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I Agree With Sluggo

It's Monday, the first one since officially hearing from Donald Trump that the best case scenario in the US will be the deaths of 200,000 people. There's nothing that can be said here that isn't going to change that, but there's also very little reason to act as if the only things that can be said or written should be words intended to change that. You, like me, are probably inside your home for the rest of this month, and you've probably been there for a while already. You're probably not a health care worker, because if you were, you'd be spending your non-saving-lives time sleeping. If you're checking this site now, you're stuck inside and enduring one of the worst experiences of your life, but you still have enough interest in comics to keep showing up. Here's what we've been doing lately, and what we're working on today:

Clark Burscough joined the team, and will be checking in on a weekly basis with a round-up of comics news and comics reviews. Last week you saw him twice, with his first go-round is focused on COVID-19 and how efforts to combat the spread have impacted the business of selling and making comics, and then again on Friday with his take on our regular link round up. He's back at it again today, with his second COVID-19 focused column. Sites like The Beat and Bleeding Cool are putting in a heroic effort to keep up with this sort of news on a more as-it-happens basis--both Heidi and Rich are doing a fine job. 

Last week, Keith Silva took over the reins of our Retail Therapy column to give a more concentrated window into how individual comics retailers are dealing with the multiple blows facing their businesses. First up was Legend Comics & Coffee, a Nebraska based store.

When did you close your store and what factors went into your decision?

We went into lock down I believe on March 18. The biggest thing we considered was how much of our industry involves touching things: back issues, trades, comic issues, they're all getting touched all the time, and apparently COVID-19 lives on the surface of things for at least 48 hours. There's no way Legend could guarantee the safety of our customers and we consider our customers our extended family.

We also unleashed one of my favorite "this has been sitting in the drafts section too long" pieces, a fascinating roundtable discussion on race and comics spurred by the graphic novel BTTM FDRS, featuring Ron Wimberly & Tanna Tucker alongside the creators of BTTM FDRS, Ezra Claytan Daniels & Benjamin Passmore

Ron: This discussion was originally proposed with an Afrofuturist prompt attached. I thought that was strange. It played into my general suspicion that Afrofuturism has become a sort of catchall for “weird nigga shit;” anything from Afro-space helmets, to Octavia Butler, to that African cosplay you see at Afropunk. Do you feel or did you intend for this horror comic to be Afrofuturist or have a dialogue with Afrofuturism? Just out of curiosity, what do you see being the formal qualities of Afrofuturism, the general ethos?

Ben: Is this where my light-ass gets in trouble for expressing a hard skepticism for Afrofuturism and its popularity?

Ezra: Calling BTTM FDRS an Afrofuturist book in marketing materials was 100 percent Fantagraphics using a buzzword to sell books. But it never really bothered me because, to be honest, at the end of the day, I’m trying to sell books, too, and I do consider myself a tangentially Afrofuturist artist — just not so much in the comics I’ve made, as of yet.

I made an experimental, animated Afrofuturist short with my partner, Adebukola Bodunrin, that was part of the first Black Radical Imagination program. We sat on countless panels and had countless conversations about Afrofuturism with incredibly brilliant artists like Terence Nance, Cauleen Smith, Robert Pruitt, Jacolby Satterwhite, and D. Denenge Akpem, who actually stars in the film. I started that journey with only a vague idea of what Afrofuturism was. Eventually, these discussions brought me to a clear understanding of what Afrofuturism meant, at least to me.

The reviews have been coming in hot, and today's is no different, with Chris Mautner swinging by with a look at Kim Deitch's Reincarnation StoriesHe dug it, which is the proper response to any major work coming from Deitch at this point in his career.

One of the most interesting things about Deitch’s work is the way he blends fact and fiction. As with Gabrielle Bell, he starts from a recognizable reality, and makes sharp left turns into bizarre, elaborate fantasy, until you start questioning what is and isn’t actually “true”. It is true, for example, that Deitch had eye surgery. And real-life characters like fellow cartoonists Spain and Jay Lynch, as well as cowboy actors like Buck Jones and Jack Hoxie. There is even, apparently, a plot “genie” that was designed to help writers come up with story ideas. 

The last week has seen the passing of Juan Gimenez. Best known to American readers for his excellent work on the Metabarons saga, which he illustrated, Gimenez passed away due to COVID-19 at the age of 76. More here.

