by Maggie Bloodstone -
SGN Contributing Writer
Like literally everything else, Covid has disrupted book publishing, pushing many releases back and making library junkies like me wait longer than usual to get my eager paws on long- anticipated graphic novels. But some titles have made it to the shelves, and here are a few recent offerings that were well worth the wait:
Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio
by John "Derf" Backderf
"How can you run when you know?"
I remember being 13 in 1970 and arguing with my mom about the killing of four students at Kent State University by the National Guard following days of tense anti-Vietnam protests. Of course, since all we had was three channels then, neither of us had much knowledge of the actual events. But she thought the students "had it coming" because they were throwing rocks at the guard, and I pointed out that that hardly rated outright murder. 50 years later, and I'm still right. Kent State, by the same artist/writer of My Friend Dahmer, is a wrenching, exhaustively researched account of the last days in the lives of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, gunned down by nervous and poorly led guardsmen in 13 harrowing seconds on May 4, 1970.
Backderf follows the actions of the victims, students, guardsmen, university officials, and at least one FBI informer in the days leading up to the killings with a highly sensitive eye and deep respect for the humanity of all involved in the event that brought the war at home to homes like my own. Backderf's exaggerated style, which served him well in his hysterically funny 90's strip, The City, is tamed here, but still highly effective when contrasting the panicked, horrified students and their intimidating masked attackers with the solid, well-rendered backdrop of the Kent State campus architecture. The protest scenes, with billowing tear gas fog, tightly packed crowds, and pronounced chanting will remind underground comix fans fondly of Spain Rodriguez' classic of 60's unrest and revolution, Trashman. Every component works perfectly up to the catastrophic ending and will leave the reader not as devastated as the actual witnesses of the event, but as close as one can get through ink and paper.
The postponing of Kent State from spring to Sept. was disappointing for those looking forward to this book, but as it turns out, the timing could not have been better, with the BLM protests at their height putting the events of Kent State in stark perspective. My Friend Dahmer is practically light comedy by comparison, knowing the monsters that drove the Kent State murders are still very much alive and lying. Inarguably one of the best and most powerful graphic novels of most any year, not just Covid-racked 2020, and a must for anyone who really wants to keep history from repeating.
The Mueller Report Graphic Novel
by Shannon Wheeler and Steve Duin
"Russia, if you're listening..."
Journalist Steve Duin and cartoonist Shannon Wheeler (who slackers will recall from the 90's Too Much Coffee Man) read the 500+ page Mueller report and presents it in digestible comics form so you don't have to. A cartoon overview for a cartoon presidency, succinct and detailed with a wry sense of humor that doesn't distract from the seriousness of its subject.
Media manipulation, the cover-up, the criminality, and the maddening imbecility of the Trump team (Don Jr. and Eric are appropriately depicted as Beavis & Butthead) are presented in Wheeler's spare but prescient style and serves the text well, with quietly mic-dropping moments like Trump's BFF toasting a plaque on the wall of his cozy den stating "Putin Has Won" and President Pussygrabber's cell-phone-kicking hissy fit over the news of Mueller being appointed special counsel ("I'm fucked!"). This book positively cries out to be made into an animated feature to be shown in every civics class in the country til the end of time, or until the name "Trump" is mercifully forgotten, whichever comes first.
Mercedes De Acosta:
Hollywood's Greatest Lover.
Glamor, Glitz, and Gossip at Historic Magnolia House
by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince,
Blood Moon Productions
"Here lies the heart."
Blood Moon Productions has, for the past decade and a half, given the world a raft of unauthorized bios of the uber-famous of Hollywood, American politics, and pop culture, all with great admiration for their subjects' art and accomplishments, while not shying away from their more ignominious and often plainly degenerate proclivities. Darwin Porter knew many of these icons and raconteurs personally, and they had some stories to tell, believe you me. One such acquaintance was Mercedes De Acosta, who Porter met in her twilight years and was immediately fascinated by, not only for the stories she had to tell about quite literally anyone who was anyone in the first trimester of the 20th century, but for the sheer force of her personality and rapturous approach to life. She had just written her 1960 memoirs, Here Lies The Heart, and in physical decline, but willing to share her often-beyond-belief experiences with the young writer. This is something of a departure from the usual Blood Moon offerings, as De Acosta is relatively obscure compared to the likes of Brando, Marilyn, Bogie, the Clintons, and the Kennedys, et. al., but this detailed and heavily illustrated tale is every bit as un-put-downable as any of Porter and Prince's other works.
Women never seem to rate the appellation of "great lover" as their male counterparts often (and sometimes undeservedly) do, since we are seldom seen as being active participants as opposed to passive receptacles for male passion. Or, just plain "whores". But no other title suits Mercedes De Acosta, whose sapphic dance card includes names like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Tallulah Bankhead, Katharine Cornell, Isadora Duncan, both of Valentino's wives, and most notably, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. De Acosta certainly deserved to have her name be synonymous with unabashed, joyful and prolific sensual abandon like Casanova and Don Juan, and in a world where female sexuality is not defined by the male gaze, she certainly would be. She was admittedly a bit of a groupie when it came to the artists of the Belle Epoque and the Roaring Twenties, but she definitely had taste. And keep in mind, this was when the famous were famous for actually doing something (sorry, Facebook/YouTube/Tik Tok "superstars"). She was the original Six Degrees Of Separation, mingling with and inspiring everyone from Pavlova to Enrico Caruso to Puccini to Barrymore to Marie of Romania to the aforementioned legends of film and letters. Mercedes was herself a poet, playwright, and screenwriter, though never as well known as many of her vast circle of friends and lovers, but her life could certainly be considered a work of art at its purest and most outrageous. Someone please make a biopic or documentary about this woman now.
I had the distinct pleasure of staying at Magnolia House on Staten Island in 2010, on my first trip to NYC, at the behest of Danforth Prince and Darwin Porter, and I do not exaggerate when I say I was enchanted the minute I walked through the door. Built in the mid-1800s and packed to the rafters with every book ever printed on movies and its stars, this is the ideal home for the notorious Blood Moon Productions and a must-stay air B&B for film, art, and pop culture buffs. It should be as well known as the Chelsea Hotel right across the bay, for the number of famous and infamous guests and residents, and Glamor, Glitz, and Gossip is certainly the ultimate if-these-walls-could-talk collection of show biz histories too outrageous not to be real. It's a packed digest of Blood Moon's previous dishy and irresistible bios, and the perfect intro to the work of the obvious heir to Hollywood Babylon's salacious legacy. (FYI: Next up from Blood Moon, Too Many Damn Rainbows, the story of mother and daughter legends, Judy and Liza.)
Loving: A Photographic History Of Men In Love, 1850s-1950s
Compiled by Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell
5 Continents Editions
"Love does not have a sexual orientation. Love is universal.'
Most everyone has those sepia-toned photos stashed in a box in their parent or grandparents' closets (no pun intended), and some may even be photos like these, of mostly young men, arms casually around each other's shoulders, balancing on a paper moon, lying in the grass in matching navy uniforms, embracing on the beach in one-piece swim suits, or perched on the bulbous fender of a cherry '49 Ford. A relative may have looked at them and said "I reckon they must have been good friends", but to the 21st century eye, we know what was going on, and it warms our jaded hearts. Loving is a thick, lusciously reproduced coffee table book of mostly anonymous photos spanning a century from the pre-civil war to pre-Stonewall, every one with a story behind the tenderly clasped hands and adoring gazes. We'll never know those stories, but one can safely assume they were all bittersweet ones, though in that millisecond when the flashbulbs popped, they were all the most glorious moments in the lives of their subjects, without a doubt.