BLOG

City Kitty

Today on the site, Frank Young joins us to discuss some of John Stanley’s lesser-known 1950s comics.

In the research for my three-volume bibliography of John Stanley’s comics work, the ‘50s was the most problematic period. It’s surprising how prolific Stanley was in that decade. His Lulu work—which soon included a satellite title, Tubby—is a staggering aggregate. Each year he wrote, in storyboard form, a dozen 36-to-52-page monthlies, four quarterly Tubbys, and, from 1955 to ’58, one or two 100-page annuals.

This work is built on a series of story formulas. After 1954, the formulas become more mechanical, and thus more obvious. Like George Herriman, John Stanley had the skill and wit to milk a set of stock scenarios for every possible (and impossible) variation. By 1951, Stanley knew the Lulu cast so well he could spin these stories seemingly without effort.

In the high-performance vehicle of Lulu, Stanley’s fail-safes guaranteed finesse by clockwork. At best, Stanley simply picked one of his formulae, did a mix-and-match of characters and narrative stakes, and had a likable, amusing story. At worst, late in the Lulu game and through much of his subsequent work on Nancy and Sluggo, Stanley seems exhausted of joy but determined to soldier on.

A lifelong sufferer of depression, in the pre-Prozac days when self-medication, via tobacco and booze, was a daily norm, Stanley was as much workaholic as alcoholic.

In his non-Lulu 1950s comics, Stanley tests untried concepts, characters and theories. The best of this material presages Stanley’s auteur comics of the 1960s, Thirteen Going on Eighteen and Melvin Monster. It shows that Stanley had the first inklings of his finest ideas while Truman was in the White House—comedic notions Lulu couldn’t accommodate.

Elsewhere:

Long live Bin Crawler, especially for this Pete Morisi bit.

An interview with Taylor McKimens on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in NYC in 7 years.

I love Wonder Warthog! Might need to really get to work on that.

 

Making It

Today, Rob Clough returns with lists. Lists of his thirty favorite long-form comics of 2014, and his thirty favorite minicomics of 2014. Here is his #1 long-form comic:

1. Recidivist IV, by Zak Sally (La Mano). A difficult, powerful, and personal work, this comic represents Sally’s exploration of the ideas of inhabiting a space. Whether depicting invisiblity, haunting a space, obsessing over a space, or abandoning a space, Sally merges these ideas with pen-and-ink drawings that are not only totally immersive, but at at times deliberately difficult to read without great effort, in the right light, and at the right angle. This is not a gimmick but rather an amplification of the theme of unearthing that which has been buried. It’s Sally at his best, abandoning any and all commercial pretenses for a frightening and fascinating object that demands multiple rereadings.

And here is his #1 for minicomics:

1. Art Comic #1, by Matthew Thurber. While one might think this vicious spoof of art school culture to be a bit too “inside baseball,” Thurber’s comic timing, funny drawings and embracing the utterly absurd transcend the specific details of the art world he describes, yet having knowledge of that particular scene is nonetheless highly instructive.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar has been arrested again. Zunar had tweeted that the Malaysian judges who sentenced opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on controversial sodomy charges looked “proud” and so “the rewards from their political masters must be lucrative.” Zunar apparently had already agreed to give a statement about his tweet before the police decided to jail him anyway. This Agence France-Presse story has more.

Scribd has announced a deal adding comics from Marvel, IDW/Top Shelf, Archie, and others to their ebook subscription plan (which charges $9/month to users).

—Reviews & Commentary.
Quincy Rhoads writes about the duck comics of Carl Barks for Uncivilized Books.

—Interviews & Profiles. For the Washington City Paper, Mike Rhode talks to “cartoonist for the CIA” Chip Beck. Unfortunately, he isn’t able to get Beck to talk much about what that CIA cartooning work entailed. One cartoon from his civilian work used to illustrate the article mocks former CIA director George H.W. Bush in about the softest terms imaginable.

