Exciting and New

Today we break with tradition, as Joe McCulloch is moving house and cannot file his usual report. Good luck, Joe! Instead we bring you a special holiday feature by John Kelly: A look at Seattle alt-weekly The Rocket's tradition of holiday covers, featuring everyone from Lynda Barry to Ed Roth to Milton Glaser.

In the spirit of the New Year, and in an effort to further explore some historical connections between comics and other forms of popular culture, today we will be focusing on some of the Christmas-time covers done by an extraordinary group of cartoonists and illustrators for Seattle’s The Rocket, a magazine that helped launch the the careers of many rock musicians, cartoonists and graphic designers.

The Rocket was an extremely influential music/art/political alternative monthly (later, bi-monthly) magazine/newspaper that happened to be located in Seattle during a key moment of that city’s comics, and pop culture generally, history.  The Rocket existed from 1979 to 2000, a period in which Seattle became the home of Fantagraphics, Peter Bagge moved to town and became editor of Robert Crumb’sWeirdo, and the whole “grunge music” thing happened.

“For a lot of people, the only place you could get any attention or any action or get published was in The Rocket,” said Art Chantry, whose latest book is Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.  “So it served a the hub of a wheel.  It was a very important magazine for a lot of things.  Sub Pop Records actually started as a column in The Rocket.  Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden actually met each other through the classified ads in The Rocket.  It was that kind of a hub to what was happening there.  And of course, it pissed people off all the time so it’s been kind of erased from the history books.  But as a place for the illustrators and cartoonists, it was a place for people to start doing their work and developing their voice.  It was interesting and fun to work with a lot of these people and watch them develop very rapidly into what they became.”



The Panelological Pantheon has returned -- a favorite old comics blog of mine, and should of yours, too!

I'm not sure why these photos of Buster Keaton and George McManus delight me so much, but they really do.

Raymond Briggs is a lovable curmudgeon.



Enough Hollering

Today, we have Rob Kirby's last TCJ review of the year, a piece on Glenn Head's graphic memoir Chicago:

Chicago is also an intricate, literary story, with a protagonist whose motivations are often opaque and with outcomes that are anything but expected.

As Phoebe Gloeckner points out in her eloquent introduction, the story begins and ends in a graveyard. The specter of death haunts the edges of this tale, unusual in a coming-of-age memoir. Throughout, Glenn Head’s protagonist “Glen” (one ‘n’ missing, likely allowing for some artistic license regarding “truth”), skirts the limits of mortality, stepping deliberately into dangerous situations for reasons that remain hazy, even to himself.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Paul Gravett interviews Miriam Katin.

I truly did not think about catharsis as I even hate the very word being waved around at the present time. But actually, before the book, if someone asked me how we survived, I would choke up and not be able to talk. I would make an excuse for some other time. After the book I noticed that I can deal with the subject. On the other hand I created Letting It Go with the enormous need to deal with my trauma of my son moving to Berlin. The process was very difficult but most helpful. I poured my anger and fears into the story.

Sean T. Collins talks to Heather Benjamin for Adult magazine.

Now I’m making less explicit, less fully pornographic work, because it’s not the dynamics of fucking that I'm grappling with on a daily basis. I’m less interested in how other people made me feel as a result of being involved with them——unlike in Sad Sex, when I was using text in some pieces, like “you make me feel special” or “I masturbate thinking about your boyfriend,” making really blatant statements about how relations between myself and various people affected my self-perception and my experience. I’m now more interested in my own singular experiences with, and within, myself, not those that are explicitly being generated by other people in the present. It’s more introspective and nostalgic, and less about depicting something generating panic and emotion in the moment. This obviously still has a lot to do with sexuality and physicality, but less to do with sexual acts, unless they’re being performed on oneself, or are being looked back on in reflection and anxiety.

—Reviews & Commentary. I don't know why I link to things like this guide to "getting into highbrow comics" at The Guardian. Presumably everyone reading already knows most of this material... I suppose it's a way to gauge how the larger world evaluates the form.

—Misc. Finally, if you're a free-jazz musician, don't expect R. Crumb to get it:

I finally gave a listen to those LPs and the CD you sent me, of your own saxophone playing and some Swedish modern jazz. I gotta tell you, on the cover of the CD of your sax playing, which is black and has no text on it, I wrote in large block letters, in silver ink, “Torturing The saxophone—Mats Gustafsson.” I just totally fail to find anything enjoyable about this, or to see what this has to do with music as I understand it, or what in God´s name is going on in your head that you want to make such noises on a musical instrument. Quite frankly, I was kind of shocked at what a negative, unpleasant experience it was, listening to it.


Gamble the Gobble

Today on the site:

Alex Dueben speaks to the artists behind the Lebanese anthology Samandal, a project for which they were punished by their government.

