The Kracken

Ahoy there. Today we have Shaenon Garrity on Zen Pencils and other self-improvement webcomics.

There’s no question that webcomics can change your life for the better. For example, you can read my webcomic and have your life filled with brilliance and joy. Or you could turn to the small but increasing number of webcomics dedicated to self-improvement. Because who knows how to live better than a webcartoonist?

Given that the current trend in online comics—or, hell, online anything—is toward bite-size viral material designed for sharing on social media, I’m surprised there aren’t more webcomics built around daily (or weekly) affirmations and inspiring messages. Nobody has page-a-day desktop calenders anymore, and something has to fill the void. But the inspirational webcomic market seems currently sewn up by Gavin Aung Than’s enormously popular Zen Pencils, which illustrates inspirational quotations in comics form. It’s a clever idea that gives Than a surprising amount of creative flexibility; as long as people keep writing and saying stuff, he could conceivably draw Zen Pencils forever.

And Simon Hanselmann closes out our week together in a deep haze...


This is a wonderful short piece on Jerry Moriarty by Kevin Huizenga.

I had no idea that the great and gnarly underground comic book Inner City Romance was being reprinted by parent company Fantagraphics. That's good news.

Finally, drop what you're doing and plan to be at Tomato House in Brooklyn for a rare screening of films by the great Leif Goldberg! Not to be missed, friends.



Frank Santoro is here with a column about his recent convention appearance at Cleveland's Genghis Con, in which he tabled next to John Porcellino, sells a bunch of old comics, and thinks about the rise of ultra-small-press-run art-object comics:

I asked Bill Boichel (owner of Copacetic Comics and all around comics guru) about it and he said: "As the market for high-quality small-press and self-published comics grows and matures, it is worth noting that there is a good chance that it will come to resemble in some respects the slowly eroding market of corporate-published comics that it is replacing— for example, with the small-press comics shows like Genghis Con and many others, which are starting to have the look and feel of the original old-school comic shows of forty or so years back. Creators should be paying attention to what is going on around them and balance their own needs and the needs of the medium that they are simultaneously nurturing and being nurtured by. [...]"

We also have Day 4 of Simon Hanselmann's week as our Cartoonist Diarist. This entry records Thanksgiving at Gary Groth's house.

In addition, Brian Nicholson reviews Lala Albert's Janus. Here's a snippet of that:

Lala turns her eye often to liquid. Almost always there is water, be it in waves, rivers, or tide pools, but the symbolic meaning of the liquid changes with each new strip, reshaping to fit the unstandardized dimensions of each new container. She seems consistently interested in porous boundaries, such as the way the division between figure and landscape becomes blurred when both are drawn by the same hand. 2012's In the Up Part of the Wave does away with panel borders in favor of large format drawing; the river that runs through it both defines the sense of flowing time by which one reads it, and occasionally divides the page, as the book's central figure climbs in and floats meditatively as water washes over her. Inside water, the sight of a figure distorts, and the body submerged emerges dripping. The gelatinous quaver of Lala's spindly line gives her figures a spinelessness, making them resemble human-shaped bags, that if punctured, would relax and let loose puddles either of blood or some sort of ectoplasmic tulpa of true self. In this light the very function of a word balloon is reconfigured, not sitting outside the image as an analog of sound, but instead acting as a viewable representation of a form made of thought emerging. Lala's handwriting carries the same sloppy line that makes her figure drawings seem so vulnerable.

And ICYMI, yesterday we ran a review by Luke Geddes of Joe Casey & Piotr Kowalski's Sex.

