Thursday, December 3, 2015


 Being a collection of thoughts on stuff I’ve read in recent weeks.

When the wonderful and stunningly beautiful actress Julianne Moore appeared on a recent episode of The Late Show with (the equally wonderful and stunningly beautiful) Stephan Colbert, she discussed writing children’s books. I was intrigued and requested her first such book from my local library.

Freckleface Strawberry [Bloomsbury USA Children’s; $17.99] turned out to be a fun and lively tale of a vivacious young girl less than enamored of her flaming red hair and many freckles. When she tries to hide them under a knitted full-face hat, her school friends have no idea who she is. She becomes a figure of mystery, gains insight into what’s important and finds out what she means to her friends. It’s a often hilarious book with terrific illustrations by LeUyen Pham and delivers a message without being overly preachy. I got such a kick out of its that I’ve requested the rest of the series from the library.

Freckleface Strawberry

ISBN 978-1599901077

Freckleface Strawberry And The Dodgeball Bully

ISBN 978-1599903170

Freckleface Strawberry Best Friends Forever

ISBN 978-1599905518

Freckleface Strawberry: Backpacks! (Step into Reading)

ISBN 978-0385391948

Freckleface Strawberry: Lunch, or What's That? (Step into Reading)
ISBN 978-0385391917

Freckleface Strawberry: Loose Tooth! (Step into Reading)
ISBN 978-0385391979

The suggested age range on these books is 3-8. Obviously, readers like me are somewhat outside that range.

Sidebar. If you’re wondering why I usually include ISBNs with the books I review, it’s because several librarians requested I do it. It makes it easier for them to order them.

APB: Artists against Police Brutality [Rosarium Publishing; $17.99] is “a comic book anthology with one primary goal: show pictures and tell stories that get people talking.” Edited by Bill Campbell, Jason Rodriguez and John Jennings, it features almost fifty comics stories, essays and single-page images.

When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police officers who were in violation of protocol and clearly unsuited to be members of the force, I was horrified on multiple levels. Not only was this young boy gunned down, but it also became clear early on that his killers would not face proper justice for that killing. Not only was this boy shot, the officers made no attempt to get him medical treatment as he lay bleeding from the wounds they had inflicted on him. Then, there was the personal bit of horror. Tamir was fired upon outside Cleveland’s Cudell Recreation Center, the same place where I used to attend my late friend Dave Massaro’s movie-club showings - back in the days before home video - and where I used to hold meetings of the Graphic Arts Society I had founded. Police brutality, police violence can happen anywhere.

APB is most effective in its comics stories. Some of those stories made my gut hurt with their honesty and their justified rage at a  police culture we’ve allowed to continue far too long. Conversely, several of the prose pieces came off as dry recitations of facts, more college term papers than effective communications of what too many citizens face every day. However, all in all, this anthology is an important addition to the national conversation. It’s a book we should read and heed.

The contributors, and forgive me for listing mostly those I think will be known to the comics community, include Lalo Alcaraz, Jerry Craft, Damian Duffy, Dean Haspiel, Keith Knight, Robert Love, Lance Tooks and Ashley A. Woods. I also want to give a shout-out to Jason Scott Jones, whose “Bullet Proof Black” should be expanded into a full comic book or graphic novel.  

Some will dismiss these creators and, by my recommendation of this anthology, myself as anti-police. That’s ignoring the problem. No one is denying there are a great many officers who discharge their duties with honor and integrity, who truly serve and protect the people of their cities and towns. But even good cops are too often and too quick to stand by fellow officers, even when those officers are unworthy of their support. That must change.

It shouldn’t and need not be “them versus us” no matter which side you see yourself on. It should be just “us” because we are all in this together. Justice.

ISBN 978-1-4956-0752-3


Pre-Code Classics: Strange Fantasy Volume Two [PS Artbooks; $59.99] reprints issues #8-14, dated October 1953 through October 1954, of the Ajax Farrell horror series. Farrell wasn’t quite the bottom of the barrel when it came to comics, but it wasn’t all that far away from it. I was so unimpressed by Strange Fantasy Volume One I never bothered to review it. This second and final volume proved to be a bit more interesting.

At the present time, we don’t know who wrote and drew the stories which appeared in these issues. The Grand Comics Database has the art coming from the Jerry Iger Shop with Ruth Roche listed as the editor. Roche was Iger’s business partner and a writer herself, so it’s conceivable she wrote some of these stories.

Publisher Robert W. Farrell was a lawyer who wrote and edited for comic books in the 1930s and 1940s before becoming a publisher of comic books and newspapers. In the 1970s, he worked for Myron Fass and on the grotesque black-and-white horror comics magazines Fass produced via his Eerie Publications. Almost all of the stories in these Strange Fantasy issues were reprinted, reworked and often completely redrawn for Tales from the Tomb, Weird, Terror Tales and other such titles. When the stories were reworked or redrawn, it was to add a lot more gore to the art. How charming.

The art on the stories reprinted in this volume looks pretty much the same from tale to tale. It’s workable stuff, but rarely rises above the journeyman. Because the art was produced shop-style, the stories were likely the work of multiple hands.

The stories are mostly unmemorable, though a few of them are worth mentioning. “Death Strikes Four” has an evil clock tower that runs on human flesh and blood. Its hands reach out to snare victims and, at the story’s end, it follows fleeing characters into the woods to seize them. Really.

“Guided Death” is a straight-up war story that takes place during the Korean War. I would guess editor Roche was looking at a seven-page hole in that particular issue and wasn’t particular about how she filled it. Over these seven issues, there are also a few crime, detective and science-fiction stories, as well as one jungle story slightly reedited from a Rulah, Jungle Princess story.

“Hair Yee-eeee” is a Bruce Hamilton story which the GCD tentatively identifies as being drawn by Steve Ditko and Sy Moskowitz. Closer-to-the-bottom-of-the-barrel comics publisher Stanmore sold stories to Farrell on occasion and this was one of them. In the tale, a man is cursed by constantly-growing hair. His hair eventually covers him completely, turning him into a rampaging hair-monster. When he  is destroyed, all that remains is a small pile of dandruff. Where is Head ans Shoulders when you need it.

My bottom line on Pre-Code Classics: Strange Fantasy Volume Two and other such collections of less-than-great comic books is that they are of interest to me as a student of comics history and a comics fan who gets a kick out of reading old comics that he’s never read before. If I could find them, merely good condition copies of these seven issues would run in the neighborhood of $250. This hardcover volume is an easier and less expensive option.

ISBN 978-1-84863-882-2       

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say that I really enjoy these reviews. Lots of great ideas to add to my reading list. Thanks for posting!

    --Bill Thomas