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Don’t Worry

R.C. Harvey is back with another expedition into comics history. This time he tells the true story behind Eustace Tilley, The New Yorker‘s monocled mascot.

Eustace Tilley is the name given to the 19th century boulevardier languidly inspecting a passing butterfly through his monocle on the cover of the first issue of The New Yorker dated February 21, 1925. The same picture appeared on the magazine’s anniversary issue every year until 1994, when a new editor at The New Yorker, Tina Brown, suddenly violated hide-bound tradition by replacing Tilley with a 20th century version of the boulevardier, a chronic slacker and layabout drawn by Robert Crumb.   Nothing was ever the same at The New Yorker since.

Crumb’s drawing arrived at the magazine without explanation, said art director Francoise Mouly. “We noticed that it showed the view in front of our old offices on 42nd Street, but we didn’t realize that it was also a play on Eustace Tilley.” Understanding that the picture was a parody of Eustace Tilley, Brown seized upon it as a way of breaking a 69-year logjam: she put Crumb’s Tilley, subsequently christened Elvis Tilley, on the cover of that year’s anniversary issue.

As Lee Lorenz, one-time cartoon editor at the magazine told me, Eustace Tilley appeared on the cover of the anniversary issue because no one could think of an appropriate alternative. So year after year, Eustace Tilley returned. Without too much difficulty, we can see how this custom had become a habit. It was Harold Ross’s fault.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Artsy, Alexa Gotthardt profiles Emma Allen, the new cartoons editor at The New Yorker.

It’s a new role at the magazine. While Mankoff focused on cartoons, Allen has a fuller plate, overseeing Cartoons, Daily Cartoons online, Shouts & Murmurs, Daily Shouts online, and humor videos and podcasts. She and the magazine’s associate cartoon editor, Colin Stokes, also star in a video series, “Cartoons, Etc.,” in which they engage with a rotating cast of guest cartoonists “so that fans can put a face to the squiggle signature,” Allen explains. They also have plans to introduce Daily Comics, or “multi-panel, longer-form funny things” to the website’s comic ecosystem.

“Some part of my brain self-protectively has made me forget what it was like the first couple months,” Allen says when I ask how she’s acclimated to wearing this rather Herculean number of hats. “After the initial blitz, it’s been more of a regular job that I can come in and do, and go home and not collapse in a heap or cry or drink a bottle of scotch.”

—And it’s a weird all-New Yorker day here, because Daniel Gross has a profile of the South African cartoonist Mogorosi Motshumi.

Motshumi was born in Batho five years after white lawmakers made racial segregation a national policy. His father died when he was seven. He was raised largely by his grandmother in a one-story house that had a corrugated metal roof and two large windows that faced the road. On the dirt streets of Batho, he learned to fight back when bullies picked on him, but at home he rarely spoke. “I preferred being inside my own head,” he told me. He learned to resent authority figures. As a nine-year-old, a cop drove Motshumi to the police station and forced him to explain why his grandmother wasn’t paying rent.
When, a little while later, he learned that his mother had married a cop, he felt angry and ashamed.

It was around this time that he started reading comic books that his older brother brought home from high school. Though some were local comics written in the colonial language of Afrikaans, he preferred American superhero comics, like “Spider-Man.” “These comics, they always had solutions,” he told me. In a comic book, evil exists, but justice prevails. Villains rise up, but heroes rise to meet them. “That is the light that you’re looking for,” he said. When policemen persecuted the Hulk, he felt vindicated in his hatred of authority. “He’d run and run and run until he could run no more, and he’d start to fight back,” Motshumi told me. “That was my kind of world.” He taught himself to draw in his grandmother’s backyard, tracing characters in the sand with his fingers.

 

Locked in a Cafeteria

Today on the site, we have Joe McCulloch’s final Week in Comics column in which he reflects on reading, work, and sleep. Note that at Joe’s humble request, we have turned off the comment function. I am not alone in considering Joe one of the all-time finest writers about comics, and it’s been an honor to publish his column for so many years. I’m looking forward to reading Joe’s future work for this and other publications. 

