Random acts

Local folkie film star?

Chuck Brodsky was in Anderson, S.C., last week to perform his song “Radio” in conjunction with the town’s premiere of Radio, the just-released Columbia Pictures chronicle of the real-life mentoring relationship between a developmentally disabled young man (Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr.) and a compassionate high-school football coach (Oscar nominee Ed Harris).

For nearly a decade, Brodsky has been singing the poignant story of James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, whose antics at T.L. Hanna football games beginning in the mid-’70s eventually transformed him into the Anderson high school’s biggest and most visible booster — and a living symbol of his hometown’s football pride.

Though Brodsky and his potent song could never be present enough in this new, glossy Hollywood melodrama to suit the Asheville-based folk-music hero’s hard-core fans, you will catch a nice freeze-frame glimpse of the bearded troubadour during the movie’s final scene, when the real Radio (now 56) and Coach Harold Jones take the place of the actors.

— Frank Rabey

Certified superhero-free

When I saw the first five issues of Will Murray‘s Tales from the Underworld, I knew I’d found something different. Here was a photocopied comic book from a local artist who drew neither heroin-chic vampires nor superheroes and who aspired to neither Japanese manga nor what I like to call the Zine-Primitive Scrawl.

Instead, Murray had created an amusing story about a flapper on a mission to get her man out of jail, augmented by a variety of subplots involving moonshine and break dancing, written and drawn with an eye toward quality and grown-up readership.

Murray began Tales to entertain a pregnant friend. “It was a long process,” he recalls, though he adds, “it got faster.”

And though he’s never publicly hawked his work, the Asheville native did circulate his books among friends (who quickly turned into fans).

Stylistically, Murray’s cartoons inhabit a midregion genre, deriving elements from both mainstream super-success Frank Miller (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) and indie comic icon Harvey Pekar (American Splendor).

Murray, who says he “learned how to draw straight lines” at N.C. State, was also impacted by the superhero-mutant adventures of the often (and often very poorly) imitated Jim Lee (X-Men) — not to mention such 1960s underground artisans as Robert Crumb and Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez, thanks to his dad’s Zap collection.

Asked who his audience is, Murray muses, “I think it’s people who don’t ordinarily read comics — who never could be bothered. People who, like, see [comics] as a stereotypical young boys’ power trip, or whatever.

“I’m trying,” he continues, “to get more people into it, since [it’s] such a good art form. You can tell any kind of story you want with them.

“I’d love to make a living at it,” he admits, quoting a roommate’s sage advice regarding creative endeavors of all sorts: “Do what you do.”

“Comics — it’s always been like I’ve been resisting it my entire life. … Just lately, I’ve been feeling like, you know what? This is what I’m best at, so I might as well do this.”

Comics’ dark side … no, really

If you’re among those who still assume that joining words and pictures serves only to advance the agendas of solar-powered space orphans, let me guide you toward the following:

• Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the story of his father’s survival of the Holocaust, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and continues to stand as a major milestone in the history of U.S. comics.

• Joe Sacco revolutionized comics journalism with his documentary works Palestine and Safe Area Gorzade.

• For the finest in historical fiction, try Jason Lute’s beautifully drawn, brilliantly written Berlin, about a city in the shadow of the ascending Nazi party.

• Far better than the movie, Dan Clowes’ Ghostworld will dazzle with its incisive depiction of late-1990s adolescence.

• Jessica Abel writes both Artbabe and La Perdida, two well-executed stories of young folks maneuvering their personal dramas.

The Comics Journal, available at Downtown Books and News, offers the latest in the very broad range of comics being published today, both domestically and abroad, and also includes scholarly examinations of the classics.

Malaprop’s Bookstore carries a well-chosen selection of superhero-free comics, as does the Asheville-Buncombe Library System. Do take a look.

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