Well, there’s one large thing occupying a lot of attention today and tomorrow, and I hope it’s not comics. But who knows, maybe there’ll be a good Garfield comic strip about it. If you’re stateside, please go vote and then come back and read Joe McCulloch’s opinions on comics. Think of it as a palette cleanser.
Or perhaps you need a few more distractions from issues of all kinds. Here are some:
Adrian Tomine talks about his new (and great) New Yorker cover. I really enjoyed his handsome recent book, New York Drawings, which showcased his nuanced observations of the emotional life of the city.
Hey folks — glad to be back after a week and counting of superstorm Sandy. Compared to what happened to many others, things weren’t too bad for us: power, phone service, and heat have finally been restored, and other than a bunch of spoiled food, some apparently minor roof damage, and a newly stressful commute, we’re more or less in the clear. That isn’t true for a lot of other people of course, and I won’t go on about it very long because most of you who have had the internet and television over the past week are probably sick of it, but consider helping out if you can manage it. There are many places to donate your much needed time, food, clothing, or money.
But back to comics. Today, we have Ken Parille’s latest column, this time featuring a close reading of Steve Ditko, and his use of abstraction, text, and motion. Here’s an excerpt:
In The World of Steve Ditko, author Blake Bell recounts a story about the publication of Ditko’s Static, a superhero tale serialized in the first three issues of Eclipse Monthly in 1983. Eclipse Editor Dean Mullaney initially altered Ditko’s script for the episode in #2 because it was “too wordy, and visually unappealing.” Bell agrees with Mullaney’s assessment, noting that Ditko’s debt to Ayn Rand “continued to have an impact on the quality of the storytelling” (145). Ditko, however, rejected the changes, and the story ran as he originally intended.
Mullany’s criticism reflects a widespread belief about comics storytelling: comics is primary a visual medium and so the text must always be dramatically subordinated (at least in terms of the space it occupies) to the images. But I think the intensity of Ditko’s sequence visuallydepends upon the fact that, as we move through the first three panels, words take up an increasing amount of space while the image decreases (with the fourth panel echoing the first):
We also have something I haven’t read yet, but am super-excited about: a review of Charles Burns’s The Hive written by The Orange Eats Creeps author Grace Krilanovich. Here’s a brief clip:
The cast of characters found in Nitnit land includes mutant, decrepit or aged quasi-ethnic shopkeepers and loiterers, or otherwise quasi-human piglet men and humanoid lizard drones. The creases, scars and raw wounds on their hyper-specific faces contrasts sharply with Nitnit’s smooth (Caucasian) mask face, fixed in an expression of frazzled dismay.
The Hive references the pre-PC ethnic caricatures of Tintin comics and presents an Orientalist fantasy realm that is confusing and disorienting on purpose. In Nitnit, words, faces, roles and customs are indecipherable. Our comfort in recognition is partially dismantled. It looks almost like a place we could inhabit, and yet that only makes it more troubling as we strain to find a way to make sense of the gaps, where it betrays us. Johnny 23’s confusion is ours. Aggro lizard dudes berating you at every turn certainly don’t help.
And finally, we are also republishing a 2006 interview with Joost Swarte conducted by David Peniston and Kim Thompson. Here’s an excerpt from that:
PENISTON: Can you name a few of your favorite artists or designers that you admire or who have had an influence on your artwork?
SWARTE: Well, when I was still studying industrial design, I learned about artists that worked for the De Stijl movement and the Bauhaus movement.
PENISTON: Like Gerrit Rietveld?
SWARTE: Yes, exactly. And I was very much interested in it because they seemed to work in the artistic field without making a choice on a medium. Rietveld started out as a furniture designer, as a carpenter, and he developed his interest in this field and just enlarged his disciplines. Besides him, there was the Dutch artist Theo Van Doesburg, the leader of the De Stijl movement, and he started within the funny borders of the Dada movement, which had an idealistic side. That is to say that Dada was a reaction to what happened in the First World War and they were artists that didn’t understand that culture, although everybody was always proud of European culture. But even within this culture it was still possible to have a disastrous war like the First World War and they reacted with their Dada movement. Now, I don’t know exactly if the war was the main goal, the impetus for it, or maybe the culture was already ready for a movement like Dada, but they made fun of whatever they liked to make fun of so it was sort of a ‘nothing is sacred’ movement.
