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Few cartoonists have had as varied a career as Peter Bagge, at least when it comes to his range in subject matter. He started out in the 1980s as part of the then post-underground scene, doing goofball, slapstick comics where exaggerated, cartoonish characters with rubbery limbs and mouths that seem to open at a 180-degree angle would commit shameless acts in as frenetic a manner as possible.

Eventually, he got his own series, first Neat Stuff and then the Seattle-set Hate, starring his misanthropic alter ego Buddy Bradley, a comic that benefited from the burgeoning grunge scene taking shape in the early 1990s. Here, the mania started to tone down somewhat, and Bagge’s work became more character-focused, drawing attention to sharp ear for honest — and often hilarious — dialogue. More… “Bagge and Lane”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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There’s nothing the comics industry likes so much as licensed material. Why go to the trouble of coming up with your own ideas when there are so many established ones just begging to be displayed in some sort of visual sequence? The very first comic books, after all, were just a collection of repackaged newspaper comic strips.

The love for licensing is even stronger now that pop culture nostalgia has proven to be a ginormous money maker (see just about anything playing at your local cinema). Take a trip to the comics store and you’ll find scores of titles based off such properties as Jem and the Holograms, My Little Pony, Ghostbusters, Voltron, Power Rangers, Fraggle Rock, Robocop, and so much, much more.

Sometimes these comics are straight up garbage. Sometimes they are solid if uninspired adaptations that serve their purpose in evoking ever so slightly that je ne sais quoi that made fans cherish the source material. Occasionally (emphasis on “occasionally”) you get a cartoonist who offers a really interesting, delightful or spirited take on a familiar property (e.g. Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and John Stanley’s Little Lulu). More… “Bots that Go Boom”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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It begins and ends with the line. You start at one point and follow it along to whatever path it takes you, assuming you can find a way out at all. Sometimes the line is precise, authoritative and angular. Other times it is playful, chaotic and ornate. On one page, it is tightly wound and throbs with tension. Elsewhere, it is loose and light, daring you to make shapes out of the white void that surrounds it. Regardless, there is always the line.

The line in question belongs to none other than Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), the noted cartoonist (to paraphrase my friend Tom Spurgeon, I don’t know a better term that encompasses his considerable talents and rich, varied output). Steinberg is probably best known for his various New Yorker covers and illustrations, especially that one of a Manhattan denizen’s view of the world. You know the one. More… “Line of Sight”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Once again it’s time to look at all the “funnybooks” I read over the past 365 days and try to determine which are my most favorite of favorites. Many of the comics I wrote about for this column over the past year – Prism Stalker, Yellow Negroes, Why Art? – would easily make that short list. Not wanting to repeat myself, however, I thought instead I’d focus on some works that I didn’t have time to mention in this space. So here are 10 comics that I think are among some of the best of 2018 that I haven’t talked about here before. More… “Comic Countdown 2018”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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“I have had many talented people ask me how to get into the comic book business. If they were talented enough the first answer I would give them is,‘Why would you want to get into the comic book business?’ Because even if you succeed, even if you reach what might be considered the pinnacle of success in comics, you will be less successful, less secure and less effective than if you are just an average practitioner of your art in television, radio, movies or what have you.” — Stan Lee, 1971 1

“I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything . . . It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things – or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day.” — Jack Kirby, 1989 2

It’s a complex world out there, filled with millions of people creating millions of things and influencing our lives and culture in ways we can’t always fully grasp. But we’re a simple species, barely able to keep it together long enough to pay the bills and get the kids to soccer practice. So we create some shorthand myths and mnemonics for those aspects of our world that might not interest us much beyond acknowledging their existence. To wit: fine art means Picasso and Da Vinci. Classical music is Mozart and Beethoven. Napoleon was a short French guy in a funny hat. And Stan Lee created Marvel Comics

Except that he didn’t. At least, not entirely. But for those uninterested in the history of the American comics industry (i.e. most people), the complex debate about who exactly was responsible for the creation of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and whatever else is coming soon to a theater near you, probably comes off as so much nerd talk — it’s easier to just say Stan Lee did it. He was the one who kept showing up in the movies after all, displaying a loveable cornball character of his own devising. More… “The Problem with Stan Lee”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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It’s unusual for anyone to wish they could be as cool as a cartoonist, but Julie Doucet is the rare exception to that rule. In her groundbreaking 1990s series, Dirty Plotte, Doucet delineated an aesthetic that was brazen, clever, funny, and broke taboos like they were cheap ceramic plates. Reading her comics, you could be excused for wishing you had an ounce of her fearlessness, at least when it came to putting ink on paper.

Now, all 12 issues of that seminal series have been collected in the rather massive The Complete Dirty Plotte, an impressive two-volume slipcase that also includes stories done for anthologies, essays, interviews, and other esoterica. More… “Dirty Plots”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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While at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Md., earlier this month, I attended a panel entitled “Trans Memoir.” During the program, a small group of transgender cartoonists talked about how comics provided them with a mode of self-expression in which they could delineate their best, ideal selves and talk about issues and emotions — often difficult to articulate — that come with being trans.

Two recent books from the small press publisher Secret Acres — Flocks by L. Nichols and Little Stranger by Edie Fake — underscore what those cartoonists were saying. Both books examine the struggles of being transgender and dealing with dysphoria, albeit from very different perspectives and sense of aesthetics. More… “Translating Identity”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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About an hour west of my house is the Carlisle Barracks, where, from about 1879 to 1910 there existed something called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. A boarding school designed to educate Native Americans, the school’s goal was to immerse its students in Western European culture, so they could fully integrate into American society.

To that end, its founder, Richard Henry Pratt, espoused a philosophy of “kill the Indian . . . and save the man.” Those enrolled in the school had to renounce their name, religion, and culture for the sake of integration. More than 10,000 American Indians were educated at the school from 50 different tribes and nations. Some were forced to attend. Others were sent by their families, hoping for a better life for their children. Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, who was famously stripped of his medals, was a graduate of the school. More… “Socially Conscious Sci-Fi”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Superhero comics love a good analog. Captain Marvel is Superman, but more boyish, and with magic words instead of Krypton. Moon Knight is Batman but with a mercenary past. Watchmen is just a riff on the Charlton heroes. Marvel has Mister Fantastic, while DC has Plastic Man and the Elongated Man. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

This is all terribly reductive, of course, focusing on the core extrapolation point rather than what is done with the material afterward. Sure, many times these caped correlations show little creativity beyond tired parody, but there are occasions where, as in Watchmen, they blossom into something entirely different and delightful in their own right. More… “Unrestrained Analogs”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Was there ever a period of time in your life where you took a strange job in a peculiar place, somewhere perhaps far away from your hometown and previous routine? Did you ever return to that place several years later to find that everything had changed significantly? Did you try to track down old friends, only to find they had changed as well somehow, in a way you couldn’t quite describe? Did this make you distrust your memories, as though that period of your life had been little more than a dream? More… “Investigating Mauretania”

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 one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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