And So On

We have two Rob Clough reviews for you this morning. First, he writes about a collection of Eric Orner's Completely Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green:

Getting [this] published in one volume is an important step to building continuity in the history of gay comics. Once a widely-distributed strip in gay-oriented publications, the comic became popular and significant enough to inspire a film adaptation. As noted in the foreword, the strip ran from 1989 to 2005, produced more than 300 strips, and appeared in more than eighty publications at its height. This volume collects all of those strips and adds some new material as well, giving the hero of the strip something of a happy ending (or perhaps more accurately, a happy beginning).

Visually, the strip is highly uneven. Orner's drawing style changes a couple of years in and becomes denser, filled with zip-a-tone effects, cross-hatching and a greater dependence on spotting blacks to add atmosphere. The most recent strips looked like they were drawn and colored on a computer, which was jarring to say the least. These strips didn't look nearly as polished as the earlier strips, and the garishness of the color detracted from some of the content. The use of color also seemed arbitrary at times. It's obvious that Ethan Green was Orner's laboratory for becoming a cartoonist, and not every experiment was a success.

And then we have his take on Scott McCloud's The Sculptor:

I have three fundamental difficulties with Scott McCloud's years-in-the-making opus, The Sculptor. First, the way the female love interest is portrayed betrays a staggering lack of nuance regarding mental illness and borders on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that plagues a certain kind of romantic drama. Second, the pacing of the book is herky-jerky, with little in it justifying its extreme length. Indeed, the book is repetitive and often tedious in exploring its main characters. The final "action sequence" is laughably silly in light of the rest of the book. Third, the essentialist nature of McCloud's stances on art that are on display in his famous Understanding Comics also hold sway here, a bias that I found tremendously tedious and distracting.

Let's unpack these critiques in light of the story and McCloud's long career. ...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Charlie Hebdo/PEN. This phase of 2015's never-ending debate is probably winding down now, since the actual PEN gala in which CH was given its award has now taken place. (Boris Kachka reports from the scene here.) This has been exhausting for some on both sides of the argument (not to mention those somewhere in the middle), but these are issues that every cartoonist has to deal with at one level or another, so it's important to think it through, and to keep engaging with alternate viewpoints. Some of the remaining stories and essays worth reading include this report of a panel in which two of CH's editors participated, Christopher Beha at Harper's, Keith Gessen at n+1, Arthur Goldhammer at Al Jazeera, and Laura Miller's interview with table host Neil Gaiman. Michael Cavna at The Washington Post solicits opinions from comics-world figures ranging from Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly to Gene Luen Yang to Liza Donnelly.

—Interviews & Profiles. Jillian Tamaki is interviewed by both Publishers Weekly and The A.V. Club.

—Commentary. Bully continues to look at cartoonists breaking the rules of narrative visual logic.



Today on the site:

Robert Kirby on Kieler Roberts' Miseryland.

Miseryland, Keiler Roberts’ third paperback collection of autobiographical comics from her zine, Powdered Milk, is an invigorating blend of observational comedy, quiet domesticity, and existential angst, captured in realistic line drawings that have a slightly rough, appealingly improvised feel. Though delightfully funny, these stories have a melancholy running underneath, a sense of the fragile order of existence and how quickly emotional equilibrium can be upset by small incidents, unwanted exchanges, doubt, or self-recrimination. With a keen ear for dialogue and nuance, Roberts captures human nature in all its quirky contradiction.


The New York Times chats with Daniel Clowes about The Complete Eightball and, most importantly, drops tidbits on his upcoming graphic novel.

Alison Bechdel explains her reasons for attending the controversial PEN Gala, which Tim updated you all on yesterday. As for me, I've rarely seen so many people whose work I admire make such boneheaded arguments (I'm looking at you, Rachel Kushner). As Tim pointed out, this whole controversy is also indicative of how little the various lit establishments (still!) regard the medium of comics that most dismissed the Charlie work without actually having read it. Amazing.

Gil Roth interviews Jonah Kinigstein. I love this work, and published it back in 2004, but I'm interested that so far it's only gotten play in the comics and illustration world, which still thrives on a reverse snobbery about modern and contemporary art. A lot of what Kinigstein says is right on the money, but a lot of it is simply spleen-venting by an artist who sees only a monolithic "art world". I'd love to see an art writer (not me) engage with this material.

