Wednesday, November 7, 2018

REVIEWS: RIc Hochet

Note: this review contains a minor spoiler alert and is based on the Kindle digital edition of the graphic album.

On Twitter last year, someone from France who was new to my work asked if I had ever heard of the French comic-book series, Ric Hochet, created by artist Tibet (a pseudonym for French cartoonist Gilbert Gascard) and writer André-Paul Duchâtexau, as my work reminded him of that series, which focused on the adventures of an investigative reporter for a French newspaper.

I was able to say I was vaguely aware of it, but the query led me to look up editions translated into English. Though the series was created in 1955—with 78 graphic albums published to date—no English editions were available except for one: Ric Hochet, Volume 1: R.I.P., Ric!, an English language edition released just a few months prior in June 2017 (the original French edition appeared in 2015). However, the album seems to be part of a re-booted new series by another cartoonist, Zidrou, following in the footsteps of the original creators. (A postscript at the back of the edition notes, “The story and all the joy we felt in creating it are dedicated to Tibet.”)

While of course it’s hard to tell if the story is representative of the series or a sort of post-modern take on the original since I have not seen earlier stories, it was a great read—a sophisticated adventure/mystery that felt very classic, tying in with the series’ past continuity and building on its supporting cast of characters, including villains.

Excerpt from Ric Hochet, Volume I: R.I.P., Ric! (2017)

Minor spoiler alert ahead: In fact, in retrospect, the only somewhat interesting choice of first story in this re-boot is the fact that the lead character, Ric Hochet, doesn’t actually appear much—the story, instead, focuses on the inner journey of a villain called “The Chameleon” from a past adventure (“The Chameleon’s Shadow”) who, using plastic surgery and his gift for impersonation, assumes Ric’s identity and life as part of an elaborate scheme of revenge and to destroy the reporter’s life and reputation. (I call this a “minor” spoiler alert since the conceit is revealed pretty much in the opening pages.) So the majority of the story is, in fact, told from the Chameleon’s point of view which, of course, cleverly reveals (and upends) aspects of Ric’s personality and history. We learn, for example, that Ric is a “boy scout,” so the Chameleon uses his charms to gain personal benefits and advantages Ric never did, at one point seducing the daughter of an old friend.

Again, without being completely familiar with the series, it’s difficult to know whether this approach is some clever meta-commentary about the author’s own attempt to capture the tone and feel of the original series. But aside from this conceit, the story seems respectful of the source material and told in a straightforward, unironic fashion. Regardless of whether or not this is reading too much into the story, “R.I.P., Ric!” is a fun and compelling read. I hope to see more of the original series or new stories available in the future.

Note: Since originally writing this review last year, I have since learned that two more new English-translated adventures from the series have dropped at Amazon.

Below: Additional samples of the series past and present.

New release, April 2018

Sunday, October 7, 2018

An Evening with Howard Chaykin

I’ve blogged here before about one of my favorite cartoonists, Howard Chaykin. On September 19, I had the opportunity to see him speak at a class on comics that was open to the public at the Art Center College of Design, a lovely campus nestled in an upscale residential area in Pasadena, CA, next to the Rose Bowl. Chaykin spoke at length about his career and the craft of creating comics.

Known for speaking his mind, Chaykin did not disappoint—but he was also charming, blunt and straightforward about the realities of working professionally in the creative arts/entertainment/comics field, which no doubt was of interest to the students in attendance. (About half the audience were students, the rest fans (and friends) of Chaykin like myself.)

Chaykin is a unique presence in comics because, as he points out, he falls in a gray area of the market that is not mainstream superhero comics per se but not truly alternative either—a trait I feel my work shares as well. He also often likes to claim that he’s never considered himself as naturally talented or technically gifted as many of his peers—as such, to compensate, and the fact that he has to compete against people much younger than himself (during the talk, he often humorously pointed to the students in the audience when making this point), he said he works his ass off and also periodically reinvents himself every few years so as to avoid being typecast or stale.

As a result, Chaykin has enjoyed a diverse, steady career and living—47 years, including a 15-year detour into television, which he said provided him with the financial safety net to work in comics. He mentioned that he was happy with where he was at this stage in his career because he gets to work on his own projects that have meaning for him.

While the event focused initially on some of his more iconic work, such as American Flagg!, Chaykin made clear that he was equally proud of his current work; the presentation did eventually turn into an overview of his career from Star Wars (work he doesn’t feel highly about, noting that it was released just a little before the royalty system at Marvel Comics was established, which he estimates could have netted $3–4 million) to Flagg, Time Squared (which he referred to as his favorite, most personal work), Black Kiss, to his more current work, including Divided States of Hysteria and Hey, Kids! Comics!

