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That Time of Year

Today we are publishing my interview with Charles Burns, in which we discuss Sugar Skull, his slow working methods, learning not to censor himself, and much more. Here’s a sample:


That was another thing [Todd] Hignite included in that In the Studio book — it has a bunch of different drafts you did of a picture of a ghoul, I don’t know what it actually is.

Sure, yeah. That’s it, I forgot. That’s actually a fairly good — that’s just a single image for a cover, but it would be similar for working a page. Breaking down a page and figuring it out. But that’s kind of the way I work.

What was amazing about to me was how much it changed and it’s not like it ever was a bad drawing, but in some ways the early version was just so different and so less interesting than where you ended up at in the end. I know that’s the goal, but it still almost feels like you have to have faith in your own ability to eventually get it right – you don’t worry about too much at first.

That’s something really important, for me anyway. And that’s the way that I write as well. It’s not sitting down at a keyboard and writing a script and thinking, oh shit, what’s the next line? I sit with cheap notebooks or cheap sketchbooks and just fill them up with ideas and maybe pieces of dialogue and bits and pieces. I keep circulating through all those notes. Go back to those notes. So nothing feels cut in stone or permanent. It all feels like it’s open and I can move in any direction that I want.

It’s starting with a lot of information and slowly, slowly distilling it down to something that’s concrete. So maybe that says something about my personality that I’m very cautious and very careful about all that stuff, but I don’t have the kind of brain that can sit down and write beautiful dialogue and a beautiful story. There’s people who certainly can do that work really quickly and just do amazing work, but I don’t have that facility unfortunately. I wish I did, but I don’t.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. In a move that presumably stems from the recent legal settlement, Marvel has begun printing creator credits for Jack Kirby on many of its titles.

J. David Spurlock is suing Tatjana Wood over the possession of some Wally Wood art.

—Interviews & Profiles. Aeon has a lengthy profile of Alan Moore.

Alex Dueben interviewed both MariNaomi and Simon Hanselmann.

—Reviews & Commentary. For the NYRB, Sarah Kerr reviews the big two recent books on Wonder Woman.

For Hyperallergic, Dominic Umile reviews the new Tim Lane collection.

—Funnies. Study Group has published a whole slew of Halloween-related webcomics.

 

Shirts

Today on the site, Frank Santoro comes to us with an interview with Manuele Fior, a cartoonist Frank only just told me about, but who looks very exciting.

How has the evolution of Italian comics affected your work? Because I think, if I am not mistaken, you really began to make it as a comics maker in France. And Italian comics have their own pace and their own crisis and their own moments when they have slow down so it’s not a business anymore so you have to look for alternatives. How do you think being part of comics both in Italy and France has influenced your work?

I think it influenced me 100%. I see myself belonging to a certain Italian tradition of comic makers. The maestro for me, the reason I chose to make comics is Lorenzo Mattotti, maybe he is not so well known here in South America but when I read Fires, a Lorenzo Mattotti graphic novel from 1986, I decided to push for this job. And of course Lorenzo Mattotti comes from some comic artists in between Italy and also South America, Argentina, like Alberto Breccia, José Muñoz, Hugo Pratt. You know, comics in Italy have a very schizophrenic story: they were very popular in the ’70s when Hugo Pratt made Corto Maltese, Guido Crepax made Valentina and in the end of the ’70s beginning of the ’80s there were two groups that revolutionized the comics world: Valvoline, the group of Mattotti, Igort, and Charles Burns, who was living in Italy at the time, and the other one was Ranxerox, with [Tanino] Liberatore, [Stefano] Tamburini, and Andrea Pazienza. When I read some comics of Andrea Pazienza and Mattotti it was clear that something changed forever. They opened a door I could never shut. It’s like the first time you see Moebius, you put some books in the box then you put some new books on the shelf, a new story opens its wings. That for me was Mattotti and Pazienza. So I am definitively sticking to it but of course I am living in France so I am very influenced by a lot of people, by the work of L’Association, the work of David B, we are sponges so we take a bit of everything so we make the best out of it.

Elsewhere:

Via Francoise Mouly, here’s a gallery of Chris Ware New Yorker covers. I like these very much. And on that front, I wanted to make a special note that the great Lorenzo Matotti is making a rare NYC appearance on Saturday at McNally Jackson for his book Hansel and Gretel, which is spectacular looking.

Bill Kartalopolous has written a comics primer over at the Huff Po.

Everyone should check out this original art auction from the legendary Jay Lynch. The man should be paid for the description alone.

It looks like Stan Lee finally beat Stan Lee media.