—Publishing. Uncivilized Books and Retrofit have both announced subscription plans, and Sparkplug has announced their 2015 publishing lineup.

—Misc. This Tumblr appears to be either run by or associated with Ivan Brunetti.

 

Double Cheese

Hi. I’m back from Chicago, which was swell. As usual, fine hamburgers and tacos made me happy and I’m told my panel with Chris Ware, Karl Wirsum and Robert Cozzolino will be online in the next couple weeks.

And Jog is here to tell you about the week of funny books.

Elsewhere:

Good news for me and you: Ben Jones’ Stone Quackers television show is now on Hulu. This is some of Ben’s best work. More good news: Fellow Hall-of-Famer, New Englander and LA-transplant Ron Rege, Jr. has a brand new comic book out. I ordered mine. Now it’s your turn.

Here’s an interview with Miss Lasko-Gross on her new graphic novel. Here’s one with A. Degen. And here’s Jim Rugg talking Street Angel.

Not comics: I like this new web site from Siglio Press: The Improbable. It compiles book reviews written by proprietors of independent store just for the site. It’s a nice way to stumble across gems.

 

Since the Operation

Today, we present Alex Dueben’s interview with Mana Neyestani, an Iranian cartoonist once imprisoned for his art, and the author of An Iranian Metamorphosis. Here is a brief excerpt:

What is the role of cartoonists in Iran? Do people pay a lot of attention to comics and cartoons?

You know that editorial cartoons depends on the media, and the media in Iran are strictly controlled and censored therefore it is not easy to find a place to present your work as a cartoonist. Also there is no tradition of comic books in Iran for some reasons: it is a risky job for publishers to invest on comics. Books need to get kind of license or permission from ministry of culture to be published and they might be rejected due to their sexual or political or social point of view. As a comic artist you need to spend a huge time for a book and get almost nothing financially. Anyway, people like cartoons if they can access them.

Your character, Soheil. Was this a continuing comic strip that appeared in the newspaper? What was it like, was it just a comic for children and not political?

Actually Soheil (and her sister Sara) were the characters of the magazine which I created for the kids section. I preferred to present stories, articles and interviews through their mouths. Applying childish language helps the audience for a better communication, I think. I did it almost two years and it was not political at all.

And if you missed it, last Friday, we posted Brian Nicholson’s review of Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen, which is many people’s book of last year. Here’s a sample from the middle:

Sayeth the narrator: “Grandad’s familiarity with modern architecture was minimal. He experienced everything in the wide-eyed, open-mouthed manner of a child; as a spectacle of light and color, forms and shapes.” Within the book’s spaces, marked by pattern and line, we see a hammock dissolve into strands of itself, arcs of white across a blue page. Things dissolve and resolve, from collections of shapes into cartoon iconography. A penis becomes a bird, Arsene appears as an ass. The forking branches of trees can have any shape projected onto their curves. Characters’ heads are but blank spheres until the features of faces have reason to be noticed, and from this design decision, an approach to characterization follows: Each character exists in a space between the fleshed-out literary figure, rich with inner life, and a cartoon character with a set of behaviors that exist only to delight the viewer. Arsene is fairly simple-minded; each character’s life is a blank to the others. Upon his arrival in the colony, Arsene is not recognized by the cousin who invited him, who in the ensuing struggle is depicted without a face. This cousin is later shown having a homosexual affair, but whether his wife is aware of this as she pursues her own affair with Arsene is unknown. Arsene, for his part, shows no hesitation about falling in love with this married woman. No one speculates as to the motivations of one another, and everyone’s motivations are fairly base and predicated only by what is in front of them at any given time, with their understanding of each other consisting mostly of projections.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Scott McCloud writes about the inspiration he took from Art Spiegelman’s Breakdowns, particularly the comics essay “Cracking Jokes”.

Adam McGovern pays tribute to Gahan Wilson.

