BLOG

Yes Means No, Maybe Means Never

Today at the Journal, Tegan checks in with her take on Days of Hate, a new Image series from Danijel Žeželj & Aleš Kot. Things get political because they have to. And then some!

I keep circling around like a falcon in the proverbial gyre to try and get my arms around this comic. I spend all day watching the news and reading the news and listening to the news and discussing the news – everything is bad, yes, but more importantly things feel very desperate. There’s something in the air, I don’t know whether it’s even good or bad, but – if you’re trapped on the inside here in Fortress America it feels like we’re stuck in the middle reel. We’ve had tons of exposition. Every conflict is established. Everything is always happening and nothing changes. Tension keeps ratcheting ever skyward on every side and nothing changes. It’s the strangest feeling. We’re stuck in the Dragonball-Z of governmental crises.

Next week, we'll have an interview with Aleš about the series. But that's not all we've got for you today. Prepare yourself for the weekend with Paul Tumey's latest installment of Framed!, which includes a detailed look at To Laugh That We May Not Weep: The Life and Times of Art Young. 

This is, after, all, work by a cartoonist who went to hell, artistically speaking, not just once, but three times! This is the guy who experienced what for many would be hell on earth, being put on trial for sedition (twice!) with the possibility of years of imprisonment. Undaunted, or perhaps just worn out from drawing his thousands of cartoons, Young famously dozed off in the courtroom during one of these trials. Whether or not you agree with Young’s politics, who could argue with the sad-beautiful reflections found in his gentle work? Art Young’s cartoons are some of the most complex, some of the richest, most original, most refined, most personal art I’ve ever experienced. To Laugh gives us the chance to have that experience. By presenting this work in a beautifully designed compilation, we can finally linger over it, take it in, and expand our understanding of what cartoons can do, and perhaps should do.

From there, Paul goes on to commit multiple cardinal sins of list-making, including praising a book of criticism (HISS) and then concluding his list with trying to convince you that a book written by the She-Hulk guy was better than Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls, which is so absurd that when I contacted Charles Soule (my wife's godfather and a close personal friend), and he told me I was legally allowed to edit that part out of Paul's list! (Charles Soule is a lawyer, as well as the guy who they made write the Old Man Logan comic.) I would have made those edits but I got so caught up in re-reading Every Empire Falls--the second best comic to have been released in 2017--that I stopped feeling angry and just felt sad.

 

Fatality Factor 79%

Today on the site, Greg Hunter returns with a new episode of Comic Book Decalogue. This time, he spoke to the cartoonist and editor Rob Kirby in an episode recorded live. In it, the man behind What's Your Sign, Girl? and The Shirley Jackson Project discusses Eric Orner, Lynda Barry, Peanuts, and more.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. This year's Eisner Awards judges have chosen Carol Kalish and Jackie Ormes for the Eisner Hall of Fame, and announced the other nominees for the honor.

At Vulture, Abraham Riesman talks to the people behind indie publishers including Lion Forge, Emet, and Iron Circus.

David Steward II and Carl Reed aren’t impressed with the mainstream’s slow crawl into the 21st century. Both African-American men, they’re co-founders of Lion Forge Comics, an upstart publisher that recently launched its own superhero universe starring and created almost entirely by people who aren’t white males. Sitting in a pan-Latin steakhouse in Hell’s Kitchen, they calmly express their disdain for the big boys on the block.

“When they do diversity, it’s all almost …” Steward says, trailing off.

“Reactionary,” Reed finishes from across the table.

Steward nods and adds, “It’s almost kind of an advertising gimmick of sorts. They take Thor and make female Thor, but female Thor is going to go away, you know? If you’re really going to invest in that at that level, then it needs to be a new character with its own origin that you’re going to push and pull and really get behind.”


—Interviews & Profiles.
The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Zach Hazard Vaupen, and the most recent cartoonist guest on Virtual Memories is Seymour Chwast.

—Reviews & Commentary. Alan Moore pays tribute to the recently deceased UK comics artist Jim Baikie.

Developing that strip [Skizz for 2000AD] with Jim was an education into his meticulously thought-through processes: the work that went into the look – and to a great degree the basic conception of the character – was all Jim’s. It was him that decided to depict Earth’s first contacted extra-terrestrial species as a kind of highly-evolved marsupial, reasoning that this would make the entity look alien enough while still allowing it to appear biologically feasible. And then he placed that fantastical creature into a sharply-realised contemporary Birmingham, where even the background faces are full of human character, and somehow made it work.