I’m sure some readers know of Samandal, but I wondered if you could say a little about how it began and what you were trying to create?

Omar Khouri: When I first came up with the idea for Samandal in 2006, the political climate of Lebanon was extremely polarized. I felt that each publishing house that I might work with would pigeon-hole me into the political allegiance of that publisher. I had a comic book I wanted to serialize called Salon Tareq el Khurafi, which was quite political in nature, but dealt with more general themes than the local discourse was willing to accept at the moment. I was also craving a regular, periodic local comics production, and couldn't believe that it didn't exist here. I figured the best course would be self-publishing, but always preferred the Japanese manga magazine format to the single-issue Western one. I also wanted to include work from all over the world because I felt that being able to interact with international artist from countries that have stronger comics traditions would be beneficial to the development of the local comics scene. I was sure that there were other hidden writers and artists out there that felt the same frustrations I did, so I reached out to some friends (Tarek Nabaa, Hatem, Lena and Fdz) and they were very excited, so we went for it. Though Samandal has evolved so much in the past 9 years, and our team has grown, it still retains the spirit of everything we wanted to do at the start.

fdz: Samandal grew out of a the desire of a bunch of people (Omar, Lena, Hatem & Fadi) who were raised on comics and wanted to publish their own spin on the medium. We didn't really think it was something that would catch on because we didn't really think there many people out there like us. The smartest thing we did was open up the publication to submissions from other contributors because pretty soon we discovered that everyone wanted to take Samandal out for a spin.

Could explain exactly what you were convicted of?

fdz: a) Inciting sectarian strife b) denigrating religion c) publishing false news and d) defamation and slander.

Defamation and slander have become the standard accusation with the recent rise of legislation in Lebanon, where the accusing party enjoys some kind of political power and uses the legal system to exercise it. In the recent protests of the summer in Lebanon, the country saw a surge in various slander and libel cases issued by political personalities and parties against individuals.


The aforementioned Alex Dueben also has an interview up with Riad Sattouf.

Hyperallergic on Archie Rand's picture story of the 613 Jewish commandments.

Steve Heller has a well-timed look at Arthur Szyk.




Manifestations of Destiny

Today, Kristy Valenti is here with a look at Will Eisner's forgotten (until now) 1978 humor misfire, Star Jaws:

1978 was a big year for Will Eisner. He invented… that thing where you take a massive pop culture hit, and lazily sort of mash it up with another massive pop culture hit. (He didn’t really invent that. Or the graphic novel.)

sharkStar Jaws is a bunch of black-and-white, one-page “gags” about space and giant fish, squarely aimed at kids-those-days (looks like Scholastic distributed it, or helped), packaged in a mass market paperback. It was created during Eisner’s American Visuals Corporation period, when he was contracted to do PS Magazine and other commercial art projects. Keith Diaczun and Barry Caldwell assisted.

The “jokes” are often-incoherent placeholders for “cop writing a ticket” or “the teen wrecked the car” one-liners. The drawings themselves aren’t funny either; gag cartooning is not in Eisner’s range. What Eisner does manage to catch is a bit of the texture of 1975’s gritty, water-dappled Jaws, the “dirty spaceship” look of 1977’s Star Wars (which was partially inspired by Eisner’s junior, Wallace Wood).

We also have a new episode of Mike Dawson's TCJ Talkies. This time, he talks to Sam Alden and Sophia Foster-Dimino about two comics by the mysterious cartoonist known only as GG.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben interviews Arab of the Future creator Riad Sattouf.

Inkstuds talks to Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T.'s Ben Marra.

—Reviews & Commentary. For the L.A. Times, Caroline A. Miranda spotlights five "comics artists to watch" found in the most recent volume of Best American Comics: Matthew Thurber, Henriette Valium, Gina Wynbrandt, David Sandlin, and Andy Burkholder.

TCJ's own Rob Kirby presents his picks for the thirty best comics (and comics-adjacent things) of 2015.

For Vulture, Abraham Riesman chooses his ten best graphic novels of 2015.

Michael Cavna previews the forthcoming "posthumous manifesto" written by murdered Charlie Hebdo editor Charb.

Jon Vinson looks back at Josh Simmons' notorious Batman minicomic.

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to write about his experience on Black Panther:

The black diaspora is terra incognita for much of the world. [...] I would not have always considered this an advantage. When I first started writing, I was anxious that I would be pigeon-holed into the “race-beat.” Eventually I realized that the “race beat” was actually the “humanity beat,” and that questions about “racism” are really questions about the exercise of power. Perhaps more importantly I realized that “race” was an essential thread of American society, and questions about race were questions about the very nature of the Western world. I wasn’t pigeon-holed, I’d fallen into a gold-mine. America is the most powerful country in the world. You simply can’t understand how it got that way without understanding “race.”