Elsewhere:

Julia Wertz presents a mini-history of the Village Voice.

Matt Furie is continuing to deal with the misuse of his Pepe character.

And in further Jack Kirby centennial news, the San Diego Comic-Con has made its 60-page Kirby tribute book available for free download.

 

Watch a Giant Image Grow

Joe McCulloch’s final Week of Comics! column in its current form has grown “too insane” to publish this morning (according to Joe — I’m sure it’s great), so we have one more day to savor our wait for the finale. In the meantime, we have a new review by Rob Clough critiquing Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats #5.

Much of this story is about personal agency when faced with a culture that steamrolls indecision. Fran’s integrity and lack of interest in playing the game of climbing the ladder (in part because she is too busy keeping herself busy to even notice that there is a ladder to climb) draws the attention of the scheming partners of the firm, with the mammoth Marcel Castonguay being the shrewdest and weirdest. Rilly has firmly settled into his own mature style, utilizing a cartoony, clear-line approach similar to that of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. There are dot eyes, single lines for mouths, and in the case of Castonguay, blank circles for eyes a la Daddy Warbucks (by way of the Kingpin). That character’s bulk plays a key role later in the story that emphasizes the larger-than-life nature of the character. The design for Fran herself is elegantly simple: perpetual pony tail, dowdy sweaters, slightly slumped shoulders, and a facial expression that rarely changes. That seeming blankness belies the stewing turmoil within, but it also allows the other characters to fill in what they want to with regard to Fran. Her only seeming friend at the firm turns on Fran when she learns that she is about to get a massive promotion, thinking that Fran is a schemer like everyone else.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At The New Republic, Jeet Heer celebrates Jack Kirby’s centennial.

The superhero stories Kirby created or inspired have dominated American comic books for nearly 75 years and now hold almost oppressive sway over Hollywood. Kirby’s creations are front and center in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his fingerprints are all over the DC Cinematic Universe too, where the master plot he created—the cosmic villain Darkseid invading earth—still looms large. It was Kirby who took the superhero genre away from its roots in 1930s vigilante stories and turned it into a canvas for galaxy-spanning space operas, a shift that not only changed comics but also prepared the way for the likes of the Star Wars franchise. Outside of comics, hints of Kirby pop up in unexpected places, such as the narrative approaches of Guillermo del Toro, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Lethem.

If you walk down any city street, it’s hard to get more than fifty feet without coming across images that were created by Kirby or inflected by his work. Yet if you were to ask anyone in that same stretch if they had ever heard of Kirby, they’d probably say, “Who?” A century after his birth, he remains the unknown king.

At the New York Review of Books (all the big magazines keep poaching our talent), Ryan Holmberg reviews Kazuto Tatsuta’s Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

[This book] occupies a unique position in the history of comics. It is probably the first work of journalistic comics in the world to supersede its prose counterparts as the most popular source on its topic. In the case of Ichi-F, that topic is the cleanup and decommissioning work at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the local name of which (“F-1,” flipped to “1-F”) gives the book its title.

The publisher of the English edition, Kodansha Comics, however, has opted to call this 550-page tome of dry, detailed reportage a “graphic memoir,” presumably because autobiography seems the easiest way to sell literary-minded comics outside the young-adult market these days. The original Japanese subtitle describes the manga instead as a “rōdōki,” literally a “record of labor,” putting more emphasis on the work itself than the person doing the work. The difference might seem trivial, but it speaks to many of the things that Ichi-F both succeeds and fails in doing.

On his Facebook page, Derf too celebrates Kirby, looking back at the newspaper strip he created with Dave Wood and Wally Wood right before “the Marvel Age.”

This is the story of “Skymasters of the Sky Force,” the failed comic strip that inadvertently led to the creation of the entire Marvel Universe and all the superheroes you know and love and are currently making billions and billions for Disney Inc.

