Detention No. 2

It has been a couple of decades since I read Stephen Crane’s novella, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and I can’t say I remembered much about it. Luckily, I still had it buried on a bookshelf, so I could skim through it, refresh my memory, and compare it to this oversized comic book adaptation of it.

Tim Hensley’s version does seem remarkably faithful to the plot, and all(?) or most of the dialog is straight from Crane’s pen. However, the original seems to be written as a kind of melodrama tragedy / exposé of tenement life in 1890’s New York, while in Hensley’s version, despite having mostly the same scenes and dialog, the story has now become some kind of a comedy / farce, simply because of the cartoony way it’s drawn and presented.

The story, apparently considered risqué when first released in 1893, is a relatively basic one. A kind of exploration of a poor family living in the bowery, and how circumstances, the prejudices of society and alcohol destroy their lives. Or traps into Maggie in a life of prostitution and early death. Bleak stuff 130 years ago, today apparently a great generator for ironic laughter. The dialog especially is a weird delight to try to parse, stuff like, “May God curse her forever! May she eat nothin’ but stones and deh dirt in deh street.”

That cartoony art though – I really love it. Hensley seems to use heads lifted from side characters of earlier comics… I see a weird mix of strangely familiar faces from Archie, Popeye, Andy Capp and more, plopped on top of rubbery bodies, placed in hilariously detailed, busy panels that are a pure delight to look at. It’s so interesting how the style of the artwork completely transforms the feel of the story.

Also included are a few back up features, a short biography of Stephen Crane (and Hart Crane!), and two pages on Jacob Riis, whose photography and writing explored the same themes as Crane. These push the comic up to forty pages, and are also enjoyably original, and funny. They have almost a Raw magazine sensibility from the 80s – I could definitely imagine that’s where they were from.

Twenty bucks may seem like kind of a high asking price for a new forty-page comic (forty-four counting the covers), but keep in mind that it’s over-sized (13 x 10″), full color, and printed on nice, thick paper. Most importantly, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, beautiful to look at comic. It’s also supposedly limited to 2,000 copies – so if you’re interested, I’d recommend grabbing a copy ASAP.

Our Fighting Forces No. 134

The opening fourteen-page story is actually the first Losers story I’ve sat down to read, as far as I can remember. If I was familiar at all with the characters, it’s possible it would have been somewhat more compelling. Written by Bob Kanigher, it features one of The Losers, Gunner, getting so fed up with always losing, that he tries to walk straight out of the war and catch a boat back home to America. Sarge follows his walk back towards the exit, and tries to talk him out of quitting. The simple twist at the end, when the sight of wounded soldiers willing to die while fighting off a German attack from the rear causes Gunner to change his mind and start fighting again, is truly unsatisfying. The art on this story, by John Severin, who I know can do great stuff, seemed fairly rushed, sloppy and basic. Some blame here could possibly fall on the unknown inker? This is the only story in the book featuring The Losers, and it didn’t make a great first impression.

Strangely, next there is a couple of text heavy pages about dogs… from the use of different breeds in the K-9 corps during the war, to president’s dogs, and even some stuff about dogs used in making movies in Hollywood. I guess you got to fill up 48 pages somehow?

A super simple four-page story follows. I have no idea who drew it… the art is serviceable. A small group of sailors sneak off their ship to visit a newly liberated Chinese town and have some fun, only to be shot down dead by a straggling Japanese soldier. I guess the message here is, if the boss tells you to remain on ship until mop up operations are completed on shore, you better listen to him.

Finally, we get to the reason I picked up this issue, the eight-page story, Soldier’s Grave, with art by Alex Toth. It’s also the one story in the comic that doesn’t take place during World War II. Somewhat discordantly, it’s set in the era of the Pharaohs, during a war between Egyptians and Persians. Toth’s excellent art really stands out against the other stories in the book as well, with the use of lots of heavy blacks and shadows, more interesting panel layouts, more expressive faces and bodies, and much more kinetic action. Even the coloring seems better (I have no idea who colored any of these stories). And even the writing, again by Bob Kanigher, although still a bit overripe, seems a little deeper, a little more philosophical, centering on the way lack of money to survive can lead to some fairly desperate and awful choices.

