Category Archives: Comics

Graphic Content – Frank

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
52/501Title: Frank
Creator: Jim Woodring
Years: 1996-2001
Country: USA

You ever had that moment where you finish reading something and you’re not quite sure what you’ve just read? If not, Frank might be the perfect place to feel this for the very first time.

After the realistic brutality of Frontline Combat I really wanted something different and what I thought that a surreal comic centred around some sort of beaver (who reminds a bit of a Happy Tree Friends character) would be just the ticket. I guess I hadn’t banked on just how surreal it would be.

Having read four collected volumes of Frank, which is strange at the best of times and nightmarish at others, it comes as no surprise that creator Jim Woodring has experienced hallucinations during his life. It’s incredibly trippy whilst also having it’s own bizarre internal logic.

This, in no way, is me trying to take away from this comic. For what it is, Frank is excellent. It’s weirdly beautiful to look at and I cannot deny that I have felt some sort of experience whilst reading it. At times it made me chuckle and at others it managed to make me feel uncomfortable – and it does all this without a single world. Everything is done in pantomime… which just helps to add to the weirdness. I’d definitely recommend it.


Graphic Content – Frontline Combat

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
51/501Title: Frontline Combat
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman
Years: 1951-54
Country: USA

As I said last time, it was about time that I covered a war comic for this list. Since it was my husbands turn to pick, I ended up reading this series from the early 1950s whose cancellation was due to reduced readership following the end of America’s involvement in the Korean War.

In each issue the aim is to tell four ‘real life’ stories from the front lines of war. A lot of these were moreorless contemporary with the bulk being based in the, then current, Korean War and most of the main focuses are American. However, there are times where the comic goes historical with figures such as Julius Caesar and Geronimo getting their own stories.

When reading this you get a sense of a strong sense of patriotism (which sometimes threatens to cross the line into jingosim) on behalf of the writers. One story, involving Japanese-Americans very much came close to making me roll my eyes just a little bit.

It’s also not easy to read some of the stories that start to go into stereotypes of East Asians and Native Americans – although I have to keep reminding myself that this comic is 65 years old.

To be honest, for the first issues of this I did find it to be an interesting, if slightly, heavy read. However,  after the seventh issue, I began to tire a bit of the same narrative tricks. The historical stories helped to extend the shelf-life a bit, but I would not have been able to read more than the 15 episodes of the original run.

Graphic Content – You Are There

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
50/501Title: Ici Même (You Are There)
Creators: Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest
Years: 1978
Country: France

Given our current easy access to graphic novels it is difficult to imagine that, in our somewhat recent past, there were none being written in Europe. This is where You Are There comes in since it is one of the earliest examples of the European graphic novel. So, with that alone, it’s hard to overstate the level of influence that this will have had on comic writers across the continent.

The setting of You Are There is absurd and yet weirdly imaginable. It’s in Mornemont, a vast walled French estate that also happens to be semi-independent nation. Living on the walls is a dapper and lanky man called Albert There who sees himself as the true owner of the property (which is currently being occupied by various offshoots of his family. By live on the walls I mean, literally, he has a house on the walls and he acts as a passive-aggressive gatekeeper.

To say that Albert is a bit of an oddity would be an understatement. He is very particular and very obsessive over the court case that he hopes will return to him his rights of ownership of the estate. Things aren’t that simple though. Weirdness runs in the family and it doesn’t help that people outside of Mornemont are hoping to exploit Albert’s lawsuit for themselves.

The central premise is weird enough to keep you interested, but the real joy is in Tardi’s illustrations. They really help to bring life to this bizarre world (especially in the final costumed mob scenes) and remind me of a lot of French and Belgian animations that I have seen.

Surprisingly, even though I am 50 comics into the list, there are still genres waiting for me to read. The next one will be a war comic from the 1950s, which will feel like a return to the golden age of comics… although not a manga. It’s been way too long since I last read a manga.

Graphic Content – Zot!

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
49/501Title: Zot!
Creator: Scott McCloud
Years: 1984-90
Country: USA

Picture this, it’s the early 1980s and superhero comics are going through a bit of a grungy phase. In zooms Zot! with bright colours, 1960s-style futurism and a happy attitude. It’s little wonder that this would become a multi-award nominated comic seeing how much it stood out from the crowd. Especially as it was a very early example of a Western comic that took inspiration from manga.

At the centre is Zot and Jenny – two teenagers who live on Earth, but in different dimensions. Jenny, a typical schoolgirl, comes from our dimension; Zot is a hero from an Earth that feels like if Futurama had been created in the 1950s. There is a host of supporting characters including Jenny’s sister Butch (who gets turned into a monkey by devolution fanatics), a robot butler and a host of really cool villains.

