Far Beyond Driven

Today on The Comics Journal, you'll find the conclusion of Alex Deuben's interview with Katherine Collins, which focuses on the difficulties she has had to face in the last two decades, and the lack of support that the comics community had to offer her until quite recently.

In the meantime, it’s hardly a side story, but after a lifetime of not being very happy about being a man and realizing that I should have been female it finally came to the point where I realized that I could do something about it. And I couldn’t live any longer being somebody who I really wasn’t. The transition takes time, so from 1992 to late ’94 I was going through the process, but in mid-1993 I had to announce to the world – or to anybody who was paying any attention – that I was going to start living as Katherine. So I came out and started being Katherine – and that was the end of my career.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

No. I don't think I'll do that today.

Hi. I'm Tucker Stone, and I'm the new co-editor of The Comics Journal. Along with Tim Hodler and Kristy Valenti, I'll be working here from now on. I'm a former TCJ contributor, a former comiXology columnist, a former comic book retailer, and most recently, I'm the former US Sales & Marketing Director for a comic and children’s book publisher called Nobrow. Currently I publish collections of work by Michel Fiffe and Chuck Forsman, and my day job is at a book distributor, where I work with children’s book publishers, libraries, and comics publishers. I've worked in comics now for a decade. I also have a small child and a wife. I’m a straight, cis white male, and officially middle aged.

I don’t have a grand design for what I intend to do at this site. There’s a legacy to the Comics Journal that I plan to honor—but if you pressed me to define that legacy, I would have a hard time explaining what it is. There is a history of pissing people off for reasons both real and imagined, but that is not very useful as an operating principle.

My feeling right now is that the hole the Journal needs to fill is a mechanical one. The speed and accessibility of the internet has come to comics and kickstarted it into action in a way that comics has been sorely in need of for a long time, both as an art form and as an industry. It’s been an amazing time to be involved in this industry over the last 15 years, and anyone who says different is either not paying attention or so consumed with their own singular taste that their opinion is simply useless. Things have changed for the better. To say they have a long way to go is absolutely true, but for me to pretend that I will be leading any of those charges is absurd--I won't. What I will be doing is attempting to document the place we are in as it changes around us, to find the people and the things that those people make and tell you about them, and to work with smart, passionate writers who will find and discover even more. 

I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

But if you're not, it doesn't really matter.

I'm not going anywhere!


Late Late Late

Today on the site, we present the first part of Alex Dueben's two-part interview with Katherine Collins, creator of Neil the Horse, member of the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame, and a Doug Wright "Giant of the North." Among other things, they discuss her early radio career, the creation of Neil, and the appeal of musicals.

Around the same time I started to do Neil I did radio shows for the local Vancouver CBC radio. CBC in Canada is like the BBC in Britain, it’s a radio network that is owned and financed by the federal government but the government has no control over it whatsoever – and they dearly wish they did. [laughs] I did an interview about Neil on the local CBC afternoon show. The afternoon shows are a big deal here. Every city has their own independent one. They liked the way I talked and they liked my sense of humor and so I started to get paid to come on and review things and talk about subjects I was interested in. After a couple of years of that I moved to Toronto, which is the big media center in Canada. I moved there because I realized I was not going to get any further in Vancouver. I was given the name of a woman who was working at the CBC Radio National network in Toronto. I went in to talk to her and they immediately put me on the air on the national morning show. Here’s the funny part of it. She told me later that she had belatedly realized that she had misunderstood something that I said and she thought that I was very highly experienced and that’s why they put me on so readily. Of course I was just a rank beginner, but everybody on the show liked me for some reason. That was 1977 and that touched off six years in which I was on the morning show and a number of other shows as well. I practically lived at the network office. I became a producer and writer.

My favorite gig was on the five-days-a-week early morning show, three hours a day, called Morningside. The host of that was Don Harron, who I found out later had been a cartoonist in his younger days. He was a famous comedian and writer. Don and I really hit it off and I started doing these features where I would choose a comic strip to feature on a show – usually an older comic, but not always – and I would do taped telephone interviews with anyone I could find who had anything to do with it; most of the people were still alive. I got lots of wonderful interviews from really great cartoonists. I would fashion the program with clips from these interviews and then I would write an adaptation of the comic for a radio comedy skit. I have a huge collection of old newspaper strips and by that point I had hundreds of old Sunday pages I could go through. So let’s say for example we were doing Bringing Up Father. I would read a huge pile of Sunday pages and find ones that would adapt well for radio. This was a little bit difficult because radio doesn’t have pictures. [laughs] I had to find strips that didn’t depend entirely on the visual gag. We had a wonderful sound effects department in those days, and we would get into the studio with a little group of actors. I’m a terrible actor but I would be one of them because I didn’t cost any extra money. [laughs] Don would play one of the parts and we’d get some good actors and the sound effects guy would sit there surrounded by all sorts of weird devices and he would make the sounds live as we were acting.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Colin Beineke reviews several recentish horror comics for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

If [Gou] Tanabe shows the power of images to bring out nuances in adapting prose fiction, the haunting affects of artist Julia Gfrörer’s work spring first and foremost from her masterful imagery. Borrowing a phrase from Stanford professor of French literature Brigitte Cazelles, Gfrörer’s website avows that “The discourse of romance […] can therefore be characterized as an ideology of suffering, since the experience of human or divine love seems inevitably grounded in pain.” Gfrörer’s art, from her self-published minicomics to her commissionable tattoo designs, is nothing if not grounded in pain (literally so in the latter instance) and an appreciation of the play between suffering and love is essential to understanding her longer works. Following her much lauded full-length debut, Black Is the Color, Gfrörer’s sophomore effort from Fantagraphics, Laid Waste, smoothly surpasses its predecessor with its pitch-black artistry, coldly sparkling pessimism, and devastating humor. Gfrörer’s line recalls both fine-spun gossamer lace and cold-steel etching — bringing to mind a combination of Gary Panter’s ratty line and Kate Beaton’s caricaturesque minimalism — while the black sheet of her narrative is made all the more heartbreaking through interspersed punctures of hope.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Process Party is Tillie Walden, and the most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Julia Wertz.

—Misc. The prolific comics critic and TCJ columnist Rob Clough is looking for emergency help.



Today on the site, Marc Sobel interviews Ulli Lust about her just-translated graphic novel, Voices in the Dark, which is an adaptation of a WWII prose novel by Marcel Beyer.

Can you describe your approach to sounds in the book, particularly since they are such an integral part of the story?

First, even before the challenge of choosing a story came up, I had some very strange acoustic hallucinations in my inner ear. I heard women weeping, like weeping under the earth from the subsoil of the city. It was like I heard the mourning of the dead, people who had died in bombed houses, or the voices of women mourning over their dead families. I was not having any big troubles at the time; in fact my life was happy and fulfilled, so these sound-visions were irritating. After I had drawn the book, they were gone.

Comics to me are a musical medium. Drawings produce a visual tone (in Germany we call this Bildsprache, or “picture language"), the timing in the sequence of panels produces a rhythm, and staging the movement of the characters is like dance choreography (at least in my mind). In the book, Karnau is very sensitive and highly attentive to sounds. His ears are always wide open for all the incidental sounds in everyday life which normal people rarely even notice. This is one of the inspiring aspects of the book, it makes you more sensitive to the small sounds in the world.

In Germany we usually use English sound effects. There are very few generally understandable German sound words. For this story, I had to invent German sounding ones because English sounds would have been strange in the Nazi milieu. For example, in the bunker the sounds becomes a rhythmic constant din of machines, air conditioning, and warfare. These sounds build like the pressure in a steam engine, rising until it bursts.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Cambpell Whyte.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Caleb Orecchio ponders Chester Brown's biblical adaptations in Yummy Fur, in response to Brian Evenson.

After reading this, and the rest of Ed vs. Yummy Fur, I can’t help but see YF as anything less than one complete work–as oppose to a book containing many serialized stories. All comics in YF from “Ed” to “Showing Helder” to “The Little Man” to “Fuck”, (AND the letters pages) etc. have an interesting give and take with the Gospels they share a book with. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is an unsevered umbilical chord connecting the early pre-“Ed” material to the later autobio stuff; and going further into Underwater. I see Yummy Fur being the record of a developing cartoonist constantly tinkering with his craft, and a self-aware conscience looking at it’s old-self in the face. When you read the “Playboy” stories, the juxtaposition of the Gospels are impossible to ignore while reading about young Chester’s religious upbringing. It’s like the Gospels and the teachings of Christ are always in the back of Brown’s mind and dictate his actions and motivations for better or for worse.

Becky Morton at the BBC writes about the lack of recognition for women in UK political cartooning.

Out of nearly 180 cartoons featured in last year's edition of Britain's Best Political Cartoons not one was drawn by a woman.

It was flicking through a copy of the book that first highlighted the gender imbalance in the industry for Ella Bucknall, an illustrator currently studying at Camberwell College of Arts in London.

This realisation prompted her to start Whip, a magazine of political cartoons by women, to give them a platform that didn't exist elsewhere.

"Particularly at the moment when there are so many aspects of politics affecting women's lives, from Trump to the DUP, we need to be able to have our own voice. We need to be able to argue back," she said.


Book Smarts

Alex Wong is here today to interview Tom Gauld about his latest book, Baking with Kafka, which gathers many of his Guardian literary-themed comic strips. They talk books, the challenges of a weekly strip, why Gauld doesn't solicit feedback, and who should be the next James Bond.

I don’t seek out anybody’s opinion at all. When I’m making a graphic novel, I’ll let some people read it. With these cartoons, I would rather have a handful of them turn out kind of weird, then have all of them turn out as well-functioning ordinariness. If I showed my wife an unfinished cartoon and she didn’t quite laugh enough or in the right way, I’d feel anxious about it and I’d think about it in a way that wouldn’t help. I obviously think about how the audience will read them, but it’s not about me, it’s not some form of primal scream therapy. The cartoons are about communicating to the reader and making a joke happen.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Forbidden Planet has published Pádraig Ó Méalóid's interview with the late Leo Baxendale.

All the things in the Co-op orders were wrapped in large smooth pale buff paper sheets, and I thus had an unending weekly supply of sheets of paper to draw on.

Beyond all this, I had a yet greater expanse for drawing on. The wall alongside the staircase being distempered, the palest green, I covered it with drawings from top to bottom of the stairs, my parents taking care to provide me with plenty of pencils for the purpose.

Barges hauled by boat horses brought coal to my grandfather’s coal yard from the Wigan coalfields to the south. At the end of our terrace the canal broadened out to a basin where the barges could dock and turn. A wharf on the opposite bank from my grandfather’s coal yard unloaded coal for the steam engine of the weaving mill; and there was the stone-wharf, built for the loading of millstones from Whittle Quarries.

Yet it didn’t occur to me to draw any of this, any more than I thought to draw my grandfather’s great black mare pulling wagon loads of coal past our house. I drew from the imagination, or things from the greater world that I had seen in the newspapers: biplanes or ocean liners or such. I must have thought that my own world was ‘ordinary.’

The SyFy Wire podcast interviews Marvel editor Sana Amanat.

—Commentary. At Mindless Ones, Maid of Nails remembers Steve Dillon.

I met Steve Dillon once, at London Super Comic Con 2016 – his last UK convention. Coincidentally I was dressed as Lady Dogwelder, who of all the characters he created was probably the one he least expected to encounter in cosplay form, let alone from a short foreign woman.

At first I didn’t recognize him at all, since most publicly visible photos of him had been taken years before. Who’s this guy sitting at Steve Dillon’s table? I wondered. Later, I learned that he’d been ill for some time; that plus the toll mortality takes on all of us created a gap between the Steve Dillon I saw and the ruddy, Guinness-hoisting fellow from photographs.

Sophia Foster-Dimino has posted a minicomic she drew about the making of Sex Fantasy.


Cheap Things

Matthias Wivel is here today with another installment of his Eurocomics column, Common Currency. This time, he reviews three French-language comics as a way of examining the unexpected challenges that have been created by the huge aesthetic and technical explosions of recent decades.

Each [of Antoine Marchalot’s stories] is graphically distinct, adapted to the tale at hand: the one about the little boy who refuses to eat his fish, and gets invited by it and his suddenly talking dog to record a "hardcore pornographic rap video," is rendered in digital imitation of smudged crayon with irradiant coloring and turns spectacularly expressive toward the end; the one about a renegade scientist in a fancy lab secretly trying to hook two potatoes into a network, and eventually succeeding with two dogs instead, is drawn in black and white in thin, clear lines, with old school zip-a-tone-type texturing (very Elvis Studio); the western spoof with a dog-cowboy riding a tiny horse kept in his pocket features black and white or monochrome figures set against hallucinatory, digitally patterned desert landscapes garishly colored not to look like nature.

All this is obviously done with some skill, and the occasional dialogical exchange or visual surprise hits home, but it really, really helps if you are high. Which basically seems to be the point. Now, far be it from me to dissuade people from getting high, or reading comics while doing so, but there’s something safe, even lazy, in resorting to absurd non-sequiturs and digital psychedelia rather than coherently building a humorous language or crafting a visually compelling environment where the absurd takes on its own meaning. In other words, the difference between disposable fare such as this and, say, Cowboy Henk or Megg, Mogg and Owl. The problem here is not so much the one I've been outlining of mismatched form and content, but rather a digitally-enhanced shortcut taken to update a traditional comics format -- the short-form humor strip.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The most recent guest on the Comics Alternative podcast is R. Sikoryak.

—It must mean something that an artist as well-established as Paul Dini is putting out a new comic book via Kickstarter, though maybe I'm overinterpreting and this particular project is just not very interesting to publishers.

—Shea Hennum pans a reprint of one of Spain Rodriguez's last books, Che.


Shallow Dive

Today on the site, we present Kim Jooha's interview with Ron Regé, Jr., about his recent mystical books, What Parsifal Saw and The Cartoon Utopia, as well as his early career and future projects.

Kim Jooha: What does What Parsifal Saw mean?

Ron Regé, Jr.: Parsifal is an opera by Wagner – the last opera that he did. It centers around the holy grail, and Parsifal is a character who, at the height of the opera, has a mystical vision where he’s brought up to see something, and he sees this goddess in the light.

The first three pages of the book are what Parsifal saw. The cover is what he saw. The first image is the spear with the holy grail, and then the next page is this figure led toward it. What he saw is like having a mystical vision, which a lot of my work is about.

I didn’t realize how complicated the title would be. And I realized that no one says it, I don’t like to say it, and it doesn’t say it on the cover, so… A lot of the confusing things about my work aren’t on purpose. For instance, I have Alex Schubert’s Blobby Boys in the book. You and I know what that is, but I realized that most people who buy the book aren’t going to know what that is and say, “What are these little green creatures?” All I had to do was just write a little thing. My work has a lot of confusion like that. A lot of things that are confusing to people are either mistakes or my nearsightedness… To me, it all makes sense!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The Evening Standard has a story on the creation of Tove Jansson's Moomin strip.

There were just three stipulations when Charles Sutton approached Tove Jansson about creating a Moomin comic strip for the London Evening News in 1952: no politics, sex or death.

This was fine with Jansson; legend has it she replied that she didn’t know anything about the government, sex wasn’t part of the Moomins’ anatomy, and she’d only ever killed a hedgehog.

Sutton, syndication director of Associated Newspapers, had headhunted Jansson for the position after the phenomenal success of English translations of the Moomin books. She prepared day and night for the meeting, with Sutton arriving in Finland to meet her on the first day of the national May Day celebrations; by the end of his visit, a seven year contract had been agreed.

—This Slate story critiquing New Yorker covers is annoyingly written in about ten different ways (for one thing, anyone who truly disapproved of "thirstiness" would never use the term in a headline), but the writer isn't wrong that generally the magazine's topical covers are its least successful.

—Robyn Chapman has written a piece on Eleanor Davis's early works.

Davis discovered zines as a teenager and had published several by the time she graduated high school. She went on to study cartooning at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and during those years she created remarkably sophisticated minicomics (and lots of them). These minicomics generally had a production value beyond your standard fold-and-staple zine. They were cut, punched, printed, stickered, and even burned—and these details were generally relevant to the story within. Her comics were each carefully constructed from cover to cover, and often printed on high-quality paper. So while I see these works as minicomics, those in the fine arts world would see them as artist books.


Thank You for Not Reading

Today on the site, we have an unusual feature: Leslie Stein interviewed by her mother.

What do you want your audience to experience through Present?

I get worried that people will misinterpret what I'm saying, and they have, but that's part of the risk of making art. I try to be kind to people in general, and be kind in how I portray others. People have said that it leaves them with a light or hopeful feeling, which I suppose is what I'm going for. I'm not trying to change lives here, but maybe bond with others through mutual experiences.

