Meet the Comics Press: Royal Flush #5

Posted by on March 2nd, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Number Foundation; 126 pp.; $9.99; Color

For a publication of aggregate interests, this slick, hefty, irregularly published magazine probably incorporates comics, both as medium and topic, more naturally and thoroughly than any other periodical I can think of.

There are several reasons for this, the first given in small print on the cover: “The ART of Rock and Roll.” This translates as a “graphics first, ask questions later” marriage that relies heavily upon illustration cum cartoons. The issue at hand, “Book 5,” has a cover by Drew Friedman and interior drawings by the likes of Danny Hellman and Aaron Augenblick. An article on the duo “Heavy Trash” features the album art of Tony Millionaire (wherein it is proven that devotees, like academics, make mistakes, as in the repeated reference to “Drunky Crow”); Chip Kidd, as facilitator, gets himself a sidebar interview. Another piece traces the collaboration of the band Mindless Self Indulgence with artist Jhonen Vasquez. The drummer from System of a Down has a kit with art on it by Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Simon Bizley, Kevin Eastman and Art Adams and here are the pictures. (The cover for Book 6 promises features on Hugh Hefner’s comic art and the friendship between Frank Zappa and Jack Kirby.)

There are comic stories and comic pages, the best being “Dangermouse’s Sunday Funnies Mash-Ups” (including “The Whitehorns,” conjoining the Lockhorns cartoon and the band The White Stripes; “Flavor of Dilbert,” adding Flavor Flav to the office strip; and “Sammy Hagar the Horrible”). As a matter of magazine policy, prominent illustrations have their illustrators prominently credited.

Moreover, the magazine actively seeks out visuals from unexpected sources in a section called “Stealth Artist.” There, wrestler Jerry Lawler, he of the set-tos with comedian Andy Kaufman, shows himself to be a surprisingly skillful illustrator and caricaturist. The same section reveals the late Phil “You-probably-remember-me-from-such-Simpsons-characters-as-Troy-McClure-and-Lionel-Hutz” Hartman as the creator of several accomplished and visually diverse album covers, including Steely Dan’s Aja.

The impact of comics isn’t exclusively visual. Todd McFarlane gets an article to himself. Interviewees are regularly asked about their comic-book preferences (guitarist Slash singles out Fritz the Cat from his youth; Moebius, Howard Chaykin, Winsor McCay, and Goseki Kojima are cited as favorites by Jimmy Urine, frontman for Mindless Self Indulgence). Cover boy and Friedman-subject Patton Oswalt is given a layout that borrows from DC’s Green Lantern; his full-page interior drawing has him hanging with blue-skinned alien Guardians. The lone photograph has Oswalt stretching over back issue bins at a comic store. In truth, almost as much of the article is spent on discussing comics as is spent on his comedy career. Which is not so far afield, as Oswalt has written several comic stories — as the piece notes — including one with Sergio Aragonés for Batman #600, “The Dark, Groovy, Solid, Far-Out and Completely With-It Knight Returns.”

Well, that’s a lot of graphics and name-dropping, but that’s also a lot of what Royal Flush is about. Collectively, the magazine presents itself as a splashy, high-speed careen through less reputable neighborhoods of pop, mass, youthful and once-upon-a-time youthful amusements. It’s underground counterculture in black and bright, saturated colors, but without wallowing in troubling vices and behavioral conditions that would so discomfit mom and dad (says the guy with no kids). All in all its content reminds of a cross between a less risible Mad, a more worldly Wizard, a seedier People and whatever rock magazine most resembles Walter Scott’s Personality Parade (“What’s Jello Biafra been up to lately?”).

Royal Flush apparently began with a group of students from the School of Visual Arts, which probably still accounts for its urban, specifically N.Y.C.-centric focus (the only concert covered outside of the Greater Metropolitan Apple took place in Toronto). As suggested, it also likely accounts for the pronounced “graphics first”orientation in which prose often plays an untethered second fiddle.

Items are generally short, sometimes no more than punchy remarks surrounded by big visuals: McFarlane’s two page spread has maybe 2/3rds a page of text. Often the writing is little more than set-ups for interviews or framework for quotes from featured celebs. It is they, mostly by default, who wind up providing the more intriguing and insightful commentary. If you’re trying to actually read a lot of the magazine, this proves a hamstrung, wearisome format yet one that may well represent a savvy coordination of audience expectation and staff interest. Still, any time you’re counting on Gary Bussey to elevate the level of discourse, you’ve written yourself into a corner.

As a window on the world, Royal Flush works best as an accumulation of loudly visual funk detritus culled from selected if fairly widely scattered pockets of popular amusement. It’s gathered and presented with somebody younger and more excitable than you in mind but still invites any and all comers to take away what they will (Hugh Hefner owns the crypt next to the grave of Marilyn Monroe! Shannon Wheeler’s “Too Much Coffee Man” is an opera!). Comics fit right in, but however comfortably and efficiently they can work the room, they are slumming as eye candy and fabulous trivia.

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