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More Shmoos

Today on the site, it’s Joe McCulloch’s weekly update, featuring Gerald Jablonski.

And elsewhere:

Longtime cartoonist Dan Spiegle has passed away at the age of 96. He was the artist of innumerable Dell comic books and later Blackhawk and Crossfire.

The great Vanessa Davis is interviewed over at Paste.

 

Unless the Paper Sows the Seed

Today on the site, our minicomics columnist Rob Clough lists his favorite shortform comics of 2016.

The more I read, the less clear I am about the difference between mini-comics and other comics. Consider the output from Retrofit, for example: are these mini-comics, standard comics, or something else? How much does the length of a mini-comic impact this classification? I will use Kurt Wolfgang’s instructive slogan (“Mini-Comics: You Know ‘Em When You See ‘Em”) and present my top short-form comics of the year, be they self-published, published by someone else, or (in a few cases) appearing on the web. The usual caveats apply here, as I’ve not read a bunch of key short-form comics from 2016 yet (Ganges 5, the latest Uptight, King Cat 76, Frontier #12 and #13, , Your Black Friend, and minis from Simon Moreton, for example.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Miriam Libicki.

—Reviews & Commentary.
The New York Review of Books runs a lengthy excerpt from a Chris Ware essay on George Herriman and Michael Tisserand’s new biography of the artist.

Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a “surrealistic” poem, unfolding over years and years. It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip. Like the America it portrays, Herriman’s identity has been poised for a revision for many decades now. Michael Tisserand’s new biography Krazy does just that, clearing the shifting sands and shadows of Herriman’s ancestry, the discovery in the early 1970s of a birth certificate which described Herriman as “colored” sending up a flag among comics researchers and aficionados. Tisserand confirms what for years was hiding in plain sight in the tangled brush of Coconino County, Arizona, where Krazy Kat is supposedly set: Herriman, of mixed African-American ancestry, spent his entire adult life passing as white. He had been born in the African-American neighborhood of racially mixed, culturally polyglot 1880s New Orleans, but within a decade Herriman’s parents moved George and his three siblings to the small but growing town of Los Angeles to escape the increasing bigotry and racial animosity of postbellum Louisiana. The Herrimans melted into California life, and it was there that George, with brief professional spates in New York, would remain for the rest of his life.

—Misc. Hyperallergic has images of many of the pages and spreads from Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman’s Resist! anthology.

Inspired by recent political events, Bully has discontinued his currently running feature chronicling celebrity appearances in comics, and rebooted the year with a new series: defiance in comics.

—News. The New York Times announced that they will be discontinuing several of their bestseller lists, including the one dedicated to comics and graphic novels. Michael Cavna of the Washington Post (which doesn’t publish a comics bestseller list) writes about the decision and some of the reaction here. Abraham Riesman writes about the development for Vulture, getting quotes from Fantagraphics’s Eric Reynolds and Drawn & Quarterly publisher Peggy Burns — and bizarrely using a spread of 1970s Marvel covers as the story’s lead image.

Obviously the Times list provided a welcome marketing tool for smaller comics publishers, and in that sense, in which it becomes a bit harder to sell good comics, this is an indirect setback for the artform. But some online response from readers has seemed oddly personal and angry, as if the Times owes fans this validation. I think that anger is misplaced; the Times’ inept regular coverage of comics is far more offensive than the discontinuation of this list. (By the way, the open dirty secret of newspaper bestseller lists is that they aren’t exactly based on hard numbers. A great deal of what you could politely call “curation” goes on. So the list was never a reliable source of sales data in the first place.) The list’s cancellation is certainly not a positive development, but a sense of perspective is always useful.

 

Mores the Worse

Jack Mendelsohn, the cartoonist of the great and short-lived comic strip Jacky’s Diary, has passed away. Mendelsohn had a varied and well-traveled career. I’ve amended my Art Out of Time biography of him. It’s here. 

Growing up in Brooklyn, Mendelsohn’s ambition was always to be a cartoonist. His father, Irving, was Winsor McCay’s film agent, and the young Mendelsohn visited McCay numerous times. Mendelsohn also visited his favorite local cartoonist, Stan Mac Govern, and received an original Silly Milly comic strip for his trouble. A high school dropout and Navy enlistee, Mendelsohn began his comics career after World War II as a freelance gag cartoonist for magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, and a script writer for dozens of funny animal, humor, and fantasy comic books, including Felix the Cat. Later, he wrote for MAD Magazine and its sister humor comic Panic. A restless, energetic young man, Mendelsohn moved to Mexico in 1951 and stayed for the better part of the decade, hatching Jacky’s Diary there as well.

Jack is remembered by Mark Evanier here and there are Facebook remembrances here.

That’s it, folks. See you next week.

 

 

Dragged in the Dust

Today on the site, Keith Silva is back with a review of Luke Healy’s How to Survive in the North.

The first historical account Healy recalls focuses on an arctic expedition led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson in 1913. To say Stefansson ‘led’ the expedition is a kindness Healy barely cops to, ‘financed’ and then ‘abandoned’ halfway in comes closer to the telling. The hero of the 1913 narrative is Captain Robert Bartlett a/k/a ‘The Ice Master,’ if, as Healy points out, you trust Newfoundlanders. As stolid and deep as the wilderness around him, Bartlett is what’s expected in a story about old-timey explorers and the insurmountable odds they face.

Counter to Bartlett’s alpha male is Ada Blackjack, the hero of the second historical narrative. A native Alaskan woman, Blackjack signs on as a seamstress to a 1921 expedition to claim, as the leader of the expedition tells her, “a little spit called Wrangel Island” for Canada. Blackjack plays POSSLQ in this all-male expedition which includes (spoiler) a member of Stefansson’s 1913 expedition and a perpetual grump, Lorne Knight.

Healy’s introductions to Bartlett and Blackjack show an economy in storytelling to match his drawing. Within a couple of pages and a handful of panels, Healy demonstrates how these characters will use opposing strategies to survive. Bartlett commands. Blackjack demurs. Neither strategy is better or worse. Survival results from endurance, and the method means nothing. Nature endures; humans, most of the time, do not. The arctic doesn’t care for theories, thoughts, or emotions, only practicalities. The survival of these characters depends on their natures, what they bring with them. What they pack. By setting his comic in a harsh climate, Healy plays with ideas of nature vs. nurture or determinism vs. free will, God or nothing. Blackjack plays timid, but that’s her nurture not her nature. When it comes to these historical figures, Healy sides with fate. The how these people survived or died was on them. The cold (nature) of the arctic brings out something in a person, sharpens them, but it can’t hone what isn’t there. Nature needs an edge in want of a good grinding.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Angouleme’s Grand Prix has been awarded to Cosey.

—Reviews & Commentary. At the SAW blog, Josh Santospirito, who runs a comics convention in Tasmania, writes about what happened when he decided to entirely ignore men while planning the programming at this year’s show.

So – for 2016’s festival I chose to attempt to make up for the previous two festivals with a new tactic. I simply decided to ignore men. Suddenly – the process seemed far less stressful; with this simple but strict parameter I could just look at all the great female artists (and there are squillions in the comics/illustration world) and organise the events around each of their skills and strengths. Simply by choosing to focus on one gender, I suddenly seemed to have no problem whatsoever in programming. I applied this philosophy to the visual artists, but I still attempted to get 50:50 with the bands/musicians on stage during the festival.

Then – later on in the piece once I had the shape of a pretty good festival and some of the programming gaps became a bit obvious – I placed a couple of token males (including myself) into the program to make it “appear” more rounded.

For Vice, Andrew W.K. writes a likable but mostly substance-free celebration of comics.

What was most striking about it all was the unique mode of delivery and process. The comics told stories, but they weren’t exactly literature. It was definitely art, but it proudly defied classical artistic restrictions. The work was funny, but also dark, scary, unnerving, enlightened. These “adult comics” could do anything they wanted. It was all the best things combined, and yet entirely their own thing.

And the popular mythbusting site Snopes sifts the evidence regarding the most recent internet comics kerfuffle: whether or not Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby would personally punch a Nazi.