When Chaykin also touched on the subject of comics craft and storytelling, he was very thoughtful and insightful. He talked about his love of graphic design and patterns (which is indeed one of his great distinctive strengths), noting at one point how small panels often served as an exclamation point to stop the reader in their tracks. He also spoke about some of the innovations he introduced to the “language” of comics, which he believes he hasn’t always been given full credit for, which I believe is an accurate assessment. While I don’t entirely agree with his assertion that most comics readers are unaware of his work, Chaykin in many ways is indeed a classic “artist’s artists” who has influenced many of the cartoonists who have followed.

His talk was followed by an extensive Q&A. Afterwards, I had him kindly sign a Flagg trade paperback collection I had brought along for that purpose. I reminded him that I had recently done a Rob Hanes Adventures cover that was inspired by the first issue of Flagg (which he saw on Facebook) and we had been introduced years ago by a mutual friend—he was kind to say he did remember me. When I said I was sure everyone knew the inspiration for my cover, he responded with a sardonic chuckle, "Were you listening to my talk?", referring to the lack of awareness most mainstream comics fans have for his work.

Below are additional photos from the event.











Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Visit to the Wende Museum of the Cold War

This is being posted a bit late since the exhibitions discussed below are now ended, but the museum is of course still worth a visit — visit their website for information about their current shows.

I finally got around to visiting the new Wende Museum of the Cold War, now located in a beautifully refurbished facility in Culver City, California that was formerly a National Guard Armory.

As the museum’s name implies, the Wende’s mission is to “preserve Cold War art, culture, and history from the Soviet Bloc countries, inspire a broad understanding of the period, and explore its enduring legacy.” It's a collections-based research and education institute.

The exhibition I saw that concluded in late August was titled, “Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary.” Hungary, it turns out, was a slight outlier as a Soviet satellite. While the 1956 Revolution temporarily gave hope for some freedom, the Soviets quickly moved back in, resulting in many deaths and executions on both sides during this explosive period. Nevertheless, the Revolution led to the installation of a new Soviet-approved leadership that allowed a measure of “freedom” for people (at least relative to other Soviet satellites) so long as there was a tacit acceptance of Soviet authority. More freedoms came in 1968 when free-market elements were introduced into the economy. The exhibition explores how these limits were often pushed and tested by art, artists and the people. It was particularly fascinating to see how 1960s designs made their way East and how their innovative work sometimes were adapted in the West (the Rubik’s Cube was invented in Hungary in the ‘70s).

An accompanying, smaller exhibition running concurrently is “Socialist Flower Power: Soviet Hippie Culture,” tracing how hippie culture, with its origins in the U.S., and particularly Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, spread to Europe, the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union. The most amusing anecdote in that section is the fact that at first the controlled Soviet press loved giving hippie culture plenty of coverage because it underscored how youth in the West were rising up against the establishment and, no doubt, to underscore the excesses of the bourgeois—at least until they discovered their own youth had become entranced by and embraced the lifestyle too!

The Museum includes additional areas for scholarly research and their permanent collection, such as Cold War artifacts like spying equipment, Communist dinnerware, busts of Stalin and Lenin, books, toys, etc. There is a garden in back, that was still under construction when I visited, where reportedly some sections of the Berlin Wall will be sited (at the moment, I am aware some already exist by the L.A. County Museum of Art, some of which I believe are being moved to the Wende.)

It’s a beautiful space and if you’re in the area, visit! Note that public visiting hours are limited and while there is no entrance fee, donations are welcome. Visit the Museum’s website for details.

Click here to see the full photogallery.














Sunday, September 9, 2018

2018 Emmys Costume Exhibit

Every year the Fashion Institute of Merchandising and Design (FIMD) in downtown L.A. holds an exhibition of Emmy nominated costumes (they also do a separate exhibition for Academy Award nominated costumes).

My wife and I visit the exhibitions nearly every year and this past weekend saw costumes from Black Lightning, Star Trek Discovery, GLOW, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Crown, Orville, Games of Thrones, Westworld, and more! Thru Oct. 6 -- fidmmuseum.org.

See my photogallery for all the photos!




Black Lightning

GLOW

GLOW

GLOW

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Crown

The Crown

Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek: Discovery

Westworld

The Orville

The Orville

The Orville




The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Now Available for Purchase from our Webstore!

Fresh from their exciting debut at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, Rob Hanes Adventures #19 and a new trade paperback, Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 2, collecting issues 5-8 of the series, are now available for purchase from WCG Comics!

To order, visit the WCG Comics webstore!

Rob Hanes Adventures #19
Inspired by the era of fake news, the series goes in a startling direction as Justice International is nationalized by the federal government and Rob soon finds himself in the middle of political intrigue as terrorists attempt to detonate a dirty bomb in Europe.
Full color cover • 20 b&w pps • $3.99

Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol 2. 
Squarebound trade paperback collects issues 5–8 of Rob Hanes Adventures
Full color cover • 116 b&w pps • $10.99