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Downhill From Here

Today, Abhay Khosla continues his four-part, month-by-month takedown of 2015 comics culture. This time, it’s April through June, highlights of which include Frank Cho’s Spider-Gwen, all-male women-in-comics panels, multiple public apologies, and the “Killing Joke” Batgirl cover.

Despite Batgirl co-creator Cameron Stewart himself stating, “It’s not censorship. We the creative team never wanted [the cover],” Gamergate insisted that comics were being “censored.” As per Gamergate standard operating procedure, deranged arguments ensued that anyone who didn’t like the cover wasn’t a “true comic reader” (even though any “true comic reader” could spot the problem with the cover in a half-second)… as did online threats of violence– SURPRISE!!

Even DC Comics, a company with a long history of courting a middle-age Juggalo audience with images of sexualized violence, were shocked enough to mention the threats in their statement on why the cover was being pulled: “Regardless if fans like Rafael Albuquerque’s homage to Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE graphic novel from 25 years ago, or find it inconsistent with the current tonality of the Batgirl books – threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society.” Even DC! (It later had to be clarified that the person receiving threats was not Albuquerque, but those objecting to the cover.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Alan Moore talks at length (as he does) about his participation in a new horror anthology, Cinema Purgatorio, and also holds forth on anthologies and black-and-white art more generally:

While the massive improvement in comic-book colouring, printing, and production techniques over the last thirty or forty years has led to some exemplary pieces of work it has also given artists a lot of places to hide their flaws, in the same way that rambling continuities have provided a lot of cover for the shortcomings of writers. In America particularly, with its tradition of dividing up the pencilling and inking chores, this has seemingly led to a deficiency of artists with the abilities of, say, an Al Williamson, or a Wally Wood, or a Jack Kirby. These were all artists who were fluent in the use of blacks or in their deployment of shading techniques, all the hatching and feathering that exemplified the work of that classic generation of American craftsmen. What I’m concerned about is that abilities are being lost here, and if the comic medium is to genuinely progress and to be adequate to the coming century then I can’t help but think of that as a bad thing.

Kriota Willberg, dancer and author of the immensely useful-to-artists minicomic, (No) Pain!: A Guide to Injury Prevention for Cartoonists, is on the most recent episode of Virtual Memories.

People don’t realize they need to pay attention to their bodies when they’re drawing, until they have an injury.

—News. Jillian and Mariko Tomaki’s This One Summer has been pulled from two Florida school districts’ libraries.

After a local television news station picked up on an Amazon review that called the book “practically porn for kids,” the school district removed This One Summer from its high school libraries as well.

[Middle school librarian Esther] Keller thinks that’s going too far. “It could have been a ‘mea culpa,’” she said. “‘We missed this and should have not put it in an elementary collection.’ But instead the district has gone a little crazy and is pulling it from high school collections too. And that’s the real censorship to me.”

—Reviews & Commentary. The Atlantic has published a very long article wondering if Superman can be fixed? It’s a smart piece, but seems to me to be missing the forest for the trees. Superman is very, very old and stale. The only way to fix him is to take ten or twenty years off and then go back. Or even better, just stop. We don’t really need any more Superman stories. No one’s trying to “fix” Leopold Bloom.

—Misc. This Ohio exhibit examining Carol Tyler’s creative process looks pretty great.

The Comix Creatrix exhibit in the UK also looks worthwhile (despite the off-putting name). Sequential is temporarily offering a free 200+-page selection of art and information from the show.

 

Ad Hom

Well folks, this is the week we break the comics internet, which is actually not very hard, but…uh, here we go.

Today Abhay Khosla initiates a four-part examination of the year 2015. Get into it. Here’s a taste related to the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

Away from the internet, this was an utter tragedy, a despicable outrage, nothing but a horror show. Online, however, the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo was followed by something nearly as troubling: otherwise rational people stating on the internet, quote, I think the Hooded Utilitarian is making a good point here, unquote. [shudder]

After the shootings, many had been moved to tweet “je suis charlie” — French for “I kiss the bibliotheque”, according to Google Translate. People plainly hoped to express unanimity with the fundamental precept that people are only civilized if allowed to express themselves without fear of violent retaliation. But in response, the Hooded Utilitarian was quick to publish “In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Mot Mean Freedom From Criticism”.

