Graphic Content: Anarchistic Comics

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In the mid-'80s the mass media "discovered" alternative comics and graphic novels, and the subsequent boom brought new readers and creators to the fold. But comics have yet to really become part of mainstream American pop culture (like, say, independent film has), and personal, quirky comics still retain their cachet as art outside the establishment.

The comic book artist most likely to get mass-market press this year is Daniel Clowes, as his "Ghost World" storyline from Eight-Ball has been adapted to a big-screen feature, scheduled for a summer release. Rendered solely in black, white and blue, Clowes' serial (now available in book form) follows the fraying friendship of a pair of young bohemian girls and their oddball, Gen X acquaintances. (The film's script was written by Clowes and Terry Zwigoff, the director who showed his understanding of the comic book milieu with his documentary Crumb.)

This summer also will see the 22nd issue of Clowes' Eight-Ball, and one hopes it finds the writer/illustrator in good humor. As in his recently completed graphic novel David Boring, also available in bookstores, Clowes has lately been emphasizing chilly but effective tales of alienated loners over the skewed humor that first won him attention.

For pure if grungy laughs, seek out Dork, an anthology comic named for creator Evan Dorkin, the brainchild behind the fractious character Milk and Cheese ("Dairy Products Gone Bad!"). Dorkin's most amusing creations, the zits-and-all teen nerds of The Eltingville Club, have been slated for an animated special by the Cartoon Network. The Eltingville Club won't be represented in June's 112-page collected Dork, which features highlights from the book's first five issues, including such unnerving characters as the Murder Family and the Devil Puppet.

Dorkin is one of many contributors to DC Comics' upcoming humorous Bizarro Comics, a hard-cover anthology of stories about Bizarro, Superman's screwball opposite number, whom you may recall from the Bizarro Jerry episode of Seinfeld. Bizzaro Comics features a cover by Matt Groening as well as Kyle Baker and Liz Glass' infamous, darkly humorous tale about Letitia Lerner, Superman's Baby-sitter, who's horrified to witness baby Clark Kent emerging unscathed from deadly predicaments.

For titles in a more realistic vein, Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez have revived Love and Rockets, one of the most critically acclaimed underground comics ever published (and the inspiration for the pop band of the same name). Continuing as a quarterly, Love and Rockets follows the exploits of a gallery of vivid characters, mostly female and mostly Latinas, with occasional ventures into magical realist plotting and surreal images.

Incidentally, Gilbert Hernandez contributed the art to Yeah! a recently completed series about an all-girl, outer space rock band.

This summer Marietta's Top Shelf Comics will be presenting a 600-plus page reprint of Alex Robinson's complete Box Office Poison comic book, which follows a group of young, struggling would-be artists and their adventures in love, the workplace and, of course, comic books. Readers with a historical bent may want to check out Berlin, Jason Lutes' examination of Germany, or American Century, Howard Chaykin's look at the dark underbelly of America in the 1950s.

May will mark the final issue of the "Form and Void" storyline in Dave Sim's brilliant Cerebus, a comic book that defies categorization. Originally a parody of Conan the Barbarian, with a two-fisted talking aardvark in the title role, Cerebus has evolved into a sprawling satire of politics, religion, literature and the battle of the sexes, comprising a 300-issue novel scheduled to hit stores 2004.

If you're interested in the kind of fantastical action tales comic books have traditionally excelled in, you might want to catch a glimpse of supernatural trouble-shooter Hellboy, who takes on a world-threatening foe in Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, Mike Mignola's new four-issue series. Andrew Robinson concludes his deconstruction of Starman with that book's double-size 80th issue, which promises to be the kind of superhero comic book that appeals to readers who don't necessarily like superheroes.

And Kevin Smith, who's penned comic book spin-offs of his Clerks feature film, continues to show that he's one of form's biggest fans by writing the new adventures of Green Arrow, a.k.a The Emerald Archer. Smith's participation shows that comics are so cool, even filmmakers are getting in on the act.

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