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Awake at Night

Today on the site, Frank M. Young digs deep into comics history, as is his wont, to explore one of the many lesser-known careers in comics that are probably even more revealing than the more famous ones all fans already know by heart.

Born in 1924 in Springfield, Illinois, Dean Miller was an eager artist from early childhood. His cartooning career began at age 16 in the Houston, Texas area where he grew up. World War II interrupted his comics work; he spent four years in the Air Force, where he was stationed in Fort Myers and Miami, Florida. He was a gunnery instructor and taught aboard a B-52 bomber. There, he developed a love for boxing.

After WWII, Miller moved to Chicago, where he found work grinding prescription lenses for eye-glasses—a trade he learned from his father, who was an ophthalmologist. Around this time, he also considered a career as a minister. These work options were dropped when he was hired by the Chicago Tribune to continue Merkel’s strip.

At age 24, Miller was perhaps the youngest syndicated cartoonist in America. A photograph taken at the Trib’s 1948 Christmas party shows Miller beaming with youthful confidence, his slight frame dwarfed in a big-shouldered, double-breasted suit coat. He points backward to a Christmas tree decorated with original drawings by the Tribune cartoonists. A Chester Gould drawing of Dick Tracy hangs over Miller’s head.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. ProPublica has a story on Marvel chairman Ike Perlmutter's unofficial role essentially running the VA for the Trump administration.

If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States. Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the president visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,” another former official said. Former administration officials say that VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-A-Lago Crowd were pushed out or passed over. Included, those officials say, were the secretary (whose ethical lapses also played a role), deputy secretary, chief of staff, acting under secretary for health, deputy under secretary for health, chief information officer, and the director of electronic health records modernization.

Roz Chast has won a Visionary Woman Award from Moore College.

—Interviews & Profiles. Emil Ferris was a recent guest on NPR's All Things Considered.

Born into a family of artists, Ferris loved to draw — her school notebooks were full of doodles and stories, just like Karen's. As an adult, she worked as a housekeeper to make ends meet when her illustration work wasn't enough. She says that as a single mother, she often brought her young daughter along to the houses she cleaned, "and then we would talk about stories. That was something we did together to keep the magic in us, because that kind of work is really hard on you."

On the occasion of the new David Wojnarowicz exhibit at the Whitney, Steve Brower reviews the show and talks to James Romberger about the book they collaborated on.

David was very serious and focused, but he was also kind and funny. He had suffered a lot and this continued to his death, but I’ve never met a more empathetic individual. You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of his anger, though.

How did Seven Miles A Second come about?

We had spoken about comics, which influenced his visual symbology, but he didn’t consider himself to be much of a draftsman and in fact, his earlier work is a bit unrefined. He had a sharp learning curve though and got a lot better very quickly. After we closed our gallery in 1987, before “graphic novels” existed, we began talking about the comic and worked out a 3-part structure for what is really a graphic novella. He respected my abilities in graphic storytelling and allowed me to edit his raw text to craft a narrative that conformed to our agreed-upon structure from a pile of typed autobiographical fragments, overheard monologues and dream journals.

Barnes & Noble interviewed Scott McCloud on the 25th anniversary of Understanding Comics.

Thinking back to 1993, I’m curious about the reception to Understanding Comics—from comics experts on the one hand, and from the broader art world on the other. I’d imagine that different camps had very different things to say.

Comics experts gave it a mostly warm reception at the beginning, but then the various debates started and have never really stopped; which is how it should be. I haven’t been directly engaged in a lot of those debates; I like to let the book speak for itself; but the last few years have been interesting. I might dive back in a bit more soon.

Smithsonian Magazine takes a look at the revamped Nancy, which continues to get more press coverage than any legacy strip I can remember, interviewing new artist Olivia Jaimes, as well as Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik.

“Before I even got approached, I’d kind of become an old-school Nancy fanatic. It’s so clean,” Jaimes says, who was approached by the strip’s owners because of her previous comics work (done under her real name) and her known love for the history of Nancy. “It was so ahead of its time. Some of these panels were written in the 1930s and are still funny today. My affection for this old comic strip kind of leaked out of my pores.” That affection is what drew the publishers of Nancy, Andrews McMeel Syndication, to Jaimes and made her the first woman to draw Nancy. “Plenty of men have written young girl characters for a long time, and that is demonstrably fine,” Jaimes says. “But there are definitely parts of girlhood that I really haven’t seen reflected.”

The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Bill Plympton.

—Reviews & Commentary. At The New Republic, Josephine Livingstone writes about Nick Drnaso's Sabrina.

There are a lot of pages without any words on them in Sabrina. No commentary, no thought bubbles.
The story that plays out across its 204 pages is simple, brief even. But the book takes its length from its pacing. Nick Drnaso moves his story at the speed of ordinary human life. In the real world, it takes about six panels to get ready for bed, and nobody talks while they do it. Events both small (conversations) and large (tragedies) do occur, but so do the many interstitial hours we spend alone, driving or just thinking. In this sense Drnaso’s scenes play out like the opposite of an old-school comic. In the work of Aline Kominsky Crumb, say, life is sped up and boiled down and whipped into crackling humor. But Drnaso takes it slowly, and that’s what makes it feel like a novel.

At New Politics, Kent Worcester writes about a slate of politically oriented comics, including Hypercapitalism, The Young C.L.R. James, and Prisoner 155.

Agustín Comotto is a gifted cartoonist and children’s book illustrator whose latest book tells the story of the Ukrainian-born Simón Radowitzky (1891-1956). Radowitzky was an anarchist of the “propaganda of the deed” variety who spent twenty-one years in a penal colony for using a homemade bomb to kill the Chief of the Argentine Federal Police, and his secretary, in 1909. Pardoned in 1930, Radowitzky marched off to Spain, where he fought alongside other anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. At the time of his death, he was working in a toy factory in Mexico. In his foreword, Stuart Christie describes Radowitzky as “a committed humanist imbued with a deep sense of justice who never expressed regret for the two lives he took.” While it may be an exaggeration to describe Prisoner 155 as “comparable to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis,” Comotto’s pages are engaging, and anyone with an interest in early twentieth-century anarchism will be intrigued.


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