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Arghggh

Today on the site, Cynthia Rose reports from the Paris comics festival, SoBD, which is run by Stripologie.

Almost any Parisian will tell you that comics and graphic novels are serious stuff. Here, the “BD” or bandes dessinées are not just in bookshops. They’re all over the place: in train stations, supermarkets, museums and the news kiosks found on every street. During 2016, the country’s residents bought more than eight-and-a-half million BD – so we’re talking about 15.5 % of the whole French population. What’s more, those statistics seem to be increasing.

This omnipresence, however, has a down side. With new volumes appearing weekly, few books get more than a fortnight on display. Blockbusters such as Asterix are different but, even for mainstream publishers, this poses a serious problem. When it comes to collectives, independents, and books about comics, that problem is a crisis – and it’s one Amazon hasn’t helped.

Parisian Renaud Chavannes is doing something about it. Chavannes, a journalist and digital entrepreneur, also authored Composition de la bande dessinée (Editions PLG). A thoughtful history and analysis of page layout, it took him a decade – and he wasn’t prepared to see it simply appear and vanish. So he fought back by designing a shop of his own, an online boutique called Stripologie.com. Open for business since 2012, Stripologie sells books over the internet. But it’s dedicated just to books about BD, to special editions and volumes on the history, art, and theory of comics.

And Frank Young has reviewed Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s How to Read Nancy.

“You can’t teach genius,” my friend and colleague Glenn Bray quipped in a recent email exchange. As an after-school teacher of comics, cartooning, and storytelling, I must bow my head and agree. One out of 50 of the middle-school kids I teach has the bonafide comics bug—that burning desire to draw and tell sequential stories. The rest do their imitation Sonic the Hedgehogs, Wimpy Kids, and Bendys, despite my invitations to create new characters instead of expending their energy on fanfic.

Some of the subtleties of How to Read Nancy—and its wry humor—may be lost on the age-group I teach, but this book has the potential to inform and inspire, by example, the process of comics-making to anyone willing to lend an ear and focus. It’s the best thing to happen for comics in a long time.

To make comics, one must study comics—just as a filmmaker watches movies and a novelist reads other writers. No art exists in a vacuum. We get the occasional void-artist (Henry Darger, Fletcher Hanks, Rory Hayes) but they’re a rare exception. With its focus on the most mainstream cartoonist of the 20th century, authors/theorists Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden expose the self-evident truths hidden in plain sight in three panels of a comic strip that came and went in a blip in the summer of 1959.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Brian Nicholson has written recent posts about Gabrielle Bell and E.A. Bethea

Her pages are uniform, six square panels to a page. Most panels feature Gabrielle in them. The square is a stage, you generally see her full body, taking up most of the height of it. She is skinny, there is room enough for backgrounds and other characters. Room enough also for a good amount of text. Usually this is dialogue, sometimes it’s more caption-driven. Sometimes the captions will accompany a drawing where Gabrielle has thought balloons going as well: The captions relaying an after-the-fact storytelling, while her thought balloons convey her thoughts at the moment being depicted. The desire for ink on the page results in marks that seems like they are meant to delineate folds in fabric, but there are more of them then there would be folds on fabric. The overall effect is anti-glamorous.

—and his disinterest in recent superhero comics:

DC currently has an imprint edited by the singer of the emo band My Chemical Romance, that’s clearly designed to be something of a throwback to the early days of Vertigo. I love a lot of those comics: The Peter Milligan Shade The Changing Man, the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol. My interest in reading the revivals falls apart on flip-through. The difference between the nineties iterations and their contemporary revivals is that, if the older audience identified with the label “alternative,” the ideal audience for these Young Animal comics are people who would describe themselves as “adorkable.”

—At Vulture, Abraham Riesman interviews Charles Burns.

The series took about a decade to complete. When you started with your notebooks and sketchbooks, did you know what the last page would look like?
Probably not right at the beginning, but I had a core idea. I knew what that last page was gonna be for, let’s say, seven years. At the very beginning, we’re floundering around trying to find a way in to tell the story, and to tell it the way that feels right. There’s a lot of missteps. I did maybe three pages of like a first version, and I was writing it and drawing in the way that I had kinda worked previously, and I realized I had to step away from that.

—The latest guest on the CBLDF podcast is R. Sikoryak.

 

We Are The Children of Dog

Today on the Journal, we’ve got a preview of the next Junji Ito book. Then next week we’ll have a review of it. You see how this thing is starting to work? Yeah you do.

ELSEWHERE!

