Textured Paper Backgrounds

Most of the east coast comics world is descending on Bethesda, Maryland today for SPX. Here on the internet, we have two new reviews by two new contributors. Jason Overby writes about a comic debuting at SPX, Maggie Umber's Time Capsule.

Unlike traditional comics, Maggie Umber’s Time Capsule isn’t engaged with constructing a narrative. Umber is observing the natural world (flora, fauna) and building internal connections, but she isn’t creating her own world or forming a story. There’s a homemade quality to the drawings that makes them feel like they are about the process of putting pen to paper. These are human drawings, not perfectly crafted objects.

I like the theory that our brains are restrictors of sensory inputs from the world. Comics, to me, have always seemed about classification and organization of data. Time Capsule both embraces and evades this idea. There is the process of collection of visual information and an organization of it, but it is not working toward a sort of plastic linearity. Time is all at once and everywhere.

And then RJ Casey joins us with a review of a paperback crime comics collection from Dark Horse, Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich's Lady Killer.

I can just see the pitch meeting now. "You know all those hot-button articles posing the question 'Can Women Have It All?' They always ask, 'Should ladies have to choose a life devoted to their family or their job?' Well, what if their job was being a hired killer?"

Dark Horse gave the nod and here we are, with one volume collecting the first five issues of Lady Killer. It's not a good book, but the problem is that it’s not bad enough to be tossed aside as schlock either.

The first issue begins with Josie Schuller, green-eyed and sharply dressed, posing as an Avon lady at the door. We very soon find out that Josie peddles death along with makeup and her assigned hit, Doris, has let her inside the house. Doris's real name is Ms. Romanov (because of course it is), and it’s not long before she takes a butcher knife to the clavicle for … well, we never really find out, but mission accomplished I guess. Josie returns to her nice home, where she lives with her working-class husband, two daughters, and a nosy mother-in-law. Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, the writers of this comic, really want to push their protagonists double life to the forefront. Can this manicured assassin put out hits during the day and be home in time to put out casseroles? It’s not altogether a poor concept, especially in the early format in which Josie gets a new assignment each issue. However, the execution (pun intended!) is lacking.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Joshua Barajas at NPR talks to Kate Beaton.

—Dan Zettwoch has a nice process post.

—The next season of Koyama Press looks pretty impressive.

—R. Sikoryak is posting his latest, strangest comics adaptation yet.

—Tom Bondurant has posted his final "Grumpy Old Fan" column at Robot 6.


Looking Into It

Today on the site we welcome new contributor Annie Mok, who interviews Liz Suburbia, author of the the book Sacred Heart. Here's a bit:

MOK: There’s also [gender] stuff going on with Otto. There’s this scene where Otto offers to take Ben to the dance, and he says he’ll dress up, too. Then [when Ben comes to get him] he shows up to the door in a prom dress and a cute flower barrette and makeup, and he’s like, “Pretty hilarious, huh!” And she’s like, “Yeah, uh, it’s nice, it’s a nice dress.” He quickly realizes that it’s not “Ha-ha, weird thing,” and it gets real for him very quickly. They go and get booze and ice cream, and Otto’s eating this crappy 7-11 ice cream cone, and smiling with lipstick on. And then that’s the moment when they hook up for real. They’re sitting next to each other [on the car hood], and Ben stares at his cleavage-ish poking out of his dress, and Ben kisses his shoulder. Then there’s this moment later in the story when they’re sort of breaking up. Otto’s sitting at home watching the end of the second Kill Bill, and he sees this vision of this male-assigned person in lingerie, and the person looks like him. Can you tell me about that scene?

SUBURBIA: Well, some background on Otto’s gender identity first… Otto’s a character I identify with, and I put a lot of myself in. In the course of the story, we see him kind of cast a wide net as far as sexual and gender exploration goes, and doing some things that are kinda creepy, like hanging out under the bleachers to look at girls’ shoes and legs. He’s got something inside him that he doesn’t understand yet, which is something that I relate to. I’m assigned female at birth, and I’m married to a cis man, and we walk down the street and it looks… When you’re growing up in a religious environment and a narrow cisnormative and heteronormative world, you just think of yourself as the default even though the signs are all there. Like you said, that point of view shot from Ben, she thinks of herself as straight, but maybe she’s a little more queer than she realizes. None of these characters are aware of this stuff yet. They’ve all got bigger things on their mind. I guess this is a spoiler, that Otto survives the book.

MOK: Yes!

SUBURBIA: I didn’t conceive of him as a closeted trans woman, but I’m still thinking about where the character’s gonna go. He’s a fluid person, and I guess we’ll see how that solidifies as his life goes on.

MOK: “Closeted” is such insufficient language sometimes, right? In this case, and as was the case for me, it wasn’t so much that I was closeted growing up as I just did not realize what was going on. I never really had a period of being closeted, because as soon as I identified as trans, I told the people I was close to. The way that this vision of a person that looks like him appears to Otto, free of context and in a high stress moment, a moment of loss, mirrors my experience. It points out how nonverbal, how elemental and primal this experience is for Otto.