Dale Crain--former archive editor at DC Comics, and, in the words of TCJ's publisher Gary Groth, "the guy who revolutionized our design at Fantagraphics" passed away while in Vietnam, and his family have organized a GoFundMe to repatriate his remains to the US.

The cartoonist Herman "Hy" Fleishman also passed away, on April 1st. We'll have an obituary up on him later today. 

Good luck this week. We'll be back tomorrow, with our next installment of Retail Therapy and more!

 

Too Much Tuesday

Today at TCJ, Tegan is here with a look at the first two issues of The Resistance, the launch title for AWA Studios "shared universe". As Tegan points out, the plot of The Resistance would be called prescient if our current crisis weren't so horrifying as to make praising J. Michael Straczynski's remix of a rehash completely repellent.

Anyway. This is ostensibly the beginning of a new superhero universe. The gimmick is that after the virus recedes it is discovered that, of the roughly 5% of patients who survive the plague, some of them develop superpowers. Some of those superpowers last only a brief time, leaving their host dead once they burn out. It’s stated but not developed (yet) that the virus was of extraterrestrial origin. Which means it’s only really a little different from George R. R. Martin’a long-running Wild Cards shared universe. And of course any resemblance to Marvel’s Strikeforce: Morituri is surely purely coincidental. Or Charles Soule’s Letter 44, for that matters

While AWA Studios (the acronym stands for Artists Writers & Artisans, presumably they are going to be making chairs at some point) is technically a "new" publisher, the company is one run by two old heads--Bill Jemas, whose historical proximity to Marvel Comics surviving bankruptcy often results in him garnering a healthy credit for that company's recovery despite the needling fact that every decision he has made since that time has been extraordinarily dumb, Axel Alonso, a guy who I like because he helped Garth Ennis make Punisher comics--and Jonathan Miller, one of Rupert Murdoch's former underlings. I'm sure he's a great guy, most of the people who collected paychecks for Murdoch were all great guys. There was that one who hacked the dead lady's phone to make fun of her with more personal details, but I'm sure they were an outlier.

It'll be interesting to see how a company like that handles the other news of the day, which is that Diamond comics will cease delivery of new comics at the end of March. The news was publicly announced yesterday via email following some private communications between Diamond and some of their key business partners--announced so suddenly that Diamond was still in the process of pitching advertising placements for their Previews catalogs only a few hours before they went public--and any attempt to encapsulate the impact here in this blog would fall short. Around the same time the Diamond news was spreading, Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool ran a piece on the three-week shuttering of Canadian printer Transcontinental Printing, which dramatically impacts DC Comics output--Steve Geppi's letter makes no mention of this, but as the weekly delivery of comics remains heavily dependent upon the two major super-hero publishers, it certainly could have contributed to the decision.

The Diamond news has been met with no small amount of panic, glee, concern, and told-you-so-ing, primarily on social media. I get it: my dealings with Diamond outside of TCJ as a publisher, retailer and advertiser have been one of the least fun parts of the decade, and there have been plenty of times when my irritation with the company has had me wishing they'd catch one in the teeth. But the reality is that this is a massive hit upon an industry that will primarily be felt by its smallest actors, not its biggest. Companies like AWA (that are built off the funding of ex-execs from companies like Fox News) can probably pivot to Amazon's comiXology platform without too much of a loss--if you had an illusion that a title like Resistance was somehow intended to be a massive print seller in retail, well, okay--because their business model, like the rest of these johnny-come-vampires, was never to make comics in the first place, but to use comics, comics retail and vocal online comics fans so as to win the lottery ticket of film and television exploitation. Diamond shuttering for any length of time will skew the statistics of this particular gamble, and some of these companies won't have the nerve to stay at the table, but a decent amount of them will--if one thing has proven itself impossible to kill in this current climate, it's rapacious greed. It's the rest of comics who are going to suffer from Diamond, and as of right now, the extent of that suffering remains completely unknown.

Also announced in the last few hours was the passing of Asterix co-creator, Albert Uderzo. According to news reports, Uderzo died at home from a heart attack, unrelated to COVID-19. Our obituary will follow later this week.

Reminder: it's Tuesday.