Yes, apparently gunmen wielding assault rifles, submachine guns, pump-action shotguns, etc. were all engaged in an avante-garde act of comics criticism. I’d always wondered why Tom Spurgeon carries around that butterfly knife– I guess the rest of us have been insufficiently armed this entire time. Quick! To the armory!

And of course, not to be outdone, Joe McCulloch is here to suggest your buying patterns for the week. You know what’s weird? Now that Bergen Street Comics is gone, there is nowhere for me to go and look at new comic books in all of South Brooklyn. Desert Island is very far away from me. Some enterprising, childless, and well-heeled human should open a store, or a store within a store! Or something.

And we also have Greg Hunter reviewing Jacob Canfield’s new comic, I Fell Asleep.

“I Fell Asleep”, a scrolling, online-only comic from Jacob Canfield, takes on the perspective of a young woman approaching a potentially life-altering confrontation—or at least potentially approaching it. The character, Erica, is wasting time on the Internet while her boyfriend is out, and contemplating an end to the relationship. The comic documents either Erica’s first step toward independence or her usual step before rationalizing the relationship’s problems. “I Fell Asleep” scrolls, an intuitive format for Canfield’s subject matter, encouraging readers to construct the tension and hesitation of Erica’s evening in.

Elsewhere… oh gee, I dunno, there’s only so much to point to on the internet. There’s this typically silly piece at The Guardian on edgy new comics. I have read most of these comics, and they’re like on par with one of those USA TV shows like White Collar. Not Justified over on FX, but just OK entertainment, usually with incredibly bad drawing. That’s fine! There’s equally bad work being touted all around everywhere! Bye for now.

 

Desk Job

Today on the site, in recognition of the giant new omnibus collection of two-and-a-half decades’ worth of Underworld, we’re dipping into the archives to re-present a 1996 interview with Kaz, conducted by John Kelly.

We were poor. Lived in a tenement building. Bought our clothes at the Salvation Army. Ate my mom’s horrible Lithuanian cooking. But we didn’t know any better. My dad had two jobs, so he was never around. We played on the streets, the city parks, abandoned buildings, the Hoboken piers. We were the Dead End Kids. There were always big family parties where the adults got drunk and the kids went insane. My favorite toy was an Alvin the Chipmunk bubble-bath container. But the Salvation Army also sold toys, so I always had a lot of junk. I watched a lot of kids’ shows and cartoons. I could see the Empire State Building from my bedroom window. Then, when I was ten, my parents had saved up enough money to put a down payment on a house in Rahway, New Jersey, and off we moved to the suburbs. The people next door had a big yard with swing sets. I thought it was a public park so we played there until we were kicked out. It was my first taste of someone having something bigger and better than me. So instead of the Dead End Kids, we were now the Little Rascals. We played in the woods and built soap box derby cars and tree houses. But I always knew that my family was different. For instance we were forced to speak only Lithuanian in the house. My friends were convinced that it was a practical joke. As if we were speaking gibberish just to fuck with them.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Robert Ito at the California Sunday Magazine profiles Dan Clowes.

Clowes acknowledges the huge impact that his own childhood — the divorce, the constant shuttling around — has had on how he views marriage and parenting today. “I always grew up wanting what I have now with my own family,” he says. “A house, a wife, a child, everything very stable.” His time at Pratt and his early years as a comic book artist have had a similar impact on his work; the chip, Clowes says, lingers. “Even after you achieve a certain level of success, you still are that guy that was toiling in obscurity in your un-air-conditioned apartment in Chicago,” says Eric Reynolds, a longtime friend of Clowes’s and a Fantagraphics editor. In a strip Clowes did for The New Yorker in 2001, a Clowes doppelgänger identifies himself as a screenwriter at a cocktail party. “I dare not tell anyone I’m really a cartoonist,” he thinks to himself.

The New York Times profiles Rob Liefeld in advance of the new Deadpool movie.

