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Unlucky

Today on the site, we have an obituary for Tomi Ungerer, written by Gary Groth, who interviewed the late artist at length for the most recent print issue of TCJ.

Ungerer famously arrived in New York in 1956 with sixty dollars in his pocket and two trunks of drawings and manuscripts that he intended to show to publishers. What finally spurred him to move to New York, he has said, was jazz: “I was a big jazz fan, I thought I would be able to see some jazz.” He was disappointed in the jazz scene he found there, but he nonetheless took  to Manhattan, and for the next fifteen years wrote and illustrated children’s books and drew countless images for posters, magazines, advertising, and satirical books. According to Ungerer, he showed his portfolio to the pioneering editor Ursula Nordstrom, who told him to come up with a children’s story. He did, and the result was The Mellops Go Flying, quickly followed by The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure, both published in 1957, both enormously successful. Between 1957 and 1973, he wrote and drew twenty-two children’s books, as well as illustrated numerous children’s books he didn’t write. Ungerer shared his contemporary Maurice Sendak’s belief that stories for children should not be sugarcoated, that, in fact, children should have to wrestle with the reality that awaits them, which will include fear and loneliness and pain. “Why am I the pedagogues’ nightmare?” he once asked. “They think I traumatize children. They think children should be loved and protected. But if you do only that, they’re not ready for life.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Maria Russo has an appreciation for Gary's last big interview subject, Maurice Sendak, in the New York Times.

The third book in the trilogy, “Outside Over There,” published in 1981, covers its darkness of theme with ravishingly beautiful, painterly art. In this book, Sendak is inviting us to grapple with adolescence and its definitive break with the securities of childhood. Hence the more grown-up aesthetic: The archaic cadences of the words and the ornate, cascading illustrations evoke German Romanticism, and also the music of Mozart, which Sendak adored. So long, streetwise 1970s urban vernacular. We’re in the Reagan era now, where leftward-leaning free spirits must find solace in their living rooms, immersed in a PBS-style classicism. Yet the book is not offering some idealized vision of safe, genteel life — far from it. The protagonist, Ida, has a green-eyed prettiness, her hair soft, straight, long and honey-colored, her dress ruffled and draped just so, but her bare feet are enormous and wide, like someone who digs up potatoes in a shtetl.

 

Beecher

Today at the Comics Journal, we're speaking with José Hernández, the Mexican cartoonist whose biography of Che Guevara saw release last year. 

How did you became a cartoonist?

I began as a cartoonist in 1994, for a magazine called El Chahuistle, directed by one of the most important cartoonists in Mexico: Eduardo del Río, Rius. Rius has been one of the most influential cartoonist in the last three or four generations of political caricaturists. He is the creator of a series of books, in Mexico and all over the world, called For Beginners. In these books, Rius explains a tremendous variety of topics – Marxism, religion, vegetarianism– through caricatures in comics. Starting my career beside Rius was the best school I could possibly have had.

Today's review comes to us from Austin Price, with a look at Bloodborne: Death of Sleep, one of the more well reviewed video game tie-ins of last year. Wait, did I write "well reviewed"?

Frankly, it’s an exhausting tack to take: when every reference is so conspicuous, so announced – one panel is nothing but a perfect replication of the game’s infamous game over screen, blood red letters against a black background declaring YOU DIED with taunting superiority – it quickly grows to feel as if this is not so much a story as it is an Easter Egg hunt laid by Kot to distract from the fact that his interest in the game’s world and philosophical preoccupations is passing, if it is anything at all. The result is something deeply uncertain, a book supposedly about the dangers of choosing fear and violence over empathy that is itself so frightened of offending its choosier readers or of facing down the conclusions offered by its inspiration that it opts for a mishmash of styles and ideas add up to nothing but confusion. There are aesthetic clues early on that suggest as much, not least among them Piotr Kowalski’s pencils and Brad Simpson’s colors. Bloodborne’s world is a grim one, yes, and brutal, but it is also grand, cribbing for visual isnpirations as easily from mannerist architecture and Renaissance painting as it does from an H.R. Giger design or Cronenberg movie, something neither Kowalski’s cartoonish sketches nor Simpson’s plain palette do anything to capture. The former has no eye for action. While the hunter talks ceaselessly of how they are ”blood, in movement, dancing with blood,” their fights do not flow as a dance (let alone one manifest in the medium of blood) might. How could they, when half of the time Kowalski relies on a tool as clumsy as speed-lines to portray motion? There is strange, wooden stagedness to the proceedings so pronounced that a decapitated head supposedly flying through the air instead appears to dangle from strings. Perhaps that has to do with the character designs which play at realism but verge on the cartoonish, the eyes of monsters all agoggle as if taken from the sketch pad of a carnival caricaturist, the forms of the humans rigid and unbending as if they only existed in two dimensions. Nothing here is as strange or wild or bizarre as it needs to be.