Finally, I missed this lovely little PDF from 2D Cloud documenting the publisher's experiences at this past MoCCA, a festival about which I saw astonishingly little. I was also out of town, so maybe I missed a weekend of furious tweeting. Who knows.



Run from Love

It's Tuesday, and Joe McCulloch is here to prep you for the Week in Comics, and also to tell you about his experiences at this past weekend's Free Comic Book Day:

"So what do you think of Convergence?"

"It's a piece of shit."

We were almost 90 minutes into our first stop, and Chris had begun making small talk with a local man of his acquaintance. There's no shortage of conversation on Free Comic Book Day; the store -- a mainline, 'full-service' comic book shop on a busy highway -- was absolutely packed. Costumed stormtroopers patrolled the parking lot as a line for free items stretched down the facade of the entire strip mall. It was sunny, and dime bins were set up outside. Local artists drew sketches and signed books, and I personally rescued a Stephen R. Bissette Tyrant print from blowing away with the springtime breeze. "Don't want this to leave again," I joked, and there were people around who understood my joke, which is unusual and nice.

If you're wondering why retailers put up with FCBD, it's because if you put a lot a effort into presentation, local hype, sales, etc., it becomes something akin to a Black Friday for comics, complete with a sizable outlay of browsers who don't often visit Direct Market establishments, and do indeed often buy stuff on top of the giveaway items. At least that's what I've been told - anecdotally, but consistently.

Meanwhile elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Pauline Kal-el reviews an old Catwoman issue, and in the process gets sidetracked on why there hasn't been a Tolstoy of comics:

To imagine this mythical comic book that’s as good as War And Peace, you have to try to imagine the Leo Tolstoy of comic books. Who is this guy, who’s capable of making a 10/10 comic? The intellectual and bearded patriarch willing to spend a decade pouring his epic and expansive take on history and philosophy into the graphic format. If this dude is so smart, why’s he choosing a medium where artists work every hour god sends and are barely compensated for their efforts? Daniel Clowes once calculated that if he divided the hours he spent making comics against money he received, he worked for less than the minimum wage. You’d have to be crazy in a way Leo definitely wasn’t.

You soon realise that this guy, the comics Tolstoy, could never exist. Not just because of the money, either—Chris Ware calculated the ratio of an average novelist’s annual output to an outstanding cartoonist’s life’s work is 1:1. So you’d need six lifetimes to produce what the real Leo made in 6 years. It’s literally impossible for the human body to produce a comic of the depth and complexity of a War and Peace.

Bully notices a few recent comics in which the creators ignore or break the rules of visual storytelling.

Tom Spurgeon is a guest on the Comics Alternative podcast, in which they discuss this year's Eisner nominees.

—Charlie Hebdo/PEN: Most readers of this site are probably either obsessed with this controversy and have already read everything I will now link to, or are exhausted by the whole thing, and would prefer not o read another word. But here are some of the more important or interesting things that have been written since last week. Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, who lead the PEN American Center, explain why the organization plans to honor Charlie Hebdo. The journalist Masha Gessen (brother of protest letter signee Keith Gessen) argues that the award is appropriate. Jon Wiener at The Nation argues that it is not. This New York Times piece does a good job at reporting the award opponents' views at their strongest. On Twitter, Dylan Horrocks compares the controversy to the Salman Rushdie/Satanic Verses affair. On video, Philip Gourevitch is interviewed by France 24 about the controversy. Caleb Crain has video of and translates Christiane Taubira's speech at one of the Charlie cartoonists' memorial service. (Taubira is the French minister of justice, and the person depicted in one of the most controversial covers.) Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, and Neil Gaiman have agreed to host tables at the PEN event to replace some of the boycotting writers.

—Misc. The Nancy strip Peggy Olsen taped to her office door.

And last, but not least: Samplerman.


Red Room

Welcome to the new week. Today we have Mike Dawson and Dustin Harbin talking about Batman: Year One.


