Add Gary Panter to the growing number of adult-oriented cartoonists who have entered an arena once exclusive to super heroes and other kidstuff: the world of action figures.

Granted, this won’t be any ordinary sandbox toy — not from the punk artist best known as the designer of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” Panter’s vinyl figure, an incarnation of his famous, spiky-haired Jimbo character, will be nearly 10 inches tall and sport a real fabric tartan loincloth — under which, let’s just say, he’ll be more lifelike than Ken and G.I. Joe. The toy’s being produced by Craig Yoe, the multitasker beyind the Arf! series of comic-related anthologies, and should arrive this summer.

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is no stranger to the toy world, being as he is a big-time Hollywood super hero. He hasn’t, though, had his own cartoon. That ends with Sword of Storms (Starz Home Entertainment), an animated extension of the Hellboy film with voices supplied by Hellboy’s cast. The nearly feature-length ’toon cutes the gang up a bit, giving them the big-eyed look of anime heroes.

More in line with Mignola’s distinctive style is the other recent cartoon based on his work, “The Amazing Screw-On Head” (Lionsgate). This one, a 22-minute one-shot made as a TV pilot, is a real hoot — surprisingly funny even for fans who have read the comic. Werewolves, zombies, and sentient monkeys pop up to fight the patriotic title character, a trusted agent in the employ of Abraham Lincoln. You kind of have to see it to understand.

Following this monsteriffic train of thought is Beasts! (Fantagraphics), a lavish little gilt-edged book organized by Jacob Covey that hits stores next month. Not a comic per se, it features scores of cartoonists and other artists presenting single-page interpretations of imaginary creatures both obscure (the Nuckalevee, Utukku, and Vodnik) and popular (Nessie, the Sphinx). Expect to see this treasure in a hipster art gallery near you.

A gallery near you may never recreate the amazing Ben Katchor retrospective I saw a few years back at New York’s Jewish Museum, where the chronicler (in Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer) of dead-end salesman and imaginary businesses got more high-art floor space than many of his more-famous peers have ever seen. You can get a small taste of that show, though, with a new book/CD from Cantaloupe Music, The Carbon Copy Building. Called “a comic-strip opera,” Carbon Copy tells the story of two identical buildings, one in a posh neighborhood and the other in a seedy part of town. The music was written by Bang on a Can co-founders Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, and this disc mainly serves as a document of their work. While it’s illustrated by Katchor’s deliberately crude street scenes, you lose the give-and-take of the video projection that played at the Jewish Museum show. But for those of us far from theaters where such a thing might be staged — who knew Katchor had collaborated on not one, but four works for musical theater? — it’s the best we’re going to get.

Musical theater may be uncommon, but music in general is a pretty popular outlet for moonlighting cartoonists. The latest example, Lavender Diamond’s The Cavalry of Light, features the percussion skills (and, naturally, cover art) of Ron Regé, Jr. Unlike some other comic-related bands, though, this one seems in danger of actually selling some records: They’ve put out a split-7” vinyl with hot folkie Devendra Banhart, and this new EP has the indie cred of Matador Records behind it. Is Regé destined for the multi-front fame of Sof’Boy creator Archer Prewitt? I don’t know — but he has already joined Gary Panter in the booming vinyl-toy biz. 


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