Comic-love and self-hate

A detail from King of Persia, collected in Walt Holcombe’s Things Just Get Away From You.

Some time back, this column happily noted the arrival of a new line of archive-quality reprints devoted to historic publisher EC Comics. At the time, only two titles from the pantheon had been released, but I’m pleased to report that a pair of the most famous, Two-Fisted Tales and Tales from the Crypt, have now joined them on shelves, in two hardback volumes each.

Crypt remains the company’s most identifiable brand, thanks to movies and a popular HBO series, which boosted its tongue-in-decomposing-cheek factor a hundredfold. Appropriately, the forewords to the first two volumes are by horror filmmakers with strong pulp sensibilities, John Carpenter and Joe Dante.

Dante’s short essay contains wasted-childhood images almost identical to those recalled by Craig Yoe in his latest Arf anthology, Arf Forum. While this installment didn’t offer quite the bounty of unknown gems as the previous ones did, I enjoyed Yoe’s long evocation of midcentury comic-book culture, which includes vintage magazine ads, a goofy photo-comic (aka “fumetti”), and a snapshot of Elvis reading Archie Comics between tour stops. Yoe’s obsession with preserving ephemera should be cheered by all of us — even when his focus du jour, like the pun-happy fireman comic Smokey Stover, isn’t for everyone.

One of the cooler artifacts in Arf Forum is a 1922 Krazy Kat strip in which Krazy discovers a newspaper funnies section — and sees the Kat/Ignatz/Pupp antics from a whole new angle. That’s a good reminder of Fantagraphics’ ongoing Krazy & Ignatz series, which just released a stand-alone volume that sits outside the chronological run. The Kat Who Walked In Beauty, a wide-angle clothbound tome, collects George Herriman’s “panoramic” strips, a particularly creative run of the daily comic (as opposed to the full-page Sundays) in which panels were often scattered across strange, wide landscapes.

Speaking of daily strips: The arrival of Things Just Get Away From You is very good news for fans of San Antonio-born, Austin-educated Walt Holcombe, who wrote a strip for U.T.’s Daily Texan in the early ’90s. Sadly, this lovingly produced little book doesn’t include those hilariously scatological funnies (which featured, as I recall, a character named Joe Fecal), but it does gather the small-batch Poot comics, fairly difficult to find even around Central Texas, with two graphic novels — including King of Persia, which won a prestigious Eisner award in 1997. These are weird tales in which characters as cute as those in kids’ storybooks (beautifully drawn, with long, swooping lines) struggle with kid-unfriendly problems. A lovelorn snail, for instance, who leaves an icky trail everywhere he goes, wallows in his insecurities with an extremely self-destructive habit of rubbing up against “the old salt-lick.”

You don’t need to read deeply to suspect some autobiographical moping in Holcombe’s comics, and in the introduction Ivan Brunetti expands on the theme, painting a cringe-funny picture of the two cartoonists apologizing to each other incessantly for letting each other down. Brunetti has his own collection out this month, Misery Loves Comedy, which gathers random work together with the first three Schizo issues.

Wait, did I say “issues?” You don’t know from issues until you’ve peeked into Brunetti’s imagination, which is so full of piss and poop, severed dicks and gaping wounds that I’m pretty sure R. Crumb would barf. Honestly, trying to absorb three issues at once is more than I could take — give me the simultaneously more cerebral and more cartoony stuff in Schizo #4 — but I did get a kick out of his decision (borrowed from Charles Mingus, perhaps?) to let his therapist write the book’s introduction. The miserable may love company and comedy equally, but I’ll bet they’re even more happy about having degreed professionals make excuses for their inability to meet a deadline.

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