How do you feel about being portrayed in the comics as a character? The first story in the book, "Daughter's Day", is based on a conversation we had about different love relationships you've had over the years.

"Daughter’s Day" is about my love relationships? I thought it is was about you calling me two months early to say Happy Mother’s Day? I’m hoping that you and readers will not misinterpret my actions in your stories. I guess we are in the same place.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. I'm not sure why The Beat is dividing up this Christmas interview with Alan Moore into such small sections, and publishing them so many days or weeks apart, but part four is now up.

The most recent guest on the CBLDF podcast is Jeffrey Brown, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Karl Stevens. Apparently, they discuss the editorial changes at TCJ on that last episode, so I won't be listening to that...

—Commentary. Gary Tyrrell writes a little about announced content restrictions at Patreon, and how it may effect comics creators, along with relevant social media commentary from Spike Trotman.

We think of webcomics has having evaded gatekeepers, and on a content/editorial basis, it absolutely has. But in trying to make that independent effort a proper business, one must engage in a system that is entirely one-sided. Run afoul of one person at Chase or Bank of America and you’re frozen out; they’ll never take on a major corporate creator of inferior smut (cable and dish companies make a lot of damn money off of naughty pay-per-view; so does every hotel chain other than Hilton, who are weaning themselves off the grumble flicks), but they’ll freeze out anybody that attracts enough attention from a loud enough pressure group.

—News. Lion Forge has purchased The Beat.


Monster Party

Today on the site, the comics scholar and radical-politics historian Paul Buhle reviews the controversial Diaspora Boy, by Eli Valley.

Eli Valley has been torturing tribalist, Occupied Territory-seeking Jewish neoconservative and neoliberal hawks for about a decade now. His art style is utterly unique, a combination of cartoon and comic art all mooshed together, with odd items galore. If many readers miss a detail or two (or three) in this delightfully oversized volume, it must be on account of the dense content and story line, ruthlessly moral in an immoral world. Peter Beinart, a Jewish commentator who moved leftward after becoming famous, says in the preface that if the cartoons in this book are “outrageous and absurd,” it is because we are living in an “outrageous and absurd moment in American Jewish life.” That is: the language of American Jewry remains overwhelmingly liberal, but the silence over the cruel reality of the occupation of the West Bank is deafening.

Beinart calls Eli Valley’s work a “searing indictment of the moral corruption of organized American Jewish life in our age,” on the face of it a pretty shocking observation. With a kicker. The book is also... the Eli Valley Story. As you might have guessed, reader, Valley is the son of a rabbi, who grew up with all the imagery of the Jewish diaspora, imagery full of righteous suffering and return to the homeland in apparent triumph, ever-insecure triumph.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
The Hollywood Reporter talks to Tom Gauld about his latest book.

I almost always make these cartoons in a bit of a hurry, generally in a blank panic wondering how I've managed to do five hundred of these cartoons without it getting any easier, so I'm focused on the mechanics of making a joke that works on the page, rather than trying to express how I feel. But I think that the way I feel gets in there anyway and, when I look back on the cartoons, either once they appear in the newspaper or when they are collected in a book, I can see themes and ideas more clearly than when I'm actually making them. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I am probably cynical about the forces of the market and optimistic about the possibilities of the art.

Vice talks to Sheena Howard, co-author of Black Comics, and author of the Encyclopedia of Black Comics.

I think there are a few things going on. It's hard as hell to break into the industry. Forget race, it's a male-dominated world. When you're in the comic industry as a woman, even when you're doing your own thing, the cultural barriers can be very discouraging if you're a woman of color in the industry because of course, you're going to start publishing on your own, and then you try to build up and make connections. But it's a male-dominated world so there's sexism there and that is very difficult. I think too, you've got to stay consistent over a number of years if you really want to break into the comic book industry and do it full-time. Honestly, as an artist, I don't think people even have the income to even keep pushing over long periods of time to get to a place where they can do this work full-time and actually sustain themselves.

The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is New Yorker artist Barry Blitt, and Slate's Working podcast talks to the Billy Ireland librarian Caitlin McGurk. And McGurk and Jim Rugg are both guests on Process Party.

—Reviews & Commentary. Science fiction novelist Ada Palmer writes about the ghosts and monsters of Shigeru Mizuki.

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You may have met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.