March 23, 2007

Take Five: Cool Comics Websites

[Take Five. Every Friday, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

I like funny books. I like daily comic strips in newspapers. I like editorial cartoons. If you have not the slightest interest in any of these, this Take Five will not set your heart to going pitty-pat. Better luck next time…

The less mature and cultured readers here will doubtless enjoy the following websites, if you don’t already know them. And please add your own recommendations in the comments section.


Keith Knight

A while ago, FotM featured a cartoon by the excellent Keith Knight. If you didn’t bother then to go to his website, The K Chronicles, or if or did so and forgot to bookmark it, here it is again. With the teeveefication of Boondocks, Keef is, for my money, the best Black daily/weekly cartoonist working.

This amazing site is a compendium of real comic book covers (and a few panels, like the one illustrating this post), mainly from the ‘50s and ‘60s which are unintentionally hysterical. The site’s name comes from the dozens of covers in which Superman disses or ignores danger looming for Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and others, leading to the official site motto: Superman Is A Dick.

Comics Curmudgeon

Originally this site was titled “I Read The Comics So You Don’t Have To.” The dedicated blogger here, Josh, reads the daily strips and comments on them in a splendidly cranky and enjoyable style. You may think gunning down the likes of Marmaduke and Mary Worth is shooting fish in a barrel, but you’ll gain new insights here, trust me. With this kind of frequency, there’re bound to be some duds, but if you read the comics everyday, you should check this out.


You can loathe Doonesbury all you want. For starters Garry Trudeau is insanely successful and popular, which makes him easy to hate. For another, he’s a damn liberal—and some would say that’s only on his good days. His cartooning style lacks the skill and the close observation of character that, say, Lynn Johnson brings to For Better or Worse.

Against that I’ll put two things. First, his strips comprise a fascinating political and social history of the US over the last 35 years. In the early ‘80s I started to assemble from tag sales and the like a complete run of the Doonesbury books, but the cost went up as the number of strips went down and now you can evidently get the whole archive online for 17 bucks a year. The only thing comparable is Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd books from the ‘30s and ‘40s (to learn more, read the comments toward the end on this blog post).

Second, his strips featuring first BD and then a whole crew of troops sent to Iraq, some now struggling with rehab for wounds and PTSD, have won him a loyal following from troops in the Middle East. His website features a letters column called “The Sandbox” which offers a real window on what the occupying army is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the decision of Bill Watterson to retire Calvin and Hobbes at the end of 1995, comic artists lost their most powerful advocate in the struggle with daily newspapers. Since then, the space allocated to strips in the daily papers has continued to shrink and reruns of old chestnuts like Peanuts take up space that newer artists lust after. While the Internet threatens the future of newspapers themselves, how it will treat the comic form is as yet unclear, though this website offers one possible future. You can (with a little patience) follow your favorite mainstream strips for free, and sample some that haven’t made it into your local paper yet.


Anonymous said...

It's not web related, but did you see the "Superman: Red Son" comic that came out a few years ago?

The premise is that instead of baby Superman landing in Kansas, he lands in Stalin-era Ukraine, and grows up as a Soviet hero instead of an American one.

You also get to see all the other DC superheroes with appropriately revised backgrounds -- Batman is an anti-Soviet dissident because his parents were murdered by the KGB; Wonder Woman is a Soviet fellow traveler. It's good times.

Anonymous said...

While it's important to acknowledge Keef's genius, pointing to the "K Chronicles" only gets readers a portion of the picture. In fact, the combined Katrina/Iraq-themed cartoon you included in the "Ban the Heart-Punch" entry back in February is from one of Keith Knight's other online cartoon,

I also want to point to another of my favorites, Ruben Bolling's Tom the Dancing Bug, which is about both "topical" issues and the comic-strip form itself. Don't get how that's possible? See some recent entries:

Anonymous said...

According to the people on the Comics Curmudgeon website, one of the best places to read the comics is the Houston Chronicle website.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wants to read Superman: Red Son and knows how to use BitTorrent could in principle download this torrent file (although I would certainly never advocate stealing intellectual property) and get the complete series. You could then read it with a free comic book reader program like Comical, or, if necessary, you could just expand the files with something like Stuffit Expander and then view the images one by one (although this method is very clunky).

Jimmy Higgins said...

Jeez, here I do columns on white supremacy and on the idea of an Iraq moratorium and get zip for responses, but let me talk comic books and all over sudden the comments section is jumpimg.

Hey, whatever gets the advanced stirred up, say I. Thanks for the tip, Jesse; I haven't seen the Red Son books, but I'll track the story line down somehow.

Which sorta opens up another theme: clearly lefty mainstream comics. What ones have folks here enjoyed? V, obviously, and far superior to the movie. Concrete and Animal Man were pretty good on the environment. Has anyone else read U.S., the Vertigo two-parter from a decade ago? I quite liked it, starting with the derelict Uncle Sam lying in the gutter on the front page, but it was a bit weird...

Meanwhile this summer Warren Ellis will bring out Black Summer in which a superhero aide to the president is faced with some difficult questions: "If, in fact, your perspective is such that you believe your President to have prosecuted an illegal war and thereby caused the deaths of thousands of people � Isn't that a crime? Do you let that pass?"