Happy Valentine's Day to those of you who are celebrating!

 

Rest Required

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey returns with the penultimate installment of his long series on the legendary feud between Ham Fisher and Al Capp. Last time saw the tragic end of Fisher, and this week we see what happened to Al Capp in his later years as a anti-counterculture crusader, when his history of sexual assault and harassment finally caught up to him.

Not content with the outlet Li’l Abner afforded him, Capp had branched out into other venues all through his career. In 1937, he had launched another comic strip, a somewhat more serious narrative about a crusty old spinster and her manly nephew called Abbie and Slats, which he wrote and Raeburn Van Buren drew; after nine years, Capp’s brother Elliott took over the scripting, continuing until the strip ceased in 1971. And in 1954, Capp started writing yet another strip, Long Sam, starring a female version of Li’l Abner. Drawn by Bob Lubbers, it ran until 1962.

Capp’s creations ventured beyond newsprint, too. An RKO movie adaptation, Li’l Abner, had appeared in 1940, but the characters were a bigger success on stage with a Broadway musical that ran for 693 performances, starting in November 1956; it was turned into a motion picture at Paramount in 1959. There was an amusement park, Dogpatch U.S.A., and a fast-food chain.

A master at creating publicity about himself and his strip, Capp enjoyed a second albeit simultaneous career as an after-dinner speaker and newspaper columnist, leaving most of the drawing on the strip to his assistants while he concentrated on writing the scripts. Capp was also a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows, regaling his audiences with his analyses of contemporary events, outrageous commentaries punctuated with his characteristic jubilant hoots of self-appreciative laughter.

In the 1960s, his target was often student protest against the Vietnam War: In the strip, college youths were all members of S.W.I.N.E., “Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything.” Touring college campuses as a speaker, Capp was on a crusade against what he saw as morally bankrupt youth.

We also have Kim Jooha's review of Mickey Zacchilli's Space Academy 123.

Anyone interested in art comics knows how singular Zacchilli's art is. When Space Academy 123 was serialized on Instagram, the style looked a bit simpler than usual -- which I did not have any complaint against because it was a free daily comic. However, seeing the art bigger and in more detail on a printed page, I realized the subtlety of each mark Zacchilli draws. Because there are fewer lines in the background than usual, you can see how each line makes a huge difference. Zacchilli's lines in her previous work, combined in thousands, felt like a huge torrent. Now each different shade of mark builds a subtle texture that elevates the work. Combined with Zacchilli’s distinct doodle-ish style of drawing and scribbling-style of handwriting, these seemingly random textures perfectly translate the youthful expressive energy and whirlwind of Space Academy 123’s characters and happenings. The paper stock of the book is similar to a newspaper or cheap manga paper, but is more expensive and durable — this adds to the synergy, too.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Many more papers have dropped Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur over the "Go Fuck Yourself, Trump" message in one his strips.

—Commentary. Jessamyn West writes about Bechdel's Fun Home.

By the time Fun Home came out in 2006 I was nearly 40, post-married, and living pretty happily alone. My sister and I would occasionally get together and scratch our heads at our “raised by wolves” upbringing as if it had been a bad movie or something that happened to other people we distantly knew.

I read Fun Home; it hit me like a lightning bolt and my whole childhood snapped back around me.

—Interviews. The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Mort Gerberg.

 

Modern Library

Today at The Comics Journal, we're continuing down the same unfortunate path from yesterday, with discussion of the untimely passing of another artist. Today, that subject is Ted Stearn. First, we have a remembrance from his friend and colleague, cartoonist David Mazzuchelli:

Ted was an intense human being — passionate and sensitive, steadfast in his friendships, devoted and inspiring to his family. Though he often wore a bemused frown, he was a kind, gentle man who could be funny, grumpy, sweet, and brutally sincere. He loved a good argument — not as combative one-upmanship but as a genuine test of ideas to see if they could be defended. He was also a great cook.

