AUTOBIOGRAPHY AMERICAN SPLENDOR Harvey Pekar and vanous (Ballantine/Titan) .00.
Back in post-Nixon America, a waning, though still significant, number of kids were reading superhero comics, while an increasing, though not yet significant, number of adults were reading underground comix. In New York City, teenagers bought off the newstands comics that detailed the fantastic adventures of lycra-clad vigilantes. And across the country in San Francisco, stoners hit the head shops of Haight Ashbury to tune into the equally fantastic exploits of furry freaks dropping acid and screwing like there was no tomorrow.
Meanwhile, between the east and west coasts, ‘from off the streets of Cleveland’, Ohio, something else was happening in comics: a quiet revolution. Eschewing the wild escapism and voguish wanton hedonism, a hospital file clerk named Harvey Pekar was writing and self- publishing autobiographical comics about everyday life: the ironically-titled American Splendor.
autobiographical comics are a well respected genre, just about every critically praised contemporary comics creator, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware and Julie Douchet included, work in this field. But Pekar is the originator of the downbeat, low- key autobiographical comics. No one else has been able to pull off the trick of telling stories about the mundanities of life with no window dressing and make them fascinating the way Pekar does.
His style hasn’t brought him fame and fortune (he only recently gave up his day job). But just as Ghost World the movie brought Clowes wider recognition, so too is the new American Splendor movie thrusting Pekar into the limelight (that said, he was brieﬂy a cause celebre on David Letterman’s talk show). Thus, two bulky anthologies of American Splendor, reprinting Pekar strips from 1975 through to the late 19805, have here been repackaged in anticipation of the award-winning film of the comics and Pekar’s life, to be released in the new year.
Refreshing and readable as Pekar's stories are, they take some getting used to. Often a strip will comprise Pekar
124 THE LIST I I Dec 2003—8 Jan 2004
speaking to the reader - plenty of words, no action. Just as often the stories tail off or ramble from one subject to another. And they don’t come with punchlines. But the strips - cynical, astute and humorous, are spot on observations about life, from getting stuck behind an old Jewish lady at a supermarket checkout to collecting old jazz records.
This anthology’s one let down is the artwork; the quality is seriously variable. Still, Pekar’s pal, the legendary comix creator Robert Crumb, illustrates about a quarter of the book. And, more power to Pekar for the fact that even the more pedestrian artwork doesn’t damage his writing. (Miles Fielder)
Comics editor Paul Dale fingers his annual thrill in sequential art.
This is cheating really because the comic book(s) of the year have to be the Titan reissues of Mike Magnolia’s truly remarkable Hellboy stories that originally appeared in various Dark Horse comics in the late 903. Any of these collections are well worth owning: Wake the Devil. Conqueror Worm, Chained Cofﬁn and Seed of Destruction. If you don't know Hellboy you soon will (courtesy of a forthcoming film). He is the son of the devil, but he tries to do the right thing which mainly involves kicking the shit out of ghosts and Nazis. Delirious and brilliant in every way.
TO MY SURPRISE
To My Surprise (Roadrunner) 000
Never has a band‘s name been so apt. Beatles-style harmonies and stoner riffs are all well and good but when you find out this is the latest Slipknot side project it comes as. well. a Surprise. Head ‘knot Shawn Crahan (the Clown). usually more at home playing in entrails and beating the shit out of giant steel barrels in the name of percussion shows his lighter side. Ricocheting through cracked country. gonzo punk and straight ahead rocking. ‘Blue' is all summer melodies. The following track. 'Say Goodbye', is downbeat melancholy. Interesting but not always coherent. (Henry Nonhmore)
LARRY YOUNG Mother Ship
(Blue Note) 0000
Larry Young elevated the organ beyond the 'grits and gravy' cliches of soul-jazz and into areas undreamed of within the commercial mainstream of the instrument. This 1969 session came in the wake of his ground- breaking mid-60s album Unity, and just before his collaboration with John McLaughlin and Tony Williams in Lifetime.
His liberated approach to the organ still has the ability to startle even at this distance. and trumpeter Lee Morgan (like Young. soon to be dead before his time in the next decade). the undervalued tenor saxophonist Herbert Morgan (no relation to
the trumpeter). and drummer Eddie Gladden all play their part in the creative process.
HIP HOP JEHST Falling Down (Lowlife) 0000
British MC Jehst's debut long player is an atmospheric collection of raw. smoky beats and hard-knock rhymes with a few real diamonds in its dusty rough. Rapping eloquently about commonplace trials and tribulations with a maturity that belies his 24 years. Jehst delivers convincing lines and tight flows that simmer with self-confidence and genuine angst.
Originally from Kent. via Huddersfield and nonh London. the US drawl battering his British patter might irritate a few. Yet. already augmented by some of the better lesser-known stars in the UK firmament. this poet is surely destined to flourish among the best. One for the hip hop heads.
JAZZ VARIOUS Untinted
(Blue Note) ooo
If you picked up on Madlib's Shades of Blue album earlier this year and idly wondered what the original jazz cuts sounded like before the eclectic DJ and sampler was set loose in the vaults to produce his remixes of classic Blue Note tunes. here is your chance to find out.
This follow up disc is billed as ‘Sources for Madlib's Shades of Blue'. and features the
original versions of all 12 tunes utilised on the Madlib record. They range from post-bop to jazz-funk. including classics by Wayne Shoner, Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. and a previously unissued Donald Byrd track from the Black Byrds era. (Kenny Mathieson)
ACOUSTIC ROCK GARY JULES Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets (Sanctuary) 0.
Already a fav0urite among film soundtrackers (most notably for his version of Tears for Fears' ‘Mad World' on Donnie Dar/<0). LA-based singer songwriter Gary Jules shows an accomplished ear for melody on this. his second long player outing. but seems a little too Clinical to truly move the listener. There‘s a whiff of country. a whisper of folk and a hint of Elliott Smith-style indie leanings. but the super-shiny production and slightly bland sentiments tend to edge this towards the Mondeo-driver market of David Gray et al.
‘Mad World' is on here. though, and it is a cracking version.
ROD OLD AND NEW ROD STEWART Changing Faces - The Very Best of Rod Stewart
It Had to Be You - The Great American Songbook
The thing about Rod Stewart. which is quite difficult to get through to anyone with even a hint of taste. is that in the beginning he was cool. Rod Stewart and the Faces were a band built