News. We here at The Journal didn’t have time to get into the nature of Patreon’s recent fee changes and the vocal outcry that followed in its wake before Patreon announced that they weren’t going to change the fee structure after all. They’re still going to have to do something–you know, to make that money–but what that is will be determined at a later, unspecified, date.

Reviews & Sundry. While Scott Adams stopped being a joke worth making a long time ago, I’m a sucker for didn’t-see-that-coming thinkpieces on comics from publications that don’t normally do them, and this Awl piece on Dilbert doesn’t disappoint.

Somewhere along the way, Scott Adams became incapable of seeing the world clearly. He cannot see that he has made the antagonist of his cartoon the protagonist. He cannot see that some of the reasons that he thought Trump would be a good president—i.e., could become a thorough expert on any geopolitical subject after an hour-long briefing—are some of the exact same barbs that he launched at management culture in the legacy-building peak of his satire. He cannot see the irony in suddenly yoking his reputation to a man whose signature move—before, during, and probably after his presidency—is abusing and then firing his own employees.

One can’t, in good conscience, mention Dilbert with throwing out a plug for this old back and forth between Kim Thompson & the rest of the world regarding Dilbert–so here that very plug is

There’s only 145 of us reading the Noah Van Sciver’s serialization of Fante Bukowski comics on Twitter at the time of this writing, which means there’s only 145 people keeping up with some Mech-level funny. You know what to do.

I hadn’t seen all these fake comic covers by Alex Degen before, maybe you have, but you didn’t tell me about them, so nice job being a friend.

 

Slash

Today on the site, Frank Santoro is writing about the latest book by Lala Albert:

If Lala Albert’s previous book, Janus, was about drawing people and interiors of the real world, and the “interiors of the self,” then this book is about not drawing people or interiors. It is not about artificial interiors or artificial people. It is a book of exteriors, of the natural world of trees, and birds, and life free of artifice. It is a book of “nature” drawings and one which uses an avatar of a tiny elf-like humanoid to guide the reader through this wordless graphic novel.

I must admit, I am not usually a fan of stories or comic books which feature supernatural elves or faeries. While Wet Earth is more like a television nature show which just happens to have elves in it, I had to suspend my disbelief by imagining that this was the next chapter of Janus. At the end of Janus, the protagonist looks at a seashell and speaks to it. I imagined the protagonist fell asleep and dreamed Wet Earth, and by doing that I could get over the elves frolicking around with the animals and birds and insects in the beautifully rendered Wet Earth.

And then Tegan O’Neil is here to talk about “the Latest Hit Comic from Image,” Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, which I am happy to say I haven’t read.

Shirtless Bear Fighter bored me. It bored me because not only have I seen the movies and TV shows that gave rise to the action movie formula that the book exploits, but I’ve seen the parodies of same, and the parodies of the parodies, and the neo-classical reclamation projects that recycle the hoariest old clichés as sincere homage. Shirtless Bear Fighter embraces the formula with a cheek that borders on arrogance. They’re not really doing anything with these old forms, they’re not making any kind of clever point. They’re literally just giving us the same old story with winking ciphers, and expect the audience’s respect for the trappings of parody to cover up the fact that it really is just a bog-standard revenge story told with hipster memes.

I don’t understand, really. I’ve tried throughout this piece to avoid being mean-spirited. Shirtless Bear Fighter was co-created by writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner and the artist Nil Vendrell. It’s a very competently produced comic and that very competence works against it. Vendrell’s art takes the material more or less at face value. It reads like any mainstream comic produced in the last ten years, with thoroughly competent and agreeable art that fails to make any impact. The book just doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, which seems problematic. A book about a guy who punches bears should have some kind of personality, right?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Two excerpts from Hillary Chute’s new Why Comics? have been published. At LitHub, you can read from her chapter on Gary Panter, Matt Groening, and punk comics.

Panter, whose own self-published comics Groening had read and admired, wrote him a fan letter in 1978. (Leonard Koren, who published an avant-garde lifestyle magazine called Wet, first showed Panter Life in Hell.) Groening describes being actually “frightened” by Panter’s handwriting—today still known, which is to say admired, for its scratchiness and intensity—but he wrote back. The two met and became fast friends, plotting how to make art people would pay attention to. Groening recalls how they would “scrape coins out of the carpet of our crummy little apartments and split burgers and then scheme about how to invade pop culture.”

The Paris Review has a section from her book on the “rise of queer comics.”