Sex is an ongoing Image series written by Joe Casey and illustrated by Piotr Kowalski that examines the aftermath of the midlife crisis and subsequent retirement of a Batman-esque vigilante called The Armored Knight and the resulting effects on a supporting cast of thinly-veiled analogues whose resemblance to their Time Warner-owned source characters is as obvious as can be without inciting litigation. As the title suggests, there is a special focus on their sex lives. All the gang is here: repressed millionaire Cooke, still reeling from death of Alfred stand-in Quinn; his young ex-sidekick Keenan Wade; his on-again-off-again rival, the catty woman Annabelle Lagravenese; jokester the Prank Addict; and a deformed Penguin-esque kingpin known as The Old Man. By focusing in on the already-there lurid undertones of these blatant stand-ins, Casey and Kowalski position Sex as a commentary on the state of the mainstream comics industry, its readers, and its most prevalent genre. Exactly what they have to say however, if they have anything to say at all, is impossible to tell. Sex’s content is as gratuitously and dumbly provocative as its title—but damned if I don’t mean this in the pejorative sense. It’s the weirdest manifestation of a writer’s midcareer crisis that the comics medium has seen for some time, an M-for-Mature masks-and-capes porno with a predilection for existential monologues, grandiose posturing, and strikingly candid self-reflection.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The New York Times has an interesting profile of Lynn Caponera, Maurice Sendak's former caretaker and current executor of his estate, which chronicles some of the disputes between Sendak's estate and the Rosenbach Museum.

I like that the Times is now apparently doing comics-related panel reports, too. This one on a conversation between Art Spiegelman, Jules Feiffer, and artist Alexander Melamid is fun, if super short.

Erik Wemple wrote for the Washington Post about the similarities between Bob Staake's recent Ferguson-themed New Yorker cover and an earlier cartoon by R. J. Matson.

—Interviews. The latest episode of Virtual Memories features Wayne White and Mimi Pond.

Douglas Wolk interviews Mike Mignola for Playboy.

At Paste, Hillary Brown spoke to Olivier Schrauwen.

The Paris Review ran an interview with Julia Wertz.

—Reviews & Commentary. Jeet Heer took to his natural habitat, Twitter, to talk about the ways in which Maus can be interpreted as a hard-boiled detective novel.


Here and Everywhere

Today we have an interview with Gary Groth about Zap conducted by yours truly.

Dan Nadel: Tell me a bit how you see the importance of Zap as a publishing model (as the launch of the underground comic book business, (such as it was), and then as an ongoing publishing entity through various houses.

Gary Groth: It wasn’t just Zap as a model, but the entire underground comix publishing ethos, of whichZap was probably the most prominent example. For the first time in the history of comics, there was a community, a movement, a collective —however you want to characterize it— of artists who took it for granted that they would own their own work, function as autonomous creative artists, and wrote and drew comix as a form of personal expression. And there were publishers who sprung up who instinctively honored this principle (Last Gasp, Rip-Off, Print Mint).

I see Zap as part of the lineage of historically important and aesthetically ground breaking comics anthologies, the first in this lineage, of course, being Mad, which influenced all the Zap artists; next,Humbug, then witzend, then Zap. (Mid-way through Zap’s run, there was Weirdo and Raw, of course.) Each one of these comics anthologies were created by the artists themselves in opposition to the prevailing economic and creative standards of the comics industry; each one of them was created in order to give artists greater freedom to create the work they wanted to create, without the editorial restrictions placed on them by commercial dictates;  and the publishing rights and original art featured in each of them (with the exception of Mad, which was at least published by the most enlightened publisher in the history of comics to that time), was owned by the artists —collectively, they represent the long fight for cartoonists to take control of their own destinies. They are the Humbug co-op (composed of Harvey Kurtzman, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffee, Jack Davis, and Will Elder) wanted the freedom to edit, write, and draw a humor magazine suitable for grown-ups; Wally Wood hated mainstream publishers, may have hated editors even more, and created witzend as a place where mainstream cartoonists (and a few young underground artists like Art Spiegelman) could do whatever they wanted, free of the suffocating editorial demands imposed on them by mainstream comics editors; and Zap, of course, created by Crumb, became a collective where the artists could do whatever they wanted. As a model of artists taking their “careers” into their own hands, it can’t be beat.

And Simon Hanselmann is here with Day 3 of his diary, in which he returns to the office. I want to go to the office!

Also, Luke Geddes reviews Sex books 1 and 2.


