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Another day begins, and we have a lot of comics commentary for you. First, Tegan O'Neil is here with a new take on that perennial bugbear: Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In the first place I should probably say that when I was younger and getting sporadically published in The Journal during roughly the last quarter of its initial print incarnation – a healthy run by any stretch as a semi-regular contributor – I never imagined I would be published one day in those same pages (albeit virtual), singing the praises of Crisis on Infinite Earths! I thought for sure and for certain I’d spend the rest of my life publishing sober analyses of all the latest impenetrably minimalist monographs produced by extraordinarily talented but also minutely obsessive middle-aged craftsmen with the time, resources, and patience available to design a single book to within three tenths of a micron of its life. But alas.

[...]

Crisis on Infinite Earths is a book that many people have read, many more people have discussed, but apparently few people have ever actually enjoyed. I’ve seen younger fans approach the idea of reading Crisis for the first time as if it were some sort of chore or obligatory duty – yeah, yeah, if I like DC comics or want to understand Final Crisis or maybe just check another one off the proverbial “1001 Comics To Read Before You Die,” I have to at some point wade through this monster. And I have never understood that attitude, I find it completely alien. Incomprehensible!

And Brian Nicholson is back, too, with a less than rapturous take on Dilraj Mann's Dalston Monsterzz. Here's a chunk from the middle:

This comic also does the always-irritating thing of having a character use "Google" as a verb in a fictional world where the Google-type service is later shown to be called something else arbitrarily; here, the search engine is called "Soosle." Why?

There's also a point where a character says "Time for some exposition" as the author's self-aware joke, that seems unaware of how much stuff has already felt plainly expository, when the reader has been waiting, endlessly, for something to instead be evocative or atmospheric or thrilling. The comic has no style, despite the fact that it clearly wants to be something where its style overcomes its lack of substance. It has polish, but anything it's been applied to it's eroded.

The first moment where the story does breathe, and you see what might be underneath the whole thing, is a fight scene. It's clearly indebted to Street Fighter, or the impossible physics of similar fighting games, and it was so dumb I had to put the book down. I hadn't realized I hated the book yet, because it hadn't slowed down enough for me to see what it was even trying to do. That was the point where I realized the book was mortifyingly shallow, and that the scene of the main character playing video games was meant for a reader to identify with it, so they would be into the fight scenes with a Street Fighter vibe.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The National Cartoonist Society has announced its nominations for Cartoonist of the Year.

—In the NY Times, Bruce Handy reviews a new picture book by Jillian Tamaki.

—RIP Isao Takahata

—RIP Cecil Taylor

 

Querulous Handiwork

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got ourselves a bit of a theme. See, back when Jillian Tamaki released Boundless, she sat down with Eleanor Davis for one of our very favorite conversations. Now that Eleanor has a new book, Why Art?, we thought it made the most sense to turn the tables a bit and have them sit down again. Thankfully, both participants were up for it, and the ensuing conversation is today's must read.

What's your relationship between activism and art? Or, alternatively, what frustrates you about some of these discussions around activism and art?

Art is secondary. It should be the glue, or the gasoline, the thing that helps facilitate the change. Like, so much of what I do now is "armchair activism," posting on Facebook, writing email blasts. By itself, without a goal, that stuff is worse than nothing. But ideally it's in the service of unifying and strengthening people, putting pressure, voting the old bums out, pushing the new bums to not be bums.

I fucking LOATHE the shitty smug self-satisfied idea that art is a political means unto itself. Even if it ends up working out like that, I hate the not-getting-my-hands-dirty feel of it.

And then there's this: Jillian isn't the only person who has stopped by to talk about Eleanor's work today--we've also got the book's review, brought to you by the ever insightful Rachel Davies.

While the book remains instructional and educational about art, Davis goes on to prove that this doesn’t have to be entirely simplistic. Davis manages to discuss such complicated issues as how the burden of student loans affects one’s output, feeling far too close to an artwork, and being defined by one past artwork, into two to six page bites throughout the book.

But we've also got another reason for you to stick around today, which is this: a nice chunk of The Case of the Missing Men, a recent graphic novel release by Kris Bertin & Alexander Forbes, published by Conundrum Press. 

And with that, i'll bid you a happy Thursday. I have a five year old with a fever, and it's eating my lunch.

