The Pause That Refreshes

Today, R.C. Harvey returns to the site with a lengthy exploration of how money has influenced comics:

Al Capp, who drew Li’l Abner as a newspaper comic strip character for most of his adult life, had a wooden leg and a speech impediment. When he talked, he punctuated his utterances with hiccoughed hoots of laughter that heralded the approach of a punchline long before anyone else could see it coming. In discussing his choice of careers, he used to say, amid irregularly emitted but almost suppressed guffaws, that he decided to become a comic strip cartoonist at the age of 11 when he learned that Bud Fisher was paid $5,000 a week for drawing Mutt and Jeff as newspaper comic strip characters and was constantly marrying French countesses.

“I decided that was for me," Capp would hoot. "After all, how much—hoot!—does a bottle of ink cost?” Another hoot.

This autobiographical fragment is, like many promulgated by Capp, somewhat awry. Fisher didn’t marry the Countess Aedita de Beaumont, whom he met on a trans-Atlantic boat ride while returning from France, until 1924 when Capp was 13 not 11. And by 1924, Fisher was making considerably more than $5,000 a week. (The Countess and Fisher soon divorced, but she and her offspring inherited the copyright on Mutt and Jeff, so her name appeared in the fine print on the strips.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Broken Frontier interviews Conor Stechschulte.

Most of my favorite art has a strong sense of the uncanny. The very act of reading comics involves the reader filling in the causes for represented effects, which is a big reason why I think it’s a medium uniquely suited for telling the kind of stories I’m interested in.

The stuff I want to get at, like desire or a kind of elemental fear or anxiety, are only diminished through trying to explain them. In fact, once you start explaining them you sort of aren’t even talking about them anymore. That said, I don’t want the reading of my work to feel trivial or obtuse. Trying to balance those things is the whole game for me right now, I think. Wish me luck.

Abraham Riesman interviews Michael DeForge.

Everything makes me anxious. I realize I'm anxious for no reason or reasons I can't always control, but yeah, I was an anxious kid. Now I'm an anxious adult. Even when my comics aren't overtly about that, they do depict a world that has a very nervous, hostile energy to it, because I think that is still the way I entered the world. I feel like there's a buzzing hostility underneath the surface of everything, even though I know rationally that's not actually the case.

—Reviews & Commentary.
For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jackson Ayres tries to pin down the so-called Dark Age of Comics.

If [Alan] Moore and [Frank] Miller are the creators most responsible for this grim and gritty turn, both are ambivalent about its legacy. Moore has frequently insisted that publishers misunderstood Watchmen, claiming they and culpable creators used it as validation for nihilistic, nasty, and insubstantial stories presented as sophisticated fare for “mature readers.” Even Miller, who, unlike Moore, has not dramatically changed his creative agenda or style, once described DC’s decision to kill Robin in a 1988–1989 run of Batman — an outcome determined by a readers’ poll — as “the most cynical thing that particular publisher has ever done.” Here Miller suggests an important distinction between cynicism as an artistic perspective and the cynicism of corporate publishing imperatives.

Jeet Heer's New Republic piece comparing Donald Trump to various figures from comics history is only tangentially related to this site's interests, but I'll take whatever Jeet-on-comics writing I can get.

In the imagination of right-wing populism, nationalism is a bridge that crosses the chasm of class. [Daddy] Warbucks might be richer than us, but he protects us from foreign foes. In the comic strip, Warbucks even had his own private army of assassins, who happily tortured and killed whoever menaced [Little Orphan] Annie. With his promise of brass-knuckle tactics against the Chinese, a wall against Mexicans, and a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Donald Trump is the Daddy Warbucks of our time, ready to save Little Orphan America from the crafty foes of other nations.

Carol Tilley has uncovered from the Billy Ireland Library archives a 1940s-era comic book entitled The Uncanny Adventures of (I Hate) Dr. Wertham.

A police officer brings a juvenile delinquent to see Wertham, who agrees to psychoanalyze him. The first question Wertham asks the boy is whether or not he reads comics, and the boy responds, “Sure! Don’t everybody???” Wertham immediately seizes upon a connection between comics reading and juvenile delinquency, and the boy, realizing the possibilities in misleading the doctor, plays along. Wertham assiduously studies a funny animal comic the boy gives him, determined to prove the comics—delinquency connection. Ultimately Wertham pardons the boy, telling him that it is “the comic book publishers…and not you who should be punished!” Wertham gathers more comics for study and sets on his course to document the ill-effects of reading them.

