SERIOCOMIC (30)

By: John Holbo
July 24, 2019

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.

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WITZEND

witzend is, maybe, my favorite comics that, I admit, I don’t really like. Don’t get me wrong: I love it. Wood, Williamson, Frazetta, Krenkel, Ditko, Wrightson, Jones (before she was Jeffrey Catherine Jones), a very young Art Spiegelman. It’s worth the price of admission to see Spiegelman’s ‘flower child’ juvenilia cheek by jowl with Ditko’s hectoring, lecturing, libertarian-authoritarian “Mr. A”. Come for the slightly corny, nudy old John Carter, harness-and-tharks stuff! Stay for incipient trippiness of mid-’60s design sense. #9 is all W.C. Fields, with a truly great Jones cover.

witzend was Wally Wood’s zine-like, creator-controlled, underground/proto-Comix last-gasp attempt to achieve escape velocity from the constraints — financial and creative — of commercial comics.

Wood? One of the all-time greats. Absolute tower of the 1950’s EC-MAD Magazine era. Some of these other contributors likewise hail from that era, giving the production a time-out-of-joint vibe. Old-fashioned yet not-yet-fashioned.

witzend launched on an editorial ‘no policy’ wing and a prayer, in 1966. Boasting good print production, it ran 13 eccentric, intermittent issues before dying in 2004, in a housefire that consumed #14 and the archives. Wood sold his share for a princely $1 after #4, handing over to Bill Pearson, but continuing to contribute. (Hard to lay hands on a complete run of witzend until Fantagraphics fixed that in 2014. I can’t say I grew up on this stuff.)

But why don’t I like it, then?

To answer a question with a question: adult values? Mere shrapnel scatter-patterns — afterthoughts and aftereffects of blown tiny minds, reading comics. (Read the rest of the entries in this series if you don’t believe me about where adult values come from!) A corollary is that great comics, like the kids whose minds they blow up, are under pressure to ‘grow up’ — often awkwardly — in an attempt to measure up to their power. Comics is vast. These days, you can say, and draw, what you like. But, concerning those early decades, can’t help wondering: What would the early greats have done, if they had had freedom?

witzend is a tremendous clue — that’s why I love it — but it’s dismaying how it points to the conclusion: honestly, they hadn’t a clue. The Fantagraphics edition contains a lot of great interview material. For example, Spiegelman’s recollections of where Woods’ head seemed to be at: guy wanted to draw boobs, noodle around with second-hand Tolkien-isms and half-baked Freudian notions. That’s… alright.

Spiegelman’s mature Maus is what most people think when they hear ‘serious comics’. Graphic novels: I’m not here today to draw up a reading list of great, ‘indy’ comics creators of the past several decades. Too many! But if you want a sense of how hard it was for comics to ‘grow up’, becoming independent in great ways that are now familiar, I do have this pick: witzend. Never has failure of imagination been so imaginative. Visually lush, intermittently unsavory swirls of creative juices that — despite being rather genius — don’t know where to go.

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SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “So Black I’m Blue” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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Comics, Enthusiasms

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