 

This?

Sloane Leong returns today to examine another set of webcomics caught in the Comics Dragnet. In this installment, she also discusses what she calls "Tumblr style."

Mildred [Louis]'s art is exemplary of what I call "Tumblr style," a look that's cropped up around this fourth generation of webcartoonists, a confluence of unexpected, eclectic influences and inspirations coalescing into a single, quirky style and executed through a digital medium. Tumbling is actually a pretty good descriptor of what a lot of internet-born artists go through who cut their teeth on filling DeviantArt galleries with fanart and OCs, spending hours in oekakis and taking cheap Gaia commissions. It’s art that’s been rolled as if in a rock tumbler of inspiration, where there’s little direction applied except for technical and stylistic trends of the current platform being used or the whims of their $10 commissioners. Art history itself is flattened out completely on the internet but especially on Tumblr where Late Byzantine pieces are posted alongside glossy superhero pinups and over-filtered anime screencaps. Your eyes start gliding over the illuminated visual noise. It takes a severe focus to keep from getting haphazardly dented, to instead be polished by the constant battering of styles. Habitual techniques leave deep tracks in one's muscle memory and absorbing the same family of visual vocabulary repetitively makes even microscopic changes feel vast. Sometimes muscle memory will beat out my will to execute a new texture or a new type of line. Only repetition carves space in my mind for it to exist but it's like pulling teeth as I get older. Deeply rooted teeth. With Mildred, I see the impact of the animated Sailor Moon series, cleanly lined and expressive, as well as other early 2000s Toonami toons in the bright cel coloring style, blurred shallow focus, dynamic beady pupils. There are also other cute quirks, for example when tiny panels with character's heads pop-up to continue a conversation with the focal character in the larger panel, an anime/manga technique that I find really charming. It's a style that can swerve hard between being in a constant state of growth and becoming to indulgently emulative of one's inspirations. Often though it gives us something unique and when it fails it was because a risk was taken, which is exciting to me as a reader and an artist.

Irene Velentzas is back too, with a review of Pascal Blanchet's unusual picture book, Go West!

If the devil is in the details, then Pascal Blanchet is the very devil himself. Known especially for his 1920s Art Deco artistic style with a whimsical twist, Blanchet’s work is a masterclass in simple elegance. Blanchet’s colorful geometric style is a feast for the eyes, mesmerizing the reader with block outlines and silhouettes, somehow giving just enough of a hint to suggest shape without a single line more. Simplistically color-blocked building facades create a riot of color that give way to such intricately woven details as a single archway, clock, or window, which become the heart of the image’s mastery. Blanchet creates breathless articulations of intricate natural and manmade landscapes that produce audible gasps of wonder from the reader.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Scotland Herald interviews John Porcellino.


How much work do you have to put into making your strips look so simple?

I always say, it’s harder than it looks. If you have a comics panel with a thousand crosshatch marks in it, it’s easier to hide errors, or missteps in drawing. When you have a comics panel that consists of just three simple lines, they better well be the right three lines. There’s no place to hide in that kind of simplicity. I’m not always happy with every single drawing, I feel I’m always learning, but at this point having drawn comics seriously for 35 or so years, much of it is intuitive. I generally don’t have to redraw much from my first draft. On the other hand, when I do have to redraw a panel, I often have to redraw it 10 times. I either get it on the first go, or I can be in for a slog.

The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Sloane Leong.

—Reviews & Commentary. Jared Gardner writes about Charlotte Salmon's Life? or Theater?

Charlotte Salomon’s short life was haunted—by the rise of the Nazis, who ultimately took her life, but also by her family’s history of severe mental illness. Salomon’s attempt to make sense of this history—and of the role of art in the face of both despair and genocide—is found in her major work, Life? or Theater? A work of almost 800 sequential paintings, Life? or Theater? is arguably one of our most important graphic narratives, and yet until recently few people have had the opportunity to read it in full. The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam recently exhibited the complete work for the first time, and now Overlook Press has produced a gorgeous English-language edition of the complete series that will make the work more widely accessible than it has ever been.

 

Three Quarters Dead

Today at The Comics Journal, you'll find the latest episode of Greg Hunter's dynamite podcast, Comic Book Decalogue, which this month poses its traditional ten questions  to Meags Fitzgerald. In the episode, Hunter & Fitgerald discuss Geneviève Castrée, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Ames Lettering Guide revelations, and circus art.

