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Swissvale Kitchen Table

Today on the site it’s the great Ken Parille on the art of the sales pitch in and around superhero comic books

Three recent DC comics Dark Nights: Metal #1, Batman: The Red Death #1, and Batman: The Dawnbreaker #1 include an advertisement for Snickers bars. A reader could be forgiven for momentarily thinking that the ad, which looks a lot like the narratives it accompanies, is part of the story:

As super-villain Gorilla Grodd attacks the stadium, he proclaims that “Events mean nothing to [me]!” But, as Superman discerns, this gorilla’s not what he seems: he’s “just a hungry fan.” After a few bites the Snickers works its magic, soothing the “crabby” fan’s rage.

It’s odd to see an ad with an event-hating fan in these particular comics, all of which are part of what the industry calls a Crossover Event. To follow an event’s sprawling narrative, fans need to buy a lot of comic books released over several months. While “events mean nothing” to villains (and crabby fans who refuse to buy the required books), they mean a lot to companies and their bottom line. Each of the twenty-five comics/chapters in DC’s current event Dark Nights: Metal costs $3.99 or $4.99. In the past, a major crossover from the “Big Two” (i.e., DC and Marvel) occurred every few years. Now they pop up once a season. We’re living in the pricey moment of Perpetual Event.

And hey, I have some news: Tomorrow is my last day as co-editor of The Comics Journal. The reason is straightforward: At the end of the summer I took a research and writing intensive curatorial position at a gallery, so I need to focus my energy there and on some longterm projects, including a few features for this site.

Tim will go solo for a week (it just happens that I’m going to be traveling next week), and then (drumroll) in November he and Tucker Stone will be co-editors. Tucker has long been one of my favorite writers and speakers about comics, and has been on all sides of the medium’s equation. I couldn’t be happier that he is coming aboard. He’ll bring fresh energy, ideas, and contributors to the site.

I want to thank Gary Groth for asking me to take a shot at the site back in 2010 (and Frank Santoro, who told me I had to accept!), and for his unwavering support; Kristy Valenti for offering great support from the Seattle HQ; the Fantagraphics team for its logistical and moral support; Mike Reddy for designing this web site and contributing great drawings long the way; and, of course, all the contributors I’ve worked with over the last six and a half years. I’m proud of what we’ve done together, and honored to have been an editor at The Comics Journal. For more than half my life TCJ has helped shape my critical and historical ideas about the medium I love. Gary’s generosity in allowing me and Tim to steer his great ship is something for which I’ll be forever grateful.

Finally, my deepest thanks to my friend of 20 years, Tim Hodler, a man embarrassed by even the smallest amount of praise. Tim I started both The Ganzfeld and Comics Comics together. There is no one I’d rather work with, and I’m looking forward to submitting texts for his and Tucker’s consideration. Tim’s precision and rigor have kept this site together, and his willingness to stretch and try new things has helped us grow. He is a great friend and the best collaborator I could imagine. I can’t wait to see what he and Tucker do together. Bye for now.

 

Doubling on His Tracks

Today on the site, Greg Hunter brings the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast to the site. His guest this week is the cartoonist and TCJ contributor, Annie Mok.

On the twenty-fourth installment of Comic Book Decalogue, Annie Mok discusses Carta Monir, Emily Carroll, Satyajit Ray, and more.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Todd Hignite has fascinating discussion with the underground original art collector Eric Sack.

TH: [Collectors Showcase] was one [published by Leonard Brown and Malcolm Willits’ Collectors Book Store in Hollywood] and Tony Dispoto out of New Jersey put out catalogs [Comic Art Showcase], Jim Steranko [Cartoonists and Illustrators Portfolio]—and Russ Cochran in the Midwest [Graphic Gallery].

