Today on the site: R.O. Blechman remembers his friendship with Maurice Sendak. TCJ 302, which we’ll preview next month, contains a lengthy interview with Sendak conducted by Gary Groth. Leading up to that, here’s the great Blechman. We hope to publish more of Blechman’s chronicles of his life and those of his colleagues and friends.
His [Sendak’s] turf could not have been more different than what passed for style in 1950s New York. Back then, walls were stripped down to the raw brick, lamps were Noguchi parchment globes, candles were stuck in wax-encrusted wine bottles, and occasionally, for somebody in the graphics business, there was a floor-to-ceiling cork wall. That was how we escapees-from-home lived in the ’50s. But not Maurice. He lived in a 19th Century duplex on West Ninth Street. Dark and redolent with age, the décor was Jamesian—appropriately. His polished mahogany bookcases were lined with volume after volume of first edition Henry James. His collection was second only to that of Leon Edel, the eminent James biographer.
And elsewhere… I’m in Los Angeles this week for the LA Art Book Fair. I landed at noon yesterday and picked up my customary tiny rental car, though I somehow missed my customary stop at Randy’s Donuts.
First stop was the Ben Jones exhibition, The Video, at MoCA. It is a doozy. Ben commanded the space by installing massive video paintings and projections. It’s a meditative psychedelic experience.
Next stop was the Chateau Marmont for a meeting with the artist Wes Lang, who has taken up residence there for a spell. That’s a good kind residency.
And finally I landed at Sammy Harkham’s house, my home base in L.A. and favorite reading room. And so I’m here.
Now it’s off the fair to set up. I’ll be there the whole weekend. Booth S01. Ben Jones’ book is debuting, with accompanying events (a conversation on Saturday at 1 pm), and I’ll have plenty of other goodies. Come on by.
A while back, bravest person alive Shaenon Garrity offered to review webcomics sent to her via e-mail. Now we have a second installment of her evaluations, and they’re worth reading even if you never look at online comics:
One thing I love about webcomics is that there’s a comic for virtually every audience imaginable. Kickstand Comics, which started in 2008 and ended just recently, is a daily strip for cycling enthusiasts. And we’re talking serious enthusiasts, the kind of people who care about the ideological battles between classic bikes and road bikes, urban biking and “race and rec,” who hold strong opinions about bike lanes, and who, above all, despise cars. The central character, beardy bike shop worker Yehuda Moon (the strip also sometimes runs under the title Yehuda Moon), describes his job as “deploying ground troops in an unpopular war.”
We also have Sean Rogers’ review of Tom Kaczynski’s Beta Testing the Apocalypse:
But one of the pleasures of reading Beta Testing, as in other watershed collections like Caricature, Curses, or Everything Together, lies in watching a cartoonist become less mindful of his precursors, less rote in his treatment of subject matter, both freer and more assured. As the book progresses, Kaczynski sloughs off influence, just as his characters slip away from civilization. A breakthrough story like 2008’s “Million Year Boom” nearly brings the book to a halt halfway through with its impressive and authentic weirdness, yet still retains the stamp of millenarian systems novelists, still partakes of the old dead-eyed Clowesian aloofness. By the time we reach the concluding story, “The New”—at once an ode to modernist architecture and an allegory literalizing the decline of the west, created uniquely for this volume—Kaczynski’s layouts have exploded into space, cities and buildings splayed out on the page in startling and diagrammatic splashes.
I haven’t been feeling well the past couple days, so I haven’t spent much time online, and have only a few links for you.
Joe and Chris would also like it if you’d listen to them talk about comics. Reading is for dummies.
Ben Katchor’s new book collects his vibrant and funny strips for the architecture magazine Metropolis. And the linked-to article drops the bomb that Katchor draws digitally now. That’s funny and great for all the reasons you’re thinking of right now.
MARC SOBEL: I know you went to the Kubert School for a year, but are you mostly self-taught?
ED PISKOR: Yeah.
MARC SOBEL: Talk to me about how you learned to draw. You started to touch on it when you mentioned all the free time you had, but can you give me a little more detail?
ED PISKOR: Yeah. I relate hip hop culture a lot with my learning to draw because… There’s this certain mind frame. All through school I was definitely one of the worst people at most things, but with drawing I could at least hold my own. There was no way I was going to be able to beat anybody in any kind of organized sport or anything like that but I was at least a contender in the drawing thing. And the hip hop mind frame helped because people would snap on my work. They’d say something like ‘That sucks, man. I can’t believe you drew that,’ or, ‘do you need glasses?’ Shit like that. We would just bust on each other for being able to draw. So that provided a natural incentive to do better work because I thought, ‘oh man, I have to blow these dudes’ minds next time.’ Of course that never happened. Even when I got to a point where I was reasonably sure that I was better than them, they could still cut me down, which was cool. It was character building.
MARC SOBEL: So you were putting drawings in front of all your friends on a regular basis?
ED PISKOR: Yeah, we all were. When I was in sixth grade, there was this weird period where comics were really popular with everybody. Even a lot of the jocks were into them. This was after the “Death of Superman” and the first coming of Image Comics.
