Monday, August 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on The Actress and the Bishop

You know what you probably don't have nearly enough of in your comic boxes and shelves? Sequential art by Brian Bolland. It's possible you have a copy of The Killing Joke, and a smattering of Judge Dredd episodes, and you might have decided that his artwork is good enough to overlook the dated and dull script of Camelot 3000, but since Bolland elected to concentrate on cover art so many years ago, actual strip work has been hard to come by.

In the late 1980s, Bolland contributed a pair of three-page strips to the anthology comic A 1. They star a mismatched duo called the Actress and the Bishop and were told in rhyming couplets and they are quite wonderfully silly, and of course the artwork was completely lovely.

About fifteen years later, Bolland finally finished a 17-page followup to the initial episodes. Called "The Thing in the Shed," it is a delightfully loopy little story which bounces from suburban dread to missing pets to Biblical recreations to cowboy adventure. Bolland invented the perfect little format to draw whatever the heck he wants to, as either the frumpy, comical Bishop or his gorgeous, frequently naked housemate Actress remember or imagine, in their rhyming narration, old books or lost loves.

"The Thing in the Shed" first appeared, I believe, in 2005's Bolland Strips!, a wonderful hardback co-published by Knockabout and Palmano Bennett which collects all, or just about all, of the oddball little shorts that Bolland has scripted and drawn over the years, either for himself or for small publishers. But for newer readers, the Georgia-based publisher Desperado has just released a wonderful little 32-page Actress and the Bishop one-shot comic, so for just $3.99, you get all of the duo's appearances, along with a couple of pin-ups. Sure, I normally spotlight bookshelf editions in this blog, but since there's so little of these characters available, a traditional comic book is a perfectly good way to get everything, and cheaply.

Desperado does not currently have this title available in its online store (and if they do, their postage rates are a little high for a single issue), but any good comic shop can order it for you, if they don't have it in stock already. Stop by your local funnybook store on the way home today - and tell 'em Reprint This! sent you!

Read more of what I've written about Bolland at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

Read other reviews of this book:

James Hunt at Comics Daily
Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool

In other news from the last month, there was a very brief flurry of excitement over Marvel Comics' announcement that they had acquired the rights to the British superhero Marvelman from his creator Mick Anglo, until it became evident that what they had were the rights to tell new stories with the character, and to reprint his original 1950s adventures, which even devotees of old British comics like me find to be pretty dated and dull. Marvel is said to be still working out details to pave the way for the 1980s series written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Certain trademarks created for and exclusive to the 1980s series, owned by Todd McFarlane and by Dez Skinn respectively, still stand in the way for this series to be reprinted. I decided some time ago that I would update this blog on the first with a feature, and on the tenth with a general news roundup, with a "breaking news" update, should any of the features get called up for duty. Suffice it to say that I'm still not anticipating writing a "breaking news" update on Alan Moore's Marvelman any time soon, though I certainly hope that I'm wrong!

Speaking of Marvel and Alan Moore, the publisher has released a giant Captain Britain omnibus edition that massively expands the material in the existing trade paperback collection of material written by Moore and drawn by Alan Davis. The existing book just reprints the Moore material, even though he came on board after several episodes that were scripted by Dave Thorpe which established the "Jasper's Warp" storyline. As a result, that book is a little patchy and hard to follow at first. The collection also carries on, after the end of Moore's tenure, and reprints several episodes from Captain Britain's mid-eighties Marvel UK title that were written by Jamie Delano.

You know, I was expecting more announcements from San Diego, but I really didn't see anything huge as far as reprints go. I suppose the possibility of Marvelman was the biggest one for most folks. On the other hand, Fantagraphics did tell everybody that they're finally planning a spring 2010 launch for their long-delayed Pogo reprint line, and they also announced a forthcoming archival project for Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Interestingly, the publisher is apparently not planning to delay their Nancy books looking for print-ready copies of the rare strips from the first few years; they'll be starting with volume two and release the first book sometime down the road. Most everything else I heard was hyping new projects and not reprints, however.

As far as actual solicitations go, DC has finally decided to put together a second volume of the 1990s Shade the Changing Man by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo. It's said to contain issues 7-13 and is scheduled for November. Milligan is currently scripting Hellblazer for their Vertigo imprint, and the first collection of his work there is planned for October. The big news, I'd say, is that DC has finally solicited the long overdue collection of the classic 1940s Captain Marvel storyline "The Monster Society of Evil," in time for Christmas.