 

Monday

Housekeeping: last week was an quiet one at TCJ. We started off with Nicholas Burman's look at how the aesthetics of the internet have shown themselves in a few recent titles. After that, we hosted a Mark Peters roundtable with Michel Fiffe, Tom Scioli, and Youtube personality Ed Piskor. Tegan O'Neil stopped by with a look at Missed Connection, a comic by Tess Smith-Roberts published by Playtime Press. Meanwhile, the delightful Kevin Budnik delivered what will probably be the last Cartoonist's Diary we see that doesn't mention COVID-19--if you didn't read it, please do. Kevin's work didn't land for me when I first read him years ago on social media--the direct honesty was something that I initially lashed out at it--but I've done a complete 180 in the last two years, and am now a fervent audience for the kindness in what he does. Last week's onslaught of bad and frightening news was, for me, somewhat blunted by my own immersion into Kevin's curious and open perspective. 

Finally, the week prior to this one--a period of time that now seems like it took palce on another planet--saw the last of Ryan Flanders' series of weekly link columns for us, which had gone a long way to cover the lack of these blog entries. Ryan's departure was not totally unexpected, as he had kept me updated on the really amazing job he was interviewing for. While the loss of him from TCJ is muted by the fact that I am extremely happy for the security a regular job can provide, we are probably a few more weeks away from being able to have something anywhere near as exhaustive as what he was doing up and running. I will certainly be including as much as I can here at these TCJ blogs as frequently as is possible. For now, please take a tour of Ryan's last hurrah: it was an exceptional run, and we were lucky to have him for the time that we did.

Over the weekend, we shared an open letter from comics retailers directed towards readers that explicitly addresses the tumultuous reality that has sprung up in the wake of COVID19's impact on comics retail. It's a story that is developing by the hour, and the open letter linked above was preceded by one from Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, that one directed at other comics publishers, beseeching them to honor their responsibilities to their retail partners. Amidst all this, Free Comic Book Day--which for many retailers, functions as one of their most profitable sales days of the year, an extremely strong method of attracting a new customer base, and, in my personal experience, often served as the most inspirational act of community building that comics retail can offer--has been postponed from to an as-of-yet unknown date. The financial repercussions of the move to Diamond and comics retailers will be difficult to bear. Last Wednesday, The Beat published a round-up of what were at that time the entirety of what help comics publishers were offering retailers, and on Friday, Marvel's plans for assisting retailers saw coverage as well. Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich has been doing a fine job of keeping up with publishers who are cutting their output, as well as putting together pieces like this on the things that San Francisco based comics retailer and industry gadfly Brian Hibbs has been saying about the situation

It's a bad situation. Nobody needs to come to The Comics Journal's daily blog to find that out, but that doesn't mean it's not going to get said. The economic decimation that is coming to all sectors of non-essential-to-life industry is terrifying. Neither comics publishing nor direct market comic book stores are businesses that are designed to be put on pause for any length of time, but even if they were, no industry can long survive in an unknown stasis, waiting for an as-of-yet undetermined period of time to return to business as usual--knowing that when they do return, many of their customers may have lost their jobs as well. Of course, the most immediate follow-up to all this is that the reason this is happening is so that those customers--and the artists, the publishers, the retailers, and all of these people's families--don't lose their lives. No one could possibly know what is coming next--there's never been anything like this, a global pandemic taking place in the physical world while a giant, terrifying real-time communication system transmits a level of information (most of it information that can only horrify and enrage, the two key factors in making connection to that communication system more addictive) in the mental space, all while the infrastructure of government support shows ever-increasing signs of complete impotence. It is that very state we suffer through now: one of increasing, daily immersion in an unknown country, waiting to find out what is coming next, and worried if we and those we love will be alive to see it. 

That brings us to right now. While I and a few other writers are doing some initial work to cover the way this current situation is impacting comics, the truth of TCJ is this: the Fantagraphics office is working from home, Washington is a hot spot for this virus, and they need to zero in on themselves. For me...well, it was never my ambition to edit this site solo for as long as I have, and if i'm being totally transparent, I wonder how long I will even be able to continue--but for as long as that is, I plan to do what I can.