The history of gay comics, however, doesn’t start with Bechdel. It has roots that go back at least to the underground comix movement of the 1960s and ’70s—and even earlier, too, if one considers classic comic-strip characters like George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, one of the most celebrated characters in the history of comics. Krazy Kat (1913–1944) which debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, featured a famous love triangle: The mouse, Ignatz, hates the cat, Krazy. Krazy, however, passionately loves Ignatz; even though the mouse throws bricks at Krazy’s head, they are received affectionately. Offissa Pupp, a dog, adores Krazy and hates Ignatz as a result. Krazy is androgynous, a “kat” with a fluid gender that seems to shift and is never actually meant to be conclusively verified (sometimes the narration refers to Krazy as a “he”; largely, however, Krazy has been interpreted as female, including by superfan E. E. cummings). In an exchange from a 1915 Krazy Kat daily strip, Krazy complains, “I don’t know if I should take a husband or a wife,” to which the indifferent Ignatz responds, “Take care,” and hurls a brick. That a syndicated strip published in a mainstream Hearst paper—Hearst adored the strip’s artistic merit and gave Herriman a lifetime contract—had such a conspicuously “genderqueer” star at its center indicates that queer comics, even if not hailed as such, have been lurking in plain sight for over a hundred years, at least. We might even consider queerness part of the DNA of comics.

—Interviews & Podcasts. The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Cullen Murphy, and the latest guest on Process Party is Jeffrey Brown.

 

Please Buy A Different Moisturizer

Today at The Journal, we’ve got two buckets of sauce for you. First, dip yourself into a pool an interview with cartoonist Tim Lane, who is out there holding the line for single issue comic books for more than just nostalgic reasons. The second bucket is to come!

That’s something I’m interested in at least stating an argument for: the resurrection of the traditional comic book. There’s such a rich and and colorful history of the traditional comic book and how it developed in America. I’m a strong proponent of it – both for philosophical reasons but also for very practical reasons. From what I can see, comics is in a place where graphic novels are what’s most popular. They’ve grown to become quite exquisite art books. The only complaint I have is that for people like me – I have a son and I have a wife and we have bills to pay – it’s very difficult to to be able to spend a couple hundred bucks to buy, let’s say, four graphic novels. It’s getting to the point where it’s so expensive to get your hands on the material. The great thing about comic books is that they are, and always have been, inexpensive and for the average person. It started with kids, you know, for a dime. I’d like to see that come back because it’d be nice if comics were more affordable, and I think the traditional comic book is one way to make that happen.

 

ELSEWHERE

News. Some of the bigger infrastructure news of late was announced last week–Meg Lemke has taken over as Graphic Novel Reviews Editor at Publishers Weekly, a role previously handled by Heidi MacDonald until Lion Forge’s acquisition of The Beat. Lemke has a ton of experience, and it’s a smart hire. 

I checked in with our very own Joe McCulloch on this link here, and he said that it’s a “pleasant, general audience-oriented profile of Frederik L. Schodt, one of the key figures in the gradual introduction of manga to English-language readers. This is a guy who personally knew Osamu Tezuka, to give you an idea of how far back we’re going. Gently touched upon are the myriad issues implicit to the idea of ‘localization’ — still a piping hot topic if you have offended the wrong demon and therefore become party to video game discourse — but couched in an aging soul’s contemplation of time’s passage and stuff. I’d like to hear somebody ask him about translating Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, which is barely in English *in English*, if you know what I mean.”

Reviews & Sundry. Abraham Riesman’s list at Vulture has a lot of the right books in the right places, but he’s also the latest in a year long string of people who have filed to convince me to take a chance on Tom King, the emptiest suit in an overflowing closet. Who would have thought that 2017 was the year all the comics critics fell in love with the Deep State? They’re gonna kill y’all first, ya dummies!

The YALSA Great Graphic Novels For Teens list is here, and the breadth of it is an excellent indication of which publishers want to make money selling books to libraries, and which ones think it’s better to send their review copies exclusively to websites that no one capable of self-love will ever pay attention to.

 

 

Master Whiner Myself

We’ve got a double feature for you on TCJ this morning. First, Greg Hunter has released the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast. This installment features Emil Ferris; the My Favorite Thing Is Monsters creator talks superheroes and dada, politics and accessibility, Will Eisner, Ted Leo, and more.

And then we have an excerpt from the latest work by Tim Lane, Happy Hour in America. Look for more about Lane tomorrow.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The New York Times released a lot of comics content lately, including Garry Trudeau reviewing former Prince Valiant writer Cullen Murphy’s memoir of cartooning in Connecticut.