Mr. Liefeld insists the criticism didn’t bother him. “Not one iota.” Then, referring to his father’s death from cancer in 1999, he added that he didn’t care if people ridiculed his artwork. “I’ve had really hard struggles in my life.”

He is prickly, though, about sharing creator credit on Deadpool with Fabian Nicieza, who wrote the script for the character’s first appearance, based on Mr. Liefeld’s story. As plotter, penciler and inker of The New Mutants at the time of Deadpool’s inception, Mr. Liefeld said he did “all the heavy lifting.”

“If a janitor scripted New Mutants 98, he’d be the co-creator — that’s how it works, buddy,” Mr. Liefeld said. “Deadpool does not exist in any way, shape or form without me.”

Pete Toms is a funny dude.

…if you think that Batman, or Batman’s House, or Batman Wearing a Different Shirt, or Star Wars: Logos is the best comic, that’s totally cool, but it seems weird, and maybe irresponsible to insinuate that it’s in any way experimental, or expansive to comics as an art form. Especially when, because of the internet, you have access to a lot of other types of work, and the knowledge that Batman has existed, in a very similar form, for 2,000 years.

I’m not saying that a blogger that thinks a book about hunky Chewbaccas or whatever is the best the medium has to offer should read like Lala Albert, Scott Longo, or Andy Burkholder’s stuff unless they want (you should though). I just think it would probably be better for the culture as a whole if when writers call things “experimental,” they’re talking about things that are actually experimental.

The Felix Comic Art podcast interviews novelist and Kirby art collector Glen David Gold.

—Reviews & Commentary. For T Magazine, Alison Bechdel lists ten favorite books. Edward Gorey is the sole cartoonist to make the list. I never would’ve guessed she was a Kerouac fan.

For the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Avidly, comics scholar Ramzi Fawaz writes about diversity in superhero comics.

Like so many readers of the X-Men over the decades, no character drew me in more than the weather goddess Storm, a Kenyan immigrant to the U.S., the first black woman superhero in a mainstream comic book, and by the 1990s, the X-Men’s team leader. In that same anniversary issue, at a low point in the team’s battle with an imposter group of X-Men, Storm rallies her bruised and beaten comrades by reminding them that what defines their bond is a set of shared values, a chosen kinship maintained through mutual love and respect, not by force or expectation. With my budding left-wing consciousness on one side, and my attachment to queer family on the other, I fell in love with this fictional mutant goddess and her team: this was the kind of community I longed for. How did it come to be that a thirteen year old Lebanese-American, suburban gay boy found common cause with an orphaned, Kenyan, mutant, immigrant X-Man?

—Misc. Comics Workbook now has a website.

Fans of print humor magazines like The National Lampoon might want to check out The American Bystander, which features work by cartoonists including Kate Beaton, R.O. Blechman, Shary Flenniken, Arnold Roth, and Julia Wertz, among others. They say they need to sell 3000 copies of each issue to print the next, and #1 is out now.

 

Ramrod

Today we have the triumphant return of R. Fiore, with a column all about one of the most discussed books of the past few months, Bill Griffith’s Invisible Ink.

The heart of the story is the 16-year affair the author’s mother Barbara Griffith conducted with what the subtitle calls a “famous cartoonist.” The perspicacious reader will suspect that if the cartoonist had actually been famous the jacket would have told you who it was. And yet the cartoonist’s very obscurity leads us into an unknown country. We know plenty about the bright bon vivants of the cartoon world, the Peter Arnos, the Charles Addamses, the Edward Goreys, the Al Hirschfelds. We know little of the likes of Lawrence Lariar. Lariar is one of those cartoonists who builds a career not by distinguishing himself but indistinguishing himself. If you are the sort who haunts the humor sections of used bookstores you may have seen his work a number of times and it would not have registered once. Not being capable of delighting or amazing, he has mastered the craft of calculating what will meet the editor’s needs at this time, this being the time to fill X number of pages. By its look you will know that it’s humorous art. The punchline will be recognizable as a joke, though it will not quite generate the energy for a laugh. It will be suggestive enough to inform you that the subject matter is sexual intercourse but not dirty enough to incite the wrath of the Postal Inspector.