When I began work for DC Comics, having Jim as the artist on my otherwise-unpromising Vigilante two-parter turned a job that I wasn’t enjoying very much into a pleasure. Several years later we found ourselves working together again, this time for Image Comics and its various splinter-companies, most memorably on Supreme, where I remember Jim contributing to a riotous comedic short piece that played with the most ludicrous and fondly-remembered tropes of early 1960s superhero comics, and gave Jim a chance to indulge his extreme fondness for Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s anarchic and demented Mad extravaganzas. Thinking about it, it seems very likely that the fun Jim and I had with that brief outing was what led, with the demise of Supreme‘s publisher and our subsequent involvement with the fledgling America’s Best Comics line, to Jim being the perfect choice for our Mad-inflected patriotic superhero parody in Tomorrow Stories, the to-my-mind underappreciated First American.

 

The Third Can

Today, the Journal is proud to unleash the first in Sloane Leong's onslaught of 2018. In this month's installment of Comics Dragnet, she grapples with the internet, and the comics it provides. She also delivers a love letter to Bitch Planet, but it's the Frank Booth kind of love letter. (The best kind of love letters.)

BP feels like it’s trying to teach you something, and so its characters are elliptic feminist effigies in the shape of women and not flawed, compelling characters you can fall in love with. It’s applesauce feminism dressed up in faux-exploitation. I wish it would go back and assess its source material: raw, brutal images, passion, and ugly, ridiculous honesty.

Sloane's only competition for your time can't actually be found at the Journal, but at Facebook, where Tom Devlin showed up with his detective skills and impeccable memory of Chris Ware related factoids to make the case that, in a 1989 issue of Home Boy Magazine, a young skateboarder named Greg Neal gave an interview wherein he pretended to have created Ware's old Daily Texan's comic strips. Home Boy Magazine--it breaks my heart that this will probably be the only time I will be writing that title down, professionally--even reproduces some of Neal's "art", which is, even to an eye as untrained as my own, clearly Chris Ware's work. Home Boy only ran for seven issues, but the three individuals most closely associated with it (the Master Cluster) went on to do a few more magazines, like Dirt and Grand Royal. One of the three--all of whom should have done their due diligence when it came time to edit the Greg Neal interview--you'll probably recognize.

 

Winter Cleaning

Today on the site, Alex Dueben is here with an interview of John Shableski and Illya Kowalchuk, two of the organizers of the new Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards.

So where did this idea of an award start and what were those conversations like?

Illya Kowalchuk: Actually, before the first Denver Comic Con (2012) we wanted to host comic awards that were more focused on literary merit than on the individual technical aspects of comics. One of the great things about comics is that all of those different talented creators come together-the story, art, and lettering all comes together to tell one synthetic story. We didn’t see an award out there that was honoring that. Unfortunately, in 2012 we just didn’t have the bandwidth because we were all volunteers trying to put the show together-make sure the lights stayed on. Over the years, the show grew rapidly and we had to make sure that logistics and operations were successful. This past year we have been doing a lot of thinking about how we want to move forward and what other ways we can have an impact on the industry. And as fans, we want to see the content that we’ve grown up loving be honored. We felt like this was a good time for a few reasons.

There’s this synchronicity that’s happening across academia, library sciences, education, bookselling and comic creation. We’ve arrived at a tipping point where people recognize the educational value of comics and graphic novels. They’re outselling other forms of books, accepted in classrooms, and valued in libraries and corporate offices. The momentum is picking up. When Bruce [MacIntosh - Director of DCC Programming] and I met John Shableski about eighteen months ago, we all recognized that synchronicity. John crosses a lot of industries-comics, education, bookselling, and library sciences. He validated what we had been seeing on our own and we all came together and agreed: this is the time to do this.

We also have a review of Julie Maroh's Body Music, written by Jason Michelitch.

When one hears that Julie Maroh's new book is titled Body Music (Corps Sonores), it is perhaps inevitable to move from the suggestion of rhythmically moving flesh to thoughts of her debut work, the sexually frank romance-tragedy Blue is the Warmest Color (Le bleu est une coleur chaude).  Specifically, one might think of the Palm D'Or-winning film adaptation of the same name*, which secured fifteen minutes of infamy for containing a long sex scene in which the lesbian lovemaking of Maroh's book is revisualized through a heavy screen of heterosexual pornographic conventions.  The phrase "Body Music" would seem to promise further ventures into the sensual.  After reading the book, however, the title takes on the character of a sly joke on the prurient interest that her earlier work is now inescapably saddled with.  Though Maroh returns to the themes of sex, love, and LGBTQ representation, her latest work is a very different kind of book from Blue is the Warmest Color -- in some ways, it is a book that seems to be trying to be different, to break away.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—2dcloud.
Because of various stories that have been shared and published over the past few days on social media and on comics news sites, I feel obligated to say a little bit about what happened, if only to clarify a few apparent misunderstandings.