—News. Some forty French publishers, including everyone from Dargaud and Delcourt to L'Association and Cornelius, have announced they will join together in a full boycott of next year's Angoulême festival unless there are major changes. Although I found this elsewhere, I believe Bart Beaty was the first English-language comics writer to bring this to North American attention.

2D Cloud is currently running a Kickstarter to fund its next season of comics. A few weeks ago, the publishers wrote a piece on Medium called "Can Indie Publishers Afford to Grow?" explaining some of their thinking.


Here, Again

Today on the site I'm thrilled to have  Eric Reynolds' selections, with his own commentary, from Kaz's Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood, which Eric edited. Catch Kaz this Friday at Desert Island, Brooklyn.

And elsewhere:

A number of prominent French publishers are demanding that the Angouleme Festival reform itself or they will not attend in 2017. I hope the Festival hears them.

This lengthy article about Stan Lee's "legacy" does some good deep diving into the fairly pathetic performance of the last ten years or so of Lee's properties. It's one of those "icon in twilight" type pieces, and goes into the Kirby/Ditko/Lee arguments. There's no way to satisfy anyone when writing about the credit issue (or even mentioning Kirby in passing), but I do think Kirby's basic position is misstated by ignoring the arguments he made beginning in the late 1960s in favor of focusing on his final TCJ interview, and ignoring comments Lee made in the 1960s attributing credit to Ditko and Lee. And Ditko is basically dismissed as an old crank, which is pushing it. Then there was this buff nug about TCJ's legendary issue devoted to Lee: "The irony was bittersweet: Lee had long campaigned to have comics be treated seriously as high art, and the Journal’s high-minded writing was proof that he’d been successful; but the generation of fans who saw comics as a legitimate medium also thought of him as a childish relic." I KNEW it was Lee all along. Gary Groth better revise that historical narrative pronto. Basically I'm saying it was poorly researched, and I'm (still) tired of the "he's only human and golly he's sweet" thing. I am all for empathy and not demonizing the guy, but a little bit of accountability is not too much to ask for. But then again, this feature was written by a guy who published a multi-thousand word Deadpool article, so... grain of salt and/or fanboy alert.

In better news, Takashi Nemoto is involved in some kind of amazing album cover painting project, and the long-awaited new Dean Cornwell book is now available. I've recently come back to Dean Cornwell, and loving his sense of composition and the deco forms he used to construct figures and spaces. Growing up in the 1980s, you had to know about Cornwell and Franklin Booth and Leyendecker -- it was part of loving The Studio and Neal Adams.

Finally, here's a cool interview with Joe Dante about a film he planned and never made about the classic Warner Bros. animators.


That’s Saying Something

Joe McCulloch brings us his usual guide to the Week in Comics, pointing out the most interesting-sounding new releases in stores. Spotlight picks this wek include Kevin Huizenga's Ganges #5 and Michael DeForge's Big Kids.

I think DeForge's particular sense of psychedelia tends to obscure how unsparing his worldview has gotten in recent years - here, a bullied gay high schooler awakens one afternoon to discover that he's transformed into a 'tree,' which is to say a select human of advanced sensory capacity, yet much of what he experiences only serves to root him in miserable self-importance. You can read this as a critique of the familiar 'chosen special kid' devices of popular youth fiction, or even nerd triumphalism as a cultural force, but it remains unwavering on the DeForge continuum.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The longtime cartoonist John Caldwell, who contributed to Mad, The New Yorker, and National Lampoon, among many other publications, has passed away.

—Interviews & Profiles. For Vice, Sean T. Collins interviews the great Brian Chippendale about his latest release, Puke Force.

I do feel that even though I have an overt need for and warmth toward some social media, there is an undercurrent of energy on there that corrodes the soul.

What do you mean by "corrodes the soul"?
I think it's the feeling that you're not alone anymore. That should be a positive thing, right? But I think aloneness is important. It's very important to get lost in your own head, not just get lost in the hive mind. As an artist, I need to venture inside to get at deeper meaning. Maybe new muscles for that are forming in younger people, new ways to go deep. I don't necessarily think we are going to lose a generation to the internet. It's an amazing tool. Pizza delivery drones, on the other hand? I'll definitely be throwing rocks at them... and ordering pizzas.

Leah Garrett at The Forward talks to Al Jaffee about Mad and Jewish humor.