For the NYRB, J. Hoberman reviews the Tomi Ungerer show up at the Drawing Center in New York.

—Interviews & Profiles. Scott McCloud is interviewed by his wife, Ivy Ratafia, for Playboy.

Whit Taylor talks to Noah Van Sciver.

—History. John Adcock takes a look back at Gershon Legman (author of Rationale of the Dirty Joke) and his writing on crime and horror comics.

Paste checks in with Jillian and Mariko Tamaki about their Printz and Caldecott wins.

James Romberger talks to Dean Mullaney about reprinting Corto Maltese.

The Forward interviews Miss Lasko-Gross.

—Misc. Sarah Larson at the online New Yorker reports from a recent Richard McGuire appearance moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos.

Scholars Kathryn La Barre, Carol Tilley, and John Walsh are collaborating on a digital archive analyzing comics readership from 1961-1973 that should be of interest.

—Funnies. There’s a reason this Lilli Carré comic for the NY Times is being passed around so frequently.

 

Said Purple Couch

Hi. Julia Gfrörer joins us for a new column.

Certainly we first understand the astronaut to be an adventurer, a heroic figure, and yet the stark facts present a human being, essentially a wad of raw throbbing pulp, packed in its unwieldy casing, dwarfed by immense darkness: an object lesson in total helplessness. That early space exploration should have been accomplished using grindingly primitive midcentury technology, with room-sized punched card computers, is astonishing, but falsely so, when in spite of some improved tools, the possibility of exploring space in anything approaching genuine safety and comfort remains devastatingly remote. We humans may enter oblivion, in a limited way, but can never belong there. The image of the astronaut seems to balance on razor-point heroism over a chasm of madness.

Elsewhere:

Gil Roth interviews Mimi Gross, who has interesting connections to comics and cartoon culture.

Bart Beaty on the two-time best book  winner at Angouleme, Riad Sattouf.

Dept. of self-promotion: I’m going to be on a panel with Chris Ware and Karl Wirsum on Saturday in Chicago at the Cultural Center following a screening of Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists. And hey, I am co-curating an exhibition of Victor Moscoso’s drawings from 1967-1982, opening March 6th in NYC.

This fascinating NY Times piece veers into comics in a great way. Also, my own son might use this headline to describe me one day!

 

Flashback

Frank Santoro is here with a new column. This week, after reading a somewhat depressing book on general popular culture, he’s excited about comics:

I just read Retromania by Simon Reynolds. It’s mostly about pop music but some of the ideas made me think about comics. There’s an idea out there that everything that happened to the music industry is going to happen everywhere else. And all that may be true–we all may have to give our work away for free and digital technology is changing the equation, and maybe all the best ideas have already been thought of–but I must admit I felt more hopeful about comics when I finished this book. Music is, according to Reynolds, caught in a retromania that can’t sustain itself. Music deals in “pasts” the way the stock market deals in futures and they both crashed. There is no new language in music right now.

However, in comics there is a new language: the scroll.

We also have Paul Buhle’s review of Noah Van Sciver’s Saint Cole:

Saint Cole himself, a young guy with a live-in girlfriend and unplanned baby, is … already in trouble before the mother-in-law moves in. He takes all the hours he can get as a waiter at a pizza joint. He means well, but self-medicates, i.e., drinks too much. He is, most of all, the only one in the household bringing in money. His alienation is financial pressure, the same pressure on college drop-outs (or never-starteds) in an economy where the unionized factory jobs, even the non-unionized factory jobs, have just about disappeared. The service economy needs millions of workers like him but has many millions who would be just as happy taking his job. The downward spiral is multifaceted. It has him deeper in debt, it has him fantasizing about sex out loud, in a repulsive, self-destructive, uncontrollable fashion. In short: acting like one more loser in a sports bar that could be anywhere, from noon to midnight and beyond. This is pained realism, not even “ripped from the headlines” because it is sub-headline, everyday news.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Shea Hennum at Paste has the first negative review of Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor I’ve seen. Rachel Cooke at The Guardian, on the other hand, compares it favorably to David Mitchell.

