False Start

Today, Ken Parille brings the finale of his large and idiosyncratic two-part essay on the best comics of 2014, old and new... sort of. Here are two selected randomly from the middle:

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (Simon and Schuster, 2014)
Horror comics can gross me out, but they seldom scare me. This anthology’s comics are genuinely scary and disturbing — and a few are gross, too. Yet, in terms of coloring, paper, and printing, the book’s aesthetic is the antithesis of gross: it glows, with glossy paper and colors ranging from hushed browns and grays to electric blues and reds.


In every story, a page’s art or colors bleeds to the book’s edge: the horror is not confined in the way it might be in a conventional comic-book, with a grid layout that’s bordered by bright white margins. On the back cover, the publisher directs readers to its teen website, but I hope this doesn’t scare any adults away from this collection. “A Best of 2014.”

Tomahawk #116 (DC, 1968)
I can’t recall seeing a mainstream Silver Age comic with this peculiar feature: twice in the story, artist Fred Ray shifts page orientation, moving from the traditional comic-book “portrait” alignment to “landscape,” a tactic that requires readers to change the book’s physical position.


In fact, I’ve seldom seen this mode of widescreen reorientation used pre-2000, let alone used as well as Ray does; all of his scenes have a disturbing, visceral quality, communicated by the characters’ thickly-inked grimacing faces.


(A recent series of Darwyn Cooke covers for DC takes this inverted approach — but it’s weirder when used inside the narrative. And the master of unusual panel dimensions and page orientation certainly must be Chris Ware.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. SPX has posted an explanation of their exhibitor lottery process. Alternative Comics and 2D Cloud have both announced their 2015 spring lineups. 2D Cloud is also expanding hiring a new publicist (Melissa Carraher) and a new marketing director (Blaise Larmee!).

Gary Groth is collecting and posting drawn responses from Fantagraphics artists to the Charlie Hebdo killings. Gary writes a little bit about his thinking, too. Jason and Arnold Roth are the first two contributors.

—Reviews & Commentary. Ng Suat Tong has compiled his annual best online comics criticism post. The Telegraph has a short profile of caricaturist Mark Boxer up in conjunction with a London exhibition of his work. Abhay Khosla writes about Batman. Jake Austen at the Chicago Tribune reviews a handful of new comics.


Early closing

Yes, it's the blizzard of 2015, and I'm hunkered down with my laptop and my dictionary and I'm ready to do some blogging! But I bet Joe McCulloch will top me as usual, because no natural (or otherwise) force can keep him from bringing you the week in comics.

But elsewhere:

Hollywood Report has a long piece on the just-debuted film version of Phoebe Gloeckner's contemporary classic, Diary of a Teenage Girl. Phoebe deserve all the recognition and success in the world. Stone cold brilliant cartoonist.

Ng Suat Tong puts forth his annual Comics Criticism list but found the year pretty lacking.

Alex Dueben interviews Lewis Trondheim.

Pam Butler has posted an amazing cartoon cutout photo on her blog. What a room.


The Calm

Today on the site, the great Nicole Rudick has a thoughtful, extensive review of The Complete Zap Comix. Here is a sample:

American culture was only just waking up to graphic nudity in its publications, underground or otherwise. Playboy and Penthouse readers were well-versed in the female form, but pubic hair didn’t appear in adult publications until 1970 (though those magazines were showing teasing wisps in 1969). Zap’s clits, tits, and dicks may have been drawn, rather than photographed, but the contexts in which the nudity appeared, particularly in the work of Crumb, Williams, and Wilson, was sexually explicit and, in that sense, freshly subversive. “Anything before that was just some secret thing,” Williams says of Zap’s groundbreaking foray into nether anatomy. In 1969, Bhob Stewart curated an exhibition (the unfortunately titled “Phonus Balonus Show of Some Really Heavy Stuff”) for Walter Hopps at the Corcoran Gallery, in Washington, D.C., and included work by Crumb, Rodriguez, and Shelton. If some of the imagery in Zap had only just been introduced to men’s magazines, then its very public presence in a national museum was astonishing. Williams may have said it best: “They weren’t showing cunts and dicks back in 1970 at a major museum. What the hell?” Hopps’s recognition of Zap’s significance, not retrospectively but when the series was in its prime, testifies to the fact that it wasn’t merely a product of its era but defining force. Rodriguez likened Zap’s importance, and that of underground publications as a whole, to the American Revolution: the “anything goes” attitude, the “fuck you” attitude.

