Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Solar Wind and Pogo

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of The Bumper Book of Solar Wind vol. 2 (Omnivistascope/Lulu, 2008) and Phi Beta Pogo (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1989).

I told you about the first collection of Solar Wind last month, and happily the second bumper book is almost as good as the first one. If you're just breezing through, however, this is a small press tribute to old British newspaper comics, with work from a who's who of the scene's regulars - Paul Scott, Al Ewing, Leigh Shepherd, PJ Holden, Mike Molcher, even old pro Gordon Rennie gets his licks in with a delightful story called El-Alamein Anderson.

So the second book starts with the final three issues of Solar Wind. The first one is another fake merger issue, this time with Sporto: The Comic About Sports, and it's fantastic. Unfortunately, it leads with by far the best strip, the riotous Murderdrome by Ewing and Simon Penter - "the only way to score a goal is with the severed head of an opposing player!" - and the other, wonderful strips just can't keep up with those four pages.

The last two Solar Winds admittedly see a malaise creeping in. Issue 7's celebration of the photo strips that the 1980s Eagle popularized is cute for a time, but it does feel a little long-winded, and the final issue has gags a-plenty, but doesn't seem sure where it should end. Next up is Big War Comic, which skewers Battle Picture Weekly, Warlord, Commando and just nails everything in 32 delicious parody-filled pages, ending with Lord Charley's War by Wyatt and Chris Askham (the team behind the brilliant Zoe Biddle, Wheelchair Ballerina), which, mercifully, Pat Mills was said to have a sense of humor about.

Then there's the two issues of Sunny for Girls, with more ballerinas, and horses, and spunky young public schoolgirls, and the time-travelling Enid Foulbroom, Puritan Hunter by Paul Glasswell and PJ Holden. This is great stuff - when are we seeing those "Best of Misty" volumes, Titan?! At any rate, despite some evident overwork and exasperation on the part of Paul Scott in assembling these contributor-packed tomes, there are still buckets of fantastic gags, and, as I mentioned before, they're very highly recommended, especially at less than eleven bucks! So click the link and get your copy from Lulu!

Read more about the Omnivistascope small press world, from which Solar Wind emerged, at their web site!

Fantagraphics has the rights to Walt Kelly's Pogo and has been promising new editions, but apparent problems in securing complete, best-quality images of the earliest strips has meant they've held off on soliciting the new series, and so people who'd like to read old Pogo have to make do with old, scattershot editions.

Case in point: this is a very odd little collection I found a couple of months ago at the Great Escape in Louisville. It was apparently assembled by the people behind the fanzine Okeefenokee Star, and its principal draw is a complete set of 1953 Pogo dailies. There's some great stuff here, and I laughed out loud several times watching our heroes dealing with interloping ne'er-do-wells like Simple J. Malarkey and Mole MacCarony inflicting the insanity of the outside world on them. Whether involving themselves in schemes to sell dirt - you can't get good results from cleaning powder without dirt, after all - or starting colleges with faculty and sports teams but no students, each storyline is absolutely wonderful, full of puns, wordplay and an enormous cast of engaging, lovable characters. And while Sarcophagus MacAbre isn't exactly lovable, he has the best name ever.

But more than the '53 strips, this includes a massive pile of supplemental material, including an essay by Bill Watterson and interviews about Kelly with his peers Milt Canniff and Ward Kimball. There's a brief look into the three years of Pogo strips produced after Kelly's death, and a festival held down in Waycross. I don't know that the presentation of all this background material is really essential, but it's enlightening, and it will certainly make do until Fantagraphics gets around to the period in their volumes.

This book's long out of print, but I found a copy for cover price at Mile High Comics. Click the link in the cover image and give it a shot!

(Originally posted June 17, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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