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Today at TCJ, Leonard Pierce is here with a look at Fire On The Water, Gary Dumm & Scott MacGregor's graphic novel inspired by "one of America’s earliest man-made ecological disasters". It's got some of Leonard's fave topics in it, but will that be enough to push it over the line into "good"? Ask him!

If the book has a hero – and to its credit, it avoids the obvious pitfall of making its story about exceptional and morally uncompromised heroes – it is Benjamin Beltran, an itinerant African-American inventor who has trouble selling a helmet he designed that allowed rescue workers to resist the dangers of smoke inhalation because no one wants to purchase or advertise a product made by a black man. Beltran isn’t a real person, but he’s based on the actual black inventor Garrett Morgan, whose life is described in a text addendum to the book. He’s a perfect example of how the stories of working-class struggles are always intersectional; the white workers were considered disposable because of their poverty, and Beltran’s life-saving device is considered worthless because few whites can credit a black man with having invented something so useful. Like the victims of the Erie tunnel disaster, Morgan was largely forgotten by a history written for the elevation of white elites.]

Richard Sala has passed away. Michael Dean has our obituary on the cartoonist. Cartoonist and longtime friend Daniel Clowes wrote a remembrance of Sala as well. Darcy Sullivan's excellent 1998 interview with Sala is here
Tim Hodler's also excellent 2016 interview with Sala is here.

Richard Sala, whose tongue-in-cheek mystery/thriller comics — including The Chuckling Whatsit, Cat Burglar Black and Evil Eye — were like nothing else and everything else in popular culture, was found dead in his Berkeley, California, home last week. Sala was 65. No cause of death was announced and no information was available as to how long Sala had been dead before his body was discovered. His last Tumblr post was April 29: the beginning of a new serialized webcomic called Carlotta Havoc Versus Everybody. The webcomic had been announced on an Apr. 18 post at Sala’s blog, called Here Lies Richard Sala.

My first experience with comics are biographical cliches so routine that they can be covered in a parenthetical (The Far Side, Justice League Detroit, Batman), but it struck me over the weekend how much one other institute of pop culture influenced my interest away from those books: Liquid Television, an early 90's animation and weird puppetry program that ran on MTV late at night. It's a solid link in the chain towards the kind of "let's try to upset people who are up late, stoned" programming that's on Adult Swim these days, but not a show I have thought of in years. 

But I thought about it a lot this weekend, after I got the call about Richard's death. Sala is a cartoonist whose work I have enjoyed for years, and I had first discovered him back on Liquid Television, where one of his comics stories was adapted and expanded in the show's first season. Like everything else that I ever saw on Liquid Television, I experienced Sala's work out of order and removed from any context, catching bits of it whenever I would be up late and happen across the show. I never looked up where it came from, I never took the time to find out that it was him that made it, and while I'm sure i've seen the whole thing, I can only recall fragments of it. But the seeds that program sowed--with its mix of perversion, obscenity, humor, atonal deadpan idiocy and offense--found purchase years later, when I finally came across comics that trafficked in the same.

And there, again, was Sala. And then again. And again. He was a cartoonist whose work I have consistently read and consistently admired, and yet I think the entirety of my conversations about his work consisted of talking about it with the cartoonist Mike Cavallaro over the years that the two of us worked together in a comics store and realized we shared the interest. Looking at our TCJ obituary and reading his Wikipedia page, I'm struck once again by how impossible it is to ever do justice to the artists of this medium--degrees of difference, sure, and Sala was able to experience a career that many cartoonists would dream of having, in terms of opportunities to pursue creative expression, in terms of freedom to create what he liked--but it's so wearisome how exhausted this current process has become. Another talent lost, remembered by a handful of websites who are already preparing to remember another passing, immortalized in work that is actually only available in fits and starts via digital formats that only the most craven would claim are doing them any aesthetic favor. I got to know Richard over the last few years via, what else, social media, and I never took the time to say a single nice word to him about all the comics he had done that I loved, and now he's dead, and I'm still using those same social media outlets primarily to make myself even angrier than I already am. What a stupid, dumb way this is to live. 