 

 

Hands Up

Today, Greg Hunter reviews the new Humanoids edition of Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella, paying particularly close attention to the way Kelly Sue DeConnick’s adaptation of the text differs from previous versions. Here’s a short sample, but read it all:

Forest couches the sexual aspects of the Barbarella stories within a thoroughgoing cheekiness, and in fact he was ambivalent about how readers received his comics. (From Gravett: “Where I saw humor and the expression of liberty, all they saw was ‘la fesse’ [literally, ‘the butt’].”) But if Barbarella is a figure of freedom, that freedom does not exceed the bounds of Forest’s fantasies. The stories don’t pathologize her actions or frame a dangerous circumstance as the outcome of those actions. And yet it’s never difficult to remember that these comics are the creation of a dude.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Movies News.
Seemingly every site on the entire comics internet (not to mention non-comics cultural sites) is extremely excited about the latest casting and scheduling announcements about movies potentially being made featuring characters who originated in comic books. I guess most of those places are really more about enthusiasm for superheroes (or “geek culture” in general, ugh) than about comics per se, so it’s not out of line for them to spend so much time covering movies instead of comics (I’m sure it helps the bottom line in terms of traffic, too). But it also reveals how far comics really do still have to go. Twenty years ago, people who liked comics and believed in what they could be would defend the medium by comparing it to film, and saying, “Imagine what people would think about movies if almost all of them were about superheroes.” That hasn’t quite happened yet, but it’s not a crazy thought any more. But the comics press is largely still mired in the same superhero-centric, fannish magical thinking as ever. Imagine if every literary publication you could think of ran lengthy, anticipatory celebrations of every announced cinematic adaptation of a book, dissecting the possible casting choices, etc. Wait a second, I just remembered the last few years’ worth of arguments over the 50 Shades of Grey and Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies. Never mind. It’s actually spreading. I guess it’s nice to know it’s American culture in general that’s regressing and not just comics in particular.

—Reviews & Commentary. At The Believer Logger, Adrian Hill has published the first of a three-part exploration of the artistic collaboration between William S. Burroughs and Malcolm Mc Neill (Ah Pook is Here).

Over at Hazlitt, Jeet Heer reviews the new Wonder Woman history by Jill Lepore.

J. Hoberman has a rave at the New York Review of Books about Dan’s What Nerve! show.

Marc (Not the Beastmaster) Singer emerges from retirement to take stock of the latest Grant Morrison comics.

John Adcock looks at soap opera strips.

Jonathan Jones remembers Marie Duval.

Brian Hibbs notes a baffling Wonder Woman cover-marketing decision.

Neel Mukherjee writes about the conclusion of Charles Burns’ recent trilogy.

I admire Tom Spurgeon’s positive attitude, particularly as my response was more just that old people like to complain and still send letters to the editor.

—Interviews & Profiles. The aforementioned Jill Lepore was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Via video, the New York Times profiles Lalo Alcaraz.

The great New Yorker cartoonist Sam Gross was a guest on the Virtual Memories podcast.

Rob Kirby talks to Cara Bean.

Blexbolex talks process.

 

I Can’t Believe

Today on the site: Joe McCulloch has your week in comics.

Elsewhere:

This is the ultimate fanboy comic book porn. And I love it.

As usual Grantland has a nice history of a Marvel character followed by the casting news itself.

Richard Gehr points to the unlikely meeting of Frank Zappa and Mary Worth.

I love a good collection dump.

This list of “scary” comics is only notable for its omissions.

 

Don’t Look at It

Welcome to the week. Chris Mautner is with us this morning, bringing along a lengthy interview with Michel Fiffe, the cartoonist creator of Copra and Zegas who has recently begun a side-career as a writer for Marvel. Here’s a sample of their talk:

Was Zegas received well online or in the Act-i-vate Primer at all?

The Act-i-vate Primer was ignored and the Zegas stuff that was online didn’t make a dent, either. My friends liked it a lot, but it never clicked beyond that. That same story, “Birthday”, was then relaunched for MTV Geek, a site which reportedly got millions of hits a day. Not a peep from that. I knew that the platform wasn’t necessarily the problem, it was the work. It just wasn’t clicking with an audience. During this entire period, I would also occasionally make sample pages for mainstream publishers, just to exhaust every possible avenue in order to try and get paid to do this comics thing. Nothing came of that, either. It was a frustrating period.

So how did you move beyond that?

I thought making better work would take care of everything, I thought that really taking stock of what I wanted from comics would lead me to the answer. I felt like time was running out but I still had this desire to make comic books that hadn’t diminished after all this time and thought that was worth something. Plus I was getting tired of huffing barge at my day job.

“Huffing barge”? What exactly was your day job during this period?

I built props and costumes for sports teams and Broadway shows and for parades. It was a fun job, a creative, challenging job, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for more than a couple of years. I was there for seven.

So how does that lead to “huffing barge?” I apologize for the segue, but I’m intrigued by the euphemism.

