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Normal Guy

Today, Ryan Holmberg is here with a new column on the complicated role of Nakashima Kiyoshi at the intersection of art and power in Japan’s Nuclear culture. If you don’t know who Nakashima is, read on!

The other day, for the first time in my life, I was personally offended by kawaii. I have found it silly, gross, frivolous, and stupid on many occasions, but never offensive.

“Wouldn’t you like to have this cute little puppy dog hanging in your house? It’s an image of the artist’s own puppy dog. Wouldn’t you love to share it with your family?” said the beseeching salesman to the old lady in the third floor gallery at Maruzen Bookstore in Nihonbashi.

I was heading back to the subway station after a coffee with a Los Angeles director about a documentary he is making about ninja and pop culture, when I chanced upon a sign outside Maruzen advertising Nakashima Kiyoshi’s print show. This is an artist that recently crossed my radar for reasons explained below, but in whose work I would otherwise not be interested in the least. I popped into the show hoping I might learn something about him, not expecting that that something would be that he’s a weasel.

And we also have the final day of Sara Lautman’s week contributing our Cartoonist’s Diary. Thanks, Sara!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—History.
The New Yorker posts an excerpt from Michael Maslin’s new biography of Peter Arno.

In those earliest months, there were a number of happy accidents that pushed the magazine toward lasting acceptance by the readership [editor Harold] Ross sought to cultivate. One of them occurred the day, in the spring of 1926, when Philip Wylie spied some drawings of a pair of older women in Arno’s portfolio. Arno hadn’t intended to submit the drawings of the women—they were just sketches he’d been fooling around with. According to Wylie, Arno “rather self-consciously and reluctantly” brought the drawings out of his portfolio. Wylie passed the sketches to Ross, who initially found them “too rough,” but took them home and showed them to his wife, Jane Grant. She found them delightful. The sisters—christened Pansy Smiff and Mrs. Abagail Flusser, or the Whoops Sisters—were introduced in the pages of the magazine in April of 1926. They were not just sweet little old ladies—they were naughty, boisterous, grinning “wink wink, nudge nudge” sweet little old ladies; their language laced with double entendres. As often as not, the captions contained the word “Whoops!”

Al Jaffee explains the origin of the Mad fold-in:

—News. The Kenyan cartoonist Gado and the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar have been awarded the 2016 Cartooning for Peace Prize.

“Gado and Zunar remind us how fragile this liberty remains in Africa and in Asia as well as in other regions of the world. Through their commitment towards open and transparent societies, Gado and Zunar, who have received threats in their countries of origin and can no longer practice their profession, confront us with our responsibility to preserve freedom of expression and act in order to support the combat of those who cannot express themselves through their art”, declared [Kofi] Annan.

—Money. TCJ regular Rob Clough is faced with some extreme medical bills and looking for help.

Zainab Akhtar and Clark Burscough (Thought Bubble) have joined up to start ShortBox, a curated comics subscription service.

—Reviews & Commentary. Martin Dupuis writes about Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s ultraviolent crime/sf story, Hard Boiled.

It’s slapstick Looney Tunes violence gone ballistic (a man gets his arm ripped off and then stabbed WITH it). Almost to the point of being able to read it as a cyclical commentary of how comics had become plagued with gritty hyper violent stories after the influence of Miller’s late eighties work. It’s almost as if Miller and Darrow are addressing this by going all the way with it as a marker for and end point. You want to play this game, here is as far as it can get pushed in commercial comics – now move on and bring it somewhere new.

 

Why Get Angry Now?

Today on the site: Day four of Sara Lautman’s diary.

And Katie Skelly on Cathy Johnson’s new book, Gorgeous.

The heart of Gorgeous’s story is a collision between ideologies on the move. In the dead of night, two reckless young punks take off after ruining some band’s set and smash head-on into an oncoming college student’s car. As they offer their assistance, the lead punk’s worldview is laid out overtly in binary dialogue; you’re rich, I’m poor; you’re girly, I’m tough, etc. The real essence of the characters is revealed by the end of the night: the “anarchist” punks feign sincerity in playing at chaos but are ultimately selfish, pillaging. The college sophomore, Sophie, who at first appears green and uncertain, demonstrates herself to be a determined, even stoic young woman on her way to self-actualization. Her circumstances (which we connote by Johnson hitting three solid, albeit somewhat-clichéd, beats of budget trouble/scholarship/student athlete) present a real chaos that demand her focus and management, or else she will succumb to a failure that will set her back irreversibly. It’s here where the length of the story eventually hobbles Gorgeous; at 60 pages there is only so much character depth Johnson can plunge into, and while we spend almost equal time with Sophie as we do the punks, the punks do little more to function as dimensionless aggressors in the end when weighed against the student’s narrative.