Elsewhere in the universe…

Jack Elrod, who produced Mark Trail for over half a century, has passed away.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager is also a comic book store owner!

Emily Flake, interviewed.

Today’s image is a Grateful Dead poster by an unknown artist c. early 1970s. As with comics, I’ve spent so long looking at perfectly crafted psychedelic design (Moscoso, Griffin et al) that I now seek out and really enjoy the uncategorizable vernacular mode of psych drawing that tries for, say, Griffin but winds up in some other place by virtue of basic lack of skills. I enjoy that. Yes I do.deadcharlotteramrod

On the other end of the spectrum is this phenomenal page by Alex Toth, from Land of the Unknown, 1957. It’s Toth at the apex of his Caniff/Marsh-mode, setting the tone, really, for what Hugo Pratt would become. Look at how FULL the panels are. Note in particular panels 1 and 4. In panel one Toth sets up three distinct spaces, and delineates the goddamned smoke by scratching away the ink with a razor blade. The ropey vines in the foreground are lovingly rendered, but the bush is just a jumble of quick, gorgeous brush strokes — very much as Jesse Marsh would have done. Then in panel 4 he smartly switches to thin pen lines to allow for a real depth of space and again brushes in the foreground, creating a rather remarkable, little accidental abstract drawing there. Plus, none of this drawing distracts from moving the narrative right along. Just a fucking masterpiece.  Have a nice weekend.

Toth-LandUnkown1957

 

 

 

Rush

Today on the site, Rob Clough writes about Tom Hart’s powerful and affecting Rosalie Lightning.

Hart hasn’t published much in recent years, aside from the odd short story or minicomic, but I’ve long considered him to be one of the greatest of what I refer to as the Xeric Generation of cartoonists, those whose careers began in the early ’90s. Along with John Porcellino and Megan Kelso, Hart was at the forefront of a kind of cartooning that valued immediacy over polish. Hart’s work revealed his deep thinking about comics theory, especially in how it related to poetry and elliptical narrative techniques. In terms of balancing an advanced grasp of theory and structure along with a deeply humane and raw approach to understanding humanity, he’s up there with Carol Tyler and Chris Ware.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Carl Burgos and Tove Jansson have been named to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, and the nominees for four other inductees have also been announced.

—Interviews & Profiles. Brigid Alverson talks to Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke about their collaboration on Twilight Children.

Cooke: One of the enormous differences here is, Gilbert is a cartoonist, so Gilbert understands the power of silent sequences. Most writers, their ego won’t allow it. Even if they need a silent page, if there are no words, they feel they are absent from it. A cartoonist is visualizing; he only uses words when he needs them.

I’m also proud there is not a single narrative caption anywhere. It is all happening in front of you; if I fail, certain parts won’t be clear. There are sequences later in the story that are magical, and esoteric things are happening. Most writers would have some character spout out a bunch of expository nonsense, but Gilbert just left it open, as it should be, so the challenge is to make it clear.

Design Matters talks to Roz Chast.

You know I don’t bound out of bed thinking, “This is just another great day in my
endless great life.”

Boing Boing talks to Ed Piskor:

 

Baddies

Today we are thrilled to present Craig Fischer’s essay on the first half of Alan Moore’s epic comic book series, Providence.

Providence is set in 1919, immediately after World War I (or what a group of fish-human hybrids calls “the Great Dry Cull”), and tells the story of Robert Black, a reporter for the New York Herald who is galvanized by an encounter with a scientist named Dr. Alvarez. In Providence #1, Black and Alvarez have a long talk about, in Black’s words, “a buried or concealed America composed of everybody’s secret lives. I could imagine a whole hidden world of individuals trading occult or exotic science lore and information, a society of characters as striking as Alvarez that conducts itself unseen below the daily fabric of America.” Hints of this occult underworld inspire Black to resign from the Herald, and travel to Massachusetts and New Hampshire to conduct research about this “hidden world” for a book (Marblehead: An American Undertow) he wants to write. The first four issues of Providence feature Black interviewing eccentric characters associated with the occult underground—Alvarez, book seller Robert Suydam (#2), trader Tobit Boggs (#3), and Garland Wheatley and his reclusive family (#4)—but Black is skeptical of the power of this underground until, in Providence #5-6, he is victimized by indisputably uncanny mystical forces.

