No Words

Obviously and sadly, the major comics-related news today concerns the attack yesterday morning on the Paris headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. According to reports, masked gunmen entered the building and killed twelve people, including four cartoonists (Cabu, Tignous, Wolinski, and editor Stephane Charbonnier), and critically wounded at least four others. The attackers are still at large, but two of them have been officially identified by police. [UPDATE: The names of all twelve victims have now been released, and a fifth cartoonist was one of them: Honoré.]

It is still difficult to express the shock and dismay this event has provoked. We express our condolences and support to the family, friends, and colleagues of the victims.

Both the National Cartoonists Society and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists have released statements about the attack.

There has been much good reporting on the event. The Guardian in particular has extensive, regularly updated coverage.

Bart Beaty has an excellent short piece on Slate called "What It Means to Be a Cartoonist in France". In the same magazine, Joshua Keating reports on the history of the publication and the likely context informing the attack.

There have been too many noteworthy responses to the attack to list them all here, but a few that stood out so far include pieces by Zunar, Jeet Heer, Arthur Goldhammer, Domingos Isabelinho, Matthias Wivel, Zainab Akhtar, and Ted Rall.

There is a lot we still don't know. We will have more coverage soon.


Today, on the site we are publishing Ken Parille's first column of 2015, in which he names his choice for comics critic of the year. Last time he did this, Parille counterintuitively honored Fredric Wertham. Who's the winner for 2014?

The Internet seems to have brought into being a new type of critic: The Millennial Literalist. A product of the 21st-century’s asphyxiating instantaneous reaction culture, the ML’s motto is Read then Rant. They’ve been trained to see immediacy as an unquestioned value. (Think about how anxious we get — even pissed off — when someone doesn’t reply to our text within ten minutes, especially since we always reply to them in like under a minute!) Why reread, reflect upon, and reconsider our reactions to a work of art, all of which take precious time and may lead to mixed-up feelings and queasy uncertainty, when we can trust — and immediately globally disseminate — our first instincts? “The now” of unfiltered passion always indicates authenticity, and that’s what the world needs more of, right?

Unsurprisingly, immediacy generates a number of casualties. When MLs go after an online comic, for example, they trample over the hard to describe, not always obvious qualities that make it art in order to reduce it to an easy-to-attack message. MLs often interact with a comic as if it’s an expository prose essay expressed in a neutral, legalistic tone. Since it’s hard to pontificate in the presence of ambiguity, the ML ignores complexity, irony, playfulness, narrative perspective, drawing style, tone, etc., flattening art into ‘mere rhetoric.’ If not quite art’s enemy, the ML is, at best, its fair-weather friend. If a comic expresses their opinions in the correct way — the way they want and need it to — they’ll hype it on Twitter. But if not, watch out, artists! (If you’re a non-Millennial, don’t worry. This practice really isn’t the province of any ‘demographic.’ In this new century, with computers always in our back pockets, anyone can be a literalist.)

This will be a good one for the people who like to read skim quickly for the parts they can get outraged by without even attempting to empathize with the writer's viewpoint. Should be fun for Ken online today!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—More Best of 2014 Lists. These haven't slowed down much yet. This time, I have lists from Paul Gravett, Nerdist, and a variety of different comics folks recruited by Zainab Akhtar.

—Interviews & Profiles. Hillary Brown has a strong interview with the always fascinating Dylan Horrocks. Tim O'Shea talks to Mike Dawson.

—Reviews & Commentary. Panel Patter looks at Dash Shaw's coloring strategies. Ben Marks notes the publication of volume 3 of Walt Kelly's Pogo, in which we enter the strip's most famous era.

—Misc. Over the holiday, I missed this great Ivan Brunetti post about attempting to fill Ernie Bushmiller's shoes on Nancy. The critic Robert Boyd remembers his own youthful attempt to become a cartoonist.

—Podcasts. I missed many of these over the holiday break. At Inkstuds, I liked the interview with Tom Spurgeon. I haven't listened to the episode where Brandon Graham, Ed Piskor, and Joe Keatinge discuss the work of Rob Liefeld yet, but since I called for just that kind of thing from Liefeld fans a while back, I feel obligated to link to it and plan to listen soon. (I'm hoping none of them held my request against me...)

Make It Then Tell Everybody hosted Kevin Huizenga, Hope Larson, and Josh Bayer.

At Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, Once, Current, and Future TCJ contributors Tucker Stone, Joe McCulloch, Chris Mautner, and Matt Seneca discuss their favorite comics of 2014.


Spinning Top

Good morning. I wrote about Zap, finally. Take it as it is.

The Complete Zap Comix came and went a couple months back, selling out at the distributor level within a week or so of its release. For such an event, there was little discussion about it aside from laudatory news articles and the occasional interview (my own contribution to said genres, an interview with Robert Crumb, will be published in the February issue of The Believer). So, I wanted to mention a few things and then maybe we can all discuss Zap.

I tend to agonize over what is being looked at and what is not, and if there’s one thing I have noticed these last few years of the proliferation of comic book conventions is that the various constellations of influence and adulation have shifted a lot. One could argue that the main source of influence is the convention itself, but that’s a different discussion. All this to say is that there is now a notable lack of interest in Crumb (and a fair bit of antipathy, as well, but hey, he can take it) and a near-total disinterest in underground comics in general. There was a time, oh, 15 years ago let’s say, when Crumb and Zap remained the gold standard. This was reinforced by Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, who brought together the RAW and Weirdo strands of influence into a briefly coherent history in which Art Spiegelman, Crumb, and Gary Panter, all loomed large. This time has passed. Things are far too fractured now to nail down any dominant lineage in comics, and Clowes and Ware have withdrawn from their more public efforts at history making, having thankfully accomplished a ton. (Though I still long for Clowes in particular to take a more active role in publishing the oddities of comic book history, but hey, he’s busy. We’re all so fucking busy after the age of 35. Who has the time?) There are so many strains that have sprung up in the last ten years – thanks in large part to the availability of manga, the ongoing reprint boom, and most especially the web, and Tumblr in particular. Nothing is just a straight line anymore, if it ever was. I mean, if you’d told me ten years ago that the figures looming largest in comics today (at least from what I can tell at festivals and online) are Osamu Tezuka, Moebius, and Alison Bechdel I’d have laughed you out of the room. Quality lit comics might still sell the best (think Roz Chast, Bechdel, and of course Ware), but that does not equal influence. Yeah, so this is the odd situation we find ourselves in, wherein the medium of comics is being so thoroughly explored and mined for new streams that once unavoidable figures and events like Crumb and Zap can simply be ignored. This is good and bad. It’s good that there is such a plurality now, but bad that the rise of the plurality means there’s a lot of noise to cut through to get to the good stuff.

And elsewhere:

[UPDATE: An attack by gunmen on the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has resulted in the deaths of at least twelve, including several cartoonists. Here is a report from the BBC.]

The big news yesterday was IDW's acquisition of Top Shelf, publisher of Hey, Mister, among other titles. I'm just glad we can all stop pretending Top Shelf was somehow still the same company it was 10 years ago, or even related to that company. So yeah, into the blue sky! Here's Tom Spurgeon, who has more positive thoughts on the matter.

I enjoyed this profile of the "lost" cartoonist/illustrator Eugene Bilbrew.

Alex Dueben talks to the great Sam Glanzman, cartoonist of all-time-great comic book Kona.


For Real This Time

Shuddering wheezingly back to life, time waits for no one, and Joe McCulloch is here with his weekly guide to the best-sounding new comics available in stores. Devoted readers of the comics form will know what to do.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, an incomplete collection of links from the past two weeks:

[UPDATED TO ADD:] —News. This morning, IDW announced their acquisition of Top Shelf. More on this soon.

—Best of 2014 Lists. These of course proliferated recently, and I only collect a few of the ones which have appeared during our break. Some are interesting either because the recommendations are actually solid, personal lists, others merely for helping to gauge the online zeitgeist. In no particular order: Michael Dooley at Print, Nick Gazin at Vice, Brian Cremins, a slew of lists collected by Forbidden Planet, various contributors at Robot 6, Comics Alliance, Wired, Marc-Oliver Frisch. There are surely more of these to come. Also, the Beat polled comics industry professionals and named Raina Telgemeier as the person of the year.

—Interviews and Profiles. Tom Spurgeon got his annual holiday interviews slate going with Jesse Jacobs. Noah Berlatsky spoke to Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger. Brigid Alverson talked to Ryan Sands about his rotating-artist anthology series Frontier.

