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The Literary Crowd Gets Drawn In

(This Stripped column originally appeared in the May 21-27, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)


"When the Iron Curtain was sent to the cleaners, I was suddenly out of style, not diplomatic enough."

— Nick Fury explaining his retirement in Nick Fury: Agent of Shield

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

I know I promised you reviews this week, but news happens. And I hope — and pray — this is a harbinger of things to come.

First, this July, Esquire magazine's annual fiction issue will feature a six-page piece of original comics fiction by Dan Clowes (Eightball). The story, "Green Eyeliner," will be featured alongside prose by John Updike, David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody.

"It's the first time in my life that I feel like I'm being taken seriously as an author," said Clowes. "They didn't ask me because they wanted a token cartoonist; they asked because they thought I was good at what I do."

Second, Details' new cartoons editor, art spiegelman (Maus) commissioned Peter Bagge (Hate), Joe Sacco (Palestine) and Charles Burns (Black Hole) to create four-page strips of cartoon journalism. Bagge covered at the HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen for his July contribution. His scathing satire, "So Much Comedy, So Little Time," will feature appearances by Hate fans Janeane Garofolo, Margaret Cho and others. Sacco, whose journalism-in-comic-form took him to the West Bank, will cover the United Nation's International Criminal Tribunal investigation of genocide and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia for the August issue. Burns was sent to report on a fashion show in New York. Known for his stories of sexually promiscuous teen-agers falling victim to a horrible plague, Burns is sure to deliver an interesting twist on the world of anorexia. It will appear in September.

These developments have incredible potential for drawing more people into comics. Esquire boasts a circulation of more than 800,000 and Details reaches 1 million readers. Even if just 1 percent of their readers seek out the work of Clowes, Sacco, Bagge or Burns after reading their contributions, that's a significant increase. Precise circulation numbers are tough to get, but by all accounts I've heard in the last year, the hottest-selling comic book in any given month sells far, far less than 10 percent of the worst-selling comic books of the 1950s.

Eighteen-thousand new readers would definitely help — if they can find something to read. Unfortunately, unofficial results from DC's Cow & Chicken promotion with the Cartoon Network are disheartening. Few retailers I've spoken with even bothered to participate in giving out the free DC comic books advertised on the Cartoon Network or push kid-targeted books by any publisher. What's the point of getting people in the stores looking for Cow & Chicken, Hate or Eightball if the only thing on the shelves are muscle-bound head-bashers? Don't get me started.

Hess, Hasselhoff, Renna

STILL FURIOUS    The next attempt to turn a Marvel property into a prime-time franchise (the first was Generation X) debuts at 8 p.m. May 26 on Fox with Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD. As the spy segment of the Marvel Universe, the premise is a bit more accessible to non-comics readers. Fury is reactivated as an agent after the cryogenically frozen body of Baron Von Strucker is stolen by his children, Werner and Andrea, to rebuild the terrorist organization HYDRA and recreate the Death's Head Virus.

The film is faithful to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby source material, using the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier (it looks awesome), Dr. Zola, Life Model Decoys and Contessa Valentina "Val" Allegro de Fontaine (Lisa Renna doing a very good job) and Tim Dugan correctly. The only change is that Andrea (Sandra Hess) possesses Viper's poisonous abilities and dominates Werner. In the comic, Viper was another person entirely, and Andrea and Werner were equals who called themselves "Fenris" when they combined powers.

Hasselhoff as Fury

The only weaknesses are the tone and Fury himself. The film alternates between straight action and over-the-top camp; walking the middle ground would have been less jarring. David Hasselhoff (Baywatch) is better as the cigar-smoking Fury than I thought he would be, but he still lacks the emotional weight to make some of the lines credible. Thankfully, no one tried to make Fury politically correct. It's a good first start for recurring movies or a series.

Media Connection: On 'Nuff Said this week, hosts Ken Gale and Ed Menje present a mini-con on the air as they play interviews recorded at the Big Apple Con. They interviewed fans, dealers, collectors, autograph seekers, artists, publishers, zine creators and innocent bystanders. 'Nuff Said airs from midnight May 24 to 1 a.m. May 25 on WBAI-FM (99.5).


Column 1998 Long Island Voice. Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD artwork 1998 Fox.