Michael Dean has Ted's obituary, which attempts to encapsulate a life lived passionately.

The small city of Lancaster, Pa. was his most metropolitan experience until going away to college, where he earned a Painting Bachelor of Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1983 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in 1992. After graduation, Stearn worked as a graphic designer and art director in New York, while creating a series of kinetic sculptures.

In 1992, Stearn began contributing stories to Mazzucchelli’s Rubber Blanket anthology title. The first was a five-pager called “Beach Boy”. Then came the series that would occupy him off and on for his entire career: the desperate adventures of Fuzz and Pluck, a naïve teddy bear and his ill-matched companion, a cocky rooster, who is no less aggressively ambitious for having been plucked naked for the slaughterhouse. Stearn said the characters represented two sides of his own personality and were intended as antiheroic “answers to the cutesiness of Disney in the ’70s and ’80s.”

 

 

Fondly

Today on the site, Cynthia Rose has our obituary for the French painter and cartoonist Alex Barbier.

Barbier was twice hailed with exhibitions at Angoulême: the first in 1994, the second in 2015. But his real moment of glory came in the late 1970s, via the pages of alternative journal Charlie mensuel. It was there he premiered a series called Lycaons (Wild Dogs). The stories appeared as an album in 1979 and were republished in 2003. Their title alludes to mythology, to Hesiod and Ovid's tales of God being served a slaughtered child (or children) for dinner.

What caused waves was less the story than Barbier's style. His tale did feature aliens, sex between boys, and animals in human form. But it steered as clear of narrative as it did of typical structures. Its text was hyper-cryptic, its chronology scrambled, and there was no space at all between the frames. Barbier's art, fluid and sculptural, was neither truly figurative nor really abstract – and it was drawn in something he called "ligne brouillée". While "brouillé" means "blurry" or "scrambled," the verb from which it comes can also mean "to be at loggerheads."

At the start of Lycaons, Barbier was 25. Before his obligatory year of army service, he had been working as an art instructor. But after one academic year, he was fired. (A telegram told him this was because of his "subversive attitude.") Was it really his red-dyed hair and his love of leopard-skin? "They may have fired me," he sniffed, "but they won't forget me."

Some of the ligne brouillée was derived from Barbier's first materials. Having purchased an inventory of vintage inks secondhand, he discovered that many had dried up in their bottles. He managed to dilute these with something called Correc-bille, a product for reactivating cranky ballpoint pens. The artist started to use these inks, as well as the fluid itself, almost like watercolor. The way he did it is now seen as an important early instance of "colour directe."

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The great cartoonist, illustrator, and author Tomi Ungerer died this weekend at the age of 87. We will have more coverage about this soon, but in the meantime, please read our excerpt from Gary Groth's interview with Ungerer if you haven't yet had the chance.

We also recently re-published David Mazzucchelli's great 2017 interview with the late Ted Stearn.

Local Pennsylvania newspaper the Butler Eagle has dropped Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur strip, after discovering a "hidden message" seeming to say "Go Fuck Yourself, Trump" written in one corner of the strip.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sally McGrane reviews Ally Fitzgerald's Drawn to Berlin.

ALI FITZGERALD’S Drawn to Berlin: Comic Workshops in Refugee Shelters and Other Stories from a New Europe begins, wonderfully, with a drawing of the Plaza Hotel in New York. “Amira liked my book of Eloise’s misadventures in the Plaza Hotel,” Fitzgerald writes about a teenaged Syrian refugee who, along with her family, survived the harrowing journey to Germany in the early days of the refugee crisis that reached Europe in 2015.

Juxtaposed with the drawing of the Plaza’s turrets and flags is a picture of “the bubble,” the squat, inflatable emergency shelter for incoming refugees, where Amira lives — and where Fitzgerald, a Berlin-based American comic artist, volunteered to teach comic drawing classes. “I couldn’t imagine two more different places to spend your youth.”

Brian Nicholson reviews Kickliy's Perdy.

You can find pretty great sketches the artist has executed online, but working sequentially here it seems his intention was primarily to keep the forward momentum going, rather than give the reader images to pore over. This is normally a smart idea, cartooning 101, but actually reading the book, I wanted it to be shorter, more clever, and more concise, and all of those things seem like they would’ve resulted from a more considered approach.