Today on the site Ryan Holmberg looks at Sasaki Maki and Hayashi Seiichi's relationship in comics.

As copies of Sasaki Maki’s Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories, 1967-1973 trickle out into the world, Breakdown Press and I are finishing the next volume in the series, Hayashi Seiichi’s Red Red Rock and Other Stories, 1967-1970.

Like the Matsumoto Masahiko and Sasaki Maki books, Red Red Rock is kindly sponsored by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures in Norwich, England. Over 200 pages, it collects most of the rest of Hayashi’s work from the late 60s (thirteen works, all but two from Garo), from his earliest Pop-influenced allegories about postwar Japanese identity in light of the Vietnam War to the experimental homages he made to the Nikkatsu universe just prior to commencing Red Colored Elegy (1970). It also includes a lengthy essay by me (written while on a Hakuho Foundation Japanese Research Fellowship) trying to make sense and order out of an eclectic and deeply culturally embedded body of work, placing Hayashi’s experiments in relationship to the contemporary avant-garde art scene in Tokyo.

It’s obviously appropriate that Sasaki and Hayashi books should follow one upon the other, since the two artists were the original representatives of Garo as house of avant-manga. Their work provided the magazine an incredible balance. Shirato Sanpei’s old school leftwing epic of peasant resistance, The Legend of Kamuy, held down the first 40-100 pages of most issues. Filling out the middle was a neo-kashihon gekiga tribe of idiosyncratic talents, including Mizuki Shigeru’s yokai parables and further adventures of Kitaro, Tsuge Yoshiharu’s mystery-cum-travel tales, Tsurita Kuniko’s off-kilter stories about youth and counterculture, and Tsuge Tadao’s anti-cathartic portraits of urban working life. When it came to Sasaki and Hayashi, some people weren’t sure whether their work should be called manga. Their work introduced cutting-edge Pop and avant-garde sensibilities into the comics medium, and created bridges between manga and the wider artistic counterculture of late 60s Japan.


The best part of the consumer holidays is Leif Goldberg's annual silkscreen calendar! Get yours now. 

My ongoing obsession with Alex Raymond is kicking into high gear, folks! Watch for some really weird musings in the future. For now, kick back and read this old article. 



Joe McCulloch is here as usual this morning with his useful guide to the week's most interesting-looking new comics. This time, he's spotlighting new works by Carlos Gonzalez and Hunt Emerson.

Pardon my typing this week. I am recovering from a cheese grater incident this weekend that took off part of my right thumb. I am having a really splendid holiday season all around.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Montreal cartoonist Jacques Hurtubise, aka Zyx, has died.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Robert Boyd put together a list of his favorite comics of 2015. I don't like everything on his list, but I responded to it much more favorably than any other end-of-the-year list I've seen so far, maybe because it is so clearly personal. In any case, it makes sense, a low bar you might say, but one that none of the aggregated best-ofs that have come out this December have yet been able to clear.

—Interviews & Profiles.
Jordanne Laurito writes a brief profile of the cartoonist and SAW co-founder Tom Hart.

“I chose ‘Sequential Artists Workshop’ for a couple of reasons,” Hart said. “One is because ‘sequential art’ is kind of a pretentious name, and I wanted to aspire to a slight level of pretense,” he said with a laugh.

“More importantly, I wanted to have ‘artists’ in the title. I was inspired a little bit by The Actors Studio in New York… I like that the focus is on the artist. It’s not so much about the comics as it is about the people who come in and try to learn.”

Heidi MacDonald interviews our own Frank Santoro.

Gil Roth's Virtual Memories show features Peter Kuper.


Gamble All Your Love

Today on the site, the great Anya Davidson reviews her great peer, Carlos Gonzalez. I'm so happy to have an insightful review of Gonzalez's essential new book, Test Tube.

In his new book Test Tube, Carlos Gonzalez has populated the small town of Lensburg with a multitude of lonely, anxious, creatively frustrated souls who all seem to be yearning for a brush with transcendence. Peter Yolk is a projectionist at a second-run movie theater. His only friend is Richard Penny, the bartender at a girlie club called the Dollhouse, an establishment frequented by many of the characters in the book. A man named Jeff works at a diner called the Lensburg System, which is perhaps a reference to the New York System, a diner in Olneyville, Gonzalez’s own neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. After work, Jeff returns home exhausted and unable to do anything but stay up into the wee hours watching wrestling and B-movies on television. At one point Jeff states “I get high every night. It’s great. Sometimes I see shit. It never bugs me out though. There’s way more real stuff in life to be scared of.”


Hey, I can't remember if we've linked to Bill Griffith's amazing sale offer for his new book, Invisible Ink. Seems like a no-brainer.

It's Art Spiegelman on Art Young, an artist more appropriate than ever, and yet a century gone.