Elsewhere:

A possibly rhetorical question arising out a conversation with Sammy Harkham: If everyone is so angry about Angouleme, why not simply publicly demand a change in administration and threaten a boycott next year? That should be the only logical response to such incredibly bad behavior. Unless it’s too lucrative for European publishers not to do, which would make sense.

We’ve got book reviews in bulk from TCJ contributors Sean Rogers and Jared Gardner.

Here’s an interview with the ever-great Bill Griffith. 

 

Burn Rate

Joe McCulloch returns today with his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics!, pointing out the most interesting-looking new releases in stores. His spotlight picks this week include two science fiction anthologies, one from Retrofit and the other from Humanoids.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. AI-AP profiles Eleanor Davis.

I started drawing comics when I was very young.

My parents were shamefully indulgent. I also went to a hippie school growing up. They let you get school credit for making zines about fucking the establishment.

Valerian co-creator Pierre Christin talks to Die Welt about how his comics influenced Star Wars.

In the 80s, particularly in France, people were convinced that George Lucas had stolen from Valerian. This particular drawing [of Valerian and Laureline sitting at a table with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia] was our way of addressing the question in a satirical manner. In general, all you hear from the US in reply to such allegations is that French comics are barely known and not successful at all on that side of the Atlantic – which, on the whole, is true. Nevertheless, the few people in the US who do know French comics fairly well are Hollywood’s art directors and storyboard artists. They might not be able to read the magazines, but they still flick through them now and then in search of ideas. That’s what French film-makers who’ve been to Hollywood have told me: They happened to have seen piles of French comics in the creative departments of various film studios.

Alec Hudson talks to the comics editor (and occasional TCJ contributor) Paul Buhle about Kate Evans’ new comics biography of Rosa Luxemburg, Red Rosa.

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Karasik reports from Angoulême.

The only notable difference between this year and past years when I attended is the presence of Security Forces everywhere. Two gendarmes stand at the entrance to each tent to check backpacks and wand bodies.

The psychological effect of this is hard to assess, but the physical effect is painfully apparent. Checking backpacks and wanding bodies takes time hence the lines to get into any tent have become sluggish, especially on the final day of the Festival. Throw some ink-wash gray drizzle on top of this and the mood is far from festive.

Matt Madden writes on Facebook about the most recent Angoulême awards debacle.

So let me make this clear: the #FauxFauves joke was a bad idea, badly executed. It is NOT a matter of artists being thin-skinned, the prank was mean and ill-conceived and its own creator acknowledges as much. And neither was it just “a few authors and publishers” (“une partie de la profession” according to FIBD) who took offense: as far as I can tell, EVERYBODY who was there or heard of it thinks this was an indefensible gag and it’s all ANYONE talked about anywhere I went for the rest of the festival (and it continues to reverberate).

Furthermore, no: this controversy is not simply a product of the Twitter age (another of Bondoux’s deflections). Even 20 years ago this prank would have caused a scandal. So WHY does the festival, in its “Précision” (“clarification,” not “apology”), downplay the screw-up so defensively and so unrepentingly? Why do they condescendingly explain snarky humor as if we’d never seen Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes (where, by the way, he makes fun of rich and powerful narcissists, not struggling cartoonists and their publishers)?