 

Hard Caught

Today at the Comics Journal, we're questioning our decision to move halfway across the country to a winter hellscape that makes Detroit look positively tropical, and we're doing so while reading all about Subjective Line Weight, the comic project that has consumed Andrea Leigh Shockling as of late

Subjective Line Weight started as an opportunity for me to talk with other women about their bodies and the realization that we all have really complicated conflicting feelings about ourselves. Even somebody who I might project onto them beauty and confidence and all of the things I aspire to and I wish that I had, deep down inside they are just as fucked up as I am. We’re all struggling with the way that we feel about our bodies and our bodies moving through society. I started having more and more of these conversations with people. I have a closed private group on Facebook of friends and acquaintances talking about this sort of thing. I believe that the more that we normalize these stories about our bodies, the better we feel. It doesn’t solve the problem that is women’s bodies are not our own. We can’t master that problem just by sharing our stories, but it’s cathartic and also very validating to recognize yourself in somebody else’s experience.

Today's review comes to us from J. Caleb Mozzocco, who came away from Paco Roca's Twists of Fate sobered, as you should by harrowing real world memoirs of war.

Miguel isn’t the young, idealistic anarchist warrior, suffering and fighting in the hopes of avenging his country against fascism. Nor is he the old man anxiously awaiting a chronic liver disease to claim his life, walking with a crutch to and from the cemetery every day and griping at his younger neighbor. He’s both of those, and more, and by telling his story, and telling the story of him telling his story, Roca creates a fuller, more accurate portrait, giving Miguel an active role and ownership over the graphic novel, even if he never draws a single line of it.

While I love Graeme and Jeff, I couldn't give two shits about The Fantastic Four (except for all the Akira shit they did in the last movie, [kisses fingers forever])--so I never did give their Baxter Building podcast a chance. But I'm hella ready for their next one, Drokk!, which is a monthly podcast running through Judge Dredd, in order. If humanity is still looking at pop culture seriously in the next generation, there's bound to be a moment when John Wagner's work on Judge Dredd gets recognized--there's simply no better run of storytelling out there, and as real life has now grown closer to his pitch-black take on the future to come, no piece of genre that has better captured the psyche behind American decline. I look forward to hearing what those two have to say about the thing--if it's anything like Douglas Wolk's version of the same, it'll be a hell of good time.

While details are still scarce, there has been social media confirmation regarding the death of cartoonist Ted Stearn online. We will have more coverage and a proper obituary in the next few days.

 

Treescape

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey continues his ongoing series on the legendary feud between Ham Fisher and Al Capp. Here he comes to the climax of the tale, when Fisher went too far even for his fellow cartoonists, and the terrible consequences that ensued.

In due course, the Ethics Committee voted to call Fisher to account for his conduct. Although there was no hard evidence to link Fisher to the alleged forgeries, the cartoonists decided after examining the drawings that Fisher had indeed been the person who had circulated them. Weiss said it was Fisher’s handwritten comments in the borders of the pictures that gave him away: “They saw that this was Ham’s handwriting.” Moreover, all the other surrounding circumstances led to a conclusion that Fisher had in fact done the dirty deed — the long-running feud, Fisher’s almost irrational animosity toward Capp, the episode of the annotated Li’l Abner strips that were circulated to editors a few years before, Fisher’s preoccupation with the alleged pornography in Capp’s work.

On Jan. 24, 1955, Fisher was summoned to a special meeting of the Society’s Board of Governors to hear the charges presented by the Ethics Committee. The Committee charged Fisher with doctoring the drawings and circulating the forgeries to discredit Capp — acts which had the effect of endangering the creative well-being of every other cartoonist. In submitting the drawings to the New York State Joint Committee on the Comics, Fisher had subjected the profession undeservedly to scrutiny by a body that was actively considering measures that would restrict every cartoonist’s freedom of expression. Fisher’s conduct, the Ethics Committee concluded, was “in violation of the entire spirit of the Society and the purposes for which it was established,” reflected “discredit upon the Society and the entire profession of cartooning,” and was “unbecoming a member of the Society.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Publishers Weekly, Brigid Alverson profiles Spike Trotman.

