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Great Pain

Annie Murphy is here today with an interview with the preeminent creator of true crime comics, Rick Geary. Here’s a bit of their discussion:

Sherlock Holmes is pretty big right now—as are detective stories in general. But Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who similarly laid out all of the information for the crime buffs, his glory was to wrap it all up in the end and tell you the answers. He let the reader feel smugness at their own correct conclusions, and shock at the surprises. Whereas, you leave your stories open-ended. What is it about this that appeals to you?

I guess it’s just the way my sensibility goes. I like questions more than answers. And I like mysteries more than solutions. I’m a big reader of mystery fiction as well. And I find, in a lot of them the solution is kind of a disappointment. I like being carried along by the mystery of it. Because there’s so much in life that’s mysterious and I like the idea of laying out all the elements of a case, all the clues, and making that aspect of it as clear as possible. And still it’s a mystery. I don’t know, my mind just kind of falls in that direction. I don’t know how else to explain it.

Well, I consider comics a subjective medium. If it’s one creator, they are creating the story, characters, narrative arc, and all of the images. But I’ve noticed in your books that you do quite a good job maintaining an objective perspective. Is that something you value highly?

Yeah, I try to maintain a kind of journalistic distance. But at the same time, it can’t help but be subjective. Because I decide what details to include and what to leave out, what to emphasize. In fact, the very first two books that I did, the first two graphic novels in the series, the one on Jack the Ripper and the one on Lizzie Borden, they were told from within a fiction framework. I don’t know if you read those, but–

I did, but it’s been a while…

They’re both kind of told by this fictional person. The Jack the Ripper book is in the form of a journal being kept by a fictional English gentleman. And then the Lizzie Borden one is from the point of view of this woman I made up who was supposedly a neighbor of the Bordens, a friend of the Bordens, who was telling the story. And after that one my publisher came to me and said: “This is kind of a problem. It makes the books fall into this crack between fiction and nonfiction, and they don’t know how to classify them.” So from then on I adopted more of a journalistic outlook. Or as close as I could anyway; more of an objective viewpoint.

AND A QUICK NOTE FROM MICHAEL DEAN: If your name is Bob White and you took a photo of Robert Crumb and Gary Groth in the Journal’s offices in California circa 1985, please contact The Comics Journal at dean “at” tcj.com. Thanks.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Interviews.
Annie Koyama is a guest on the Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast. Jaime Hernandez and Frederik Peeters are two of the most recent guests on Inkstuds. Pádraig Ó Méalóid talks to Kate Charlesworth, collaborator on the most recent book by Mary and Bryan Talbot. 13th Dimension interviews Jim Chadwick about the new digital editions of Jiro Kuwota’s Batman manga.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Robert Boyd has not one but two of his infrequent comics-related posts up, one on two recent books of comics history by Thierry Smolderen and Dan Mazur & Alexander Danner, and another on the comics issue of Artforum and the artist Erró’s appropriation of Brian Bolland artwork. Tom Spurgeon reflects on Walt Before Skeezix and the new collection of early Bungle Family strips. (When I accused Dan this weekend of disliking every comics-related book published since the shutdown of PictureBox, he cited two books that he liked, one of which was The Bungle Family.) Tezuka biographer Helen McCarthy reviews Jonathan Clement’s Anime: A History. Mark Fraenfelder recommends R. Crumb’s The Weirdo Years.

 

Serious Charges!

Some site news: We’re going to keep the comments on this site, moderate them with much more rigor (as we’ve been doing the past 10 days or so, with good results), and eliminate the “Blood & Thunder” box on the homepage. Comments will now only be seen underneath the posts. We’re also fixing that nesting system. We may still be making a few additional changes based on reader suggestions, and are looking into the logistics for all of this. Thanks for all your feedback. It was very helpful.

Today Rob Clough talks to comics retailer and owner of Chapel Hill Comics Andrew Neal, who, as of today, is retiring from the business.

Was running the store starting to become a bit of a grind or boring? Given that you have a number of potential projects lined up but nothing definitive, I was wondering if there was something you felt you were missing out on as a result of the effort it took to run the store. Was there any event or trend in particular that encouraged you to sell?