Given Zap’s longevity and its stunning level of influence on individual cartoonists as well as its fearless approach to subject matter, it’s amusing to consider retrospectively the judgment handed down during the 1969 obscenity trial on the East Coast over the sale of Zap #4: that the court was unable to understand how “the cartoonists were ‘original,’ or how they were ‘influencing a new generation of cartoonists’ or how they showed ‘enormous vitality.’” The details of the trial itself occasionally have the flavor of a comic book: the clerks and booksellers accused of dealing the work were discovered by the so-called Morals Squad, and the court declared the magazine a part of the “underworld press.” “It is hard-core pornography,” the court concluded, adding, “perhaps that type of obscenity contains its own antidote and eventually becomes a repetitious bore.” There is some truth to this observation. Though Zap ran for another four decades, it could not maintain the kind of shock in, say, 1994 that it perpetrated on readers in 1969. The years since Zap’s inception have seen a proliferation of graphic and illicit comics, films, novels, and other materials; one wonders if we are capable of being shocked in the way we were forty years ago.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Benoît Crucifix talks to Olivier Schrauwen. The Toronto Star profiles Michael DeForge.

Via Tom Spurgeon, I learned of this interesting Miami New Times piece on the family of Batman co-creator Bill Finger's quest to earn their forebear recognition.

—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Cremins takes a close look at Zak Sally's Recidivist Vol. IV, following thoughts laid down by Joe McC. on this site. The Washinton Post's Alyssa Rosenberg writes about webcomics and alcohol.

Nina Martyris writes about Auden, Rabelais, and Charlie Hebdo. Adam Thirlwell looks at Pussy Riot and Charlie Hebdo, and wonders if art can still shock. Read Nicole's piece again after going through those.

—Misc. Bin Crawler is a fun comics Tumblr. (Discovered by way of Kevin H.)

Twenty-six years ago, Alan Moore told our sister magazine Amazing Heroes the twenty-four comics he was looking forward to.


Drop It

Today on the site Ken Parille brings us part one (of two) of his 2014: Comics, New and Old.

While not quite a “year in review,” this two-part column looks at forty comics I read in the closing months of 2014, books that inspired some end-of-the-year reflection on “The State of American Comics,” present and past. These graphic novels, online comics, comic books, and comics tracts — a third of which appeared in 2014 — represent a range of genres: horror, memoir, religious, superhero, children’s, travel, propaganda, hate, and more. In some entries, I review the comic and in others I use it as an occasion to explore issues such as comics theory, critics vs. fans, feminism, narrative instability, “pop art,” and the “holistic interpretation” fallacy. I include my “2014’s Best” and wonder if we’re really living in, as everyone proclaims, a “New Golden Age of Comics.” (Part II will appear soon.)


The great Dutch underground cartoonist Peter Pontiac passed away this week. He was not well-known here, but was an active cartoonist since the 1970s. Artist Marcel Ruijters has an appreciation here. Pontiac's web site is here.

The Rumpus interviews Tomi Ungerer.

I enjoyed this gif-report from Bruce Bickford's studio.

Michael Dooley on provocative graphic art.

And a tour of a ADHD, creative home to Ben Jones.

TCJ-contributor and Vice comics editor Nick Gazin's recent Run the Jewels logo is discussed over here.


Waiting for the UFOs

Matthias Wivel is working on an in-depth piece about Charlie Hebdo, the attack on its offices two weeks ago, and the many issues surrounding it. First, though, today he has a review of the most recent issue of the satirical magazine, for which a reported seven million copies were printed, and sold out, certainly placing it among the biggest-selling comic books of all time. Here is a sample of Matthias's analysis:

The cartoonists who are still alive have the advantage of being able to respond to the tragedy; this has yielded some decent cartoons, or as decent as one could have hoped from the decimated staff working under what must have been a state of shock.