Brumsic Brandon Jr., the creator of the comic strip "Luther", one of the first and few comics strips to focus on an African American cast, has passed away.

Lots of interviews: Here's Bill Kartalopolous on Inkstuds.

And Alex Dueben interviews Bobby London about his new Popeye book, as well as Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda about their issue of Critical Inquiry.

I'm excited about this Sadistik book, which I only just heard about. That's an under-published area of comics, even in this reprint-glut age.

And in self-promotion news: Hey, read some more about my new book, Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream! There is a comics connection, even: Otis Shepard apprenticed with Bud Fisher in San Francisco. So there you have it.


Holiday Season

Today we have a double dose of Joe McCulloch for you. First, his usual and regular weekly column on the best-sounding comics newly available for purchase in stores (spotlights picks include a gay erotic comics anthology and a volume of Dupuy & Berberian). Second, he has an extensive review of Zak Sally's sui generis Recidivist IV. Here's a sample of that:

... Recidivist is a lot more aggressive, and a little more complex. Four stories are included, along with several standalone recurring narrative images, and also a CD.

There are just over 21 minutes' worth of sound on the disc, which my VLC player helpfully identifies as the 2005 CD-R release Buried by Fog from the Detroit noise outfit Wolf Eyes. The sound, however, is not that of Buried by Fog, which might be described as finding yourself strapped to a misfiring centrifuge on a busy airport runway, the force of gravity causing the heavens to occasionally explode into cosmic roars while the ground crew marshals buzz-saws to free you, with little success. What Sally has “recorded” (as his credit reads) is instead high and whining, as if a thin plank of metal is being honed, eternally, on a crystal wheel. It is both divine and painful at first - ripped through with drill screams of feedback, as if you'd wandered into a cold, tall spacecraft only to discover that the aliens had already set up their dissection table, and then the walls fall down and the lights turn red and the whine becomes dull – but maybe you've simply gotten used to it by then, as a character in this story.

I'm making reference to story, because the disc Sally has recorded is semi-diegetic, which is to say that maybe it can be heard inside Recidivist, and maybe not, but the appearance of the CD itself recurs within the comic as an icon of gnawing, ambient worry.

We also have the second day of newlywed Simon Hanselmann's week contributing our Cartoonist's Diary. That's some breakfast drink.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, lots to catch up on:

—Reviews & Commentary. Illogical Volume is posting preview excerpts of his book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's The Filth.

Rob McMonigal reviews the Screw Job wrestling anthology.

Via Martin Wisse, I found this memoir post by Sigrid Ellis about her slow recognition of the lesbian subtext Chris Claremont included in many of his X-Men comics.

Adam Roberts reviews Emily Carroll's Through the Woods.

—News. The Women's Caucus of Art is giving Sue Coe (and Kiki Smith and Martha Wilson) a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Laura Miller at Salon picks her top ten graphic novels of 2014 (and does a much more respectable job than the New York Times).

—Misc. Hogan's Alley presents some forty years of Christmas cards from Harold Gray.

Dangerous Minds has a collection of strips Art Spiegelman drew for Playboy.

—Crowdfunding. New York's comics convention scene is pretty crowded, but a LGBTQ-themed show fills a legitimate need.

Digital Manga has revamped its unsuccessful Tezuka Kickstarter at a more reasonable level.

—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben talks to Jim Woodring.

Mark Frauenfelder talks to Ed Piskor:


Freshly Showered

Today Jeet Heer pay us a visit to look at some issues surrounding Jill Lepore's much-discussed book about Wonder Woman. Here's a bit:

