Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, October 27, 2012
      ( 10/27/2012 08:41:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“OUR JOYOUS EXCURSION TO THAT FESTIVAL OF DEATH” After 2010’s collection of Christmas Classics, it was probably inevitable that editor Tom Pomplun would put together a set for All Hallows. His “Graphic Classics” series has, after all, already devoted anthologies to Horror and Gothic Classics, with some of the genre mainstays (Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker) also meriting their own collection. Clearly, editor Pomplun and his comic art adapters share an affinity for Halloween-y fare.

The new set, Halloween Classics (Eureka Productions), is structured around an appealing frame: the stories are introduced a la the old EC and Warren comics, by a horror host. In this case, it’s a somewhat less ghoulish figure, the cap-and-gown bedecked Nerwin the Docent. Though not as snarky or prone to gawdawful puns as the Crypt Keeper, as presented by Mort Castle and Kevin Atkinson, he does provide historical perspective re: our celebration of the dead as well as the classics being presented. And for those wanting a hint of the good ol’ days of horror comics, the book’s title page features EC editor Al Feldstein’s painting of the original storytelling GhouLunatics. The pic’s a mite small, but it still works at establishing Classics’ comic art lineage from the outset.

The collection features five adaptations, one of which proves to be from a surprising, non-literary source. Two of the tales, Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” are perhaps the most familiar while works by Mark Twain (the comic “A Curious Dream”) and Arthur Conan Doyle (“Lot No. 249”) prove more obscure, though I do recall seeing a modernized version of the latter in the movie spin-off of Tales from the Darkside. The fifth adaptation takes from movie history itself, a graphic story retelling of the German silent The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The stories throughout prove solid. Ben Avery and Shepherd Hendrix’s “Sleepy Hollow” reminded me of elements of the story (most particularly relating to the character of story patsy Ichabod Crane) that I’d forgotten with the Disney cartoon version as my primary prior recollection of Washington Irving’s tale. Antonella Caputo and Nick Miller’s “A Curious Dream” is a suitably cartoonish adaptation of a minor but amusing slice of Twain, while both Pomplun and Simon Gane’s version of the mummy story “Lot No. 249” and Rod Lott/Craig Wilson’s work on “Cool Air” both succeed in capturing their author’s respective voices. To these eyes, Wilson’s visualization of Lovecraft’s darkly anxious and xenophobic world is especially convincing.

But the collection's highlight proves editor Pomplun and cartoonist Matt Howarth’s version of “Caligari,” which I believe is this series first adaptation outside of the printed page. The duo brings that stylized classic to life in a way, I suspect, that proves more emotionally accessible than the original German silent. If the color comic proves visually less expressionistic than the original black-and-white film, Howarth still manages to convey its essential strangeness, most memorably in a sequence where a sinister somnambulist carries the damsel-in-distress over the rooftops of the town.

After this finale, all that’s left to cap this Halloween celebration is for our horror host Merwin to rip off his mask and reveal the hideous ghoul within -- which of course he does. The Crypt Keeper would be cacklingly proud.

(First published on Blogcritics.)

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Sunday, October 21, 2012
      ( 10/21/2012 07:57:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“YOU CAN’T TRUST ANYONE WHO PUBLISHES THEIR OPINIONS FOR A LIVING.” A graphic novel debut for Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, One Model Nation (Titan Books) is a rock ‘n’ roll blend of tall tale and cultural history set in late seventies Berlin. Centered on an art-rock German called One Model Nation (the name recalls Brit post-punkers New Model Army, but the sound is apparently more Kraftwerk-ian), the story is written as a flashback to 1977, where the Baader-Meinhof Gang was still actively engaged in terrorism. Taylor-Taylor plays fast-and-loose with the timeline here -- the better to connect his synth-y band to the era’s would-be revolutionaries -- but this doesn’t interfere with his engaging look at the ways that art and politics can both feed off and work against each other.

German authorities, seeing groups like OMN as reflective of the “Terrorist Generation,” crack down on the band’s concerts. As their story opens, we see one of the police’s violent interruptions of one of these get-togethers, which is heavily attended by members of the Red Army Faction. To the authorities, this is proof that the band has ties to the self-proclaimed communist terrorists, and as the story progresses we discover that some within the OMN’s circle are indeed with aligned with the bomb planters. While the musicians themselves remain contemptuous of politics, they still retain a potent political image, in part due to their faux military dress.

Taylor-Taylor moves between the musicians in his largely indistinguishable band (the one exception being keyboardist Sebastian, who briefly leaves the group for an idyllic stay at his father’s farm) and the acts of political terrorism that shadow them. He even restages Ulricke Meinhof’s violent rescue of Andreas Baader from imprisonment, as act that would play as totally unbelievable if it hadn’t actually happened. In addition to the period’s political figures, Taylor-Taylor also sneaks a real-life rock star into the tale: David Bowie appears during a party sequence, more strikingly colored than the muted members of the band, on the verge of recording his Berlin albums. He makes an offer to work in OMN’s studio, but, unfortunately the facilities have been trashed by the cops. Performance artist Klaus Nomi also has a one-panel cameo during a concert scene, but unfortunately only serves as window dressing.

Artist Jim Rugg does a dandy job capturing the mood and look of the era. If he seems at times more visually invested in the terrorist sequences than he does the chattier moments, well, who can blame him? If forced to choose between dissertations on art versus politics and things getting blowed up real good, who wouldn’t go for the big bang? Still, as a look at a creatively and political volatile time, One Model Nation is a treat for those of us who still cherish our copies of Heroes and Trans-Europe Express..

(And for those wondering exactly what this fake band’s brand of art-noise sounded like, the ever clever Taylor-Taylor has put together a faux-greatest hits disc entitled Totalwerks 1: 1969-1977).

(First published on Blogcritics.)

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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