Also in the latest solicitations, IDW has a pair of highly-anticipated books. The company is rolling out the first in their planned series of five Bloom County archival hardcovers in October, along with the late Dave Stevens' much-loved The Rocketeer, which will come, as speculated, in two different hardcover editions. There's a $30 book which reprints all of the character's adventures, and also an oversized, deluxe $75 version which will contain an additional hundred pages of sketches, pinups and other supplemental material.

That Woody Allen comic strip I was mentioning, with the Buckminster Fuller introduction? It's real. No kiddin'!

Lastly this time, Bear Alley Books has released details of their third and fourth collections: a complete run, across two volumes, of Johnny Future by Alf Wallace and Luis Bermejo. 51 episodes of this superhero strip originally appeared in the British anthology title Fantastic, alongside a host of Marvel superhero exploits, in the late 1960s. The books will feature new covers by Garry Leach.

That's all for this month! See you in September!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reprint This! Flex Mentallo

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is FLEX MENTALLO by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Of course, this is another case where the rights owners know all too well that there is demand, from readers and creators, for a collected edition, but they're a little reluctant to try putting this back into print because of what happened once before...

Flex Mentallo was a supporting player who first appeared in a storyline that Grant Morrison concocted while he was writing the amazing Doom Patrol for DC in the early 1990s. The character was a pastiche of the old Charles Atlas ads, used as a parody of childhood fantasies built around comic books. In 1996, he appeared again in a four-issue series that Morrison and Frank Quitely created for DC's Vertigo imprint. The story is a complete gem, one which really cemented Morrison's reputation as one of comics' finest oddballs.

The miniseries is an overlapping story about a guy named Wally Sage, whose childhood superhero creations have escaped into the "real world," and Flex Mentallo, a circus strongman with a great attitude and an even better physique, who's tracking down evidence that his former colleague "The Fact" is operating in his town. Along the way, he learns that the superheroes who used to inhabit Sage's world never really went away. And Sage, he's dying from a deliberate drug overdose, and wants to spend his final moments on the phone with a suicide hotline talking about comic books.

But of course, it's not really "about" that at all...

The comic is really an extended musing on childhood fantasies and wish-fulfillment, while at the same time looking at the evolution of superhero comics. While telling one story, each issue takes a slightly different viewpoint, looking at the narrative from the eyes of comics' Golden Age, then the Silver Age of the 1960s, the unpleasant "grim-n-gritty" world of the eighties, and finally the bright new dawn that Morrison envisioned for the 21st Century, which has seen the triumphs of his All-Star Superman, New X Men, Seaguy and Seven Soldiers, among others. If you enjoyed any of these later titles, then Flex Mentallo is really required reading. That's assuming you can track down copies of the four funnybooks from your local dealer's back issue bin.

At this point, it's customary to explain to people what the holdup is, already. Well, the Charles Atlas Company was made aware of the comic by a well-meaning fan who wanted a copy of the "insult that made a man out of Mac" pamphlet and told them about the comic, and they promptly sued DC for infringing on their trademark. In Charles Atlas, Ltd. v. DC Comics, Inc, they asked a judge for a summary judgement against DC, and so the judge asked each party for all their statements.

DC included, in their statements, a note that the four issues were out of print, that they had no intention to use the character again, and no plans to reprint the comics. The judge ruled against Atlas, agreeing that this was clearly a protected parody, but it is thought that DC's statement that they would not reprint it might open them up for new litigation should they do so. Acting in bad faith and all that.

Until DC and Atlas sit down and work something out, Flex Mentallo will be a lost property. That's a real shame; Morrison's wild ideas and multi-layered narrative makes for a wonderful, immersive reading experience, and of course Quitely's art is gorgeous. It's a comic that everybody should have the chance to see.

If you would like to read more about Flex Mentallo, Gregory Dickens wrote a fine, detailed review of the series over at PopImage. You might also enjoy Chris Mautner's column at Collect This Now!. Mautner says pretty much everything I had to say about it, prompting me to delay cobbling together this short feature (originally scheduled for April) for a few months.