 

Make an Offer

Welcome back to the week. It’s already February. Oh my. Here comes Paul Tumey with a look back at the (recent) history of mini-comics, which dovetails nicely with Frank Santoro’s recent thoughts on the category. Paul has taken his usual deep dive and surfaced with some wonderments. Take it away, Paul:

During its roughly 45 years of existence, the modest minicomic has nurtured numerous notable creators, including: Peter Bagge, Donna Barr, Lynda Barry, Marc Bell, Chester Brown, Kevin Eastman, Brad Foster, Rick Geary, Justin Green (often credited as the inventor of the minicomic), Roberta Gregory, Bill Griffith, Matt Groening, Wayne “Wayno” Honath, Peter Laird, David Lasky, Bill Loebs, Jason Lutes, John Porcellino, Ronald M. Regé, Jr., Trina Robbins, Art Spiegelman, Colin Upton, Jim Valentino , Joe Zabel, and Dan Zettwoch, to name a few from mostly the first decades of the minicomic’s history. Some of these folks have dabbled in the form; others have made it a core part of their repertoires.

Among the minicomix of visual storytellers and outrageous gagsters like Mark Campos, Max Clotfelter, Clark Dissmeyer, Matt Feazell, Par Holman, David Miller, J. R. Williams, Steve Willis, and Jeff Zenick (to name some personal favorites of mine that aren’t – but should be – widely celebrated), one finds pockets of cloistered coolness that, once absorbed, can expand and transform ideas about comics.

Elsewhere:

The big and almost impossible to believe news this weekend was the fake prize ceremony over at Angouleme. That’s right, the tone deaf organizers held an entirely fake awards ceremony, which most in attendance were convinced was entirely real. After giving out the prizes to deserving artists (like Olivier Schrauwen) it was announced it was all a gag and the real awards would now begin. Confusion, hurt feelings and really, really bad publicity ensued. Maybe time for a change in the administration, no? Otherwise, maybe the artists should just not attend Angouleme, period. Google translate over here and you’ll get the picture. Most of the reaction has been on Facebook, which I’ve clipped and placed below:

 

  • Angoulême is abuzz again. I have endured some fairly awful Prize Ceremonies at Angoulême over my 30 plus years but last night’s sounds like that absolute nadir. To declare winners, making them and their publishers elated, sparking social media tweet storms, etc, and then to announce that they are not the true ones, utterly deflating them, and go on to award someone else, is about as crass, UNamusing and low as any prize ceremony can go. No comedian with any wit would go through with this. No person in charge with any basic common sense and sensitivity would agree to this.
    M. Bondoux (or ‘Good Gentle’ in French), festival director, explains that the idea for this ‘came from the MC, Richard Gaitet. It’s in the tradition of clowns like Antoine de Caunes at the Cesar film awards. Everything was very exaggerated and clearly humorous. And the comics world has a big capacity for self-parody.” How has at least part of this Festival become so out of touch? Is no one daring to speak up and question these decisions? One can only assume that after the Grand Prix Fiasco, the festival’s “professional” directors and PR people have decided that the only publicity worth going after is bad publicity. In all this mess some good books were awarded, thank goodness. 

  • Angouleme has officially jumped the shark. 1) they nominate no women 2) they organize a “women in comics” panel except there are no women on the panel, so they must scramble to invite some 3) and then this, the Faux Fauves, such incredibly bad taste.

  • This is simply unbelievable. None of the Angoulême prizes have any legitimacy at all now. The Grand Prix was inexcusable ignorance but this is deliberate cruelty. Shameful.

Update: The actual jury of the actual Fauve prize has issued a statement:

We, the members of the Grand Jury for this year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival, had an amiable meeting during which we chose the winners of the “fauves” in perfect harmony. We were surprised to be left out of the awards ceremony and then alarmed to hear the MC, whom we’ve never met, claim that we’d gone through contentious deliberations. By the end we were stupefied by the cruelty and vulgarity of the ceremony as a whole. The announcement of fake awards, which broke the hearts of numerous authors, publishers, and readers, in addition to the sexist and off-color remarks of the MC are beneath the dignity of a festival that remains an internationally respected flagship event in the world of comics. We are happy to have had the chance to make a contribution by awarding radical, unique works that will mark the history of the Ninth Art.

Antonin Baudry
Laurent Binet
Nicole Brenez
Philippe Collin
Véronique Giuge
Hamé
Matt Madden

Not much can top that… but I would like to congratulate the great Ken Parille on 15 years of his indispensable Daniel Clowes Bibliography. He reflects a bit here.