I wouldn’t say that running the store had become boring, but it was definitely a grind. The weekly nature of comics retail is a double-edged sword. It ensures that customers return to the store on a regular basis, but it also means it’s hard to take a break, especially for people like me, who aren’t great at delegation.

I have loved running the store, but I’m ready to try something else. I think the simplest way to put it is that I still love comics, but I’m kind of burnt out on retail. Dan, the previous owner, pointed out to me that we each sold the store after twenty years of involvement, so maybe that’s when Comics Retail Burnout occurs?

I don’t know that I ever felt like I was missing out on anything, though. I feel exceptionally lucky and grateful to have been able to work with this medium that I love, to meet customers, retailers and creators, to use comic book money to pay the bills, and then to cash in the business. How many other people get to say anything like that about their lives?

Elsewhere:

In more news about ourselves, Comics Comics has been restored to its former self after a nasty hacking incident. So go forth and read us when we were young and excited.

Meanwhile, here’s a nice long interview with Francoise Mouly over at The Rumpus.

On the other end of the spectrum is this post about Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1. Along those lines is this nice image-heavy birthday tribute to Murphy Anderson.

Hey, Jim Rugg has a handsome new zine for sale.

Not even close to comics: I loved this piece about an exhibition at The Jewish Museum. The last paragraphs are particularly wonderful as we think about what we exhume from history and what we don’t. Wait, it’s probably too late to think about that now for some of us, but for you kids out there, think about it.

And finally, I could watch Terry Gilliam talk about animation for a long time.

 

Step Eight

Rob Clough has a review of Anya Davidson’s School Spirits, which wasn’t given enough attention when it came out last year:

In her debut book School Spirits, Anya Davidson carries over the raw energy and power of her zines into a longer loose narrative. Following a few days in the high school lives of best friends Oola and Garf, the book is immediately remarkable for the surprisingly fluid (if sudden) transitions between ragged slice-of-life naturalism and over-the-top, surreal, metal-inspired fantasy craziness. Davidson’s project here seems to be a complete demolition of rigid gender roles, as her alienated but fiercely feminist duo battle against conformity, misogyny, and boredom while also grappling with more familiar issues like identity and love.

On the page, these battles often play out in a literal sense. Oola is kind of a doom metal Walter Mitty, transforming her immediate surroundings into stream-of-consciousness fantasy

And yesterday, we published Sean T. Collins’s review of Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy. A sample of that:

The first moment — but certainly not the last — that made me stop reading How to Be Happy, turn back the pages, and immediately re-read them came early. “In Our Eden”, the lead-off piece in Eleanor Davis’s masterful new collection of short stories, concerns a back-to-nature commune driven to dissent and dissolution by its founder’s purity of vision. Some members chafe at the convention by which every man is called Adam, every woman Eve. Others fall away when the leader, a towering and barrel-chested figure with a ferocious black beard like something out of a David B. comic, takes away all of their prefab tools. The rest depart when he insists they neither farm nor kill for food, literalizing and reversing the Fall’s allegory of humanity’s move from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies. At last it’s just this one Adam and the Eve he loves. By the next time we see them, Adam’s gargantuan physique has been pared away, his ribs visible, his nose reddened for a sickly effect, demonstrating Davis’s remarkable ability to wring detail and expressive power out of the simple color-block style of the piece. He comes across Eve, nude and stork-skinny, washing her long hair in a river. He goes to her, nude himself. “I’m ready for the bliss to come,” he says right to us in one of the recurring panels of first-person narration that have been peppered through the comic. They embrace. “I’m ready for the weight to lift.” They kiss.

—Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—After public outcries, DC has decided to allow the use of the Superman logo for five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin’s memorial after all.

—Bernie Wrightson was reportedly hospitalized after suffering a series of small strokes. His wife Liz Wrightson explained his situation on Facebook.

—Many readers have likely already encountered this story, but over the last week, Clarence creator Skyler Page was fired by Adult Swim after an investigation into allegations of sexual assault.

 

It’s Impossible

Yes, we’re still sorting out the comments thing. Soon, we promise!