SUBURBIA: It goes back to the horror references, where it’s kind of a ghost moment: he sees this apparition. I’m very aware of the kind of privileges I have, as someone who’s female assigned at birth, who considers themselves gender neutral but doesn’t present in any kind of way that trips anybody’s alarms. So I wanna be really careful with the gender stuff in Sacred Heart.

MOK: Can I ask what pronouns you use?

SUBURBIA: “She,” “her.” It’s as good as any. [laughs] I use “she” for my dog, too. She probably feels as much like a girl as I do. It’s something I wanna treat sensitively. And I have a lot of fears about doing it wrong, because I come from such a place of privilege in relation to existing power structures. But it’s also really important to me not to pretend it doesn’t exist.


Here's a rare look at a Metal Hurlant precursor, Snark.

Yesterday's feature subject, Yumi Sakugawa, is reviewed over at the AV Club.


Kid. Scram.

Today on the site, Greg Hunter returns with the third episode of his podcast, Comic Book Decalogue. I hope you guys have been checking out this series; it's great. Today's episode poses ten questions to Yumi Sakugawa (I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You, Ikebana), who talks about meditation, Megahex, and linework as handwriting.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Kate Beaton has a new collection of Hark! A Vagrant out, and is doing lots of interviews. This one in The Guardian is particularly strong, and she also spoke to Autostraddle and Vulture.

Everyone's favorite comics person, Annie Koyama, shares five books from her collection.

John Semley at The Walrus looks behind the mask of Sex Criminals artist Chip Zdarsky.

—Misc. Michael Vassallo posts Sunday strips from the end of the famous 1962-'63 newspaper strike.

—Awards. Zunar has won the CPJ's International Press Freedom award.

Noelle Stevenson's Nimona has made the longlist for the National Book Awards in the young people's literature category, and is apparently the first webcomic to make it this far.


Up There

Hey, I'm back. Today, as per tradition, we have Joe McCulloch on the week ahead in comics.

Elsewhere, a few notes:

The publishing company 2D Cloud has launched a Kickstarter to help with its expansion. I like 2D Cloud very much, and in particular I like how the "brand" (for example, I have no clue who owns it) is less important than the books. That's refreshing nowadays. I remain skeptical about the viability of crowdfunding in the longterm, and lately have been wondering if the whole small publishing world is becoming overcrowded with books and imprints. How much can the market support? I know how finite it is, so... huh. We'll see. Anyhow, any company that published Mark Connery has my vote.

I admittedly have paid almost no attention (aside from Joe's article last week, which, in a pre-wedding fervor I admit to skimming) to Alan Moore's Electricomics, but here's a tour of it that intrigues me.

Here's a critique of Sunday night's Walt Disney documentary.



I'm not supposed to be here this morning, but Dan got married this weekend, so he gets a short reprieve from blogging. Today, we're happy to present for the first time a twenty-year-old, never-before-published interview with Daniel Clowes, originally conducted by Zack Carlson for the fanzine Meatnog. It's always interesting to read decades-old comics business talk:

CARLSON: Since you’re doing animation right now, has there ever been a point where you feel like you’ve done comics and you want to move on to something else?

CLOWES: I never get tired of what I’m doing. I’m always challenged. Comics are really difficult because you’re doing writing, storytelling, and you have to learn so many things that you’re just constantly improving.

I still have tons of stuff that I want to get done, but I get really frustrated with the business of comics, having to sell my stuff to superhero fans. There just aren’t stores for the type of comics that we do. There are alternative record stores that also sell comics, but they don’t really know how to actually sell them. It’s really irritating, and I’ve felt like quitting because of that. I hear stories of just … stupid comics selling millions of copies and that gets to me sometimes.

But the truth is that I’d probably keep doing it even if I only sold a hundred copies. I just wish I could reach the audience that I know is out there for this kind of thing. There has to be at least a hundred thousand people that would enjoy these types of comics, and they’re maybe getting to ten thousand.

CARLSON: But in the last couple years, your art has been able to reach more people, if not specifically Eightball. Even this music video —

CLOWES: That’s true. But somehow that doesn’t translate into people buying comics. People might see this Ramones video and like the artwork, but they’re never going to be in a comics store. Maybe if Eightball was sold in Waldenbooks at the mall, these people would run across it, but nobody but deviants go into comic-book stores. Certainly no girls will go in. People have to know about something and actually go in looking for it. It’s a real problem. It’s not something that’s gonna get picked up as an impulse buy. And the people who are going into comic shops mostly aren’t interested in Eightball or the other good comics that are being produced today. Sad, but true.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Rob Clough writes about Gabrielle Bell's autobiographical comics. J. Caleb Mozzocco writes about Ben Marra's Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T.

A collective of over 100 female comics creators has created a website addressing sexism in French comics. Most of their site is in French, but they have posted an English translation of their charter statement. (via Heidi MacDonald.)

