So it’s been a while.
I didn’t intend for my blog vacation to last quite as long as it did, but once I really dedicated myself to not doing much of anything for a while… That shit really took. As I write this, I’m on the final day of a week off from the day job, and I was maybe three-quarters of the way into that vacation before I realized that I was feeling human again.
My vacations are always this way, of course. I tend to be kind of relentless when I start doing something, and I need periodic breaks to let go and reset. And this year… this long. freaking. year… I evidently needed a week of complete vegging out before I was able to really function properly again. And so, I decided that it was time to open the Nerd Farm back up for business.
So what did I do with all that time, other than nothing?
Largely, I spent it enjoying escapist entertainment. 1970s Doctor Who. Mystery Science Theater 3000. Old horror movies. And a new season of Noah Hawley’s brilliant crime anthology TV series Fargo. Which might be a bit too complex to count as completely “escapist,” but the joy it brings me puts it firmly under that umbrella.
But mostly, I spent boatloads of time watching professional wrestling. I had been enjoying the Wednesday Night Wars between American companies AEW and NXT. Then New Japan started back up, and suddenly all that “sports entertainment” crap started looking a lot less attractive to me. And just when New Japan went on break between their summer and fall tours, Ring of Honor started back up with their Pure Wrestling tournament, a stark affair focused on relatively realistic wrestling, and that made the Wednesday Night Wars look kinda lame, too.
Then, over the last month, New Japan came roaring back for its annual G1 Climax event, a month-long round-robin tournament showcasing the best professional wrestling in the world. The G1 is a marathon, offering up as many as three or four full-length shows a week for an entire month, and the vast majority of matches have the potential to be barn-burners. It’s the very definition of “all killer, no filler.”
Honestly, I probably would have gotten back to the Nerd Farm sooner if it wasn’t for the G1. But, hey. I needed the break, and pro wrestling might be the ultimate in escapist entertainment for me. In fiction, I look for complexity in theme, plot, and character. But with pro wrestling, I really just appreciate the skill involved in putting on a good fake fight.
Of course, I also read a whole lotta funnybooks. I’ve got a pretty big stack of them sitting here at my desk awaiting review, and that’s just the stuff I selected as the highlights. Thing is, now that I’m actually writing the column, I find that I’ve only got time for a couple of them. So let’s consider this a warm-up column, covering my two favorite reads from my blog vacation…
by Ed Brubaker and Marcos Martin
The first issue of this came out six months ago, so for those of you who’ve forgotten… Friday is the story of Friday Fitzhugh, former tomboy sidekick to genius boy detective Lancelot Jones. Together, they spent their adolescence investigating small-town crime and all manner of occult mysteries. Think Encyclopedia Brown if Pippi Longstocking was his sidekick, and they covered the same supernatural turf as the Three Investigators. Except a bit more weird and terrifying.
Friday and Lance have grown up now, or at least reached college age, and things aren’t as simple for them as they used to be. Friday chose to go off to college, for one thing, while Lance (younger than her, but ahead of her in school) stayed behind for reasons unknown. Plus, something happened between them on Friday’s last night in town, and they haven’t talked about it since. Now Friday’s home for Christmas break, and something deeply weird is going on (even by her standards).
So, yes. It’s Brubaker’s tribute to kids’ detective fiction, written for adults and drawn by Martin in a style that pays tribute to classic horror illustrators like Edward Gorey. The first issue was released back in the spring, just after the comics industry shut down in the early days of the pandemic. That made Friday especially welcome to me; since it’s a webcomic, distributed via Martin’s Panel Syndicate site, it doesn’t rely on the usual comics ecosystem to get to its audience.
And I am very much that audience. Weird fiction is my favorite thing, and I’ve wanted Brubaker to dive more fully into it ever since the teases he gave us with Fatale seven or eight years ago. Friday seems to be dipping more into the sort of folkloric wilderness horror traded in by guys like Algernon Blackwood. But honestly, that just puts it even more in my wheelhouse.
At any rate. The first issue set the scene and introduced the characters. This second one is all about the relationship between Friday and Lance, from their first meeting when she was 12, through their awesome adventures, and right up to that fateful night before she left town. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but it involves them confronting the true nature of their relationship, and wound up going places far weirder than your usual teenage awkwardness.
Part of the fun here is in seeing kid heroes growing up and dealing with their remarkable lives. But the glimpses we’re getting into those lives are just as fascinating. I find myself wishing that the Lancelot Jones & Friday Fitzhugh books were a real thing that I could find at my local library. That speaks volumes about how well Brubaker and Martin have imagined this world. The supernatural elements are cool, creepy, and satisfyingly strange. I want more, in other words. I hope I don’t have another six-month wait to get it, but if it’s gonna be this good… maybe that’s okay.
by Jim Rugg
This is a fascinating project. It’s based on a Russian underground comics legend, the creation of a bunch of dissident artists in the Soviet era. They drew upon ancient legends of a “devil-woman” to come up with Octobriana, a subversive anti-communist super hero striking blows against oppression in the name of Russian freedom. Her creators were mostly rounded up and jailed, the only proof of their work a few ragged, passed-around copies of the illegal comics they made about her.
The thing is… None of that is true.
Jim Rugg claims that the character was actually created by a bunch of academic hoaxsters who published scholarly articles about this completely fictional underground comic that they made up out of whole cloth. He ran across references to the character and followed her down the rabbit hole until he got the whole story, and it so fascinated him that he decided to make a comic imagining what those fake Russian undergrounds might have been like.
And he imagines rather well, creating a comic that’s one insane action scene after another, culminating in Octobriana’s final battle with her arch-enemy Robot Stalin.
That spread really captures the book better than anything I can say. It’s simultaneously idiotic, horrifically violent, mildly subversive, and one hell of a lot of fun.
Rugg also recently became fascinated with the garish colors of blacklight posters, and decided to make Octobriana the world’s first blacklight comic. That’s right: if you still have a blacklight laying around from the 1970s… This comic will look reaaalllly trippy. But even if you don’t, the color scheme really enhances the book, making some of the simple line work sing in a way it might not with normal funnybook coloring.
Of course, that color comes with a price. This book was a Kickstarter project with a limited print run, done on high-quality paper with unusual color needs. As such, it’s more of an art object than any kind of traditional commercial publishing, and it comes with a price tag reflecting that status: it’s a full 10 bucks for something that’s about the size and length of your average monthly comic.
Which is an ironic level of bourgeois excess, considering the subject matter.
About that, though…
That literary hoax Rugg explains as the inspiration for this comic? I’m not sure it’s real, either. This only just occurred to me as I was writing this, mind you, so lord knows. But I think I’d like it even more if I found out that it was actually a double hoax, and that Rugg just made the whole thing up out of whole cloth to give his weird Soviet fight comic a level of verisimilitude.
No, scratch that.
I KNOW I’d like it even more.
(UPDATE ON MY IDLE SPECULATIONS: Rugg didn’t make Octobriana up. Billy Idol’s also a fan. He’s had an Octobriana tattoo since early in his career, and she also appears on a billboard in the “Dancing With Myself” video. It’s a small world after all…)
But either way, I’ve gotta give this thing…