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Take a Trip to the Past

Welcome back. On the site today:

* A fond farewell to Joyce Farmer! Here’s Day 5. Thanks, Joyce!

* Wrapping up our week of Chester Brown we have Scott Grammel’s 1990 interview with the artist in its entirety! Compare and contrast! Let’s look back for a second on our Chester-ness. We have: Sean Rogers’ interview; R. Fiore’s meditation; Naomi Fry’s essay; and Ed Park’s notes. Spend the weekend with ‘em all!

Anyhow, by the time you read this I will have gone to the opening of Zap: Masters of Psychedelic Art, 1965-1974, curated by Gary Panter and Chris Byrne. Lucky for you went by the gallery on Wednesday to check in on it. Drawn from Glenn Bray’s collection, the show is what you think it is: a few dozen excellent examples of work from the Zap artists from the comic book itself and contemporaneous collections. There are full stories by Robert Williams, Gilbert Shelton, and R. Crumb, and enormous pages by S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin and Spain (two panoramic scenes by Spain are particularly striking), as well as a wonderful page by Moscoso — the first original of his from that period that I’ve ever seen. I gotta say, seeing a sequence of Williams pages in person made me remember what a phenomenal draftsman he is. The hot-rod honed precision rendering plus a phenomenal ability to work multiple figures on a single plane makes him look pretty damn great these days. Reproductions don’t really do justice the sheen of his pen line. Plus, the guy worked only slightly larger than reproduction-size. Jeezuz. Anyhow, it’s good to see these artifacts all gathered in one place. Some work better as “drawings” than others, but as a 360-degree view of that art, this is hard to beat. Plus, of course, I love that Panter, who has for the past few years been doing a sort of “my art history lineage” lecture, is curating this particular segment of his influence cloud. Seeing it through Gary’s eyes deepens the choices and the work itself.

Sayeth Gary on his blog:

The accompanying cover of ZAP comix number one which appeared in microscopic form as an item in the Electric Last Minute, the fold-out poster calendar that came free in every issue of EYE magazine back in the late  sixties, blew my mind. It was familiar and foreign– backward-looking AND forward-looking. The tiny cover, pictured, reminded me of old Popeye comics or of the Nutt Brothers by Gene Ahearn, the last of the really old-timey looking comics in the newspaper. It was a year or so before I got my hands on a Zap, which by the way is a trademarked logo and the rights are shared by the aforementioned Zap group of artists, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a high level of skill, experimentation and a rabid interest in pushing the limits of allowed content and social critique. Some of the artists I had seen before: Rick Griffin’s work had appeared in surf mags; I looked forward to Robert William’s complex and disturbing, hence exciting, ads for Ed Roth monster shirts in various hot rod mags; Wonder Wart Hog I had seen in hot rod cartoons magazines and in his own short lived magazine; plus, I had been magnetically drawn to the funny greeting card racks in drug stores by the commercial illustrations of Robert Crumb. Something amazing had happened! A bunch of edgy cartoonists that I was already watching had grown their hair out, formed an experimental drawing club, teamed up with more insane drawers and moved to San Francisco to be hippie cartoonists and poster artists. WOW! That premise was exciting enough, but when I finally got my hands on an issue of Zap I was ecstatically pleased to see that the drawing was of such a high, controlled, inventive, diverse order and that the disparate approaches, experiments and stylizations were somehow successfully fused into soupy collaborative drawings, just… well, it was a lot to consider.

Well anyhow, I’ll post some pix from the opening and such next week, I suppose. Should be a hoot. The catalog, by the way, is a mammoth affair: 14″ x 16″, 48 pages, showcasing the artwork larger than it’s ever been printed, I supposed. [PLUG ALERT!] In about a week PictureBox will be exclusively carrying the thing. It’s a run of 1000, so you’ll wanna get ‘em while you can.

Now, onwards, to something else.

* Bleeding Cool gets a comment from Bill Sienkiewicz on a 2005 proposal for a Wonder Woman series he wanted to do with Frank Miller. As the world’s only human who prefers DK2 to the original, I would have liked to see that series. That reminds me, does anyone out there know if  Sienkiewicz, who at one point shared a studio with Stan Drake, worked on the latter’s Kelly Green series? Kelly Green! Overlooked graphic novel of ’80s.

* Heidi MacDonald went to see Steranko, Simonson and Quesada talk and has a report.

* Oh man, that is one bad-ass cover on the upcoming Marti book.