The major problem with the book is it’s unwillingness to engage the rich existing literature on Wonder Woman (in particular) and comic book history (in general). Lepore has written a narrative history, which means her extensive footnotes are largely devoted to giving the sources for her facts. She doesn’t feel the need to argue with earlier scholarly excavations and interpretations. This has the distorting effect of making it seem like she’s the first person to tell this story. Many innocent readers will think that everything in the book is Lepore’s discovery. Yet the broad outlines of Marston’s life – his work inventing the prototype of the lie detector, his polyamorous relationship with Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne, his ties through his lovers to the feminist and birth control movement – have been known for at least two decades or more. In a very real sense, Lepore is working on the foundations built by scholars like Geoffrey Crinson Bunn, Lillian Robinson, and Francine Valcour. (Bunn and Valcour wrote important doctoral theses which are as yet unpublished. The late Lillian Robinson was the author of the 2004 book Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes) All of these scholars go unmentioned, which is a troubling omission. Particularly objectionable is the erasure of Bunn (whose scholarship was pioneering) and Robinson (whose theoretical approach would have enriched Lepore’s book). Other, more recent books that take up Wonder Woman – notably Ben Saunders Do the Gods Wear Capes? (2011) – are also ignored. Ignoring these scholars is especially troublesome because of the power dynamics at work. Lepore has a lot of institutional strength: she teaches at Harvard, her book is published by Knopf, and was excerpted by The New Yorker. By contrast, Lillian Robinson was for much of her career a nomadic scholar, moving from one adjunct job to the next. Despite her precarious status in academia, Robinson wrote many important books. It seems churlish of Lepore to write Robinson out of history.

Jeet's is the third and, I think, final piece we'll run on the book. Here's Ron Rege, Jr.'s interview with Lepore and Sarah Boxer's review.

And we are pleased to have Simon Hanselmann is joining us for the week with a Cartoonist's Diary. Here's day 1.


Zoe Taylor interviews Seiichi Hayashi.

Tom Spurgeon interviews Zak Sally.

I always enjoy "behind the cover" features about the New Yorker, and this one's no different.

TCJ-contributor Sean Rogers recommends three recent graphic novels. Roberta Smith recommends my very own What Nerve! in the NY Times. The same "gift suggestions" section of the Times includes the usual deplorable suggestions from Captain Fanboy George Gene Gustines (I refuse to link to it), who manages to make one of the best eras in comics mostly about complete junk. It's as if the Times film coverage was devoted exclusively to Michael Bay pictures. Weird, depressing and embarrassing. Grow up, George! And Dana Jennings is ecstatic over the new giant Marvel book from Taschen. I have spent some time with the book, and it does feature a ton of great art -- no real discoveries or anything you haven't seen, but it's nicely reproduced, and certainly treats the art better than Marvel itself ever has. But ultimately it's a very expensive corporate brand book. It faithfully sticks to the script regarding the company's "fun" and "greatness", which I'm sure was the mandate. Of course the company's deplorable treatment of its artists is nowhere to be found, and no real history is done here. That's not what this book is about. The artists are mentioned and given short profiles, but they are always secondary to the product. Why would Marvel do anything else? So, you get what you pay for here -- it makes perfect publishing sense (i.e. a gift book about a "beloved" company) but little moral or aesthetic sense. There are plenty of other books out there that cover the artists, but it is sad that writers and researchers like Roy Thomas and Michael Vassallo, among others, would participate in this kind of whitewash, or the idea that Marvel is "beloved" or a "myth maker" or in the business of anything other than making money.


Time: Part II

Before we head out for the Thanksgiving holiday, we have a few last things for you. First, R. Fiore is here with the latest installment of his Funnybook Roulette column. This time, he tackles Joe Sacco's return to underground comix-style satire, Bumf, and comes to terms with his political nemesis, Ted Rall. Here he is on the Sacco:

If Bumf doesn't garner the sort of broad attention and acclaim that Sacco's previous works have it won't be because of any lack of passion, imagination, or artistry, but because it's expressing something that's genuinely painful.