It's tempting to cut that end there--to fabricate some mood and hack out some mention of how we can all go down to our metaphorical basements and grab the output of our dead, where their art will live forever--but I spend my non-TCJ time watching this dumb empire fall. I would have preferred to endure that collapse with more of Richard's work on hand. 

 

 

The Prestige

Today at TCJ, we've got a conversation with SPX Executive Director Warren Bernard. Like all festivals and conventions, SPX has been having internal conversations regarding the safety and feasibility of a 2020 installment. Currently, the plan remains for SPX to take place this September--Warren spoke with Michael O'Connell to get a lay of the land.

Is there a way to do a smaller show for 2020?

The problem with the smaller show is that we've already got a contract with guarantees in it. There are penalty clauses and all kinds of other stuff like that. I don't want to get into the legal aspects of it. But, the bottom line is, if Montgomery County or the state of Maryland doesn't want groups of 250 or more, 500 or more or 2,000 or more to get together, it's not going to make much sense for us to even do a reduced show. Because then you have the whole problem of, in this reduced show, let's say I do cut it back. We have about 280 tables in the room. Let's say I cut it back to a quarter of that. We’ll use a quarter of the ballrooms, that’s 70 tables, who do I choose? So there's this other operational thing that says, 'OK, if we're going to reduce the show, who are we going to have? What special guests are we going to have?' There's this other thing that says if I do cut it down, what do I cut it down to? And then how do you make those decisions? And I don't have an answer for that at all.

Our review for Monday is of Second Coming, a comic book series featuring a Superman type character who lives with Jesus Christ. The comic was originally to be published by DC Comics, and then was given back to the author when the publisher got cold feet, whereupon they took it to a company called Ahoy Comics. J. Caleb Mozzocco is here with a report on whether any of that backstory is more interesting than the actual product.

Last week, an illustrator named Lucy Halsam began a thread on Twitter regarding issues related to the ELCAF festival. On Friday, a tweet in the thread regarding the publisher Nobrow resulted in an outpouring of comments from illustrators, former employees and others regarding their feelings and experiences with the publisher. Multiple other threads have sprung out of that conversation, and over the weekend, TCJ was contacted questioning how I planned to cover this. My answer is this: as someone who worked in a full time capacity in the US office of Nobrow & Flying Eye Books for four years prior to joining The Comics Journal as editor, it would be ethically inappropriate for me to be directly involved in this unfolding story. As such, Comics Journal co-founder Gary Groth will be supervising all coverage of this issue for this website.

 
 

I Agree With Sluggo

It's Monday, the first one since officially hearing from Donald Trump that the best case scenario in the US will be the deaths of 200,000 people. There's nothing that can be said here that isn't going to change that, but there's also very little reason to act as if the only things that can be said or written should be words intended to change that. You, like me, are probably inside your home for the rest of this month, and you've probably been there for a while already. You're probably not a health care worker, because if you were, you'd be spending your non-saving-lives time sleeping. If you're checking this site now, you're stuck inside and enduring one of the worst experiences of your life, but you still have enough interest in comics to keep showing up. Here's what we've been doing lately, and what we're working on today:

Clark Burscough joined the team, and will be checking in on a weekly basis with a round-up of comics news and comics reviews. Last week you saw him twice, with his first go-round is focused on COVID-19 and how efforts to combat the spread have impacted the business of selling and making comics, and then again on Friday with his take on our regular link round up. He's back at it again today, with his second COVID-19 focused column. Sites like The Beat and Bleeding Cool are putting in a heroic effort to keep up with this sort of news on a more as-it-happens basis--both Heidi and Rich are doing a fine job. 

Last week, Keith Silva took over the reins of our Retail Therapy column to give a more concentrated window into how individual comics retailers are dealing with the multiple blows facing their businesses. First up was Legend Comics & Coffee, a Nebraska based store.

When did you close your store and what factors went into your decision?