Today, "what I can" is this: a feature article that is as TCJ as anything TCJ could do, short of asking Dan to stop by and say something so inflammatory that we end having another million-uniques-in-a-week kinda experience. What's that, you ask? Well, it's a reunion of the scholars behind 2010's The Comics Of Chris Ware, who stopped by in a bus driven by Martha Kuhlman to talk about Rusty Brown, in all its most-important-comic-book glory. As Chris himself once said to me over a cup of green tea:

As an aside, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of hassling regarding Ware's work by people outside of comics more this year alone than I have by any group of people in every other year combined. I say "hassling" because...I'm the Ennis guy! I've always been crystal goddamned clear that i'm the Ennis guy! I like Ware fine, but my comics Mt. Rushmore is a bunch of pictures of GARTH ENNIS, surrounded by small pictures of the people who draw Garth Ennis comics, one single drawing of John Wagner with a helmet on, followed in chronological order by the names of all of the people that have ever complimented me in public--DM's don't count! If you come at me and demand that I defend someone in the comics industry, than at least do your fucking research--especially if research is what you are explicitly known for! Otherwise, I'm just going to have to assume that you're not a very nice person.

Our review for today is from Brian Nicholson, who is here with a look at The Man Without Talent by Yoshiharu Tsuge, which finally saw English language release via NYRC. I adored this book, and Brian's review is a fine look at it. We may have a rebuttal to this review up later this week, i'm just finalizing things with the crank who wrote it right now. I kid!

That'll have to do it for today. I would have liked to keep going, but earlier this morning I cut my finger so deeply that it started spraying blood Lone Wolf and Cub style, and now every time I type it splatters all over the keyboard. I'm gonna put superglue on it right now to keep it closed, should be okay for tomorrow. No, i'm not joking, this would be more interesting if it were a joke. Stay inside, you dumb, bad-taste having, single-minded, resentful motherfuckers. I would like it if we were all still alive so that you could complain to me in person sometime in the future about how much TCJ sucks. More to come.

I hope!

 

Day Karting

Today at TCJ, we're reading Paul Karasik's extended look at the way Paco Roca uses the landscape format to assist and direct the storytelling in his graphic novel The House.

Roca’s storytelling and inventive use of the horizontal format – rarely chosen and even more rarely successful – is brilliant. He finds many ways to breakdown the unusual oblong proportion, none of them contrived, all of them supporting the story. And that masterful manipulation of form, over and over, in service of a compelling story, had me riveted.

Today's review is from Tegan O'Neil, she's taking a look at Missed Connection by Tess Smith-Roberts. It's an extremely colorful comic, and there's something to the guts of it. Tegan:

In 2008 Tom Spurgeon coined the term “decency fantasy” to describe a certain kind of narrative that hinges on the fantasy of pleasingly mundane domesticity. In hindsight this seems a prescient label. Stories that revolve primarily around people being reasonable and working together amicably to solve common goals seem positively transgressive in an era when almost everything else in our lives sinks further into the realm of the brittle and combative. Back in 2008 when Spurgeon coined the term low-stakes slice of life was a relatively small part of the comics ecosystem, but these kinds of stories seem to hit a nerve at this particular point in time. It’s rough out here on these mean streets. People get thirsty for virtue. 

Last week, the always excellent Cynthia Rose took a look at the Coco Rey show that's up for the rest of this week in Paris. Considering how much travel we're all not doing, this is a nice way to get outside of your local.

Women in many domains bemoan their lack of progress but French caricature's brightest star is a femme. Part of Charlie Hebdo since 2009, Corinne "Coco" Rey also draws for L'Humanité, Vigousse, Les Inrockuptibles and live on ARTE television's 28 Minutes. Now, at 38, she has produced her first comic, Le Banquet. Co-created with celebrity philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, it turns Plato's Symposium into a graphic novel. Until March 14, at Paris' Galerie Art-Maniak, you can see its art as well as Coco's press cartoons.

It's a brief chance to see something singular – work that history's best press cartoonists would have loved. As with those predecessors, Coco's line is all her own. But its real tie to the greats like Gillray and Grandville lies in its communication of a ruthless acuity. Rey draws with real panache but she pulls no punches and always goes straight to the point.

