Even given the rising public interest in literate art-comics, it isn't always easy for top cartoonists to get their work in front of the people who might like it. Not everyone is a graphic novelist, and not everyone can slot their output cleanly into a general-interest magazine. Cartoonist Carol Tyler makes light of the situation in the title of her comics short-story collection Late Bloomer, but it's still a shame that an artist as gifted as Tyler has gone so unrecognized for so long. She's been contributing pieces to alternative-comics anthologies like Weirdo and Drawn & Quarterly since the mid-'80s, applying her thick, curvy line and scribbled shading to anecdotal stories about the struggle to be both a creative person and a working mother. In recent years, she's made some remarkable advances with watercolors and colored pencils, giving her panels added depth by letting the hues comment on the action. (At times, the color really is the action, as in 1991's "Color My Day," where Tyler comes up with Crayola-ready shades to match her needs, like "surgical wound infection," "pizza vomit," and "check book.") Late Bloomer's stories range from family history to gentle social commentary to subtle evocations of the world's beauty. The book has taken almost 20 years to complete, but the time hasn't been wasted.
The work of cartoonist/conceptualist Mark Newgarden is much tougher to compile. Aside from a stint as a weekly cartoonist for the New York Press, and a few strips scattered across anthologies like Raw, Newgarden's greatest cultural impact has been as a creative force behind Topps novelties like the Garbage Pail Kids and Barfo candy. The craftily designed book We All Die Alone opens with an appreciation by Dan Nadel (illustrated with examples of Newgarden's Topps work and assorted art projects), and it ends with an extended collage by Newgarden, "Garbage In: That's Funny," which cuts together all the clip-art, hoary gags, instructional manuals, and vintage advertising that influenced him. In between, We All Die Alone reprints a large chunk of Newgarden's weekly strips, in all their humor-deconstructing postmodern glory. Newgarden juxtaposes ludicrously mismatched images and words in ways that would be dryly semiotic were it not for his caustic wit and boundless imagination. (Witness the "Meet The Cast" series, which introduces more than 250 new characters, like "Ted The Socially Insecure Thumbtack" and "Alphonso The Subtly Disturbing Hand Puppet.") No cartoonist needs a whole graphic novel when he can say all he needs to with one big panel containing the following words: "Imagine A Drawing Of Dennis The Menace" and "Imagine A Sentence Of Samuel Beckett's."