* This is a great little mystery over at Stripper’s Guide.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

TCAF, Schmeekaff

Chester Brown Week continues today with a review from Naomi Fry:

What does good sex consist of, exactly, for a straight man? I’ll admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, that this might not the most apt question to be puzzling out in my current state as a bloated, fatigued, 39-weeks-along pregnant woman, but let’s give it a try anyway…

And Joyce Farmer is back with another diary entry. In this one, she reflects back on an earlier portion of her life:

Thus began my radicalization. I was astounded that I had to prove to the state that I was suicidal, when all I wanted was an abortion, clean and safe.

Elsewhere:

Ed Champion interviews Daniel Clowes for his popular podcast series.

Forbidden Planet reports on the wrap party for Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic.

There are two recently published articles on race and superhero comics getting lots of attention on the internet this week. This one is better than the other.

The history of the “Bechdel” rule told through links.

Also, apparently one of Harvey Pekar’s final projects may be having publication problems, though it is difficult for me to see what exactly is going on, if anything.

Finally, here’s a couple of the better TCAF reports I’ve seen going around:

A nice one from Secret Acres. (And I agree with what they say—the new Koyama Press releases are impressive.)

And a two-parter from John Porcellino.

And Jeet Heer e-mailed me a few more photos from the convention:

Peter Birkemoe with National Post editor Mark Medley.

Brad Mackay and his sister-in-law Brenda at the Doug Wright Awards.

Chester Brown listens intently, as Dan sinks into reverie. (In the mirror, Tania Van Spyk and Pascal Girard.)

Chester Brown eats paper off-stage

 

Photo Bungling

Happy Wednesday. On the menu today:

* Ed Park joins us for our week of Chester Brown with the somewhat self-explanatory and can’t be described anyway, Notes to a Note on the Notes of Chester Brown.

* Mike Dawson returns with his latest TCJ Talkie (yes, I named it that. Proudly!) with guest Josh Cotter.

* Joyce Farmer, Day 3.

* TCJ related: Apparently Randy Chang is the best boyfriend ever.

Meanwhile, elsewhere online we have:

* Jeet Heer’s appreciation of the the Doug Wright Award-winning Spotting Deer.

* Daniel Best has put together a kind of “Don Heck In His Own Words” from various interviews, which are not sourced on the site itself — hopefully he’ll add some sources soon in the interest of giving credit where credit is due. In any case, it’s a great read, as Heck, while somewhat of a hack (ok, more than somewhat) did have some bright spots and comes off as a smart and earnest guy. I especially like the grounded-ness of moments like this:

I used to like Iron Man in the beginning, because of the characterization I could get into. Like when I had Happy Hogan, and Pepper Potts. When I was doing Pepper, I was thinking of Schultzie, who was the secretary on the Bob Cummings Show.  In other words, she was the girl who never quite got the date with the boss; he’s always watching all those good-looking girls. But they were characters, in a certain sense of the word. Happy Hogan was an ex-fighter. I think they were fun to do. They had personalities you couldn’t miss. I did the first Iron Man story. They have it listed that Jack Kirby did the breakdowns, but that’s not true. I did it all. They just didn’t bother to call me up and find out when they wrote up the credits. It doesn’t really matter. Jack Kirby created the costume, and he did the cover for the issue. In fact the second costume, the red and yellow one, was designed by Steve Ditko. I found it easier than drawing that bulky old thing.

* Tucker Stone digs into some recent comics and some shit-talking theory over at The Factual Opinion.

And now, kind people, my last bit about TCAF: Some blurry iPhone pix! Chris Ware actually explained to me that the new iPhone photo software is worse than the old, and so I’ll hold onto that as I reveal my poor photography skills.

Tom Scioli had a table behind me -- he was drawing this awesome picture of Thor for a chunk of Saturday.

 

Chris Ware, Brad "Mr. Doug Wright Awards" Mckay, and David Collier (in full uniform)

 

Tom Spurgeon had to lean very far back to get ALL of Michael Deforge's awesome pompadour in the shot.

 

The gorgeous, Seth-designed Doug Wright trophies.

 

Ware, Seth, Chester Brown, John Porcellino and Adrian Tomine, just before our panel Friday night.

 

Oh no, Tom Devlin is shouting at me to stop! I'm done! I'm done!

 

RAOR!

Another big day at the Comics Journal East.

First, Chester Brown Week continues with a new column from the inimitable R. Fiore:

I like to imagine the Canadian Council for the Arts anticipating what that fine young fellow Chester Brown is going to follow Louis Riel with. Something about the Manitoba Schools Question, perhaps. Oh, it’s called Paying for It, eh? Well, that sounds more like the Klondike Gold Rush. Bit of a hackneyed subject, but the lad is bound to have found a novel approach . . .

