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Of Sea and Jungle

Today on the site, Frank Santoro continues his series on Risograph printing in comics, interviewing the undersung John Pham.

Tell me about this legend I’ve heard: you created your own brushes for your process? You may be giving away trade secrets with this answer – however, I’m curious: Can you walk a layperson through your process of “Photoshop and the risograph talking to each other” or at least the process that Ben Jones refers to in this interview?

It’s pretty simple and 100% super boring. I basically examined scans of a lot of my wet-media-type pen and ink drawings and tried to reproduce them faithfully as Photoshop brushes. I have sort of an insane comics process in that I can only take sips and fragments of work time whenever I can because of my ridiculous day job and personal life. I do a lot of the work digitally wherever I may be. So it’s important to me to have Photoshop tools that still feel like I’m drawing using a rapidograph or hunt 102 dip pen on bristol board … and now you’re falling asleep.

As for how I get the color mixing and “airbrush” effects, it’s all a combination of adjustment layers (which I learned from working in animation); a p-shop airbrush set to “dissolve” (which I learned from Dan Zettwoch who I think might’ve gotten it from Chris Ware) and converting all my solid colors to diffusion dithered bitmaps. It gets a little involved and would probably require its own sort of tutorial lesson, but that’s essentially it. And of course these are just tools and techniques anyone can learn – what you do with it is something else entirely.

When I got my first GR it really was much more of a challenge getting my files and my Riso to talk to each other, and I think that’s what Ben’s referring to. This was about 6 years ago and I had to do a lot of experimenting and trial and error to figure it out. The solution ended up involving connecting my RIP (even getting the RIP was a challenge) with an older version of my Mac’s OS (which had to be run through an emulator), with the appropriate postscript driver file. All really exciting stuff! But it worked, and that’s the workflow I ended up using for the first issue of SCUZZI and Epoxy 4. Anyone out there still awake?


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

I’ve been enjoying Gloria Rivera’s guest posts at Comics Workbook, including her most recent, a guide to the comics her parents read growing up in Mexico.

I’ve been meaning to write something about these comics since I found out about them a year ago. Before this I never knew my parents read comics in their youth. They both grew up in Mexico (b. 1964 and 1966) in small pueblos, and left their houses at 14 and 19 to work.

I was so curious as to what interested them enough as kids to capture their attention week after week. What captivated them had to actually interest the town as a whole in order to be read. They explained that children in the pueblos were poor and could only afford an issue here and there, and swapping comics with other kids was the only way they could finish the adventures. Even more removed – they paid to read to whichever child in the pueblo had the issue they needed to read next.

For Vice, Nick Gazin talks to Lawrence Hubbard about Real Deal.

VICE: What’s it like to have this hardcover collection of your comics after all these decades?
Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard: “What’s it like?” It’s a feeling of euphoria, of validation. Thinking of all of the hard work, hours of drawing and creating Real Deal and wondering, Does anybody give a shit about this?

All of the times me and H.P. McElwee took Real Deal directly to the people, the fans, they loved it! But at the same time when we went before the gatekeepers of the industry—publishers, distributors, shop owners—they said, “No! Why don’t you come up with a new superhero?” The best way to look at this is to never give up! If you love something and have a passion for it, stick with it! And whatever happens will happen!

Ha ha ha ha.

 

Support People

Today on the site, Matthias Wivel joins us for a thorough critical discussion of last year’s George Herriman biography, Krazy. This is our final piece on the book. Read other takes here and here

 

Michael Tisserand’s long-awaited, magisterial biography of Herriman, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, cogently points us in a compelling direction, however, by framing the art in terms of the artist’s ethnic identity. Since the discovery in 1971 of George Joseph Herriman’s 1880 birth certificate, on which he was categorized as ‘colored’, it has been well known, at least to comics cognoscenti, that the light-skinned Herriman spent his life passing as ‘white,’ kinky hair hidden under his ubiquitous Stetson. Tisserand is cognizant that his take is not new, but he digs much deeper than before attempted, taking us back to Herriman’s birthplace in the Tremé section of New Orleans in the last decades of the nineteenth century, as post-Reconstruction segregation laws were formally gutting the promise and practice of emancipation. His research here is rich in the way it conjures up a quintessentially American family history as it unfolded against the fraught and complex tapestry that was, and remains, American racial relations.

Elsewhere:

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo founding editor Karen Berger as she prepares to embark on a new line of comics.

John Porcellino is raising money to publish The Complete Strange Growths, 1991-1997, by Jenny Zervakis. A very very worthy cause for an excellent and little-seen comic.

