50 years of the Overstreet Comics Price Guide

I’ve been reading this much of this week.

The Overstreet Price Guide is and essential for dealers and fans for 50 years now, and when I’ve been a ful-time dealer it was something I always had in my box of stuff I’d carry around with me in the shop or at conventions. It wasn’t always right, sometimes it’d be horribly overpriced but as a reference book it was essential though it never dealt with UK prices (I’ve often wondered why Overstreet never did a UK guide) which meant going on memory or relying on the often sketchy UK Price Guide Duncan McApline produces.

But 50 years for what was a glorified fanzine (it grew out of the fandom that sprung up of EC Comics, and in fact it’s often missed how EC drove what we know today as fandom) is extraordinary, as are the top reams of talent that have produced covers for it over the decades who’ve helped the Overstreet guide what it is. This celebration is a fascinating read of the backstory of the guide, plus the comics that have made it as after all, people really buy this to see what their copy of X-Force #1 is worth.

There’s some nice articles reprinted here too. Especially of interest is the interview with Bob Kane from 1989 which in hindsight misses out some large bits of history but is still fascinating, plus the article on ‘patriotic’ (some might say jingoistic) covers is nice, but most of the book just celebrates Bob Overstreet and what he’s done for comics for 50 years and although the guide is normally a book for the hardcore fan or dealer only, this is a more accessible book and a lovely bit of history. Go check it out if only for the galleries of beautiful covers…

What is the single most important issue of a comic in the 1980s?

There’s dozens of possibilities. Is it Frank Miller’s first issue of Daredevil or Dark Knight Returns? One of Claremont/Byrne’s X-Men run? Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing or Watchmen? Warrior?

The answer is Love and Rockets #2.

It was this issue that Alan Moore saw in 1982, as the story goes at a comic mart in London where it opened his eyes as to what comics could be and the first, most direct influence was Moore dropping thought bubbles from his scripts, and secondly he started to use a lot more female characters and directly led to him creating Halo Jones.

On top of that the mix of reality and fantasy that Los Bros Hernandez were mixing in their strips at this point became a template for many a future Marvel or DC title, though mostly without the skill or talent of any of the Hernandez Brothers. This single issue is the Rosetta Stone of comics of late 20th century, and the 21st century so far,and is dissected here by the lads at Cartoonist Kayfabe.

It’s an extraordinary comic mixing the mass market genres of superheroes and fantasy, with old-style adventure comics but framed in a slice of reality with Jaimie’s Mechanics story while Gibert and Mario lay down a touch of surrealism and more reality respectively. Again many have tried to follow in their footsteps only to fail but Moore was not one of those people, though imagine had not Moore see this issue when he did?

It is an interesting thought but we can be thankful he didn’t. As for Love and Rockets it still marches on though Maggie and Hopey are much older, maybe not wiser but it’s still the best ongoing comic of the last 40 years, and without it the industry would be an entirely different beast completely.

What I thought of Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm

Sacha Baron Cohen has come a long way from being the only actually funny person on Channel 4’s mostly long-forgotten The 11’O Clock Show in the late 1990’s. Here’s one of the better examples of that programme and a reminder why much of it remains forgotten.

Baron Cohen’s skill became to take on the powerful and not just try to get famous people to wonder what was going on, which made Ali G so much fun til that character got out of control, hence why Borat worked so well in the first film as folk in the West didn’t have a clue about Kazakhstan, so a sense of western ignorance mixed with racism meant he could get away with a lot in his uncovering of the darker side of American society and culture. This film isn’t as random as the first film this time choosing to focus on Donald Trump, the hard right Americans who follow him and that entire culture just that this time he brings a trump card as it were.

Maria Bakalova has been unknown to people til now but after this amazing, fearless performance there’s talk of her winning awards, and even though this is a fallow year for film, she should be nominated because I doubt they’ll be anything better in terms of performance this year. With Baron Cohen they make a formidable couple and seeing them take on the bigotry, and lunacy, of the Trump supporting hard right is a joy, and a nightmare as one realises this is real and happening right now in America.