As Cullen Murphy admits in his warm and graceful memoir, “Cartoon County,” comics creators have long been among the most dimly perceived of celebrities, and when they venture out into society, they are usually sized up as dentists or insurance adjusters long before the awful truth comes tumbling out.

Fortunately, this is not a significant problem, since the syndicated cartoonist is rarely spotted at large. The deadlines and hours are brutal, and too much involvement with the real world takes time away from the alternate universe the artist must ceaselessly oversee. Newspaper comics are regarded as a kind of public utility — a reliable, 365-days-a-year source of light entertainment. For those whose weekly transmissions keep the machine up and running, every Friday deadline can seem a freight train bearing down, threatening to overwhelm their creative capacity and self-confidence. A few careers have ended in drink, but more typically the rolling dread keeps cartoonists home and out of trouble. Only one of our number has ever been drummed out of the National Cartoonists Society for “conduct unbecoming a member.” (Don’t ask.)

Also, Manohla Dargis reviews two new books on comics, Hillary Chute’s anticipated study Why Comics? and Reed Tucker’s less-significant-looking Slugfest, a history of Marvel vs. DC.

Untethering her book from linear history frees Chute up, allowing her to leap from idea to idea, rather than simply from one period to another. She fills in the basics, introduces foundational artists and sketches in some of the medium’s industrial history, though largely as a departure point for her discussions of independent artists like Robert Crumb, a leading figure in underground comics, a.k.a. comix — the “x” indicates adult content. (Chute doesn’t go into the legal obscenity fights over comix in detail, which I mention only because in 1969, my father, then working in an East Village bookstore, was arrested for selling a Crumb comix. My dad went free; Crumb kept on outraging.)

Finally, Gilbert Hernandez reviews J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, in the form of a short comic.

On the less establishment side of the comics internet, here is a very thorough bibliography of “alternative” manga published in English.

I love underground manga but it’s too hard to find good suggestions and updated lists. And with “alternative manga” I mean those really different, obscure, weird, extreme and experimental japanese comics that only a few non-japanese people from all over the world will ever read and appreciate.

These are surreal avant-garde manga such as the ones published in alternative japanese magazines and anthologies like Garo, AX and COM. Even a few Gekiga artists could be still considered alternative today.

—Interviews. On Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed the aforementioned Cullen Murphy.

Murphy: … So this is a conversation between Curt Swan, who drew the “Superman” comic, and Jerry Dumas, who with Mort Walker produced “Sam’s Strip” and “Sam And Silo.” And the conversation opens with with Jerry Dumas. They’re at a diner. And Jerry says, why does Superman have a cape? And Curt says, I don’t know, Jerry. Dumas goes on, why does Superman’s cape swirl around him even when he’s standing in an office? I really don’t know, Jerry. When Superman undresses in a phone booth, how does he know his clothes will still be there when he gets back? I haven’t the faintest idea, Jerry. Can Superman fly when he’s wearing his business suit on the outside with the costume underneath? Pauline, could you put a little brandy in this coffee?

—R.I.P. William Gass

Sunny Murray.

 

Kylie Minogue Fans Don’t

Today on the Journal we’ve got Dash Shaw (a pretty big deal) talking to Connor Willumsen (another pretty big deal) about Anti-Gone (which is as big a deal as it gets).

When you’re equating drugs with entertainment and movies, it made me think, “Is this comic entertainment?” Do you think that Anti-Gone is entertainment?

That’s a good question, because I spent a lot of time thinking about what that word means. I mean, it’s not entertainment to me.

It’s not entertaining to you?

No, but only because it’s hard for me to understand what it’s like to have the experience of reading the book properly. A lot of what it’s about is how your immediate relationship with art or entertainment changes your experience of it, like with a movie or book, or something like that. So, it’s hard for me, as someone who’s had to scrutinize it so intensely, to get to a point where I’m recognizing it as entertainment. But I don’t imagine anyone would bother to read through it unless it’s amusing them. Really broadly, there isn’t a lot of art I wouldn’t call entertainment. Its depth really depends on your situation at the time.

ELSEWHERE

Leslie Stein delivered another comic to the New Yorker, and it’s a really good one.

Interviews & Profiles. It’s unusual to see Amazon employees in the wild doing interviews, but don’t get super excited–this short primer on why reading comics on a phone broken up panel by panel is fun is pretty tame. Back when I was writing for comiXology, I did the Guided View editing process for a couple of issues of Zenescope pirate comics. It paid five dollars an hour.

