, Mr. Filstrup!”

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I have a whole shelf of VIP books, including a couple of bartending guides he illustrated and even a set of cocktail napkins emblazoned with cartoons from those books. I have two original VIP “Big George” comic strips framed and hanging in my study. I’m a lifelong fan. Virgil Partch (who inserted an “I” in between his initials to create his well-known signature) captured a crucial craziness that existed in mid-20th century popular culture. In his single-panel cartoons for men’s adventure magazines, he explored lusty liaisons and power-hungry business relationships and other obsessive modern behaviors. In his underrated mainstream Big George newspaper strip he raised the standard “befuddled husband” strip to new heights of absurdity. READ MORE



It’s Not Easy Plea-ing Green

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She-Hulk has another comic of her own. #1 is out now (All-New Marvel Now!, as the slogan goes).

What’s new and different? Surprisingly little. She-Hulk’s still a lawyer. She’s still comically inept and vulnerable. She’s still green. She’s just drawn differently—by Javier Pulido, in a style that’s reminiscent of both Hernandez Brothers (Love & Rockets) at once.

She-Hulk gets let go from by a firm that saw her strictly as a rainmaker for superhero clientele. So she strikes out on her own, not unlike the latest adventures a fellow super-impaired trained professional over at Marvel’s rival DC comics, Harley Quinn.

A not-very-promising case falls in She-Hulk’s lap, and by the end of the issue she can afford to hang out her own shingle. It’s another variation on an established comic book formula—the day-to-day problems that come with being a young sexy woman with extraordinary strength, discipline and/or wealth. (See Power Girl. See Bat Girl. See Veronica.)

But She-Hulk (her given name is Jennifer Walters; Incredible Hulk Bruce Banner is her cousin, who gave her the blood transfusion that resulted in her Amazonian physique and St. Patrick’s Day party girl tint) looks different. It’s wordy. No multi-page sky battles. A plot that unfolds like a TV law show. No celebrity cameos that lead into multi-part storylines that you have to go and buy five more comics to follow. Just an inwardly insecure, outwardly gigantic and green, She-Hulk with a law degree.

Marvel had every opportunity to revamp this character if they wanted to. She-Hulk’s become known as a pesky hanger-on in a couple of superhero organizations (The Avengers and the Fantastic Four). She could have found a different career, or a different city, or a super-roommate. Yet, art style aside, she’s very close to how she’s appeared in previous She-Hulk comics going back decades. A bit more demure, perhaps. A bit more emotionally vulnerable. But familiar, and welcome. Need a lawyer?