Panel 1: A small lecture hall where a few young students in matching wizards’ robes, all teenage girls, are listening to a wizened, elderly elf lady in a more elaborate robe teach mysteries of the arcane. The teacher has various star charts, anatomical charts, and magical diagrams behind her. For a cheat sheet of magical diagrams to copy, do an image search for “Powers of Marduk” The students in attendance are all either humans or elves, except for Brega, the one dwarf in the room. She has thick black hair tied back in a ponytail, a dwarvish but still very feminine build, and a clean-shaven face.
CAPTION: St. Zontor’s School of Wizardry and Sundry Arts for Young Ladies
TEACHER: What is below is like what is above, and what is above is like what is below, working the miracles of one thing.
Panel 2: A medium shot of the teacher. A messenger, a short and plainly-dressed human woman, has stepped into the room and passes a small scroll to the teacher.
TEACHER: And as all things have -
TEACHER: Oh? Just a moment, ladies.
Panel 3: The same shot as the previous panel. The teacher is reading from the scroll. The messenger leaves.
TEACHER: Hmm… Brega, the headmistress says your father has arrived to pick you up. You’ve been called away on family business for a few days.
Panel 4: Brega is sitting with her fellow students, with a human and an elf on either side of her. The human, sitting on the left side of the panel, whispers to Brega. Brega, looking quite unhappy and mildly fearful, looks straight forward.
HUMAN: Brega, I thought you said your father was dead.
BREGA: He is…
Panel 5: A slightly closer shot of Brega, close enough that the other girls are no longer in the panel. Brega is quite ashamed that her mother has embarrassed her so.
BREGA: That must be my mother.
CAPTION: Brega and Snurrd: Written by Bill Volk, drawn by Cara Kennedy
Panel 1: The front doors of the school. Brega has arrived, perhaps with a traveling cloak and/or a small satchel of things. Brega’s mother, Snurrd, is waiting for her and greets her with open arms and a shout. Snurrd is the stereotypical stocky dwarven fighter, built like a beer barrel. Snurrd has armor, an axe hanging from her belt, a shield strapped to her back, and a full, thick black beard. She’s definitely female – her armor is built to acommodate her large breasts, and her hips and maybe her eyes hint at her womanliness.
SNURRD: Brega! So good to see you! How you’ve grown!
BREGA: Hello, mama.
Panel 2: Snurrd hugs Brega tightly. Maybe Snurrd points to Brega’s chin.
SNURRD: But your chin is still bare! You’re a late bloomer, maybe?
BREGA: No, mama… I’ve been shaving.
Panel 3: The hug is over. Snurrd laughs, with a little veiled contempt for humans and their ugly beardless women. Brega acts a little indignant. She doesn’t like the suggestion that she only shaves to please her classmates.
SNURRD: You shave your beard? Bah! Stupid human fashions!
BREGA: It’s not just a fashion, and it’s not stupid. Now why did you pull me out of school?
Panel 4: Snurrd explains. She’s really excited to be spending some quiality time with her daughter.
SNURRD: I’m here because I want help with a quest! Magic would help a lot, I think, but mama’s last party got eaten by a manticore! So now you get to show mama how much you’ve been learning! Rain fire on mama’s foes! It’ll be fun!
Panel 5: Brega and Snurrd debate. Make sure Brega stays on the left side of the panel and Snurrd stays on the right for all the panels on this page.
BREGA: Like, in a dungeon? But I’m not that kind of wizard! War wizards are, like, really low-class.
SNURRD: You come or I stop sending you money.
BREGA: Okay, fine.
Panel 1: Brega and Snurrd are on the road. Make sure they’re always seen traveling left-to-right as they head toward their destination.
SNURRD: The human and elf girls change you too much. Make you soft. Can’t you make some nice dwarf friends?
BREGA: I told you, I’m the only dwarf in my class. I might be the only dwarf in town.
Panel 2: Brega and Snurrd are in an inn, ordering drinks from a haggard-looking tavern wench. Once again, try to keep Snurrd on the left side of the panel and Brega on the right, so their word balloons don’t cross over each other.
SNURRD: Two ales!
BREGA: Wait – do you have any tea?
SNURRD: Two ales! No daughter of mine goes adventuring sober!
