Today at the Journal, we've got a titan's take on a heavyweight: Tegan and the Bros! It's new Love and Rockets week, cousin. Will we bite the hand that feeds (and has fed) since time immemorial?
That’s something about both Jaime and Gilbert, as they got older and their respective serials eased into the comfortable rhythms of mid-life: saying each chapter seems slight on its own is hardly an insult when the sum is immeasurably greater than its parts. At this point even the idea of something as distinct as “story arcs” seems like a mundane imposition. Maggie & Hopey’s lives, to say nothing of those of Fritzi and her extended fractious clan, don’t fit into beginnings, middles, and ends. Maybe every now and again events cohere into distinct climaxes and denouements, but mostly things just keep going one damn thing after another. You know, like life.
That's not all! Today we've also got a bit of Nobrow's King of the Birds to share with you. This is how they described their graphic novel interpretations of Slavic myths by writer/artist Alexander Utkin:
When a merchant nurses the King of Birds back to health after he is injured in a great war, he is offered a great reward. Together they travel far across the land to the domains of the King's three sisters to claim the merchant's prize... but will they give up that which is most precious to them?
I’m curious about how your life led you to comics in the first place. When did you first develop your interest in the medium and what creators influenced you?
I started a bit late. I was 18 and a high school friend and I were both going to community college. He was drawing crude notebook drawings and something about that appealed to me. I think ever since then, I have been trying the process of moving away from where I grew up and changing the way – Well, basically what is behind this whole interview is that there is a ton of uncertainty and a ton of negative feelings that have come up in the past year or so. And it makes me very conflicted about even doing an interview, taking in any kind of attention or validation that might come from what I’ve made, because it’s just wrapped up in a lot of self-hatred. And that’s another thing that has been kind of hard to get over recently. And somehow making art is very comfortable, or very comforting to me. But also, when I am being my most self-critical, it just seems like this exercise in ego gratification or something.
So I think that's why I'm having trouble answering these questions in a clear-headed way, about even simple things like my process, because in my mind I'm getting tripped up thinking, “What is my process? What does this even mean? What am I doing?” And the silver lining is that I think all of these things will just funnel into whatever this next project is. I think that the little bit of work I’ve started on, and a little bit of notes I’ve jotted down, have all been centered around these feelings. And I feel like there might be something healthy and relatable in doing that and just being able to share that with other people. So that is kind of the mode of thinking that is keeping me working these days.
“It’s funny how people ask me if the stories in my comics ‘really happened’” writes Karl Stevens in his latest graphic narrative, The Winner. The back of Steven’s book jacket will tell you “Karl Stevens uses the graphic novel to dissect the line between the worlds of high and low art. While working as a museum guard he contemplates the plight of his aesthetic choices, and how they have affected his life thus far.” Since this is true of The Winner, I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise to an artist straddling the lines between reality, unreality, and surrealism, that his audience approaches the narrative reliability of his work with some skepticism. Stevens’ wry and often laconic wit are as much a part of the subversion of his words as they are of his images. It often takes an extra beat after the punchline to determine the double edge of his intension.
In Stevens’ work, I do not distinguish between high and low art, however. I would never say his work is not cartoony enough for comics, or realistic enough for the art world. While Stevens expresses simple sketches, primary color blocks, detailed engraving-like cross-hatching, and photorealistic paintings, I do not see these artistic styles as juxtaposed so much as superimposed in his work. The work that Stevens’ graphic narrative reminds me of the most is that of William Blake, who by his own admission endeavored to create works of “memorable fancy” – something descriptive both of reality and the heightened ability of the human mind to imprint the imagination onto memory. I find Stevens’ work converges upon itself, using his etched line-work as a type of base upon which he layers his colored portraits, and sometimes prints on colored paper. It is the repetition-with-a-difference in Stevens’ work that makes up both the reality and the fantasy of his tales.
About seven years ago, animator and storyboard artist Vera Brosgol entered the world of graphic novels with a walloping big success: Anya's Ghost, a supernatural fantasy rooted in the experience of being a Russian immigrant girl struggling to fit into American life. Brosgol knew this struggle firsthand, having moved from Russia to the US at age five. Anya's Ghost changed Brosgol's life: rapturously reviewed, the book went on to win Eisner, Harvey, and Cybil Awards. Its theme of trying to disavow one's cultural roots resonated with Gene Luen Yang's epochal American Born Chinese, which had been published some five years earlier (both were published by First Second). The two books drew upon popular genres—myth fantasy, superheroes, ghost stories—to fashion nervy fables of complex and ambivalent identity. In that sense, Anya's Ghost appears to have struck a nerve.
