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Comic Retros: Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture and Tony Millionaire’s 500 Portraits

In time for Christmas, Fantagraphics Books has released two new thick and fancy illustrator retrospectives. One is a coffee-table book about the career of Jack Davis, the other a smaller volume with the portraits of Tony Millionaire.

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Comic Retros: Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture and Tony Millionaire’s 500 Portraits

In time for Christmas, Fantagraphics Books has released two new thick and fancy illustrator retrospectives. One is a coffee-table book about the career of Jack Davis, the other a smaller volume with the portraits of Tony Millionaire.

If you’re unfamiliar with comics and cartooning, neither of those names may mean much to you. Jack Davis was one of the most well-known and well-paid cartoonists in the world during the 1960s and 1970s. His career started in the 1950s, drawing for EC Comics, and then Mad, Trump, and Humbug magazines. Davis then worked on LP covers and movie posters and made it big with his drawing for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963. And in the 1970s he did dozens of covers for TV Guide and Time.

Davis is best known for watercolor drawings that cram a group of characters into a frantic and grotesque and exaggerated pose. You can see this in his posters for The Long Goodbye, Bananas, or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

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Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture: A Career Retrospective shows work from all the periods of Davis’s career—from the first strip he published in 1938 (when he was 14 years old), to his years in college at the University of Georgia and during a tour with the Navy in the Pacific, to his time in New York City with Harvey Kurtzman, Stan Lee, and other comic world big shots, and then to his corporate commercial work for album and book and magazine covers. There’s two biographical essays about Davis, as well as fond tributes from fellow cartoonists like Peter Bagge, Spain, and Jim Woodring.

Even though he did mainstream work, rarely wrote his own comics, and didn’t have a deep and unified artistic philosophy, the consensus is that Davis was just so graceful with his pen and his brush and with making a human being come to be on a piece of paper that he was a master illustrator of the 20th century. I don’t know if I totally agree with that, or if I have the illustrator’s eyes with which to see what makes this guy so special. Davis often drew monsters (a version of Frankenstein’s monster is one of his most famous images), but even in those works there’s no mood or feeling of monstrosity, of the world being a hideous and horrifying place (the mood you do feel looking at the illustrations of Goya or Bosch or R. Crumb). It may be that the mood in Davis’s drawings is that the world is a more or less okay and happy place to be and that society is fine the way it is. That mood leaves me cold and makes me bored, and I wouldn’t recommend Drawing American Pop Culture to anyone who’s not already a fan of Davis or who isn’t already into illustration and comics.

Tony Millionaire, on the other hand, is a couple of generations younger than Davis and is a minor star in the world of underground comics. He began drawing his lewd and depraved and occasionally charming comic strip Maakies in the early 1990s. Many of his portraits appear today in The Believer magazine, alongside those of Charles Burns.

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Millionaire’s comic strips do have the passion and the discontent that’s missing from Davis’s drawings. Maakies is like a cute nightmare or an adorable carcass. It’s too obsessed at times with genitals and alcohol for my tastes, but it has its moments, when it points its finger right at something disgusting, absurd, and true.

Unfortunately, 500 Portraits has almost none of the twisted and weird and funny stuff from the comic strips. The book is just a lot of black-and-white portraits, of contemporary people (Michael Pollan, Slavoj Žižek, Werner Herzog, and so on) and dead people (J.P. Morgan, Malcolm X, Eugene O’Neill, and so on). The book also has a few short passages written by Millionaire about his life as an artist and the methods with which he draws. They’re rude and funny, but brief.

As with Drawing American Pop Culture, I can’t recommend 500 Portraits to someone who’s not already a fan of the artist. Both books are impressive and nice-looking, but their many, many drawings just left me with little to think about, little to chew on, little to savor, once I closed the covers and moved on with my life.

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Fantagraphics Books released Jack Davis’s Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture: A Career Retrospective (to purchase it, click here) on December 12 and Tony Millionaire’s 500 Portraits (to purchase it, click here) on December 15.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

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Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

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Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

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Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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