In 1956, Jack Kirby’s self-owned publishing company, Mainline Comics, went bankrupt and closed, and Kirby and his longtime creative partner Joe Simon went their separate ways. Dr. Wertham and the comic book witchhunts had devastated the industry. Half the smaller comics publishers simply closed up and concentrated on less-controversial products. Industry leader EC Comics was forced to shut down. For reasons unknown, Wertham had included Simon & Kirby’s four Mainline titles in Seduction of the Innocent, even though these titles contained nothing objectionable. It’s one of Wertham’s many unexplainable stances. Simon and Kirby had invested their own savings in Mainline and lost everything. Kirby was a free agent and desperately looking for work… and his options in ’56 were few.

Domingos Isabelinho names his 32nd favorite comic, Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde.

We’ve already seen how important this book was to establish alternative comics in general and the graphic novel artistic movement (and I say this following Eddie Campbell) in particular. We can identify Joe Sacco’s later style: the Célinesque captions continue flying around, so to speak, the Breughelesque detail is all over the place, except… in Joe Sacco’s self-portrait. He’s the only caricature that still remains. He put himself in his reportage comics to follow two traditions: the underground tradition of autobio comics (three names come to mind: Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Robert Crumb, Justin Green – whose Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary should definitely be in my list), the tradition of the New Journalism (and three names come to mind too: Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson). Since the beginning (and I mean “Cartoon Genius” in Yahoo # 1 – October 1988) that Joe Sacco drew himself with opaque eye glasses, but, in that story, he wasn’t half as cartoony as he is above. I don’t really know why he does it, but I suspect that he’s following Scott McCloud’s smiley face theory, according to which readers of comics find it easy to identify with simple cartoony faces than to complex portraits (add naturalistic backgrounds and… voilá… total immersion). This is absurd, of course, but enough about what I don’t like in Joe Sacco’s work. What I really like is that he gives a voice to those who have none in the Western media circus. And does so not with popaganda, but by being a really fine reporter.

Finally, Sarah Horrocks reviews Dark Nights: Metal #1.

If you asked me why I don’t care about superhero comics, this comic is pretty much what I’d conjure up as an example of why. I’m too old to give a shit about which of these palette swaps dies and then is resurrected or what worlds collide. And I don’t care about good versus evil in these basic cop versus robber terms. I’m not a child. But like I’m reading JRJR/Williamson and Nocenti’s Typhoid Mary comics this week, and thoroughly enjoying them. And it’s not because I give a shit about Daredevil. It’s because there’s actually shit on the page to react to. There’s great art to inspire you. And the writing is in big bold terms, but it has a certain soap opera quality. It’s not ironic. It just says what it means and is all about these sappy triangles of people. It works. It doesn’t matter that it’s a superhero comic. It’s just a great comic. I think what I want from superhero comics now, doesn’t have anything to do with them being superhero comics. It has to do with the two biggest companies putting the most resources behind their comics, I expect to see a quality of work, particularly artistically that I can look at and just be in awe and be like “never in a thousand years could I draw that”. I think people don’t respect the art in these things anymore because the styles artists have adopted don’t scare people, don’t put them in awe. And honestly neither does the writing. People read these things and they are just like “oh man, I could do this” which is cool, I mean I’m one of those people. But it’s not healthy in terms of the sort of reverence the top artists in the comics game should demand.


—Interviews.
The most recent guest on Process Party is Jim Rugg.

 

Back for More

I’m back from vacation and I’m rested and ready for comics! Let’s start with a Bob Levin review of Belgian Lace from Hell, the final volume of the S. Clay Wilson three-book biography/monograph:

But the primary reason for my disgruntlement lies with my and Rosenkranz’s differing philosophies about writers’ responsibilities.