Jaffee explained to me that that his generation of Jewish artists was very sensitive to the fact that they were Jews in a non-Jewish world overshadowed by the Holocaust. In fact, the writers and artists of Mad used to joke “amongst ourselves about looking too Jewish. You know, if you walked with your portfolio into an advertising agency, if you looked too Jewish or had a name like Ginsberg, you were dead meat.” Whenever possible, the men changed their names to make them sound less Jewish. (For example, Jaffee changed his name from Abraham “to something more American — Alan,” although he said he would not have done so if he’d had to pay for it — it was a free service to GIs.)

Blaise Larmee is the guest on the latest episode of Inkstuds. I haven't listened to it yet, but according to Twitter, it is the most awkward and uncomfortable episode of Inkstuds ever, which ... sounds like something to hear.

—Reviews & Commentary. I missed this Anders Nilsen post remembering Alvin Buenaventura last week.

—Misc. The New Yorker has posted a preview of Daniel Clowes's Patience.

Bloom County creator Berke Breathed and Harper Lee were pen pals.


The Best Cat Toy

Hi there, back again. Today on the site we bring you part 2 of Paul Tumey's exploration of the life and work of Garrett Price, whose book, White Boy, is among the very best things released in the last year or two. The first part of Paul's account is here. And below is a taste.

Similar to Lyonel Feininger, another artist who created a short run of extraordinary Sunday newspaper comics (also for the Chicago Tribune, also artful and quirky), Price’s three years of White Boy comics represent a small part of a much larger body of work outside of comics. In Price’s case, this body of work includes numerous magazine covers, panel cartoons, illustrations for books, magazines, and newspapers, and paintings.  Most notably, Price was a key early New Yorker artist.

As far as can be determined, there is no comprehensive monograph or biography on Garrett Price available. Finding and unearthing dinosaur fossils appears to be only slightly harder than finding information on Garrett Price. “Wind from the West: The Life of Garrett Price,” Peter Maresca’s approximately 1800-word essay included in the newly published  White Boy in Skull Valley (Sunday Press, 2015), is a significant contribution, providing a solid, insightful portrait of Price. This Comics Journal article augments Price’s story with some additional  information and art.


The great Umberto Eco died on Friday. He was known in comics circles for his texts about various facets of the medium and his love of Corto Maltese. Anyhow, here's a classic 1985 NYRB essay on Krazy Kat and Peanuts.

Here, uh, I am on Gary Panter's publications exhibition, which I curated. Most of the show is online and available for purchase over here.

As part of the ongoing roll out of his stunning new Underworld collection, Kaz speaks to Gil Roth. The book is the best argument since Wally Gropius, for precision crafted cartooning in the Bushmiller/Gould sense of the phrase.

I love Todd Klein's occasional deep dives into comic book lettering lore, and this one is amazing. Danny Crespi's life in 20th century comics.

Finally, if you're in Brooklyn and want to see some great films, come to Takeshi Murata's night at Nitehawk Cinema tomorrow in celebration of his new book, which I compiled. It'll be fun.




Today on the site, we present RJ Casey's interview with Nick Drnaso, whose debut graphic novel Beverly recently hit stores.

Do you think geometry is part of your style?

I've fully embraced rigidity. There’s simplicity in it, I think. At a certain point I realized that stripping away was more effective than going in and adding things — at least for Beverly. I wanted to tear things down to their essence. Before I worked on these stories, and in an art school kind of way, I was searching for a style and hiding behind overly hatching things. I used to use wild angles and spend hours and hours crosshatching.

I don’t think there’s any crosshatching in Beverly.

I’m more concerned now with solid cartooning and transitioning from one panel to the next. If I was spending all that time drawing tiny hatches, my hand would hurt and I would get lost in all the meaningless details. With minimal amounts of detail, I want to worry about the story and the flow — what’s really important. The dialogue and if I can somehow make characters contradict themselves — those types of things are much more interesting to me than hatching for five hours.

We also have Rob Kirby's review of the latest from Derf Backder, Trashed, a fiction/nonfiction hybrid about a group of garbagemen, and American garbage more generally.