I took the day off today to hang out with my daughter, who has the day off from school. It's bleak and gray outside today, although yesterday was pretty nice. I thought I'd check out the comics news, and since i'm home and available, churn out one of these blog posts until she figures out that I'm only half paying attention to what she's doing. (She is playing her birthday present, Mario Kart.) The first piece of news I found is that they're going to introduce a character named Clownhunter in the "Joker War" storyline. While I don't read new Batman comics anymore, I did for an extremely long period of time and kind of want to know more about the Clownhunter. I don't care to know more about Punchline, which is another new character that caused one of those 90's era speculation sell-outs of comics when she was introduced, because I think the idea of Joker having a girlfriend is and always has been weird, outside of the 90's cartoon, where he was less a murderer and more a zany wanna be murderer. The psychology of inserting these female characters into the comics so that they can serve as handmaidens to the Joker's post aught level of violence is as grotesque as it is when they're alternatively posited as some kind of empowerment story born out of overcoming the trauma of having a relationship with the Joker, who at any one point in the post 1980's Batman timelines has killed so people in so many disgusting fashion that any attempt by Batman writers to claim moral superiority by allowing the character to live is pure mental deficiency. There's never been a better argument for the Punisher's moral calculus than a Batman comic, at this point. That aside, the way any actor in the Blade movies would say the word "daywalker" is permanently stuck in my head, in that I walk around thinking of that particular line reading on a near constant basis, and "clownhunter" has that same kind of ring to it. There's zero creativity in character design in DC Comics these days--their artistic bench is a trough--so hopefully they'll go hire somebody who works on video games or a really upsetting anime to deliver said Clownhunter. I'd say watch this space for updates, but hey--you and I know that isn't going to happen.

I was going to write about COVID-19 but she just realized what I was doing and called me on it. Wash your hands! I just started a few months ago for a different reason and it's actually super easy to incorporate it into the morning routine. (I wash mine in the shower-timesaver.)

 

Clayface

Today at TCJ, the delightful Dash Shaw has returned from his stay in the wilderness of making comics with an interview in his paws: an interview with Seymour Chwast. Simple step-by-step process in making shit happen: Shaw wanted to know more about Seymour's graphic novels of which he has produced a few, couldn't find any information, decided to interview Chwast himself and figured TCJ readers might want to hear the answers. It doesn't get easier. It's like someone is chewing my food for me. Have you read those Seymour books? You should. Here's Dash and Seymour:

In ’55 we decided to form a studio, my classmates from Cooper Union. Basically, Milt Glaser and Ed Sorel—

Oh, I know. But it didn’t feel like a giant thing until the ’60s?

Well, all we were trying to do was make a living. We didn’t especially think it was something bigger than that. We were able to get work especially through the promotion that we did. The Push Pin Almanack and the Push Pin Graphic.

Did you draw comics inside of those?

Sometimes, while solving a problem.

Today is also the launch of our latest Cartoonist's Diary, with Michael Comeau. In today's installment, Michael introduces to some day job conversations.

Our review of the day is from Keith Silva, and it's of These Savage Shores, which is a pretty positively received vampires-go-boating comic that came out late last year. He liked it too! Keith, I mean. Keith liked it:

If you see comics as a team sport and yet often find yourself reading books by sole proprietors you’ll understand why These Savage Shores borders on a revelation. Writer Ram V, cartoonist, Sumit Kumar, colorist, Vittorio Astone and letterer, Aditya Bidikar combine their talents to interrogate ideas both ticklish and troubling. Kumar, Astone and Bidikar share an understanding that the more specific the visual detail they provide, the more focus the reader will bring to the unfamiliar aspects of a script, which can in turn heighten and reinforce the themes of the text.

These Savage Shores is published by Vault Comics, who conclude all of their promo emails with the following text:

Vault Comics is a private, family-owned company, publishing science fiction and fantasy comics and graphic novels. Vault encourages its creators to break the established order, defy preconceptions of society and identity, and push the boundaries of the medium with bold visions and voices that connect with readers and capture their imaginations.

That's weird, right? I'm not asking: it's weird. First up: who gives a shit if a comics publisher is a private company? From what I can tell from those endlessly dull IDW articles about how their business model of "hoping things we own will become tv shows" divided by "hoping the aging fanbase for our 80's licenses don't go into bankruptcy" plus "did another college adopt the John Lewis book for their incoming freshman class yet?" has impacted their stock prices, I guess I can see why a third tier comics publisher might want to be privately owned, so they can avoid hearing tips on their financial acumen by the kind of Bleeding Cool commenters who turn the shirt inside out instead of washing it. But why is that information going to matter to anyone else? How many people go into a comics shop and decide which second banana fantasy & sci fi comics they're going to buy based off whether or not they can also become shareholders via a Fidelity account? Zero people do that! Second: family owned? Who cares! That's not a thing! That only becomes a thing when it becomes hilarious to keep up with, like when the Archie family started picking each other off with metaphorical crossbows, or when the girl from The Little Princess decided to sue her dad as a way to get out of freshman year finals at Columbia, and even then, it only becomes a thing in the sense that you wait for some bored reporter to write it up for you to read about at work in between ducking emails and ordering shit online. I read that and the first thing I think of the moment when I saw the words "Follower of Christ" on my physical therapist's Instagram bio. Gross!