Originally presented as a “documentary-style biography,” (or so read the back cover of Heartland), “Mythology” became, with Angels, a “biography retrospective” and, by Lace, a “retrospective” only. The result is that it often reads like a slightly textually enhanced, cut-and-pasted oral history. Take Lace’s first (“The Art Biz”) and last (“Legacy”) chapters. By my count, “Biz” has 15 paragraphs written primarily by Rosenkranz and nearly double that (28)  quoting others speaking about Wilson. (Additionally, there are seven paragraphs from letters written by Wilson and 15 paragraphs quoting him speaking to unidentified interviewers.) In “Legacy,” a final assessment of Wilson as an artist and person, Rosenkranz provides one brief, introductory paragraph, followed by 21 paragraphs quoting members of Wilson’s circle – and three paragraphs I wrote 22 years ago

Elsewhere:

Today is the centenary of Jack Kirby’s birth. The Jack Kirby Museum is celebrating with a few days of events in NYC. 

Dash Shaw now has original art for sale at The Beguiling. from his film, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. Here’s the listing and Dash explains all in the video below.

In more commerce news, Gahan Wilson has launched a web site.

 

 

Slob Story

Today on the site, Ryan Holmberg is here with another of his excellent manga analyses, this time, an examination of the work of Yuichi Yokoyama and his use of audiovisual abstraction.

When composed in a certain way, a comic book is something like a Walkman. Of course, comic books (by which I mean any bound volume in the comics medium) lack electronics, and there is no drawn and printed software independent of the paper hardware. You’d be hard-pressed to pick up actual sound waves from its drawn images. Nor will you find a jack to plug in headphones and pipe a soundscape into your ears. Yet no one can deny sound’s place in comics, with their BIF BAM BOOM, pulverizing crashes, and blood-curdling screeches. You, the reader, are the hardware. The speakers are lodged in your throat. Leakage may occur from your mouth, though most of us are capable of keeping the sounds to ourselves, or at least to a soft lip murmur.

Since dialogue, vocal outbursts, and sound effects are represented only visually in comic books – that is, through writing or emanata – it is not the ears but the eyes that are the comic book readers’ audio tape heads. In that sense, the Walkman is the wrong technology. We need something with a moving image or simulation thereof. Old portable handheld televisions once were the best analogues, or perhaps the Game Boy and its spinoffs, though now we have smartphones and thus the entire audiovisual universe in the palm of our hands. Maybe comic books are precocious in that sense: They were our first portable audiovisual entertainments. They were the first medium to allow us to transport a conjunction of sound and movement (albeit virtual) from one room to the other, from indoors to outdoors, from home to coffee shop or train seat.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. After 62 years, The Village Voice is ending its print edition. Among many other things, the Voice has historically been known for its association with many prominent cartoonists, from Jules Feiffer to Lynda Barry to Tom Tomorrow to, currently, Lauren Weinstein. Apparently, it will continue to publish online. Esquire has gathered short statements from various prominent former Voice staffers, including the aforementioned Tomorrow:

It’s incredibly trite to say it, but it really does feel like the end of an era. But the Voice is a symbol. The Voice is huge. I don’t live in New York anymore, so I don’t read it regularly, but it feels like I just got the news somebody I used to be involved with passed away.

—Interviews & Profiles. Speaking of Lauren Weinstein, she is the subject of a good but short and very clickbaity-titled interview at Kveller.

How do you balance working, having a family, and creating art without going crazy?

I am crazy! I have no balance. I work on art like a maniac but I do it because i truly love it. I am also a slob. The best times are when I’m really present doing one thing or another. Like going on a walk with my daughters and really being there and not checking my phone.

Also, I have learned the fine art of phoning it in… that just forcing yourself to finish something and get it out into the world is often enough.

—Misc. Gilbert Hernandez has found an old cache of the original self-published first issue of Love & Rockets, and is selling them for $200 apiece.

Finally, Mike Lynch has gathered a bunch of old Jerry Lewis-related comic book covers.