What the film does is dissect modern American life in a way you’ll rarely see in news programming let alone comedy and in doing so lays open the open sores of the USA that won’t just be healed when/if Donald Trump is voted out of office next month. For me this is Baron Cohen’s best work so far as there’s a real purpose mixed with fury at the state of things as democracy itself is threatened in a way we’ve not seen in our lifetimes. If it takes Borat and his daughter to make things better then so be it.

What I thought of some recent comics. October 2020, part two

Si Spurrier’s reboot/relaunch of Hellblazer has been the highlight of mainstream comics since last year, with John Constantine returned to his roots while actually being political again. The jibe at Nigel Farage is a wee joy. It is sadly being cancelled with #12 just as it’s got into a stride but this is the new DC.

If the Hulk can get a horror makeover then so can She-Hulk, a character who throughout her 40 year history is either treated well, or like utter shite. This latest revamp from Al Ewing and Jon Davis-Hunt starts off fine, but stomps up and down on ground previously stomped on by Ewing’s Immortal Hulk. Still, an engaging enough start.

You Look Like Death: Tales From the Umbrella Academy

If you didn’t live through the early 90’s and especially Grant Morrison’s Vertigo work, then you don’t need a time machine as Gerard Way gives us more from The Umbrella Academy, his spin on the Doom Patrol/X-Men. If you’ve read Chris Claremont’s X Men or Morrison’s Doom Patrol work then you really, honestly don’t need this.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50

Over the course of the last few years Ryan North has managed to make this a title which manages to do more than it should, and this last issue is a few months old but this is a touching, smart send-off for the character and reader. Imagine a friendlier version of Animal Man #26 but instead of retreading old ground this makes clear how superheroes are transient and before you know it a new creative team will sweep in to stomp all over your favourite character, but that version you love will exist. It really is a lovely little final issue.

And that’s it for now…

What I thought of some recent comics. October 2020, Part one

Haven’t done one of these in months so I thought I’d do this now as there’s a few things worthy of being pointed out, and some which might act as a warning…

First up.

Thor

If you’d said that Thor would be the hottest superhero comic made in 2020 I’d have laughed at you, but Donny Cates and artist Nic Klein have taken a character which is beyond tired and worn out and introduced something quite wonderful. Building on what Cates has done in shaping Marvel’s cosmic universe, Thor takes the character in a direction not seen before as he becomes the herald of Galactus who is out to beat The Black Winter, an ultimate cosmic threat that is so powerful it can kill Galactus himself.

Cates returns Thor into a powerhouse, while threading enough angst and guilt into him to actually make Thor the character interesting again. He also sets up another storyline which promises the return of Marvel’s ultimate cosmic villian in a quite surprising way which has now, sadly, been spoiled to death. This though comes recommended as superior superheroics.

Batman: The Three Jokers

Geoff Johns isn’t just happy raking through Watchmen for inspiration. Here he takes on The Killing Joke, the book Alan Moore has famously disowned as he doesn’t like what he did in it, but Johns isn’t exactly fussy in his attempts to rake through Alan Moore’s bins and here he crudely reproduces parts of the structure of The Killing Joke as he tells this utterly bollocks idea that in fact there’s always been three Jokers and the world’s greatest detective has been unable to spot this.

The entire thing reduces Batman to an idiot, while the Joker is cemented as a villian ripped out of a 2000s torture porn film interested in nothing more than murder and chaos. Any attempt at black humour is at best stilted, at worst embaressing as this entire thing feels like nothing more than a cheap cash grab using Alan Moore’s work to make DC and it’s parent company AT & T a wad of money. Best avoid this.

Fantastic Four: Antithesis

This is just old school superheroics drawn by Neal Adams, one of the first big post Jack Kirby comic superstars back in the 1960s. Written by Mark Waid in full Bronze Age Marvel mode this is just a big lump of solid fun that utterly ignores continuity to tell a story which features The Silver Surfer, Galactus (again) and a cosmic villian that can defeat him (again) in a story which is just light relief. Adams is past his best by some decades but he can still turn out a story, plus his storytelling is tight; something many an artist today in superhero comics could take note of.

X-Ray Robot

Mike and Laura Allred are a creative team which have been working now for several decades and although their work has a strong fan following, they’ve never really broken out of the niche they’re in. I however adore their work and this is just another notch of wonderful, daft cartoony fun, plus that Madness variant cover for #1 is a total joy.