Oh wait: is it because they think some executive at a larger company is just going to buy Vault based off that information, thinking they're getting some goldmine from the Vault IP library? I guess that could be it, right--it's a direct shout out to the kinds of people that come into comic book stores in Los Angeles looking for things that aren't optioned yet, a heads up that they're privately owned, family owned, a buncha rubes with ideas to be sold. It's a reverse con, because they know as well as anyone who has read a Vault Comic knows that there's no existing fanbase clamoring for a season of Netflix based off these comics, but they're counting on Netflix execs or whomever not knowing that, which is 100% accurate--almost none of those people who make those buys really can tell the difference between a popular Vertigo series from twenty years ago or an IDW comic continuing the story of Pinhead from Hellraiser's high school career. I mean, they can when they give consulting fees to comic book store owners (Lion Forge tried that) or super-hero podcasters (I think that was IDW, but can't totally remember). So never mind: forget the previous paragraph, if Vault's honeypot can trick an executive out of some of Netflix money (or even better, out of Jeff Bezos' money), then pour that family owned shit on top of everything.

 

Grangling

Ah, today at TCJ we've got that thing you've been waiting for: Roman Muradov writing criticism! He's here with a look at Nicolas Mahler's adaptation of Thomas Bernhard's Old Masters. 

The murky and most of the time unnecessary business of turning a novel into a graphic novel works best if the relationship between the original and the adaptation is neither distant nor faithful, but both, as is the case in Nicolas Mahler's Old Masters, a masterful little stab at illustrating Thomas Bernhard—one of the least visual writers of the previous century—carried out with all the humor and aplomb you do and don't expect from this unlikely premise.

I was first introduced to the work of Bernhard via The Lime Works, which was similarly plucked from the ether for criticism via a very early issue of The Believer. But until Muradov brought it to my attention, I wasn't aware of this adaptation, and I'm still not very clear on how it came to pass (write me back, Seagull Books!) As Muradov points out in his review, it's an extremely successful piece of work, and an unusual, unique one at that. 

I spent the past week at ALA Midwinter, surrounded by hugely successful comics, none of which resemble Old Masters. Comics won a bunch of awards, and while Torsten Adair's round-up of the coverage accurately points out the notability of those awards, it's in many ways an expected coronation of the medium at a time when the environment surrounding it is in need of something to champion, and the library-facing comics of right now check a lot of boxes: economic success (comics sell), job security (comics drive circulation in libraries), and belated recognition of the lack of diversity have as much to do with the success of comics as anything else. As more and more young librarians move up in the ranks at the more powerful branches, they bring with them the experience and knowledge that comics can move reading in a frenzied, extreme way. Does it matter that half of those conversations still include language describing comics as some kind of medicinal crutch, designed to coach "reluctant readers" across the bridge of culture--in essence, a remixed and moralistic lacquer on the criticism of old, that comics aren't really reading? I don't know. But it does seem that the economics driver of the medium is unlikely to be the stuff of old much longer, if it even still is. As someone whose parasitical economic relationship with comics is brand and category agnostic, it doesn't really impact me in any way whatsoever. Cash, as they say, rules everything around me. 

 

 

Placeholder Quest

Today at TCJ, Paul Tumey is here with a look at The Pits of Hell by Ebisu Yoshikazu, which Breakdown Press put out last year. It's an excellent book, and Paul turns his entire Framed! column over to going after why

I have a new love: The Pits of Hell by Ebisu Yoshikazu. This collection of surreal and savage manga stories drawn in a naïve art style vibrates on my bookshelf and issues forth the sounds of thumping pachinko machines, clattering speedboat motors and roars of rage so intense there is no doubt in my mind they have the power to rip my head off. These stories are screwball, haunting, mystical, shocking, hilarious, frightening, and sad—usually all at once.

Today's review comes to us from Anya Davidson, who is here with a look at the first three issues of Ginseng Roots by Craig Thompson.

