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The Ghost Artist

Lew Sayre Schwartz, most well-known in comics circles for the many pages of Batman he drew as a ghost artist in the “golden age,” has passed away at the age of 84. In a tribute to his friend, Eddie Campbell writes: “Lew was my rainbow-bridge connection to the great age of American cartoonists, a world full of larger than life characters, who all seem much further away now that Lew has gone.”

Also new to the site, another excerpt from the long awaited (and nearly mythical at this point) issue 301, this time Tim Kreider’s essay on Dave Sim’s Cerebus. That’s right. Gary made him read the whole thing. This is really great stuff. Here’s a taste:

Dave Sim is the single most passionate and outspoken advocate of his own work, and also its most reductive and unreliable interpreter. Having finished his magnum opus, he seems unable to let go of it, and continues to hand down authoritative misreadings of the work that do it a serious disservice. He tries to rationalize the kinds of inconsistencies and contradictions that are only inevitable in a work that was written month by month over 30 years; he issues contemptuous dismissals of (female) characters who might have seemed to the reader to have had some depth and complexity; and he sometimes makes assertions that are clearly contradicted by the text. It raises the troubling possibility that what seemed like Cerebus’s literary quality may only have been so much projection on the part of its readers. What’s more likely is that Sim, like a lot of artists, is less than fully conscious of what he’s doing and is the last person who should be consulted about the meaning of his own work.

And of course, Joe McCulloch is here with the latest installment of This Week in Comics—this time taking a detour to study José Ortiz and Bruce Bezaire (I’ve never heard of him either).

Elsewhere:

After a year’s hiatus, Brian Chippendale returns with superhero comics analysis. This time, he’s mostly worried about renumbering, and the X-Men.

Douglas Wolk writes about the iPad’s possible threat to the print comics market’s bottom line for Wired.

Journal reviewer Tucker Stone, Abhay Khosla, and a bunch of the other writers at the Savage Critics are discussing the big “summer events” at Marvel and DC.

Somewhere in your internet browsing recently, you probably came across the story about medical researchers counting the number of head injuries found in Asterix. And then, if you’re anything like me, you probably thought, that’s kind of a stupid thing to count for a medical study… could there possibly be a legitimate scientific reason to do that? Then you started thinking about what you’d get for lunch. Anyway, it turns out that me and you aren’t the only ones to doubt that medical paper’s importance. One guy’s even angry about it.

 

The Greatest!

Welcome back. It’s summer, things are slow. My sleeping patterns are changing. And thus we bring you some fresh content.

We lead off today with Warren Bernard’s epic tale of a 1917 baseball game played in Chicago by some of the world’s greatest cartoonists:

The “home team” for this game was deemed to be the Chicago Herald. Pitching for the home team was a young, raw talent (both baseball and cartoon-wise), 22-year-old Elsie Crisler Segar. Segar joined the Herald staff a few years prior to the game, following an introduction by the famed Richard Outcault. In March 1916, he began his run as the cartoonist for Charlie Chaplin’s Comic Capers, the strip by which the audience at the game would have recognized his name. In 1917, he was two years away from starting Thimble Theater and a dozen years out from creating his character masterpiece, Popeye.

There are a trillion amazing things about Warren’s discovery (and, as far as we know, it really is his discovery — this game has gone unmentioned): First, cartoonists once played baseball. Second, it says a lot about the lives these guys led in relation to the public — they were actually celebrities in a sense. Third: Holy shit, Frank King and E.C. Segar played baseball together. Anyhow, besides this amazing bit of archeology, Warren is the co-author of the upcoming book Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising, and Mail Order Geniuses, covering the old correspondence courses. He’s also the executive director of SPX. That Warren: A man of many talents.

And Frank Santoro manages to squeeze in his third color workbook between traveling and exhibiting and everything else.

And elsewhere:

I, like everyone else, love these short self-interviews by Kim Thompson. Here’s one on an upcoming Tardi book.

Finally, Myron Fass, the much maligned maniac behind some of our goriest, gnarliest horror comics, also made some pretty good ones himself.

 

From Page to Screen

First off, no Dapper Dan this morning. Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping he would tell you whether or not the new cinematic superhero extravaganza was worth watching, but somehow the publicity department neglected to send him screening information. (I wonder why?) So you’ll have to make up your own mind.

But here’s another comics related film worth watching. I’d seen links to it going around all week, but didn’t think the concept (Ken Burns meets the history of comics) sounded very promising—or at least I thought what it promised was not the kind of humor I’m interested in. But after Jeet e-mailed it to me last night, I finally took the plunge and watched it, and it’s pretty funny. (TCJ.com columnist R.C. Harvey is a prominent figure.)

Today on the website, Kristy Valenti reviews Jess Fink’s Chester 5000 XYV. It’s an, um, erotic robot comic book.

Frank Santoro rules.

Jeet Heer reminded me of a quite nice short profile he wrote in 2004 about John Gallant, Seth’s late father.

Not comics: For the Walrus, Jeet has also written an appreciation of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, with a special emphasis on the man’s Catholicism.

