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Headlines   2004 Review Index   Aug 7, 2004
Suspended Animation

Michael Vance

Mark Allen

Michael Vance Books

The most-circulated and longest-running comics review column in America
perhaps the World!
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Hairbreadth Harry

   He escaped by the breadth of a hair. That's why Comics Legend Charles William Kahles called his comic strip Hairbreadth Harry.

   Our Hero's Hairbreath (misspelled) Escapes began publication in 1906 in the Philadelphia Press newspaper. Harry, who started his melodramatic adventures as a boy, matured into manhood and invested most of his time rescuing his beautiful but powerless girlfriend. His cliff-hanging episodes included a mustachioed villain and unusual attachments to railroad tracks and sawmill blades.

   Among the first comic strips produced, Hairbreadth Harry would become one of the most widely read paper dramas of its era and one of the least remembered "funnies" of today. That is an undeserved distinction.

   Before its descent into obscurity, Hairbreadth Harry was also featured on the silver screen in a series of short movies produced until the demise of silent films. The strip was also reprinted in issues of Famous Funnies, the first comic book ever published.

   Hairbreadth was drawn in a clean, abstract style with minimal background detail. Harry and villain Rudolph, who was always in top hat and tails, vied for the feminine hand (and minimalistic mind) of Belinda Blinks. Tucked not so subtly within was biting social commentary on the silliness of the day, and all was done with tongue firmly placed in cheek. For foreign readers, that means that Kahles was laughing at himself and with his audience at that most ridiculous subject, man.

   When C.W. Kahles died (1931), Hairbreadth was written and drawn by several cartoonists until its end in 1940.

   Kahles' comic book work included: Famous Funnies (1933--?, Eastern Color);  A Carnival of Comics (1933, Eastern Color); and Funnies on Parade (1933, Eastern Color). The strip is also featured in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.

   The work of C. W. Kahles is highly recommended. MV

   Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

     Review by Michael Vance


What is a Graphic Novel?

   1) What is a graphic novel?

   2) If "NBM became America's first graphic novel publisher" in 1976, how can Will Eisner's A Contract With God (1978/Baronet) be the first graphic novel? If you are interested in answers, you wont find them in Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Rise of the Graphic Novel.

   The Rise... is an essay on the short history of the graphic novel and the relatively long history of comic strips and books, the grandparent and parent of author Stephen Weiner's subject.

   1a) One would think that Weiner would define the subject of his essay. But, in his defense, the definitions of the much older short story, novel, comic strip and comic book were only recently codified. Graphic novels are very young.

   2b) The discrepancy in who was the first publisher and first graphic novel is impossible for this reviewer to resolve.

   There are other discrepancies. As example, it's difficult to understand why books about comics are included in an essay about graphic novels.

   But crepancies do abound in The Rise...

   Will Eisner is a comics genius and deserves inclusion. Jules Feiffer (Tantrum), Wendy and Richard Pini (Elfquest), Alan Moore and Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing), Art Spiegelman (Maus), Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and others also played roles in the increasing popularity of the graphic novel.

   It's equally true that a single story told in a single volume adds nuances to comics that are difficult or impossible to achieve in a daily comic strip. But there the praise ends.

   Drum roll. Announcing an editorial comment that has nothing to do with The Rise…:

   Graphic novels are not better than comic strips or books. They are simply different. They should be welcomed into the comics family, but should replace no family member.

   The Rise... is recommended for those curious about graphic novels.

   Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Rise of the Graphic Novel/80 pg. hardback, $14.95 from NBM/ available at www.ebmpublishing.com, and comic and bookstores.

     Review by Michael Vance


Amnesia

   I'm doing something I've never done before, and expect to do more of in the near future; reviewing an online comic.

   This particular work is the "baby" of Stamford College student Jason Duckmanton. He set out to produce a final project for one of his classes; what he ended up with is a comic work that actually leaves me wanting more.

   The seven-page story, entitled Amnesia, concerns a young man (Jack) who has no memories, but plenty of nightmares. Those nightmares turn out to be real, however, when he discovers that he has been the subject of experimentation in the area of biological weaponry. But, when a mysterious figure shows up to inform him he has outlived his usefulness, Jack chooses "fight" over "flight."

   One thing the story possesses in spades is mood. Duckmanton's artwork is eye-catching and dynamic in black and white, and made more so by the black-white-and-red version also included at the site.

   A visceral tale told in a very bold style, it shows much promise for the work of someone who is, technically, a beginner. Whatever it may look like on the printed page, it practically leaps off of the computer screen, aptly relaying the intensity of the story to the reader. Some may ask, "Why review such a limited project, the rest of which may never be seen?"  Basically, it's  good work, and that's what Suspended Animation is about, bringing good comics work to the attention of as many people as possible. And, who knows?  With enough word-of-mouth, maybe one day we will see the whole story in print.

   For all intents and purposes, Amnesia is an experiment. It was done, ultimately, for college credit. Whatever grade it received from Duckmanton's professor, I give it high marks, and I hope he's able to pitch it (and complete it) successfully to an independent publisher.

   Amnesia is recommended for older readers for intense imagery. Find it at http://www.amnesiacomic.4t.com/. Amnesia, published online by Jason Duckmanton, 7 pages, free.

     Review by Mark Allen


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