The mission statement and identity of Iron Circus is “strange and amazing comics,” and Trotman says her goal is to publish unique, unexpected books that wouldn’t find a home anywhere else. Her first step away from doing everything herself came when she started crowdfunding her publishing on Kickstarter soon after the platform launched in 2009. Her first big success was crowdfunding $83,000 in 2012 to publish Smut Peddler, an anthology of erotic comics geared to modern sensibilities, which is now a yearly series. In 2015 she began publishing work by other creators, starting with a print edition of E.J. Weaver’s webcomic The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, again funded on Kickstarter, this time raising $65,000 to publish.

Later that year, PW chose her as one of its Star Watch Honorees. By 2017 Iron Circus and Trotman had raised more than $1 million on Kickstarter to fund about 14 book projects.

—Matthew De Abaitua writes about Alan Moore and Alan Davis's Captain Britain comics.

The crossover with Doctor Who put the strip into the canon of British psychedelia alongside Tom Baker’s Doctor Who. If this Captain was to assemble a team of British Avengers, they would consist of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Jerry Cornelius, Emma Peel, Sergeant Pepper and Joanna Lumley’s Sapphire from Sapphire and Steel.

—John Holbo writes about Art Young and his connection to wider art history.

Some folks say Expressionism starts, treescape-wise, with Klee’s “Virgin In A Tree” (1903). Some folks might point to earlier, French influence on later German work. The same year Young was caricaturing Bougeaureau, van Gogh was painting “Pollard Willows At Sunset, Arnes” [scroll down].

The correct answer is: the answer is simpler. Expressionism is a caricature style. It grows out of caricature. It grows alongside stuff you see in German satirical magazines – in Simplicissimus, say. Which starts in 1896. But all that hearkens back to earlier, French and English work. To Daumier, especially.

There is a tendency to downplay this, on behalf of the art ‘ideology’ of Expressionism. (I know, I know, it’s not like there was one party line. I’m oversimplifying for blog post purposes.) It was opposed to realism and naturalism, also to Impressionism (allegedly, the way light and color ‘really appears to us’). Expressionism self-styles as ‘inner’ – self-expressive. (Hence the name.) This style of self-advertisement discourages attention to two really rather obvious features.

 

Cordell

Today at the Comics Journal, we're jumping into Wednesday with a look at the past. We're pleased to share Dan Mazur's extensive look at the work of Ibrahim Njoya who has been called "the first African comics creator". Based off the research Mazur's assembled, the claim fits.

Looking further back, however, the story of sub-Saharan comics in the first half of the 20th century -- during the colonial era -- seems a sparse and rather dreary affair. Published histories present the same few examples of newspaper strips and magazine panels that almost always reflect the racist, paternalistic attitudes of the colonialist or missionary publications in which they originally appeared. These comics were, for the most part, created by non-Africans, and their graphic style derived entirely from European models.     And then there’s Ibrahim Njoya.

Over at Words Without Borders, you'll find a preview of Keum Suk Gendry-Kim's Grass, an upcoming Drawn & Quarterly graphic novel to be released this June.

Over at Sequential.ca, there's a whole new magazine to be found about Canadian comics--reviews, interviews and the like. The first issue being offered up on a pay-what-you-will model. It's been put together by "volunteer writers who are passionate about Canadian comic books and want to see the community grow and connect", and edited by Brendan Montgomery, whose previous work includes the Sequential Blog and the Canadian Independent Comic Book Wiki.

Over at Amazon, you can click on the "see inside" feature to get a little taste of Marc Singer's recently released Breaking The Frames, an academic look at the current state of comics studies. For those of you who crave the red meat of conflict, there's some familiar names to be found.

Over at Bleeding Cool, they've got an excellent example of how the revolting manner in which super-hero artists are treated often doesn't end even when the artist passes away.

Over at Bookriot, Jessica Plummer runs through all the reasons why Guy Gardner is the only Green Lantern worth caring about in a column whose only flaw is that it describes his outfits as "fashion disasters".

Over at Comicosity, Véronique Emma Houxbois goes deep into a Marvel comic I still like, Nextwave, while also remarking upon the often unremarked fact that nobody really talks about Warren Ellis anymore. Especially Warren Ellis. He used to talk about himself all the time!

Over at The Believer, there's a whole crop of new comics content--a comic from Gina Wynbrandt that's about as raw as raw can get, a comic about the impact of #metoo in Sweden from Emei Olivia Burell, "Cayo Cruz" from Alexandra Beguez and an interview with Lauren Weinstein.