I never would have guessed that Marjane Satrapi was such a big Sin City fan!

Patricia Mainardi writes about the transition between popular prints and early comics here. (via)

The New York Times is apparently planning to start publishing comics again soon.

And an argument that cartoonists write the best culture diaries. (Don’t say it.)

 

Haircut Day

Oh well, ok, it’s Thursday.

On the site today:

The third and final part of Amy Poodle’s epic study, Hauntology and the Invisibles. A taste:

Over the course of these essays I’ve talked about how The Invisibles returns time and time again to the metaphor of things lurking on the outside as a stand in for the denied and forgotten in our own lives and how these things, while alarming in the first instance, can’t be ignored because they give shape to our world.

And elsewhere, internet fiends:

-In case you somehow missed it, Life Magazine has a photo history of Mad on its site. Awfully fun stuff.

-Here’s a fine, slightly, but lovably, awkward Atom-age SF British comic strip. Those elements can only add up to something worth viewing.

-Over on my own PictureBox, Beth Kleber has posted a fine appreciation of West covers by the great James McMullan, an illustrator who, while not in comics, has taught many a cartoonist, and whose evocative sense of line and color should be an inspiration to anyone drawing.

-Can I ever have too much Steranko? No, I cannot.

-I don’t entirely understand this, but this blog will chronicle one man’s recreations of Miller/Janson Daredevil comics, along with commentary. I will check that out again for the sheer obsessiveness of it.

-I love reading comics gossip of bygone days and Greg Theakston’s new blog is no exception.

-And finally, fans of Jacky’s Diary (featured in Art Out of Time) should be sure to check out the new Alter Ego, which has the first part of an interview with Jack Mendelsohn, whose comics career has run the gamut from anonymous funny animal work to his own strip to… much more.

 

Smorgasbord

Today we introduce a new column, Mad About Music: My Life in Records, which is more or less what it sounds like. The surprising part is its author, one of the greatest working cartoonists alive, Kim Deitch. This should take some unexpected twists… First installment here.

Also, we have a review of Sam Kieth’s Arkham Asylum: Madness, written by a new reviewer, Nicholas Gazin. You may know him from his regular comics column in Vice.

We have missed sending you to many, many links lately. Here are a few of them.

The Paris Review stole our concept! (Don’t say it.)

Rob Clough supplements his TCJ 301 article on the Center for Cartoon Studies with a couple of online spinoff pieces on visiting artist Eddie Campbell, and some of the school’s more offbeat advisors.

Marc Sobel makes a case for Emmanuel Guibert’s The Photographer.

James Romberger makes a case for the really late Jack Kirby stuff. I love the man’s late work, but this is around when I start to lose interest.

If you follow all the links in a typical Mindless Ones blog post, you can lose days of your life. So beware this one on Mark Millar.

They also have an interview with Chris Burnham, a new superhero artist whose work is actually worth seeking out.

Michel Fiffe is an under-appreciated comics blogger. This is funny.

I haven’t read this whole Chris Claremont interview yet, but I like anecdotes that include Al Jaffee and Stan Lee.

We’ve barely begun to get good critical work done on Harvey Pekar.

The skeptic PZ Myers recaps a recent Alan Moore appearance at the Cheltenham Science Festival, in which Moore explained his views on magic to a group of scientists. Essential for Moorologists. (via)

Finally, two convention reports from this year’s HeroesCon, one from Shannon Smith, and another from former organizer Dustin Harbin. I’ve only been to one of the HeroesCons, but it was one of my favorites, and I like keeping up with the event’s evolution.

Finally, this doesn’t sound like a good idea, but somehow I doubt it will happen. Dapper Dan is already contacting publicists.

 

Know Your…

Today on the site:

Richard Gehr returns with his third installment of Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists, this time with the great Roz Chast. If you haven’t been following Richard’s journeys into New Yorker country, you better catch up! It’s best ride. Next up is Lee Lorenz.

And elsewhere, in case you missed it:

-Over on Daniel Best’s blog he has the filing papers for a since-closed 2004 lawsuit by Carmine Infantino, claiming ownership over some characters. The most interesting aspect in the post is a letter from fellow old pro (and now deceased) Mike Esposito. All these lawsuits, all these claims. All the hoopla around the relaunched DC, in all its silliness, just makes me think about lawsuits.

-Speaking of which, Tom Spurgeon interviewed Archie’s Jon Goldwater on Sunday about the publishing company’s new initiatives.

-And finally, David Apatoff asks if it’s OK to like pulp art. I’m going to give this one an enthusiastic yes.

 

 

The Pandemonium Shadow Show

Welcome to the working week. The rolling wave of previews from our long-awaited issue 301 continue this morning, with an excerpt from a conversation between the legendary Mad and Humbug artist Al Jaffee and the Tales to Thrizzle cartoonist and funniest man on Twitter Michael Kupperman. Gary Groth moderates.