Elsewhere, it’s a mostly non-comics link day today:

If you are in NYC, get thee to Matthew Marks Gallery to gaze upon these drawings by the late, great Ken Price, master sculptor who also made incredibly works on paper with clear affinities to Moebius, Moscoso, and, most of all, Herge.

If you are a human being interested in visual culture, take a deep dive into this newly launched online archive of work by Robert Brownjohn, one of the great post-WWII graphic designers, known for his work on Goldfinger and Let it Bleed.

If you have $25 and some wall space, buy this John Pham/Kramers 9 print.

 

This Psychotic Vision

Ken Parille has some thoughts on the first issue of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther.

1. This comic is a test. If a writer of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s rhetorical power cannot create an interesting, unusual superhero comic when working within the current “corporate production method,” then perhaps no one can.

2. It’s certainly unfair to make any book a test case, and, ideally, the production method should be irrelevant to our enjoyment or assessment of a comic. It’s just that, in practice, the contemporary editorially-driven, division-of-labor approach tends to produce slick comics that rarely rise above skillfully executed competence. (Black Panther #1’s credits list a writer, artist, colorist, letterer, designer, assistant editor, editor, executive editor, editor-in-chief, chief creative officer, and more.) Editors always have the final say. They’re charged with brand protection: corporate characters generate a lot of revenue, and when so much cash is at stake, it makes sense, they seemingly believe, to play it safe. Yet based on what he’s said in interviews, Black Panther #1 is exactly the superhero comic Coates wanted to create. His vision was in no way diluted by the editorial process.

3. Like many readers, I was excited when I learned Coates would be writing a comic. I assumed the result would be artistically less safe than most of what shows up in America’s comic-book shops every Wednesday. …

And we also have day three of Sara Lautman’s week making our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. In a much-needed bit of good news for 2016, Atena Farghadani has been released from prison.

Ms. Farghadani was first arrested in August, 2014, after posting a cartoon on Facebook in protest of the Iranian Parliament’s plans to restrict women’s reproductive rights.

—Reviews & Commentary. Steve Duin makes the case that EC Comics are underappreciated for their progressive politics.

“This material is painfully relevant. Agonizingly relevant,” [curator Ben] Saunders says. “I wish the spectacle of racist cops shooting African-Americans in the back was part of the bad old days. But it’s not.

Robert Boyd writes about Rokudenashiko’s What is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy, about her arrest and imprisonment in Japan on obscenity charges.

Rokudenashiko specialized in non-fiction comics, and when she saw an ad for vaginal reconstructive surgery, she thought it might be a good subject for a first person non-fiction comic. After she had the surgery and documented it in manga, she had the idea of making a mold of her manko. She made a cell phone cover out of it and decorated it, calling it a “Deco-man.” A columnist saw it and suggested she do a workshop on making Deco-mans.

The problem was that pussy is quite taboo in Japan. She was accused of being a pervert and a sex addict, and her husband divorced her. She tried to make a living creating manko art, but it was impossible to publicize the work.

—Interviews & Profiles. Susan Cole speaks to Rokudenashiko in advance of her TCAF appearance.


Is there something about Japanese culture that makes your work especially vulnerable to attack?

There is a fixed and pervasive mentality that men can treat women’s bodies as objects, but women who express their own gender are not tolerated. Women who speak clearly about themselves sexually are reviled. On top of all this, I freely use the taboo word “manko” to refer to my vagina. “Manko” means pussy, it means cunt. It can be very derogatory, but it’s used very casually and without weight to refer to the vag (by women), and is a normal part of pillow talk as well. The only place it’s not used is the doctor’s office. Well that, and the police station….

For The Fader, Zainab Akhtar has written a profile of Annie Koyama and Koyama Press.