Now Brosgol, having also authored a Caldecott Honored picture book (2016's Leave Me Alone!), has just released her second graphic novel: the autobiographical Be Prepared, in which a nine-year-old Vera, again a self-conscious Russian immigré, goes to summer camp.
I could be away from the store for a good while, and as long as I am working remotely, nothing would change, because of the strong team we have. What I find myself doing more so than bringing up folks to take over responsibilities, is bringing up folks to take on responsibilities so that it allows me to do more for the company as a whole. There are a few things that I really have a hard time letting go of, but I've gotten pretty good over the years at identifying those things, and being realistic about just how much I can have on my plate at one time.
We pride ourselves on having very low turnover at Third Eye, and because of that, we're super lucky to have one of the most dedicated, knowledgable and committed teams in retail - not just comics retail, but retail as a whole. It's our staff that has allowed us to grow as much as we have, and they're what provides me the constant motivation to make the stores bigger and better.
The only thing I love more than an overly ambitious project that falls just outside its target is one that hits the bull’s eye. Sabrina splits the arrow with over 200 pages of Drnaso flexing. He puts a striking amount of detail in interiors, capturing the stale-aired drabness of “EMPLOYEES ONLY” backrooms and nearly empty month-to-month apartments. In a few large panels, he pulls out a Where’s Waldo-esque style to illustrate a children’s book inside the book. On other occasions, Drnaso, drawing haunting dream sequences, makes a negative image with his minimal line in neon over black. Sabrina’s art throughout is assertive and immediate, yet non-hurried.
If you want to know more, you can check out a preview of Sabrina, over at Comicon. We'll be talking with the artist behind this contender later on this week.
By the way, if you're aiming to grab an Ignatz, the first step is going to be getting nominated for one, and those submissions close June 1st, allegedly. Submit away!
One publication alone is too small to contain American hero Rob Clough, which is why you'll have to get on over to Your Chicken Enemy to find out what he thought about Michael Kupperman's All The Answers. I've never had the privilege of editing Rob's reviews, but if I was in charge of this one, I would have violently disagreed with the concept that Snake, Bacon, Pagus, Twain or Einstein areanywhere near as star-making as the infamous 4-Playo.Blasphemy, thy name is Elkin!
Today on the site, we have published the commencement speech Seth gave to this year's CCS graduating class, with an introduction by James Sturm.
To begin, I’d like to tell you that you have made the right decision in choosing to be cartoonists. This is very likely a sentence you will never hear again in your life. Don’t let that deter you.
Cartooning is a beautiful art form and you are among the first few generations of artists allowed to explore it with the freedom and pleasure that other artists have always been granted with their mediums. Take that to heart but take advantage of it, as well. It is a remarkable opportunity.
While it is true the legacy of our medium is scant, this also means you do not have the weight of centuries of tradition hanging over your head. Comics have only been considered worthy of serious attention for a decade or two. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. The field ahead has barely been tilled. Open ground. Ground that is still fresh, still brimming with possibilities. Still chances to stake your claim.
To be honest, I am quite envious of you. This school has given you an experience I could never have dreamed of when I started out. Back then, in the year 1980, it would never have occurred to me, after high school, to look for a college that focused on teaching comics. A ridiculous idea. Why would there be such a thing? I knew that comic books were considered pure junk. Almost the very bottom of the cultural trash heap. Perhaps pornography was considered lower. Perhaps.
Chicago-based artist Jessica Campbell's first effort with Koyama Press, Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists was a wonderfully funny, pointed satire in which the author presented herself as a museum docent, assessing not the artistic merit of celebrated male artists such as Gustav Klimt, Henry Moore, and Mark Rothko, but their sexual attractiveness, i.e., their "boneability." It was wicked fun, and Campbell never let the politics of her role-reversal override the silly humor of it all, proving herself a humorist to be reckoned with.
With her followup, XTC69, Campbell explores the same satirical territory, holding a mirror up to male chauvinism and misogyny and reflecting it back with merciless aim, this time through a science fiction parody seemingly inspired by the 1967 drive-in trash classic Mars Needs Women, in which a group of male Martians visit Earth to find female mates with whom to repopulate their planet. Campbell quickly establishes her everything's-opposite scenario, making her aliens a trio of females from the planet L8DZ N123 (read that carefully—get it?) roaming the galaxies in their titular ship in search of males. The L8DZ are led by Commander Jessica Campbell and the planet they have landed on is Earth—only it is 700 years in the future and no humans remain… except for one young woman also named (gasp!) Jessica Campbell.
