That’s right, it’s (a little past, I know) time for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Writer/Artist: James Turner
Slave Labor Graphics, $14.95

I tried, but couldn’t get with Turner’s previous higher-profile gig, Rex Libris. It was simply too joylessly text-heavy, which made it come across as leaden and dull despite some often-clever visuals. As a result, I’ve mostly ignored his work until the fine folks at SLG sent me this engaging little cartoon space-opera of a graphic novel. On one of Jupiter’s moons (guess which one) the Emperor Zoz decides it’s time to retire after a thousand years, so he turns it over to his slacker son Zing, who doesn’t want the position- he only wants to play in his rock band, chew jub jub root, play video games and hang out with his girlfriend Moxy. However, destiny calls, and at Moxy’s urging, he enacts wide-sweeping social reforms and changes (sound familar?), which pisses off the military part of Io’s government, and provokes its leader Grymak to get him ousted for office, framed for crimes, and pursued by the full contingent of the Ionan forces. What follows is pretty much your basic Nicktoon-style chase story, with one complication after the other befalling our beleaguered hero as he seeks to survive and/or clear his name, whichever comes first. And in the best Bill Cosby  Fat Albert tradition, he learns stuff too. Not the most startlingly original premise out there, true, but the execution is what makes the difference. Turner crafts a nonstop lighthearted action story in the spirit of Warner Bros cartoons, or even such Cartoon Network fare as Fairly Oddparents or Dexter’s Laboratory, (Zing himself reminds me a lot of the Great Gazoo) full of clever vector visuals (Turner gets his money’s worth from Adobe Illustrator, for sure) and imaginative character design, and displays a cheerful sense of fun with a myriad of alien creatures and made-up slang and dialects for each. One thing, I think, that caused me to like Turner’s art here more than I did with Rex Libris was that he uses gradations to give his figures a depth and a pleasing three-dimensionality that its predecessor lacked. However, the black-and-white format isn’t kind- often, detail gets lost in all the stuff he crams into almost every panel. A little more tonal diversity might have helped, or perhaps it’s the digest-size format that causes some of the smaller things to get lost on the page. Regardless, this is an overall enjoyable romp from start to finish, and if it seems to be done with one eye on the small-or large screen,well, it doesn’t suffer as a reading experience because of it. (Reviewed from review copy provided by publisher)

Script/Art: Tim Hensley
Fantagraphics Books; $18.99

Richie Rich by way of Archie by way of Tippy Teen by way of, oh, I don’t know- The Grifters meets Tao Te Ching and airing at 10:30 CST on Adult Swim; very very Clowes/Kupperman-influenced surreal absurdity. Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung up about, if you will. Sure, it’s parody, but it lacks the wry humor that satirist like Kurtzman would have brought; it’s dry and sarcastic, with no real purpose except to demonstrate what a clever fellow its creator is. And yet, it is intermittently funny, even when abruptly giving us incest jokes, or namedropping has-been 80’s popstars. The characters babble nonsense, but include just enough signifying words to advance the boy-pursues-girl storyline to its typically absurd ending. True, it does have scattered laughs, especially if you appreciate cleverly crafted nonsense, but it seems to skewer a target that really hasn’t called for skewering in decades. Still, it’s easy to admire its all-over-the-place, random ingenuity (the onomatopoeia is often inspired, and there’s even a jarring Kirby-style collage at one point). Me, I find myself running out of patience with this sort of thing sooner and sooner these days, but others may find this brilliant and hilarious. You’ll know fairly early on, believe me. (Reviewed from PDF provided by publisher)

