What precursors even exist for comics like Colville by Steven Gilbert or Black River by Josh Simmons? These are books that use genre not to entertain, but to carve away at something rotten. They document a kind of moral entropy—the creeping disintegration of everything right and good. The universe they depict is unjust, indifferent; their nihilism can be suffocating. The stories proceed according to the predetermined, inescapable logic of the snuff film: the people you see here are destined to die, and you are reading these comics because they will die.
I have read only Black River, and it's stuck with me. It is, if nothing else, a break from the friendliness of the "fest" minded comics culture of the day, carrying on an underground tradition of a certain kind.
Joe McCulloch is here this morning with his weekly guide to the Week in Comics!, this time with spotlight picks from Satoshi Kon and Adrian Tomine.
And the great Sam Henderson is on day two of his tenure creating our Cartoonist's Diary. Inn today's entry, he lays down the law to his new cartooning students.
—News. The Committee to Protect Journalists has released a report on the threats facing cartoonists around the world, including “censorship, punitive lawsuits, physical assault, imprisonment, disappearance and murder." It focuses on cartoonists ranging from Zunar in Malaysia and Aseem Trivedi in India to the staff of Charlie Hebdo in France, Arifur Rahman in Bangladesh, and Molly Norris in Seattle:
The fear of radical Islamic reprisal drove American cartoonist Molly Norris into hiding after she made a tongue-in-cheek call in 2010 on her Facebook page for an “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” Norris’s cartoon did not directly depict the Prophet Muhammad, but included caricatures of a tea cup, thimble, and domino, according to news reports.
Norris received death threats from religious extremists, including the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who, before he was killed in 2011, wrote an article in Inspire saying that Norris’s cartoons made her a “prime target” for killing. She was advised by the FBI to “go ghost,” changing her identity, home, and job to preempt possible reprisals. Her former editor, Mark Baumgarten, said Norris has not been heard from since sending a brief farewell email in the fall of 2010.
The photographer and comics creator Seth Kushner passed away this weekend after a long battle with leukemia. Kushner leaves behind a wife and a young son, and the GoFundMe page they had originally set up for helping to defray the costs of his medical treatment can still be used to help them with funeral and other expenses.
Not everyone was there, but a sizeable, intergenerational and international mix was. And that made for an historic Queers and Comics Conference, the first ever, held at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at The Graduate Center of City University of New York (CUNY). I was there for the whole shebang and will do my best to break it all down, blow by blow, panel by panel. Come along with me, won’t you?
First, this: Queers and Comics (Q&C) would never have happened without the vision of Jennifer Camper, one of the Godmothers of LGBTQ cartooning, and our premier event instigator and organizer. With the able assistance of andré carrington, PhD, the committee chair, Jen brought together a diverse mix of cartoonists, publishers, and scholars “to discuss their craft, and document the history and significance of Queer Comics.” The conference was a resounding success, with a particularly strong showing of the pioneering first wave of cartoonists, and two of our greatest creators featured as keynote speakers. And all it climaxed with a bunch of us going to a hit Broadway musical on Saturday night (a gay cliché, but true).
Today we welcome Sam Henderson to the site for a week-long residency as our cartoonist diarist. Here's day one.
Ah, young underground cartoonists! Here's Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman in the Arcade daze.
I have yet to see Mad Max, but I'm excited to go, and Brendan McCarthy co-wrote the script. Apparently his fingerprints are all over it. Love that Brendan McCarthy.
I didn't know about this exhibition on the work of Ira Schnapp, comics book and pulp logo designer. It looks interesting, though it also looks like you have to get through a lot of bad photoshop work to see the actual subject matter. There's something Freudian about the need comic book guys have to "curate" their heroes work by writing all over it. Penis envy? Oedipus? Just bad manners?
To be clear, Queers & Comics isn’t a convention with tables. It isn’t an entrepreneurial or even a primarily industry-oriented event. It’s an academic conference and cultural checkpoint.