—Interviews. Katie Skelly interviews Liz Suburbia.

—Crowdfunding. Artist/teacher/TCJ columnist Frank Santoro has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fun a new school for comics creators in Pittsburgh. Even if you don't contribute that's a fundraising pitch that no one should miss, and something that only Frank could've created.


Whole Lot of Preening Going On These Days, Not So Much Substance

Cynthia Rose is here with a report on "The Golden Age of Belgian Comics", an impressive exhibit of comics art from the Museum of Fine Arts in Liège now on display in France.

Their pages detail a comics revolution, the era when – led by Tintin – the ninth art forever changed leisure on the continent.

Its big names are the gods of this particular origin myth: Hergé (Tintin); Edgar P. Jacobs (Blake & Mortimer); André Franquin (Gaston Lagaffe and Idées Noires); Peyo (Les Schtroumpfs – the Smurfs); Maurice Tillieux (Gil Jourdan); Morris (Lucky Luke); Raymond Macherot (Chlorophylle and Sibylline); Didier Comès (Silence) and Willy Lambil (Les Tuniques Bleues).

Their tale is as unlikely as it is significant. Few of these artists had dreamed of working in anything like cartooning. Whether it was a life at sea, fine art or detective fiction, their first ambitions were a reaction to the Belgium where they grew up. Society there was mostly sober, parochial and largely Catholic. But then came the World War II, Occupation and Liberation – the first utterly traumatizing, the latter establishing a Euro-dependence on its "liberator."

From films to comics, cars to clothes, all of Europe felt the pull of post-War US style. But, within a decade, these artists managed to fuse it with a European and Francophone experience. Certainly the best of them – Hergé, Franquin, Morris, and Macherot – drew like geniuses. But it was really thanks to insight, intuition and sheer insouciance that they transformed modest genre stories into something all their own. They gave the European comic an architecture much of which remains with it today.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Morton writes about Drawn & Quarterly's 25th anniversary for The Millions.

At Hyperallergic, Anthony Cuday writes about Kris Mukai and Aidan Koch, and pays a lot more attention to their art than most comics critics tend to do...

Loren Lynch writes about Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro's Bitch Planet for The Nation.

Rob Clough on minicomics.

—Interviews & Profiles. Karen O'Brien talks to Glenn Head. Head then writes about his own experiences with underground comics for CBS.

CBR talks to Alex Robinson.

—Misc. This story on cult author Dennis Cooper (who also co-created the experimental graphic novel Horror Hospital with Keith Mayerson) explains his attempt to create a "novel" formed from gifs. This strikes me as one possible path forward for comics, or at least it's not entirely unrelated.

—Crowdfunding. Longtime inker Bob Wiacek is in need of financial help after a bad fall.

The Women Write About Comics site is running an indiegogo campaign and is close to its goal.


Logging In

We had a little site outage yesterday, but we're back now. Note that yesterday brought us a great interview with Josh Simmons by Rob Kirby. Simmons is quietly producing a substantial body of work that burrows pretty deep into world-making in comics.

How have the reactions to Black River been so far?

Reactions seem pretty positive. Everyone talks about how depressing it is. I had thought it my most hopeful book, in a way, compared to most of my other work. But I’m not the best gauge for what my work is about, or what it’s doing, I suppose. I still get plenty of haters. I don’t understand at all when people call it gratuitous or “shock value” work. Or pointless. I always worry my stuff is, if anything, too obvious in its text or subtext or meaning or whatever. And people will have completely opposing reactions. One thing I heard was a reader thought that I was enjoying the violence too much. And another thought I was taking a kind of ethical stance, sort of wagging my finger in the reader’s face about how much they enjoy violence. Sometimes I want to take to the Internet and write a screed telling people how it is. But I think it’s best to just let people have their reactions. That’s part of the fun of art, right? And it’s nice there seem to be a fair amount of reviews online, and that people seem to be talking about it…

And today Mike Dawson chats with Dan Zettwoch and Rina Ayuyang about Linda Barry's The Freddie Stories.


Here's a nice obit for Marmaduke's Brad Anderson.

I'm intrigued by this Octobriana research and book.

Charles Hatfield walks us through his Jack Kirby exhibition:



Another Opens

Welcome back from Labor Day. Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the week's most interesting-sounding new comics, but first he reviews the new comics app from Alan Moore & co., Electricomics.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Josh Bayer writes about Benjamin Marra's Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T.

Andrew Rilstone reviews selections from the entire run of Captain America, from 1941 to 2002, in three posts.

—Misc. The New Yorker has a preview of Cole Closser's Black Rat. I really enjoyed his previous book.

Tom Hart has posted a preview trailer of Rosalie Lightning.

—Interviews & Profiles. Will Wellington has a short interview with Michael DeForge.

William Cardini was a guest on Inkstuds.

Hannah Means Shannon talked to Alan Moore about Electricomics.