SWARTE: Not necessarily “anti-everything” because they had their own things they liked and wanted to do but nothing was sacred, which means also that they almost worshiped individuality so they gave freedom to the artists to do whatever they liked. Now if you at that period had said, “I like to make beautiful paintings,” that wouldn’t be considered as very Dada. But the reaction of the whole European culture, well, it was fun in a way and it made me also think. What made a great impression on me as a youth was the Provo movement in Amsterdam. That was young anarchists that made fun of the police, etc., and I thought it was very funny.
And links to comics pieces elsewhere are going to be relatively light, as I’m about a week out of date right now. (I’ll try to go back and repost anything big that got missed as time goes on.)
—Tom Spurgon interviews Gabe Fowler, proprietor of Brooklyn’s Desert Island, editor of Smoke Signal, and co-founder of the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, which I can’t believe is this weekend.
—At Comics Alliance, J. Caleb Mozzocco interviews Steven Weissman about his new comic-strip collection, Barack Hussein Obama, one of the weirdest books of the year. Still haven’t wrapped my head around it, though I am enjoying the attempt.
—The aforementioned Joost Swarte has a video interview up right now (via):
—And finally, in the Not Comics category: Alan Moore has released a single:
I can’t believe this week is STILL happening. I hope everyone out there is doing OK. Things are a little strange around here (Brooklyn) and a number of my gallerist and artist friends have been badly hit, particularly in Chelsea.
One volume relates the heart-rending tale of a funeral and the protagonist’s participation therein, while a separate volume, closing with the death of Miss Kitty, casts doubt on whether that earlier story exited anywhere other than in the narrator’s pained imagination. (“Earlier,” of course, comes preloaded with scare-quotes, given Ware’s refusal to provide readers with a pre-set reading order.) At times, it seems that each page is an interaction of conflicting registers of memory. Images are overlaid with texts from different times, played at different speeds. Character’s visions are framed by their revisionary thoughts, often asking, “Why did I do that? Why did I think that?” Moments like these indicate how thoroughly, in Ware’s world, one’s life if open to revision – how memory, itself, is an act of “building” stories.
-Ben Jones of Problem Solverz, Paper Rad, etc., is opening a solo exhibition at at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, tonight. Large-scale video paintings and installations are in the offing. Should be great. Congratulations to my pal.
-A preview of the promising forthcoming graphic novel by Miriam Katin.
I finished reading Building Stories about an hour ago, and I’m already late on my deadline. Building Stories is big. It takes time to absorb. Even unpacking all the materials from the box requires time and space that I should have been giving to other things. (I have fantasies of building the paper model of the building that Drawn & Quarterly was selling at SPX, but those are mostly fantasies about having enough uncommitted time to assemble a huge, delicate, detailed model.)
Assuming the internet hasn’t been wasted out to sea today we have our latest Building Stories essay. Jacob Brogan writes about the role of memory in the narrative.
But if Building Stories calls paradoxical attention to necessary acts of amnesia, it also celebrates the awkward art of remembering, reveling in the way fragments of recollection constantly shape and reshape us. Ware organizes many of the book’s most formally compelling spreads around particular images, images that his individual panels circle like spokes on a wheel. These organizing emblems seem to be nothing so much as occasions for memory, sites around which otherwise distinct reflections cohere. Ordinarily, one strives to connect the diverse panels that make up a comics page by working through their temporal relationships to one another. By contrast, Building Stories often forces us to instead consider the thematic relations between the various sequences that make up each of these spreads, as well as their mutual bond to the central image that holds them together.
-Gee, I wish David Lasky would prepare New York like this.
-Joe Simon’s collection is being auctioned off at Heritage. The artist certainly had some wonderful stuff. Here’s a link to his own and Simon & Kirby studio work, but deeper searching reveals some gems from Jack Davis, Boody Rogers and others. I could look at those Boys’ Ranch pages pretty much forever. Here’s a bit more from the Simon archives. I’m always fascinated by what emerges from archives — the things that were buried (I mean, a Boody Rogers page?), then things that must have been valued, etc. It provides a random, disjunctive snapshot of an artist’s (mostly unconscious) sensibility.
-Speaking of sensibility…In the 1980s all teenage suburban comic fans aspired to this.
There are complex patterns and resonant thematic connections here, but they operate in a slightly different mode than in Ware’s previous works. Building Stories is less maudlin than many of his previous works, instead presenting a more nuanced portrait of the long arc of a character’s life, with all of its psychological drama, conflicting emotions, and shifting commitments. In Jimmy Corrigan, Ware treated the epic saga of a particular family, spanning a century or so, and while we have some historical notes in Building Stories—for example, at one point, the landlady works in the old Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building during her youth in the mid-twentieth century—the focus is quite different.