Now, to talk about Zot! really feels like talking about three comics within the same universe. For the first third there’s a serialized ‘save the universe’ storyline that reminded me a bit of The Incal– this is also the only section of the comic that is in colour. You’d think that the switch to black-and-white would hurt a comic that relies on retro-futuristic visuals, but this also occurred with a real ramping up in the writing. It is in this section that we meet all the main characters from the other dimension (including 9-Jack-9, an expert assassin who travels around using electrical currents and machines).

The second section starts to introduce more of Jenny’s regular life including her school friends, but we still visit Zot’s dimension – such as a cool arc where he has to race to the bottom of a 99-floor building. Then there’s the final third, which takes place entirely in our world as Zot finds himself unable to return to his own.

It’s interesting to read through Zot! in quick succession as you can really watch how the creator is completely deconstructing the idea of a boy wonder superhero. In the beginning he is this immature and seemingly invincible guy who saves the universe and gets the girl. By the end, he is living a normal life on his own heroic terms and, through this group, we see different types of heroics (including blowing the whistle on homophobic bullies) play out within his peer group.

For me, I enjoyed the final third the most. The idea of bringing a character like Astro Boy and having him become a normal teenager (whilst keeping the powers and personality that makes him special) is an interesting one. This is especially so as, in the beginning Zot looks invincible, but by the end he is incredibly vulnerable. Bit of an interesting metaphor going on there.

There really is a lot more to this comic that meets the eye and it makes me interested to see some of his other works – especially Understanding Comics (which is non-fiction and very meta) and The Sculptor (whose key concept feels rather unique).

Graphic Content – Captain America

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
48/501Title: Captain America
Creators: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Years: 1940-50 (first run)
Country: USA

It’s a question that comes up with any long running series – without consuming the whole thing, how do I get a good overview. Well, in the case of Captain America I opted to read a portion of the original run (whose first issue famously depicted Captain America punching Hitler) as well as some of Captain America’s run in the 1960s (where he becomes the lost in time superhero that we all know).

Given the volume of Marvel superhero movies that have been out in the last ten years, Captain America is a good place to start. I mean, this was one of (if not the) first major Marvel superhero comic to come out. With Superman and Batman making their debuts some 2 years earlier, I can see how (in 1940) the idea of an All-American superhero doing battles against Germans would have been appealing.

It’s interesting to read Captain America from two different decades, where the enemies shift from Nazis to Communists. Nazis still appear in later issues thanks to the evil Red Skull and Captain America’s own flashbacks – but, on the whole, the enemies do move with the times.

Having read this series from two different eras, I have to say that I am more of a fan of the silver/bronze age Captain America. In the original run it became a bit samey to have him as the army man in a clear good versus evil battle. Instead, in the later runs, there is more interesting psychology as he reacts to being a man out of his time period (due to being cryogenically frozen), his survivor’s guilt and how he deals with everyone he knew no longer being around.

I also liked this period better because, at least for a while, Captain America stories were paired with Iron Man stories – although the two didn’t always meet. It’s also in this later period that we see him interact with other Avengers like Hawkeye, Wasp and Scarlet Witch. Reading these make me think that I’ll enjoy reading the Avengers comics, but that may need to wait a while.


Graphic Content – Kampung Boy

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
47/501Title: Kampung Boy
Creator: Lat
Year: 1979
Country: Malaysia

The variation within the 1001 comics list really is something to behold. This week I’ve read an adaptation of Chinese erotica, a Franco-Belgian humour comic about a long tailed animal and now we have have a touching (and humorous) autobiography about a boy growing up in rural Malaysia.

It’s a short graphic novel where we follow the first 10-11 years of Mat’s life in a rural village (called a ‘kampung’ in Malay). We watch as he makes friends, learns to read and goes through the many rites of passage associated with being a young Muslim in Malaysia.

Everything is done seamlessly through the eyes of a child, down to the asides about his father scratching his back. It was such a joy to read that, I couldn’t help but feel that Kampung Boy ended as soon as it had begun. I guess that this means I’ll have to pick up a copy of Town Boy at some point to continue following Mat’s story as he gets us to life in a major town after growing up in the countryside.

Right, it’s time to go for something a bit more sizeable and typical of comics – that’s right it’s my first proper superhero comic and I’m going to be reading Captain America. It was a close run thing between this and X-Men, but this won out because I’ve never really gotten to know Captain America. This is exciting.

Graphic Content – The Marsupilami Robbers

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
46/501Title: The Marsupilami Robbers
Creator: Franquin
Years: 1954
Country: Franco-Belgian

Another short comic today, but at least this one doesn’t feature dripping genitals. Instead it is an exploration of my childhood as I read one of the comics where lovable weird creature Marsupilami made his first appearance.