Detective Comics #1027

This is another of DC’s giant anniversary issues, and in this case it comes just over two years since Detective’s 1000thi issue and like that comes in a variety of variant covers. In the one above this is drawn by Frank Quitely and is my favourite of the lot.

As is the case with these issues it is a patchy affair with Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder’s stories being the most interesting, while the tedious lead in for the Generations event being a waste of pages but overall this is a decent enough anniversary issue.

And that’s it for this blog. More next time.

From Hell is one of the greatest comics ever made

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell is by far, one of the greatest works of comics every created. A collision of Moore’s densely researched writing, and Campbell’s densely researched art gave us hundreds of pages which on the surface is just conspiracy theory (and there’s a large aspect of the book which plays with that) but it ends up telling a story of class, privilige and poverty while humanising the victims of Jack the Ripper in a way you rarely, if ever see.

So although on the surface this is a horror comic which does not hold back on the horror, there’s depths normally unseeen with Jack the Ripper fiction. This is one of those comics you give someone who says comics can’t do the complexity of a great novel which is one of the most snobbish, elitist comments anyone can utter. As an aside I often find these sort of people are defensive and antagonistic towards comics because they find comics something they can’t read. Comics uses us a lot of the brain and if you don’t understand how they work, you’ll come a cropper, and in From Hell you really need to grasp the tricks of the medium.

From Hell’s greatest trick though is that it tells a damn good story. Like much of Moore’s work if all you want from it is a Jack the Ripper tale then that is exactly what you’ll get. If you want a deep tale about the nature of evil you can get that too. You want commentry on poverty and privilege you’ll get that. There’s a lot going on here and for me, I can come back to the book every few years and find something new I missed last time and that’s not something you’ll get from your typical Marvel or DC book.

If you don’t beleive me, have a look at what the Cartoonist Kayfabe lads have said about the first few chapters.

You need to own this comic. Go get it now and read it for Halloween!

What I thought of Lost in Vagueness

There’s an increasingly rich stream of crowdfunded documentaries about often incredibly niche subjects, but with stories that need to be told. Lost in Vagueness is on the whole, one of those films though it isn’t without flaws which often come from such crowdfunded projects but Sophia Ollins creates a film worthy to be added to the small genre of films about Glastonbury Festival.

The film tells the story of Roy Gurvitz who arguably saved Glastonbury in the early 2000’s as the festival was crossing over from the anarachic free for all of the previous years, to the more organised 21st Century juggernaut we know of today. To understand what Gurvitz did it’s best ot understand what Glastonbury was at the end of the century.It was breaking into the mainstream thanks mainly to the BBC and Guardian hitching themselves to the festival as festivals became not just a thing for young folk, but of alll ages which to be fair had been something Glastonbury had done.

In 2000, the first year Gurvitz ran his section fo the festival called Lost Vagueness, the festival nearly fell apart. Tens of thousands of people got over the fence, crime was rife and infrastructure in parts of the site collapsed. The festival took a year off in 2001 to work out what the hell to do as they’d never get a licence if something wasn’t done, so the Superfence came in which kept out people so well that in 2002 and 2003 the site felt, well, empty compared to the past. There came a problem that tickets were not selling out which seems insane in a time when it’s a fight to get even in a queue online for a ticket.

So Gurvitz was given free rule to do what he liked and he did. A big chunk of festival goers clicked onto what he was doing which mixed burlesque, performance art, dance, live music and general insanity. I first went into Lost Vagueness in 2002 spending a night of debauchery which led to a very fragile Sunday, but what he’d done is capture all the lunacy you’d get across the site into one area and let some brilliantly creative people run riot. And so the area grew in reputation outwith the festival itself as Lost Vagueness started organising their own events, as well as working for large companies and organisations. Effectively in a few years it became a large company worth millions.

