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So little time, so many TCJ covers!

9 Oct

Since 1978 I haven’t missed a single isue of The Comics Journal. I won’t go into the many reasons for my devotion, but I’m sure many fellow readers will agree that one of its little pleasures were the numerous lovely, often witty covers it commissioned from some of the best cartoonists and illustrators worldwide.

Below is a small gallery of some of my favorites…



This merry drawing by Brian Bolland for #122 graces what is is easily my favorite TCJ cover. Impeccable execution and fine humor, contrasting boozy reveller John Bull with tight-assed Uncle Sam. The British do often like to mock American puritanism; however the illo also comments on the welcome shake-up of U.S. comics brought about by the artists and writers of the early ’80s “British Invasion”. Try to find a copy; the interviews are some of the most entertaining you’ll likely read. The Kevin O’Neill conversation made me laugh out loud.

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Sherlock and the Women

3 Sep



To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.

The above must be one of the niftiest opening sentences in pop literature. It defied anyone who’d read the novels A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four from eagerly continuing with the very first Sherlock Holmes short story, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ upon its first appearance in the June 1891 issue of The Strand magazine. It goes on, in the voice of Holmes’ friend Dr Watson:

I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler.

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Prehistory of the Superhero, part 8: A Farewell to Capes

2 Aug

by Alex Buchet

Art by John Romita,Sr, and Mike Esposito

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.– Paul the Apostle,1 Corinthians 13:11

Over the past seven chapters of this article, we have traced the evolution of the superman from the eighteenth century up to 1938 and the coming of the Superman comic book character: our history stops there, as the comic book medium was soon awash with superheroes, and would remain so until the present day.

Indeed, it is depressing to note, the commercial comic book is overwhelmingly dominated by the superhero at the expense of other popular genres. And the comic book superhero is at present — by  consensus of its aficionados — in a state of decadence.

We’ve seen , with the death of the dime novel, of the newspaper serial and of the pulp magazine, how entire pop media can shrivel away. The comic book magazine may be fated to join these dinosaurs in extinction.

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Prehistory of the Superhero part seven: Reign of the Superman

2 Aug

by Alex Buchet

Art by Joe Shuster

Once commentators could discuss the “Superman”, the “Super-Race”, and the “Super-Society” without drawing connections back to the philosophy from whence it sprang, the Uebermensch proved to be a concept able to accommodate any number of competing moral viewpoints. And once Nietsche could become a thinker with answers but no questions, and his philosophy a celebration of power rather than a testament to the need for human wonder, the Uebermensch’s naturalization into American intellectual and cultural life was successfully under way.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, American Nietzsche

See you in the Funny Papers

In the 1890’s an extremely successful new pop medium took off: the newspaper comic strip.

Millions of readers delighted in the daily comedy antics of the Katzenjammer Kids, Buster Brown, or Mutt and Jeff. The strips ran in black-and-white, but in 1897 the New York Journal published the first full-color Sunday comics supplement. Continue reading

Prehistory of the Superhero, part 6: The Fabulous Junkshop

2 Aug

by Alex Buchet

In our last chapter, we focussed on the Western, particularly as presented in the cheap, pamphlet-formatted magazines known as dime novels.  Of course, westerns weren’t the dime novel’s sole adventure genre: tales of pirates, spies, and detectives abounded; the most durable dime novel hero of all was probably Nick Carter, Detective— his adventures ran, in various media, from 1886 to the 1990’s.

Before leaving the Dime western, however, I wish to dwell on one of its heroes who was a precursor of the modern, cross-media, branded intellectual property character: Buffalo Bill. Continue reading

Prehistory of the Superhero part 5: Print the Legend

2 Aug

by Alex Buchet

Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Selfishness originates in blind instinct; individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart.

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

Superheroes are an American invention, because America is the land of entrepreneurs.

Life, a.k.a. Chaim Lazaros (2011)

In the first four chapters of this study, I have concentrated on Europe exclusively as a source for the ideas and tropes that would lead to the modern figure of the superhero. Yet few would contest that the latter is overwhelmingly an American phenomenon; why, then, my emphasis on the “old continent”?

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Prehistory of the Superhero (part 4): Elementary, my dear Morlock

2 Aug

by Alex Buchet

Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world”– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four


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