Then Joyce Farmer continues her week of diary entries. Today‘s for the pen-and-ink enthusiasts, nothing but materials talk:

Crow quill pens are in a class by themselves, the nibs are round and the penholders are short and cut to accommodate the round nib. Anyone who masters crow quill is a genius and I give him or her my utter respect.

And of course, just like every other Tuesday, Joe “Jog” McCulloch brings you the week in new comics, with a little something extra for your reading pleasure:

I wasn’t planning on writing about my Free Comic Book Day experiences; frankly, I didn’t expect anything of note to happen.

Elsewhere:

Martin Wisse digs up an image of and information about an amazing-looking new comics museum in China.

I think Tom Spurgeon’s rambling convention reports may be my favorite recurring feature at the Comics Reporter. He went to TCAF this weekend, so I’m in luck.

Matt Seneca writes about some of his favorite comics that also work as criticism. He uses a definition of criticism broad enough to include straight-up parodies, but that’s okay with me—I try not to be a purist about such things. Anyway, he picks out a great, overlooked Spiegelman piece, and forgets all about Harvey Kurtzman, an oversight I hope will be corrected in a part two or three somewhere down the line.

Here‘s a super-short interview with Chris Ware from an apparently new Greek comics site. The intro’s in Greek, but the discussion itself is in English. The part about superheroes and science fiction is interesting, in light of the amazing science fiction story he created for Acme Novelty Library 19.

Finally, Matthias Wivel’s been blogging up a storm this week, republishing an Andreas Gregersen essay on Ice Haven and The Death Ray, as well as his own (relatively) negative take on Mister Wonderful, plus a brief appreciation of Dominique Goblet.

 

Paid in Full

Before I dive into TCAF and such: We are pleased to begin our week of coverage of Chester Brown’s new book, Paying for It. Leading things off is an interview with Brown by Sean Rogers. Later in the week we’ll post Scott Grammel’s 1990 TCJ interview. Also on tap are pieces by R. Fiore, Naomi Fry, and Ed Park.

In non-Canadian TCJ news: Please welcome Joyce Farmer to the Cartoonist’s Diary stage. And Frank Santoro’s Layout Workbook part 9 went up yesterday. Frank’s back-issue box was much missed this weekend.

Anyhoooo, I’m just back from TCAF, where, fittingly enough, the fest was gripped by Chester Brown mania. The lines for his signings (he stands and then signs on a cardboard box) were as long as I’ve ever seen for anyone. The festival was, as usual, quite a lot of fun — well attended, brisk sales, and good vibes. Most of what I saw and did during TCAF was at night, as I was manning ye ol’ PictureBox table both days. But from what I can gather, the buzzy books included DeForge’s Lose #3, the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse collection, Lucille by Ludovic Debeurme, and of course, Paying for It.

Upon landing on Friday I embarked on a high-powered TCJ meeting with Jeet Heer, during which we discussed such weighty topics as: the proper reproduction techniques for ben-day dots; “photo-realism” and the comic strip; and who’s right and who’s wrong. Many problems were solved. Then I moderated a conversation with Adrian Tomine, Seth, Chris Ware and Chester Brown. The room was packed and the artists were in great, chatty form. That night there were yet more high-powered TCJ tet-a-tets tête-à-têtes with Canadian correspondents like Sean Rogers and Chris Randle. I witnessed no dancing, per se, though Brecht Evans Evens as in attendance.

The Doug Wright Awards happened Saturday night. It was, as usual, an entertaining and enjoyable ceremony. Best book went to Bigfoot by Pascal Girard (best known, of course, as a TCJ diarist). Alex Fellows was given the Best Emerging Talent award for Spain and Morocco; and Michael DeForge is now a two-time DWA-winner, having received the Pigskin Peters Award (Given to non-traditional and avant-garde comics) for Spotting Dear, though surely his greatest honor will be as an upcoming TCJ diarist! The ceremony also included a witty, buoyant conversation between Seth and Reid Fleming cartoonist David Boswell, who was inducted into the Giants of the North Hall of Fame.

A few links for kicks:

-Your “1970s Marvel stars” beginnings and endings links:

*Dark Horse is canceling Jim Shooter’s much lamented reboots of Magnus: Robot Fighter, Turok: Son Of Stone, Doctor Solar: Man Of The Atom. I hope this means it’s finally time for C.F., Gary Panter, and Frank Santoro to have their shots.