 

Cartoons Didn’t Seem Like a Good Business

Today on the site, we are republishing John J. Pint’s 1990 interview with Rius, the great Mexican cartoonist who recently died.

PINT: Eventually your political cartoons got you in trouble, didn’t they?

RIUS: They accused me of being a communist. It was the time of the Cuban revolution and I was clearly in favor of Castro. Suddenly, three or four newspapers dropped me. It reached the point where nobody would take my cartoons and I figured I’d have to leave the profession and dedicate my life to selling soap. Cartoons didn’t seem like a good business! That was when I ran into a friend who did comic books. He suggested I write one of my own and the result was Los Supermachos.

PINT: Los Supermachos is hardly a typical comic book. How did you come up with that particular style?

RIUS: True, there weren’t many precedents for comics dealing with political subjects. The only one I knew of was Pogo. I can’t say I was exactly inspired by Pogo, but it did help me develop a formula for dealing with politics and characters symbolizing certain social classes in Mexican society.

PINT: It seems to me your use of these stereotyped characters to produce a kind of documentary on a well-researched theme can only be called unique.

RIUS: Well, I spent a long time analyzing U.S. comics and I noticed that they were, in part, used to politicize people, to convince them that the “American Way of Life” was an ideal way to live. Lots of comics were dedicated to attacking communism—for example, Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, Captain Marvel. They actually indoctrinated people who didn’t realize they were being indoctrinated. So, I thought, maybe I can fight fire with fire, jump out of the trench, catch some of their grenades and throw them back. I wanted to turn the comic book into a teaching medium, from a politically leftist point of view.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. April Bernard writes about Hilary Knight, Eloise, and a current exhibition.

One feels that Knight’s line drawings, which display more movement, verve, and surprise than most actual animations, must have had something to do with that acerbic turn. What Knight captures is the essential misfit quality of Eloise. Gleeful, greedy, prone to random acts of violence—although she is never malicious—loquacious and haughty, this is no mere six-year-old; she is scarcely human, and not especially female. Knight drew her with an unpretty imp’s face; wind-blown hair; a pleated skirt held up by suspenders over a white blouse, pink ballooning underpants (very important, as she is often upside-down), rucked-down bobby socks, and Mary-Jane shoes with the straps flying. Standing, she thrusts out her modest pot-belly above spindly legs, cutting a figure that certainly does not resemble what plump children really look like.

Brian Nicholson writes about a collection of Don Simpson’s unfinished Border Worlds.

Don Simpson is best known for his superhero parody comic, Megaton Man. It seems pretty bleak to have the vast majority of your work be in the well-trod territory of superhero parody, but before Border Worlds was back in print, he had to suffer the double indignity of his second most-famous work being a porn comic done under a pseudonym. Its title? Wendy Whitebread, Undercover Slut. If you haven’t heard of either of these, that’s totally reasonable: I bring it up to gesture at the idea that it seems pretty unreasonable that, with a library like that, he wouldn’t have finished Border Worlds. But that’s the market.

Print hosted an online roundtable of artists (including Ward Sutton, June Brigman, and David Cowles) talking about the influence of Jack Kirby.

June Brigman
I didn’t get into comics until I was a freshman in college. My boyfriend (now husband), collected comics and was a big Kirby fan. I was majoring in art, but didn’t know what I wanted to do. I remember looking at an issue of the New Gods. There was a panel with Lightray on a balcony with a woman. Orion is ranting, but all you see is his shadow and the deck furniture lifted off the ground by his cosmic rage. It was a scene more epic than anything Michael Bay has ever done. I think that’s when I realized the genius of Kirby.