Everyone was buying these things, even football players, but most people were never looking at them. A lot of dudes would have Comic Buyer’s Guides, the new ones, or their Wizard Magazines in class all the time and they would be calculating their wealth. <laughter> It was like, ‘oh man, I’m worth $15,000 this month.’ So the cool people were into this shit for a brief time and it was really a cool thing to do.
—Tom Spurgeon takes the initiative and interviews First Second senior editor Callista Brill, who wrote that online essay about when cartoonists should give up that got up so many people’s noses. They discuss that post and a lot of other First Second business as well.
—In another post that has spawned a lot of angry arguments, colorist Jordie Bellaire writes about an unnamed convention that refused to invite colorists. I’m not sure I understand her stated reason for not naming the convention, as I think they’re more likely to change their policy if public pressure is brought to bear, but it’s possible there are other factors I don’t get.
—Adrian Tomine made a recent appearance at Skylight Books, which is now on YouTube:
—Not Comics: Today is the final day the PBS website is offering free streaming of a documentary about the artist and designer Wayne White, which may be of interest to readers of this site for its interviews with Gary Panter and Matt Groening:
His friends described his lifestyle as a “flaneur” or a “downtown habitué.” “He did what all New Yorkers do,” said Maryann. “He complained about everything. He sat around drinking coffee at cafes. He talked to everyone. He was totally righteous and he never sold out.”
His old friend Rex Weiner, who co-founded the New York Ace with “Honest Bob” Singer, relates an anecdote about his old friend in an obituary in The Paris Review. He describes how the East Village Other was on its last legs in 1972 and the Ace was the new kid in town. Yossarian drew a cover for the new paper showing a meat cleaver chopping an eyeball in half.
“With this cover he’d created especially for us, Yossarian was declaring his allegiance to the ACE, betraying EVO, to which he’d contributed many cover illustrations, and its paternal leader,” said Weiner in the obit. “EVO’s logo was the all-seeing eye, and for our cover Yossarian had placed an eyeball on a chopping block split by a butcher knife, as if to say, “EVO … You’re DEAD!”
Sean T. Collins checks in with another installment of his Say Hello! column, in which he interviews up-and-coming artists. Today, he talks to Heather Benjamin, and as the initiated might guess from the review we ran a few weeks back, the interview is NSFW. Here’s a brief exchange:
There are times when I look at your work and it feels like a really explicit and direct response to depictions of women by your peers. Sexuality has returned in a big way in alt/art comics over the past three years or so—are you seeing stuff you particularly like or dislike as you look around?
Yeah, I started noticing more and more explicit material in art stuff recently. I love a lot of older art involving sexuality, but as far as work being made currently, I honestly don’t particularly even gravitate towards art that includes sexuality; that’s just what I personally draw. I don’t have a huge interest in seeing drawings of naked people and dicks and tits and cum over the place, and I’m really not necessarily psyched on seeing it becoming more of a trend, either. If it’s done well, of course I enjoy it—you know, if it seems like there’s another element to it that I can get down with, that it goes deeper than just being a weird empty porn drawing because that’s “shocking”—but that particular subject matter isn’t something I feel really strongly about seeing and reading and whatever else. I feel pretty indifferent about it, unless it’s saying something extra or if I think the drawing is gorgeous, but I’ll love a drawing if I think it’s done beautifully no matter what the subject matter is.
Well, I wanted to interview TCJ and Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth about the new EC line, and began by asking him to respond to a review. Gary turned in a fine essay on the subject instead, with both close readings of some comics and a broader aesthetic investigation of the publishing company.
The question of how artistic values apply to comics was rarely ventilated by its practitioners in the first 50 years of the comic book and for good reason: the entire context of the comic book was devoid of self-understanding or self-reflection. The wider culture never took comics even as seriously as it took its movies, never demonstrated any appreciation for it, never rewarded achievement in any way — because the wider culture never saw an achievement there worth rewarding or cheering, and mostly for good reason.
The artists toiling in comics who cared about such matters were few and far between and usually at the level of craft, not art. The few artists who did have a sophisticated grasp of the concept, or the integrity to implement their beliefs, toiled in obscurity (such as Barks or Stanley) or were marginalized (like Kurtzman and Krigstein). There was no place for them. (The cultural context of newspaper strips was entirely different, but the cartoonists in that area still thought of themselves as something less than artists — as newspapermen, cranking out dandy entertainments to build readership — of which Caniff was probably the nonpareil practitioner and proponent. Although George Herriman thrived in this context, thanks to the patronage of Hearst, the absence of a genuine aesthetic context had its drawbacks — just as our more self-conscious age of artistes has its own set of drawbacks.)
The underground illustrator and cartoonist Yossarian has passed away. We’ll have an obituary shortly.
Auction sites have become of the best places to trip over unexpected visuals. Here’s an illustration sale. Check out the William Steig drawings.
Fast-forward to 2012, and Black Kiss 2, the prequel/sequel to Chaykin’s 1988-89 LA adult noir, and the bleakest comic he has ever made. This whole post is inspired by Tom Spurgeon, who, after expressing disturbance at the lack of online conversation about the series, declared it “almost ruthlessly unpleasant” and, ultimately, “the anti-life” – he’s not wrong, this is a sordid comic almost beyond compare, but what fascinates me is Chaykin’s misanthropy not so much directed at his fellow human beings, but against art. Specifically, the cinema.