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There are three kinds of Gerald Jablonski stories.

The first stars Howdy, a middle-aged, bear-faced (or is it dog-faced? It’s difficult to tell) man and his nephew, Dee Dee, a yellow-skinned lad with tiny dog ears (or are they horns?). Howdy is perennially upset because Dee Dee is playing music by his favorite band, Poopy, too loud and Howdy can’t hear his serial radio program. The pair start to bicker and trade insults. This always, always, always turns into a discussion of Dee Dee’s teacher, who is an ant. As in the insect. There is a third man, “a friend of Howdy’s nephew”, who looks a little bit like Felix Unger, wears a pink apron, and hangs in the back of every panel with a pained expression on his face. He never says anything. More… “Jablonski’s Barnyard”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them. More… “Wonderful Waste”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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How many artists out there can say they completely transformed an entire genre so much that there is a clear demarcation point between what came before and what came after?

Manga artist Moto Hagio can. She had help, though. As one of the members of Magnificent 49ers, also known as the Year 24 Group, Hagio is a member of a loose affiliation of female cartoonists all allegedly born in or around the 24th year of the Showa era (1949, hence the name), that transformed girls’ comics in Japan, a.k.a. Shoujo manga. More… “The Magnificent Moto”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Was there any announcement in recent comics history that was met with more fanfare and excitement than the news last year that acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates would be writing the adventures of Marvel superhero Black Panther?

It’s hard for me to think of anything comparable. Coates, of course, is perhaps the preeminent writer on race and American society today. His columns for The Atlantic have deservedly won him widespread praise and a MacArthur Genius grant. His second book, Between the World and Me, garnered him a National Book Award. He is one of the most prominent literary figures in the country. The news that someone of his stature would be writing the adventures of one of the most recognizable black superheroes (though perhaps Storm, Luke Cage, or Cyborg could argue for more cultural cachet) is worth a bit of hullabaloo. More… “Ta-Nehisi’s Take”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Trebuchets. Oboes. Manhole covers. Labyrinthian playground equipment. Interactive Christmas sweaters. Grocery carts. Pangolins. Fish-slapping bears.

These are just a few of the items that decorate the off-kilter and thoroughly delightful world of Cul de Sac, the comic strip by Richard Thompson (no relation to the guitarist) that ran in newspapers from 2007 to 2012.

Thompson, who died at age 58 in August due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease, wasn’t a household name like Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson. And while successful, Cul de Sac wasn’t a phenomenon along the lines of Garfield or Dilbert. But for those comic connoisseurs who had the opportunity to discover it, it was nothing short of a work of comedic genius. More… “Comic Connections”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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In a certain way, Punpun seems like a normal, if rather put-upon, kid. Sure, his dad is an abusive ne’er-do-well who abandons his family and his mom is a neglectful lush, but Punpun himself seems like a rather average, likeable youth. He craves sweets, is both curious and terrified about sex, enjoys hanging out with his friends, and pines arduously for Aiko, the cute girl in his class.

Of course, one glance at Punpun will instantly show you what separates him from the rest of the crowd. Unlike most of the cast in Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun (two volumes thus far), who are drawn in a relatively realistic fashion, Punpun and his immediate family are delineated as what could best be described as little bird ghosts: two stick legs, an upside down U for a body, two dots for eyes and pointy little beak nose — a childish scrawl interacting with a photorealistic world. It’s not necessarily the most original way to convey a character’s alienated relationship with society, but in Asano’s hands it remains an odd and striking method.
More… “The Passion of Punpun”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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“Hey Dad, what do you think of this thing about Captain America being a Nazi?”

Long pause. This was not a question to be taken lightly. Depending on how my daughter felt about the issue, a wrong response could plummet the conversation quickly into an unintended, but nevertheless heated, argument. Such is the power of the modern superhero.

If you haven’t been paying attention (and good for you if you haven’t, you’re making the right life choices), the Internet had a — oh, let’s call it angry — reaction to the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers, when it arrived in stores last month. Why? Because that comic — written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Jesus Saiz — ended with the cliffhanger revelation that the one and only Captain America has all this time been a secret agent for the super-evil terrorist organization known as Hydra. More… “Sentinels Strike Back”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Religion and spirituality are not subjects that have figured heavily into the world of American comics. When they have, traditionally, it’s been either in the form of evangelism (i.e. Jack Chick’s hardcore proselytizing pamphlets), straightforward adaptation (Picture Stories from the Bible and Robert Crumb’s by-the-numbers version of Genesis) or nose-thumbing iconoclasm (Winshluss’s In God We Trust being a recent example). Rare is the comic or cartoonist that attempts to grapple with issues of theology — or at least Western theology — in the modern world.

Not Chester Brown, though. While far from being the central focus of his bibliography, Brown has long been fascinated with exploring and questioning Christian doctrine, especially when it dovetails with sexuality. It’s a fascination that comes to a head in his latest work, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible.

More… “Chester’s Christian Comics”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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At the risk of being reductive (and I most assuredly am), there tend to be two types of male characters in Daniel Clowes’s comics: Socially maladjusted, marginalized misfits that are incapable of attaining anything resembling love, success or happiness (e.g. Dan Pussey, Mister Wilder in Ice Haven, the titular Wilson) and self-assured, bitter tough guys (or, more often, would-be tough guys) whose inner lives house just as much desperation and anxiety as the former (e.g. the lead character in Black Nylon, Joe Ames in Ice Haven, Andy in The Death Ray).

It’s mostly the latter that’s on display in Patience, Clowes’s latest graphic novel. What’s perhaps most surprising about the book, though, is how sincerely straightforward it is. Whereas Clowes has previously tended to view his protagonists with a critical (albeit occasionally sympathetic) eye, here we see him working with, to quote critic Ken Parille, “a full-on action hero” and indulging in what at first glance appears to be a conventional genre tale.

More… “Losing Patience

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Characters sweat a lot in Michael DeForge’s comics. Not the kind of flop sweat that traditional cartoon characters exhibit, with water droplets literally flying off the body in a halo formation, but beads of perspiration that cascade down the character’s face in such a plentiful supply that you sometimes wonder why there isn’t a puddle around the character’s feet.

What makes them sweat so much? Oh, you know, the usual. Your organs and flesh are slowly turning into leather and spikes. You had to join a secret mafia club in order to get your niece’s beloved clarinet. You’re an ant that’s overwhelmed by the meaningless of it all. You got infested with baby spiders because your weird kid brother insisted on wearing that dead horse head all the time. You’ve been consigned to a hell populated by beloved cartoon characters. You’re a hapless, divorced flying-squirrel dog trying to deal with your own inadequacies and two unruly kids. You’re desperately trying to fit in. You just killed someone. More… “Between Tree and Twig”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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