Writer: Blake Bell
Fantagraphics Books (September 22, 2010), $39.99

Can’t say for sure when I first saw the art and storytelling of Bill Everett; I figure it was in an issue of some Marvel reprint collection, which had the epic Golden Age Torch vs. the Sub-Mariner two-parter. After that, most likely a Marvel Boy reprint in Marvel Tales, or a reprint of the first issue of Daredevil somewhere. Then, around 1972 or so, I became intrigued by the cover of Marvel’s Sub-Mariner #52, which featured the X-Men character Sunfire…and I loved any of the creations Roy Thomas and Neal Adams gave us in their too-short run on that book in the late 60’s. So I picked it up, and had no idea that Everett drew the story- it had a Gil Kane cover. After looking through it, I was pleased to see that Everett was drawing Subby a little more on-model (aka Gene Colan style, it was a bone of contention at the time, as I recall) than he did in the Golden Age- at first. After a while, and I did re-read that comic several times, and the next one, the finale of the two-parter- after a while, I noticed that this Everett fella was an amazing artist. I loved his smooth ink line (well, 12-year-old me did, and I didn’t quite know the jargon but I knew what I liked), good looking, expressive figure drawings, and detailed, busy panels. Fell in love with his Namorita character, which he created for his comeback. His action scenes just sang, and after that, I couldn’t wait for the next issue. Problem was, Everett only did 10 pages of that one. A young artist named Alan Weiss, whose style did have its charms but was no Everett, finished it, and a Golden Age Subby reprint rounded out the book. Bill was back for the next issue, then another fill-in, and then, just when I was ready to give up in frustration, he returned with a vengeance in #57, in which he brought back Venus, a character whom he illustrated (very well) back in the Atlas days. I had seen a reprint of one of here stories somewhere before- a truly weird tale of living gargoyles that took the 13th floor of an office building hostage, one of my all-time favorite comics stories. It was non-stop great art and a fast-paced, enjoyable story. And, as it turned out, a bit of a swan song- although he did contribute scripting, plots, pencils and inks to subsequent issues, none were complete and were heavily redrawn and reworked by lesser artists. I hung in there until finally, in #65, I saw a one page tribute that informed us that Everett had passed on. It was sad, but it explained a lot about what had been going on with the book, and I filed it away in my mental cabinet, remaining on the lookout for Everett’s splendid work wherever I could find it. In recent years, Everett’s work and legacy has become a bit forgotten with the average fan; he didn’t work for EC or DC, his other Marvel work in the early-mid 60’s was hit-and-miss, and he hasn’t been the subject of a lot of tributes. Until now.

As he did with Steve Ditko in the excellent Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, Blake Bell has done his due diligence in gathering information, giving us a portrait of a talented man (a descendant of William Blake, for chrissakes) who was often his own worst enemy. He had his first drink at age 12, in Arizona recuperating from TB; his heavy drinking and smoking would eventually become a major problem in his later life. Everett’s story mirrors, in its way, the history of comics itself; in on the beginnings via working for Martin Goodman, on through his creation and heyday doing the Sub-Mariner for Goodman’s Timely Comics company; scuffling for work in the wake of the post-war decline of the superhero comic, doing tons of weird mystery stories for the former Timely-now-Atlas imprint (including Venus); eventually coming back to the now-Stan Lee helmed company, now named Marvel, but finding himself unable to maintain anything like a normal level of productivity due to his lifestyle catching up with him. By the early-mid 70’s, about the time I discovered his work, he got sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it was too late; he had a heart attack soon after and died on the operating table during bypass surgery. Bell does an excellent job in filling in the between-the-lines stuff; having access to people close to the artist such as his daughter Wendy and many of his surviving collaborators adds a lot. It’s sad to read the accounts of his struggles with his various demons, and how Stan Lee and Roy Thomas kept trying to do the right thing by him, even though his work and habits became erratic and unreliable. He’s also selected an outstanding collection of art; many, many covers, pencil sketches, pages from stories both published and un-published, heartwarming postcards that show a more playful and cartoonish side to his work, sent to friends and family…make his a good-looking book as well as a good reading one. I kinda wish Blake had included more Venus, but hey, I’m a fan, what can I say. A page from #16 or that issue’s cover would have been nice, that’s all I’m sayin’. Lucky for you, you can check it out here!

Now, I have to qualify all this praise  a bit by saying that my knowledge of Bill’s career is far from comprehensive; I’m sure there are many, many historians out there who know a lot more than I do, and I’ll bet many of them are sharpening their knives to carve this up, like some did for Strange and Stranger. All I can say is that this is a wonderfully informative read from where I’m sitting. Fire and Water is a long-overdue chance for today’s readers to get a good idea of what made Everett so special and so revered by older fans. (Reviewed from a publisher-provided PDF)

That’s all for this time out, boys and girls…as always, email me at johnnybacardi AT gmail if you’d like me to consider reviewing your comic, graphic novel, or what have ya.

The All-Purpose Comics Review-writing Music List, i.e., a list of music I listened to while reading and writing about this week’s offerings, more or less: T.Rex- Bolan’s Zip Gun; John Phillips- Pay Pack and Follow; Maria Muldaur- Waitress in a Donut Shop; Kansas- Monolith; Dennis Wilson- Pacific Ocean Blue; Neil Young & Crazy Horse- Everybody Knows This is Nowhere; Rolling Stones- Tattoo You and Exile on Main St..