Ginseng Roots, his latest book, serialized in about 12 installments, the first 3 of which are currently available from Uncivilized Books, chronicles his experiences as a child harvesting ginseng with his family in Marathon, Wisconsin, a small town that, during the ginseng boom of the 1980’s, when the dried roots were fetching up to $65 a pound, was flourishing thanks to an influx of cash from buyers in Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and China. Thompson began working in the ginseng fields, weeding around the valuable roots, when he and his sister and brother were 9, 8 and 6 respectively (The author made a creative decision to omit his sister from Blankets, but she appears as an ancillary character in Ginseng Roots.) In need of supplementary income, their parents put all three children to work during the Summer at an age when most children are attending camp or simply lying around all day. In scenes set in the present day, the siblings candidly share their thoughts and feelings of deprivation and resentment, while acknowledging the complexity of their childhood situation.

I'm currently at the ALA Midwinter show, which has had no small measure of drama, and I'll be honest: I've already had my fill of drama this year so far. I started off 2020 enjoying some time reading Justice League Europe comics with small children (the Giffen/Sears ones, not the ones by the child porn guy!), and then flew off to a work conference at the beach. Unfortunately for me and a few thousand other people, that conference was in Puerto Rico, and the earthquakes that occurred throughout that time period made it all but impossible to keep up with the various comics news that has kept on rolling for the past few weeks. I'm grateful to Alec Berry for his work behind the scenes to keep posts alive, terribly sorry to the contributors who have been waiting for me to write them back, and super pumped about the massive amount of great writing that has been lurking in emails and dropbox folders while I've been out of action. I am glad to be someone back to my version of normal, and am hopeful that the people of Puerto Rico, who were so kind and gracious to me and all of the other visitors are back to something like that as well. 

Also, don't fly home into a tornado, but if you're going to, do it after a bunch of earthquakes. It doesn't feel as scary at that point. 

It's impossible for me to wrap my head around whatever went on at The Beat last week, but it seems like things over there may be a return to The Beat of old--less movie and TV stuff, more Heidi writing? I wish her the best. It is hard to imagine a future where there are more comics sites coming, and very easy to imagine one where the ones that exist go the way of websites The Dissolve or Deadspin. I'm glad she got a redesign out of that relationship. Hopefully this means they'll be a nice big oral history on Lion Forge down the line, courtesy of all the people that they hired for various periods of time over the last few years. Did you ever hear that rumor about how they tried to buy Drawn & Quarterly? That's a good one. 

 

 

Kick Off My Shoes, and Swim Good (This Week’s Links)

When I embed Instagram and Twitter posts in "This Week's Links," and you're into 'em, I hope you're clicking through and liking (and subscribing, you guys.) Are you? Will you? It would mean a lot to me. 

Get your appreciation thumbs ready — today's list is bottom heavy that way.

 

• Koyama Press and its publisher Annie Koyama have launched a new initiative, Koyama Press Provides, "a monthly program of giving." Also, a profile of KP (and its impending closure) appeared on TVO.org, the website of Ontario's public educational media organization.

 

• Mike Lynch dug up a 1980s video interview about W*TCHM*N with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons! There's a good bit of talk in here about the nine panel grid, which is always oddly amusing. Towards the end the interviewing host reveals that Moore has recommended some comics to read...Chester Brown, Julie Doucet and two more. (You wanna know, you better watch!) And then the host discusses a Watchmen movie that's been optioned, and even casts it with 1980s stars. And THEN you get to the end and you see it's a production of TVO — as in the TVO that ran the piece up there about Koyama! The whole thing is a real trip.

 

• In a few weeks, Daniel Clowes will have a party and public conversation (talking with cartoonist Rina Ayuyang) in San Francisco to celebrate his big ol' Original Art book.

 

• But before that, Nick Drnaso will be giving a lecture about the creation of his book Sabrina in Chicago.

 

• For TCJ, Gary Panter annotated 29 of his most Panterish drawings, all of which were recently on display in an exhibit of his work.

 

• Here are the top 100 comic books and top 100 graphic novels ordered through the North American direct market from 2010 to 2019. You gotta be impressed with the staying power of some of those GNs.

 

• Tony Millionaire drew the cover and chapter headers for the final, posthumous Anthony Bourdain book.

 

• At The A.V. Club, graphic designer Tom Muller shows his process for creating the new Best of 2000AD logo. I eat this kind of stuff right up. We also get to see variant covers for the series' first issue from the no-joke lineup of Becky Cloonan, Charlie Adlard, Erica Henderson, Annie Wu and Glenn Fabry.