For its first six years, Koyama Press functioned somewhat like a non-profit organization: Annie funded local artists’ ventures—street art, zines, comics—then gave them all the proceeds. An insomniac, she spent nights scouring the internet for the work of young, little-known cartoonists and gave them the opportunity to publish their comics, often for the first time. On an immediate level, Annie’s generous yet meritocratic approach validated the work of artists who were otherwise written off by the established alternative comics community, which often views this new generation of cartoonists working primarily online as somehow less legitimate.

It’s a solid piece, but I’m a little baffled by the claims in the last quoted sentence; I can’t recall seeing any resistance at all to Koyama’s artists, certainly not from the alternative comics community, where everyone seems to love Annie and her roster. But maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. A minor point in any case.

Hilary Brown at Paste talks to Brecht Evens.

I’m not into [Charles] Burchfield’s realistic work. The periods I like are a summer he seems to have had as a 17-year-old, and his late period, from his 50s on I think (I’m making an effort not to Google this). He then even picked up some of his adolescent watercolors and expanded on them, adding pieces of paper as you’ve seen. Some of these early watercolors, and all of the late ones, have something psychotic about them. Sound, touch, all the other senses come into play, heightened, translated into inventive marks with a brush. He makes mosquitos and electric wires buzz, birds fly by too fast to see, the sunlight causes mirages, and the sun itself becomes a black dot, as would appear when you look at it for too long. This psychotic vision, or just a clear and more complete vision if you like, has been linked to effects caused by his heart medicine. I don’t know how that explains the adolescent watercolors…maybe teenagers tend to get a bit manic-psychotic in summer. Now I’m thinking of Newton… Anyway, the idea of this very rural, doughy-looking quiet type, standing in a marsh with his rubber boots, doing magnificent and visionary watercolors because of his heart pills, makes me happy.

The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Caitlin Skaalrud.

Comics Alternative talks to Chester Brown.

 

Famous Reggie!

Today on the site, we have day 2 of Sara Lautman’s diary.

We also have Eszter Szép on An Olympic Dream, Reinhard Kleists’s biography of Samia Yusuf.

Biography, memoir, and autobiography are possibly the trendiest genres of book-format comics; one cannot even list the titles that have been published since the recent boom in the early 2000s. Some say that there are too many graphic biographies and memoirs already, and that they repeat the same tropes – but I like them. I like feeling connected to the story, even if its characters feel remote at first. It seems to me that connection is the ultimate aim of nonfiction biographical comics: to use the comics repertoire in a way that conveys immediacy and relevance to the reader.

By connection I do not mean that a certain historical period is evoked accurately or that a certain milieu is represented faithfully. All that is necessary, but not enough. By connection I mean the authenticity of a personality that appears through the pages. Connection is achieved by making me ask the same questions and contemplate the same choices which the characters do.

And I’m sorry to tell you, but Tim and I are subbing in for Joe McCulloch today, who is vacationing, as far as we know, far away from comics. Now of course it takes two of us to even just pinch hit for the might Joe, and we can barely even do that! Here’s our meager offering.

Elsewhere:

I happen to disagree with  Ng Suat Tong on his negative assessment of Frank Miller’s drawings but I wouldn’t argue it because we’re just coming from two different places entirely. I thought DKII was his best work. And I understand why people would dislike this  new stuff. It’s ugly and incoherent, but coherent Miller isn’t that interesting to me, and I like ugly sometimes. Free of his obvious influences — Eisner, Adams, Moebius, Kojima — he just made weird work. Intentional? Maybe not. Maybe so. We’ll probably never know.  It’s not genius or anything… just odd end-of-career work by a pulp artist, kinda like Lee Brown Coye’s late work. Consistent in its weirdness. Certainly the covers he’s drawn in the last year are all of a piece, and make sense as slightly deranged mark-making.

Speaking of deranged, here are photos, all by the same fella (emphasis on fella), of 1970s cosplay. I want to hope that there were far more drugs (or rather, better and illegal drugs) involved then. The Cheech Wizard costume, I must say, is nothing short of magnificent.

 

Enjoy

Today brings a new guest contributor to our Cartoonist’s Diary feature: Sara Lautman.

It also marks the return of our original webcomics columnist, Shaenon Garrity, who offers a report from the “Masters of Webcomics” panel at the Silicon Valley Comic-Con, with Jonathan Lemon, Jason Thompson, Jason Shiga, and myself, as well as Andy Weir, who started his creative career with the webcomic Casey and Andy but is much better known now for writing The Martian.