Panel 3: The same shot of the tavern, some time later. Brega is holding a tankard of beer in both hands, not sipping from it. Snurrd has a tankard in hand and several empty tankards around her. She is getting crunk. Brega looks more worried than usual.
SNURRD: If you don’t grow your beard out, the boys will think you’re sickly! Or do you want a human boy now?
BREGA: I don’t know! Maybe?
Panel 1: Brega and Snurrd are on the road again, walking left to right. They’re mulling around some ancient ruins, looking for a trapdoor that leads to the goodies below. After a day of travel, Brega’s stubble has come out a bit. It’s thickest around the sideburns but creeping slightly across her cheeks to meet at her chin.
SNURRD: I was just a beardless whelp when I went on my first adventure! Of course, I was much younger than you! You’ve got some catching up to do, eh?
Panel 2: They’ve found the entrance to the dungeon, a stone slab covering an opening to some stairs leading down. Snurrd pulls the heavy slab aside as she talks.
SNURRD: Gods, those were the days! Those orcs never saw me coming! But they saw me once I chopped their knees out from under them!
Panel 3: They’re venturing down a quite stereotypical dungeon hallway, with worked stone walls bearing cryptic runes and bas-reliefs of bowing skeletons and other macabre scenes. Brega lights the way with a small magic flame hovering near her hand.
SNURRD: And did I ever tell you about the time I traded riddles with the Giant Snake of Dust Hollow? My first riddle was “How’d you like an axe to the face?!”
Panel 1: Brega and Snurrd are in a large open chamber deep in the dungeon, perhaps worked stone opening up to a natural cavern, lit by glowing mushrooms or some other such contrivance. Skeletons attack them, any kind of humanoid skeleton and maybe the odd animal skeleton, and Snurrd holds them off with her axe and shield. Brega stays in the rear, nervous. She’s never cast a spell in combat before, never seen combat at all.
Panel 2: A very long shot of the battle. The skeletons’ master appears, a lich in an ornate trailing robes covered in baubles and ornaments, maybe even armored patches of interwoven bones. The lich can certainly be more bone than flesh, and very dry. The lich casts a frightening-looking spell. Snurrd is doing a good job of smashing skeletons, but it looks like she can’t win this on her own.
SNURRD: Ho boy! BREGA! Any spells you’ve got would be handy!
Panel 3: Brega’s eyes glow with power, and brilliant rays of magic shoot from her fingers at the lich, and maybe at the skeletons too if there’s room. The lich looks wounded, pained, and even insulted.
BREGA: Yes… I see now!
BREGA: They’re just bones held together with spells!
BREGA: SHODDY spells!
Panel 1: The lich collapses into a pile of bones and dust, with any remaining skeletons collapsing with him. Brega’s eyes still glow as traces of residual magic dance lazily between her hand and the bones. No enemies remain.
SFX: (the bones collapsing) CROMPLE
Panel 2: A long shot of Brega and Snurrd looting the room in the aftermath of the battle. Snurrd is eagerly pouring an armful of gold pieces into a sack, and Brega is carefully looking over each gold flagon and candlestick before putting them into her nearly-empty sack.
SNURRD: Ha hah! Well done, well done all around! Take all you can carry!
Panel 3: A close or medium shot of Snurrd, stuffing her sack. She makes her smart-alecky comment with a smirky sneer and only her eyes looking off to the side at Brega.
SNURRD: Look at you! Standing over the spoils of your first victory, with that good healthy stubble coming in! You almost look like a proper dwarf!
Panel 4: A close-up of Brega as she turns her head to face her mother. She yells, at her wit’s end.
BREGA: STOP IT!
Panel 1: Brega explodes in anger. She’s dropped her bag, and she points at Snurrd accusingly. We might not even see Snurrd in the panel, though; it might just be Brega’s upper body.
BREGA: Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!
BREGA: I am sick of your nagging! I’m not gonna grow a beard for you, and I’m not gonna act like a stupid dwarf for you!
Panel 2: Brega continues her rant. She reaches out slightly and holds her palms upward, a gesture to ask whether the point she makes is valid.
BREGA: Isn’t that why you came to the surface in the first place? Isn’t that why you sent me to wizard school?