I am on my way back from a brief visit to LA, where pals Jim Drain and Peter Saul both opened stellar shows. Comics nerd alert: Jim's show includes a wall-sized print of the Fort Thunder phone list. Also got to spend time with Ben Jones, who remains surprising. Of course there's the TV show, video art, etc., but also now pizza boxes (at last!) and signage for Jon and Vinny's. And I am typing this on Sammy Harkham's computer, with access to all his files and his secret terrifying opinions of your work, but perhaps more importantly, his Moebius collection. Sammy's new issue of Crickets is, as I've mentioned, totally incredible. Get it.

There is a new issue of Bobby Madness's zine, Fluke, which makes me happy

And finally, more criticism of the dourness of DC Entertainment comic book movies.


Too Many Links

We have two reviews for you today. First, Rob Kirby writes about Daryl Cunningham's The Age of Selfishness, which finds the roots of the 2008 financial crisis in the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Simultaneously enlightening and depressing, The Age of Selfishness is a powerful example of the aptitude of the comic art form for cogent and potent polemic. The book deftly sums up the shaky state of the economy both before and after the huge financial downturn of 2008. Cunningham traces the origins of the crisis to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and how its embrace by the powerful and privileged helped wreak havoc—and the threat that allegiance to this philosophy and its convictions still poses today. Examining Rand’s life and legacy, Cunningham offers, above all, a cautionary tale of the perils of self-certainty and blind orthodoxy.

And then, in something of a departure for this site, Tim Hanley reviews a "young adult" prose novel, Gwenda Bond's Lois Lane: Fallout, tying it to DC's efforts to broaden its female readership:

The past decade has not been a great showcase for Lois. The focus of her comic book appearances shifted from the Daily Planet to her home life, and she was often sidelined during big events because Superman wanted to protect her. She occasionally got to cover a big story or have a fun adventure with Superman, but spent most of her time in the background. Or dead. Several different storylines involved Lois "dying" in order to emotionally manipulate Superman, and not just in the comics world. The plot of the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us was rooted in the Joker tricking Superman into killing Lois, and for real this time. The New 52 relaunch hasn't given Lois much more to do. Her marriage disappeared and Wonder Woman took her place as Superman's lady friend, relegating Lois to sporadic appearances across the Superman line.

While the comic book world hasn't done a lot with Lois as of late, she's now jumped to a different medium where she can finally have a starring role. Lois Lane: Fallout is a new young adult novel by Gwenda Bond that follows a young Lois' high school adventures in Metropolis. Bond is the acclaimed author of The Woken Gods, Girl on a Wire, and more, and specializes in young, tough female protagonists. She's also a Lois Lane enthusiast, and pursued a journalism degree in part because of her love of the character.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At The Atlantic, Steven Heller writes about Harvey Kurtzman, and Bill Schelly's new biography of the artist. Greil Marcus has reposted his own appreciation of Kurtzman.

Marc Singer writes about the Mark Waid era of Daredevil.

While shopping for books, Jonathan Lethem recommends Richard McGuire's Here:

Charlie Hebdo/PEN. So much has been written about the PEN/Charlie Hebdo controversy over recent days that it would be difficult to sum up quickly. Boris Kachka at New York does a good job of reporting how the situation first arose, talking to some of the instigators, and including the full text of the official protest letter from writers unhappy that Charlie Hebdo is to receive a special award.

Writers who have weighed in on the debate include Katha Pollitt from The Nation, Caleb Crain, Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker, Francine Prose, Dorian Lynskey, Eliot Weinberger, Justin Smith, and Charlie staffer Robert McLiam Wilson. Dylan Horrocks has addressed the situation on Twitter.

—News. The University of Chicago has acquired Daniel Clowes's papers.

This year's Russ Manning Award nominees have been announced.

—Interviews & Profiles. Ray Pride has a great long interview with Daniel Clowes, ostensibly focusing on his time in Chicago but expanding every which way.

For The Hairpin, Annie Mok talks to Jillian Tamaki.

Alex Dueben speaks to Nina Bunjevac for CBR.

His new local alt-weekly interviews Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter.

Connor Willumsen is the latest guest on Inkstuds, and Robert Williams is on WTF.