The Marsupilami Robbers is part of the longer running Spirou and Fantasio series, something that I had never heard of until this list. I’m guessing this is a more famous series on the continent considering just how long it’s been running. Still, interesting to note how Marsupilami has become such an international success – which included his on Disney animated show and a hit song in the Netherlands (that I cannot get out of my head, thanks again husband of mine).

Honestly, this comic felt a little inconsequential but I guess it makes sense to give major series their own entries. The protagonists were just such goody goodies that it was pretty hard to find joy in a lot of their hi-jinks (until they got into a punch-up with some border guards… that was weird). Apart from Marsupilami the only characters with any real charisma was their little squirrel friend and some sort of lizard that escaped from the zoo.

In any case, I’m going to be sticking with comics for a little longer, it’ll be another short one next and then I’ll (finally) make a start on one of the big superhero series. Not sure whether to go Marvel or DC with this… but I guess I’ll just see when I get there.

Graphic Content – 110 Pills

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
45/501Title: 110 Pills
Creator: Magnus
Years: 1985
Country: Italian

There are some things that you’re never meant to read on public transport. The liberal use of the n-word in Gone With The Wind toes this line, but the huge amounts of nudity in 110 Pills vomits on the line and then runs away. I knew that when my husband picked this erotic comic as his choice of what I was to read it was going to be dicey… but oh my god.

Let’s back up a bit. 110 Pills is an Italian comic based on an abbreviation version of the 1610 Chinese novel Jin Ping Mei. Within the comic we watch the last few months of Ximen’s life as he takes 110 pills that grant him incredible sexual prowess… although he is only meant to take them, at the most, once a month. Before these pills he’s incredibly sexual, but once on them he becomes voracious and incredibly experimental with how he gives and receives sexual pleasure.

It’s worth noting that, whilst this is abbreviated, 110 Pills takes a lot from this 1610 erotic novel. I assume this also includes the scene where Ximen pops the pill and engages in a few days orgy with a number of pre-op transwomen. Something that I did not expect to see, even after all the incredibly graphic depictions of many types of sex.

The story itself is an interesting and curious look into how certain circles of Chinese society viewed sex back in the 17th century, even if a lot of what happens feels more an excuse for shock tactics than real story telling. Still, it’s not too hard to liken the sex pill addiction in this story to addictions to opium – especially when you consider the incredible rush and the excruciating after effects.

As interesting as this was, I think this will be the last time I allow my husband to pick a comic for me to read on my commute. At least for a while.

Graphic Content – Attack on Titan

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
44/501Title: Attack on Titan
Creator: Hajime Isayama
Years: 2009-onwards
Country: Japan

Here we are with one of the final entries from the 1001 Comics list that doubles up as an adaptation on the anime list. Since the this show is now into its third season and has been able to maintain it’s huge popularity for years. So, I figured it was time for me to give this bestselling manga a go.

In a nutshell, Attack on Titan takes place in an alternate future where humans have been nearly wiped out by the ‘titans’ – mindless human-like giants whole sole goal is to eat humans. As the title would suggest, the main narrative is around the fight back of the humans against the titans, having been penned into their walled city for over a century.

Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever read a comic with so much graphic violence. The titans themselves are so incredibly creepy because their design is near the bottom of the uncanny valley… and they literally eat humans alive. I don’t think I have ever seen so much just relentless slaughter and dismemberment in a comic. Sure, Parasyte had a lot of body horror, but the terror on the faces of the characters as they’re being eaten just makes it that much more freaky.

As much as I was enjoying reading Attack on Titan, I made the choice to quit reading it around Chapter 50. You see I realised just how much better (and in some places disturbing) this would be on the screen. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Attack on Titan was excellent and I’ll probably start reading this once I’ve watched all the adaptations… but I don’t want everything spoiled before I start watching. How soon will that be… honestly I have no idea at this point.

Graphic Content – The Gumps

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
43/501Title: The Gumps
Creator: Sidney Smith
Years: 1917-1959
Country: USA

With a starting date of 1917, it’s going to be difficult to find an older comic that is as easily findable online. Back in its day, The Gumps was a very popular syndicated comic about a middle-class family and their friction. It’s said to straddle the world of the comedic and melodramatic, so it should be perfect for me. Right?

Well, no. I don’t know if it’s the comic not ageing well or my not enjoying the somewhat longwinded way The Gumps goes about storytelling, but this comic really didn’t do much for me. It’s an interesting idea to have a comic with protracted storylines that spin out common/mundane topics. The problem that I had is just how long these comics take to reach a punchline and, even then, those punchlines don’t always work.

Still, this is an interesting part of comic history as The Gumps was one of the comics that helped to spearhead the idea of the syndicated comic rather than exclusives. It’s something that would have likely happened eventually, but credit where credit is due.

If you want to have a go at The Gumps yourself, here is a link to an online archive featuring a bunch of strips: