Today we bring you Adam Smith’s interview with Wally Fawkes (a/k/a Trog), the British cartoonist behind the long-running strip Flook, and who had a parallel career as a jazz clarinetist. Here’s an excerpt:
Did you find it a challenge to draw a week’s worth of Flook strips while regularly playing jazz gigs?
Keeping the playing and the drawing together, that really became more difficult. There was a time in ’54 when I had an offer to go to Geneva to play with Sidney Bechet with a Swiss band, and to produce a stockpile, because that was about three or four weeks, everybody was filling in–I was doing the outlines, and everybody was filling in, like Neb, [Ronald Niebour]. They all got together and supplied me with a stockpile of strips so I could go away to Geneva and play with Bechet. Then from about ‘55, our band became more and more successful, the touring increased, there were continental tours, and I was heading towards a nervous breakdown, the strain of it all was just too much, and I knew what I had to do. I knew I wouldn’t make any money out of playing; unless you’re a bandleader, you just don’t. And to keep the music, which I loved, safely on one side and really concentrate on the drawing. Which was a very good decision. So I left Humph in ’56.
The sleeve of The Troglodytes’ 1960 EP “Flook Digs Jazz”
Have you toured since then?
For a while I had a band called the Troglodytes. We did the occasional tour up north; it wasn’t really touring, just the occasional weekend, like a Saturday night gig. The Trad Jazz of Chris Barber was sweeping, and you had to have banjo. We got a bit tired of that noise, and we were trying to move away from that painting-by-numbers school of music. Gradually it came back to the pub, and I’ve spent the rest of the time playing in pubs. The occasional concert, but now I’m not really playing at all–I decided to quit while I was still at the bottom!
Then we get to George Melly, who took over from Humphrey Lyttleton…
The different writers brought different things to it. Well, Flook became George.
If there’s something serious on display here, it’s Millar’s critique of superheroes themselves. The challenge he’s chosen to throw at his band of costumed adventurers is one that nobody on earth has managed to figure out, and given that none of these characters is being presented as much more than a low-watt bulb, there isn’t a lot for our heroes to do once they figure out their interpersonal drama but lose. That alone is reason to keep reading, given the extreme rarity of seeing the heroes of a big event comic go down in defeat, and the generally more-interesting stories that happen when they do (see Watchmen, The Winter Men, et cetera). Millar’s no Alan Moore as far as any question of craft or quality is concerned, but Jupiter’s Legacy has a hint of Watchmen’s timeliness, showing the impotence of superheroes as they take another step down the intra-comics popularity ladder. There’s a very fun metafictional layer to this stuff for all you elitist asshole Comics Journal readers out there: after 75 years of reigning supreme in the wake of the Great Depression, the clock’s run out for the cape and cowl crowd, whose kids would rather party and do drugs and have bed-ruining sex, like they do in (shudder) alternative comics. Millar might be going for an obvious metaphor in linking the fall of superhero sales to the waning of market capitalism’s successes, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch the dominant powers of our lifetimes dither as they wither. Here more than anywhere else, superheroes are revealed as an outmoded idea, one whose time has well and truly passed.
—I’m still catching up to some things I missed while away, so excuse the few links that may seem old or familiar, please.
—Sort of Comics: The New York Times has a story about Jeffrey Babbitt, a New York-based longtime comics fan who was apparently randomly killed last week, and who had strong ties to Forbidden Planet on Broadway.
Today, Ryan Holmberg continues his exploration of comics in India with an interview with Kailash Iyer, co-founder of Comix.India, an independent comics anthology.
Issue six came out last year. Will there be a seventh?
I don’t think so. The books aren’t selling well. Indie comics in general in India don’t have much of a market, and even within that context, Comix.India hasn’t sold much. We are not seeing a return on the investment of even the effort put into getting the books out. Secondly, we are having a problem with Pothi. The first two issues are out of print. Despite being a print-on-demand, you can’t order them anymore. I am not sure if it’s a printer issue or whether Pothi is no longer interested. If there is going to be another issue, my plan is to put it up as a free download. Since it’s not selling, you might as well give it away for free, so at least the contributors get exposure. I will check with Pothi again whether there is a chance that the books will be made available again. If there’s not, I want to release them as free pdfs, if the contributors are willing.
It seems that today, unlike when I first came to India five years ago, or even three years ago when I first read Comix.India, there are a number of groups doing indie comics, like Manta Ray in Bangalore, or the Pao Collective in Delhi. New artists potentially have other venues now.
Yes, artists and writers do have more options, but most of the Indian labels are still rather small, so they only have limited openings for unproven talent. I also believe most publishers source out and invite people to collaborate, rather than having open submissions, because most of them have a specific focus.
—The 2013 Harvey Award winners were announced this Saturday in Baltimore. Saga continues its streak this year. Robot 6, with which we share several writers, won an award, too. For some reason, the Harvey site hasn’t yet published an official list of the recipients, but you can find them on their Twitter page.
—Sorta Comics. Edward Carey lists his ten favorite writer/illustrators, including such as Tove Jansson, William Blake, Maurice Sendak, and Edward Gorey, most of whom are cartoonists by one definition or another.