Though J.B. and Mike are at the forefront of the narrative, their inner lives are only hinted at, and we don’t get to know them very well. Their antics serve best to illustrate the nonfiction portions of Trashed–where Backderf, a master of comics journalism, really gets to show off his chops. He begins with a brief tour through the history of garbage, offering several enlightening factoids, such as the fact that the first garbage dump was created in 3000 B.C. in the city of Knossos on Crete. We also learn that in pre-Civil War America, pigs were used to remove garbage on city streets: “New York City had so many free-roaming hogs that Charles Dickens in ‘American Notes’ begged city fathers to rid the metropolis of the ‘ugly brutes.’” Turns out that when Patti Smith sang, “The transformation of waste is perhaps the oldest preoccupation of man,” she wasn’t kidding.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Virginia Paine has announced that over the next year, she will be shutting down Sparkplug Books, the publishing company started by the late Dylan Williams which made a deep impact on many of the independent comics artists of recent generations.

—Interviews & Profiles. Abraham Riesman at Vulture interviews Brian Chippendale about the new collection of Puke Force.

You do more gallery-style visual art, too. What can comics do that other mediums can’t?
The idea is that you have these sequential frames, so they're really good for storytelling. You can follow a conversation or follow a movement through a page. They're built to tell stories. For me, for a piece of fine art, if you're looking at a flat surface, you can also tell stories, but I think they can be built to do other things, like to play with the medium, or to show one moment instead of a drawn-out amount of moments. Comics are good for narratives, and fine art is good for a moment.

The artist Jason has posted translated excerpts from four interviews previously published in Spanish.

I like melodrama. With the exception of Hey, Wait... I think there's been a gun in all of my books. I like writers like Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. But if I use those kind of characters, I put them in other stories. Possibly he's a divorced alcoholic, but at the same time he's fighting monsters from Mars or zombies. I like that mix of everyday reality and fantasy. And I improvise my stories, so I don't know where they will end up.

—Commentary. Regular TCJ contributor Ken Parille has posted a tribute to Alvin Buenaventura.

In early 2001, I lived on eBay, bidding on anything that had Daniel Clowes art on it: comics, LPs, t-shirts, etc. Every week I’d win several auctions, always defeating a bidder who went by “totoroar.” It wasn’t long before I started to feel bad; after all, we were fellow collectors, fellow obsessives. So, in an uncharacteristic act of generosity, I contacted totoroar and offered to give them a few Clowes-related things I had. Totoroar turned out to be someone named Alvin Buenaventura, a name I assumed was fake. I sent Alvin some comics and then we exchanged numbers. He eventually told me he planned to start his own press, asking if I’d help. I said “Sure.” And I can say — without the slightest exaggeration — that meeting Alvin fundamentally changed my life.


Day’s End

Today on the site, Anya Davidson has an in-depth look at Brian Chippendale's incredible new book, Puke Force. I'm so pleased this project came to fruition, and happy to have been a part of it. Brian is on tour for the book, and you can catch him tonight in Toronto at The Beguiling and tomorrow at Desert Island. Here's a bit from Anya:

In his fourth graphic novel, Puke Force, Brian Chippendale bravely tackles the perils of modern American life. The book begins where the action in his earlier book, Ninja, left off.  In Ninja, a group of friends and the titular ninja fight to prevent an evil arms manufacturer from setting up shop in their beloved city of Grain. Chippendale drew the book in the wake of the gentrification of Olneyville, his neighborhood in Providence Rhode Island, and I assume Grain to be an alternate universe manifestation of that city. The oversized pages of Ninja writhe with dots, dashes and lines. Characters rendered in thick brush strokes emerge from dense thickets of very fine line, to dizzying effect. Reading it again, I was overwhelmed by the sheer density and cinematic scope of that book. Panel backgrounds often remain static while characters traverse them, calling to mind animation as much as classic cartooning. On one page I counted fifty individual panels. It’s one of those comics that, in its ambition and urgency, seems to have practically erupted from inside its creator.


Well, tomorrow I'm opening an exhibition of 40 years of Gary Panter's publications at Printed Matter. This is unfortunately the same time as Chippendale at Desert Island. Ah well. We'll all be wherever we are not in spirit.

Links: A nice local profile on Chicago's Quimby's Bookstore. And the ever naughty British magazine Viz has been cut off from Facebook.



Today, this week's MVP, Joe McCulloch, is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics, exploring the most interesting-sounding comics new to stores. He writes a bit about Kevin Huizenga's Ganges, too.