Luz, Coco, Catherine Meurisse, and Loïc Schwartz all contribute reportage from the mass demonstrations in Paris on January 11, with David Ziggy Green providing a British perspective from Trafalgar Square. These strips as well as the attendant columns are characterized by mixed feelings. On the one hand gratitude for the massive turnout, on the other disgust with parts of their newfound support from people such as Nicholas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, and Front National leader Marine Le Pen. “I vomit on all our new friends,” as cartoonist survivor Willem so eloquently put it a few days after the massacre. Also, much mirth arises from the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger, inexplicably, has become a subscriber.

The best cartoons are the ones that, like the cover, manage poignantly to straddle the divide between reflection and provocation. Syrian-French cartoon superstar Riad Sattouf contributes an installment in his ongoing strip La vie secrète des jeunes, which is based around (allegedly) overheard conversations between young people. A French Arab tough hangs at a corner in Paris’ tenth arrondissement discussing the massacre on his cellphone. He assures his interlocutor that he "could give a fuck about Charlie Hebdau," but that you simply do not kill somebody because they say something you do not like. Street-level Voltaire wittily written in sociolect.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Charlie Hebdo. In one of the more informative pieces on Charlie Hebdo, Josselin Moneyron analyzes the last year's worth of that magazine's covers.

Charlie writer and recovering attack survivor Philippe Lançon released an account of recent events.

Ex-Charlie staffer Zineb el-Rhazoui responded in 2013 to the Olivier Cyran letter I linked to last week.

Christopher Lydon's Radio Open Source has an interesting episode devoted to Charlie featuring Arthur Goldhammer, Juan Cole, Michael Kupperman, and Lila Azam Zanganeh.

Jen Sorenson drew a cartoon attempting to present a possible Muslim perspective to recent events. Matt Taibi is 100% Charlie.

Newsweek spoke to Ralph Steadman about offensive drawings.

Tim Parks writes at the New York Review of Books about the limits of satire.

On Monday, a high-school student in France was reportedly arrested for posting an cartoon mocking Charlie Hebdo on Facebook.

—News. The Washington Post has an extensive article on the return of Milestone Media, which is very welcome news.

More than 80 cartoonists, critics, and comics-industry workers, including Lewis Trondheim, Jacques Tardi, Jaime Hernandez, Alison Bechdel, and TCJ contributors Rob Clough, Sean T. Collins, and Jeet Heer, signed an open letter to the Angoulême festival asking the event to drop the Israeli company Sodastream as a sponsor.

Darling Sleeper, a new site devoted to comics and analysis, has launched on Medium, and looks to be of potential interest to many TCJ readers.

—Interviews & Profiles. Georgia Webber talks to Aisha Franz. Hillary Brown speaks to Michael DeForge. Laura Hudson profiles Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin on the release of the second volume of March.

—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Nicholson offers his top ten print comics of 2014. Phoebe Salzman-Cohen has a long review of Farel Dalrymple's The Wrenchies. Paul Karasik has a late but welcome CAB report.


Interior Spaces

I goofed and forgot to blog yesterday, but here I am now. So, today pretend it's, uh, earlier! Yesterday Joe McCulloch bestowed upon you his week in comics. Today we bring to you George Elkind's interview with Dash Shaw, who is responsible for about 75% of the best comics of 2014.  Cosplayers 2 and 3, along with Doctors, were stunning achievements and yet casual and unflashy in their brilliance. No other cartoonist in the world published this much strong work last year. Here's a bit of the interview:

I want to ask a little about Cosplayers in terms of structure. I see each issue of Cosplayersas (among other things) a chance for you to play with the structure of a comics issue in different ways—with “pin-ups,” interstitial materials, and different kinds of story structures. So I see a connection to that notion of comics as collage there, but can you talk more about how that idea or premise plays out within those stories? I think of page design most immediately, but I really mean on any level.