And finally, Edward Gorey’s collections, examined.

 

Smaller Size

Joe McCulloch is here this morning with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, pointing out the most interesting-sounding comics new to stores. Spotlight picks this week include two must-read titles: Sammy Harkham’s Crickets #6 and Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. Joe also talks a little about Frédéric Coché.

I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. AIGA profiles Eleanor Davis.

Sketchiness, though, is integral to the impact of the work. The loose hand echoes the movement of Davis on her bike: her outlines are like that of a cyclist passing you by—fast, evocative, and a quick impression of shape and energy. As Davis’ recent comics deal with themes of sadness and mental health—her lauded 2014 How To Be Happy is an abstract collection of short stories that explore depression’s many forms—there is also something freeing in the looseness of the sketches in You & A Bike & A Road. In the story, Davis addresses the fact that the journey is, in part, a way to keep depression at bay. “I was having trouble with wanting to not be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling,” she writes on one page. The form of her drawing, its lightness, seems to reject the weight of crippling sadness, just as the process of cycling does for Davis.

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo/new Dark Horse editor Karen Berger.

The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Josh Bayer, and the latest on Process Party is Keith Knight.

—Reviews & Commentary. Bob Temuka writes about the latest Love & Rockets.

The smaller format means there is a smaller chunk of story, and Love and Rockets Magazine #2 features bite-sized slices of both brothers’ ongoing sagas, taking a few steps forward and underlying the slightness of the plotting with a couple of devastating emotional truths. So, same as it ever was, then.

Attempted Bloggery has posted a New York Times article first published twenty years ago, when Bob Mankoff first took over as the magazine’s cartoons editor.

At the same time, the definition of a New Yorker cartoon has changed over the last decade. Its principle characteristic, what has been called a kind of “wink-slash-smirk” humor tailored to Manhattan sensibilities, has been transformed into something a little more generally accessible.

And, some critics say, while New Yorker cartoons of past decades can still elicit grins, many recent ones are so dependent on the moment that they may not last.

 

Interesting Nonetheless

Our friend Ken Parille has joined us again with a fascinating column that begins with lettering and winds its way into Roy Lichtenstein. 

When I started reading Marvel comic books in the 1970s, I was baffled by the lettering. While it didn’t appear to be typeset, the dialogue, narration, and sound effects looked too perfect to be done by hand. I was sure that the letterers must have had some help — maybe a weird mechanical device controlled their fingers as they worked. How else, I thought, could they form the thousands of words in a comic book’s balloons and caption boxes with such precision and consistency? Years later I learned — with some amazement, and a little disappointment — that no strange machines were involved. Letterers typically used a plastic “Ames Guide,” T-square, and pencil to create reference lines for words inked freehand. Like the artists who drew a comic’s pictures, letterers worked on pages much larger than the book’s printed size. When the original art was photographed and reduced during production, guide lines and other imperfections vanished, leaving behind only the letterer’s calligraphy.

I especially loved the lettering in Marvel’s early superhero comics. Often done by Artie Simek or Sam Rosen, it looked much stronger than other companies’ text, giving the characters’ already bombastic pronouncements an even greater sense of drama.

Yet I had the impression that, of all the people involved in comic-book production, letterers were considered the least important, not only by fans, but by the companies who hired them. In some of the story credits he wrote, Marvel’s Stan Lee would praise the art (and his own scripts) as “daring” or “vigorous” and then make a joke about the letterer, whose name always appeared last: “lettered with a soggy penpoint by S. Rosen.”

After reading many credits like this — and noticing that letterers regularly went unnamed in other companies’ comics — I got the message. In the comic-book production hierarchy, lettering took last place.

Kind of a slow comics news weekend as near as I can tell, so I’ll just leave you with this Tom Spurgeon interview with cartoonist Joe Decie.

 

Who Knows?

Today on the site, Katie Skelly reviews the latest book from Anya Davidson, Lovers in the Garden.

Anya Davidson’s genre entry Lovers in the Garden packs a tight punch with a roster of characters seemingly straight out of the Roger Corman playbook and the wacky animating idea that maybe, just maybe, women can get on top in this kind of tale. Lovers follows a colorful cast with enough backstory to keep them interesting, and timely references to anchor them in an unspecified, but obviously groovy decade: two rudderless hitmen (one suffering PTSD from his time in the shit in ‘Nam), the ukiyo-e loving sleaze who hires them, an undercover cop hungry for an overdue promotion, and a bottle-hitting journalist saddled with her lovelorn hippie boyfriend. Their worlds collide around a sting set up by a double-crossing secretary that ends in a stand-off and shootout worthy of a b-roll flick.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have released a statement regarding the supposedly controversial content of This One Summer, which was recently named the number one most-challenged book of 2016 by the American Library Association.