 

• At The New Yorker, cartoonist Summer Pierre created a comic strip review/appreciation/personal memoir about musician Patti Smith and her books.

 

• Kim Deitch was profiled on amNewYork, and they even got a few quotes from him.

 

• Speaking of K.D., get a load of this from Columbia U's Karen Green:

 

•••••
INTERVIEWSAMUNDO

Art Zone with Nancy Guppy
• Artist Gina Siciliano (creator of I Know What I Am)

TCJ
Daniel Clowes by Bill Kartalopoulos (from 2014, but published outside of France for the first time)
Grease Bats creator Archie Bongiovanni by Annie Mok

7.30 with Leigh Sales
• Editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant

Blockhead! podcast
• Cartoonist Rick Stromoski  (creator of Soup to Nutz, former National Cartoonist Society president)

Word Balloon podcast
• Comic book writer Jim Zub

Smash Pages
• Writer Danny Fingeroth by Alex Dueben
•••••

 

• This is certainly something different: new comics site Solrad has spent this week publishing "The Hard Tomorrow Book Club" — five different critics diving into Eleanor Davis' latest book.

 

• Y'all like Liana Finck, yeah? Here's a video of how she lives her life and makes her art.

 

• It's the prequel you didn't know you definitely didn't want: The Bristol Board shared a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko story from 1962's Strange Tales #97 featuring Peter Parker's Aunt May and Uncle Ben and their "niece" — a full two months before Spidey-Mane debuted!

 

• Well, here's a fine thing: BookRiot lists five "must-read" comics from the Philippines.

 

• Fantagraphics honcho Gary Groth wrote about publishing the work of writer Stephen Dixon.

 

The New York Times used an Evan Cohen comic to introduce/illustrate an op-ed piece on climate change.

 

• Bluestockings Bookstore in New York is launching "In the Gutter," a monthly comics reading event showcasing the work of queer and trans creators.

 

• Siobhán Gallagher has a new piece at The New Yorker: "Lessons I’ve Learned in My First Six Months of Freelancing." All too relatable!

 

• Drawn & Quarterly shared a preview of Tian Veasna's Year of the Rabbit.

 

•••••
REVIEWSARUNDO

The Washington Times
Paul C. Tumey's Screwball!: The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny by Michael Taube

Pop Matters
Yoshiharu Tsuge's The Man Without Talent by Chris Gavaler

 The Beat
GG's Constantly by John Seven
Owen D. Pomery's British Ice, also reviewed by Mr. Seven
Yoshiharu Tsuge's The Man Without Talent by Morgana Santilli

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse
Elise Dietrich’s Making Time
Diana Chu’s Rodin Du Jour

Broken Frontier
Best of 2000AD #1 by Andy Oliver

Multiversity Comics
Dan Slott, Christos N. Gage and Pete Woods' Iron Man 2020 #1 by Alexander Jones
•••••

 

• The Mickey Mouse comic strip debuted 90 years ago; The Daily Cartoonist has the first week's worth.

 

• Canadian graphic novels are now eligible for The Great White North's $100,000 Scotia Bank Giller Prize.

 

Broken Frontier would like you to know about "Six Small Press Creators to Watch in 2020." Some cool work featured here.

 

• Image publisher Eric Stephenson thinks there are too many new comics on sale each week.

 

• Recently on Cartoonist Kayfabe: flipping through the DVD booklets for the Criterion Collection editions of Ghost World and the Crumb documentary, and a recap of the 1989 Bill Watterson interview in The Comics Journal.

By the way, CK has a newsletter. I didn't even know.

 

Daryl Seitchik started a new IG comic: "there are bunnies on the moon and their stories must be told."

 

Paste made a list of 100 of the Best Horror Comics of All Time.

 

• Cartoonist Sam Spina let us know what it's like in the trenches of animation storyboarding, with a 12-part comic on Twitter:

 

• Meanwhile, the mighty Jeremy Sorese has posted a new comic on Instagram:

 

Jilliam Tamaki is also posting fantastic comics on Instagram:

 

• And so is Gabby Schulz:

 

Jesse Jacobs is posting parts of comics, you know where:

View this post on Instagram

Baby in the Boneyard 🍖 @hollow_press

A post shared by Jesse Jacobs (@jacobs_comics) on

 

And finally, probably about as perfect a comic strip as I've seen in the post-newspaper era, below from Alex Norris.

Don't forget to lurk and circumscribe!