Stuck in Vermont follows Alison Bechdel to Broadway:

Gary Groth talks Fantagraphics:

—Misc. Time has some photographs used by R. Crumb in famous stories.

Herb Trimpe's last comics work was apparently a collaboration with Josh Bayer.

A short documentary about Jonah Kinigstein:

The Emperors New Clothes: A profile of artist agitator Jonah Kinigstein from Gretchen Burger on Vimeo.


Making the Sausage

Today on the site: Matt Seneca interviews Guy Colwell.

MS: Comics is such a natural refuge for figurative art that it’s makes sense you’d end up there. But Inner City Romance also incorporates a lot of abstraction, both in the visuals and the plots, such as they are. What appealed to you about the long dream/hallucination/fantasy sequences in the book?

GC: Well, down underneath the activist social surrealist there is still a dormant abstract expressionist lurking. For the twenty years I was into fine art painting before prison, I was primarily an abstract painter. I did many purely decorative explorations of form and color and if it had not been for the radicalizing processes of prison, that might have been my life work. It peeks out from time to time in groups of experimental drawings and paintings that usually do not get seen by anyone because the social surrealism is more prominent. The acid trip in Inner City Romance #1 was sort of a last gasp of the old abstract/fantasy vein I was in just before prison, based, as I said, on drawings I did in late ‘67 and early ‘68. Recently I did a series of small abstract oil paintings just because I can’t keep this tendency totally suppressed all the time. But, as I expected, this side trip got pushed aside by some new social surrealist painting ideas that took over, such as my new picture of an Ebola treatment center and one I’m working on now of a cute couple with a small child walking through what appears to be violent battle scene.

Of course another aspect of the dream sequences is to explore the inner life of a mind as inspired by the hallucinatory effects of LSD. The trips I took set off a lot of visual experiments because seeing the inner productions of the brain was so incredibly fascinating, colorful and visual that I felt I should attempt to capture some of it in drawings and paintings. There was an explosion of this kind of work in all creative fields in the ‘60s, as you know. Rock posters, rock and roll music, literature and fine art were all hugely moved by the psychedelic experience, just as I was.


More real estate news: Al Hirschfeld's home is for sale, insanely great mural included.

I didn't know that Ralph Bakshi was posting short vintage clips on Facebook, did you?

I normally ignore the superhero movie thing, but the general disorganization of the DC attempt to do a "universe" is interesting/funny. In a counterpoint to that, here is Gerry Conway (mentioned twice in one week -- a TCJ record) on the company's latest move to avoid paying creators.


Erasing Memory

R.C. Harvey is here with the latest installment of his Hare Tonic column. Today, he shares with us a conversation he held with the late Roger Armstrong, who seems to have worked in nearly every aspect of the comics, cartooning, and animation fields. Here's a brief excerpt:

Roger loved to talk. He loved to tell stories about his life in cartooning and some of the legendary but now mostly forgotten people he’d worked with in the early days, and when he got going, he seemed figuratively to hug himself with barely suppressed glee in anticipation of savoring, as he told of it once again, some obscure moment in the lore of the craft, its business, and its practitioners. Typically, his tales wandered a good bit as he pursued anecdotal bypaths that invariably tempted him from the main thoroughfare of his narrative: a description of Clifford McBride’s studio led Roger to McBride’s concert piano, at which, Roger averred, McBride was adept, and from there, to a spaghetti dinner served by a Japanese houseboy. None of these apostrophes, on the bald surface, belonged together—Japanese house boy? concert grand piano?—but Roger, his eyes impishly a-twinkle, made each shed light upon the other, creating an illuminating glimpse of the creator of that giant cartoon dog, Napoleon.

Roger drew cartoons more ways than most. A stylistic virtuoso, he drew comic books in the styles of Disney, Warner Brothers, and Hanna Barbera. He drew comic strips as disparate in manner as McBride’s classic Napoleon, Marge’s Little Lulu, Disney’s Scamp, and Ella Cinders, a soap opera continuity.

At this point, logic wavers. Armstrong also worked in animation as in-betweener, animator, and story director. An accomplished painter in watercolor and oil, he served as director of an art museum, and he held an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the Art Institute of Southern California.