Panel 3: Brega continues her rant. She smiles just a little, because she’s now certiain that she’s going to win this argument, but her expression remains a little exasperated.
BREGA: You wanted me to have a better life than you did!
Panel 4: This is a longer shot where we see both Brega and Snurrd. Brega points at her mother again, with contempt. Snurrd has lowered her sack and made slightly irked eyebrows, but otherwise hasn’t reacted yet.
BREGA: You wanted me to be better than you!
Panel 5: A close up on Brega, simmering with scorn and contempt.
BREGA: And I am!
Panel 1: A long shot of Brega and Snurrd in an awkward pause. We see the distance between them as they look at each other. Brega is almost short of breath, relieved that she finally got that rant off her chest but still a little mad and wondering what the repercussions will be. Snurrd stands straight, dumbstruck, her arms lowered, her mouth closed, her expression mostly hidden in her beard and bushy eyebrows.
Panel 2: A close-up of Snurrd. It’s not clear whether she’s mildly offended or seething with rage. Whatever it is, she’s deliberately holding back.
SNURRD: You have got some nerve.
Panel 3: Snurrd breaks the tension by smiling.
SNURRD: Good! You’ve still got that dwarven spirit! I was afraid those pansies had drummed it all out of you!
Panel 4: We see Brega and Snurrd packing bags with treasure again. Snurrd is back to boasting with a smile amile wide. Brega smiles too, in a more subdued, knowing, “oh, mom” sort of way.
SNURRD: Of course, I said much nastier things to my own mama when I was your age!
Panel 5: Brega and Snurrd walk out of the dungeon together and enjoy the sight of the open air and the light of the setting sun. Each has a sack of treasure over her shoulder, though Snurrd’s is of course much heavier. This time they’re walking right-to-left. Snurrd’s on the left and Brega’s on the right.
SNURRD: Come on, Brega, let’s get you back to school.
BREGA: First a barber.
SNURRD: Aww, come on!
CAPTION: THE END
Hobby #1: Comics by Simon Gärdenfors
There’s something about the Swedes. My first experience with Swedish comics came in college when a librarian from Malmö came to Chicago and bought a minicomic I was selling on consignment. He contacted me, and I started sending him more comics for him to fill out the ranks of the library’s ‘zine section. After that I started researching what comics Sweden itself had to offer, and their beauty cowed and shamed me.
Maybe I’m just romanticizing the other, but Simon Gärdenfors’ comics in particular have a numinous grace to them. They appear to be effortless, but every line is just so and could not have been otherwise, like those Buddhist monks with the purported ability to draw a perfect circle freehand. And so I thought I would talk about a minicomic of his that I picked up at this year’s MoCCA, which boasted quite a few Scandinavian ambassadors this year.
Hobby is a synaesthetic piece. The colors demand to be touched and tasted and smelled. The default texture appears to be molded plastic, but there are more liquid and gaseous scenes, too. The big, round page numbers alternate between the top and bottom corners of the page and sometimes cleverly work themselves into the design of the page, defining a border design or taking the place of the letter “O.”
Hobby #1 is so strong as a piece of design that it would work even without the words, but the copy I have my hands on has been conveniently translated into English. The visual style never gets in the way of the storytelling – the graphic representation of each character is clear, distinctive, and elegant enough to be legible under just about any color scheme. Though it’s divided into different episodes spanning several years, it has a very tight framing device for an autobio: Gärdenfors learns that his friend has died, and then he recalls memories of their time together. Some of the episodes induce genuine giggles.
If you asked me to draw a penis resting inside a hot dog bun and decorated with condiments, I couldn’t do so nearly as economically as Gärdenfors does.
The last page is the sort of innocent commentary on race that could never have come from America, complete with a Golliwog bearing Kevin Huizenga-esque lips.
Left: Hobby #1. Right: Huizenga lips.
Gärdenfors has a lot of other work out there, and some of has been being translated and published by Top Shelf. So seek him out, and know the grace of the Swedes.
Andromeda Issue Ten by Anthony Ferguson, Stephanie Neary, Lizzee Solomon, Nate McDonough & Daniel McCloskey, Andy Scott, Joe Probition, Artnoose, Jeremy Northrup, Tom Dewing, and James LaVecchia.
