Tuesday, February 23, 2010


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Afrodisiac (AdHouse, 2010)

I don't know that any review of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's Afrodisiac could possibly do it justice; it's a book you really need to see to understand. It's less a collection than a scrapbook of faked found objects, a love letter to the 1970s designed as some strange mash-up of blaxploitation cinema and trashy Marvel Comics from that long, headachy period after Stan Lee moved to California.

Even if you don't know the names, you probably recall the work of Steve Englehart, Don MacGregor and Steve Gerber, and you certainly recall the visuals of Super Friends and Big Jim dolls and those dingbat-designed Gold Key funny animal comic covers where some cutout from a model sheet was haphazardly thrown onto a randomly-selected solid color. Now populate these childhood memories with some bad muthafucka out to heist fifty gees of whitey ice or some fool shit, and put that dude in conflict with such villains as Richard Nixon, the Devil and Dracula. That's this book.

I'm completely captivated by what Rugg and Maruca accomplished. It's a 96-page "greatest hits" of a comic book that never existed, one that would have horrified parents in my suburban neighborhood. Stories are represented by a few scattered pages, or a lone cover, or some found "original art," or advertisements for tie-in toys. The jokes linger just long enough to scratch the surface of nostalgia, hit a punch line and move on to the next thing. The pages, yellowed, zip-a-toned and with the color deliberately printed off-register, evoke their time every bit as well as the content of the panels. It's an excellent work that never overstays its welcome or reaches beyond its creators' considerable talents. Highly recommended for older readers.

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