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Not By Manga Alone: Battle of the bands

Welcome back to Not By Manga Alone! This month Sean continues his mastery of Kilban’s back catalog with Playboy’s Kilban and Playboy’s New Kilban, while Megan explores the dangers of far north prospecting in Zach Worton’s The Klondike, and the even more terrible dangers of inter-band romance, with Dan Parent and Bill Gavin’s The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats.

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats | By Dan Parent and Bill Galvan | Archie Comics — Archie Comics has been in the news plenty in the last few years. Between the introduction of Kevin Keller, the line’s first gay character, Archie’s dueling alternate universe marriages to Betty AND Veronica, and his interracial romance (and eventual alternate universe marriage and family) with Valerie of Josie and the Pussycats fame, the once staid publisher has become hot news. Kevin earned the publisher a boycott, and the marriages sparked an epic, cross platform ship war, with shades of class and culture war. Archie and Valerie’s love got some conservative fans tut-tutting but it was generally received well. It’s cute, is the thing.

Archie and Josie kiss.Archie is currently running another of those unit-moving future marriage stories, but this time he marries and begins a family with Valerie. The start of their romance is collected in The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats. The two bands decide to go on tour together, because… because reasons. There are numerous logistical and logical Rubicons to cross here, not least being the status of the two bands: The Archies are a garage band, while the Pussycats can carry a world tour; Archie’s in high school, while Valerie most definitely is not. But aside from the weaselly objections of Alex Cabot, the Pussycats’ money-hungry manager, these issues are glossed over in favour of milkshakes and love songs. And rightfully so, Archie comics having their own particular, family-friendly, romcom logic. If it doesn’t bear up to too close a look, well, it isn’t meant to. And so, in due course–a handful of pages–Valerie and Archie find themselves falling in love.

The romance is rushed. I found myself wondering why Archie, why Valerie, but as with any Archie comic, a certain amount of suspended disbelief is a requisite. It pays to just go with it. The resulting shenanigans–scheming Cabot siblings, a thwarted Veronica–are worth it. Despite the mysterious genesis of their relationship–they write a love song together, and then they fall in love–and a first half that drags, once things get going, they’re adorable.

Writing for comics franchises takes a different skill set than does writing original comics, and Dan Parent and Bill Galvan are old hands. Galvan’s Riverdale is as timeless as ever, with the usual small updates for contemporary sensibilities. And Dan Parent powers through the narrative with admirable brevity. Light, earnest and slightly ridiculous, The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats is pure fun. — Megan Purdy

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The Klondike | By Zach Worton | Drawn and Quarterly — I’ve been meaning to read The Klondike for awhile. I picked it up on a weekend trip to Montreal and it’s been staring at me ever since. The prospect of seeing Zach Worton this weekend at TCAF spurred me on–and I’m so glad I finally cracked the cover, because aside from a few issues, the book is fantastic. The Klondike is historical fiction. Worton tells the story of the Alaskan/Yukon gold rush through a combination of real historical, and fictional characters, and it’s a wise choice that lets him create charming amalgams like Sid the Barber and John the Russian. Characters who have brief, vivid lives in the narrative, but speak to a whole cast of real characters–the thousands of prospectors, some experienced, some naive greenhorns, who came in search of their fortunes. Too many ended their lives in misery, and Worton doesn’t shrug away from that. The harsh conditions of the North are detailed here: the killing weather, isolation, persistently threatened health, and humanity itself are all dangers Worton’s characters have to navigate. Few of them make it through, and fewer strike it rich. Klondike cover

Worton tells the story in segments, shorter stories often centered on interesting historical episodes, interposed with fascinating explanatory notes. The whole is a skillfully woven epic in miniature. The Klondike isn’t just Joe (Dawson City founder and mayor) Ladue’s story, or Sam Steele’s story, it’s a wonderful exploration of the lives of these prospectors and the economy and society that quickly rose up around them. Although it starts out episodic, The Klondike quickly shifts into competing story arcs about the prospectors, cops, criminals, and tough men and women of the North. Worton says that he didn’t want to write an adventure, and The Klondike rolls over that potential story with an avalanche of everyday struggle, misery and small triumphs, but there’s still plenty of action in this book.

Klondike landscapesLike Osamu Tezuka and Bryan Lee O’Malley, Worton contrasts toony figures, with more realistic and beautiful, detailed backgrounds. The characters are made accessible, easy to read, while the landscape of the Klondike is revealed to us with loving attention. It’s probably not a deliberate, story-telling choice, but Worton’s expressive, simply rendered characters have very detailed, over-sized hands. This draws attention to what they’re doing–working, drinking, striking deals–and lends a certain weather-beaten roughness to even the most polished characters.

My chief complaint about an otherwise great book, is that the dialogue is often stilted, and sometimes reads as though it’s adapted from letters, or historical accounts. Later in the narrative, characters pick up individual verbal tics, which goes a long way toward establishing and maintaining a sense of naturalism in speech that’s sorely needed. Early on, conversations read too much like a script without actors; interesting, but stiff and too mannered. Once Worton finds his rhythm–or his characters do–and the various plots pick up, The Klondike is an easy, quick, read that’s informative and at times genuinely moving. — Megan Purdy

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Playboy’s Kliban and Playboy’s New Kliban | By B. Kliban | Wideview Books — Let’s face it, an artist has to earn a living. And B. Kliban has been drawing cartoons since 1965. The Cat book didn’t really take off till the mid to late 1970s, meaning most of his work depended on his main publisher, and that was Playboy Magazine. We’ve seen several cartoons by Kliban, notably in Whack Your Porcupine, that were sexually explicit, but they were still completely bizarre and Kliban-ey. It’s not until we look at these two collections of cartoons he drew explicitly for Playboy over the years that we realize just how much of the previous four books was his sketchbook of unsellable ideas. You will not find grotesque caricatures here – most of the people look fairly normal, and the girls of course all look attractive. This is not weird Kliban, or offbeat Kliban. Or clean Kliban. It is, thank goodness, still funny Kliban.

These books are mostly cartoons from the late 60s and early 70s, and it shows – even if they weren’t meant for Playboy, there’s still a certain aura to them. These cartoons are for the adult male – not just because 80% of them feature sexual content (though there are quite a few here that are ‘normal’), but because they have a certain male viewpoint to them. There’s little to no non-consensual sex here – Playboy cartoons tend to show men and women having tons of fun – but there’s still a certain sexist sensibility I never really got in the prior Kliban collections. Let’s face it, he’s drawing for his audience.

These are such a contrast to his other books, in that they’re mainstream. This doesn’t mean bad – I laughed many times throughout both books – but work like this is what paid the bills, while his Workman Publishing books are what fueled his creative mind. If you can find these, and are over 18, grab a copy – but they aren’t essential, as his other works are. — Sean Gaffney

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