Rob Clough on Matthew Thurber's INFOMANIACS, which was my very last book via PictureBox.
Matthew Thurber's INFOMANIACS is my choice for best comic of 2013. Thurber is perhaps the funniest cartoonist working today, though in more of a narrative sense rather than the gag-built work of cartoonists like Michael Kupperman, Lisa Hanawalt and Sam Henderson. That said, INFOMANIACS has a looser and sillier structure than his previous book, 1-800-MICE. The latter book, originally published in comics form, had the narrative structure of a serial, with multiple and intersecting plots that were pulled together ever tighter as the story went along. INFOMANIACS begins as a mostly improvised web comic, and its page-to-page structure reveals how Thurber tries to end each page or every couple of pages with a definitive gag and punchline. Thurber uses visual gags to some degree (simply the way he draws his characters is amusing), but he loves diving into puns, bon mots, and clever references that still manage to resonate with the story's themes. Both books use deadpan descriptions of absurd ideas rooted in science and medicine. And while INFOMANIACS has the feel of a shaggy dog story (it doesn't so much end as it just stops), it nevertheless gives a thorough airing of all the various aesthetic, cultural and political critiques that resonate throughout Thurber's work.
Today we present the second part of my interview with the great Tim Hensley. This time, he talks a lot more about comics in general, as well as his own Wally Gropius, closed captioning, Alfred Hitchcock, serialization, and his latest project.
[Hensley:] You know, actually in general, a lot of times if I get confused about the process of writing something, I’m more interested in somebody who’s a novelist than reading about a cartoonist’s process, because at least with a novelist they’re used to the idea of failure and something that takes a long time [laughs]. Sometimes with comics they just wanna say like, oh, I’m prolific and there’s a lot of things, and everything’s going well.
[Hodler:] It’s interesting you say that because I feel like the prevailing stereotype these days about cartoonists is that they’re all, you know, lonely…
Like a self-loathing kind of thing, you mean?
Yeah, I feel like that’s normally what people say about modern cartoonists, that that’s the image that’s promulgated.
But that’s considered more what their expression is or what their work is about, more than it’s not that there’s a small amount of it [laughter]. You know, like, Joe Matt seems prolific to me.
It’s been a long time since Spent came out.
I’ve seen him around the city in the past and he said he was working on more comics.
Oh, that’s good.
Sometimes it seems likes he’s bragging that he’s not working. I don’t really know him at all.
I don’t know him well either but he does seem to make fun of himself in his comics, and get joy out of making himself look as bad as possible.
—Interviews. J. Caleb Mozzocco talks to Michael DeForge about his new Ant Colony. On the anniversary of what would have been William S. Burroughs's 100th birthday, James Reich talks to his artistic collaborator Malcolm Mc Neill.
—News. Chester Gould's family has donated a collection of original Dick Tracy-related art to the Billy Ireland library. Also, Koyama Press has announced its fall 2014 lineup, including books by Renee French, Patrick Kyle, and Michael DeForge.
Tuesday means Joe McCulloch and his weekly guide to the most intriguing-looking new releases available through the comics direct market—plus, if you're lucky, an enthusiastic mini-essay about a semi-obscure piece of comics history.
—Misc. A fifth Paul Karasik report from Angoulême. Tim O'Shea selects and presents some pages from Dustin Harbin's sketchbook. Dark Horse's announcement of a volume to raise medical funds for Stan Sakai and his family reminded me that it's probably not a bad idea to remind people about the ongoing CAPS-sponsored fundraiser for the same purpose. —Archives. And you might also be interested to know that in the past few weeks, two more years of TCJ back issues have been added to our online archives, which you can now subscribe to through a digital subscription.
[Tim Hensley:] There was one part-time job I used to have where we used to go and just put check bank statements in envelopes all day, kind of office temp jobs like that. I worked in a place that made safety films for fire departments and stuff and I took care of the paperwork revolving around that. I worked as a proofreader of wedding invitations.
[Laughs.] I didn’t know they had those!
Yeah, [laughs] that was a strange job. It was a place which did thermography, which is this kind of printing that involves raised ink; when you feel it, it kind of like has a tactile sense to it. It’s kind of hard to proofread wedding invitations because they’re all pretty much the same. You know, on this day, so and so meets so and so and gets married on this date or whatever. And we did business cards and there was one guy who would be offended if there was anything vaguely pornographic in the business card and he would just stop work and walk outside if that happened.
What would set him off?
I don’t know. I mean, you know when you get into these editor type jobs or like a proofreading position too, sometimes there’s a skewed moral sense that [Hodler laughs] comes into play that transcends whether words are in the correct order. That happened when I was working in closed captioning too, because you’re sort of not supposed to make mistakes. I mean, the general gist of it is, as a proofreader, don’t make any mistakes. We definitely had certain people who had a frame of mind like “I don’t make any mistakes; that’s why I’m here.”
The art site Hyperallergic reports further on the Angoulême/SodaStream controversy, including the festival's response. In the meantime, another group of artists have signed the open letter protesting SodaStream's involvement, including Jacques Tardi, Igort, Baru, and Sarah Glidden.
