Above ground underground.
by Mike Baron

Joe Sacco, who used to be what we called an underground artist, has a sixteen page story in the April Harper's. Someone who appears in one of our premier intellectual magazines can no longer be called underground. Sacco has arrived as a cartoonist and a reporter. His story "Down! Up!" deals with two U.S. servicemen trying to whip a group of Iraqi National Guards into shape. There's nothing fictional about it. In fact, it rings so true to life you get the impression you are there. Moreso than if this had been an actual documentary with the participants speaking exactly as Sacco has recorded them.

Sacco has done this before, in Palestine and the Fixer. He is pioneering a new type of reporting in which words and pictures dare you to say otherwise. If Sacco kept notes, I have no doubt they'd back up the dialogue completely. The undergrounders used a similar method, but it was mostly autobiographical and solipsistic. Recall all those R. Crumb strips about the effects of acid.

© 2007 Joe Sacco

"Sgt. Weaver's prescription for one wrong answer is ten push-ups." Hence the title of the story. As the hapless Iraqis struggle to achieve unobtainable U.S. military requirements, Sgt Weaver and Doc Saba play bad cop/good cop. The Iraqis are desperate and demoralized. They joined the National Guard because it was their only option. They have families to support and are terrified of terrorists who make it a point of targeting any Iraqi presumptuous enough to join the rebuilding effort.

It doesn't sound like promising comic material, but it is. Sixteen pages is an enormous space in which to stretch out the story of simple training exercises. But that's the point of the story - to show the tedium and pessimism of the job. The story itself is never tedious. You get the impression you're listening in on a private conversation. Sgt. Weaver can't stand it that the Iraqi recruits are too weak to perform a regular push-up. They keep falling to their knees. "Hey! Get your dick off the ground! Why are you fucking the ground?" That could only come from an American drill instructor.

Nexus on Free Comic Book Day

Rude Dude Productions has only three titles: Nexus, Moth, and the Rude Dude Anthology. Our first Nexus in ten years will be the Free Comic Book Day Nexus, a thirty-two pager that will bring readers up to speed and introduce them to some mind-blowing art.

FCBD Nexus (or Nexus 98 1/2) contains excerpts from some of our more notable issues with essays explaining why I included them. The inside front cover contains a biography of Horatio and his friends. We're doing excerpts because so much of this material didn't get wide distribution, particularly Dude's pioneering work on the later First issues. There is also material from Dark Horse's criminally under-circulated series. Another reason we're doing excerpts is because so many of them show what the comic is about: life, love, revenge, madness.

FCBD Nexus also contains the cover to Nexus #99 which is done with opera-style lighting. And it contains the first seven pages to Nexus #99 in full color. Everything is hand-lettered. Issue #99 ships July 11. Issue #100, shipping in August, will be double-sized. That's quite a gamble for a neophyte publisher, but we're counting on the comics community - and those outside - to appreciate the fact that Steve Rude is one of our greatest living illustrators, and his work will be collected and treasured as long as there are readers.

© 2007 Rude Dude Productions

Mike Baron worked for the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark, and the Real Paper. He broke into comics with Nexus, his groundbreaking science fiction title co-created with illustrator Steve Rude. Baron has written Marvel's Punisher, DC's Batman, Deadman, and Flash. Nexus has garnered honors too numerous to mention, including Eisners for both creators. Baron has written Star Wars for Dark Horse, Turok, Dinosaur Hunter and Archer & Armstrong for Valiant, and has three issues of Legends of the Dark Knight in the works.

A prolific creator, Baron is at least partly responsible for The Badger, Ginger Fox, Spyke, Feud, and many other comic book titles. He currently has two new web comics up at Big Head Press. The Architect is a horror story based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Hook is rock and roll science fiction - think Farenheit 451 only instead of banning books they have banned music.
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