Barge is the highly toxic adhesive that we used to assemble many things. We used respirators and ventilators and all that, but it’s a little much sometimes. We also worked with latex a lot. We made rubber molds, sculpted puppets. It was definitely a career, but I didn’t want it to be my career. I wanted comics.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Roz Chast was one of three winners of the first annual Kirkus Prize.

In support for the Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart’s legal problems, Martin Rowson has been recruiting cartoonists to draw caricatures of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Seth Kushner’s cancer is no longer in remission. His family’s gofundme page.

That extremely ambitious/expensive Tezuka Kickstarter I mentioned last week has drawn criticism from fans. Deb Aoki has the best rundown on the controversy I’ve seen.

Alexis Deacon has won the first Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize.

—Reviews & Commentary.
In a surprise move, John Adcock compares Chester Gould with the Canadian painter Alex Colville.


—Misc.
Here’s a post gathering a lot of old illustrated Paramount Records advertisements, which were very influential on R. Crumb’s blues comics.

 

Inhale Exhale

Today on the site:

From the archives comes Gary Groth’s expansive interview with the great Ralph Steadman, most famous for illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson books.

GROTH: Did you know who Hunter Thompson was?

STEADMAN: No, I had never heard of him before. Anyway, I went down there [to Louisville] and I met him after two days and we spent a drunken week looking for the rattled face of Kentucky, the ghastly sight that Hunter knew so well, and we finally found it in the mirror of our own face at the end of the week. The ghastly look, the rattled look [Chuckles]. I had done my drawing before I got back to New York. I spent a lot of the time in his hotel room drawing these pictures and he hadn’t done anything. He was in this stage of trying to help his mother with a personal problem; he didn’t talk about it much. He had a few family problems. He introduced me to his two older brothers, and he also maced someone that week, in a restaurant. Everybody was maced because when you spray mace in a bloody closed area, everybody gets it, everyone was going, “Ahhh!” In a restaurant!

GROTH: What were the circumstances?

STEADMAN: To get me out, because I stated drawing people and things were getting ugly. If he hadn’t had mace, we would have been in trouble.

GROTH: Who did he mace, the waiter?

STEADMAN: Somebody stumbling over: “Hey buddy, you can’t do this to me.” Hunter would say, “I wish you’d stop that ugly habit of sketching people.”

GROTH: He just carried a canister of mace with him?

STEADMAN: Yeah. And I guess we got on well because I was quite different. He said I always said everything was “teddible” — not terrible, but “teddible.” He had a funny way of saying it. I used to listen to what he said. He made me notice things I’d forgotten. So, anyway, I went back to Scanlan’s with the drawings and I hadn’t drawn a single horse. The editor said, “Didn’t you see any horses? Can’t we have one with horses in it?” So I did one drawing of a horse with a big dong, and also a Texan with his pants open and his own dong hanging out.

And on the other end of the drawing spectrum, here’s Robert Kirby’s review of John Porcellino’s The Hospital Suite.

The Hospital Suite is a deeply revealing, heartrending account of King-Cat creator John Porcellino’s descent from a normal life into a seemingly endless series of physical and mental health problems, problems that threatened to derail his life for good. Like many Porcellino fans, I knew somewhat vaguely that he had dealt with a number of health issues beginning in the late ’90s, but I had no idea of their magnitude. The Hospital Suite (amazingly, his first book of all-new, all-original material), records it for posterity. Intense and harrowing, it’s a must-read for fans of Porcellino, fans of the medical auto-bio comics sub-genre (Harvey Pekar’s Our Cancer Year, Ellen Forney’s Marbles), and fans of alt-comics in general.

Elsewhere:

Most important thing: The great Gladys Nilsson,  a member of the Hairy Who and a hugely influential and important artist in her own right has just opened a deeply compelling and at times shockingly honest solo show up right now in NYC at Garth Greenan Gallery. It’s a must for anyone in or visiting the city. Don’t miss it. Also, I did the interview for the catalog, which is available at the gallery.

Also very important: I think this video preview means that Ben Jones’ new cartoon, Stone Quackers, is debuting Sunday night on FXX. This is the best cartoon Ben has done. I have seen an episode and I fell in luuuuvvv.

Another of my favorite artists, Leslie Stein, recently began serializing her diary comics over at Vice.

Gee, New York Magazine hearts, uh, whatever you call these kind of comics now (not mainstream, not genre, but… I dunno)… here’s a lengthy piece on DC’s John Constantine.

And that’s what I have. Enjoy your weekend.