On the other end of things, I love this 90s-era Superman Tumblr.

And that is all!



Today, Greg Hunter's great Comic Book Decalogue podcast returns with a special double-sized holiday special.

Dylan Horrocks discusses the magic of Tove Jansson, the problems of late-period Eisner, and the troubled legacy of Dave Sim. All that, and a special guest drops by!

We also bring you Rob Kirby's review of Jane Mai's See You Next Tuesday:

In the introduction to a recent interview she conducted with Mai on TCJ, Annie Mok describes Tuesday as a "raucous collection of comics and scraps." “Scraps” is an apt description: many of these pages come across as little spur-of-the-moment exercises (in the interview Mai reveals she drew them on loose pieces of paper and not in a sketchbook). In her text Mai often eschews punctuation, which lends a distanced, stream-of-consciousness effect. Her line switches from scrawly and thin to a more directly appealing (and legible) bold line, while her persona alternates between bratty and vulnerable, and bewildered and snarky–all of which match her childlike drawings perfectly.

And also Daniel Kalder's review of Philippe Druillet's 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane:

As a youthful reader of 2000AD in its early '80s heyday I grew up with compressed narratives, but this is something else: Druillet achieves almost Book of Genesis levels of symbolic density. Lone Sloane is a tripped-out attempt at creating cosmic myths, psychedelic visions, an assault on the fabric of reality on paper. The pages seethe with depictions of impossible machines, fantastic architecture, cosmic destruction, and ultra-absurd deus ex machina plot interventions. There is so much going on that the ideas and imagery cannot be contained in a traditional panel grid, so Druillet continues throughout to assault the reader/viewer with splash pages, jagged panels, pages without borders. It is the use of layouts in service of disorientation, breaking down the order of page to scramble the senses. And yet at the same time, Druillet "sees" these images with incredible clarity; the precision and meticulous detail of his imagery gives it an intense solidity.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. It's not really comics, but it's Jeet Heer and it's close enough I can't resist linking to it: The New Republic on the year in superheroes.

With its emphasis on violence as a solution, the superhero genre often lends itself to simplistic solutions to complex problems. It is hardly an accident that in a New York Times Magazine interview, Ted Cruz named Rorschach as one of his favorite comic-book characters, the insane and uncompromising right-wing anti-hero from the graphic novel Watchmen. Campaigning in Iowa this summer, Donald Trump took a bunch of kids up for a helicopter ride. “Are you Batman?” a nine year old boy asked the real estate mogul. “I am Batman,” Trump replied. Trump is certainly as wealthy as Batman (a.k.a. billionaire Bruce Wayne), who in his latest incarnation in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) acted as a reactionary hero defending the wealthy of Gotham City from the envious rabble. Cultural critics like Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong long ago argued that the superhero genre was injecting fascist ideas into popular culture, a critique that cannot be easily dismissed. As Ong argued in a 1945 article for the Arizona Quarterly, “The notion of a ‘superman’ is part of the herdist economy of the Nazi Third Reich….The Superman of the cartoons is true to his sources. He is not another Horatio Alger hero or a Nick Carter; he is a super state type of hero, which definite interest in the ideologies of herdist politics.”

At The New Yorker, Matt Alt writes about Shigeru Mizuki.

Today, Mizuki’s name is virtually synonymous with “Kitaro” and the yokai. Given the smashing success of this long-running kids’ franchise, which has appeared in fits and starts for more than half a century, it’s tempting to dub Mizuki the Disney of Japanese monsters. But Mizuki’s disinclination to whitewash the darker side of the human condition out of even his children’s fare makes him more like a Japanese Vonnegut. His comics brim with subtle and not-so-subtle references to the wars of his own and other nations, untrustworthy authority figures, and the consistent failure of violent solutions to problems.

For The Guardian, Ian Williams picks his ten favorite "uncanny" graphic novels.

And finally, for Comics Forum, Maria Evdokimova interviews scholar Misha Zaslavskiy about the history of Russian comics:

In the USSR, Western comics, mostly American ones, were generally criticized, but the works of such distinguished authors as Jose Cabrero Arnal, Jean Effel, Herluf Bidstrup, and Ollie Harrington were willingly popularized, since they were communists. In the Great Soviet Encyclopedia the magazine Vesyolye Kartinki was cited as an example of comics.

But of course, official rejection did take place. One of the founders of Yugoslavian comics, Yuri Lobachyov, made an attempt to serially publish a story called “The Hurricane Comes To The Rescue” in the children’s magazine Kostyor (The Campfire), but had to shut down the publication mid-course.


Though ideologically, by Soviet standards, there was nothing blameworthy in Lobachyov’s story. On the contrary, it criticized colonialism. The disapproval of the members of the committee was caused by the visual form of presentation of history through comics.