Shopping for comics in freezing temperatures with Tucker Stone of The Factual Opinion? Hellz yes. Why bother even coming to New York if that's not on the agenda? Here is what I bought:
A Corben Special (1984), by Richard Corben. Pacific Comics.
I've been looking for this one for a good while. It's an epic (28-page) color adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, kicked out for that lamest of the early "action alternative" publishers, Pacific, as its artist's glowing only-in-the-'70s Heavy Metal star was on the wane. In terms of story treatment, the flesh and bones of the way the panels are laid out and the drawings that go inside of them, this stuff is way straighter than the taffyish stretch of Corben's wildest HM-era fantasies. The pages proceed in tight, gridded units, occasionally unfurling into a short widescreen sequence or compacting for a burst of panel subdivision, but it's always subject to a trigger-finger control that never quite cracks. This is a different Corben than the man had been up to this point. The hazy chromium glow of his most heavily airbrushed work is faded here, locked in beneath thickly inked black shadows and dense clusters of fat hatchmarks. Really, it's an early workout for what would become Corben's current-day "Marvel style", grotesque, shadowed body-heavy cartooning crusted over with inkmarks that look like they could conceivably be the product of a stiff wire brush.
That's fitting, considering Corben would return to Poe adaptations on his inaugural Haunt of Horror series for Marvel in 2006. If that book captures Corben at the end of a journey, black and white linework and nothing more, this one is a beginning -- the airbushed color's role may be reduced from what it was in material like Den and Bloodstar, but those comics went crazier with it than just about anything before or since, and compared to just about anything else, this thing is far out there. Even through the most traditional of EC-derived blocking and stock horror compositions, a deep psychedelic weirdness shines through. A church's stained-glass windows cast blazing CMYK light patterns across its cobblestoned floor, the vivid 3D modeling on uninked figure drawings make it look at first glance like somebody dropped all their dolls on the pages, and the titular house floats on billows of pink and blue mashed-potato clouds, strangely angelic amidst the rest of the period grit and mildew. It's a strange thing, this, a strange story drawn by a strange artist in a strange section of his career. That strangeness is part of what makes it better than pretty much anything I could have picked out of the new-release at Jim Hanley's, but there's a massive level of pure craft being brought to bear here, an understanding of the way each element of a comics page works put together with elan by a guy who does them all better than most people ever figure out how to do just one.
5 is the Perfect Number (2003), by Igort. Drawn & Quarterly.
Of all the great early-2000s alt-comix that have just kinda dropped off the shleves in the past five years (BJ and da Dogs, where you at? no seriously, where you at?), this is probably the one I most sorely missed. I remember reading it from the library when I was thirteen and totally getting my cap peeled back by the virtuosic use of duotone color, the sprawling scope of the drawing, the utter fused continental/Eisnerian atmosphere racing through every line. The story was the bomb too as I recall, a disorienting Mafia-based mindfuck with a lot of dudes dying and getting beat down... I had totally forgotten how beautiful the pointillist way Igort draws blood spurting out of bullet wounds is. I haven't even started rereading it yet -- this book is a brick, winding and novelistic in a way precious few noiry action comics are -- but with a certain kind of comic there's a lot to be said for just flipping through and stopping on the images that pull at you for longer than the reading process ever allows. This stuff takes hours per panel to draw, and giving even a few of the frames even a fraction of that time back can be deeply rewarding.
Igort is a cartoonist who's worth the time, too. There's an obvious ligne claire influence on his stuff, and big hints of Jose Munoz and Massimo Mattioli too, but where it gets really interesting is just how much of American comics iconography he seems to have absorbed. The book's dedicated to George Herriman (along with Georges Simenon, bitchin'), but from the cover on it's far into Chester Gould iconographic silhouettes, with bold quotations out of everybody from Bernard Krigstein to Gary Panter to Ben Katchor backing it up. Igort is obviously big on influence -- visible influence -- but there's so much from so many different sources whirling across these pages that it all fades back into one thing, the totality of comics art that takes immediacy not as some random creative weather pattern but as the product of a definite, concerted craft. These panels manipulate you, yanking your eyes all over the place, but never off the lines you're meant to be following. It's a bravura performance in the design of comics, on par with and quite reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke's Parker stories. Think of a more sensuous, bizarre version of that and you've got the right idea. I'd say "now go get your copy," but you know. Keep an eye out, I guess.
Cold Heat #1-4 (2006-07), by Ben Jones and Frank Santoro. Picturebox.
The pitfalls of modern serial comics, man! I bought these guys with no small joy after two years spent wishing I'd copped them from the last comic store I worked at and thinking I'd never see them again. I get home to order the 5/6 issue, and lo and behold: it has gone from the internet, never again to be found, amen. Oh well, maybe in another two years. At any rate, these are comics worth having, two really interesting "big formidable art-comix" creators jumping straight into the pamphlet format with no apologies or preambles. Cold Heat is a fully focused attempt at pop comics storytelling by two guys who are good enough with the medium itself to get there even though plenty of component parts in both plot and visual style are coming from far more dangerous places. The pure visual appeal of the pink-and-blue coloring and linework got -- just sayin' -- mainstreamized by David Mazzucchelli in Asterios Polyp to great effect, but that comic didn't slap it on over ninja school courses, balls-out gridded overdose sequences, or weirdo alien/phantom abduction scenes. Cold Heat goes all the way in, reducing genre comics conventions to the purest emotions and artistic impetuses powering everything and letting the arty rawness seep in from those same undeniable power points. Figure drawing leads to action scenes, abstract feelings lead to romantic subplots, a desire for the new brings on the drugs and rock 'n' roll. There's a reason comics are the way they are. Jones and Santoro just mine the crude from the place it all starts in, reminding us.
The Complete Cheech Wizard #1 (1986), by Vaughn Bode. Rip Off Press.
I have no idea how this got into the stack of comics I bought today, cause I bought it three days ago at Desert Island. Since it was in the stack, though, I feel compelled to mention it. It's a compendium of Bode's stoneriffic '70s strips featuring the titular hat-with-some-legs attached adventurer. I have not read it yet, but I will say that it's kinda weird how Desert Island and Hanley's both had the exact same to Bode pamphlets, and only those two. This one and Junkwaffel #3. One copy each in both instances, I believe. They call it synchronicity. Now I'm looking inside the comics and the art, as expected, is pretty great. So I'm off to read it. Later.