[A biography] also recounted Kirby’s response to a violent threat against him at his workplace:

On occasion the Timely office would get phone calls and letters from Nazi sympathizers threatening the creators of Captain America. Once, while Jack was in the Timely office, a call came from someone in the lobby. When Kirby answered, the caller threatened Jack with bodily harm if he showed his face. Kirby told the caller he would be right down, but by the time Jack reached street level, there was no one to be found.

 

It Keeps Going

Today on the site we have Matthias Wivel on the recent reissue of Pushwagner’s Soft City.

Soft City thus is a natural extension of the portrait of the individual as a depersonalized unit in society as machine that has been a central narrative in critical discourse in the modern era. Walter Benjamin’s characterization of the person as an automaton, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Aldous Huxley’s clinical dystopia, the assembly lines and buzzing wheels and cogs of Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times, and of course George Orwell’s Big Brother, form the basis of Pushwagner’s vision, while his formal presentation is in the tradition of the socially engaged modernist woodcut novels of Frans Masereel, Otto Nückel and others, as well as the disillusioned counter-culture of the 70s, notably its compromised pop art.

It would all be smotheringly rote if it were not staged with such conviction. Symmetry and synchronicity are the guiding principles. The books many panoramic spreads are ordered symmetrically, with the straight lines and angles of oppression subversively rendered in the artist’s imprecise and unruled, shaky hand. Synchronicity provides the structure of the narrative – the actions we witness are repeated ad infinitum by countless families across the at times almost diagrammatic compositions. Guided by their mothers, the children wave like machines to their fathers. But here and there, subtly, small human deviations are suggested between individual figures.

Elsewhere:

The publishing event of this young and terrible year so far is The Lowbrow Reader issue 10. That’s right. This long-running zine, edited by TCJ-contributor Jay Ruttenberg, featuring illustrations by TCJ designer and secret weapon Mike Reddy has been examining the past and present of comedy since long before anyone thought it was cool. More importantly, it has published the great drawings of Gilbert Gottfried. Even more importantly, this latest issue if fantastic, and has Jay’s brilliant discursive essay on the unlikely connection between The Velvet Underground and Family Matters. Go forth and get it.

Over at the Village Voice the great Lauren Weinstein drew an account of Saturday’s march in Washington DC. 

An interview over here with Jim Woodring and his giant pen.

“As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.” –Philip Roth.

 

 

 

2100

Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, highlighting the most interesting-sounding releases new to comics stores. This week’s spotlight picks include new books by Joe Ollmann and Angelo Bioletto.

It’s an NBM/Papercutz release of a 1949-50 Italian serial — indeed, an officially licensed Disney story — in which Mickey Mouse journeys through Hell, as rendered in a very tight, lunchbox-ready Disney House Style by artist Angelo Bioletto. The Dante-riffing writer is one Guido Martina, working in a good deal of legitimate verse. However, it appears the English script adds a number of new, ‘modern’ references to the original comic, I guess so the book can more efficiently be sold to kids. Ugh!


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon has posted the final two of his holiday interviews, with First Second editorial director Mark Siegel:

I think I’ve found my legs somewhat as an editor. I’ve always known there are certain stages of a book. When you have a conversation over thumbnails, I feel I’m looking at the acting, and looking at the staging and even in a cinematic way I’m paying attention to clarity in terms of the action and the staging the angles… it’s not to try to make an homogenous style of art by any mean. I really do believe that it should read not just for the cognoscenti. It should be widely accessible. That’s part of the broadening of audiences. That’s one piece of it.

And writer Joe Casey:

It feels like it’s been a long time since I gave a shit about anyone “getting it.” [Spurgeon laughs] So long, in fact, that it’s tough to remember when I actually did. And, by having that attitude, I know I run the risk of missing out on certain connections that I’m sure other creators make with their readers. Anything that operates on a purely subtextual level in my work wouldn’t be something that I would ever expect a reader to get. Again, those things are in there mainly for my own amusement. Even when the commentary runs deep, it’s still personal to me and I have no expectations that anyone else is onboard. So, in terms of “fine lines…” there are none. Not for me, anyway.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Noah Van Sciver.

The most recent guest on RiYL is Ted Stearn.

The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Joe Ollmann.

Tom Heintjes has reposted an interview with Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell about his work with children’s books.

Koom Kankesan talks to Seth.