My impression was that the conference was as personal as it was academic. Queer cartoonists making queer cartoons created a niche for themselves in the comics underground where none previously existed. We might have become cartoonists because of Hergé or Charles Addams or George Herriman or Bill Watterson, but see queer comics-making as a discrete and socially necessary act—because of each other. That’s very personal.
In prior generations of queer cartoonists (there are three), finding other gay voices who spoke in comics was a hero’s journey. Today, you get an email from Jennifer Camper.
If all goes according to plan, we should be publishing a larger, more comprehensive report on the conference next Monday written by Rob Kirby.
—Interviews & Profiles. One of the Q&C conference's keynote speakers, Alison Bechdel, talked to the Times about her newfound acceptance, both as a lesbian and as a cartoonist.
Chris Randle profiled Lynda Barry for The Guardian, focusing on her work as an educator.
—Commentary. In twoposts, Tom Hart writes about his feelings after finishing Rosalie Lightning, his graphic novel about the death of his first daughter. (Dan linked to one of those posts yesterday.)
Blood banks and comics? The topic’s not as arbitrary as you might think. It’s quite a natural pairing, actually, both in Japan and in the United States, though for utterly different reasons.
In manga, one cannot call blood banks a major motif by any standard. But it is an important one that crops up at central moments in the medium’s history, serving as a touchstone in a number of artists’ self-fashioning, and a reference point in kashihon and kashihon-inspired comics’ much-celebrated link with poverty and the underclass. As I will explain in detail in the present article’s sequel, most artists who took up the topic did so within the framework of biography. These stories, whether hagiographic or self-deprecatory, typically present the selling of one’s blood to shady blood banks as an essential part of surviving the 50s before achieving stability or success in the 60s. There is also the unique case of Tsuge Tadao, who worked at a blood bank in Tokyo for ten years between the mid 50s and mid 60s, before creating a number of manga about the punks and down-and-outers who sold their blood there, and about the grisly practices and petty labor disputes that went on behind the scenes in the industry. Despite their variety of perspectives, these artists would probably have agreed with the basic point that baiketsu (“sold blood”) expressed how postwar growth, despite its promises of plenty for all, was marked by widening differences of class.
Yesterday Tim wondered why I hadn't mentioned the hilarious Archie Kickstarter. It's sort of too moronic to even get into, but I think it's funny that a comic book company that has built its empire on treating its artists like human garbage is attempting a kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed "reboot", complete with terrible super hero comics, obvious stunts, and an appeal to the public. What all this says about the publishing landscape is the usual, with a twist: no one wants to make a capital outlay but now somehow people are being conned into believing they're "participating" in something by paying for it. Anyhow, fuck Archie. I will spare you a much, much longer digression. For now.
In other news...
Tom Hart has finished his much-anticipated book, Rosalie Lightning. He writes about the process here.
Today on the site, comics writer and historian Paul Buhle reviews a new nonfiction comic, Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, created by artist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and historian Ari Kelman. Here's a bit of his review:
The artist suggests that the actual war-time engravings, in popular magazines like Harper’s or Frank Leslie’s, were themselves proto-comics of the violent, pre-Code type. Readers of all kinds picked up the magazines or even newspapers with front page images, and saw scenes of a detailed, realistic kind never presented of war before. These were obviously fascinating, in the grimmest sense. But hard, surely for many readers. to look at for very long at a time. Battle Lines literally, as far as comic art can be literal, recreates the work of the battlefield photographer tramping through a field, with his assistant, and capturing the visage of a corpse.
This is not a wholly new way to tell a story, either. There has been so much experimentation in styles of nonfiction comics narrative within the work of Peter Kuper, for instance, that the visualized path of a mosquito or the repetition of frames (to suggest a certain monotony of life in a military prison) will be familiar as other ways to do what only a comic can do. But the art of being playful in the most dire historic circumstances demonstrates, page after page, how a large event in US history can be depicted and understood, a prospect more vivid for today’s youthful readers. Battle Lines literally offers “new perspectives,” both because the scholarship is up to date and because the perspectives themselves as so fresh.