Weir’s appearance was the worst-kept secret in San Jose, and the audience began applauding as soon as he walked onstage in a face-concealing space helmet. When, at Whelon’s direction, he slowly removed it to the strains of Also sprach Zarathustra, another round of applause broke out. The ostensible subject of the panel was “How can making a webcomic form the foundation of a career in the creative arts?” and there was no doubt which of the panelists had managed it most spectacularly.

But none of us had started with the idea of building a career. Except for Shiga, who was late to the Internet, everyone got into webcomics around the early 2000s, and we all agreed we had no idea what the Web was going to be. “There wasn’t any plan,” said Lemon, who decided to try cartooning after a stint in the Peace Corps. “I deliberately started drawing with absolutely no plan, no characters. The idea was to see what developed and what I liked doing.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. My co-editor Dan has outdone himself with a genuinely must-read essay in Art in America about Ben Jones and C.F.

The two most important cartoonists of their generation, Ben Jones (b. 1977) and Christopher “CF” Forgues (b. 1979), are also two of the least recognized. Working together, often under pseudonyms, they changed the form and content of comics as few other artists have, radically distorting extant storytelling genres and emphasizing experimental approaches to drawing and printing. In 1999, when both were art students in Boston, they began collaborating under the name Paper Radio. Over the next few years, they produced hundreds of works ranging from exquisite silkscreened books to photocopied zines to early Web-based graphics. The narrative forms they explored were equally varied. A Paper Radio publication could contain subversive fan fiction about the Muppet Babies, elaborate fantasy adventures, psychedelic space operas, or crude slapstick gags. All of these works circulated in small editions among an audience of like-minded artists and musicians, members of a largely unchronicled New England subculture whose aesthetic continues to seep, credited or not, into popular visual forms, from music videos to subway advertisements.

At Tits and Sass, Tina Horn and Caty Simon argue about Chester Brown’s Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus.

Tina: When I was a teenager, I thought Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was the shit, because it taught me more about what the Bible actually teaches than most of the aggressive Christian kids at my high school. Mary Wept puts me in mind of C.S. Lewis: a Christian highlighting the hypocrisy of other Christians through rational interpretation of their text.

Caty: When people say that Judeo-Christian values oppose prostitution, it gets me fuming, because it’s a lot more complicated than that. There are plenty of heroic whores in the Bible, and many more Biblical heroines who explicitly had transactional sex at some point in their stories. So I enjoyed how Brown highlights the stories of women like Rahab, the prostitute who sheltered Hebrew spies from discovery when they scouted out the city of Jericho, and Tamar, the woman who whored herself out to her father-in-law in disguise in a complicated plot to expose his hypocrisy. I only wish he’d included the story of badass Judith, the woman who beheaded the general Holofernes as he lay drunkenly asleep in her tent after possibly purchasing her services, ushering the Hebrew army to victory.

Over at The Hooded Utilitarian, Ng Suat Tong takes exception to Chester Brown’s Biblical interpretation skills, and Brown shows up in the comments to plead his case (and explains why he has no plans to republish his Gospel adaptations from Yummy Fur).

I seem to recall that, many years ago, Suat wrote a negative review of the gospel adaptations I did in Yummy Fur and Underwater, and I agree with his general assessment of that material. (I can’t say that I agree with the specifics since I never read the whole piece.) I’d prefer it if that work wasn’t reprinted. – See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2016/04/the-good-and-faithful-chester-brown-and-the-parable-of-the-talents/#sthash.RNZ0tmg1.dpuf

—News. And finally the Creators for Creators grant (affiliated with Image and Iron Circus Comics) has begun accepting submissions.

 

In, Saved

Today on the site, Greg Hunter talks to Anya Davidson, one of the most fluid and natural cartoonists around today. She of course is the author of School Spirits and has a story in the new (excellent) Kramers Ergot 9.

Elsewhere:

Good news for Tim Hensley fans — his Sir Alfred No. 3 is now available. Like Tim’s previous book, Wally Gropius, this is a complete and utterly perfect masterpiece. As a work of cartooning, biography, comedy, and conceptual rigor it just can’t be beat. Get it as soon as you possibly can. Chris Mautner will have a review for us soon, and in the meantime, revisit Tim Hodler’s interview with the artist from 2014.

Frank’s own Comics Workbook brings us a report on the 2016 Fumetto Festival. Hard to believe it was 2009 and 2010 when I attended. Seems like yesterday. I’m getting old.