Meanwhile, today on the site:

Alex Dueben on Macanudo vol. 1.

Just to start with the book itself, Enchanted Lion and its designer Sarah Klinger did an excellent job with the hardcover collection, keeping the fairly standard size for comic strip reprints with three strips on each page. In this case the hardcover has a great wraparound cover and endpapers that show off Liniers’ inventiveness with dozens of takes on the character of Fellini–a house cat–in a variety of poses.

Describing the strip itself is a challenge. “Macanudo” doesn’t revolve around a series of characters, but neither is it a series of one-off strips. Structurally, the closest match to an American comic strip would be Wiley’s “Non Sequitur” which most days consists of one off comics while others involve a recurring cast of characters. It’s not a very good comparison as the two strips are very different in just about every other respect.

Elsewhere:

Here’s a good piece about thinking about writing comics criticism.

I don’t think I knew that the famed Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art had a web site. Now we both know.

Nice post, with good comments, about a Muñoz and Sampayo graphic novel.

And Eleanor Davis has some lovely illustrations over here.

 

 

Slow Burns & Petty Frustrations

Hello friends, fans, professionals, and hate-readers– I’m back from five days in Canada, where apparently data plans work differently, and I was unable to access the internet for more than a minute or two at a time. As best as I can tell I’ve missed three comics-related Twitterstorms of varying seriousness and magnitude, and half of a comments-related mini-controversy here. I have to say, it was nice to take a break from soaking in outrage.

Anyway, today we have a new column from the one man in comics too kind and gentle to ever inspire anger in anyone, Joe McCulloch, even though he covers obscure, potentially offensive comics from history like the one he uncovers this week, the “experimental horror” comics of David Britton:

To understand Lord Horror #7, aka Hard Core Horror #5, aka King Horror: Zero, copyright 1990, it is crucial to know that David Britton had been to jail once, in 1982, and would be jailed again in 1993, both times for selling obscene material; Savoy’s bookshops had been raided by police on a steady basis since ’76, the year Britton began publishing. Most infamously, a 1989 raid seized copies of Britton’s debutante prose novel, Lord Horror, a surreal conflagration of fascistic exaggeration loosely based on the WWII persona of William Joyce — dubbed “Lord Haw-Haw” by the British Press — an Irish-American resident of England turned naturalized German who helmed British-targeted propaganda broadcasts with a sneering, mocking glee which rendered him something of an evil celebrity among the aggrieved. Britton had debuted his “Lord Horror” variant on a 1986 Savoy-published New Order/Bruce Springsteen cover record, the sleeve of which depicted James Anderton, the severely religious chief constable of the area, uttering racial slurs whilst the back of his head exploded.

We also present the TCJ.com debut of Luke Geddes, who reviews Peter Bagge’s latest collection of Buddy Bradley stories, Buddy Buys a Dump. Here’s a sample:

Creators like the Hernandez brothers and Frank King get all the credit for showing us comics’ especial capacity for real-time storytelling, the emotional power of their work derived from the fact that their characters have been granted the privilege of growing, aging, producing offspring, and dying. But Bagge, too, deserves respect as an under-appreciated master practitioner of real-time storytelling. The success of much of his work, especially this book, owes itself to his willingness to take the risks that such a farsighted approach demands. Think of this: Buddy Bradley first appeared in 1981’s self-published Comical Funnies, predating even Love and Rockets. And because Bagge hasn’t been nearly so prolific in his output, Buddy Buys a Dump serves as the culmination of a more accessible—but no less impressive—paragon of expansive, real-time comics narrative. Even more relevantly, it demonstrates how remarkably well Bagge’s commitment to the long form suits his observational adeptness, acuity of insight, and his idiosyncratic comedic prowess.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News & Opinion. The Globe & Mail reports that DC has refused to allow the Superman logo to appear on a planned monument for a boy who died tragically. Copyright is an insidious thing. At The Guardian, Lauren McCubbin writes about the arguments swirling around Wonder Woman and feminism last week.