This is a story of our moment, filled with iPads and cellphones, with the hectic day-to-day push and pull of life and the commitments of memory and old relationships. There are some of Ware’s tropes throughout—visual repetition and the importance of key locations in Chicago, the desire to affect change and the inability to do so, the rigorous attention to composition and uncluttered storytelling. But in Building Stories, these tropes are undercut by the lack of a master narrative that establishes and fixes the pieces together. Instead each book carves out a piece of the overall narrative, often leaving the rest to the side, offering only glimpses of the wider world in which the scene is set.
Tucker Stone is back again, as is his wont on Fridays, with a stripped-down column reviewing Julia Wertz and Tezuka on one hand, and old Punisher comics and unsatisfying superhero crossovers on the other.
—I’m sure some people are starting to get a little burnt out on Building Stories coverage, but The Los Angeles Review of Books has a couple more items for you to check out before you’re done: the novelist Rick Moody reviewing the box set, and Casey Burchby with a top-drawer brief interview with Ware.
Today on the site we take a break from the hustle and bustle of new comics, new interviews and Building Stories to look at the great illustrator Ed Sorel. The equally esteemed illustrator and writer R.O. Blechman wrote this profile of his friend and colleague. I have great affection for both artists — they brilliantly capture the times they pass through, and do so with wit and humanity. Along with Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Paul Davis, James McMullan and a couple others, they’re kind of the last of the illustrator-humanists that briefly ruled the roost.
From the profile:
The special quality of Sorel is that he captures our zeitgeist as few artists have, and fells his victims with the rapier of irony rather than the blunderbuss of satire. In his first cover for The New Yorker, which happened to be Tina Brown’s inaugural issue, Sorel pictures a barechested, pink “Mohawked rocker arrogantly draping himself on the seat of a horse” drawn carriage. Sorel even gets the rocker’s shoes right. They are pointed like daggers at the back of the hapless driver. Traveling through the gorgeous autumn scenery of Central Park, our passenger might as well be Yeats’s rough beast “slouching towards Bethlehem.”
Today on the site, we have Chris Mautner’s interview with Glyn Dillon, creator of the new graphic novel, The Nao of Brown. Here’s a brief exchange:
MAUTNER:You were talking about your brother’s influence on you in making comics. Do you feel competitive with him?
DILLON: When I was young and just boldly, precociously going to editors and showing them my work, I think they didn’t turn me away because they knew I was Steve’s brother. If I wasn’t his brother, they might have said, “Come back when you’re a bit better.” But they’d always be kind enough to entertain me when I went into their offices and bugged them. But my brother was always very conscious of not wanting there to be any nepotism, so he never helped out. I never did any work for Deadline until he stopped editing it. It was the next phase of the editors that came in that invited me to do some work. So I didn’t feel competitive, no. Not with him. In the early days of the Internet when Google was brand-new I’d Google my name and there was some quote that said, “Glyn Dillon, Steve Dillon’s less talented brother.”
DILLON: I suppose that spurs me on a little bit, but I don’t feel direct competition with him. He’s lovely. We get on really well.
We also continue our coverage of Chris Ware’s Building Stories with Joanna Davis-McElligatt’s “Body Schemas”, which examines the way Ware handles human physicality:
If Jimmy Corrigan is a comic about men and representations of race, then Building Stories is about women and representations of sex and gender. As such, Ware’s attention to the principles of physiognomy have turned corporeal, centered almost compulsively on the female body. His protagonist is singularly obsessed with her body’s shape and size, an attention that is often expressed as self-loathing. Women’s bodies are everywhere in Building Stories: the protagonist’s childhood, young adult, pregnant, post-baby, and middle-aged bodies; her landlord’s youthful and elderly bodies; the bodies of the protagonist’s friends, including her best friend, Stephanie, who is recurrently mocked for being “fat”; the body of her downstairs neighbor, who in middle age has developed “child-bearing hips … without bearing any child”; and the infant body of the protagonist’s daughter, Lucy, blown up to an enormous size in the middle of a page.
—Apparently Clark Kent quit his job or something? I’m not going to link to them (such behavior should not be rewarded), but newspapers are actually reporting on this comic-book plot point as if it is news. This continual urge on the part of the media to treat fictional events as newsworthy developments is the one thing comics as an art form has going for it that no other American art form seems to, but boy does it seem dumb.
This freewheeling interview by Grass Green touches on Williamson’s early influences, his fellow underground cartoonists including Jay Lynch and Gilbert Shelton, and the trajectory of his own comics career. Continue reading →