* Jim Starlin wants to tell you about Breed III.

-And finally, I always have time for a Mort Meskin Vigilante episode.

 

Ryan Standfest: BLACK EYE Anthology Confiscated at Canadian Border

We just received the following e-mail from Ryan Standfest, editor/publisher of Rotland Press + Comic Works:

Mr. Tom Neely reported this morning that while traveling across the border to Canada to attend this year’s TCAF, the five copies of the black humor comics anthology BLACK EYE that he was carrying with him to the festival were confiscated/seized by a customs agent on the grounds that the material in BLACK EYE was “obscene.”

According to Neely:

“… They took ‘em. I tried to get them to just ship them back to me at home, but they said they were required to send it to Ottawa for review… if they found the material to be ‘obscene’ they would take ‘further action.’ I asked what ‘further action’ meant and he said they would just destroy them. Or there is a chance they might ship them back to me.

“It was the page of Onsmith’s gags that they first saw… I tried to tell them that it was ‘parody’ and ‘humor’ and the rest of the book had essays on the history of dark humor… the customs guy was really cool and understanding, but he said he just couldn’t let them through. I just hope ‘further action’ doesn’t involve being arrested the next time I try to cross the border.”

More details to come as we learn them.

 

Popular Styles & Genres

Good morning, folks. A couple new things are up for you this morning.

Rob Clough reviews the second issue of Dunja Jankovic’s Habitat.

Also, Mike Dawson’s podcast, TCJ Talkies (did I already tell you that Dan came up with that name? I think I’m gonna be reminding you often), is now available on iTunes. You can find it here.

And because Dan decided to talk about Viking movies yesterday instead of providing links, I should announce that Shaenon Garrity turned in her inaugural webcomics column yesterday. Check it out.

Elsewhere on the internet:

The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody recently weighed in on a minor kefuffle in film-crit world (more here), and while I don’t really have any interest in discussing the topic at hand, Brody did bring up something relevant to comics criticism:

At newspapers and magazines, as here at The New Yorker, classical-music critics and pop-music critics are usually different people. With movies, things are different: David Denby and Anthony Lane write about “The Dilemma,” “Source Code,” and “Toy Story 3”; about “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Meek’s Cutoff”; and about the life work of Robert Bresson and Abbas Kiarostami. Though analogies between the arts are inexact, the boundaries between classical and pop cinema are as fluid as are the interests and curiosities of critics who do the cinema justice. D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Sergei Eisenstein are artistic peers, regardless of the differences in their cultural heritage and context, and one of the great discoveries made by critics—the young French writers at Cahiers du Cinéma in the nineteen-fifties, the inventors and advocates of the politique des auteurs (or “auteur theory”) who are now better known as the filmmakers of the French New Wave—is the recognition that some of cinema’s most popular latter-day artists, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, are not merely skillful showmen but classical artists, akin to the writers and painters of the grand tradition, despite working in popular styles and genres in the employ of a mass-media industry.

Comics, too (or at least modern comics), has something of the same “problem”—it began as (and remains?) a popular art form, and as a result of that, many of the most historically and aesthetically important comics are not sufficiently “serious” for more respectability-minded contemporary critics and artists. This is partly where the vitality—and for some, the embarrassment—of comics come from. It’s an issue that permeates nearly everything written about the form, and won’t be going away during our lifetimes. I have mixed feelings about how film critics have handled their version of the same issue, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Related?

No-Prize to the first reader who can guess why this story makes me sad.

Pete Hamill briefly discusses the comics in this pretty great interview about Osama bin Laden, 9/11, and his life in newspapers.

Nice Daniel Clowes interview at the Wall Street Journal.

The Chilean critic Ariel (How to Read Donald Duck) Dorfman offers his own somewhat idiosyncratic take on the idiotic-on-all-sides Superman-renounces-his-citizenship story. (Thanks, RB.)

Pretty astonishing figure for this Dark Knight Returns splash page at auction yesterday: $448 thousand! Is that the most money ever paid for original comic art?

Not comics: John Coltrane doodles.

And don’t forget: depending on where you live, tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day.

 

Dapper Dan’s SuperMovies Column

First of all, I didn’t invite Tim. Apparently I promised I would, but then got it in my head that he didn’t want to go, and so I went to the press screening of Thor by myself. I wore 3-D glasses. I chewed gum. The popcorn line was too long, so there was no popcorn.