And then we've also got a review, this one from Noah Berlatsky. It's on the latest graphic novel from Nobrow, Out Of Nothing. Noah's opening lines are a pretty indication of where he went with this one:

God died a while ago, but we still haven't entirely figured out how to get on without him.  The old guy with a white beard still hovers ghost-like in the back of our minds and the corners of our narratives,  giving our lives a patina of meaning, comfort, purpose, or morality until we remember, with that sinking sense of grief, that he's not there, and we're alone.

Jeez Noah. So close to Easter, too! 

ELSEWHERE, The Daily Beast published a long, detailed piece on the hate and harassment taking place online and off that's categorized under the name #Comicsgate. It's a depressing look at extremely repellent behavior, which, as the articles makes clear, has no purpose beyond its own repellence. 

 

Road Rage

Oh boy, holiday travel did a number on me. Luckily, Dan Nadel has returned to the site with a review of a new book about one of the most mysterious cartoonists of the last century, Herbert Crowley (who was featured prominently in Dan's own Art Out of Time).

Looking back on my own interest in the strip, now I realize that "The Wiggglemuch" strips were partly compelling because Crowley suggested an affinity with a larger and also esoteric visual and literary culture, which was unusual in comics at the time. The spiritual allusions, stiffness, and symbol-driven character design also suggested another way to think about comics entirely: less drawing-based and more like moving sculptures. I wondered then, as many others did, just how he intersected with comics. As it turns out, Crowley really was just stopping over. His life and work is now the subject of a large and generously illustrated book, Herbert Crowley: The Temple of Silence by Justin Duerr. It is the kind of scholarly and research-driven deep dive that I wish for about... well, most everything. Duerr gathers every conceivable strand of Crowley's unusual and extremely complicated life and work and weaves them together into a coherent and quite moving whole.

Duerr begins the book with a lengthy illustrated biography of Crowley, and then turns it over to absolutely stunning reproductions of Crowley's work, including the complete "Wigglemuch" run, plus two-unpublished installments, and numerous drawings and paintings. The artwork, aside from the comic strips, is wonderful, but not entirely unique to him. The imagery -- gargoyle-like forms, temples, and other mystical symbols -- is in keeping with slightly older contemporaneous Symbolists, like Odilon Redon and Felicien Rops, and the proto-Surrealist literature bring published at the time in Paris. It is certainly connected to last year's incredible exhibition at The Guggenheim in New York: Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The two winners of the sixth annual Slate/CCS Cartoonist Studio Prize have been announced. This year, Keren Katz won for print, and Michael DeForge won for the web.

—And the latest guest on RiYL is Julia Wertz.

 

His Stutter Step

Today at the Journal, it's Friday: Good Friday, if you care. I'm using the opportunity to get out of work early to visit my local cinema and catch the new Spielberg picture. Not because I'm itching to see that lousy actor who somehow managed to fuck up Cyclops, the second best X-Man, but because I want there to be more movies featuring the Battle Toads. After that? I'll probably re-read today's Journal installments, because they're just that good.

First up, we've got Ardo Omer talking to gg, whose 2017 graphic novel I'm Not Here has been continually accumulating praise since its release. (We reviewed it in January). I was struck by this portion of gg's response to Omer's question about the theme of freedom in her work.

Everyone pushes up against all kinds of walls every day and it's natural to wonder how to go beyond that. I'm don't think we can ever know what's beyond the outermost walls (ie. totally free) but the struggle to get closer is fascinating to me. Isolation, escape, and abandonment (being abandoned and abandoning) can be strategies to deal with this unknowable thing, but as you can probably see in my stories, they're never really effective and often become traps themselves. I think of my work as a way to meditate on my general feelings, whatever they may be at any given time but I guess I think about these particular things a lot and that's why they come up so much.

On the review front, Tegan O'Neil read all 300 plus pages of First Second's latest by Pénélope Bagieu to find out if you had to. (She makes a case that you do.) It's called Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World.