Nearly two weeks ago, the small publisher 2dcloud announced, via Twitter, that they were cutting ties with their creative director, Blaise Larmee, due to "predatory" behavior on Larmee's part that was "inconsistent with [their] values." As I wrote then in a blog post, this was the second time in less than two months that the company had announced that they were cutting ties with an artist or associate for misconduct. In November, they revealed, again solely via Twitter, that they were canceling their plan to publish a third book by the cartoonist Andy Burkholder, who they said had been accused of sexual assault. I attempted to reach both Burkholder and 2dcloud for comment, and neither replied. After the January announcement, which also included a second tweet saying that they had destroyed all copies of one of Larmee's titles, 3 Books, I again reached out for comment, both to Larmee and to 2dcloud.

This time, around two hours after I wrote the January 4 blog post suggesting that the comics community may feel like it deserved a less opaque explanation of what was going on at the company, 2dcloud cofounder Raighne Hogan told me via email that he agreed the questions I had sent him should be addressed to some extent, and that he would get back to me soon. Here are the questions I had sent him:

1. There has been speculation that this primarily involves some of the chats Larmee included in 3 Books. If you can say, is that accurate? And is that the entirety of the problem, or are there allegations of other misbehavior?

2. When did 2dcloud learn of the allegations against Larmee?

3. Does 2dcloud have a written policy regarding sexual misconduct?

4. 2dcloud is a very small company and this has happened twice in the last two months. How did this happen? Has 2dcloud been adequately vigilant?

5. "Predatory behavior" is a very serious and also vague accusation to make -- without naming or identifying victims, isn't there a responsibility to identify behavior that others should be aware of?

6. Your twitter account indicated that you are pulping all copies of 3 Books, which seems like a very serious and unusual step to take. Why? Is there material in the book that is illegal or immoral to distribute?

7. If so, what steps did 2dcloud take to make sure the material in the book was proper to publish before contracting?

8. As a publisher that touts its ties with the community, don't you have a special responsibility to be open and transparent to that same community about what mistakes you may have made and what steps you are taking to make sure such incidents don't happen again?

I still believe those are all legitimate questions (though I would have written them more gracefully if I had known that I would later feel obligated to share them verbatim online). Depending on how Hogan/2dcloud responded, I planned to then ask more questions, if any seemed appropriate or necessary. (Note regarding question 5: I knew already that 2dcloud would probably respond that the privacy of the victims made a more explicit explanation of Larmee's actions impossible to give, but I wanted to share their reasoning on this with TCJ readers who may not have been aware of their position.) Larmee himself never wrote me back.

Nearly two weeks went by. I wanted to allow Hogan all the time he and his company needed to formulate their answers and/or a statement. I was planning to contact him sometime this weekend to see if they had made any progress, but had no intention of publishing any more on the story until they were ready. However, on Friday, the former co-editor of this site, Dan Nadel, wrote several tweets in which he forcefully criticized 2dcloud for publicly raising funds without having clearly explained what had happened with Burkholder and Larmee. I didn't see any of this until after Dan had already deleted the tweets, though they remained online for some time in the form of a screenshot of them which was shared online by someone else, and which 2dcloud and others retweeted. (That screenshot seem to have been deleted as of this morning.) Because Dan's tweets and TCJ have been linked multiple times over the weekend by various people I feel obligated to make it clear that I and TCJ had nothing to do with his tweets. Dan is no longer an editor of TCJ. I had no awareness of his tweets beforehand. Dan does not check in with me before writing on Twitter, and if he had done so in this case, I would have recommended that he not publish them.

On Sunday night, 2dcloud released a public statement, in which they announced that in a move that has apparently been in the works for some time, Raighne Hogan will be stepping down, and that Kim Jooha will be the new publisher. They also say that they will be donating 10% of the profits from Burkholder's and Larmee's books (which, except for 3 Books, are still on sale on the 2dcloud website) to RAINN. To various extents, they address many though not all of the questions I sent them in early January. I recommend reading their statement and thinking about it for yourself. In any case, it is an important first step.

I would like to end this on a positive note. I like 2dcloud. We have written about many of their books and projects on this site. Until recently, I have had nothing but pleasant interactions with Hogan, 2dcloud co-founder Maggie Umber, and Kim Jooha, who has written several times for this site and has been one of my favorite recent contributors. It is clear that the company has made some mistakes, and that those mistakes may have been fairly serious. But I attribute those errors to understandable confusion and inexperience, not anything nefarious. I believe that more openness and transparency regarding this incident will not only be good for 2dcloud, which because of its small size and funding model relies on the goodwill and trust of the comics community, but also for that community at large. I believe that an increase in transparency will lead to productive conversations, and that it may help prevent similar mistakes in the future.

 

TGIF

Today on the site, Alex Wong returns to catch up with Jason Shiga, who talks about his residency at Angoulême, his most ambitious book yet, and the importance of Asian representation.

My dad was a cartoonist and an animator while he was living in Japan. He always encouraged me as a kid to pursue my art. There’s the stereotype of Asian parents pushing their kids into engineering or whatever, but my parents were never overbearing like that. They were always extremely supportive of my comics career. It’s something that I feel is a part of me, it’s a part of my blood. My half-sister, who grew up in Japan, also works in comics as well. She’s an assistant for a Shojo title that comes out of Nagoya. I feel like it’s this funny connection that runs in my blood.

As for the Asian American experiences, you probably remember as a kid, if there was an Asian character on television you would get really excited. For me, there was this TV show called Ohara with Pat Morita. It was some stupid cop show, but the lead was Pat Morita, and at that time, it was just so rare to see Asian people represented on TV. He was probably literally the only Asian face you could see on TV at the time. I would run into the kitchen every time he was on TV and said, “Mom, there’s an Asian man on TV, you gotta look!!” It was really exciting. It’s better now and it’s better in mediums like comics, but I still feel like white faces are the default when it comes to Hollywood. But I guess one of the nice things about comics is that there’s no producer who says my characters have to look white in order for the comic to be successful.

And Billy Burkert finishes up his week as our Cartoon Diarist.

 

Duplo, But For Aristocrats

By coming to today's Journal, you've hit the trifecta. First up, it's time for the latest installment in Billy Burkert's Cartoonist Diary. Was quitting his job the right call? Will we find out before Friday's conclusion? Only one way to find out.

And in other deep questions of the day, Tegan's latest column is here! In this installment of Ice Cream For Bedwetters, we get her take on Valiant's attempt to take their media empire to the next level. Things aren't looking good!

Here’s the thing about Valiant: Valiant as it exists in 2018 is really only half a company. These characters – the hundreds of characters who make up the fictional firmament of the Valiant Comics Universe, long may it wave – are a group of IP without any real desperate need to exist in comics form. And I say that because Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe #1 acts as a kind of negative advertisement, influencing me not to purchase more Valiant Comics but to question the very existence of Valiant Comics. I’ve never read a promotional comic that did a worse job of selling its product.

Trifecta means three, and here's the proof: Rich Barrett's debut for The Journal, with a review of Paper Girls: Book OneHere, Barrett grapples with the question of who the Brian K Vaughan/Cliff Chiang series is aimed at, and whether it lands.

With young adult fiction dominating the bookstore market, it’s tempting to label this as YA but it actually doesn’t fit cleanly into that category. Although the protagonists are pre-teens, the tone of the story and some of its subject matter is written with violence and language that, while not unlike what you might hear in an ‘80s film, may not fly with parents who supervise what their pre-teens are reading. Also, a general rule of thumb is that kids prefer to read about older kids, so the age of these characters might be disqualifying for consideration by some teenagers. In fact Paper Girls reads like what it actually is – a trade paperback collection of an ongoing Image Comic – more than it does, say, a Scholastic or First Second YA graphic novel. It’s written for adults who grew up in the ‘80s, grok Dr. Who-level complexities in time travel paradoxes and are in for the long-haul on a multi-year read.

Sorry for the delay in blog posting--i'm in another time zone that doesn't have snow. A revelation in the making!

 

Above the Ridgeline

Today on the site, Alex Dueben interviews Terry Nantier about four decades at the helm of NBM.


It was in the 1980s that things started to take off, as you said, and NBM started publishing Corto Maltese and collecting Terry and the Pirates.

We started publishing Terry and the Pirates about ’82 or so and that our first real substantial success. We created this library. We were the first to do real library-worthy editions of a classic comic strip and that worked very very well. I’m very proud of that. We pioneered in quite a number of ways.

How do you think things have changed?

