Over a year ago I wrote two reviews about old comics I picked up from the cheap bins and planned to write another review or two, but instead let it languish in my drafts until now. The thought process behind putting them up now is, “why not?” Without further fanfare:
Barbarienne #1, #3-5
by Martin Lock (Writer), Nick Neocleous (Pencils, Inks), John H. Marshall (Pencils) and Sue Vickers (Letters)
Published by Harrier Comics
It’s not a promising start when the inner-cover of the first issue of a comic book series, citing “misunderstandings at the photocopy stage,” begins with three uninterrupted text blocks of “backstory,” but that’s exactly how Barbarienne starts. I chose to skip these expoistory rectangles, heeding the above warning from writer Martin Lock himself. After completing the issue, I flipped back to read the “background details” only to find that they truly do spoil the entire comic before a reader can even look at a single drawing. What the fuck?
What kind of misunderstandings warrant this sort of thing? Well, it appears some readers thought something horny was going on in this comic. Lock thinks otherwise.
A lot to unpack before a reader even gets to see one line of art! So, what, in fact, do the proceeding 27 pages look like?
The first issue — which is actually quite entertaining, all things considered — is no-rent Eric Stanton stuff, and this led me to believe that that is what Lock was going for. But somewhere around the third editorial where Lock exclaims that these two are not in a sadomasochistic relationship —
— I started to actually believe him, mostly because this is a man who, in his comic writing, baldy telegraphs every story beat so as to completely control his audience’s perception of the comic. Again: This is the man who begins his comic with a block of text explaining the last page of his comic.
So, yes, I do believe Lock when he says he didn’t mean for their relationship to come across this way, but I’m not sure he’s aware that his subconscious was writing the bulk of this comic. Because of his blindness to this, he gets in the way of himself: the continual authorial neutering of sexual tension throughout this comic makes it suck ass. Barbarienne is uninspired lowercase-f fantasy, and Lock’s storytelling capabilities are primarily comprised of bleeting out every rote twist-and-turn early and often. The issues after #1 are nigh-unreadable because Lock does his best to shift away from what he actually wants to write about: a sadomasochistic lesbian adventurer couple.
Nick Neocleous, who pencils and inks #1-4, has an idiosyncratic and nearly art-brut style that lends Barbarienne a lot of its charm and fun. I really gravitate toward this sort of drawing when I find myself digging through bins. There is an honesty and passion in his line that is undeniable and admirable. This style stands in stark contrast to John H. Marshall, who pencils #5. He is technically a better draftsman but he lacks Neocleous’ personality, so it ultimately flattens out the comic’s tone completely.
Barbarienne #5 proudly declares that, beginning this issue, the comic will no longer be “recommended for mature readers.” As prophesied by this letter to the editor in Barbarienne #4, this plan to completely overhaul their image failed, and the comic was canned a few issues later — only to be resurrected as a much more successful Eros title, the way God intended:
by Sergio Aragones (Writer/Art), Basil Wolverton (Writer/Art), Steve Skeates (Writer), Nick Cardy (Art), Robert Johnson (as “Slim”) (Writer/Art), Ford Button (Writer/Art), and Frank Robins (Art)
Published by DC
I had never read a single issue of Plop! before picking up this particularly beat-to-shit copy of #4. They really let Basil loose for these covers — this particular issue’s cover is tame-to-mildly-unsettling, whereas other ones are baldly gross in that uniquely Wolverton Way.
Cursory google searching about Plop! brings up a blog post by cartoonist Drew Friedman where, outside of praise for Wolverton and Wally Wood’s covers, he writes rather disparagingly about Plop! I find his characterization to be ungenerous. Chiefly: he doesn’t think Plop! is very funny. I disagree, but Plop! does also purposefully goad this reaction from a contingent of its readership.
Plop!‘s format is reminiscent of TV sketch comedy. It begins by introducing the reader to our hosts, Cain, Abel, and Eve, who are booked to perform comedy at a convention for monsters. Turns out they’re a tough crowd. The subsequent Monster Convention strips act as a frame-narrative for the comic’s main stories, but they aren’t filler: they might actually be my favorite thing about this comic, and that’s not because the rest of it is low-quality.
Sergio Aragones draws and writes these frame-story monster convention strips along with one of the comic’s featured stories. He is a cartoonist I was aware of but hadn’t read anything by, although I feel like I’ve probably read an errant strip or two of his from Mad when I was kid. I’m here to tell ya — this guy is a fucking hoot, and I’m sure that’s no surprise to his I-would-assume cultish fans. He’s delightfully schticky and his characters are expressive comic actors. It’s my amusement with these silly vaudevillian characters that makes me like their strips the most. I’ve read that they appear in other comics as well — I’ll have to check those out.
But what makes Plop! snap is its snotty satire at the expense of the Average Comic Fan. At the time Plop! was published, series editor Joe Orlando had spent decades working in comics editorial. Emerging from the smoking foxhole that is the mainstream comics industry, he wields an ultimate understanding of who his audience is and how to taunt and provoke them (Plop! was published by DC).
In Orlando’s perspective, the average comic fan is a wannabe-authoritarian, and their achilles heel is this false sense of authority — you know, the type of person who is entertained by power fantasies. The three main stories in Plop! #4 are all about men who fit this descriptor. The first of the bunch is “Now And Then,” drawn by Nick Cardy and written by Steve Skeates. It reminds me a bit of Daniel Clowes’ “MCMLXVI” — I wonder if he ever read this strip? Anyway: A grating, self-absorbed Wild West fanatic named Willie Cartburne prattles on like every other unhappy misanthrope about how he was born in the wrong era, and how he really would’ve been someone back in the wild west, back when being a man meant something.
After murdering the neighborhood mad scientist to gain access to his time machine, Willie uses it to transport himself back to the wild west, where he can finally really live. Except:
Plop! is head-to-toe gallows humor, so your mileage may vary if you don’t find assholes dying funny. Orlando cut his teeth on EC titles, and Plop!’s storytelling feels like an extension of that publisher’s penchant for semi-ironic twist endings — although it does cease to become a twist when each story ends the same way. The fun part becomes seeing how each story gets to its denouement, with each writer doing their best to keep the audience guessing as to how each of their victims will go “plop.”
Aragones’ story about a flexible inmate who outsmarts everyone but himself is funny but not as acidic as “Now and Then,” and the final story about a nasty traveling prankster, while beautifully drawn by Frank Robins, doesn’t totally hit the mark for me, either. Still, they’re more entertaining to me than a lot of the serious, stiff superhero comics of the same era — the kinds of comics the creators behind Plop! anticipated their readers to be fans of.
Interspersed are single-panel gags that offer small chuckles and don’t overstay their welcome. Basil Wolverton also contributes a one-pager about a surgeon that does feature this one memorable panel, an example of an artist unable to stifle their insecurity about something no reader would notice (or care about if they did):
What else is there to say? This is a great comic that was completely worth the 50 cents. I’ll pick up Plop! whenever I see it in a bin from now on. No question.