Ryan Holmberg has some questions for you.
And today we republish Gary Groth’s 1996 interview with Barry Windsor-Smith, from TCJ 190. Here’s a sample:
GROTH: I don’t read mainstream comics much but we get piles of them in the office and I look at them once in a while. And because I read them as a kid and I can go back to that Kirby and Ditko and Stan Lee stuff and so on, I have this morbid curiosity about why they look like such unadulterated shit these days. I read interviews with contemporary creators who write and draw them and they seem to be very excited about what they’re doing. And I wonder about why the stuff is so wretched. I wonder if it’s just the Zeitgeist or if it’s just the creators themselves or if it’s me.
WINDSOR-SMITH: I know exactly what you’re saying. I have the very same wonders myself. You and I can just sit around and scratch our heads over the phone, because I don’t have any answer either. Yeah: is it the Zeitgeist? Are we missing something? Is it the same now as it was then but we just didn’t know because we were in a different position then? This sort of questioning comes to us all. It has been the standard cliché for decades now, from the ’60s with rock ’n’ roll, or at least the British invasion style rock ’n’ roll, where people would say, ‘They can’t play, they’re only playing banjo chords. Whatever happened to Ella Fitzgerald and Satchmo and hey, Frank Sinatra — now there’s a voice!” And all this sort of shit that I went through when I was a teenager, absolutely adoring everything I was hearing, from the Beatles to the Stones… Well, actually I was extremely judgmental even then: I fuckin’ hated the Dave Clark Five because I could see them for the no-talent copyists that they were! But I loved anything that I thought was quality, and I certainly thought Lennon and McCartney were.
I actually have this strong memory of an uncle of mine whom I greatly admired. He was a musician, played jazz. I was over at his house one day, I was only about 15 or 16, the Beatles had been around for about a year or so — at least in Britain; they hadn’t hit America yet — and he was sitting there just trashing them. Saying, “They can’t play any notes. You call that singing?” And I really disliked my uncle from that moment onward. I’ve never liked him since. Because he seemed to totally sell out himself as a musician. In other words, he wasn’t broad-minded enough to see that there is always new music. And he insulted one of my favorite things. So I’m dreadfully afraid that I’m doing exactly the same thing now!
GROTH: [Laughs.] You’re turning into your uncle.
WINDSOR-SMITH: Yeah, I’m turning into an old complaining fart. There are so many people, I hear it all the time: “Oh my God, I’m beginning to sound like my dad!” It’s a standard routine for stand-up comedians nowadays.
GROTH: But seriously, there is a maturing process, and some people go through it and some people don’t. And I think in some ways you do start sounding if not like your dad, at least like people you remember as having antiquated attitudes.
WINDSOR-SMITH: Somebody you don’t like. I can remember a long time ago, you did a major interview with Jim Steranko.
GROTH: Whew—you’re talking 25 years ago.
WINDSOR-SMITH: Yeah. And you seemed absolutely in awe of Jim at the time.
GROTH: I was.
WINDSOR-SMITH: And you were young. And Jim was lapping it up because we know what an egoist he is. But in recent times, or at least within the last eight or five years, I can remember when you totally trashed him in print for some reason. It wasn’t out of hand, there was some purpose behind it; I forget what it was. I was thinking, “Gee, what happened to Gary in the meantime?” Yeah, we’ve all changed our taste — I guess. And now, Steranko was pretty damn good at what he did. We know it was derivative to a degree, but some of it wasn’t. So for the people who were working at that time in that heyday of Marvel comics, Steranko certainly gave far more energy to his books than your average guy. Certainly he was no genius on the level of Jack Kirby, but who the hell was? So Jim’s material was innovative to a degree, exciting to a degree, good for what it was. So why do you not see Jim’s work in that perspective? Or do you?
GROTH: Looking at his Marvel work, I can’t help but see it as thin and anemic. Whereas Kirby was genuinely original, and Ditko was too, Steranko was a compendium of graphic tricks and gimmicks picked up from various sources inside and outside of comics. So I don’t think he’s… If you look at it closely it tends to fall apart. It doesn’t hold up to very close scrutiny.
WINDSOR-SMITH: I agree with you. I was thinking that way back when.
GROTH: Yeah. Well you were probably ahead of me because as you say, I was in —
WINDSOR-SMITH: I was right in the thick of it and I was functioning in the same capacity as a storyteller. So I could certainly see through Steranko.
—The much-missed-around-these-parts Jeet Heer wrote a review of Ben Katchor’s new Hand-Drying in America for the Globe & Mail.
—Jonathan Clements has a tribute to his friend, Toren Smith.
—William Blake scholar Mark Crosby has a great post analyzing Maurice Sendak’s use of Blake imagery in his last book.
—CBR talks to Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson about writing for Marvel.
—Domingos Isabelinho writes about OuBaPo founding member Jochen Gerner.
—ARTnews has a piece on a 1950s mural Saul Steinberg made for the World’s Fair.
—That B. Kliban guy was funny.