The most remarkable aspect of Brazen is Bagieu herself. She tips her hand early in the book with a profile of cartoonist Tove Jansson, creator of the deathless Moomins. Bagieu draws the Moomins really well, as well as every other Jansson creation she packs into those pages. Jansson is perhaps just one influence but it’s interesting to see just how unerringly her style reflects Jansson’s very particular and peculiar line. Bagieu’s thin and expressive lines communicate a great deal. She has an eye for caricature without which this book would be a futile endeavor.

And for your final piece of TCJ content, here's an excerpt from the long awaited debut of controversial cartoonist Dilraj Mann, Dalston Monsterzz. The graphic novel was released earlier this month, and we'll have a review of it up next week. 

ELSEWHERE, Buzzfeed published an extensive, revolting piece on John Kricfaulsi's past relationships with two teenage girls. It's a disgusting, criminal situation described in excruciating detail. Buzzfeed has done excellent work exposing and thoroughly documenting the behavior of sexual predators in the past, but what remains even more impressive is the courage shown by the women who are telling their stories, at a time (and via a type of media) that continues to lash out at them for doing so. Although I personally found out about this story via an email from my co-editor, who has by now figured out how bad I am at the linkblog part of TCJ, I was later struck by the comments I saw in response to a successful female cartoonist who had merely linked to the piece on twitter, like countless others had. Over and over, the responses attacked her for daring to even mention the article, and by the time I'd scrolled 15 lines down, the hateful and crude attacks on her began in earnest. Is it a surprise? No, of course not. But it was to me a reminder of how much is owed to people like Robin Byrd and Katie Rice, who are willing to tell their stories in this climate, for a website du jour, knowing full well the sort of targeted harassment that will follow. 

 

Green Spirit

Today on the site, RJ Casey interviews a new cartoonist who goes only by the initials D.R.T., and who unexpectedly blew RJ away with work he sent through the mail.

RJ CASEY: Your book has no name on the front, no synopsis on the back, but the work inside this book was so singular that, after I finished, I immediately jumped on my computer to attempt to do some research into you. But there’s nothing online but a bare-bones shop selling the book and that’s basically it. Was it your intent for this book to have an air of mystery around it?

D.R.T.: Thank you! Yes, I am naturally wary of the internet and don’t post anything that I can’t easily take down. I prefer to use the Jaws approach, where you just see a glint of teeth and maybe a rough outline of a head and your imagination fills in the rest. I don’t know if that approach is sustainable in 2018 though… It’s a push and pull between getting my art out there and still keeping my privacy at a level I am comfortable with.

Your book says on the back, “Created by D.R.T.” Is that what you go by?

I go by Daniel. I started signing my initials on my “fine art” about seven years ago.

The book I received contained a letter inside written by “LH.” Who is that?

That is my wife, Lori, who lived through most of that with me.

By that, you’re referring to what the letter speaks of. Can we discuss it?

Yes, I don’t want you to feel like there’s anything off limits.

You had a major health issue. Can you break down for me what happened?

I had a hemorrhagic stroke when I was 27 due to an AVM [Arteriovenous malformation].

What is an AVM?

An AVM is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels that bypass the normal flow of blood to the capillaries. There can be a lot of stress on these blood vessels and sometimes they rupture. AVMs are rare and not all of them rupture. I lost a significant part of my left brain. So much so that the right side of my body was paralyzed, and I couldn’t do any of the most basic things like swallow or think with language. I had to start over. With incredible help from my family, my girlfriend (now wife), and therapists, I relearned how to walk, speak, read, write, do math, etc. I still have no functional use of my right arm or hand, so I have to do all of my drawings with my non-dominant left hand and a container of pennies to hold the paper in place.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

The Los Angeles Review of Books has published several interesting pieces lately, including Ashley Rattner on Noah Van Sciver and Paul Buhle's Johnny Appleseed:

MOST AMERICAN FOLKTALES are characterized by violence. The American myth glories in the inevitability of westward expansion, venerating war heroes or men who wrangled the land into submission, subjugated the frontier piece by piece until it no longer existed. To be manly is to be strong, and strength is too commonly demonstrated by the physical domination of weaker parties. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett grew famous through hunting, trapping, and their conquests in the Indian Wars. John Henry and Paul Bunyan exerted mastery over nature by laying railroad track and clearing the forests, subduing the wilderness by fundamentally altering it. The traditional American folk hero adheres to an aggressively masculine stereotype, rooted in destructive traits like violence, coercion, domination, and mastery. In Johnny Appleseed, Paul Buhle and Noah Van Sciver present the life of a man who dramatically defies this characterization. Buhle and Van Sciver’s graphic biography is nothing if not timely: published in 2017, it appears at a moment when some Americans are rekindling and others rejecting the violent and oppressive narratives that have long underwritten the nation’s peculiar brand of patriotism.