—Funnies. Anders Nilsen on optimism. Connor Willumsen's "Sunset People". Gabrielle Bell's "The Dishrack".

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Karasik analyzes a classic Charles Addams gag. Tim O'Neil hopes you don't overlook Jules Feiffer's Kill My Mother (and is himself deeply confused about Crumb's Genesis). Michelle Dean reviews Jeet Heer's new essay collection, Sweet Lechery. Abhay Khosla looks at The Valiant #1.

—News-ish. Speaking of Valiant, Abraham Riesman profiles the company for Vulture.

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the expanding and diversifying readership of comics.

SAW has added some nice rewards (4CP cards from John Hilgart, etc.) to its fundraising campaign.


Young Man

Hi, welcome back. We've crossed into the new year. And Ryan Holmberg is starting us off right with an article about an early episode of Osamu Tezuka's career that Ryan calls The Fukui Ei’ichi Incident and the Prehistory of Komaga-Gekiga.

Though generous to his fans, and generally warm with his peers, Tezuka Osamu (1928-89) was not above letting professional jealousy get the best of him. The first time this trait reared its head in public was in 1953, when, in a series about comics-making and comics aesthetics for Manga Shōnen, the new prince of manga took a swipe at his foremost competitor, Fukui Ei’ichi (1921-54), who was older than him by seven years.

The series in question, Manga Classroom(Manga kyōshitsu), had begun serialization the previous year. It was partially modeled after Manga College (Manga daigaku), the best-selling tutorial Tezuka had created in 1950 for the Osaka publisher Tōkōdō.

After dominating the Osaka akahon market, Tezuka had only recently begun working for Tokyo magazines. The legendary Jungle Emperor (Janguru taitei, 1950-54), published in the same Manga Shōnen, was one of his first such serials. Manga Shōnen was famous not only as the home to this proto-Lion King title, but also as a venue to which young cartoonists could submit short four-panel work for review by Tezuka or the magazine’s editors or other contributing artists. Select submissions received critique within the magazine’s pages. The best received a small pin badge as award. Amongst the youngsters who got sucked into a life of cartooning through this exchange were Ishinomori Shōtarō, Akatsuka Fujio, both halves of Fujiko Fujio, Tatsumi Yoshihiro, and Sakurai Shōichi.

And elsewhere:

The Wall Street Journal has an article about the continually growing market for women readers of comics.

Chris Randle interviews Anne Ishii about Massive, among other topics.

Tom Spurgeon has a running list of "50 Comics Positives for 2014".

Chuck Forsman writes a revealing essay about his 2014 as a cartoonist.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum has acquired the Jeff MacNelly collection.

And here is a video of Matthew Thurber's Mining the Moon musical as performed last year.


Extended Negotiations

Today on the site we have a holiday double-header:

Michael Dean on the Christmas gift of Greg Theakston's battle with the Jack Kirby Museum, which is a perfect encapsulation of why the efforts of why the efforts of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum are so important.

In what has to be one of the world’s slowest-building controversies, Theakston’s grievance with the Kirby Museum has been building for some time. The short version: Theakston says the museum borrowed from him more than 3,000 photocopies of Kirby pencil art and won’t return them. The museum takes the two-fold — if somewhat contradictory — position that 1) Theakston is not entitled to have the photocopies back because he donated them to the museum, and 2) he never owned them to begin with, having borrowed them from the Kirby family. The museum has asserted that the copies ultimately belong to the Kirby family, and the Kirby estate has officially sided with the museum.

And on a happier note, Paul Tumey tells the story of one mid-century comic fan's dreams come true:

With an out-going mother and a love of comics, it’s no surprise that Peter would go past admiring from afar, and make actual contact with his hero. Mrs. Brown tracked Walt Kelly down at his Hall Syndicate address in New York City, and initiated for her son a correspondence that occurred first around Christmas 1953, and then resumed from September 1958 to May 1961. Over fifty years later, Peter Brown has discovered the letters Walt Kelly wrote, bundled up in a trunk and forgotten for decades. In addition to the letters, the original art and books Kelly sent Peter and his brothers as gifts were also saved. In all, 23 letters survive.