Chuck Forsman is touring for his most recent Fantagraphics release, and he stopped by Comix Experience to talk with Brian Hibbs for the store’s Graphic Novel Club. There’s a whole bunch of these on Youtube, and some of them get pretty in depth.

 

At War with Time

Greg Hunter is here today to talk about Noel Freibert’s Old Ground.

Noel Freibert’s Old Ground has a premise that puts it somewhere between a B-horror film and a Pixar release. Years of neglect have turned the Old Maple Grove cemetery into a home for a cast of odd characters: Otto, a frog; White Foot, a dog; and Silver Spoon and Cliffie, who converse from inside their graves while their bodies rot. The arrival of a wrecking crew threatens to disrupt the secret routines of the cemetery residents, and the residents’ response might alter the ratio of living to dead.

Old Ground sits closer to horror than to Toy Story, of course. Midway through the book, the wrecking crew’s boss smells a flower, then realizes it’s covered in worms. A couple pages later, skulls rise from roses in a scene that would suit a Mario Bava movie. But although Old Ground has its share of spooky genre beats, calling it a horror story isn’t exactly right either. It’s closer to a work of the eerie, in Mark Fisher’s understanding of the word. Readers find presences where they’d expect absences, along with questions about how much agency the things they’re seeing possess.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Paste magazine has posted their best comics of the year list, and it seems completely incoherent to me. I know a lot of people like to argue with these things, but I think a list like this is nearly useless unless it is the product of a single person’s viewpoint.

—For example, the novelist Jeff VanderMeer is not entirely my cup of tea (I have yet to read Annihilation or its sequels, which may connect with me as his earlier work didn’t), but he has a well-developed set of aesthetic principles, and so when he discusses his favorite books of the year, and he includes comics by Nicole Claveloux and Jesse Jacobs on the list, it means much more, about the books, about VanderMeer, and about the list as a whole.

—Dominic Umile writes very briefly about a new Seymour Chwast book on war.

Chwast remembers Iraq’s “55,000 civilians killed” toward the end of his book’s timeline, and among his concerns is exactly the kind of thinking that motivates the censorship of war photojournalism. An editor’s choice to kill a photographer’s dispatch before it goes to print, or the Pentagon’s unconstitutional policy against media coverage of coffins coming home—Chwast looks at the consequences of war, but also at the steps taken by people in power to absolve a military power of its sins, to sanitize the theater of war.

—The most recent guests on Process Party are Joe Sacco and Sophie Yanow.

 

Illustrations of Violence

Today at the Journal, we’ve got a review of Charles Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This by Tessa Strain

Forsman’s ability to maintain the immediacy of Syd’s point of view without completely surrendering to it results in a complex piece of work and one of the most honest depictions of the emotional telescoping effect of both depression and adolescence.

ELSEWHERE

News. The Slate Studio prize announced its judges and submission policies–it’s one of the few comics prizes that comes with some money attached, and it consistently puts out a good shortlist.

Reviews & Sundry. Bill Gates–yes, that Bill Gates–wrote a review of The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. He also put the book on his top five of the year in an article he wrote for Linkedin. The most interesting part of that is the matter of fact way with which Gates treats his reading of a graphic novel–he got interested in learning more about the Vietnamese perspective of the Vietnam War due to the limitations he saw in his own understanding of that particular conflict, and sought out more books with a Vietnamese perspective. At no point in either review does he couch his selection of a graphic novel as being special, inherently interesting, or worthy of comment. He wants the stories–and comics are just another delivery device.

This gorgeous graphic novel is a deeply personal memoir that explores what it means to be a parent and a refugee. The author’s family fled Vietnam in 1978. After giving birth to her own child, she decides to learn more about her parents’ experiences growing up in a country torn apart by foreign occupiers.

Over at The AV Club, Caitlin Rosberg, Oliver Sava and Shea Hennum came up with their best of the year. I’ve tended to dismiss The AV Club’s take on comics in the past, but it would be moving the goalposts to a pretty absurd degree not to acknowledge the changing nature of their coverage over the last few years, and the willingness Sava and company have taken to examine comics outside of what their comment section remains obsessed with. Their 2017 list is a cheatlist–there’s nothing more despicable than people refusing to argue it out and come up with a begrudging consensus that pleases no one–but it’s still got some solid, passionate choices.

NPR, on the other hand…well, look. There’s some great titles on this one, but the whole enterprise is so horribly tasteful.

The video below discovered by Michel Fiffe is on an excellent issue of the JLI. The Comics Journal should have daily Fiffe content, if you ask me. I mean–i don’t need you to ask me, because i’m in charge, but that’s how that saying works.