Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Hi. How ‘bout those Avengers, eh?? Well, okay, it’s not officially released as I type this, but let’s all assume I have Kang-like time travel powers and can join in the discussion about how awesome it is...hopefully…

Quick plug: last week, The Four-Colour Trip popped up at Spook Magazine. It’s a thing I wrote about psychedelic ‘70s Marvel comics. This week’s Comic of the Week ties into that piece, as it’s an example of classic psychedelic underground comix, the flipside of mainstream American comic book publishing at that time. If that’s not enticing enough, I’m fairly certain I’m the only person to ever put quotes by Timothy Leary and Adam Warlock in the same article.

Also: The Eisner nominations have been announced! Awesome to see that Fantagraphics snagged as many as the Big Two. Huzzah for them.

Finally: The ace Book Grocer store in Brunswick is in trouble and may well close. In an attempt to hold off the death knell, they are selling everything for $5 a pop. Amongst my haul was a Will Eisner Biography and comics by Ben Katchor, Paul Hornschemeier and Wilfred Santiago. If you’re nearby, pop in. You’re bound to find something and you may well save the shop.

Published by Fantagraphics Books

In the early '70s, radicals and progressive thinkers inspired by the work of Kirby, Ditko and Lee began taking over Marvel, filling the company’s books with pop-depictions of existential angst and LSD-inspired colour bursts. At the same time, many artists of the comics underground were channeling their drug experiences as well as their social concerns into comix of humanist merit and real-world anti-authoritarianism. The work of Guy Colwell, in his Inner City Romance, is a prime example of this. 

Over five issues dating from 1972-1978, Colwell created a cast of ex-cons, hippies, tenement dwellers and acid rockers who battled racism, poverty, the greed of the rich, the reach of The Man, and the depravity of incarceration. Colwell’s heavily African-American cast, use of urban slang and sympathy towards the downtrodden led many readers to believe that Colwell was in fact himself black. “I suppose it was natural to think I was black,” Colwell is quoted as saying in Patrick Rosenkrantz’s introduction, “because so few white creators would touch subjects like I did. Black concerns, issues, stories would be left to black authors/artists to deal with.”

Colwell, jailed as a conscientious objector, was a fine artist whose intricately detailed paintings, murals and prints depicted his love of nature and man's place in it. His prison stint politicised him further, however, and led him to channel his activism and anger at the inequality and injustice of the day and depict it on the comics page. Inner City Romance #1 sold over 50,000 copies over multiple printings, a staggering amount by today's standards. It featured a trio of freshly released ex-cons facing a choice between the seductions of the “free” world and the discipline and belief required to make significant change within it.

Colwell’s black-and-white art shifts from issue to issue, reflecting his growth as an artist, his desire to speed up the artistic process, and to suit the particular needs of his individual tales. It never less than striking. At its peak, it’s lovely – beautifully depicting the contrasts between the inner life and the outer. The profoundness of the LSD experience, the expression of desires in the dream lives of the incarcerated (even if this particular segment turns nightmarish) and the psychedelic dimension-hop of death are all contrasted with the ugliness and the struggles of urban life. Colwell's cities are grim, trash-filled places, where the white and the wealthy rule and the downtrodden, kept under thumb, have only sex, drugs, music, radicalism and one another to keep them at bay.

Sure, some of the slang is dated and it’s clearly a product of its time, but Colwell’s concerns are,sadly, still our concerns. This book clearly demonstrates that anger, frustration and a desire for change can produce quite the creative fire. Packed with essays and beautiful colour reproductions of Colwell’s social realist paintings, Inner City Romance is highly, highly recommended.


Warren and Xavier are the two newest faces aboard an ill-fated ship with dwindling supplies. Cruelly chosen by ship’s Captain to be cast adrift, the pair is given nought but the lifeboat they aimlessly float in and each other’s company. Days bleed into nights and back into days as the pair face nothing but endless ocean and their fraying sanity. When two are reduced to one, the sole survivor begins receiving visits from a most unexpected sea creature.

Gfrorer’s offbeat, sad story, told in an inky black and white, is a comic likely to stay with you far longer than the time it will take you to read it. Fantagraphics brought it to print in 2014, but it’s sadly long gone now. Fortunately, you can still read Black Is The Colorfor free at its original online home, Study Group Comics.


Motion comics. I do not understand the point of them at all, but I just had to include this particular curiosity. Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Truman and Sam Glanzman’s classic 1993 Jonah Hex tale, Two Gun Mojo (one of the earliest Vertigo mini-series ever, for you trivia buffs), was given the motion comics treatment in 2010. I know. I’m as surprised as you are.

It’s a peculiar thing to see that gritty Truman/Glanzman artwork “moving,” if in only a slightly more sprightly fashion than those old Marvel cartoons of the ‘60s, and to be honest, the overall effect is pretty weird. Ironically, some of the timing of Lansdale’s jokes is lost, but as this is likely the only adaptation we’ll ever see of this great incarnation of Hex, it’s worth a look even if you only make it through the first few minutes.

All three of the Lansdale/Truman/Glanzman mini-series’ are collected in a single big-ass Vertigo trade titled Shadows West, and hopefully you’re intrigued enough by this to sample the storyin all its weird-western comic book glory. Lansdale,for the unsure, is a storytelling hero of mine and amongst his ridiculously impressive resume is Cold In July, made into a pretty awesome film starring that Dexter guy.

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.


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