I’m not actually one of those “nostalgia guys” who romanticize the past. I have no illusions about the past (well, not too many). I do not wish to live in 1920 or 1930 or any earlier time. I am repulsed by much of today’s culture but I don’t kid myself that things were any better in the past. Every era is fraught with problems and injustice and vulgarity.

So, yes, what I am interested in doing is constructing my own inner worlds. Sometimes, they are direct wish fulfillment (like my city of Dominion) and sometimes they are more fanciful (like the fake Canadiana of GNBCC). You nailed it with your understanding of my relationship to Canada. I wish to reinvent it for my own needs. I pick and chose what appeals to me and construct my own narrow picture. My Canada is pretty much a Canada that never existed. It’s a jigsaw puzzle in which I have left out a lot of pieces.

—Misc. And I’m pretty sure we haven’t yet noted that Gabrielle Bell has started a Patreon for her diary comics.

For as little as two dollars a month, you can read a wealth of my personal comics and keep tabs on my life, forever. Or until this free world collapses some time this year.

 

Dump

Today on the site, Annie Mok reviews the new edition of Vanessa Davis’ contemporary classic, Spaniel Rage.

Originally published in 2005, Spaniel Rage presents the first collected cartooning efforts by Vanessa Davis, a Florida-born and LA-based cartoonist. The book contains diary comics 2003-04 from Davis’ life in NYC, a few anthology stories, and a new watercolored introduction by Davis. The pages feature a free-form panel layout that mirrors a scattered approach to narrative, in contrast to the more structured autobiographical stories in Davis’ later book for Drawn & Quarterly, Make Me a Woman. Often funny, often tinged with loss, Davis chronicles a life page by page. It’s a flawed book: some bits fall flat due to awkward drafting skills, and some don’t work because the jokes don’t connect. However, the charm of Davis’s project, one that seems to be one of teaching or re-teaching herself to draw, overrides any shortcomings this collection faces. “I didn’t know how to make comics,” she says in the introduction, “But I could draw one thing a day in my sketchbook.”

What a weekend we’ve had. 

Francoise Mouly’s Facebook page has a good round-up of Resist!-related photos. New York Magazine has a good roundup of all the amazing signs from Saturday’s global protests. 

Garry Trudeau appears to have predicted some of it!

Over in Canada, The Beguiling’s new location is profiled. 

And Ryan Holmberg has a symposium coming up that will explore nuclear-related manga and other issues. Here’s the info:

 

On February 10-11, Duke University will be hosting a two-day symposium titled “The Nuclear Imaginary in Transnational Perspective.”

An abstract and skeleton schedule can be found below. Further details, including location, time, and paper abstracts, can be found on the symposium’s facebook page. A low-res version of the poster can found here. If you plan on attending, please RSVP here.

For further information, please email jieun.cho@duke.edu or ryan.holmberg@duke.edu

While all of the papers will be presenting fairly unknown and important material in the history of pro- and anti-nuclear visual culture, we are truly lucky to have Leonard Rifas, an underground comix author turned activist cartoonist who published one of the first anti-nuclear power comics works in 1976 (All-Atomic Comics) and as a publisher issued one of the first English translations of manga in the form of Nakazawa Keiji’s Gen of Hiroshima (1980-81).

 

Strange Days

R.C. Harvey writes about George Herriman, and Michael Tisserand’s widely acclaimed biography of the artist, Krazy.

We don’t have to penetrate more than a fraction of an inch into Michael Tisserand’s inch-and-a-half thick, three-pound 545-page biography of Krazy Kat’s kreator to realize that it is a stupendous triumph of exhaustive research and organizational skill. I’ve read only the first two chapters of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, and I already know more about this shy genius than I ever expected to know. But we don’t have to read even that much to realize that this volume is a biography of the cartoonist, not a critique of his work.

Just riffling the pages of the book reveals that not much of Herriman’s comic strip art is on display, and without visual evidence, we can’t examine or much appreciate his cartooning achievement. And besides, Tisserand himself tells us in an author’s introductory note that “the dimensions of this book do not allow for a full presentation of Herriman’s grand comics.”

In fact, there are no complete comic strips on display. This book is deliberately not about comic strip artistry. And he tells us exactly that right at the beginning: none of Herriman’s “grand comics.”