ES: Yeah, you would see prices in those, and little by little some artists would command more than others—but the fascinating thing I gradually started to notice is how something, say in the early ’80s, would be an expensive $1,000 and twenty years later would only be close to that still, or maybe $2,000, but other art in that same period would grow to $5,000 or more. So it was interesting to watch the market evolve as the interest in various artists changed. And it didn’t have anything to do with chronology, like I always thought it would coming from that Thomas Nast world—here was this guy doing the most amazing cross-hatching, documenting important historical events, and I could buy his original drawings in the early ’80s for between $200 to say $1,100, and even today some of the good ones can be had for $2,000! You would think because these were so early and well rendered from a godfather of the art form, that for all kinds of reasons those should be $10,000 or $20,000. But they’re not. So it’s an interesting question that I always discussed with other collectors, why such particular multiples started to happen.

TH: I think that’s always hard for collectors to wrap their heads around, especially early on—why aren’t values based on this agreed-upon hierarchy of what is important historically?

ES: Pop culture in general has a strong influence, of course—interestingly, as a parenthetical aside, that was one of the reasons I decided to sell the bulk of my collection when I did—I thought the market had peaked, because the collectors who were buying this stuff drawn in the late ’60s to the mid ’70s were getting to an age of deaccessioning rather than actively collecting, and I wasn’t sure there was another generation of collectors to take their place. But I was wrong!

—Reviews & Commentary. The nominees for this year’s Best Online Comics Studies Scholarship award have been announced.

Caleb Orecchio writes about what he learned about color from an old issue of Classics Illustrated.

I’ve been thinking and working with color a lot. In this day and age, where color is an option for cartoonists looking to print their work (color was not always an option for ye olde comics makers, true believer), the quantity of choice of what the colors should be and how to apply them can be intimidating. Fear not. In my opinion, the best way to start in color is the classic CMYK–which is essentially, as you probably know, blue, red, yellow, and black. One reason this is a good choice is that most riso printers carry these four colors (riso being probably the best option in self-publishing in color if you can swing it) AND they are easily acquired in forms of marker or colored pencils, AND because these are the colors comics used in the past and traditions are important to me.

Julia Wertz’s new book has been reviewed at both Hyperallergic and the New York Times.

Wertz registers the changes [to NYC] but without polemic. There’s no need; the coda to her project is enough. After 10 years in the city, she was priced out of her Brooklyn neighborhood last year. She wrote this book in California.

Finally, Chris Mautner writes about the mysterious Yuichi Yokoyama.

No one on the globe is making comics like Yuichi Yokoyama. That seems like a foolish thing to say — after all, I haven’t tracked down every cartoonist on the planet to do a comprehensive compare/contrast analysis — but I feel like it’s a pretty safe bet nevertheless. Completely unconcerned with the conventional aspects of storytelling — most notably plot and character — Yokoyama has built a body of work that is utterly unique in its near-relentless exploration of motion, sound, and structure. His comics are enthralling and dynamic, but at the same time drained of emotion, as if an alien race was trying to mimic a typical comic but couldn’t quite get the hang of it.

 

Weird Quick Story

Today on the site, Tim Hanley writes about the new film dramatization of the story behind the creation of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. 

On its own terms, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a very good film indeed. It begins in the mid-1920s when married psychologists William and Elizabeth encounter Olive, a student of theirs at Radcliffe College, and follows the evolution of their relationship from intrigue to lust to love. After initial trepidation, the three form a family, with each woman having two children via William. Inspired by these remarkable women, William creates Wonder Woman in 1941, and the film ends in the mid-1940s, shortly before his death. It’s an unconventional love story, and Robinson treats both the polyamorous and BDSM aspects of the relationship with respect and care. The film is sexy without being exploitative, romantic yet frank, and often boldly raw as it delves into the emotional complications of the Marstons’ life together.

Elsewhere:

Brian Nicholson writes compellingly about Connor Willumsen’s Anti-Gone, which I’m looking forward to reading. Comics Workbook has a video up about it.

Ryan Holmberg sends word of The Disasters of Peace: Social Discontent in the Manga of Tsuge Tadao and Katsumata Susumu, an exhibition at the Honolulu Museum. Ryan is an advisor on the show and it’s of course based on his books. For more Holmberg action, follow him on instagram. His handle is mangaberg. 