—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben talks to Ellen Forney about her new book on dealing with bipolar disorder.
I feel like I became a mental health activist and advocate just by putting out my personal story. It made me feel really purposeful. It wasn’t just about me and exposing my own vulnerability and strength and story, but that there was more meaning to it than just my personal story. Much more than I had realized. I wanted to do more. The focus in Marbles, and the focus in most personal stories about mental health or bipolar disorder certainly, are about the struggle to get stable. That’s what my story was and that’s the narrative story arc. That makes sense, but being healthy with a chronic disorder means that you have your whole life stretching in front of you. It’s a long term prospect and that’s not nearly as interesting a narrative. I wanted to come up with a way that was dynamic and helpful and dealt with that part of it. That’s why Rock Steady is more of a companion book to Marbles, but you can also call it a sequel in that it’s about act two, three, and four, and however long life is.
When I think of the Mignola images I like that predate the Hellboy material, I most often think of a page in the DC event Cosmic Odyssey, where Batman is hiding just out of sight of the larger, Kirby designed villain above him: This sort of framing is nowhere in Hellboy.
Reading Hellboy, it turns out it still works. The aspect of Mignola’s visual language that seems most uniquely his is the insertion into a page of a statue or something that is primarily about atmosphere than a progression of sequential images. Despite his pages being redolent with big chunks of black and negative space, it was easy for me to see the similarities with Rob Liefeld and other Image founders. But reading this collection, those sort of insert shots that seem atmospheric or decorative when looking at the page as a whole comes across differently when you’re actually reading it: Like you’re noticing something else in the room you didn’t see before, but that now is emerging from the shadow because it’s directly in front of you. I don’t think of Hellboy as actually “scary,” despite its designation in the horror genre, but the stripped-back visual language works to convey that feeling as much as any of the story’s tropes.
At the time, the book was my response to a lot of things that were going on politically and environmentally. We were in the middle of the Cold War and everyone seemed to be afraid of atomic bombs falling any minute and I just came up with the idea that there were other things to worry about beyond atomic bombs. Scout’s world is an America that’s fallen into a state of collapse, not due to outside forces but due to inside forces. I’ve always been a fan of Native American culture and history and I’d been reading a lot about traditional Apache religion and lifestyle and the more I started thinking about it, it seemed to me the only one that would be equipped to survive in this world that I was concocting would be an Apache traditionalist. Not just a Native American traditionalist, but an Apache traditionalist. Anyway, that was the genesis of the story.
Now in 2018 the idea of an environmentally ruined America that’s collapsed in on itself doesn’t seem quite so outlandish and crazy. [laughs]
How far we’ve come since the 1980s! [laughs] That’s what I mean. It was the time to resurrect the concept. In the follow-up series Scout: War Shaman, which was set fifteen years after the events chronicled in Scout, Santana gained two companions, his two young sons Victorio and Tahzey. That presented a new spin on the story. Scout didn’t have just himself to worry about. He had to do what he could to protect his two boys and be a good father to them as they roamed across this barren, ravaged landscape. At the end of War Shaman, Scout was ambushed and killed by government troops. However, Victorio and Tahzey were left alive. The oldest, Tahzey is rescued by one of Scout’s allies, a militant fundamentalist minister. However, when we last see the youngest, Victorio, he’s all alone beneath a rock in the desert. No one can find him.
We also have Day Five of Colleen Frakes's Cartoonist's Diary, in which she returns home from her trip.
The problem with Young Terrorists isn’t that it isn’t about anything, but that it’s about too much. There’s a lot of plot, a lot of exposition, a lot of characters. Charts and graphs are employed. Every character has backstory and a gimmick. The plot goes every which way. There’s just a lot.
This is an angry book, and in 2018 righteous anger can paper over a lot of sins. This comic runs on indignation, pure rocket fuel that burns incandescent white. (I watch the news all day so I can relate.) Matteo Pizzolo’s name appears on the comic twice, both as the series’ writer and one of the co-founders of Black Mask Studios. There are worse reasons to co-found a comic book company than to have an outlet for ultra-leftist political books.