We went into lock down I believe on March 18. The biggest thing we considered was how much of our industry involves touching things: back issues, trades, comic issues, they're all getting touched all the time, and apparently COVID-19 lives on the surface of things for at least 48 hours. There's no way Legend could guarantee the safety of our customers and we consider our customers our extended family.

We also unleashed one of my favorite "this has been sitting in the drafts section too long" pieces, a fascinating roundtable discussion on race and comics spurred by the graphic novel BTTM FDRS, featuring Ron Wimberly & Tanna Tucker alongside the creators of BTTM FDRS, Ezra Claytan Daniels & Benjamin Passmore

Ron: This discussion was originally proposed with an Afrofuturist prompt attached. I thought that was strange. It played into my general suspicion that Afrofuturism has become a sort of catchall for “weird nigga shit;” anything from Afro-space helmets, to Octavia Butler, to that African cosplay you see at Afropunk. Do you feel or did you intend for this horror comic to be Afrofuturist or have a dialogue with Afrofuturism? Just out of curiosity, what do you see being the formal qualities of Afrofuturism, the general ethos?

Ben: Is this where my light-ass gets in trouble for expressing a hard skepticism for Afrofuturism and its popularity?

Ezra: Calling BTTM FDRS an Afrofuturist book in marketing materials was 100 percent Fantagraphics using a buzzword to sell books. But it never really bothered me because, to be honest, at the end of the day, I’m trying to sell books, too, and I do consider myself a tangentially Afrofuturist artist — just not so much in the comics I’ve made, as of yet.

I made an experimental, animated Afrofuturist short with my partner, Adebukola Bodunrin, that was part of the first Black Radical Imagination program. We sat on countless panels and had countless conversations about Afrofuturism with incredibly brilliant artists like Terence Nance, Cauleen Smith, Robert Pruitt, Jacolby Satterwhite, and D. Denenge Akpem, who actually stars in the film. I started that journey with only a vague idea of what Afrofuturism was. Eventually, these discussions brought me to a clear understanding of what Afrofuturism meant, at least to me.

The reviews have been coming in hot, and today's is no different, with Chris Mautner swinging by with a look at Kim Deitch's Reincarnation StoriesHe dug it, which is the proper response to any major work coming from Deitch at this point in his career.

One of the most interesting things about Deitch’s work is the way he blends fact and fiction. As with Gabrielle Bell, he starts from a recognizable reality, and makes sharp left turns into bizarre, elaborate fantasy, until you start questioning what is and isn’t actually “true”. It is true, for example, that Deitch had eye surgery. And real-life characters like fellow cartoonists Spain and Jay Lynch, as well as cowboy actors like Buck Jones and Jack Hoxie. There is even, apparently, a plot “genie” that was designed to help writers come up with story ideas. 

The last week has seen the passing of Juan Gimenez. Best known to American readers for his excellent work on the Metabarons saga, which he illustrated, Gimenez passed away due to COVID-19 at the age of 76. More here.

Dale Crain--former archive editor at DC Comics, and, in the words of TCJ's publisher Gary Groth, "the guy who revolutionized our design at Fantagraphics" passed away while in Vietnam, and his family have organized a GoFundMe to repatriate his remains to the US.

The cartoonist Herman "Hy" Fleishman also passed away, on April 1st. We'll have an obituary up on him later today. 

Good luck this week. We'll be back tomorrow, with our next installment of Retail Therapy and more!

 

Too Much Tuesday

Today at TCJ, Tegan is here with a look at the first two issues of The Resistance, the launch title for AWA Studios "shared universe". As Tegan points out, the plot of The Resistance would be called prescient if our current crisis weren't so horrifying as to make praising J. Michael Straczynski's remix of a rehash completely repellent.