Our columnist and longtime reviewer Rob Clough decided to start his own small-press comics festival in his home town last year. Today he tells us what he learned from the experience:
We wanted to create a show that would interest us. I've attended shows like SPX and MOCCA for years, and have found them to be inspiring in a number of ways. SPX in particular inspired my interest in small-press works and minicomics and indirectly led to my becoming a critic. SPX has a strong programming track and that was something I knew that I wanted to emulate. However, what I didn't want was another "flea market" style show that forced artists to stay chained to their tables for the duration of the show and focused on commerce above all else. I was tabbed to pick most of the guests for the show. I chose to invite participants who I thought would be a good fit for our aesthetics and goals instead of making it an open call like other cons. I also wanted to emphasize local artists as much as possible. Here's a list of things of the things we wanted in a show and how we made them happen:
1. An interesting, interactive space. I didn't want a show in a hotel or convention center space. I wanted a funkier, more intimate and creative space. That's where Bill was so incredibly generous as to donate the use of his amazing screenprinting studio near downtown Durham. During the opening night of the show, a screenprinter was actually working there and happily chatted with the public about what he was doing, including an interesting hand-crank print scroll. Supergraphic is one of many reclaimed spaces in Durham; it used to be a machinery shop years ago.
2. A gallery show. Gallery shows at large events like SPX are untenable for any number of reasons, but this was a priority for me for DICE. [...]
—Johanna Draper-Carlson writes a post wondering why more isn't being made of the re-release of Miracleman. Others have been asking the same thing. I sympathize in that it's strong work that hasn't been officially available for a long time, but I'm not sure why anyone is spending time worrying about this; it sure feels like that book's gotten a lot of attention to me. A worthy comic being released and not getting an across-the-board freak-out ecstatic response seems a little dog bites man.
—MariNaomi writes a personal essay on apologies and forgiveness touching on her own story of sexual harassment at a comics convention and the Shia LaBeouf plagiarism incident(s).
—Publishing. Phil Foglio of the long-running self-published Girl Genius series has posted a lengthy complaint about his treatment by the book publisher Tor, which he claims mishandled his work and is ignoring communication. A Tor editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, responds and attempts to clarify some of the situation here.
It's always a good day when a new Ken Parille Grid column shows up, and today he's got a long look at that most underappreciated and unusual cartoonist, Abner Dean, whose example is if anything even more instructive and relevant today. Here's how Ken's column opens:
After years of reading Abner Dean, I still can’t answer a fundamental question: Are the drawings in the books he released from 1945 to 1954 cartoons? In one sense, of course, what we call them is irrelevant: they are beautifully drawn, thought provoking works of art. Yet the question gets at issues central to Dean’s philosophy and the trajectory of his career. Prior to releasing It’s a Long Way toHeaven in 1945, he had worked for over a decade as a commercial artist. Having drawn countless ads for products like crackers, cereal, and insurance, as well as hundreds of cartoons for popular magazines, he felt burdened by the limitations of contemporary cartooning formulas. Looking to create complex works of lasting value, in the early ‘40s he took the vocabulary of the single-panel gag cartoon — a genre he had long since mastered — and began producing “drawings” (his preferred term) that he thought of as something original, even “striking.” These innovations expressed his belief in the power of images, not simply to get a laugh, but to get readers thinking about themselves in new ways. The typical gag asks only for a quick chuckle at how we — or, more often, other people — act. But for Dean, the combination of image and text could stimulate a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses: delight, frustration, provocation, bewilderment, sadness, or illumination. To bring about such reactions, Dean created “cartoons” (a term he also used) that placed a greater demand on readers than typical gags and generated more questions than answers. Take Dean’s “Opportunist in a Strange Land”:
What’s the opportunity presented the protagonist? (To be a voyeur who can’t be caught looking?) Why don’t the others just remove the sacks from their heads? (Are they content in their blindness?) Why is he wearing a hat? (After all, no one can see it). But most importantly: What’s in the bag he’s carrying?
In this follow-up to his acclaimed The End of the Fucking World (a/k/a TEOTFW), Charles Forsman introduces us to a new pair of alienated, apathetic teenagers, Mike and Wolf. Wolf, an awkward, taciturn lump of a boy with a Mohawk who lives with his grandmother, has just graduated from high school and is quietly freaked about what’s next. Mike - lean, lank-haired and a bit older - is more established and outwardly sure of himself. At the outset of the story, the boys drop acid and, like Fucking World’s James and Alyssa, take to the road, heading no place in particular. Thus begins their “celebrated summer,” a reference to the Hüsker Dü song that gives the story its name: “It’s back to summer, back to basics, hang around.”
Rather than finding the life-changing transcendence or groovy adventure depicted in acid trips of movies and other popular media, the boys – particularly Wolf - turn inward. Their ambivalence towards each other and their lives fuels the narrative. Celebrated Summer is a quiet, funny-sad character study in which what isn’t said speaks volumes; its broader subject is the liminal state of teenagers standing uneasily on the cusp of adulthood and responsibility, anxious or just plain numb at the prospect of leaving the “carefree” days of childhood behind forever.
Note how Jack makes the Skull's face distorted, emphasizing his evil. He's literally twisted.
Shores' inking gives the face a three-dimensionality and the line variety and texture gives the image a bit of photorealism you don’t see in Jack’s pencils filtered through most of his other inkers, aside from Wallace Wood in the famous Skymasters dailies and Sundays. Here’s an example of Kirby/Wood from my old Kirby Dynamics weblog sent to me by a reader. Beautiful delineation of the machinery and note Wood's distinctive shadows on the faces.
Obviously Wood was a lot slicker than Shores, and Woody was considered a master craftsman as an inker, but I do think Shores was going for this type of effect over Kirby -- less cartoony and drifting a bit towards photorealism -- and in that sense I think Shores was successful although reactions to any artist or approach will be varied.
Ditko is a satirist — Ditko creates Black and White Black Comedy with Sick Humor. Ditko’s Creeper: Performance, Heroism, and Mania. Ditko is the single most innovative artist/humorist to come out of the Mainstream Comics Industry. Discuss. Continue reading →