Carmen Maria Machado writes about MariNaomi’s Dragon’s Breath. Ariell Cacciola writes about Mana Neyestani’s An Iranian Metamorphosis.

—Interviews & Profiles. Robert Sullivan at The New Yorker has a nice piece on Tomi Ungerer (who has an exhibit up in NYC).

Patrick Reed speaks to the ubiquitous Scott McCloud.

Vice interviews Charlie Hebdo‘s Luz:

—Misc. The New Yorker‘s famous (in some circles) James Thurber wall has made the move to 1 World Trade Center.

—News. Less than two months after it was burglarized once, Marc Arsenault’s Wow Cool/Alternative comics shop in Cupertino was broken into again. Online orders could help him out a lot.

This much-shared Boing Boing post on Molly Crabapple’s voluminous FBI files is pretty scary.

Zunar, the Malaysian cartoonist officially investigated for sedition, has been invited to speak at the UN.

 

Silent Partners

Hi. Today on the site we have Paul Tumey discussing the recent (and excellent) Basil Wolverton book from parent corporation Fantagraphics, and a little more, too.

This volume, the first of two, or perhaps three, in an art-filled biography, covers Wolverton’s life from birth and childhood up to the first few years of Spacehawk and the first shakings of Powerhouse Pepper, landmarks in Wolverton’s career and features that will be familiar to any fan. The book is roughly eighty-percent art and twenty-percent text. Sadowski’s well-written, densely detailed narrative is organized into chapters of illustrated biography separated by generous chunks of “art pages,” which have their notes. This is a thoughtful and successful design.

One of the interesting things about Sadowski’s books is that he manages to find a way to showcase reprints of carefully selected and restored comic art without sacrificing detailed narrative and notes. In his 2009 book, Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 (which includes some Wolverton comics), Sadowski hit upon the scheme of presenting his selected stories up front as a thick portfolio, with a second section of detailed commentary on the stories and their contexts in the back. One can read these books just for the comics, or for the full experience offered. It works well both ways.

Charlie Hebdo: Curators Glenn Lowry and Anne Pasternak on NPR about the art and the attack.

I’m gonna guess that Ta-Nehisi Coates, who I usually enjoy, is not responsible for the regrettable headline for this short little enthusiasm burst about Matt Fraction and diversity in superhero comics.

Interesting piece in Art in America about “appropriation”, this time involving two very cartoon-influenced artists. I know both artists involved, and it’s sorta sad but also, if you read between the lines, very telling about today’s market and, if I was gonna take it further, what might be called social media-driven art. But that’s another story.

And hey, Congo or no Congo, here’s a new auction record set for original comic art with this Tintin piece.

 

 

Endless Circle

Six more weeks of winter, and Joe McCulloch’s here with a guide to the newest comics you may want to read in the meantime.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. We linked to an excerpt from Jeet Heer’s epic Paris Review interview with Chris Ware a while back, but now the whole thing‘s online. The Review also has a talk with Tomi Ungerer.

Ian McQuaid at i-D talks to Daniel Clowes in anticipation of the upcoming Complete Eightball collection.

Also, Darling Sleeper talks to Steven Weissman and Splitsider talks to Lisa Hanawalt.

—Scott McCloud. Lots of Scott McCloud out there right now, as The Sculptor officially hits stores. There’s a profile at the New York Times, an interview at The Beat, and at the A.V. Club, he recommends and discusses seven graphic novels on “artistic frustration”.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sean Rogers reviews books by Michael DeForge, Dylan Horrocks, and Jacques Tardi. Grant Morrison expert Marc Singer is underwhelmed by The Multiversity Guidebook.

—Misc. John Porcellino meets a groundhog.

Finally, Stassa Edwards writes about the prevalence of talking animals in fiction, which seems of interest to funny animal comics scholars.