I’d like to give a shout-out to a growing fellowship of hungry young dynamos from my native Pittsburgh. Andromeda has come out at a rate of a little more than one per month since last Fall, and their comics show an enthusiasm that matches their prolificacy.
That logo you see on the bottom right corner of the cover is The Penna Assembly, the “secret society” that denotes long-time contributors to Andromeda. It’s a neat little piece of design work, one of many gems to be found in this churning wellspring of effort and human emotion.
The first full-length comic, by Lizzee Solomon, starts out with all the trappings of a typical autobio comic – the narrator works at a paint-your-own-pottery studio and notices that one customer always desperately wants to paint a “ring holder” even though she wears no rings on her fingers. This everyday sub-observation is the setup for some well-plotted surreal suspense that keeps the reader hanging at each page transition before the unspeakable payoff. The customer returns home, and the freshly-glazed ring holder is put to use… for holding Funyuns… to feed… to some kind of chained-up equine monster with an enormous gaping vagina for a face. “Mutual paradise” ensues. It’s a bit of perfectly transcendent silliness and a stab at less adventurous autobiographers.
The next comic is a self-parody in which each artist draws himself toiling in Andromeda’s sweatshop. Once again, a predictable premise is made fresh and enjoyable again with a few choice details. The cackling, vaguely Wonka-esque overlord is constantly eating chicken, because every evil act is more evil if it’s done while eating, and one of the cartoonists calmly resumes drawing with his feet after his arms are torn off at the shoulder.
The last multi-page comic is the only one that takes itself seriously, and it works surprisingly well given the context. It’s a biography of the narrator’s father driving a Higgins boat in World War II. Joe Probition is elegant and innovative in the way he establishes a sense of place: We never quite see a horizon, only churning waves or ships tilted at slight angles as far as the eye can see. The way he draws water also adds to the physicality of the scene. It never quite escapes the bounds of its premise, but it makes the premise weirdly charming.
Some of the pieces of non-comics art, though good, feel like they’re crying out for a story to be attached to, and the interior pages themselves are legible but a bit muddy (The submissions page asks for 200 dpi .JPGs.) The silkscreened cover is quite crisp, though, and the letterhead on the inside back cover reveals that the cardstock was stolen from the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Human Security. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but that’s a very Newspeak name for a department, and it meshes well with the secret society theme. Pittsburgh is a post-industrial city searching hesitantly for a new identity and a new relationship with labor, and maybe Andromeda has something in common with it, a sweatshop of labors of love, a secret society screaming as loud as it can.
Take a look at this cover. This is a comic published by Dark Horse in 1993.
Now, since this is a comic that’s clearly trying to succeed by virtue of its premise alone, you probably examined the cover for just long enough to discern that Godzilla is fighting Charles Barkley. Look closer, dear reader, because Godzilla vs. Barkley is a multi-layered piece that bears examination.
Here we see the two titans locked in combat. Our hero, Sir Charles Barkley, is suspended in midair over a burning building, or perhaps standing tiptoe on a streetlight, so we can see his totally rad Nike shoes. His small, cherubic head is frozen in fear, his hands awkwardly holding out a basketball in a feeble attempt to block Godzilla’s mighty atomic fire. The cover explains no fewer than three times that this is a comic in which Godzilla fights Charles Barkley – four times if you include the art itself. That’s probably a little excessive, but I think the caption on the bottom is really there to hide the wonky perspective. Notice how high up Godzilla’s knees are. What’s he standing on?
The next interesting thing about Godzilla vs. Barkley can be found in the credits:
For the record, “Alan Smithee” is a pseudonym used in the film industry by people who are so ashamed of something they’ve done that they want their names taken off of it. It used to be the only pseudonym that directors were allowed to use, but that rule has been changed, possibly due to the influence of a film called Burn Hollywood Burn, which is about a director whose real name is Alan Smithee but who wants his name taken off of a bad film he directed. Burn Hollywood Burn was itself a bad film, and its director wanted his name taken off of it. That’s pretty meta, but unfortunately the film is so bad that it can’t even be enjoyed ironically.