Well, they’ve changed for the most part positively. There was a real growth of acceptance for graphic novels that started with Maus, but there was a period after, a lull where you almost got the impression that the literati were viewing Maus as possibly the exception that confirms the rule in their minds. Which was obviously unfortunately. When a lot of others comics came out, Persepolis and others, a lot of exceptional work was just more and more proof that comics were a lot more than people understood them to be and could be a lot more. We also had generations of young readers coming in that didn’t need to be convinced of this. Unfortunately my generation, the baby boom generation, accepted this only to a certain degree, but not a really substantial one. It was really Gen X that started accepting this. This is a tremendous achievement for comics, that had been really downtrodden for so long and looked down on. Just seeing that, but within that a further acceptance of European comics doing a lot in that regard to develop and further this mode of expression and this art form. It’s tremendous vindication for the vision I had all along.

We also have Day Three of Billy Burkert's Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. London's Daily Mail has published a story alleging that an unnamed nursing company has accused Stan Lee of repeated sexual harassment against their employees. Through his lawyer, the 95-year-old Lee has denied all charges, and claims he is the victim of a shakedown. The Daily Mail has credibility problems, to put it mildly, and has a long history of publishing false or extremely misleading stories, so it is probably wise to approach this story with caution until more legitimate reporting sources look into it.

—Reviews & Commentary.
At The Atlantic Monthly, Shaan Amin writes about "the dark side" of the popular Indian educational comics series, Amar Chitra Katha.

ACK was the first major indigenous comic-book series to sell within India, and its success also heralded the development of a broader domestic comics industry. ACK’s first successors were primarily Western-inspired action and adventure series, but by the 1990s Indian institutions like Diamond Comics and Raj Comics were publishing mysteries, funnies, and science-fiction works. Even within this crowded field, ACK remained beloved and novel for both its edutainment value and its role as the grandfather of an industry.

And yet, since its debut in 1967, ACK has also helped supply impressionable generations of middle-class children a vision of “immortal” Indian identity wedded to prejudiced norms. ACK’s writing and illustrative team (led by Pai as the primary “storyteller”) constructed a legendary past for India by tying masculinity, Hinduism, fair skin, and high caste to authority, excellence, and virtue. On top of that, his comics often erased non-Hindu subjects from India’s historic and religious fabric. Consequently, ACK reinforced many of the most problematic tenets of Hindu nationalism—tenets that partially drive the platform of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, currently under fire domestically and internationally for policies and rhetoric targeting religious minorities and lower castes.

At the Huffington Post, a media-studies professor named Vamsee Juluri disputes Amin's account.

This is not the first time this complaint has been made against the Amar Chitra Katha series, and I believe there are at least two academic books on the subject. While there is much that one might debate about the narratives and their depiction of “authority, excellence and virtue,” I will for the moment focus on the evidence, or lack thereof, for some of the very broad claims made by the author about the diversity of representations in the series.

—Interviews. The most recent guests at Virtual Memories are Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden.

 

Rider of the Glue

Today at the Journal, we've got the second day of Billy Burkert's Cartoonist Diary: straight out of Texas, he is.

That's not all though--we've also got a review from Leonard Pierce, his first of what I hope will be many for The Journal. Leonard's debut piece for TCJ is on the most recent graphic novel from Chuck Forsman, Slasher

How do we talk about violence in a world so saturated with violence that it takes a body count in the dozens to even make the news? How do we discuss the psychology of violence at a time when the villains of our culture are expected to be calculating psychopaths, and even the heroes are imbued with more than a hint of sociopathy? And, more to the point, how do we portray violent behavior and the way it is formed in comics, whose entire existence for the last century or so has depended on violence as a crucial part of its storytelling language, and even in their more adventurous experiments of late, have run the portrayals of serial killers and lonely brutes so far into the ground they’ve formed their own artistic substratum?

We've covered a lot of Forsman related stuff since I've come aboard, but I'm still wondering: are the people who ask questions about how to make it in the industry keeping abreast of what Chuck has been doing lately? Are they aware of the obstacles that have been placed in his path, and how he has managed dealing with them? I'm supposed to go and speak to another class of art students about how to find a career in cartooning in March, and the more I reminiscence over the choices that he's made in the years that I've known him, the more I think that my best course of action would be to recap the last 36 months of Chuck's choices. Make lots of stuff (and finish the stuff you started making), experiment with as many different delivery systems as possible, maintain professional relationships with multiple publishers, travel to different places and talk to different people, help out as many artists as you can while still making your own work, work with young people who are hungry and smart (but never treat them like sycophants). Anyway. Making it happen.