—Crowdfunding. On Monday, Archie comics announced that it was launching a Kickstarter to fund three new series, and I was really hoping that Dan the Bootseller would weigh in yesterday. He didn't, but many others on the internet did take exception to the publisher's choice to rely on crowdfunding. Archie CEO Jon Goldwater defends the decision at CBR.
—Reviews & Commentary. Last week, Jill Lepore at The New Yorker looked at a single issue of a Marvel comic book tying in to a larger crossover "event" and even after recruiting the help of two ten-year-old boys, found herself baffled by the story and bemused by its portrayal of female characters. G. Willow Wilson, the writer of the comic in question, is upset by a few minor factual errors in Lepore's piece, as well as her failure to understand that the comic can't be sexist because the characters on the cover face the reader head-on and don't contort themselves into "brokeback" postures, artistic choices that are "pretty symbolic" to people who are immersed in online comics fandom. Wilson was building on an earlier fan critique of Lepore written by Leia Calderon. Abhay Khosla wrote about it (1, 2).
—Interviews. Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing has another in a series of recent strong interviews with Daniel Clowes.
—Conventions. TCAF reports will surely be coming in for a while. Two early ones come from Joe Ollmann and Robyn Chapman.
And no links today. Instead, a walk down publishing lane. Chris Oliveros is retiring from D&Q at age 48. For you kids out there, 48 is really young! D&Q began, as the best comic book companies have, as one person's vision of the medium. Chris is a comics guy. He knows his Joe Sinnotts from his Vince Collettas. Back issues. Long boxes. I like talking comics with Chris. The really great publishers of comics of the last 40 years (and I can count them on one hand) know the medium deeply. You kinda have to in order to have a vision that extends beyond your immediate times and allows you to recognize and nurture talents others might dismiss and put your money where your mouth is. That's the job, and that's what Chris did.
Chris gave a home to some of the most important talents of his (or any) generation: Julie Doucet, Chester Brown and Seth, among others. Moreover, Julie and Chester were, like Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge, deeply connected to '90s indie culture, which was, you know, a thing that counted. Companies from that era were taste driven (Drag City and Merge records come to mind as examples) and thus tended to live and die with their proprietors. But it's good that Chris is letting it live without him, and it's also in keeping with his natural modesty. He's not someone who would ever think that somehow this thing couldn't survive without him and, yet (I guess) he understand how important it is for it to exist as a home for the medium. As a publisher I really liked knowing Chris was out there, and on a few occasions he gave me really important advice and encouragement.
Anyhow, a little more history here...back in the '90s and early '00s D&Q was a genuine alternative to the older and more entrenched Fantagraphics both aesthetically and in terms of the actual physical objects. It was striking at the time -- the actual visuals were often more elegant, more in tune with what was happening in illustration and design. The books were the first in comics to really dovetail with quality trade publishing standards -- french flaps, quality hardcovers, matte lamination. No one else in comics was doing that. It might seem trivial, but look at the publishing landscape today and Chris seems awfully prescient.
Later, via the anthologies he introduced a lot of us to the work being published by Cornelius and L'Association in France. But for whatever reason, my first thought upon hearing about the retirement was the insane Doug Wright art book that D&Q published -- Chris followed his passions in publishing, even if it was down the manhole. I love that book a lot -- it's one of my favorites -- but, oof, not an easy sell. Anyhow, it's a different company now, of course, so it makes sense that he could leave it in Peggy Burns' hands -- with Chris she has expanded the company's purview to encompass a broad range of work in comics and visual culture in general. Anyhow, thanks Chris. Welcome to the other side.
—News. Probably the biggest news this TCAF weekend was the announcement that founder Chris Oliveros is stepping down from his role at Drawn & Quarterly, with Peggy Burns taking over as publisher, and Tom Devlin becoming executive editor. The news was first published in this Toronto Globe & Mail profile of the company on its 25th anniversary. Oliveros reportedly intends to focus on his work as a cartoonist. We'll have more on this soon.
The Doug Wright Awards were announced, and the winners are Nina Bunjevac, Meags Fitzgerald, and Connor Willumsen.
The Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize was announced. The winning book was the Tamakis' This One Summer, and the honoree Richard McGuire's Here.