Broadly, Ganges is the story of a man, Glenn Ganges, who wants to go to sleep, but cannot. But it's also about remembering days in the past and flashing forward to days in the future, about processing history through video games and capturing conflict in art, about reading books and also the recollection of having read books, and the myriad alternate realities we warp our minds into while attempting to navigate the present. In an essay I wrote for the Drawn and Quarterly 25th anniversay book -- where I think I brought a real sense of gravitas to pgs. 380-382 -- I suggested that the core of Huizenga's work is in the interaction of the conscious and subconscious; not as a latent characteristic of the comics form, but as an explicit and literal visual/narrative focus, as a means of communicating the process of ascertainment. In this way, he continues the work of Chris Ware, though Huizenga's emphasis falls less on plumbing the mindset of his characters than riding with them as they encounter the coexistence of the natural and the artificial, the superstitious and the scientific - never at Manichean odds, but observed in states of coexistence.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Alvin Buenaventura. Daniel Clowes and Jonathan Barli have written posts in memory of the publisher. Those who usually avoid the comments may want to make an exception for our obituary of Buenaventura.

—News. Playboy has reportedly decided to stop publishing cartoons. Obviously in recent years (or should I say decades?) the magazine hasn't been a major part of the cultural conversation, but it was one of only two major American magazines to still prominently feature cartoons and pay well for them, and was a home to artists from Gahan Wilson to Jack Cole to Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder.

—Reviews & Commentary. Bob Temuka writes about Love & Rockets #8.

It would be so easy for them to just do more and more stories about Luba and Maggie, and just tell stories of these weird and wonderful women, and their fabulous friends and family, and just focus on that. Building up a body of work like that, creating a small and personal mythology, is a worthy goal in life.

Or, you could do what the brothers do best, and go wherever their whims take them, with goofy, energetic and slightly disturbing new stories that are as good as any of their classic work, while still making room for catching up with old friends.

Domingos Isabelinho writes about connections between conceptual art and comics.

Matthias Wivel writes about Daniel Clowes's Patience, which came out early in Denmark.

Rachel Cooke reviews Stéphane Heuet's adaptation of Proust.

In an illuminating introduction to his translation, [Arthur] Goldhammer suggests that those who know and love the novel are likely to regard Heuet’s adaptation as “a piano reduction of an orchestral score”; he writes convincingly of the way the ruthless compression of the comic strip form sheds a “revealing light on the book’s armature, on the columns, pillars, and arches that support the narrator’s resurrected memories as the columns of the church in Combray support the stained glass and tapestries that transport visitors into the past they represent”. As for those who, like me, don’t know the novel, this strikes me as a good and gentle place to start.


Long Weekend

As we headed into the long weekend we got word that Buenaventura Press and Pigeon Press publisher Alvin Buenaventura had passed away. Joe McCulloch and Chris Mautner wrote our TCJ obituary and spoke to some of the publisher's close friends. Tim Hensley has a personal remembrance here.

Joe's column will be back tomorrow. Today we also have an overview of the seminal NYC newspaper, The East Village Eye, courtesy of John Kelly.

Lower New York has been the scene for numerous “art movements,” and the decade between the mid-70s and mid-80s sure was one of them, especially for the convergence of comics, “art,” and punk rock.  In 1976, the first issue of PUNK appeared, creating a forum for the transformation of music and popular culture that was happening each night at the Bowery’s CBGB.  Both PUNK and CBGB found their home–and their attitude–in the barren Hell that was then New York’s East Village and were fueled by the community of young artists drawn to the area in search of artistic freedom and cheap rents.  A few years later, the first issues of both World War Three Illustrated and RAW appeared in East Village shops and while neither was a “punk” publication per se, they carried punk’s DIY approach of tearing up the established norms in an attempt to create something new and different.  And then there were all the arty papers that sprung up as competitors of, or alternatives to, the long-running Village Voice.  And, best yet, most of them carried great comics.

“The early to mid-80s were a great time for alternative publishing in NYC,” said Bob Newman, former art director and editor of Seattle’s The Rocket and art director of The Village Voice.  “In addition to the NY Rocker there was the Soho Weekly News, East Village Eye, and Paper, which was just starting up, and was being published in all black and white as a giant fold-out. And also NYTalk, which must have started back then as well. I’m sure there were more, too, that folks will remember.”

Today we will take a look at one of those papers, the East Village Eye, where a number of seemingly divergent worlds came together in one publication.  From 1979 to 1987, the East Village Eye chronicled the rise and fall of the East Village art, music, fashion and cultural scene and remains a record of the period’s mixture of punk, no wave, graffiti, Latin music, and hip-hop.  Among many other things, the Eye also published the first, or very early, work by a number of notable cartoonists.  It also ran the first-ever interview with filmmaker David Lynch.  It even coined the term “hip-hop.”

See you tomorrow.