Thursday, November 19, 2015

Three by Four

Take a Walk on the Dark Side: Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses by R. Gary Patterson (2004): Breezy, enjoyable tour through some of rock-and-roll's odder moments. It may not necessarily be 100% accurate (or perhaps even 50%), and it's all farmed from books and articles by other people, but it's also an addictive read. At points, the back-stories are a lot more interesting than the stories about the musicians and bands. Aleister Crowley dominates one chapter, while the looming foundational figure of Robert Johnson is there throughout. But when it comes to strange luck, the saga of Buddy Holly and the Crickets dwarfs the other stories in the book. Recommended.

Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead Is Purely Coincidental: written by Josh Alan Friedman and Drew Friedman; illustrated by Drew Friedman (1980-1985; this edition 2013): One of the brightest of all the bright spots of alternative comics in the 1980's, Any Similarity collects the unique pop-cultural cartoons of the Friedman brothers. 

Drew Friedman's art approaches a sort of absolute photo-realism that makes the fantastic goings-on in these one-pagers and short stories completely and utterly ridiculous. Friedman's preferred subjects are show-business B- and C-listers and the characters they played. 

Emblematic, perhaps, are strips devoted entirely to Jimmy Durante cavorting with naked starlets and to the secret life of I Love Lucy's Fred Mertz, slum landlord and thuggish bon vivant

The nastiest piece in the book shows what happens when an African-American stops for gas at Goober's service station in Andy Griffith's Mayberry. More benign visions appear of monosyllabic Ed Wood favourite Tor Johnson out and about on New York's subways, or of William Bendix returning from the dead. 

The collection helpfully appends an explanation of who some of these people are. You'll almost certainly need it, but the humour and satire work regardless because show business never seems to change, even if Joe Franklin or Bendix have faded from memory. A vision of a dystopian future in which everyone male or female looks exactly like Ernest Borgnine, though -- that's just wrong. Highly recommended.

Plastic Man: Rubber Bandits written and illustrated by Kyle Baker (2004-2005; collected 2005): Writer-artist Jack Cole's Plastic Man was one of a handful of the greatest comic books of the 1940's and 1950's. It was such a tough act to follow that really no one did until Kyle Baker. Several attempts over 60 years (!) to revive Plastic Man missed the anarchic spirit of Cole's writing and cartooning. Baker got it while remaining his own loopy, anarchic self. 

Baker's Plastic Man works as both a general farce and a specific criticism of superhero comic books as they were in the early oughts (and remain to this day). In a better comic-book world it would have run for as long as Baker wanted to do it. In the American comic-book world of superheroes, its jaunty snarkiness and hilarious cartooning were both soon to be rejected. Highly recommended.

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