Anyway. This is ostensibly the beginning of a new superhero universe. The gimmick is that after the virus recedes it is discovered that, of the roughly 5% of patients who survive the plague, some of them develop superpowers. Some of those superpowers last only a brief time, leaving their host dead once they burn out. It’s stated but not developed (yet) that the virus was of extraterrestrial origin. Which means it’s only really a little different from George R. R. Martin’a long-running Wild Cards shared universe. And of course any resemblance to Marvel’s Strikeforce: Morituri is surely purely coincidental. Or Charles Soule’s Letter 44, for that matters

While AWA Studios (the acronym stands for Artists Writers & Artisans, presumably they are going to be making chairs at some point) is technically a "new" publisher, the company is one run by two old heads--Bill Jemas, whose historical proximity to Marvel Comics surviving bankruptcy often results in him garnering a healthy credit for that company's recovery despite the needling fact that every decision he has made since that time has been extraordinarily dumb, Axel Alonso, a guy who I like because he helped Garth Ennis make Punisher comics--and Jonathan Miller, one of Rupert Murdoch's former underlings. I'm sure he's a great guy, most of the people who collected paychecks for Murdoch were all great guys. There was that one who hacked the dead lady's phone to make fun of her with more personal details, but I'm sure they were an outlier.

It'll be interesting to see how a company like that handles the other news of the day, which is that Diamond comics will cease delivery of new comics at the end of March. The news was publicly announced yesterday via email following some private communications between Diamond and some of their key business partners--announced so suddenly that Diamond was still in the process of pitching advertising placements for their Previews catalogs only a few hours before they went public--and any attempt to encapsulate the impact here in this blog would fall short. Around the same time the Diamond news was spreading, Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool ran a piece on the three-week shuttering of Canadian printer Transcontinental Printing, which dramatically impacts DC Comics output--Steve Geppi's letter makes no mention of this, but as the weekly delivery of comics remains heavily dependent upon the two major super-hero publishers, it certainly could have contributed to the decision.

The Diamond news has been met with no small amount of panic, glee, concern, and told-you-so-ing, primarily on social media. I get it: my dealings with Diamond outside of TCJ as a publisher, retailer and advertiser have been one of the least fun parts of the decade, and there have been plenty of times when my irritation with the company has had me wishing they'd catch one in the teeth. But the reality is that this is a massive hit upon an industry that will primarily be felt by its smallest actors, not its biggest. Companies like AWA (that are built off the funding of ex-execs from companies like Fox News) can probably pivot to Amazon's comiXology platform without too much of a loss--if you had an illusion that a title like Resistance was somehow intended to be a massive print seller in retail, well, okay--because their business model, like the rest of these johnny-come-vampires, was never to make comics in the first place, but to use comics, comics retail and vocal online comics fans so as to win the lottery ticket of film and television exploitation. Diamond shuttering for any length of time will skew the statistics of this particular gamble, and some of these companies won't have the nerve to stay at the table, but a decent amount of them will--if one thing has proven itself impossible to kill in this current climate, it's rapacious greed. It's the rest of comics who are going to suffer from Diamond, and as of right now, the extent of that suffering remains completely unknown.

Also announced in the last few hours was the passing of Asterix co-creator, Albert Uderzo. According to news reports, Uderzo died at home from a heart attack, unrelated to COVID-19. Our obituary will follow later this week.

Reminder: it's Tuesday.

 

Monday

Housekeeping: last week was an quiet one at TCJ. We started off with Nicholas Burman's look at how the aesthetics of the internet have shown themselves in a few recent titles. After that, we hosted a Mark Peters roundtable with Michel Fiffe, Tom Scioli, and Youtube personality Ed Piskor. Tegan O'Neil stopped by with a look at Missed Connection, a comic by Tess Smith-Roberts published by Playtime Press. Meanwhile, the delightful Kevin Budnik delivered what will probably be the last Cartoonist's Diary we see that doesn't mention COVID-19--if you didn't read it, please do. Kevin's work didn't land for me when I first read him years ago on social media--the direct honesty was something that I initially lashed out at it--but I've done a complete 180 in the last two years, and am now a fervent audience for the kindness in what he does. Last week's onslaught of bad and frightening news was, for me, somewhat blunted by my own immersion into Kevin's curious and open perspective. 