The final story, again with kind of sloppy, rushed looking art, this time by Joe Kubert, is apparently a reprint from issue 90, which came out six years before, in 1965. Kind of weird. It’s only nine pages long, but probably the most annoying, repetitive and propagandistic story in the book. It features a US soldier, desperate to be first in everything he does, from being the first guy drafted into World War II, to being the first guy to land on the beach on D-day. Possibly it was supposed to be funny?

Other than the story drawn by Alex Toth, these comics left me with a mysterious and uneasy feeling, wondering who in the world of 1971 was wanting to read a collection of simplistic, running on fumes stories, set in the middle of World War II, that were seemingly written to boost American soldier’s morale, as if they were still engaged in fighting a war that ended a quarter of a century earlier? Also, that this series ran all the way until 1978, somehow reaching issue 181.

The Eternaut 1969

by Héctor Germán Oesterheld (Author), Alberto Breccia (Artist)

This is the first of the first of the Albert Breccia Library books published by Fantagraphics that I’ve read. I’m not sure if it was the best place to start – they’ve put out five so far, but it was the one that seemed most appealing to me (also the shortest, I think). Written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld, it’s a condensed and updated version of a strip he wrote originally from 1957-1959, which is also available in a 368 page collection from Fantagraphics. This version from 1969 is actually only 49 pages of comics, so very condensed.

The story here is pretty minimal, and brings to mind a good episode of The Twilight Zone, or a long EC Comics style science fiction tale. Aliens invade earth and strike a deal with the major powers of the west to leave their countries alone in return for being able to take over South America. Approximately the first half of the book follows a small house of survivors of the first wave of the alien attack, as they hide out from a deadly “snow” the aliens drop from above and try to figure out what is going on, while the second half sees a resistance army attempt to take out the aliens. Kind of standard stuff, but it reads more interestingly than the basic plot, especially during the first half. The second half really feels more rushed (apparently it was, as the reboot was cancelled and condensed to reach the story’s conclusion).

The original version, which I’ve yet to read, but want to, looks to have much more straight-forward artwork by Francisco Solano Lopez. The main attraction of this 1969 update is definitely Alberto Breccia’s much more interesting, often mind-blowingly inventive black and white artwork. Apparently when this book was originally serialized, readers complained about the art, and though I love it, I can kind of get those complaints. At times it does seem a little too busy and a little too abstract to completely grab me. To some extent, the characters also seem a bit interchangeable. I never really knew who was who, though it didn’t seem to matter much.

If the second half of the book was more fleshed out, I’m sure it would have made for a better read, but overall, it’s still an enjoyable, surprisingly serious, somewhat unique take, especially for 1969, of an alien invasion of earth. And that Breccia artwork is stunning.

The Secret of the Swordfish

A few months ago, I read my first Blake and Mortimer album by Edgar P. Jacobs, The Yellow “M.” It’s seemingly the one that is considered his best, and I really enjoyed it. At the time I picked it up, I didn’t realize that it was actually the sixth volume in the series, as in the current English language collection, it’s numbered as volume one. The real first story is The Secret of the Swordfish, which is split into three volumes, and was originally published in Tintin magazine from 1946 to 1949. In English, these stories are actually collected in volumes fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. Confusing! It seemed like a good idea to read the first stories next, so I could have a better understanding of the characters and world.

The Yellow “M” had a very traditional mystery pulp feel, that brought to mind Sherlock Holmes, or maybe even Agatha Christie… set in London and featuring kidnapping, mad scientists, strange henchmen and hypnotizing machines, so I was really surprised when The Secret of the Swordfish begins with the “Yellow Empire” starting a nuclear World War III, destroying all major western cities, and taking over the entire world.

Some weird things I noticed while reading this story…

  1. The two main characters, Blake and Mortimer (an army/secret-services(?) officer and a scientist), barely have any character at all, and certainly no character development across this long tale. They are blank enigmas, but I guess we are supposed to be interested in them?
  2. The main villain, Olrik, also barely has any character, and there’s nothing that seems to motivate any of his actions, other than, I guess he’s the bad guy?
  3. Maybe weirdest of all, the story seems to take place in a world populated exclusively by adult males. Despite at least fifty or more characters having speaking parts, there’s not one woman, or even a child in all three volumes of The Secret of the Swordfish. What world is this?