Just biography then? No, there’s a little more.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—News.
Tisserand’s book was already nominated for an NBCC award, and it is now also officially a nominee for a PEN award.

—Interviews & Profiles. AJ Frost talks to Françoise Mouly, Nadja Spiegelman, and Gabe Fowler about their Resist! anthology, just released.

In all my professional life, forty years in comics, I realized printing something—an artifact—is something I understand. It’s a way for me to remember my past. I can remember when my children were born… I can remember which book I printed/published when. I have a way of mapping out my history through publication. And that felt right to have such a publication as my way out of some insurmountable moment. For me in a way, it was a little bit of a replay of September 11th when I couldn’t figure what to do and I eventually came up with this New Yorker cover of black-on-black from [Art Spiegelman’s] suggestion that this was a way to show that there was no solution. Similarly, Gabe’s offer felt like this would be a printed artifact that will catalyze and focus a complex and inarticulate response.

Rob Vollmar talks to Alan Moore.

My friend Adam Curtis, who is an excellent documentary filmmaker, did a wonderful film called The Power of Nightmares, which suggested that previously our political leaders sold us dreams. They would promise us, if we were to elect them, that they would give us this, this, and this. We believed them and we elected them. Then they would say, “Yeah, actually, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to follow our own agendas but thanks for electing us.” They kept doing that until, even as stupid and often subservient as we are, we eventually saw through that. We started saying, “No, you’re not actually going to do the things you said you were going to do, are you? These were just dreams you were selling us. So we are going to stay away from the polling booth in our thousands, in our millions, because we feel disenfranchised from this political system.” Of course, that’s a problem. What kind of mandate have you got if 90 percent of your population are not turning up at the polling booth?

So, if dreams aren’t working anymore, let’s sell them nightmares. This is particularly applicable to the world post-2001 with the spectre of the jihadist, which is our new cultural bogeyman. It was the slack-jawed Russian back when I was a boy and presumably the square-headed German shortly before that.

Alex Wood talks to Robert Crumb.

All I can do is just pile onto what everyone else says [about Donald Trump], you know? It’s all people talk about. It’s an endless subject of conversation and has been since he started running for president. The media of course loved him — loved him! They couldn’t get enough of Trump. He really shot their ratings up. People were either morbidly curious, or outraged, or they supported him–all of ’em. All the people I know that despised him, they just couldn’t help but watch him and gasp in indignation at his latest outrageous statement. “Did you hear what Trump said yesterday?” [laughing] That sort of thing. And of course his supporters just lapped it up. The more outrageous the better, as far as they were concerned.

—Reviews & Commentary. For The New Yorker, Gabrielle Bellot writes about gender fluidity in the work of George Herriman.

In the years following [Arthur Asa] Berger’s initial reporting, a number of writers have grappled with [the racial] aspect of Herriman’s work. “In the comics page no less than in social life, the opposition between black and white can be redefined but not abolished,” the journalist and comics scholar Jeet Heer has written. As Michael Tisserand points out in his new biography, “Krazy,” Herriman might have lost his job as a cartoonist had he been outed as black. When Herriman worked at the Los Angeles Examiner, as a staff artist, the paper published multiple articles about light-skinned African-Americans who had tried to pass as white and were subsequently “exposed.” But “Krazy” also helps to expand the meaning of the comic’s subversive play with identity beyond race. In an era when books depicting homosexuality and gender nonconformity could lead to charges of obscenity, “Krazy Kat,” Tisserand notes, featured a gender-shifting protagonist who was in love with a male character.

At Print, Michael Dooley presents art from Ho Che Anderson’s King.

The incoming U.S. President was responsible for skyrocketing sales of March, the graphic novelization of the life of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. Inadvertently responsible, to be sure. Nevertheless, it gained an incredible bump of more than one hundred thousand percent. And any escalation in literacy is cause for celebration these days. Especially when it encompasses visual literacy. And even more particularly so when the book pays tribute to someone who continues stand up against racism more than 50 years after having been beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting. So it seems time to revisit a related graphic novel bio, groundbreaking and critically acclaimed when first released, on the life of Lewis’s mentor and marching buddy. I’m referring here to King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.