Excellent Leslie Stein comic this week.

Drew Friedman is the guest on the great Gilbert Gottfried’s podcast. 

Finally, the Skip Williamson documentary is coming soon. Here’s the trailer and one clip and now another.

 

Warp

Today on the site, Alex Dueben talks to Kevin Pyle.

You mentioned you edited a prison issue [of WWIII Illustrated] in the 1990s and Prison Town is about a decade old now. How did you get interested in these issues?

In some ways it has to do with the story told in Take What You Can Carry. When I got caught shoplifting, my dad had the idea that we should spend an hour or two in the jail before we left. [laughs] That experience may have made me think about those issues as I feel I’ve been pretty aware of my own white privilege and what the influence of that on my own trajectory was versus what it might have been for someone else under different economic and racial circumstances. It’s something I was always aware of. A theme that runs through all my work is that of the individual versus society and the I think prison is the ultimate expression of that. Lab USA gets at that. Society has certain rules they need to enforce and they do it in a very clumsy manner – at times in a very unfair manner. How individuals get ground up by institutions has been a focus of a lot of my work and I think prison is a real expression of that.


Meanwhile, elsewhere, sickness and other emergencies are making this a short one:

The incredibly destructive California wildfires have affected many in the cartooning community, and burnt down the home of Charles Schulz.

Brian Fies has drawn a comic about the fires.

Douglas Wolk is still insane.

 

The Hand is One

Today on the site, we have Robert Kirby on Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: Vol. II:

For my money, the late Victorian-era ghost stories of Montague Rhoades James, aka M.R. James, are without peer. The classic scenario of his tales is that of a comfortable, upper-middle-class academic gentleman, who, through his own scholarly curiosity and/or carelessness, unwittingly invites a dreadful supernatural entity into his tranquil, privileged existence, an entity that brings with it terror, madness, sometimes even death. James’ narrators relate these tales calmly and matter-of-factly, in a brandies-by-the-fire tone, as reality is slowly engulfed in otherworldly malevolence, incident by incident. The stories perfectly combine uniquely cozy British wit with mounting dread. Though typically noted for their restraint and chilling subtleties, James’ tales also feature flat-out horror. Some climax with appearances by monstrous spiders, a hairy demon, or a toad-like horror; others end in gory death as James reveals what has been lurking just off-camera all along: within that ash tree, underneath that ancient tomb, or in the shadows of that old rose garden.

As with the first edition, this second SelfMadeHero volume of James adaptations by Leah Moore and John Reppion features four stories. They are “Number 13,” “Count Magnus,” “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (along with “Casting the Runes,” this remains James’ most celebrated story), and “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas,” each illustrated by a different artist. While the book is a good introduction for James novices, there’s a buttoned-downed approach to the art that keeps it from truly excelling.

Elsewhere:

The Daily Beast on Megumi Igarashi aka Rokudenashiko.

I’d like to read a longer version, with even more pictures, of this piece about retailer Jim Hanley.

 

 

Pay Attention

Today on the site, Katie Skelly writes a personal account of her experience reporting harassment at a comics festival.

I’ve always — perhaps foolishly — believed I present myself as strong, or maybe even shrewd. I’ve built up a series of protections for shows, signings, and everything in-between: don’t allow yourself to be left alone in a room with one man and no witnesses. Know your exits. Don’t accept gifts. Be generically friendly. Act like you’re about to turn into a pumpkin by midnight (things always get weirder after midnight). The thought that I may not get to enjoy as much of being a cartoonist, especially one coming into a little glimmer of success, just because I am a woman was something I had to let go of in order to stay safe and sane. In a way, I often reason with myself, it has made me tougher, understanding the world around me as a hostile one.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The New York Times checks in with Roz Chast about her latest book.

As Ms. Chast has aged, her characters, often loosely autobiographical, have aged with her, growing into middle age with their neuroses intact. “Some worries I’m probably going to carry with me until the point comes when you stop worrying, which is when you’re dead,” she said. “Where do I start? Driving, medical, electricity, basement, boilers.”

