Saturday, December 29, 2007

Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace 1957-58

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

It's been a while since I posted one of these! I've been slowly working through some longer books, and passing a few further down the pile to read again before I figured they were ready to shelve.

Anyway, by the end of this fourth volume, Ketcham had all four of the main kids in the cast present, although Joey is still in a strange, silly, silent incarnation, who just quietly follows Dennis around. Now, if you missed out on the first couple of volumes, or the hype and surprise around their rediscovery, it turned out that 1950s Dennis really was a menace - a shin-kicking terror who even snuck cigarettes in one installment. Well, by volume four, the edge is in the process of being sanded off - that antiseptic TV sitcom with Jay North is just around the corner - and the manic destruction and inappropriate nudity is awkwardly sharing space with platitudes about saying please at the dinner table. On the other hand, Ketcham's linework is so damn amazing, and it's stunning and inspiring to see how well he conveys place with sparse, unfinished background lines. It's almost worth it just for the artwork, but the slow emergence of the treacly Dairy Queen-spokesperson Dennis makes this a recommendation with reservations. Volume five will have to be very surprising for me to continue past that point.

(Originally posted December 29, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, December 3, 2007


Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

So. Adam Warren.

Fifteen, sixteen years ago, when I was active in a hobby that had lots of people drawing fan art of Project A'Ko and Vampire Hunter D of widely varying quality, it was inexplicable even then that Adam Warren got published at all. I never actually read his licensed Dirty Pair and Bubblegum Crisis adaptations, because the art was so unbelievably horrible, apparently fueled by that old "drawing Japanimation is easy; just draw big eyes on your chicks" adage, that I never got past the "coming soon" ads. Me and the lads'd flip through copies of his books at Oxford Comics and say rude things.

Flash forward to the late 90s. To throw a little business to Athens' struggling Main Street Comics, I started picking up three titles there. One of these was the guilty cheesecake pleasure of Gen 13. I cannot recall a single storyline from any Gen 13 comic I have ever read, with the surprising exception of a very, very good and extremely clever two-part fill-in scripted by Warren, about a pop song nobody can get out of their head actually being a sentient entity. Warren didn't draw it, apart from the hideously ugly covers, which were done in his agonizingly dull style where all characters are stuck "super-deformed." The script, though, was first-rate.

So, Empowered.

This is a superhero bondage comedy for grown-ups. It is hilarious. It's about a heroine who gets remarkable strength from a skintight, self-regenerating black costume which shreds at the teeniest touch, leaving her helpless, bound and gagged almost every time she tries to fight crime. It takes every cliche of all those awful American superhero books which look like fetish parades anyway and plays them for laughs. It's remarkably kinky, but at the same time playfully coy, with the sex and nudity hidden just off-panel or behind props, with a single hysterical exception when Em demonstrates her suit's "invisibility" feature, only to have it malfunction on her. Even the adult language is hidden behind black bars.

The only thing I dislike about the script is an overreliance on contemporary slang and hip-hop patois (chica / ho / homey / sistah), which (God willing) is going to date the book horribly in a decade's time. He really comes up with some hilarious situations and rants, and a section where Em is reading embarassing slashfic about herself on a superhero fan board is great.

But the art? Well, Warren proves himself surprisingly, incredibly adept at pacing and timing. His storytelling is rock-solid and his grasp of anatomy has mostly improved hugely, except for...

It's the new Shmoo!
The incredible new Shmoo!

...the heads. Dear Lord, what is going on with these people's heads? His people have skeletons, but they do not have skulls, or any facial musculature at all! They have bodies, but just some blobby marshmellows sitting on their shoulders. I recognize that this is a comedy and not a stroke book, but I find this so repellent that every page is actively a turn-off. I couldn't read more than about fifteen pages at a time; it's that ugly.

I realize that complaining about Warren's style is churlish, if not downright pointless, since he has built his career and fanbase from his influences. But let me put this another way, there's a cute little in-joke where Em does her cooking wearing Kyoko from Maison Ikkoku's "piyo piyo" apron. I'd sacrifice that gag in a heartbeat if I could own a copy of Empowered from a parallel universe where Warren's chief art influences were Bilal, Manara and Moebius. If you're a grown-up and you like that art, then this is recommended. If you don't like that art, then don't bother.

(Originally posted December 03, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)