It’ll be most explicit in the next issue, which has cut-up comic collages inside of it, but, I can try to come up with an answer, sure. One way to answer is that I drew the first story and kept adding stories, without a plan. I didn’t envision a pamphlet at the beginning. First I had one story, then those characters asked for a second story, then I drew pin-ups of cosplayers. I came up with some one-panel gags and collaged them over the pin-ups. The content/subject matter asked to take the form of a pamphlet comic. Then, the idea of doing a second issue that takes place entirely at an anime convention was a no-brainer. It grew organically, piece by piece.

Drawing a cosplayer is interesting because you’re drawing Wolverine and you’re inking him with a brush and it’s computer-colored like how real Wolverine comics are, but we know it’s a cosplayer. It doesn’t look like Jim Lee’s Wolverine. I wanted them to look like real cosplayers. A guy will dress up like Batman but he won’t look like Christian Bale’s Batman, you know? Maybe he got the bat sign a bit wonky, or he doesn’t have Batman’s body type. That’s part of what I love about cosplay. Fandom is wider and more inclusive and humanistic than most of the stories/characters that the fans are fans of.

Different people like cosplay for different reasons, so these decisions obviously just reflect what I personally like about it.

I’m cosplaying too, in a way, by dressing in this format and inking and coloring in a way that I’m not natural at. I’m like the guy wearing the Batman suit realizing he’s not the real thing, but embracing who he is, play-acting, and strutting out there. So it’s sort of like I’m collaging myself onto the spinner rack next to the real Batman. It’s a merging of the unreal with the real which, also, is part of what cosplay means to me.

Of course there are a lot of cosplayers now who combine different characters to make their own, like the Boba Fett/Snow White creation, but that isn’t in my comic.

And conventions are collage-like environments, in that you have Link from Legend of Zelda talking to Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead and all of these pop culture characters are occupying the same physical space. It’s like the Werner Herzog quote that I put on the back of the Tezukon issue: “the collective dreams all in one place.” It’s similar to the Philip José Farmer series Riverworld, where everyone who has ever lived is resurrected alongside the same river and they’re all the same age. It’s an excuse to have all of these people he’s interested in interacting with each other, like the girl who inspiredAlice in Wonderland talking to Jack London. Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo is another story where characters/things that the author is interested in are all put together in the same sandbox. I reference those creators not to compare myself to them, but to illustrate a way of looking at comic conventions. A person’s mind is filled with these things… It’s natural to throw a party and invite them all to meet each other.


Charlie Hebdo: An app has been launched by the magazine. The Hooded Utilitarian has a year's worth of covers.

Gil Roth interviews the great Jim Woodring.

I've haven't anything like this in a while: A partially completed set of Landon Course of Cartooning.

Not Comics: Finely decorated Grateful Dead mailorder ticket envelopes.


Pall Bearers

Today on the site we have Greg Hunter's review of Mana Neyestani's graphic memoir, An Iranian Metamorphosis. Neyestani was sent to prison in Tehran after publishing deemed offensive. Here's a bit of Greg's review:

In 2006, protests broke out among Iran’s Azeri peoples based on a perceived slight in one of Mana Neyestani’s newspaper cartoons. The Iranian government’s response to the situation involved a series of interrogations and imprisonments for Neyestani. An Iranian Metamorphosis (Une Métamorphose Iranienne in its original, overseas edition) is Neyestani’s first book-length comics narrative and a memoir of his time as a captive and later a refugee. The work reads like that of a cartoonist unsure which tools to use in the reconstruction of his story but willing to try all sorts of things. It is eclectic and sometimes frustrating.

An Iranian Metamorphosis features many plot-level details that bring to life the prison experience: a guard consenting to pass along soccer scores; the onset of psychological isolation even while sharing a cell; the workings of an intra-prison black market. Neyestani even gambles with his readers’ sympathies to portray the range of his ordeals: A particularly uncomfortable scene shows him becoming a sort-of informant, as he provides benign information about fellow cartoonists that (we understand) Iranian intelligence officials could still distort for their purposes.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Charlie Hebdo. Articles and editorials worth reading continue. One of the murdered cartoonists, Tignous, was buried in a coffin covered in cartoons and graffiti.