I like everything about Young Terrorists, really ... except the book itself. And the reason I didn’t particularly like the book has nothing to do with the book’s politics, with which I find myself in general agreement. The reason is that there’s just too much going on here, even in the context of a two-hundred-page story. Although some things work and the book improves drastically as it goes, it stumbles out of the gate. It’s the kind of book where, after reading the story, I was surprised by the blurb on the back cover: A young heiress discovers her father is part of a tyrannical new world order. She vows to burn his whole empire down. That’s what I read?
I didn’t want a reader to have to work to get through this book. That’s why the structure of the chapters is modeled after classic comic books. It’s meant to pull you through, keep you reading. And reduction was the key. I had to keep my eye on what the story was about and focus on that. There are many fascinating details, cool stories, and bits of trivia I removed. This book is not about old show business per se, or how cool it was to be in his position—even though he had many extraordinary experiences, he didn’t enjoy most of them.
And the book isn’t about me, either, even though it needed my pain to work. I changed the final two chapters radically during the last months of work on it. There was a lot more about who I am, the negative effects I feel my upbringing has had on me. I removed that stuff because it was wrong for this book. This book is about my father first—my experience is secondary.
—Sam Ombiri writes about how he initially misunderstood the work of Gabrielle Bell.
Truth be told, the very first time I read the comic, because it didn’t tell me how to feel and the drama wasn’t calling so much attention to itself, I kind of just skipped over all that was happening. I read through elements in the story, not really engaging with said elements. Like, for example, a friendship dissolving between Audrey’s dad and Cody, because nobody is paying any mind to it. Not even Cody, who is being so mistreated. While Audrey’s dad can be blamed for leaving Cody behind to be arrested, it isn’t for reasons that aren’t hard to guess, displayed by how Cody treats Audrey. At the same time, the way everything ended unfairly on his end, it’s easy to see why he doesn’t feel like he owes anyone anything. The way Gabrielle drew Cody being arrested conveys to me his realization that nobody truly cares about him. I wonder if Gabrielle gave him a dog to be less lonely? Anyway, Audrey’s dad is confronted with having to take responsibility for the man he used to be, not to mention the torment he has clearly been subjecting his wife to, and possibly at one point considers escaping it all, maybe with Cody? Would all this drama then be more effective if I was told what to feel?
Today at the Journal, we've got that free comic action cooking something fierce. First up, you'll find an excerpt from Aaron Costain's Entropy, which is coming from Secret Acres later this year. One of the central questions is whether or not the cat in the comic can be trusted, let me spoil that for you: no. It's a cat. Never trust cats.
Day Four of Colleen Frakes' Cartoonist Diary is up and running as well, and Colleen has the most accidental Zen moment in response to meditation you're likely to find outside of those books by Uma Thurman's dad, it's pretty great.
Speaking of comics, here's something from an upcoming issue of Brittania: Lost Eagles of Rome, by Peter Milligan and Robert Gill. Valiant sends these over all the time, and while I know they won't publish this in black and white, I look at this page and think: they really, really should.
It's another big day on TCJ. First, Dan Nadel returns to talk with Bill Schelly, the comics scholar and Harvey Kurtzman biographer who recently published a memoir about his life in comics fandom. They discuss the difference between fandom and criticism, the reality of comics as a profession, and Schelly's experiences with Steve Ditko.
I had a life-changing conversation with an older fan named Howard Siegel at the 1973 New York comic convention, which touched on the lives of Jack Kirby and comics professionals in general. We met after a panel where it became clear that C. C. Beck was not happy with DC about their ham-handed revival of Captain Marvel that year. I had come to New York to compete for a spot in DC’s so-called “new talent program,” which was billed as an apprentice program for aspiring young artists. The day before, I was firmly rejected by DC, as represented by Vince Colletta.
I was bemoaning my fate to Howard, who told me I was probably lucky that I wasn’t accepted. He explained that nearly all comics artists were struggling financially, they were considered disposable by the publishers, that drawing comics involved endless repetition of the same faces and poses, long past the point where it was enjoyable or had any novelty. I countered by saying that he couldn’t tell me that Jack Kirby wasn’t doing well financially. Siegel explained that Kirby was doing “all right” but he was at the top of his game, and he had no ownership in the characters he had created for Marvel and DC. This conversation went along those lines for a while, and when I came away, I realized that being a comics pro at Marvel or DC at the time—and they were pretty much the only game in town, as undergrounds were dying—was far from the romanticized view of it that I’d developed as a teenager.
We also have Day Three of Colleen Frake's Cartoonist's Diary, and a weekend in the cold, internet-less woods.