Also on tap this morning, TCJ.com’s Star Reporter Sean Rogers reviews the new Jim Woodring graphic novel, Congress of the Animals. Here’s the first paragraph:

Have we ever been asked to actually root for Frank before? As the star attraction in Jim Woodring’s oddball menagerie, the purple-furred, minstrel-gloved naïf is usually just a little shit. Whether he’s stabbing the craven Manhog in the ear or apprenticing himself to the diabolical Whim, Frank is often little more than a dastard, a rogue, a loafer with a blank stare. Despite the occasional glimmer of fellow-feeling, Frank pursues his desires and exacts his revenge with few pangs of conscience and little concern for the future. Strange, then, that with Congress of the Animals, Frank has for once become our hero, our champion, our semblable.

If you were on the site this weekend, then you already saw Frank Santoro turned in one of his inimitable and highly entertaining travel reports, this time documenting his time visiting Kevin Huizenga, Dan Zettwoch, Ted May, and Sacha Mardou in St. Louis. As is Frank’s wont, the piece also includes an elegy to the pre-internet minicomics world, a behind-the-scenes glimpse at art methods behind Huizenga’s new Ganges issue, and a seemingly unending stream of recommendations for comics and art tools. In other words, it’s a good one.

Last Friday, we invited 4CP’s John “The Scan Master” Hilgart to provide our daily blog post—you read that, right?—and so it falls to me to make sure you didn’t miss the fifth entry of Michael DeForge’s Cartoonist’s Diary, this time with Risograph images. Thanks, Michael!

Also on Friday, in easily one of the best essays I’ve read on Chester Brown’s Paying for It written thus far—well worth checking out even if you’re sick of hearing about that book—Ken Parille splits himself into three and argues amongst himselves. You kind of have to read it to understand.

 

Superman’s Face

Superman’s problem is that no one can see him. Trapped in the premise of secret identity without a disguise, he becomes by necessity the invisible man, unrecognizable to his closest friends, all of whom he has held close on countless occasions as both Superman and Clark. He is the world’s most generic man, unidentifiable as himself.

It’s no wonder he’s fought so hard, for so long, to foil plots aimed at discovering him. He’s waiting for Lois or Lana or Jimmy or Lex to look into his eyes one day and say, “Jesus, Superman, you’re Clark,” or vice versa.

The Superman comic book is the visual paradox of Magritte’s “ceci n’est pas une pipe” turned into an identity crisis that never ends. Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, the problem metastasizes into narrative fixation, with countless panels containing both Clark and Superman, or two Supermen, or two Clarks, or a dozen identical Superman robots.

Like a Warhol series out of control, Superman’s face is a single photograph iterated into infinity, until it is no longer individual or even iconic, but instead a cipher that is wholly without visual interest. Lois Lane can’t really see that face, and neither do we, except perhaps when it is defaced.

Superman was a perfect superhero for exactly as long as he was the only superhero. He created the category – it’s named after him – and in doing so, he rendered himself generic, redundant: He’s the super superhero man. He went from being unique, to being the Platonic form, to being the boring one. Batman is a super man, but with more bat. The purity of Superman’s conception meant that every subsequent superhero was Superman with an interesting twist, or at least some additional visual interest.

And then there are the things that could only be learned after 100 stories and the birth of 100 more superheroes. Masks are really cool, and very handy in a secret identity scenario that is going to continue for 70 years, especially if it’s going to revolve around a love triangle in which the superhero plays two of the three roles.

It’s an Archie scenario in a superhero comic, a whole world that springs from and depends almost completely on a single, absurd suspension of disbelief. Archie can’t decide. Clark and Superman are different people. Archie’s version burns with the power of a million yellow suns; I can buy his comics in my grocery store checkout line. Superman, however, lost his struggle against the narrative kryptonite inherent in his original conception.

Having your superhero’s head look less interesting than that of his boring civilian alter-ego probably isn’t the best idea. Creatively and conceptually, undressing to become a superhero is brilliant. It’s sexy, for one thing, but putting on a different face has proved to be the most convincing way to “change an identity” – in both the reader’s and the character’s minds. Imagine Batman without a mask, or The Hulk with Bruce Banner’s face. Batbruce (The Dark Playboy) is a joke, whereas Superclark is an apt summary of the problem around which Superman revolves. You can see it written all over his face.

And this is why Superman actually remains unique. He is the unfinished and irresolvable superhero. There have been debates about which of his aspects is the ego, and which is the alter ego, but really it’s a chicken and egg scenario; neither had priority. He arrived as an infant, tabula rasa, and the very first time his adoptive parents concealed his super-baby traits, he was split in two by a super-secret concerning his identity. He was always both Superman and Clark, or he is forever neither of them, two possibilities that are equally chilling.

As an adult reading those mid-century comic books, I am torn between campy amusement and a horrified sympathy for the poor guy. When I encounter all those stories that turn out to be “what ifs,” dreams, imaginary weddings, and events that might actually have happened in an alternate reality, I should see generations of comic book writers struggling to overcome the inherent narrative kryptonite. Instead, I like to imagine that these stories are Superclarkmankent’s desperate, blissful, and surely inevitable fantasies of a self who can finally come to rest.