Monday, December 10, 2007

Bangs, not Bams

I have been seeing stuff talking about Evan Dorkin's new book, Biff Bam Pow. The title rang a bell but the comic didn't look at all familiar (although it does look promising). It only took a second to remember what I was thinking of, and it was the work of moments to find it in the Last Shortbox:

BIFF BANG POW! #1 and #2
1991 & 1992: Paisano Publishing Company
Edited by Ivan Brunetti, with various contributio

I'm sure I picked these up new at Zanadu Comics in Seattle, In the nineties, I wasn't buying much regularly; the grim 'n' gritty, Liefield/Image era held no interest for me at all. This kind of oddball publication would have been the kind of thing that I sought out.

And it was oddball: an anthology title with a few continuing stories, it has an aggressively hip, art school, anti-establishment vibe to it that seems (from the perspective of fifteen years or so) a little contrived and pretentious.

The Fine Art Force, by Brunetti and Thad Doria, was a JLA-esque group of superheroes-based-on-art-styles (Impressionist Girl, Ms. Minimalist, Dr, realistic, Captain Cubist, and so on). It combined traditional spandex antics with art-based puns and in-jokes; it could have been insufferable, but it had a breezy charm that was hard to resist. They had adventures in both issues: "Hello, Dali!" and "Lend Me Your Ear" (and I'll bet you can guess who that one featured).

Brunetti contributed to a lot of the features. Here's his illustration of a slice-of-life story by Joe Schmitt:

And here's some early work by the great Jessica Abel:

Besides arty superheroes and the dread b&w autobiographicals, the series had all kinds of weird stuff. Ben Spide, Arachnid Investigator cast a big round spider in a hardboiled detective role; the Hanson Family Circus modified Keane panels in gruesome ways; Hitler's Sunday Comics gave Calvin's dad, Dagwood, Hi Flagstone, Dennis the Menace and others the dictator's hair, mustache, and evil personality; and It's the Precocious Little Shit was about -- well, you probably get the picture by now.

There were other, less crass features. Thad Doria tried some formalist tricks in a totally graphic story that had not word-balloons, but rather glyph-balloons: Agent C.:

My personal favorite was Lone Wolf and Bob, by Ken Hite, Doria, and Schmitt. Starting from sound-play with the title of the seminal series, the strip gave us the premise (without explanation) of a 16th Century ronin traveling in the cab of a contemporary semi driven by a tough trucker. In their brief career, they meet ninjas, a rival samurai clan, and an alien, coming out on top by a combination a eastern and western ass-kicking tactics. It was full of rollicking action and some surprisingly dry humor. Here's a sample joke, after Bob shotguns some evil samurai to help Lone Wolf out:

Overall, the books haven't aged extremely well: while the writing is sometimes inspired, it is often merely shocking for its own sake and generally undisciplined. The art demonstrated promise and potential, but occasionally careers into crappiness, and little details (like the lettering!) are often amateurish. In point of fact, there probably weren't a whole lot of resources available to Paisano Publishing (which I suspect was just Brunetti) and in that context, the books represent pretty good product. Check them out if you happen to run across any copies.

Note: Issue # 2 contains a house ad for issue #3, but I'm not sure it ever came out. The Great Comics Database Project has no listing at all.

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