Sigolène Vinson, a writer who survived the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, describes what happened.

I know I've linked to a lot of people defending or attacking the tenor of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, but here are two more worth reading, and two of the best so far. Taking the defense is Leigh Phillips at Ricochet, and on the prosecution is ex-staff-member Olivier Cyran. The Turkish Muslim cartoonist M.K. Perker also defends CH.

And two longer articles about the political angle of these cartoons come Farhang Jahanpour and Jonathan Guyer.

—Profiles & Interviews. Jeet Heer writes a piece for The Paris Review about the late John Updike's relationship to cartooning.

The New Yorker interviews Adrian Tomine about his just announced upcoming book, Killing and Dying.

—News. Star Clipper, a great comics store in St. Louis (and my own favorite local comics store back in my college days) is going out of business.

Somehow we missed this Montreal Gazette story celebrating Drawn & Quarterly.

—Reviews & Commentary. The novelist Neel Mukherjee includes Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth, and Bryan Talbot's Sally Heathcote, Suffragette in a list of the ten best books about revolutionaries.

For Dissent, Paul Buhle reviews Richard McGuire's Here.


Building Math

Today on the site, Paul Tumey looks at the use of the racial caricatures in early cartooning.

I didn’t know the Charlie cartoonists personally. I was barely familiar with their work – but, when I saw their screwball caricatures and wacky cartoons that, as far as I can tell, spare no one, I immediately recognized in them the very same impulse that had driven my sensitive and intelligent English teacher friend to satirize the people in his own world with cartoons. It seems to me that this sort of thing is a basic part of our humanity. It’s not kind, pleasant or comfortable, but that may be the point.

The impulse to satirize with cartoons may well be a part of our birthright as humans, and an essential way that we work out our differences – in a grand, glorious, unfair, unbalanced, unhinged mess. There’s something about a cartoon image that cuts to the quick, bypassing filters and nuances, and injecting an electric jolt into the mind. Given the visceral and immediate nature of this form of communication, it’s not surprising that a strong reaction will sometimes occur:  a guffaw, a spark of righteous anger, or a violent outrage, one that is sometimes planned for years and coldly executed, in all senses of the word.

In 1988, a defiant and sharply satirical Palestinian cartoonist named Naji al-Ali was shot in the face and killed by an unknown assailant. In 2005, Kurt Westergaard, another teacher-cartoonist, made a now infamous cartoon of a Muslim with a bomb in his turban and has been on the run ever since. It was part of a group of 12 cartoons published in a Danish newspaper.  The cartoons, and in particular Westergaard’s prompted a huge reaction from some hardline Muslims, who saw the cartoon as blasphemy and declared their intention to murder Westergaard in revenge. In 2010, men broke into the 75-year old man’s home. Westergaard hid in his reinforced bathroom. The attackers attempted to break into the bathroom with axes, failed, and left. During this time, Westergaard’s granddaughter was in the house, unprotected and, thankfully, unharmed – but nonetheless, a shocked witness to men attempting to slay her grandfather for drawing cartoons.

In 2012, The Onion made fun of the situation in a story as news about an absurd cartoon showing Jesus, Buddha, Ganesh, and Moses having a casual four-way. The headline read: “No One Murdered Because of This Image.”

I am the first to admit my understanding of politics is poor. I couldn’t begin to offer any incisive political commentary on anything, including the Charlie attacks. But as a historian, I can tell you this with confidence: outraged retaliation towards satirical cartoonists is not a new thing; it’s been going on for centuries.


Charlie Hebdo:

A collection of tribute covers at The Nib.

And a good piece about the cultural differences in our understanding of the Charlie cartoons.

Finally, Michael Dooley has a personal-historical take on the matter.

And in just plain funnybook news:

I liked this piece by Jason Miles on an odd Steve Gerber comic.

And this is the first review I've see of Scott McCloud's upcoming book.