 

Gutted

Today in his column, Frank Santoro follows up on his recent trip to Colombia by spotlighting a South American cartoonist named Berliac and his graphic novel, Playground:

This is a comic about John Cassavetes. It strikes a chord with me because it is very similar to another favorite comic of mine that is also about Cassavetes: John Pham’s Substitute Life: My John Cassavetes and Chris Ware diary from a 2002 sketchbook zine. Both use the comics form to study the process and output of the great film director. They also critique the dominant forms of comics and the comics industry by using Cassavetes’ struggles with Hollywood as an example and metaphor. The authors’ own reactions to Cassavetes and their notes about these reactions/thoughts are used within the comic book narrative to tell Cassavetes’ story—and the authors’ projection that they are living and participating in their own Cassavetes movie.

And then George Elkind is here with a review of Antoine Cossé’s intriguing J.1137. Here’s a sample of that:

Does it ever feel like you’re in a movie? That odd sense of constant performance, and constant dislocation, is exactly what this comic trades in. Throughout J.1137 a “voice-over” of sorts continues over all its parts and frames, an ongoing string of not-quite-narrative caption, muddling its many layers.

For example: the title character (“J” for short) is an actor—and an android, believable and animated as an imitation of life. He’s in a movie currently in production, and is famous for roles in others—we even spot a billboard for one, though we never learn any titles. Through all this the comic acquires a rounded sense of a world with more layers to it than a fancy cake, most of its parts smoothed together with equalizing assurances of their shared falseness. That voice-over stitching this all together acts as the prime catalyst; even after the word “Cut” it continues, seeming to shift between characters, roles, and sources. At times it even appears omniscient.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Prosecutors in Turkey are trying to send cartoonist Musa Kart to prison for nine years for the caricature he drew of the former Prime Minister. [UPDATED TO ADD: This morning, Kart was acquitted.]

—Interviews. Martin Dupuis speaks to Chris Wright about his bizarre pirate comic, Blacklung.

Paul Constant profiles and interviews Gary Groth after his Stranger Genius Award win.

—TCJ. Last week, Fantagraphics posted an excerpt from the upcoming volume of TCJ interviews with Zap artists.

Alex Buchet picked out some of his favorite TCJ covers over the years.

—Misc. I usually admire Abraham Riesman’s writing on comics for Vulture, and it’s very possible (even probably) that he didn’t write the headline for this, but “tragic and disappointing” seem like astonishingly hyperbolic words to connect to Marvel’s cancellation of The Fantastic Four.

This massive 31-book Osamu Tezuka Kickstarter is a little nuts, and apparently aimed at manga fans with very deep pockets. (If I’m reading it right, you have to kick in 150 bucks before you even get a single book!)

—Reviews & Commentary. Josselin Moneyron discusses Masahiko Matsumoto’s The Man Next Door. Zainab Akhtar previews Lala Albert’s Janus.

And in an outlier review for the New York Daily News, Eydie Cubarrubia is slightly baffled by Scott McCloud’s Best American Comics volume.

 

The Beat Drops

Today on the site, since you’ve been good, here is Ryan Holmberrg uncovering YET ANOTHER hidden facet of manga history: komaga.

Without komaga (literally “panel pictures”), there would have been no gekiga. Moreover, because by the mid 60s gekiga had become lingua franca in comics for adolescent boys and young men, and because without gekiga it is unlikely that the “cinematic” would have become the obsession that it did amongst manga critics and historians, one could also say that without komaga neither manga or its discourse would exist as we know them.

Despite this, komaga’s creator, Matsumoto Masahiko (1934-2005) has only recently been resurrected from the archive. Yet still has his work barely registered within the mainstream of manga scholarship, which remains stubbornly Tezuka-centric in focus.

And Sean T. Collins is here with a review of Carol Swain’s new book, Gast.

Murder mysteries are defined by their central, structuring absences. A hole occupies the space where a life once lived. That hole can never be filled. But through an investigation of the facts, an uncovering of the truth, and a pursuit and capture of the killer, we can define and discover the shape of the hole to a degree of accuracy sufficient to put a cover on it, so that the still-living may proceed past it once more.

Gast, a graphic novel of exquisite and accomplished empathy and restraint by alternative-comics veteran Carol Swain, tells a story centered on a hole far harder to close up than most. It proceeds with the methods and mechanics of investigation and discovery. The scene of the crime is visited. The victim’s routine is examined. The friends and acquaintances of victim and suspect alike are questioned. Evidence is recovered and cataloged: a discarded make-up bag, a shell casing, a stain on the bedroom wall. Means, motive, and opportunity are all established.

Elsewhere:

Here’s a great overview of Moomins creator Tove Jansson’s prose output.

Book publishing department: I like the look of these cover designs. It’s nice to see more innovative approaches to repackaged classics. Penguin, of course, also had a great series of cartoonist-illustrated covers.

I almost forgot that Ed Piskor’s wonderful Hip Hop Family Tree is still being serialized! Here’s the latest. Not only that, but all-time great cartoonist Ben Katchor is still serializing his strip in Metropolis, and it’s online, too. It’s fun to read comics!