Publishers Weekly reports on the new plan for Heavy Metal hardcover volumes. I’m not so into the new work I’ve seen, but I hold out most likely foolish hopes that the brand has access to its deep history.

Finally, I’ll fall for this listicle: Time travel stories in comics. 

 

 

Subjects Vaporous and Dreamy

Today on the site, Rob Kirby is here with a review of Rokudenashiko’s What Is Obscenity?

In July 2014, artist Rokudenashiko, aka Megumi Igarashi, was arrested on obscenity charges at her home in Tokyo. Her crime? Creating cute little anthropomorphic toys and other items designed from a mold of her own vagina. What specifically caught the attention of authorities was her design for a boat shaped like a manko (Japanese for “vagina”) that she created with the support of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Because she enabled her backers to download the 3D art with which to create their own manko art, she was charged with “distributing obscene materials.” Though the censorial forces against her are formidable, Rokudenashiko’s outrage and fighting spirit spurred her to fight back, and in What is Obscenity? she tells the story of her incarceration, her efforts to clear her name, and much more: the book is a funny, smart, and pointed call to arms for freedom of artistic expression against antiquated and patriarchal repression.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—I missed this Paste interview with Paul Kirchner about the recent reprint of Murder By Remote Control (which he created with the late mystery author Janwillem de Wettering).

Once you start admiring your work too much, you never get better, so I would never say anything I did was perfect. Wally Wood described satisfaction with one’s own artwork as “infantile self-love.”

In his review of the book for The New York Times, Gahan Wilson wrote, “I wished that the drawings had occasionally been a little more ethereal when depicting subjects vaporous and dreamy; their continuing solidity never quite gets past the literal kind of make-believe you encounter in circus posters.”

As a fan of Wilson, when I read that I thought, “Did I do something wrong?” It has always been my intent to draw the surreal elements, the visions, with the same sense of weight and reality as everything else. That’s the whole point, really, and it has never occurred to me to do otherwise. And I like circus posters. So I decided that this was just a difference in artistic vision, and not a knock on me. There are always strong points and weak points in anyone’s style, and what makes it strong in one way makes it weak in another. You have to come to terms with that.

—Inverse has a brief interview with Ben Sears.

—The National Cartoonists Society has announced this year’s Reuben Award nominees.

 

Octopus Fight

Today on the site it’s R.C. Harvey on Bill Holman.

In late 1934, Holman heard that Joseph Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News, was looking for a Sunday comic strip that would display the paper’s civic-minded support of such public servants as policemen and teachers and, in this case, firemen. “I had sold a lot of firemen cartoons to magazines,” Holman said, “and the idea of firemen running around all over in red trucks seemed like a good gimmick to hang things on.”

Over Christmas while visiting his grandmother in Crawfordsville, Holman drew up a sample Sunday strip and when he returned to New York, he offered it to Patterson. “He wondered if I could keep it up,” Holman said, “and I told him confidently that I could.”

The manic Smokey Stover debuted March 10, 1935; Holman said the name came to him while watching a smoking stove. The strip continued with the Tribune-News Syndicate until Holman retired in 1973.

The title character is a fireman, Smokestack Stover, and while the strip also features his boss, the fire chief Cash U. Nutt, the activities just as often involve Smokey’s wife Cookie or his son Earl or their cat with a perpetually bandaged tail, Spooky, who, for a time, starred in a companion strip of his own before joining the firehouse gang.

Holman, Stephen Becker said in his Comic Art in America (1959), “threw himself into his work with unmitigated glee,” adding: “The profession of comic strip artist has supplied nothing closer to a baggy-pants burlesque comedian than Bill Holman. Holman wears neither baggy pants nor floppy shoes, and his work has none of the bluish quality of real burlesque; but his inventiveness, his verbal juxtapositions and misunderstandings, and his irrepressible manglings of the English language are the marks of a man to whom reality is subordinate to art.”

The art was the art of the pun, both visual and verbal. The jokes around which Holman arrayed his maniac word play were tame left-overs from what pop culture critic Don Phelps calls “decrepit vaudeville.”

 

TCJ artist and designer Mike Reddy has a fab humor piece up at the New Yorker, written by TCJ contributor Jay Ruttenberg.

Ron Rege reports back from Australia, in pictures.

Did I know that there’s a film about Al Capp featuring Spain and Trina Robbins? Did you? Good lord.