This book was not created for elementary readers, but for young readers. The publisher lists it for ages 12 to 18. There has been some controversy as to its inclusion on the Caldecott Honor list, so maybe it bears repeating that the ALA defines children as up to and including age 14. We agree the book is not for young children, nor was it intended for that audience.

We worry about what it means to define certain content, such as LGBTQ content, as being of inappropriate for young readers. Which implicitly defines readers who do relate to this content, who share these experiences, as not normal, when really they are part of the diversity of young people’s lives.

—Not exactly comics, but possibly noteworthy all the same, the Spanish fashion chain Zara has withdrawn a denim miniskirt from its stores after a bunch of people complained that the skirt featured an image that resembled Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog.

There is a lot of “how did this happen?” and “how deluded could they be?” going around the cybersphere, but the answer may come down to a blunt collision of globalism and cultural ignorance.

[…]

Mr. de Santiago is a Spanish artist based in London whose biography on his official web page states, “I like to explore social interactions and gather them into quirky and colourful storytelling compositions.” According to Zara, he said the frog face “came from a wall painting I drew with friends four years ago.” It is not hard to imagine he was unaware a similar frog face had been used for a somewhat different purpose in the United States.

The boilerplate comment to make about this situation from the comics booster position would be to say this only demonstrates the Power of Comics. But it seems like a more complicated situation than that, one that has very little to do with Furie’s original comics at this point. If I were Furie, I’d be tempted to follow R. Crumb’s footsteps when his signature character Fritz the Cat attracted the wrong kind of attention, and kill off Pepe with an icepick.

 

Yes, Of Course!

Today on the site, Annie Mok chats with Gabrielle Bell on the occasion of the release of her new book, Everything Is Flammable.

MOK: Self-talk and metacognition play a big role in your comics. In one part [of Everything Is Flammable] you’re like, “One night I got the shame attacks. ‘I’m such a jerk. Stop calling yourself a jerk, you jerk!’” How does this kind of self-talk find its way into your comics?

BELL: It’s just a learned behavior. In that particular story, it was me and my mother trying to deal with things that is really a kind of man’s world, dealing with negotiations and business and planning to build this home. Both of us have relied on men in the past and it’s kind of gotten both of us in trouble. It’s put us in this sort of helpless situation. So we were out of our element. And I think, being women too, there’s a husband or the father in our heads saying we’re doing it all wrong. In the story, my way of coping was to sort of flirt with the guy, and manipulate him in my way, while he’s sort of manipulating me. I am trying to play up this vulnerable female role with him and my mother, putting on this image of “We’re just helpless females, we don’t have any money.” “We don’t have these skills of being assertive and manly [laughs] and the art of the deal. So we work with what we have.” The shame attacks at the end just came from feeling ashamed of myself for being manipulative and also just relying on other people, like my friend Sadie, to stay at their houses. I mean, this is all normal stuff. People rely on each other and help each other out. But in this story we were both being forced to get out of our comfort zones.

MOK: There’s a lot in the story about men, and you talk about how in films mothers are portrayed in a negative light. You say, “Mine exists outside of that continuum.” You talk about navigating those kind of liminal spaces.

BELL: I’m very sensitive to mother-blaming. I think the most liberal among us… And father-blaming to. I did that too when I was younger, thinking “I didn’t get what I deserved” and stuff, and now… I’m very sensitive to people complaining about their moms not doing enough for them. Because of the difficulties that any mother has, we should be grateful that they were there at all. I mean, I know some people who had really abusive mothers, that’s sort of different.

Elsewhere:

Hazel Cills has a particularly well-sourced and researched piece on the gender dynamics of the New Yorker cartoon world, and the comics world in general. 

And at the LA Review of Books, Brian Selznick talks about his career and latest project.

 

Mysterious Universe

Huh, this is odd. Somehow my blog entry from Monday seems to have disappeared entirely, so I’ll re-link to Monday’s story. It featured the debut of new TCJ contributor Alex Wong, who interviewed the French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu about her latest graphic novel, its subject (Cass Elliot), and the Smurfette Syndrome.