—Penny Arcade is obviously a comic strip, but I’m not sure it makes sense to say that its regular Penny Arcade Expo is a comics convention. Still, this editorial by Rachel Edidin explaining why she will never return to the event is worth pointing out here. Really, some of the worst aspects of internet, video game, and comics culture all rolled up into one ball.
—History. Frank M. Young has another excellent post up on his Stanley Stories blog, this time exploring early work by Stan Lee which seems to be heavily influenced by John Stanley. Michael Vassallo has his own excellent post on Noel Sickles.
The “correct” way to read this two-page spread, of course, follows the traditional left-to-right zigzag down the left-hand side of the spread and up to the right and back down. [But] I think they can be understood visually by reading them “incorrectly”–by beginning in the top left and then going across the center dividing line of the center.
Gilbert Hernandez’s quasi-autobiographical Marble Season is a remarkable work of verisimilitude as well as a gift to his long-time fans. The snapshot he provides of his brothers and neighborhood friends growing up is filled with the kind of detail and emotional truths about how children relate to one another one would expect from the man behind Palomar. What’s interesting in this book about the rituals and social interactions of about fifty years ago is how Hernandez subtly brings up the ways in which pop culture became a pervasive force that was unifying in some ways but also homogenizing. In the early ’60s, every little kid was affected by the power of radio, TV, and comics. Even the cover suggests a Jack Kirby-esque clash between titans. The more widespread availability of TV, the dominance of rock music on the radio, and the new wellspring of popularity that comics enjoyed made negotiating one’s cultural environment a dizzying feat.
Elsewhere, I’m finally starting to halfway get into the swing of things, link-wise:
—The film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum is always good on Robert Crumb, and he has recently posted his original review of the Terry Zwigoff coumentary. Bobsy at the Mindless Ones has a take on Crumb’s Genesis that doesn’t match up with mine (I wrote about it a million years ago in TCJ 301), but which is smart and certainly worth taking on board. The kill-your-father anti-Crumb wave of late among younger cartoonists and comics critics is very odd to me (it hardly seems to notice, let alone account for, vast swathes of his work, not to mention his deep influence on nearly every aspect of the medium) but I guess unsurprising. [I’m not really meaning to implicate Bobsy in that last sentence, by the way. It’s simply a general observation. Poor writing on my part.]
—Jeffrey Gustafson, in an otherwise not entirely unreasonable essay, is the latest in a long, long line of comics fans to take offense at Alan Moore saying modern mainstream comics stink without offering any specific counter-examples. Wonder why that is? He also seems to think “Sturgeon’s Law” is an actual law.
Kurtzman stood somewhat apart at EC. He considered horror comics “immoral.” (What he thought about the others was probably not much more positive.) His reputation today primarily rests upon his having created, edited and written the first twenty-four issues of the satiric humor comic MAD, whose impact on a generation used to the cozy cliches and platitudes of the Eisenhower Age was immeasurable.(After leaving EC, Kurtzman launched three unsuccessful humor mags, Trump, Humbug, and Help, before settling in at Playboy, where he created and wrote “Little Annie Fanny” for twenty-one years, providing stimulation of a different sort.) But before any of this, at EC, Kurtzman produced what have been recognized as the first “anti-war” war comics. With them, the novelist/ newspaper columnist Pete Hamill once wrote, Kurtzman “revolutionized the form…. (His) combat stories were hard, bleak, free of rah-rah patriotism. They were about men, not costumed superheroes.”
People, people, the great Brian Ralph is on tour for Reggie-12, which is a great oversized collection of the excellent comic strip. Go get the book. Go see Brian.
Well, I’m back from the wilds of Maine, and it seems like the site is more or less intact. I guess I missed another comments-thread tempest, but, without having had time to really look at the discussion closely, the arguments seem somehow less inherently divisive (with some obvious exceptions) and more like talking past each other (with other obvious exceptions). It would take more time and thought and close attention to respond as fully as I probably should, but the main issue at hand isn’t going anywhere, and will and should be addressed on this site in the future. The overwhelmingly white demographics of North American independent comics creators, when mixed with a very strong tradition of intensely personal comics in which many of the most celebrated works deal in provocation and even deliberate rudeness, unsurprisingly leads to various artistic and social tensions, possibly irresolvable. One reason for hope might be found in noting how the typical depiction of women has changed in comics since the heyday of the undergrounds—sexism is clearly still a live issue, but things aren’t what they used to be, and I have no doubt that the increased and increasing prevalence of female creators [and readers, editors, publishers, etc.] is a big part of that. Anyway, complicated issues here, and ones that likely aren’t going away any time soon, with or without deliberate action—but deliberation rarely hurts.
Joe McCulloch is here, as he is every Tuesday morning, with his indispensable weekly report on the most interesting-looking new titles available in direct-market stores.
After having spent a week without access to the internet, I am way behind on links, but here are a few I noticed while I am catching up:
—Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement from feature film-making. His Nausicaä of the Vally of the Wind still seems to be to be one of the great achievements in comics.
—Jeet Heer’s In Love with Art: Françoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman is previewed by Anne Kingston at Maclean’s.