And The Guardian checks in with Chris Ware in advance of his.

Ware’s “own stuff” may appear intricately plotted, but he says his creative process is essentially just sifting through a mess of plans and ideas, some recorded “while I was driving or brushing my teeth or whatever”.

“But once I sit down to draw and am looking at the images as they start to coalesce on the page, all sorts of new ideas start to occur to me,” he says. “And these are almost always much more alive, real and tied unconsciously into whatever the story is actually about than whatever I’ve thought might be interesting, compelling, witty, whatever.”

The 1960s “spy culture” site SpyVibe interviews Trina Robbins about Honey West, Miss Fury, and more female pulp comics characters.

I completely agree with you! It breaks my heart to see what these gorillas [at Dynamite] have done to the wonderful Miss Fury. No, she is not “holding up” in these badly written and badly drawn new books, and my Miss Fury and the REAL Miss Fury will always be the original Tarpe Mills’ Miss Fury. […]

It isn’t so much the writer as the artist. How can a woman be strong and in control when her back is broken or in real life the weight of her breasts would make her fall forward onto her face? And let’s not talk about running in high heels!

The most recent guests on Virtual Memories are Peter Bagge and Mimi Pond.

 

TBTZ

Today on the site, Michael Tisserand interviews Thi Bui’s about her memoir The Best We Could Do.

At any point did you encounter resistance to your decision to tell your story in a comic, due to old ideas about comics not being serious?

Sure, but I didn’t listen to it. I kind of like the low-brow reputation that comics have. It’s not unlike the experience of being underestimated because I’m a woman, a minority, a short person, or I look younger than my age. I enjoy the sweet revenge of surprising people. I have to, or else I would walk around in a rage all the time. 

With the Ken Burns’ documentary The Vietnam War recently concluded on PBS, I’m wondering what are the primary misconceptions that you feel Americans have about Viet Nam, its history, and our involvement there? How have popular movies or books led to misperceptions, and did you consciously consider how your work was countering these misperceptions?

The primary problem with American narratives about the war is the need to center American experiences in a conflict that was not all about America. So even when Americans go in with the intention of critically examining the United States’ involvement in Viet Nam, they continue to keep the focus on themselves — look how bad we were, the damage we did — not realizing that in continuing to talk over the voices of those who have been heard from less, they continue the damage and prevent people from healing. I was surprised and sad at how easily the Ken Burns documentary overshadowed the work of so many Vietnamese and Vietnamese American writers, filmmakers, and scholars. 

Images we pick up from movies stick around for a long time. If your idea of what Vietnamese people look and sound like comes from movies like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, then I have a lot of work to do to replace those caricatures with carefully observed characterizations of real Vietnamese people. Some people are able to do this entirely in prose; for me, drawing was in my arsenal, so I used it. My hope is that my images will stick around and influence people’s ideas of Vietnamese people for the better — not because I portrayed them all as model minorities, but because I showed them as fully formed human beings who can be wonderful, average, or total assholes, just like everybody else.

I’d like to hear from and help amplify voices even less heard than the Vietnamese. My family’s story doesn’t touch on the experiences of ethnic minorities in Viet Nam, or people in neighboring Laos and Cambodia who were impacted by the war.

Elsewhere:

Frank pointed me to this Flickr album of photos of the David Mazzucchelli show I curated some years back. His work looks as great as ever.

This is a decent overview of Samuel R. Delany’s work, including some comics. 

The Karasik/Newgarden How to Read Nancy is the best book ever written about comics. I’ll have an interview with them soon. Meanwhile, here is something that uses Nancy in all the off-brand ways, but worth your time regardless:

 

 

Everything is Terrible

Today on the site, Rob Clough reflects on the best way to run a comics festival, focusing particularly on the growth of CXC.