—Reviews & Commentary. The film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted his introduction to Peanuts Every Sunday, in which he compares Charles Schulz to Yasujiro Ozu. Sadly, Frank M. Young has posted what may be the last entry on his excellent Stanley Stories blog devoted to John Stanley, one of the best comics-history sites in the English language. It is well worth going back through the archives there if you never have (or revisiting if you have). Michael Cavna looks back at Seth’s Palookaville 21.


—Interviews.
Tim O’Shea talks to Eleanor Davis. Paul Gravett talks to German comics biographer Reinhard Kleist.

—Misc. In a recent interview, producer Joel Silver remembers how Terry Gilliam planned to end his never-completed film adaption of Watchmen.

 

Patriots

Well, we’re still working on the comment conundrum, and all of your feedback has been most appreciated. More soon. I want to address one thing quickly: I have been deleting most Kirby-related comments because most of the commenters can’t seem to make a point without becoming apoplectic, unhelpful and ultimately flooding the site with paranoid garbage. If you think I’m referring to you then I probably am. Knock it off.

Today on the site Jeet Heer visits us with a discussion of Harold Gray and race, excerpted from forthcoming Complete Little Orphan Annie Volume 10 (IDW). Here’s a taste:

To twenty-first century eyes, Harold Gray was an unlikely racial progressive. He was famously reactionary, for most of his life on the far right of the Republican party. In private correspondence, he said he thought Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a communist. Gray gave ample expression to his anti-liberal politics in Little Orphan Annie, which was an allegory about how the poor (in the form of the heroine) are best aided by their own gumption as well as the occasional helping hand by the rich (in the form of Annie’s adopted father “Daddy” Warbucks as well as other benign representatives of the .01%). While Annie and Warbucks are always trying to overcome adversity through self-help, they have to fend off a wide array of leftist villains (corrupt and communist union leaders, snooty professors, meddling social workers, and demagogic politicians preaching income redistribution). Annie, a prepubescent girl, is always trying to work for a living but is often hampered by odious child labor laws enforced by officious bureaucrats.

Elsewhere:

The Cartoon Network has fired the creator of Clarence after sexual assault allegations surfaced.

A few Amazon links: Here’s The Guardian on bestsellers vs. self publishers, and here’s Anders Nilsen making the case more personal.

Paul Karasik contributes another great graphic report for his hometown paper.

I love this Bobby London post.

I liked this comic.

Alan Moore speaks out about a local art deaccession.

 

Short Time

Frank Santoro is here with advice for cartoonists struggling to find their way in (and out of) the convention circuit. A sample:

One of the things I’ve heard younger makers talking about is how they can’t get in to certain shows. SPX. CAB. TCAF. Then they talk about how they “did” a certain show because they could get in. Or they talk about shows they are going to “do” (some of which I haven’t even heard of) because that’s a show they could probably get in to if they apply early enough. However, many of these shows are in smaller, out of the way markets and often the expense involved – travel, hotel, table fee, etc. – to set up there is not proportionate to the social benefits and sales that come from attending; perhaps that money could be better spent fostering and/or bolstering your local scene.  Just saying.

And that’s not all. We also have the great comics writer Bob Levin on the great cartoonist S. Clay Wilson, by way of reviewing Patrick Rosenkranz’s new Pirates in the Heartland. Here he goes:

Wilson had come to prominence as one of the underground cartoonists of the late 1960s, who transformed comic books into a medium where artists could express themselves without limitation. Among these boundary breakers, Wilson was the most destructive. Among these taboo defiers, he was the most unabashed. Sex’n’violence – always grotesque and always comic – was his metier.

He “liberated underground comix,” his colleague Robert Williams said. He “blew the doors off the church,” according to Victor Moscoso. Spain Rodriguez felt “pushed” by Wilson’s example to reach for “things that were on the edge of my consciousness.” And Robert Crumb said Wilson possessed “a nightmare vision of hell on earth never so graphically illustrated in the history of art…. (After him) I no longer saw any reason to hold back my own deranged id.”

Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, and Ken Kesey sought Wilson to illustrate books. Robert Hughes was a fan. Sir Kenneth Clark compared him to Hogarth. Museums displayed his work beside Hieronymous Bosch. If Giotto deserves acclaim for opening Renaissance art to naturalism and Edouard Manet the Paris Salon to modernism, Wilson deserves it for opening graphic art to… Everything.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Dan Vado of Slave Labor Graphics is trying to raise money to keep his business afloat via GoFundMe.

—Shaenon Garrity writes about the return to public life of Bill Watterson.

—Sean Rogers reviews Gabrielle Bell, Julie Delporte, and Roz Chast.

—This isn’t really news per se, but I’m proud of Joe McCulloch.

—And finally, tomorrow is Independence Day, which means we’ll see you on Monday.

 

We Asked For It

Hey, today on the site we have a lengthy interview with one of the best cartoonists alive, Kevin Huizenga. Whenever I think of a new Kevin comic I get happy at the prospect. Anyhow, here’s a snippet.

Sobel: Why did you decide to redraw the first issue of Kona and what was the experience like?

Huizenga: It was a great experience because for a couple weeks I didn’t do anything except redraw those pages, and there wasn’t much to think about. I hadn’t felt that simple joy of just drawing comics without thinking about it too much in a long time. I’d love to do much more of that but there’s just not enough time. I have so many ideas for things.

Sobel: Was there a reason you chose that particular issue of Kona?

Huizenga: Well, ideally I would redraw the entire first ten issues. That’s a great run of a crazy comic. Jason Miles turned me on to it, but I guess everybody knows about it. They’re great. For me it’s not the art so much as the writing. The writing is crazy. The art is crazy and great, too, but I feel like the writing should get more attention. I feel that way about a lot of old comics.

Sobel: Who was the writer?

Huizenga: That’s a whole mystery because he wasn’t credited and for a long time nobody knew who it was. Now somebody thinks that they’ve established that it was this mystical rabbi in New York. It almost sounds too good to be true, like a comic book plot itself. I think they’ve got good evidence that it was this guy. Lionel Ziprin was his name. I haven’t checked into it too deeply.

But I feel like there’s a lot of love for the artists of old comics, but you don’t hear people talking much about the old writers. I mean, it’s complicated. There’s good writing and then there’s writing that is so crazy that’s it’s fun to read. It’s like with cult films, which can get tricky. But I think one way to point to some of that old comics writing is to redraw them in your own style so you take away the focus on the art but keep the weird writing.

Sobel: Did you reproduce the writing exactly?

Huizenga: I fixed a couple things for the sake of reading, but that’s it. And like I said, the first ten issues are all awesome and it would be a dream project of mine to somehow draw all those, but it’s totally impractical. I have no time for that. Unless I could get paid good money for it somehow.

Sobel: How was it copying the panels?

Huizenga: It was a good exercise. I changed around panels that I didn’t like. I think it helped me learn to draw hands and bodies better. I should do more of these. I’m working so hard on Ganges #5 right now and sometimes when I think about how little I can get done in a week it’s just depressing.

Elsewhere:

Well, we certainly got a lot of comments about our comments. Here’s what we’re going to do until Monday, which will satisfy no one but ourselves: We will now moderate all comments and filter out anything we don’t find in some way productive or entertaining. We will be stringent about this, and thus will delete many of the types of things (Lee/Kirby nonsense, obvious bad-faith arguments, blatant trolling) argued against on the thread. Take into account that we are both devoted Howard Stern listeners (for you non-Americans, Howard Stern is a figure of wisdom and devotion who functions for many of us as a kind of benevolent spirit guide), so our standards are pretty enlightened. After Monday we’ll either decide to continue this policy or shut down the comments all together. How’s that for an anti-climax?

Good lord, still elsewhere on the internet:

Sarah Boxer on the early and frequent deaths of cartoon mothers.

Comics-related: A new web site from MoMA dedicated to Ray Johnson’s print design work has launched and it is spectacular. Ray Johnson, besides being a Nancy enthusiast and mail art correspondent with the likes of Karl Wirsum and Gary Panter, made wonderful objects and books. His correspondence is collected here and this is a reissue of a great artists’ book.

Finally, here’s an interview with one of my favorite humans and cartoonists, Lauren Weinstein.