Gurvitz himself came out of the Traveller scene of the 80’s after leaving home at a young age like so many Travellers did. To have him where he was seemed unnatural, and indeed looking at the film seeing Gurvitz turn into an abusive boss demanding jobs be done just loooks painful. Perhaps if Gurvitz had delegated more and become a person who inspired then perhaps things wouldn’t have ended so badly as they did in 2007. That year’s festival was a wet and windy one which is hardly unusual but word from Lost Vagueness wasn’t great. Normally you could get in on the Thursday and walk around but we tried and couldn’t get in. The reason being Gurvitz was threatening to pull out of the entire festival and although this didn’t happen, and in fact I ended up having another great time there, the end of Lost Vagueness was happening all around us.

Ollins tells us the story of Lost Vagueness, and of Gurvitz’s family life which was less than happy which lead to him not seeing his family for 20 years when they tracked him down via an internet search. Where the film works is this history of Gurvitz and how he changed not just Glastonbury but a large part of British culture, but where it fails is it meanders at times, for example what exactly is Gurvitz doing now which is only skimmed over here. A bit more about hos family would have a bit more of an arc, but these are minor issues of what is a fine addition to the small numbers of Glastonbury films.

What I thought of Star Trek: Deep Space 9

One of the good things about barely leaving my flat since March is I’ve done a few things I wanted to do; one of which is rewatching Deep Space 9. When it was on I did, and didn’t watch it. I did watch most of the last couple of seasons on its first broadcast, but overall I couldn’t be bothered with it. It was the 90’s and catching up with programmes were a lot harder if you failed to set your video recorder.

ds9

I loved The Next Generation. It started badly but became a firm favourite after a year or so of it being broadcast in the UK, but DS9 was another matter. It was broadcast at the time on Sky which meant if you didn’t have a subscription you missed it, so for most of the first season, I only caught the odd episode which I generally didn’t like. This is supposed to be Star Trek yet they’re sat around a space station talking about prophets with a load of dull characters.

Even when I did start watching it every week I wasn’t especially taken with it, so when it finished I filed it away but over the years the series has come in for serious praise, and friends have asked if I’ve ever sat down and watched the lot. I never really had the time til Covid made the time so back in March I started watching DS9 from the first episode. The first season is a slog as it tries hard not to be TNG, but at the same time it is restricted by the station setting however by the second season everything starts to settle down, and the bigger picture begins to unravel. Also the characters start to become interesting, especially Sisko who til then has been bland but becomes something else as this man still struggling with trauma, but starting to realise there’s something in the religion of Bajor, the planet at the heart of the series.

Then there’s Major Kira. There’s no way in modern American TV would you have a terrorist as a leading heroic character, but here’s DS9 doing just that while struggling with some of the things she did in her past. While the others started to round out, even O’Brian who’d been a minor role in TNG turned into a solid leading character and showed that there’s a class hierarchy in Starfleet.  By the time Worf comes on board in season 4 the series is in full flow and has become something more than just another Trek spin-off.

ds9a

But although it is ‘dark’, it also protects the optimism for a future where the human race is just better, so much so that they fight a long, two year way which costs the lives of millions to protect it.

In fact DS9 is one of the best bits of television drama made. Even though the idea of binge TV wasn’t around in the 90s, it’s a show made for it by accident at a time when episodic TV in America at least, still ruled. It’s a complex show that doesn’t overplay the dark as Discovery did or was just a rambling mess as Picard was, but it’s also clearly the show which influences modern TV Trek the most, yet the producers of these shows don’t understand that preserving that positive vision is Star Trek. Without it, it just becomes a space adventure series which you’ll flick past on Netflix.

DS9 showed you can find hope in the dark and Gene Roddenberry’s vision was more or less preserved and even developed as DS9 showed how ordinary people lived their lives in a society where science and culture have advanced beyond what we could ever expect today. By the end of binging on it, I felt as if I’d missed out on something great at the time, but if there’s anything good about Covid is it gives folk like me a chance to reassess things and in this case, discover something wonderful.

 

 

 

 

The best comics channels on YouTube

Go onto YouTube and you’ll find channels for everything, but comics have been served very, very poorly as a medium there with many channels being unwatchable rubbish with the presenter/s showing little or no knowledge of what they’re talking about, or being of the opinion comics are purely superhero comics from America, or are endlessly bleating on about speculator value or are just plain shite.