Thor! It was supposed to be good. It’s not. It’s not unwatchable like those two Fantastic Four movies, but it’s pretty lame. Here’s the deal (oh, right, SPOILER ALERT!): Thor is arrogant and is banished from Asgard to New Mexico, where he is rescued by Jane Foster and co. Natalie Portman plays Jane like a ditzy schoolgirl, but she doesn’t have much to work with, so it’s not her fault. She was good in Black Swan, though! Anyhow, Loki conspires to take over Asgard, blah blah blah, The Destroyer is sent to Earth to kill Thor, who recovers his hammer just in time to beat him, and then return to Asgard to beat Loki. S.H.I.E.L.D. is in the film, as is one Avenger, and there are allusions to Bruce Banner, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. Oh, and there is tons of father/son/brother stuff that seems like an attempt at seriousness but rings hollow because we have nothing invested in the relationships. (Note to screenwriters: You have to set up the relationship with some backstory before ending it. Otherwise it’s just a plot mechanism. Which is the point. Sorry I brought it up.) The end.

Phew. Now look, I have no attachment to these characters, though I certainly like Jack Kirby’s Thor, and also Walt Simonson’s, and the recent Matt Fraction issues were a hoot. It’s not like I was looking for some perfect version of Thor and co., but an entertaining movie would be nice. It seems to me the best thing you can do with this stuff is make it grand and colorful and cosmic. Also, as a friend pointed out, Thor is kinda girly with his blond do and floppy garb. I mean, he’s a hippy dude with a hammer. But here he’s a muscle dude with no discernible charisma and not an ounce of femininity. One of the running jokes in the film (because, post-Iron Man, there have to be running jokes—which becomes a problem when no one in the movie has any comedic timing) is that Thor is soooooo hot.

So anyway, the biggest problem (aside from the above, which are big problems, but ones that can be solved with a toke or two if you were so inclined) is that the whole thing looks blah, and this cannot be solved with a toke. Or even a bong hit. Needless to say, no one took our Comics Comics Contest seriously. The colors are all dull bronzes, concrete grays, and muddy greens. The rainbow bridge has no rainbow, but rather seems more like a flickering data-stream from the Matrix. The Asgardian architecture, so nuttily psychedelic in the old comics, is here more like Frank Gehry on steroids. And the costumes are, as per usual with these things, trying to be “realistic.” They’re indistinguishable from Game of Thrones, which is indistinguishable from Lord of the Rings, etc. All this “realism” has worn thin. What happened to color? Also, dudes, the 3-D makes the movie look worse. Was it added later? Must’ve been. Because of all the dimensional layers the fight scenes are very difficult to understand, all the stuff on earth is hard to “read,” and the tones are all darkened. Bad idea. Cameron had it right with the only-slightly-better-because-it-knew-it-was-silly Avatar: Bright fucking colors and wide shots! The only good thing to look at in Thor was Destroyer, and that’s probably because it’s pretty much exactly Jack Kirby’s design, he’s supposed to be metallic (so the gray is OK), and the scale (Destroyer = Biiiig) works.

And so, with nothing much to look at… well… there’s not much left. Our protagonists are dull; our plot is rote. The only bright spot in the movie is Stellan Skarsgard as a scientist and mentor to Portman. My favorite movie with Skarsgard remains The Glass House, in which he plays an evil guy in an awesome glass house who adopts and then tries to kill Leelee Sobieski for her money. Skarsgard always looks like he’s slightly drunk and about to hit on you, your girlfriend, and your cousin. And that totally works. It’s entertaining. He’s the same here: A scientist of no particular purpose, he just kinda looks on and smirks, dispenses advice, and seem immune to Thor’s hotness. He’s more focused on the waitress at the diner. Or he is in my mind.

Oh, Stan Lee makes an appearance, too. Jack Kirby, who co-created the comic book with Lee but really built the “property” and invented the look and mythology of the thing (that’s pretty well established now) gets a “special thanks” at the very end of the credits (and I mean the very end), along with Simonson, and a few others. [UPDATE: Heidi points out the Lee, Kirby and Lieber get co-creator creds at the beginning of the credit roll -- I must've blinked] Nice! I wouldn’t expect much more from Marvel, and won’t sour this edition of the DDSMC by dwelling, but I will gently guide you again to this article by Michael Dean on Marvel’s treatment of Kirby and this interview (parts 1 and 2) by Mark Hebert from 1969. Hey guys! Remember Jack Kirby! No use shouting. No one is listening.

Anyhow, assuming this edition of DDSMC won’t get me banned from press screenings, I’ll be with you all summer long from one Super Movie to the next. Maybe I’ll invite Tim next time. Maybe.