The earliest letter in the bundle is dated December 21, 1953 — written when Peter was six. The short letter is typed on Post-Hall Syndicate letterhead and signed by Kelly, who thanks Peter for a hand-drawn Christmas card. Peter recalled the card in 2014:

“My younger brother and I sent him [Walt Kelly] a homemade Christmas card that we drew up together.  We colored it and added a couple of panels, it was a Christmas greetings.  It depicted how we imagined Pogo and Albert would be enjoying Christmas.  My brother was a very good artist.  After we sent this off to Walt my brother lost interest in Pogo and went on to other art projects.  He is a professional artist today.  I kept up the correspondence. “

Tomorrow we'll have our traditional year-end "best of TCJ". See you then.


Once More

We're almost done here, but before we go, please read and enjoy Whit Taylor's latest article, which started as a typical convention report about her trip to this year's CAB and turned into an investigation of the sustainability of the convention model. Here's a section from the middle:

I talked to Robyn Chapman, cartoonist and micro-publisher (Paper Rocket Minicomics), about The Tiny Report. The idea grew out of her interest in minicomics history and her growing awareness of the proliferation of micro-presses, which see sees as a “movement.” She agrees with [Kevin] Czapiewski in many respects. “I think conventions are very important," she says. "One of my biggest challenges as a micro-publisher is distributing my books. There are very few distribution options available to me, so I'll use anything that works. And what works for me right now are conventions, Kickstarter, and selling through Desert Island. (Because I work there, I can always keep my books in stock).”

However, Chapman goes on to note that it has grown harder for her to turn a profit at conventions or simply break even. “I believe I'm producing the best work of my life, but selling comics at conventions was easier when I was in my early twenties, when my work was often, in my opinion, mediocre. I think there are a few reasons for this," Chapman says. "The number of quality small-press comics being produced has increased, but the audience hasn't grown at the same rate. It's harder for work to get noticed.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Best of 2014 Lists. These continue to proliferate. Up next are lists from Noel Freibert (minicomics), Zainab Akhtar, the anonymous proprietor of the Shit Comics Tumblr, Sean T. Collins, Abraham Riesman (comic-book series), John Dermot Woods (and friends), and Abhay Khosla (who also includes a rant on Russ Heath and Roy Lichtenstein).

—News. As reported on Facebook at the end of last week, Norm Breyfogle has been hospitalized with a stroke.

—Reviews & Commentary. At Vulture, Abraham Riesman writes about Guy Delisle's Pyongyang, the film adaptation of which got scuttled in the wake of the North Korea/Sony hacking incident. Calling it "one of the most beloved graphic novels of the past 20 years" seems like an overstatement to me, but it's a nice appreciation, all the same.

—Funnies. Emily Carroll has posted a new online strip for the holidays, "All Along the Wall".

—Misc. When Chris Ware appeared in Heavy Metal>.


Holiday Anxiety

Today on the site:

Sean T. Collins talks to cartoonist, editor and publisher Leah Wishnia.

SEAN T. COLLINS: You’ve been quite forthcoming about the process that animates Happiness in the editors’ letters that appear in the most recent issues. In #4, you say that the mission behind the book is an explicitly evangelical one, with the goal of spreading the word about comics in general and up-and-coming practitioners in particular. How does that manifest itself in the specific production and curation choices you make as the editor? 

LEAH WISHNIA: I’m interested in publishing work that I find intelligent and challenging rather than uninformed or lazy, but that’s kind of a given. I’ll try to include a fair mix of new talent with more established artists, but most decisions are somewhat subjective. I choose work that I like and want to share with others, and I try to make decisions that will better benefit contributors and readers. It’s not something I do so much for financial or personal gain as it is a way for me to help contribute and interact with the DIY-spirited community and other like-minded artists and individuals. Since the most widely-available news and entertainment surrounding us these days is complete shit, I feel like any quality alternative outlet or platform for creative thought and expression can’t really hurt. Maybe there is something fundamentally evangelical in wanting to put out a publication that values creative integrity and community over trendiness and personal gain, but I don’t think that’s a goal unique to Happiness in particular; it basically just describes the spirit of most DIY publications.

The early issues, besides being shorter and more exclusively comics-focused, are also angrier, it seems to me. There’s more “adult” material, more taboo-breaking, and a sense of… I dunno, fury to it. “Underground comix in the time of crushing student-loan debt” is how I’ve described it.