My point here is that whoever came up with the “plot,” the premise of Godzilla fighting Charles Barkley, the premise that is in effect the comic’s only selling point, does not want to be associated with this work. That speaks volumes about what we have in store. Or perhaps it was all Mike Baron’s idea, or some Dark Horse executive, and they only included Alan Smithee as an inside joke. The truth is lost to history, faded into the foggy mists of 1993.
However, Mike Baron did a surprisingly good job putting this shameful premise into practice. He sets up size as a metaphor for fame and one man’s struggle with returning to his roots and making good with the “little people” who made him what he is.
After the obligatory scene where Godzilla comes out of the sea and tears up a cargo ship, we see Charles Barkley filming a commercial on a beach. So rather than renting out the whole beach and maybe posting guards around the perimeter, the studio making this commercial has decided to keep the entire set inside a radius of maybe 30 feet, and they let beachgoers crowd around this area as much as they like. This gives Barkley the opportunity to rebuff a child.
This child, it turns out, is the grandson of a certified Magical Negro, a black man who possesses magical powers that can help the protagonist but not himself. In this case the magic comes in the form of a silver dollar with incredible supernatural properties, and although it will make Charles Barkley grow 300 feet tall, its original owner has found no use for it except to pitch a single no-hitter in a minor league baseball game.
Or perhaps it was the Negro Leagues. The Magical Negro Leagues. The players themselves would be nothing remarkable, but any white protagonists in the audience would find themselves at the height of cosmic power.
Usually Magical Negroes only show up when the protagonist is white, so perhaps this is some kind of canny subversion. Let’s just say that it is.
Soon afterward, Godzilla shows up on shore and starts terrorizing Los Angeles. This does not halt production on the commercial. Charles Barkley only considers reacting to Godzilla at all when the child returns, silver dollar in hand, and insists that Barkley is “Earth’s greatest warrior.” Calling Barkley a “warrior” is a weirdly specific piece of terminology that comes up again and again in this story. I don’t think anyone ever calls Barkley a basketball player, but he’s called a warrior something like five times.
Maybe Barkley has actually been to war. For all I know, he could have single-handedly ended Desert Storm with his deadly atomic dunk.
So maybe Barkley feels guilty and out-of-touch. Maybe he’s remembering what life was like back on the mean streets of… wherever it is he came from. In any case he decides to quit filming the commercial and go play some one-on-one with the kid. The Godzilla issue is brought up, but it doesn’t get in the way of the one-on-one game until Barkley flips the silver dollar and grows to be 300 feet tall.
This is it. This is what you people came for. Not the fight between Barkley and Godzilla – I’m referring to the payoff of the size metaphor. Barkley wants to connect to his fans on a personal level, but now he can’t anymore… because he’s 300 feet tall! Get it? It’s a moment of perfect pathos. Charles Barkley doesn’t want to be big, in any sense of the word, but now that he is, he realizes that there’s no going back. He must serve the people he loves in a new way – by challenging a giant radioactive dinosaur to a cataclysmic game of hoops the likes of which has never been witnessed by MAN!
So, fortunately for humanity, Godzilla picks up on how basketball works pretty quickly. Even more fortunately, there is a “shuttle scaffold” that is shaped exactly like a giant basketball hoop. And Barkley knows where it is. And it’s in California instead of Florida for some reason.
But hey, if we’re going to pick at the minor details of something like this, we may as well ask how and why Barkley acquires a giant pair of Nikes for Godzilla.
The plot is treated as resolved when Barkley sets up another hoop for Godzilla in some kind of secluded canyon and convinces him to practice one million layups.
I don’t think that Barkley understands the full gravity of the events he has just set in motion. Godzilla will remain in that canyon, practicing nonstop, possibly for one hundred years. When he returns, Godzilla will be a finely-tuned basketball-playing machine. He will truly be able to take it to the house, if by “house” you mean “500-foot-tall skyscraper.” He will be able to take Shaq’s words to heart and not fake the funk on a nasty dunk. He will be able to throw down… on the human race. He will be unstoppable.
Imagine this, except that Shaq is Godzilla and the backboard is human civilization’s life-sustaining infrastructure. And he doesn’t clean up afterward.
This leaves room for a sequel, but somehow I doubt it ever happened. If anyone can prove me wrong, please do so! The suspense is killing me.