Mark Alan Stamaty’s Village Voice comic MacDoodle St. is unlike anything else in print. Each installment of the weekly strip, which ran from 1978 to 1979, is packed with sight gags and digressions, the panels near to bursting with recurring characters and critters. Through this chaos, though, zings an arrow of a plot. From week to week, Stamaty somehow finds a way to thread non sequiturs into a cohesive whole. Tossed-off jokes calcify into story beats, and Malcolm Frazzle, a doofy poet, bumbles his way into somehow saving the world. The final strip shows Malcolm and friends sailing out of the city on MacDoodle Airlines, promising to “be back after a while.” However, the strip never returned. This week, New York Review Comics has reissued the complete MacDoodle St. in book form. A new addendum, written forty years after the strip’s finale, reveals why Stamaty said goodbye to MacDoodle St. and how, in the process, he rediscovered the joy of being an artist. A portion of this addendum appears below.
The unnamed protagonist of Gébé’s Letter to Survivors is a mail carrier who traverses a barren, desertlike landscape on a bicycle. Because this story takes place in the aftermath of some probably nuclear apocalypse, he wears a hazmat suit, his mask protruding comically like a duck’s bill. He travels from bunker to bunker, shouting the contents of strange letters down to former suburbanites huddled in dim squalor. Never before available in English, Letter to Survivors has just been published by New York Review Comics in a translation by Edward Gauvin. Below, the postman arrives with a message describing a painter who gets paid by a mysterious fat cat to black out, square by square, an original Modigliani.
An essay by cult manga star Tadao Tsuge, translated by Ryan Holmberg
My comics have been turned into a movie. It’s titled Vagabond Plain.
The script and the direction are both by veteran director Teruo Ishii. Officially, I am “author of the original story.” But to be honest, I feel a bit guilty about receiving that honor. Upon reading the script, my initial reactions were “?” and “ … ” and also some “!!” My crude and naked stories had been dolled up and transformed into something bold and wonderful.
The script was super fun. Director Ishii had laced together a number of my short and medium-length stories, then embellished them with his own wild-spirited sections, to spin a yarn that is truly bizarre. I hesitate to call myself the original author precisely because I am so impressed with Ishii’s additions. His parts are the overall narrative’s true jewels. Had the script followed my manga faithfully, the resulting movie would surely have been too bleak. It’s presumptuous of me to think this, but I wonder if Ishii consciously set out to combat the darkness of my work.
I couldn’t wait for the movie to be completed. The shooting of Vagabond Plain was wrapped up early last December (1994)—which means it took all of one month!
I went to see the initial cut at the Togen Laboratory in Chōfu (west of Tokyo). The movie was more fun than I expected. It had singing and dancing and eros and daring action scenes and the bizarre and grotesque. It had anything and everything, and all the charm of the “grand motion pictures” of yore. It wasn’t a movie that required difficult philosophizing. If you tried too hard to make sense of it, you would probably just get knotted up inside your own clever thinking. Read More
My seven-year-old recently reminded me, after thirty years of forgetting, that there’s a sinister underground current of folk songs being traded on the schoolyards of America, behind garden sheds and under slides, away from the watchful eyes of what in my time were called “yard duties”.
What’s amazing about these songs is that there are dozens of them that seem to be pretty much universal, both geographically and across generations. The one below should certainly be familiar. “Ms. Lucy” has roots that go back at east as far as early 20th Century vaudeville, at which point it was just a single quatrain about a steamboat. Over the decades, children all over the country added more quatrains and variations, until it became the song that so many people now know almost by instinct.
But as familiar as the song may be, it wasn’t until I applied my time-hardened analytical ear to the lyrics that I realized just how strange and wonderful they are. So of course I had to draw them.
Songs like these have a funny, complex life of their own, slowly getting modified and updated, while retaining a few anachronisms. My daughter knows what a “TV set” is, for example, even though she’s never encountered one “in real life.” In the same way, I knew what a steamboat was at age seven because it was already stamped on the culture as a cliché in cartoons.
There are other schoolyard songs I could’ve illustrated that are way funnier, but they’re in such horribly poor taste that they’ll have to wait until I’m too worn and crotchety to worry about offending the public. In any case, I love the teasing word play in this one, and can’t get over that it’s been with me, dormant, all these years. It’s probably a good place to hang the blame on all the hack work I’ve subsequently churned out as a freelancer