The story itself has something of the feel of an old adventure movie serial, the kind of thing that the Indiana Jones movies were inspired from. With the main characters getting into to a series of scrapes across the first book as Olrik attempts to eliminate them. Most of the second book is features the story of Mortimer as a prisoner, Orlik’s attempts to extract information about his secret Swordfish plans, and the attempts to rescue him. The third book is set mostly around the secret base where the resistance attempts to launch their devastating counter attack, and restore freedom to humanity, using an atomic plane to overpower the “Yellow Empire.”

Very paper-thin stuff to stretch out over more than one hundred and fifty fairly text heavy pages, but the artwork is excellent, and always a pleasure to look at. This was definitely a book where the art kept me reading, much, much more than the minimal intrigue of the story.

It’s clearly a bit of a rough start for the series, which is almost certainly why these actual first volumes didn’t get put out in English until they released volume fifteen. I probably will read more (I really love the artwork), but it might be a while…


I’ve been reading a lot of comics this year, probably more than I ever have before. In 2022 the supply of comics does feel more than a little overwhelming. It seems like there’s basically an endless amount of stuff to read, which wasn’t the case, or didn’t feel like the case when I was younger.

The first comics I read were the ones my grandma kept at her house for when kids came over to visit. Basically, a small stack of beat-up Harvey comics, like Casper the Ghost or Little Dot, if I remember correctly. Not the greatest stuff? It wasn’t until the 1980s that I really started to get into comics, when I was thirteen or fourteen – maybe a little later than most other kids, but this was the era of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, then Alan Moore’s Watchmen, when going to the comic store to buy a comic or two every week (whatever we could afford) was pretty exciting times.  

Back then, the non-superhero comics were kept behind the counter and you had to have an adult with you to get permission to look at them, but it wasn’t long after Watchman that superhero comics started to look pretty poor in comparison, and I started digging into the “adult” comics. I definitely remember getting early issues of Weirdo and Love and Rockets – it seems to me the first issue of Love and Rockets I read was issue eleven, which supposedly came out in 1985, when I had just turned fifteen… which makes sense. 

Instead of giving up on comics, I got involved with the slow but steady wave of “alternative” comics, as in a few short years we saw unique, new stuff like Yummy Fur, Yahoo, Eightball, Hate, Dirty Plotte, etcetera. Affordable pamphlet comics that came out fairly regularly, but not at the overwhelming pace of the superhero stuff. An alternative comics fan could stay kept up with most of the new releases, even if they only went to the comic book store once a month, or less. 

After high school, I drifted a bit, but spent more and more time trying to create my own comics, eventually getting into a more underground / humor mode, and signing my first series, No Hope, with Slave Labor Graphics in the summer of 1992 (thirty years ago!). 

In the gap between signing and the wait for the first issue of my own comic to come out in the spring of 1993, I had moved to San Francisco, and was getting even more into punk, DIY and zines. The pre-internet era I miss so much! About the same time as my first comic came out, probably under the weird combined influence of The Comics Journal and Maximum Rocknroll, I also self-published my own comics review zine, Destroy All Comics. I ended up self-publishing six issues in less than two years, but when it was getting a little too popular to keep doing all on my own (imagine folding and stapling and mailing out 1,000 zines, as well as working on my own quarterly comic and having a day job!), Slave Labor took over publishing and distributing the next five issues, now in a larger magazine format, and some of my friends and comics peers helped out a lot more with articles, interviews and comics. Still, it ended up being way too much work for no money, and those kinds of endeavors can’t go on for long, at least not in this world.  

Later, I did end up writing a handful of reviews for the Comics Journal, but for some reason, that never felt quite right (I don’t recall ever writing anything for MRR, but I did have a handful of one-page comics in the early issues of Punk Planet). Over the years since Destroy All Comics ended, I often thought of starting a new comics review magazine, and did some work towards that goal at the end of the 90s and again in the early 2000s, but both times it never quite happened, I guess for many reasons. 

Anyway, since I’ve been putting together this new site to archive some of my old comics (and hopefully post some new ones), I thought it might be equally fun to start some kind of little comic review blog, to post occasionally on the site about whatever comics I’ve been reading, and hopefully enjoying. Nothing too formal… just casual, subjective ramblings, maybe once a week or so. Maybe I should pick up some old issues of Little Dot and Casper the Ghost and give them another try?