Cartoon Alley: Reviews and commentary #5… by Leo Hupert

Newave ! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s

published by Fantagraphics
reviewed by Leo Hupert

“Why do we go on drawing comix when there is no money in the business? We have no choice. Comix are what we do, the way we express ourselves… ” — Clay Geerdes, Publisher of Comix World.

Out in January this year Newave is a small (13cm by 16cm) hardback of 900pp. It sells here for $55.95 ($US24.99). I’ve quoted Geerdes because, through his publication Comix World, he provided a conduit for budding comic artists, particularly those who couldn’t immediately match the underground masters of the 60s or those who worked for the mainstream publishers. Those budding artists, as Geerdes says, had no choice. If they wanted to see themselves in print they had to publish their own work, be their own editors, finance themselves. A recipe for disaster most editors will tell you. Most readers will say the same.

These comix fans were, in the main, inspired by the unrestrained underground comix and felt a compulsive need to publish their own stuff. That desire to publish coincided with the improving technology and accessibility of photocopiers and the fact that costs of reproduction were rapidly dropping. Unfortunately with the increase in ability to self-publish came a corresponding drop in the quality of the material being published. But that didn’t daunt those who just had to get their work out. Publishing became an important part of an artist’s expression but as more and more found it easier to do print runs dropped in number. Why run off thousands of copies if you only had a mailing list of twenty or thirty and the local comic shop wasn’t prepared to take more than three. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in ending with a completed project, circulating it around friends and like-minded acquaintances and giving the fingers to the by then established underground publishers who most likely understandably rejected massive amounts of work.

With encouragement from Geerdes people sent him their work and he listed them in his one-page ComixWorld enabling people to get in touch with each other through the only means possible then – the mail.

Newave explains the process through a series of interviews where creators have interesting stories to tell about who they met, and what and how they published their work – and in tiny print on the title page, readers are reminded that the book deals with adult matter and so is not to be sold under any circumstances to persons under the age of 18. So you know why the X is in comix. I’ve got to presume that the selected material in the book represents the best that came out. Understandably an enormous amount of self-published material has been lost because of small print runs less than 100 copies – and that’s probably a relief to most of us.

As a historical document Newave reveals a phenomenon that occurred in the States that we could only know about over here if we got lots of mail. As for the logistics of publishing I can hear readers saying ‘So what else is new.’ New Zealand artists and comic creators have always battled to produce their work no matter what the theme. It has always been a labour of love and never a means of income. A mix of talent and practicality at which Kiwis are particularly good.

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Lordy Lordy where’s Mr Morty, by Steve Willis, 1984

True Lives

by Claire Harris
Frail Sister Comics
reviewed by Leo Hupert

The other day I finally got round to reading something I’d walked past on the comic shop stand a number of times thinking ‘I should have a closer look’ but kept putting it off. Don’t know why. Just did. Anyway I’m glad I’ve read them now. Three issues of True Lives by Claire Harris, as Frail Sister Comics.

True Lives are photo comics. No. 1 (Clair Harris and Cathy Fouhy) features Lycra-clad Roadfox cycling through the streets of Christchurch on a beautiful sunny day railing at motorists. True Lives #2 (Harris and Amber Copland) features the story “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven” and tells of drama queen Copland’s captivation with Hollywood’s golden era while going to Gore High School. True Lives #3 (unfortunately the final issue) features the story Lilith (Harris and Gareth Farr) and what I presume to be his persona as drag percussionist Lilith Lacroix.

All three issues are great. Brilliant photography, clever manipulation of photos, accomplished continuity and really slick production. True Lives sell for $8.95 and I just wish there were more of them and more in each issue. You can write to Claire Harris at PO Box 12188, Beckenham, Christchurch or email her at

However seeing that True Lives 1-3 were published in 2005 that address might be out of date.

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Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

The first couple of pages of Coward, volume one of the Criminal series, immediately cast me into that first-person criminal noir reminiscent of a Raymond Chandler mystery. Brubaker, fortunately, hasn’t got Chandler’s preoccupation with interior décor nor his eye for fashion detail. Having just, co-incidently, re-read The Big Sleep I’ve always wondered at the incongruity of hard-nosed he-man detective Philip Marlowe’s eagerness to describe surroundings and looks (including brand names) with a concealing gruffness.

Phillips does a surprisingly good job in this graphic novel. I say surprisingly because I missed a lot of stuff as I was carried along by the story. It was only on looking back that I picked up on details I’d initially missed. Car marquees, clothing, cigarette lighters, architecture that sort of thing, it’s all there.

Probably set in Seattle, Coward is a tale about a professional criminal called Leo Patterson who gets coerced and manipulated in to pulling a job set up by corrupt police. Drugs, guns, sex, money, friends enemies, family, love and death all combine to make Coward a top-notch crime story graphic novel and not the usual thing to expect from Marvel. It’s unpredictable, and new in an old sort of way but I can’t help feeling that “Coward” as a title and description of the main character (and consequently the title of the publication) doesn’t do him justice = even though the connotation was bestowed by the local criminal fraternity, reflecting Patterson’s ability to avoid capture. Careful would have been a more suitable nickname for Patterson.

I’m looking forward to reading Lawless, The Dead and the Dying and Bad Luck, three more Criminal editions.

Phillips has drawn comics since the age of 15. He has worked for Marvel (Avengers, Spiderman, X-Men, The Blob), DC (Batman Jekyll and Hyde, collaborated with Brubaker on Gotham Noir, Legends of the Dark Knight, Nightwing), Darkhorse (including a Serenity cover), and ( because he’s English) 2000AD.

Brubaker drew and wrote Lowlife, has written issues of Batman, Daredevil and Iron Fist. Not forgetting The Fall and Dead Boy Detectives, amongst others.

The paperback sells in the US for $15 and here for $NZ38.95.

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