Finally, the week prior to this one--a period of time that now seems like it took palce on another planet--saw the last of Ryan Flanders' series of weekly link columns for us, which had gone a long way to cover the lack of these blog entries. Ryan's departure was not totally unexpected, as he had kept me updated on the really amazing job he was interviewing for. While the loss of him from TCJ is muted by the fact that I am extremely happy for the security a regular job can provide, we are probably a few more weeks away from being able to have something anywhere near as exhaustive as what he was doing up and running. I will certainly be including as much as I can here at these TCJ blogs as frequently as is possible. For now, please take a tour of Ryan's last hurrah: it was an exceptional run, and we were lucky to have him for the time that we did.

Over the weekend, we shared an open letter from comics retailers directed towards readers that explicitly addresses the tumultuous reality that has sprung up in the wake of COVID19's impact on comics retail. It's a story that is developing by the hour, and the open letter linked above was preceded by one from Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, that one directed at other comics publishers, beseeching them to honor their responsibilities to their retail partners. Amidst all this, Free Comic Book Day--which for many retailers, functions as one of their most profitable sales days of the year, an extremely strong method of attracting a new customer base, and, in my personal experience, often served as the most inspirational act of community building that comics retail can offer--has been postponed from to an as-of-yet unknown date. The financial repercussions of the move to Diamond and comics retailers will be difficult to bear. Last Wednesday, The Beat published a round-up of what were at that time the entirety of what help comics publishers were offering retailers, and on Friday, Marvel's plans for assisting retailers saw coverage as well. Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich has been doing a fine job of keeping up with publishers who are cutting their output, as well as putting together pieces like this on the things that San Francisco based comics retailer and industry gadfly Brian Hibbs has been saying about the situation

It's a bad situation. Nobody needs to come to The Comics Journal's daily blog to find that out, but that doesn't mean it's not going to get said. The economic decimation that is coming to all sectors of non-essential-to-life industry is terrifying. Neither comics publishing nor direct market comic book stores are businesses that are designed to be put on pause for any length of time, but even if they were, no industry can long survive in an unknown stasis, waiting for an as-of-yet undetermined period of time to return to business as usual--knowing that when they do return, many of their customers may have lost their jobs as well. Of course, the most immediate follow-up to all this is that the reason this is happening is so that those customers--and the artists, the publishers, the retailers, and all of these people's families--don't lose their lives. No one could possibly know what is coming next--there's never been anything like this, a global pandemic taking place in the physical world while a giant, terrifying real-time communication system transmits a level of information (most of it information that can only horrify and enrage, the two key factors in making connection to that communication system more addictive) in the mental space, all while the infrastructure of government support shows ever-increasing signs of complete impotence. It is that very state we suffer through now: one of increasing, daily immersion in an unknown country, waiting to find out what is coming next, and worried if we and those we love will be alive to see it. 

That brings us to right now. While I and a few other writers are doing some initial work to cover the way this current situation is impacting comics, the truth of TCJ is this: the Fantagraphics office is working from home, Washington is a hot spot for this virus, and they need to zero in on themselves. For me...well, it was never my ambition to edit this site solo for as long as I have, and if i'm being totally transparent, I wonder how long I will even be able to continue--but for as long as that is, I plan to do what I can.

Today, "what I can" is this: a feature article that is as TCJ as anything TCJ could do, short of asking Dan to stop by and say something so inflammatory that we end having another million-uniques-in-a-week kinda experience. What's that, you ask? Well, it's a reunion of the scholars behind 2010's The Comics Of Chris Ware, who stopped by in a bus driven by Martha Kuhlman to talk about Rusty Brown, in all its most-important-comic-book glory. As Chris himself once said to me over a cup of green tea:

As an aside, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of hassling regarding Ware's work by people outside of comics more this year alone than I have by any group of people in every other year combined. I say "hassling" because...I'm the Ennis guy! I've always been crystal goddamned clear that i'm the Ennis guy! I like Ware fine, but my comics Mt. Rushmore is a bunch of pictures of GARTH ENNIS, surrounded by small pictures of the people who draw Garth Ennis comics, one single drawing of John Wagner with a helmet on, followed in chronological order by the names of all of the people that have ever complimented me in public--DM's don't count! If you come at me and demand that I defend someone in the comics industry, than at least do your fucking research--especially if research is what you are explicitly known for! Otherwise, I'm just going to have to assume that you're not a very nice person.