Recently though things are improving. Over the last year or two, there have been channels providing some great material or some channels have improved vastly. Now there are thousands of channels out there, with about a dozen or so being ones I check on at least once a month.  Here’s what I think are the top three out there that you should be watching if you’re a fan of the medium.

Starting from number three…

3/ Strange Brain Parts

This channel is a solid channel dealing with mainly non-superheroic comics, but it does cover a wide selection of genres. These are archiving comics which for various reasons have fallen through the cracks in history, and never show up in the usual history of comics you tend to see or read. A good example of this is American Flagg! which should be more acclaimed than it is.

 

2/ Comic Tropes

This channel was initially nothing to write home about. It was talking about mainstream comics in a way which wasn’t especially interesting, but then it started getting better and better so although it talks about superheroes, there’s a joy behind it rather than using comics as a way to get to talking about film or TV adaptations. Plus anyone introducing classic comics to an audience probably unaware of what’s being spoken about is a plus.

As an example here’s the film on the works of Bernie Krigstein.

 

1/ Cartoonist Kayfabe

If there’s a reason why many channels have made the step up then it can be put down purely at the feet of this channel run by creators Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor. Both men aren’t just creators but they have a love of the medium which may sound off to point out but you’d be amazed how many creators don’t especially love the medium, just a genre.

Piskor and Rugg’s tastes vary from proper grown-up work from the likes of Dan Clowes, through to 80’s black and white indies and early Image Comics, so we get a varied mix of what they love which comes over in their videos. Also their work in logging the history of comics via their history of Wizard magazine sounds initially a futile task but seeing it all play out with hindsight you can see just how it manipulated the market for the worst.

Then there’s the lengthy interviews with creators which aren’t just dribbling nonsense, but detailed and informed. Basically if you have any love for comics as entertainment, and as an art form then this is an essential channel. As an example here’s a couple of examples. First up is their interview with Todd McFarlane which should be essential viewing for anyone trying to break into the industry.

Next is their two and a half hour review of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, which for someone like me who’s read it literally hundreds of times was still informative as it showed me things I’d missed in previous readings.

I’d recommend suscribing to all three channels to keep up to date with their output which is weekly at least with Cartoonist Kayfabe putting out almost daily videos.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is the found-footage film that disturbed me

 

Back in the 2000’s things were all over the place for horror films. There weren’t that many great ones (the footprint of 911 cast itself over the first part of the decade) but as the decade progressed things improved especially on the independent film front. I’m a horror fan since a wee boy, so the odd gem that’d come up I’d swallow up like a hungry prisoner, and by the end of the 00’s most of the once-banned video nasties were coming out on disc either uncut, or close to uncut.

Tracking down video nasties used to be fun, but now everything was easy to buy from your local HMV or through Amazon. Then in 2007 a rumour flew around the internet about a film which was deeply disturbing even if it was a found footage film which even by 2007 was wildly overused and full of awful, awful films. The Poughkeepsie Tapes was a low budget film in the found footage/mockumentary style which was familiar by now but what made it attractive was it was bloody hard to get in those pre broadband days. Sure you could find it on P2P sites but it took ages to download, and when it did there was less than an hour of the film. It wasn’t until checking online that you had to use VLC Player to watch it. In short, it was a bit of a hunt to watch the bloody thing in an age when media was readily available at the click of a mouse.

Once I did see the film it was clear this was, well, fucked up. From the off the entire film felt wrong, in a deeply disturbing WTF type of way. Yes there were easy shocks but the entire thing uneased me and even the sometimes awful acting in these films washed me by as another disturbing set-piece came up. I can’t say I enjoyed the film, but I certainly remembered it afterward.

And so it passed into memory only to pop up in conversation during those drunken ‘what films freaked you out’ conversation you’d have. Then the other day this video popped up in my recommendations.

Apart from being a pretty good review of the film, it brought back that slightly disturbed feeling so I found my copy of the film and watched it again. Yes, it still disturbed. The crap bits are still crap. However, there’s that tone and feel that this is right, in that, the film is designed to make you walk away from it feeling like you need a shower which is the sign of a good horror film, but maybe not one you’ll watch over and over again.

So give it a go, but do it in the dark.