By all rights, Macanudo should have charmed the pants off of me. Its creator, the Argentinian artist known as Liniers, has an appealing, confident, warm, and rubbery art style that’s perfect for the sort of daily humor strip he’s creating. He continually attempts to play with the limited four-panel format – changing the shape of the panels, having strips that runs sideways and upside down, breaking the fourth wall, and in general subverting reader expectations. He shows an interest and appreciation for the history of the medium, and his considerable influences – George Herriman, Bill Watterson, Charles Schulz, Patrick McDonnell – are apparent but don’t overwhelm. What’s not to like?
And yet Macanudo largely left me cold. While there were moments I was won over by the strip’s sweetness and lighthearted play, too often I found myself wishing for a little more grit.
I read [Maira Kalman's] children’s books as a child and they’re all so wild and funny and free and didn’t follow the usual structure of a children’s book. She wrote for kids like we were wacky beatniks or something. She’s also cool in this way I’ll never be. I think a strong design sense is what makes an artist cool. I think it’s a part of the brain. I think it’s connected to spacial awareness or something. You can fake it if you don’t have it naturally, but if you have it naturally it’s really intense. If she loves an object, not only does she love it, but she knows how to put it somewhere so that you will love it too.
—Interviews & Profiles. There have been so many interviews and profiles of Aline Kominsky-Crumb lately that we've almost certainly inadvertently missed a few, but two of the most prominent recent features were in the New York Times and The New Republic.
My parents were very pretentious and upward-striving. They made me do ballet, and tennis, and horseback riding. They wanted to make someone that a Jewish orthodontist would want to marry. Real class. So they didn’t like us to read comics, but I used to watch old cartoons on Saturday morning TV. I really liked Little Lulu, because she was this tough girl. They’d say, “This is the boy’s clubhouse, you can’t come in!” But she always found a way to get in there.
But I wasn’t a comics nerd at all: My comedy comes from stand-up in New York. My grandfather was a huge wannabe comedian, and he took me to see every comic in New York: Jackie Mason, Alan King, Henny Youngman, Don Rickles. My humor is directly related to that in terms of storytelling: self-deprecating, self-referential, very autobiographical stuff about the family, about daily life, that sort of thing. Also Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller: They were the only two women comics that I was interested in, so my work comes out of that.
Today at TCJ, we've got that review action that rumors say you crave. This Tuesday, it's our first piece from young firebrand Nathan Chazan, who is here to take on Die Laughing, a collection of André Franquin's comics recently published by Fantagraphics. Here's Chazan's opener, the "Chazaner", if you will:
A haggard, silhouetted man stumbles across a snowy landscape. The terrain is vastly black, a blank white curve of snow accentuated by black night sky only a solid layer of ink can provide. The stumbling man casts a more energetic figure as he crests the seemingly endless snowbank. The lively and frantic mark-making that composes his form wobbles with a will to live, yet these fragile splotches also droop and fray with exhaustion like broken twigs or maybe frozen snot dribbling out of the cartoon guy’s big schnozz. Our unnamed hero curses of his inevitable death in the ice hell that is his life, when in the distance, bright lights appear that suggest an end. Our man rejoices – could this be civilization? No. The lights are a pack of hungry wolves, whose jet black bodies replace the dark of night in a brutally minimal panel, our small man cowering in the corner of the frame. Horrible death cannot be avoided, and dreaming otherwise will only worsen the punishment –a charming gag. It’s meant to be funny, which you can tell because these are cartoon characters, appearing in a funny book.
Meanwhile, on the free comics front, we've got Day Two of Colleen Frakes' Alaskan Adventure. (We asked her to officially call it that, but received no response). In today's installment, we find out that science behind Frakes desire to take a plane (almost) all the way to where Santa lives.
Elsewhere, I liked this Venom review because it's a stone cold assessment of the moving target nature of making an appealing super-hero comic when the publisher keeps restarting the book for "new readers", while picking up twenty year old character threads to appeal to the people who might watch an upcoming movie that's based on said twenty year old threads, while also trying to acknowledge what happened in the last seven years because people seemed to dig it even though it will make zero sense to the imagined hordes that Marvel thinks Tom Hardy will be roping in, while also slapping a second number on the book to appeal to middle aged readers who have stuck it out for an even longer period of time and might be aware how many times a new number one has been pasted on the title.
Here's the cover to the first magazine sized issue of The Comics Journal, which featured photos of the Superman movie, "First Photos" at that. Rest in peace, Margot Kidder: you never took it easy, but you sure seemed to have it figured out by the end.