And a Sarah Chihaya interview with Adrian Tomine.

I’m interested in the way time passes in these more recent stories, especially in pieces like “Hortisculpture” or “Killing and Dying,” where the gutter between two frames sometimes communicates the passage of months or years. Your work is so often described as realism, but there is something speculative about that disjointed nature of time in Killing and Dying that reminds me of the simultaneous unpredictability and coherence of time in a book like Richard McGuire’s Here. Do you think you’re consciously thinking about temporality differently in your more recent work?

Yeah, I appreciate that — no one’s picked up on that, at least not consciously. To me, that’s one of the huge differences between this and prior books. The old work was, I think, fairly accurately described as “slice of life” — you’re literally peeking in on these characters for a short duration of time, and you just see what happens in that unbroken span of time. The real change for me was having kids. I think that completely affected me on many levels as an artist, but I think you’re picking up on something that was maybe half conscious, but is suddenly becoming apparent: parenthood really affected not only my sense of time as a human in real life, but also my storytelling. And I think that change is evident in the stories. There’s also an anxiety or sadness about that change that infuses a lot of the stories, too.

 

Fit The Print

Today at the Journal, we've got the first piece of evidence that Matt Seneca meant it when he said he was going to review everything he read this year--here it is, his new column, titled Search & Destroy. There's a lot of meat in this column, but the part I liked best was when I read how he refers to the Holy Trio of Violence as "my three favorite rough boys":

When I go to a comic store that only has superhero stuff on sale (most of the time these days), I usually look first at the selection of Wolverine, Batman, and Punisher comics. These have historically maintained a higher standard than most other hero books, I believe because of the smaller amount of imagination necessary to do a serviceable job on them. If you’re doing the Silver Surfer or some shit, you’ve really gotta cast a wide net and pull in something pretty different with it to make a mark. But with my favorite three rough boys, all you have to do is concoct a situation that forces the main character into committing acts of violence. From there, they pretty much write themselves, differing only in milieu and the level of sanction their heroes find it acceptable to administer: Batman usually stops at unconsciousness, Wolverine at grievous bodily harm, and for the Punisher only death will suffice. Like the novels of Jim Thompson, these comics deliver on a hyper-masculine, voyeuristic formula, elevated by the exoticism of their settings and the particularities of their protagonists’ pathologies. And as with Thompson, if you come in with the right expectations it’s hard to go wrong.

And that's not all we've got: Over in the Reviews category, Leonard Pierce has returned to us with a look at Image's latest bestseller, Bingo Love. 

It’s a very sweet story, and it’s told with a certain degree of charm and flair.  And unquestionably, it’s the kind of story we need to see, especially in comics, where there’s a dearth of anything but lunkheaded superhero variants from companies like Image, let alone stories that center older queer women of color.  It was produced outside of traditional venues of publishing, and it showcases creators who don’t normally get this degree of attention.  The book’s good intentions are obvious.  So…what’s the problem?

ELSEWHERE? The biggest news in comics criticism looks to be two recent hires at the New York Times--Hillary Chute & Ed Park, who have been brought on as regular columnists focused on the graphic novel category. For more information about the hire, Calvin Reid has you covered on that, and the possible connections to a recent agent-led campaign to return a Graphic Novel Bestseller list to the newspaper.

An INTERVIEW I rather liked, in no small part because it is about a book I publish by my favorite cartoonist went up yesterday, you should read it, absolutely. Am I biased? Yes. Of course I am. It's with Michel Fiffe and Kyle Welch, and it's over at Multiversity.

This PROFILE on William Messner-Loebs started making the rounds yesterday, and while I share the writer's emotional connection to those old Wally West issues--not just the Pied Piper ones, but also the ones where Wally was sleeping with a married woman when he wasn't binge-eating hamburgers--said connection is not required to be disgusted at the never-ending cycle of cruelty that is financial difficulty.