The neglect and disrespect Elliot dealt with throughout her career is something that Bagieu can tangentially relate to. Bagieu, who was born in Paris and now resides in Brooklyn, New York, remembers a decade ago when she, along with a fellow writer, pitched a female superhero story idea to a major publisher. Bagieu remembers the male publisher suggesting that their superheroes could have superpowers that would allow them to get the cheapest clothing at sale time, and to always have the perfect shoe even if there was one size left. “I really wanted to slap him in the face,” Bagieu says. “I was so humiliated.”

The comic book industry has presented its own sets of challenges for Bagieu. “For female cartoonists, you have to be quiet,” Bagieu says. “You have to either do girl stuff. In France, we call it the The Smurfette Syndrome. You’re a token. It’s not neutral, we don’t make up half of the cartoonists. You’re just the girl. You have science fiction comic book writers, action comic book writers, and, oh, here’s the girl.”

And then today, we have Chris Mautner’s review of Joe Ollmann’s graphic biography, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook.

I was completely unaware (as I suspect most of you were) of Seabrook’s existence before reading this biography, but it’s easy to see why Ollmann was drawn to him. He not only traveled the world and wrote about non-Western cultures with (for the times) measured respect and appreciation, he also dabbled in the occult, hobnobbed with famous folk like Man Ray, was a horrible alcoholic, had a predilection for BDSM, committed himself to an asylum, and wrote about all of this in a confessional manner that would make the most shameless autobiographical cartoonist squirm with envy. Oh, and he once ate human flesh.

More to the point, he’s also, as I noted earlier, largely forgotten, at best a footnote for introducing the word “zombie” into the American lexicon. Ollmann seems fascinated by how such a unique literary figure as Seabrook, who at one time was quite well-known and well-regarded, could sink into obscurity. And if Seabrook’s descent into irrelevance should conjure any thoughts of the myriad number of worthwhile cartoonists that have been forgotten or discarded by the passage of time, well, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Gloria Rivera reviews Zhang Leping’s manhua The Wandering Life of Sanmao.

The drawing of the original black and white comic is superb, and though never published in the US is completely readable through images alone. Except for signage and a handful of panels, the bulk of the comic is pantomime. Even the dialogue expressed between characters is drawn and not written! Although the relationship between words and pictures in comics should never be debased (as it may be in the show-don’t-tell school of comics) the silence experienced in this comic is unbreakable, and this is a comic that keeps you within its timing, only refraining for pauses of humor, a softness. Leping’s work is noble, leaving his reader in awe of how a man who has experienced so much can describe innocence as he does. This particular collection of comics has been adapted into color comics, animation, film and even live theater productions over the span of 80 years.

—The always strong Doug Wright Awards have announced their finalists.

—The Chester Brown/Dave Sim debate on prostitution continues, though Sim seems to have retired his side.

My March 28th post about Dave Sim’s body-camera proposal has been put up on A Moment Of Cerebus. Dave has been having computer problems and so has been unable to respond. (Perhaps he hasn’t even read the post.) But other A-M-O-C readers have commented. I notice that NONE of them defended Dave’s body-cam idea.

 

Magical World Link

Today on the site, our friend Joe McCulloch would like to mention some comic books, including the latest issues of Ganges and Berlin.

Elsewhere:

The excellent Heather Benjamin gives a good long interview over at the Vans web site.

On Sunday my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of babysitting for Dash Shaw and Jane Samborski. That is one cute and well-mannered baby. I love babies. Though my son is only five, having a baby strapped to my chest was still pretty novel. We strolled around the neighborhood. I talked to her about bricks. Old people looked kindly at me again. We tried to teach her the cha-cha. We got all the fun with none of the trouble. Who knew that her father once took shrooms and watched anime and  has now written about it in a public forum. Sigh. 

What else… Simon Hanselmann’s new zine, Portraits, arrived in the mail. I like that Simon is chronicling the mostly-inane comics subculture that he’s a part of, partly because he’s getting at various “issues” that have been around whatever-we-call-this-comics-world for a while (and which used to be discussed on members-only message boards), like (not) Nobrow’s alleged behavior or the intentional misreading of Robert Crumb. And partly because he tells familiar anecdotes (creepy festival organizers; self-aggrandizing hacks) but doesn’t spare himself. His earlier Truth Zone comics were like talk show panels… here it’s more anecdote and story-based. I like seeing this kind of thing because, well, few people are keeping track of what’s going on now. I would like to see it to cut deeper, to not spare his friends for a gags, and, as he did in TZ, name names, which is something really only artists can get away with. It’s refreshing.