 

The Sun Went Out

Today’s a day I’ve been dreading: Joe McCulloch’s penultimate This Week in Comics! column. As always, it’s a must-read. Enjoy it while you can. More on this later…

I was reading Robin Snyder’s newsletter, The Comics!, and I came across a letter from an artist and editor of a comics magazine from years ago. He was suffering from ill health, and had gone into assisted living. He had dvds to watch, and some collections of old comics to read, but he didn’t think he could travel anymore, as he’d often liked to do. What we are given when we are young, he wrote, is taken when we are old. Elsewhere in the newsletter it was written that the correspondent had died only months after the letter was sent. Eager to learn more about the man’s work, I googled his name; the first hit was a Wikipedia page, which insisted he was still alive. Presumably, nobody editing Wikipedia had noticed he was dead. It was sad, these circumstances – sad a little. But what is sadder, I know, is the placing of my faith as an observer in the idea of technological platforms as an arbiter of reality, and a means, thereby, to guess at preeminence. To gauge existence, subconsciously, as a sport of scramble over obscurity; to gamify your words as appealing and unappealing. God, to trust that you will be memorialized beyond the tangibles of love known to you. This chimera of becoming visible – and trusting, thus, in the zookeepers shoveling its shit.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Nate Pieckos shares his cartooning-related health concerns on Twitter, and strikes a nerve with every active cartoonist over thirty-five.

—The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Juliacks.

 

See the Bells Up in the Sky

R.C. Harvey is here to commemorate Dick Locher, the longtime political cartoonist and Dick Tracy artist.

One of the nation’s great cartoonists is dead. You can deny it if you want. I tried. But it didn’t help. Richard E. Locher, 88, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease Sunday, August 6, at Edward Hospital in Naperville, the Chicago Tribune reported. He had lived in Naperville for more than 45 years.

“Dick was one of the best cartoonists in the nation,” said Tribune Editor and Publisher Bruce Dold. “He was also one of the nicest people who ever walked through the Tribune newsroom. I most admired the richness of detail in his drawings. His work was funny and incisive, and his message often carried a hard pop, but his artwork was always incredibly elegant.”

For almost thirty of his four-plus decades as a cartoonist, Dick Locher simultaneously went after corruption and criminality among politicians in his political cartoons and slightly more overt outlawry in the Dick Tracy comic strip.

Locher was one of the merest handful of newspaper cartoonists who did both editorial cartooning and comic strip cartooning: he started doing political cartoons for the Chicago Tribune in 1972; he inherited the iconic cops-and-robbers comic strip a decade later. He drew them simultaneously for 28 years, rendering the strip in a markedly different style than his editoons.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The latest guest on Inkstuds is Ben Passmore, and the latest guest on RiYL is Katie Skelly. And Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer appear on the Graphic Policy podcast to discuss their anthology, Mirror Mirror II.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Caleb Orecchio talks about being inspired by Eleanor Davis.

I’m not trying to preach or sound like I have THE answers, but what I like about Davis’ recent book is the fact that it is drawn. It’s not inked with a brush with every stroke carefully crafted and feathered. It’s just drawn. Ever seen a Brian Chippendale comic? He just draws them (mostly). Crumb? Moebius? (Conflict of interest warning:) Frank Santoro? Just drawn. I like “professionally” inked comics and comics where traditional craft is essential, but there is an immediacy that is stripped at every step of the process. It’s like going acoustic, once you add a drum kit, you have to turn up the volume on everything else and the intimacy gradually is drowned out.

Susan Doll writes about the connection between Charlie Chaplin and the cartoonist Ralph Barton.

On May 19, 1931, Ralph Barton shot himself in the temple, committing suicide at age 39. He left a suicide note, which he labeled “Obit.” In the note, he singled out his third wife, Carlotta Monterey, as the only woman he had ever loved, though he had cheated on her. She had caught him in the act and divorced him. By the time of his suicide, “his angel” Carlotta had married renowned playwright Eugene O’Neill. Though Barton does not blame Carlotta, or say anything negative about her, the O’Neills were embarrassed and irritated by his comments, which were recounted endlessly in the press. I can’t help but think that Barton had intended this outcome for reasons he took to his grave. Carlotta’s associates speculated that Barton resented the actress for marrying someone more successful than he was.