Pulp Fictions: New York Comic Con and Larry Marder’s Beanworld (Book 1): Wahoolazuma!


Comics come out on Wednesday, and so does Richard Gehr’s Pulp Fictions.

All photos by Richard Gehr

Comics publishers have always relied on anxiety to engage readers in their ongoing conflicts – both on and off the page. Who will be the new Batman? Will the Watchmen movie live up to the hype? Can Chris Claremont recapture his glory days with X-Men? Non-manga industry revenues are reported to be up, but there was still plenty of anxiety go around this past weekend during this year’s early-recession edition of the New York Comic Con.

In the dealers’ section, back issues were priced to move, and these tempting convention discounts could only provide brick-and-mortar stores with one more thing to worry about beside the Internet. Concerns about digital piracy loomed large over what was arguably the weekend’s most germane event, “The PW Comics Week Comics Industry Panel: Selling Good Books in a Bad Economy,” an hour-long roller-coaster ride from the cautiously optimistic heights to pessimistic depths and back again.

So while DC’s John Cunningham said he views comics as the perfect medium for an increasingly visual, nonliterate world, he also believes the industry’s “saving grace” is that music-scale piracy hasn’t rocked it – yet. Meanwhile, publishers increasingly demand digital product, according to agent Judith Hansen, even though they’re still “not sure what they’re looking for.”

On the convention floor, a crowd of teenage girls anxiously awaited the appearance of cult director Takashi Miike, who later showed clips from Yatterman, his sexy and surreal take on a classic 1970s Japanese TV show. Synergy was everywhere: Comics beget movies that beget toys, and publishers increasingly rely on flicks to sell books. The Dark Knight had a major impact on sales, and the Watchmen movie should ensure that Alan Moore’s comic remains the gateway graphic novel for at least another decade. A Green Lantern film is around the bend. Readers, meanwhile, can look forward to Robert Crumb’s years-in-the-making Book of Genesis (Norton) this fall and a trio of promising Harvey Kurtzman projects (Fantagraphics’s Humbug, Last Gasp’s Dark Horse’s Trump, and Abrams’s The Art of Harvey Kurtzman) in addition to the eternal reshuffling of artists and writers on a dizzying array of brand-name titles and spin-offs.

With an estimated 77,000 fans and a sold-out Saturday, Comic Con suggested that escapism remains an indispensable part of any faltering economy. The mood on the floor was costumed business as usual. After all, no entertainment company ever went broke shorting the anxieties of its customers.

Larry Marder’s Beanworld (Book 1): Wahoolazuma!
Larry Marder
Dark Horse

I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody decided to make a Beanworld movie, too. Larry Marder’s whimsical eco-fantasy, an indie-comics hit published from 1984 to 1993 in Tales of the Beanworld, succeeds largely because of the iconic simplicity of characters and situations inspired by the likes of Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby, and George (Krazy Kat) Herriman. Marder plans to pick up Beanworld where he dropped it some fifteen years ago, and Wahoolazuma!, which collects the first nine issues of Tales, is his seductive calling card for new readers.

Beanworld, according to Marder, is less a place than process. His stories are cyclical rather than linear. Each one thrums with the rhythms of life, the primary ritual being the food raids led by his Campbell-ian hero, Mr. Spook, against the subterranean beings known as Hoi Polloi. Spook’s soldiers provoke them with spears and steal their “chow,” leaving a seedlike “sprout-butts” – dropped by Gran’ma’pa, the cosmic tree of life that serves as Beanworld’s spiritual guardian – in exchange. Marder’s language tends toward the cute but his art resembles grownup flow charts, genetics illustrations, and electrical diagrams. Beanworld life is a carefully calibrated blend of the quotidian and magical. Like the best imaginary universes, it provides a constant unfolding of anxious and ecstatic mysteries both sacred and profane.