Suspended Animation

Michael Vance   Mark Allen   Michael Vance Books
The longest-running comics review column in America perhaps the World!

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February 9, 2000

Sally Forth

            Working women are an enduring theme of comic strips. Ella Cinders and Tillie the Toiler were early members of the genre, but their numbers continue to grow and to provide boundless humor.

            The modern working woman can be as neurotic as Cathy Guisewaite's Cathy or an unflappable as Greg Howard's Sally Forth, a strip which deserves a much wider following.

            Sally Forth is consistently amusing in its depiction of a two- paycheck, one child family.

            The cast of characters is small: Sally, husband Ted, and daughter Hilary, as well as Sally's boss, and a few co-workers.

            These are all rational human beings caught in an irrational world. The humor is subtle and quiet; it accumulates from day to day. Howard's pacing is a strength, but new readers should allow several days for its subtle impact to be felt.

            Recent topics have included organ donation and gender roles. Recurring motifs include Sally's "chocaholism"; every year, she and Hilary race to see who gets to eat the ears of chocolate Easter bunnies.

            Hilary is a blend of cynicism and naiveté who seems to understand the contradictions of adult behavior.

            A few years ago, a new artist, Craig Mackintosh, joined Howard; within days, outraged letters inundated local editors and the North America Syndicate because of changes in the size of the characters.

            Hilary seemed to shrink and the other characters seemed out-of- proportion.

            Within weeks, the traditional versions reappeared and calm was restored. If Hilary had grown, would the furor have been as strong?

            Since the characters are not aging, there are few changes in relationships or characterization.

            Topical references to fads can help date older strips, but the humor is rarely dated.

            At least four anthologies have appeared since 1982. The latest is I Gave at the Office (Andrews and McMeel, 1994). Any of these would be worth having, but are hard to find.

-- Review by Dr. Jon Suter

Dominion: Conflict 1

            An ensemble paper sitcom in a future Japanese police station, it misses funny and hits cute. Nice art. [Dark Horse].

-- Review by Michael Vance


Art of the Funnies
& Art of the Comic Book

            Comic books and strips are too numerous and diverse to make their history easy to write.

            Les Daniels, James Steranko, and Mike Benton have emphasized the comic book, but Robert C. Harvey has given us a comprehensive view in Art of the Funnies (1994) and Art of the Comic Book (1990).

            Both are published by the University press of Mississippi and subtitled An Aesthetic History. Cost: $19.95 each.

            Harvey is a working cartoonist and an academic with excellent style. His books are jargon-free and can be read for pleasure as well as for research.

            Some material appeared in magazines including Comics Journal and Journal of Popular Culture, but there is no choppiness.

            His illustrations are well chosen and often generous. Reprints from colored comics do not work well reproduced in black and white, but Harvey is unique in telling what important details are obscured by the loss of color.

            (Warning: the drawings by Robert Crumb and other underground artists in Art of the Comic Book are still shocking.)

            Both books are chronological, but Harvey never hesitates to juxtapose examples from different eras to show an artist's development or influence on later artists.

            I am particularly impressed by his willingness to criticize early work from such comic strip icons as artist Hall Foster (Tarzan; Prince Valiant) or of modern favorites.

            His distinction between "simple" and "poor" drawing is sure to evoke disagreement, but he is careful to note that seemingly poor drawing can be a powerful tool, as in Garry Trudeau's early Doonesbury comic strips.

            Harvey's coverage is timely, but there are gaps: publisher DC's recent Milestone series is well-covered, but Dark Horse Comics is mentioned once. Publishers Malibu, Topps, and Valiant are not mentioned, in fact, there is no reference in the index to editor, writer and publisher Jim Shooter.

            The discussions of such artists as Gil Kane, Will Eisner, and Bill Watterson are perceptive, leaving the reader for more this scholar-enthusiast.

            These books are worth a trip to your library.

            -- Review by Dr Jon Suter


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