The earlier issues might seem crazier and kinda lawless because I had no idea what I was doing. They’re not angrier, just clunky. In learning from my mistakes, becoming more mature and better-informed, some of that “unbridled, youthful rage” of the first two issues basically just transformed itself into a productive, useful rage, a rage led by compassion and critical thought, not hatred or ignorance. And for me, that’s way more radical.


A report from a Pete Maresca presentation here in NYC.

Cartoonist Guy Delisle reacts to the cancellation of his film due to the recent North Korean hacks and threats (in French).

TCJ-contributor R.C. Harvey has a good looking new book out!

There will apparently be a Jack Kirby exhibition at the 2015 Angouleme.

And Mimi Pond reflects on her writing role  for the first Simpsons Christmas Special.



Today, Julia Gfrörer is here with a new Symbol Reader column, tracking the winged creatures to be found in new comics by Ben Duncan, Lala Albert, and Ward Zwart. Here's a sample of her analysis:

Bees labor tirelessly until their deaths, slaving daily to make honey, volunteering their lives when they sting to defend the hive, and for this reason they often appear in a story to remind us of the virtue of hard work and self-sacrifice, the honey its luminous, longed-for reward. But in this parable, which originates with ancient Indian Buddhism, the bees represent desires, and the honey their fulfillment: though briefly pleasurable, it brings no true relief. And in an economy where hard work has been largely uncoupled from lasting reward, the symbolic role of honey must again be renegotiated.

The protagonist of Lala Albert's "Brain Buzz" experiences the swarm of bees that break out over her body and her mind as compulsiveness: as in the Buddhist parable, their slightly ominous presence suggests the anxious demands of desire.

And in our final supplement to the recent publication of the Comics Journal Library collection of Zap interviews, we have a previously unpublished 1972 interview with Victor Moscoso, conducted by Patrick Rosenkranz. Here's an excerpt:

Seeing Zap really turned you around.

MOSCOSO: I was ready for it. We were already getting ready to do a comic-book trip. Then Crumb came out and laid out the form, just like that. The form was perfect. Crumb had to change it — there have been a lot of variations, but the form is like the form. A comic book that size, on newsprint, black and white. We didn’t even think black and white, when Rick and I were working on it. We automatically thought color. That’s where our heads were at. Except what that does is make it too expensive.

ROSENKRANZ: That’s what the overground comics have been doing all this time.

MOSCOSO: Which is all right. It’s getting to the point where we’ll be getting into color now too. Young Lust is coming out as an all-color comic.

ROSENKRANZ: Up From the Deep is planning a second one with color insert.

MOSCOSO: I’m planning to do some more color. I don’t know when I’ll get to it, but I will.

ROSENKRANZ: You hadn’t seen any other comics at the time, like God Nose or Feds 'N' Heads?

MOSCOSO: Sure, I’d seen God Nose almost two years before. Jaxon gave me a copy of it when he was working for the Family Dog. He was then in charge of the posters. But it didn’t click. I said that’s nice. It’s nice and old-fashioned that somebody’s doing a comic book like this.

ROSENKRANZ: What was so different about Zap?

MOSCOSO: The time, the form, the price, and Crumb’s attitude towards it, how he saw it. The way he was relating to it was something I had totally forgotten about since I was a kid. It was a means of expression. I hadn’t been thinking about it that way. When I saw the way he was relating to it — you could do your trip in this form, and how far out he was getting in that form, which I had considered a secondary form or kid stuff. It’s OK for Marvel Comics. It’s not where my head was at at that time. By him doing it that way, I saw a potential in it that I wasn’t seeing up until that point. It opened the door. It said, “See this.” I said, “Yeah.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Ware writes about the expansive influence of Richard McGuire's "Here".

Publishers Weekly has released their annual critics poll, with the Tamakis' This One Summer topping the list.

—Interviews. Pádraig Ó Méalóid talks to Bryan Talbot about his Grandville series. Comics Tavern has ten questions with Joshua Cotter, and I think we missed that right before Thanksgiving they had ten questions for Leslie Stein, too.

—Misc. The Guardian has published a selection of birthday messages written to whistle-blower Chelsea Manning in prison, including letters from comics figures including Joe Sacco, Alan Moore, Terry Gilliam, and Molly Crabapple.

And this interview with Adrian and Alessandro Nivolo has a nice Saul Steinberg anecdote.