We also have Rob Clough's review of Stephen Collins's The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Here's how Rob begins:

Stephen Collins's fable about a tidy society menaced by the otherness of a man's beard that mysteriously would not stop growing, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, is notable for the extreme dryness of its wit, the detailed but lively nature of the drawing, and the nihilism at its center. It follows an unfortunate turn of events for Dave, a typical worker on the island of Here, a land known for its fastidious attention to order, detail, cleanliness, and predictability. To do otherwise would be to invite the unknown, specifically the unknown chaos of There, the dark and frightening land beyond the sea. One day, Dave woke up with a beard that will not stop growing. All efforts to curb it, first by himself and then by exploitative researchers and the government, fail. Here's stylists are conscripted to shape the beard in a series of scaffolds, another initiative that fails--hair does what it wants to do, after all. Finally, with their society starting to break down a little, they attach the beard (and Dave) to a series of balloons that float away over the sea. Everyone learns to accept a little bit of chaos in their lives.

Meanwhile, elsewhere (I'm still catching up from last week):

—News. According to this New York Times report, as part of an effort to rid Russia of pro-fascist imagery, all books with swastikas on their covers have been removed from display in stores, including Art Spiegelman's Maus. The Guardian approached Spiegelman for comment: "It’s a real shame because this is a book that is about memory. We don’t want cultures to erase memory."

The Broadway musical made from Alison Bechdel's Fun Home received 12 Tony nominations yesterday. (I happen to have seen the show last weekend. It's good, especially in terms of inventive staging and some of the performances, and it was obvious watching it that it will be enormously popular. But it is also, perhaps inevitably, a crowd-pleasing simplification of the original book. Many of the nuances, ambiguities, and layered references have been stripped away. Still, it's well worth seeing.)

Last week, Evan Serpick, the editor of the Baltimore City Paper, wrote an essay explaining why he decided to drop Tony Millionaire's Maakies, which had run in the alt-weekly for fifteen years:

Then we got this week's comic. Yeah, it's a "joke" about a woman filing for divorce because she is "on the rag." She has her period! So she mad! I sent it around to the staff, suggesting that we finally can "Maakies." Everyone who responded agreed.

I missed this Time report from two weeks ago that featured Punisher creator Gerry Conway lamenting the way it has been adopted by militia in Iraq:

"I was an anti-war person. I argued against it and certainly wrote against it," says Conway who was 21-years-old when he invented the character. At the time he filed for conscious objector status before being excused from the draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds. "We’d probably be considered the weak-kneed hippies they’d want to punch out."

It was also reported last week that San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum will be moving.

"It’s the same story as just about every move like this in the Bay Area right now," said Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum. "The price per square foot is going to more than double, and that's just not viable for us. The landlords are giving us what considerations they can, but ultimately it's a business decision."

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian talks to Cece Bell, the creator of the Newberry-winning graphic novel El Deafo. (My daughter loved this book.)

—Reviews & Commentary. On his own site, Rob Clough reviews the newly released Trash Market from Tadao Tsuge, as well as Seth's Palookaville 21 and 22.

Domingos Isabalinho has published the second and third parts of his review of Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey's The Graphic Novel: An Introduction:

There're so many wrong ideas above that I don't even know where to begin! Let's just say that "superheroes" and "intelligent adult book buyers" in the same sentence is an oxymoron (but, then again, there's Watchmen, so, one never knows). In any case I doubt that intelligent adult book buyers touch superheroes with a ten-foot pole (and I mean sociologically).

—Festivals. Registration is open for the Queers & Comics festival being held in NYC in a few weeks. Bechdel and Howard Cruse will be keynote speakers.


A Guy Like You

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch reports on this week's bounty.


Six writers have withdrawn as hosts of the annual PEN gala after the organization announced it was giving an award to Charlie Hebdo.

The New Republic has a nice piece about the physicality of books.

Tom Spurgeon reports back from Linework NW.

This vintage cartoon night sounds fun.

This new Alan Moore series about Providence might bring me back to regular comic books, but only if Joe and Tucker say I have to.