Pulp Fictions: David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, Brian Fies’s Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, and More Comics Galore


The title character of David Mazzucchelli’s dazzling Asterios Polyp is a “paper architect,” i.e., an academic drafter whose creations are never built. Bearing a faint physical resemblance to the late John Updike, Polyp, formerly an abrasive skirt chaser, is wallowing in the sorrow of divorce when a lightning bolt strikes his apartment building. The resulting fire sends him out into the “real” world, where he works in a garage owned by a malaprop-prone lug and his delightfully askew family. Mazzuccheilli is himself a masterful paper architect, and his subtly color-coded narrative takes numerous formal twists and turns as it recounts Polyp’s journey back to his spouse – complete with blockbuster surprise ending. The cartoonist’s own zig-zagging career is on display in “Sounds and Pauses: The Comics of David Mazzucchelli,” a show curated by (my pal) Dan Nadel at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon, AKA MoCCA.

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
By Brian Fies
Abrams Comic Arts

Having published an autobiographic novel about his mother – 2005’s moving Mom’s Cancer – Brian Fies now delivers an equally nuanced tale about fathers and sons. Beginning with the 1939 New York World’s Fair (which brought us General Motors’ superhighway-pimping Futurama exhibit) and ending with the final Apollo space mission in 1975, Fies juxtaposes an evolving parent-child relationship – as filtered through our complex cultural feelings about science and technology – with marvelous faux-pulp, Benday-dotted renditions of four decades’ worth of “Space Age Adventures,” featuring Commander Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid. Fies neatly nails each era’s look – from Siegel & Shuster to Buscema – and the Cosmic Kid’s departure from Cap Crater’s orbit is no less moving than the son’s inevitable independence from his father in a hopelessly optimistic moon-age daydream.

PS Comics
By Minty Lewis
Secret Acres

Life’s misbegotten outsiders – people like you, me, and the moron in the next cubicle – are thinly disguised as fruit, household pets, and salt and sugar shakers in Minty Lewis’s wryly nihilistic cartoons. Frankly, I don’t believe anyone has pegged the undermining tendencies of Yorkshire Terriers as deftly as Lewis does in “Yorky Roomies,” “Yorky Schoolmates,” and “Yorky Matrimony.” (Warning: never play drunken Scrabble with a drunken Yorky at your bridal shower). My favorite frame in PS Comics is an aerial view of an apple waiting for his luggage during a brief Orlando vacation that ends in hilarious existential agony.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Jesse March Years (volumes one and two)
Dark Horse Archives

Melvin the Monster: The John Stanley Library
By John Stanley
Drawn and Quarterly

Published by Dell Comics from 1947-49, the ten issues of “Tarzan” comics anthologized in Dark Horse’s two handsomely printed volumes display a sort of dark naturalism nearly absent from contemporary comics. Artist Jesse March was a dazzling illustrator, and while the colonialist mentality of these narratives (written by one Gaylord DuBois) is beyond the pale, Marsh renders it with otherworldly splendor. It’s 180 degrees away from the season’s other great reprint, the first three issues of John Stanley’s 1965 “Melvin the Monster” comic, also from Dell. Where March drew things as they more or less were, Stanley created a surreal children’s dystopia in which everything is upside-down and monster parents brag of enrolling in summer school to “play hooky all year ’round.”

Maybe Now I’ll Get the Respect I So Richly Deserve
By Wayne White

Wayne White was a cartoonist before branching out into puppetry (he worked on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”), set design, sculpture, and a style of painting deeply indepted to Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, and other word painters. White’s large-format book, edited by designer Todd Oldham, collects more than a hundred of White’s one-trick panels: cheaply framed, ironically banal landscapes embellished with three-dimensional slogans such as Marcel Duchamp Is a Big French Fag, Tossed Off Crap, I Love the Whole Fuckin World, and the sad sentiment that gives the book its title. But just when you’ve had enough, White disassociates these letters and words from any earthly syntax, rendering them as they might be conveyed by DMT machine elves, like cartoons from some unimaginable post-2012 New Yorker.

Low Moon
By Jason

George Sprott
By Seth
Drawn and Quarterly

I suppose now that the New York Times Magazine has been trimmed within an inch of its life, we won’t be seeing any more ironic “Funny Pages” featuring terminally deadpan monomonikered cartoonists from the indie realm. Which is both a shame (money and exposure are nice!) and a blessing, because neither Jason nor Seth did their best work in that spot. Fortunately, Jason’s “Low Moon,” about an Old West sheriff’s high-noon showdown over a chessboard, is merely the least interesting story in a collection full of mostly wordless comedic pleasures. Seth, on the other hand, is forced to expand his tale of a former explorer and subsequent radio blowhard into a long, time-jumping, intriguingly experimental work with a big bore at its center. George Sprott‘s oversized format is stunning, if yet another case of form outgunning content.