Our review for today is from Brian Nicholson, who is here with a look at The Man Without Talent by Yoshiharu Tsuge, which finally saw English language release via NYRC. I adored this book, and Brian's review is a fine look at it. We may have a rebuttal to this review up later this week, i'm just finalizing things with the crank who wrote it right now. I kid!

That'll have to do it for today. I would have liked to keep going, but earlier this morning I cut my finger so deeply that it started spraying blood Lone Wolf and Cub style, and now every time I type it splatters all over the keyboard. I'm gonna put superglue on it right now to keep it closed, should be okay for tomorrow. No, i'm not joking, this would be more interesting if it were a joke. Stay inside, you dumb, bad-taste having, single-minded, resentful motherfuckers. I would like it if we were all still alive so that you could complain to me in person sometime in the future about how much TCJ sucks. More to come.

I hope!

 

Day Karting

Today at TCJ, we're reading Paul Karasik's extended look at the way Paco Roca uses the landscape format to assist and direct the storytelling in his graphic novel The House.

Roca’s storytelling and inventive use of the horizontal format – rarely chosen and even more rarely successful – is brilliant. He finds many ways to breakdown the unusual oblong proportion, none of them contrived, all of them supporting the story. And that masterful manipulation of form, over and over, in service of a compelling story, had me riveted.

Today's review is from Tegan O'Neil, she's taking a look at Missed Connection by Tess Smith-Roberts. It's an extremely colorful comic, and there's something to the guts of it. Tegan:

In 2008 Tom Spurgeon coined the term “decency fantasy” to describe a certain kind of narrative that hinges on the fantasy of pleasingly mundane domesticity. In hindsight this seems a prescient label. Stories that revolve primarily around people being reasonable and working together amicably to solve common goals seem positively transgressive in an era when almost everything else in our lives sinks further into the realm of the brittle and combative. Back in 2008 when Spurgeon coined the term low-stakes slice of life was a relatively small part of the comics ecosystem, but these kinds of stories seem to hit a nerve at this particular point in time. It’s rough out here on these mean streets. People get thirsty for virtue. 

Last week, the always excellent Cynthia Rose took a look at the Coco Rey show that's up for the rest of this week in Paris. Considering how much travel we're all not doing, this is a nice way to get outside of your local.

Women in many domains bemoan their lack of progress but French caricature's brightest star is a femme. Part of Charlie Hebdo since 2009, Corinne "Coco" Rey also draws for L'Humanité, Vigousse, Les Inrockuptibles and live on ARTE television's 28 Minutes. Now, at 38, she has produced her first comic, Le Banquet. Co-created with celebrity philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, it turns Plato's Symposium into a graphic novel. Until March 14, at Paris' Galerie Art-Maniak, you can see its art as well as Coco's press cartoons.

It's a brief chance to see something singular – work that history's best press cartoonists would have loved. As with those predecessors, Coco's line is all her own. But its real tie to the greats like Gillray and Grandville lies in its communication of a ruthless acuity. Rey draws with real panache but she pulls no punches and always goes straight to the point.