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus just had its third iteration, and by all accounts it was a success. This show is extremely ambitious in its scope, as founder Jeff Smith, his wife and business partner Vijaya Iyer, and academic/librarian Lucy Shelton Caswell imagined nothing less than an American version of the annual festival in Angouleme, France. The show’s mission statement:

“We hope to provide an international showcase for the best of cartoon art in all its forms, including comics, animation, editorial cartoons, newspaper strips, and beyond, in a city that is a growing center of importance to comics and cartooning. We also focus on helping the next generation of young cartooning talent develop thriving careers that invigorate the industry for years to come.”

I can’t imagine a creator more suited for this particular kind of show than Smith, who sits right in the center of alternative and mainstream comics. His seminal series Bone helped to establish the currently thriving children’s and YA market. Caswell is another story, and it’s her involvement that gives CXC resources that no other show can match.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—CXC. Comics Workbook has two of its own takes on comics festivals and CXC. First, Adam Griffiths had a report on the various panels and talks he saw there.

“How many of y’all have heard that art is gonna make you money?” Vicko asked the audience. All of the kids raised their hands. “How many of you like art?” All hands raised. At this point, Jiba Molei Anderson, who was watching the talk, joined the panelists onstage. “If I ignore something I love, my mental focus is gonna go out of whack, right?” Alvarez declared. The children agreed with her.

“We are all here for the love,” Anderson says. “Even when we’re frustrated we’re not gonna quit. Creative people, to survive we really need to create…that hamster wheel never shuts down.”

“But tethering that to real life is always a challenge to me,” said Lisa Sheperd.

Also on that site, Juan Fernández uses his experiences at CXC, SPX, CAB, and others to think about the future of comics festivals.

Comics, as we engage with them today in the United States’ existing festival ecosystem, are facing a cultural choking point. There’s a huge role that comics can and should be playing in broader cultural discussions.

But they’re not and our Festivals have something to do with this. It’s 2017 and it is essential to reframe the discussion of comics shows.

Comics making and comics reading practices need more breathing room. To grow. To continue expanding. We need to nurture interdisciplinary approaches to experiencing comics.

We need our festivals to make this their guiding principle.

—News. As seems to be happening on a nonstop basis lately, another metaphorical mask fell off this week. On Friday, Marvel announced via Twitter that they would be partnering with the the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor, Northrop Grumman, and would explain their plans on Saturday at the New York Comic-Con. As you might expect, many fans expressed concern about the move. Not long after, Marvel announced that the collaboration had been canceled. Nothrop Grumman pretended that the partnership had been intended simply to promote STEM.

The company is working to develop the U.S. military’s B-21 Raider, an opportunity it advertised during last year’s Super Bowl. And it is in the throes of an advertising blitz for a $100 billion opportunity to replace the Pentagon’s stock of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, which make up the ground-based leg of the U.S. nuclear counterattack capability.

“Northrop Grumman is a very capable company, but the bottom line is they make products that kill people,” said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant with the nonprofit Lexington Institute. “And that’s a hard sell in popular culture.”

If only.

Children’s author Mo Willems (along with Mike Curato and Lisa Yee) wrote a letter in protest of a mural at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts that included a Chinese man with chopsticks that the writers claimed was a racial stereotype. (I haven’t seen the image myself, but believe them.) After a great deal of controversy on social media, which included personal attacks on Willems and his co-authors, the museum decided to remove the image. The city’s mayor has called for the mural to stay up, and a local businessman has offered to buy it. From the museum’s statement:

It is in that spirit that Dr. Seuss Enterprises and the Springfield Museums listened to the concerns voiced by the authors and fans and have made the decision to take down the Mulberry street mural at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and replace it with a new image that reflects the wonderful characters and messages from Dr. Seuss’s later works. This is what Dr. Seuss would have wanted us to do. His later books, like The Sneetches and Horton Hears a Who, showed a great respect for fairness and diversity. Dr. Seuss would have loved to be a part of this dialogue for change. In fact, Ted Geisel himself said, “It’s not how you start that counts. It’s what you are at the finish.”