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An Emotional, Sensitive Work

Today on the site, we have Steven Ringgenberg's obituary for Ken Bald, who until recently held the World Record as oldest working cartoonist.

Veteran cartoonist Ken Bald is someone who can truly be said to have grown up in the American comics industry. Bald, who died on March 17th, was born on August 1st, 1920, went on to have one of the longest and most prolific careers of any cartoonist, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, which honored him in 2017, not once but twice, as the "Oldest Comic Artist," and the "Oldest Artist to Illustrate a Comic Book Cover," which he accomplished in 2016 at the age of 96. Because of the many contributions he made to the comics industry, as well as the epic length of his career, Ken Bald deserves to be much better known than he is in the present day. Many comics creators are given legendary status if they hang in there long enough, but Ken Bald really was a legend.

Born in New York City, Bald grew up in Mt. Vernon New York and later attended the Pratt Institute, and at some point took classes at the Toronto College of Art in Toronto, Ontario. After graduating from Pratt, Bald moved to Englewood, New Jersey.

His first published work was a fan drawing printed in More Fun #9 (April, 1936) which had the distinction of being the first standard-sized comic containing new material. It was published by National Allied Publications, which later became National Periodical Publications, more familiarly known as DC Comics. After attending the Pratt Institute for three years, through 1941, Bald immediately joined the Jack Binder shop which packaged entire comic books for various publishers, Fawcett, Nedor, and Lev Gleason Publications. At first, the Binder shop was a modest affair, with Bald and a handful of other artists working in Jack Binder’s living room. However, within a year or so, business was so good that Binder was able to rent a Fifth Avenue loft and employed fifty or sixty artists. In addition to Bald, Binder employed such future greats as Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Bill Ward, Kurt Schaffenberger and Pete Riss, among others. Studio mate Gil Kane recalled in a 1996 Comics Journal interview, “Binder had a loft on Fifth Avenue and it just looked like an internment camp. There must have been 50 or 60 guys up there, all at drawing tables. You had to account for the paper that you took."

Frank M. Young is here, too, with a review of the recent Jay Lynch anthology, Ink & Anguish.

Jay Lynch is the underdog of the first wave of American underground cartoonists. Had he been born 30 years earlier—or later—fame and fortune might have been his as a comic artist. Lynch went through much personal struggle to stay afloat, but he kept going, and always produced first-rate work.

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Lynch is best-known for his “Nard ‘n’ Pat” series—an old-school style strip about a hapless, hat-wearing divorcee and his smart-ass cat companion. Like Robert Crumb and Bobby London, Lynch was inspired by the low art that he saw throughout his childhood. Early appearances in Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine and decades of work from Topps got Lynch’s work broad circulation—although he never signed his Topps work until the 21st century.

The comics contained in this volume are comical—sharply written, flawlessly constructed and, as the years go on, increasingly impressive as cartoon art. Lynch founded a Midwestern underground style, with Bijou Funnies, which also featured work by Crumb, Kim Deitch, Skip Williamson, and other major cartoonists, being his major contribution to comix. A hard worker, Lynch pursued the sheer craft of cartooning. By the mid-1970s, his comics and illustration work have a dazzling professional sheen. Gone are the callow, tentative lines of his work c. 1968—every pen stroke is unerringly right, and in service of whatever he’s illustrating. His 1970s color work for such magazines as Oui, Details, Gallery, and the Chicago Sun-Times is first-rate—and very much of its time. Given what a smart social satirist and deft humorist Lynch is, his talent feels wasted on the likes of Oui, but Lynch was always a professional, and his most commercial work still bears his stamp of individuality and quirk.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Last week saw the death of cartoonist Leslie Sternbergh Alexander, a longtime fixture on the New York cartooning scene well-liked by many. We will have more coverage soon.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews Julie Delporte.

NATHAN SCOTT MCNAMARA: While This Woman’s Work doesn’t explicitly engage with the Kate Bush song it borrows it title from, it’s a fitting homage. Could you tell us about your history with Kate Bush’s music?

JULIE DELPORTE: One of the translators of the book, Aleshia Jensen, found this title. The original french edition had a different title which made reference to a French grammatical structure (the masculine takes over the feminine, something that literally every french kid learns at school) and couldn’t be translated. I like the English title because it adds one more inspiring woman to my research of desirable feminine identities — Kate Bush joins Tove Jansson, Chantal Akerman, Paula M. Baker, Geneviève Castrée, and other women present in the pages of the book. I like Kate Bush’s music, though I don’t know it really well, but it made total sense that the title references another woman’s inspiration, whether it’s my translator’s or the reader’s. The goal of my book is for it to be about something larger than myself. I wanted to ask readers: “this is what it’s like for me, was it like this for you?” The title Aleshia Jensen found makes me think of the idea of women as a working class… This Woman’s Work talks a lot about maternity — a subject I never planned initially, and only discovered when I finished drawing the book — which is considered the work of women above all. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici addresses it, explaining how capitalism was partly built on the appropriation and exploitation of the reproductive work of women.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Mark Alan Stamaty.

—Reviews. Brian Nicholson writes about Matt Fraction's Hawkeye.

[I] feel bad about trying to join in the chorus of people talking about how Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye was pretty good. It is absolutely a fun and well-crafted comic, deserving of some praise. However, it’s already been written about a lot, and by people whose writing basically makes me want to kill myself when I think about how the distinction between me and them is virtually nil. I can write about some under-discussed alternative comic and feel like I’m basically doing literary criticism, but writing about a Marvel comic, published during the era of Marvel movies and Netflix TV shows totally dominating culture, makes me feel bad about myself at least in part because it feels like willfully choosing to do something I will fail at.

—Misc. The annual MoCCA Arts Festival is being held this weekend in New York, and the show's programming can be found here and here.

—RIP. Agnès Varda.


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