I took the day off today to hang out with my daughter, who has the day off from school. It's bleak and gray outside today, although yesterday was pretty nice. I thought I'd check out the comics news, and since i'm home and available, churn out one of these blog posts until she figures out that I'm only half paying attention to what she's doing. (She is playing her birthday present, Mario Kart.) The first piece of news I found is that they're going to introduce a character named Clownhunter in the "Joker War" storyline. While I don't read new Batman comics anymore, I did for an extremely long period of time and kind of want to know more about the Clownhunter. I don't care to know more about Punchline, which is another new character that caused one of those 90's era speculation sell-outs of comics when she was introduced, because I think the idea of Joker having a girlfriend is and always has been weird, outside of the 90's cartoon, where he was less a murderer and more a zany wanna be murderer. The psychology of inserting these female characters into the comics so that they can serve as handmaidens to the Joker's post aught level of violence is as grotesque as it is when they're alternatively posited as some kind of empowerment story born out of overcoming the trauma of having a relationship with the Joker, who at any one point in the post 1980's Batman timelines has killed so people in so many disgusting fashion that any attempt by Batman writers to claim moral superiority by allowing the character to live is pure mental deficiency. There's never been a better argument for the Punisher's moral calculus than a Batman comic, at this point. That aside, the way any actor in the Blade movies would say the word "daywalker" is permanently stuck in my head, in that I walk around thinking of that particular line reading on a near constant basis, and "clownhunter" has that same kind of ring to it. There's zero creativity in character design in DC Comics these days--their artistic bench is a trough--so hopefully they'll go hire somebody who works on video games or a really upsetting anime to deliver said Clownhunter. I'd say watch this space for updates, but hey--you and I know that isn't going to happen.

I was going to write about COVID-19 but she just realized what I was doing and called me on it. Wash your hands! I just started a few months ago for a different reason and it's actually super easy to incorporate it into the morning routine. (I wash mine in the shower-timesaver.)

 

Clayface

Today at TCJ, the delightful Dash Shaw has returned from his stay in the wilderness of making comics with an interview in his paws: an interview with Seymour Chwast. Simple step-by-step process in making shit happen: Shaw wanted to know more about Seymour's graphic novels of which he has produced a few, couldn't find any information, decided to interview Chwast himself and figured TCJ readers might want to hear the answers. It doesn't get easier. It's like someone is chewing my food for me. Have you read those Seymour books? You should. Here's Dash and Seymour:

In ’55 we decided to form a studio, my classmates from Cooper Union. Basically, Milt Glaser and Ed Sorel—

Oh, I know. But it didn’t feel like a giant thing until the ’60s?

Well, all we were trying to do was make a living. We didn’t especially think it was something bigger than that. We were able to get work especially through the promotion that we did. The Push Pin Almanack and the Push Pin Graphic.

Did you draw comics inside of those?

Sometimes, while solving a problem.

Today is also the launch of our latest Cartoonist's Diary, with Michael Comeau. In today's installment, Michael introduces to some day job conversations.

Our review of the day is from Keith Silva, and it's of These Savage Shores, which is a pretty positively received vampires-go-boating comic that came out late last year. He liked it too! Keith, I mean. Keith liked it:

If you see comics as a team sport and yet often find yourself reading books by sole proprietors you’ll understand why These Savage Shores borders on a revelation. Writer Ram V, cartoonist, Sumit Kumar, colorist, Vittorio Astone and letterer, Aditya Bidikar combine their talents to interrogate ideas both ticklish and troubling. Kumar, Astone and Bidikar share an understanding that the more specific the visual detail they provide, the more focus the reader will bring to the unfamiliar aspects of a script, which can in turn heighten and reinforce the themes of the text.

These Savage Shores is published by Vault Comics, who conclude all of their promo emails with the following text:

Vault Comics is a private, family-owned company, publishing science fiction and fantasy comics and graphic novels. Vault encourages its creators to break the established order, defy preconceptions of society and identity, and push the boundaries of the medium with bold visions and voices that connect with readers and capture their imaginations.

That's weird, right? I'm not asking: it's weird. First up: who gives a shit if a comics publisher is a private company? From what I can tell from those endlessly dull IDW articles about how their business model of "hoping things we own will become tv shows" divided by "hoping the aging fanbase for our 80's licenses don't go into bankruptcy" plus "did another college adopt the John Lewis book for their incoming freshman class yet?" has impacted their stock prices, I guess I can see why a third tier comics publisher might want to be privately owned, so they can avoid hearing tips on their financial acumen by the kind of Bleeding Cool commenters who turn the shirt inside out instead of washing it. But why is that information going to matter to anyone else? How many people go into a comics shop and decide which second banana fantasy & sci fi comics they're going to buy based off whether or not they can also become shareholders via a Fidelity account? Zero people do that! Second: family owned? Who cares! That's not a thing! That only becomes a thing when it becomes hilarious to keep up with, like when the Archie family started picking each other off with metaphorical crossbows, or when the girl from The Little Princess decided to sue her dad as a way to get out of freshman year finals at Columbia, and even then, it only becomes a thing in the sense that you wait for some bored reporter to write it up for you to read about at work in between ducking emails and ordering shit online. I read that and the first thing I think of the moment when I saw the words "Follower of Christ" on my physical therapist's Instagram bio. Gross!

Oh wait: is it because they think some executive at a larger company is just going to buy Vault based off that information, thinking they're getting some goldmine from the Vault IP library? I guess that could be it, right--it's a direct shout out to the kinds of people that come into comic book stores in Los Angeles looking for things that aren't optioned yet, a heads up that they're privately owned, family owned, a buncha rubes with ideas to be sold. It's a reverse con, because they know as well as anyone who has read a Vault Comic knows that there's no existing fanbase clamoring for a season of Netflix based off these comics, but they're counting on Netflix execs or whomever not knowing that, which is 100% accurate--almost none of those people who make those buys really can tell the difference between a popular Vertigo series from twenty years ago or an IDW comic continuing the story of Pinhead from Hellraiser's high school career. I mean, they can when they give consulting fees to comic book store owners (Lion Forge tried that) or super-hero podcasters (I think that was IDW, but can't totally remember). So never mind: forget the previous paragraph, if Vault's honeypot can trick an executive out of some of Netflix money (or even better, out of Jeff Bezos' money), then pour that family owned shit on top of everything.

 

Grangling

Ah, today at TCJ we've got that thing you've been waiting for: Roman Muradov writing criticism! He's here with a look at Nicolas Mahler's adaptation of Thomas Bernhard's Old Masters. 

The murky and most of the time unnecessary business of turning a novel into a graphic novel works best if the relationship between the original and the adaptation is neither distant nor faithful, but both, as is the case in Nicolas Mahler's Old Masters, a masterful little stab at illustrating Thomas Bernhard—one of the least visual writers of the previous century—carried out with all the humor and aplomb you do and don't expect from this unlikely premise.

I was first introduced to the work of Bernhard via The Lime Works, which was similarly plucked from the ether for criticism via a very early issue of The Believer. But until Muradov brought it to my attention, I wasn't aware of this adaptation, and I'm still not very clear on how it came to pass (write me back, Seagull Books!) As Muradov points out in his review, it's an extremely successful piece of work, and an unusual, unique one at that. 

I spent the past week at ALA Midwinter, surrounded by hugely successful comics, none of which resemble Old Masters. Comics won a bunch of awards, and while Torsten Adair's round-up of the coverage accurately points out the notability of those awards, it's in many ways an expected coronation of the medium at a time when the environment surrounding it is in need of something to champion, and the library-facing comics of right now check a lot of boxes: economic success (comics sell), job security (comics drive circulation in libraries), and belated recognition of the lack of diversity have as much to do with the success of comics as anything else. As more and more young librarians move up in the ranks at the more powerful branches, they bring with them the experience and knowledge that comics can move reading in a frenzied, extreme way. Does it matter that half of those conversations still include language describing comics as some kind of medicinal crutch, designed to coach "reluctant readers" across the bridge of culture--in essence, a remixed and moralistic lacquer on the criticism of old, that comics aren't really reading? I don't know. But it does seem that the economics driver of the medium is unlikely to be the stuff of old much longer, if it even still is. As someone whose parasitical economic relationship with comics is brand and category agnostic, it doesn't really impact me in any way whatsoever. Cash, as they say, rules everything around me.