And Sarah Boxer has our review of Jill Lepore's Secret History of Wonder Woman:

Lepore makes the case that Wonder Woman, which began in the early 1940s, is feminism's “missing link,” a vital connector in a “chain of events that begins with the woman suffrage campaigns of the 1910s and ends with the troubled place of feminism fully a century later” (yes, there's still no Equal Rights Amendment!). But what really sticks in the mind is how tightly bound this feminist superhero and her creator were with the art of bondage and submission. Marston, a walking talking contradiction, battled for women's liberation while conducting scientific studies to prove that women enjoyed bondage and beating other women with sticks. He declared that any woman could have it all, but it was he who had two or three women at the same time – one to support him and his family (Sadie Holloway), one to raise his children and write gushing reviews of his psychological work (Olive Byrne), and one to take care of the incense burning and the “love binding” in the attic (Marjorie Huntley).

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Johanna Draper Carlson writes about that massive (and massively unsuccessful) Tezuka Kickstarter from a few weeks back.

Marc Singer has broken his internet silence to review Grant Morrison and Fran Quitely's Pax Americana.

Ben Towle reviews recent books about comics.

—News. Stan Sakai's wife Sharon has passed away, as Sakai revealed on his Facebook page. Like her husband, she was a beloved figure, and in recent years, many in the comics community had rallied to her support through various efforts.

Tom Hart and Leela Corman's SAW is having its annual fundraiser.

A Hugo Pratt watercolor has been auctioned off for a record price.

Interviews. Gil Roth talks to Mary Fleener.

Whit Taylor talks to Dog City Press.



Today Joe McCulloch fills your belly with the next best thing to turkey: comic books!

The big news is that Tom Spurgeon is moving to what has become the comics capital of North America, Columbus, Ohio, to become Festival Director of a brand new comics fest called Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, which is linked both to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and the Columbus Cultural Arts Center. This is great news all the way around: Incredibly smart people (Spurgeon, Lucy Caswell, Jeff Smith, Vijaya Iyer) linked to a major institution taking this kind of initiative is very heartening. I can't wait to see what they do.

Comics writer, historian and former TCJ editor Frank Young has announced the release of a three-volume John Stanley bibliography, thus shedding definitive light on the career of the one of the best and most hidden (in plain sight) cartoonists of the 20th century.

Here's a fine review of an exhibition every cartoonist in New York should see: Gladys Nilsson. And here is our own Nicole Rudick interviewing the artist herself.

Paul Gravett interviews the excellent Spanish cartoonist Max, who has a beautiful new book out called Vapor.

And here's a photo set of Pakito Bolino's Heta Uma exhibition in France. I have a more narrow vision of Heta Uma than Pakito, but I'm glad to see King Terry, Ebisu and Nemoto in there.



To commemorate the release of the new Comics Journal Library volume collecting Zap interviews, and the release of The Complete Zap, we are posting a lengthy, previously unpublished interview with late Spain Rodriguez, conducted by Patrick Rosenkranz in 1998. (It doesn't appear in the Zap Interviews book.) Spain had some stories:

ROSENKRANZ: When did you realize there was such a thing as an underground press?

SPAIN: It was The Militant, which was a Trotskyite newspaper, which had been around. You could also pick up The Weekly People, which was on a lot of the corner sidewalk newsstands, which is the newspaper of the Socialist Labor Party, a real old party, a pre-Marxist Party that comes out of the 1800s. The layout of the newspaper was always great, because you could always get into an argument with somebody. The newspaper was about this big and with those big block letters and the arm and hammer, which is some association with Armand Hammer’s father, who was a socialist. There was a connection between that Arm & Hammer logo and the Socialist Labor Party, which is from the turn of the century. They had this great logo. You’d just sit over there with the newspaper and somebody would give you an argument about it.

ROSENKRANZ: Did you consider that an underground paper?

SPAIN: It was an alternative paper. It wasn’t really underground. The first underground newspaper in Buffalo, we did. We put out something called Pith. The guy who really got it together worked at some silkscreen place. It was a silkscreen newspaper that we put out that had all this wacky stuff in it. I don’t know where he got the title. It was a pithy title. He was a strange guy. A story that says everything about him is: One time he was going to New York. He was a strange-looking guy, even by today’s standards. He looked a little like Orson Welles. He had a beard and had loud rose-colored glasses and would wear this hat. It was a New Year’s hat and it was spray-painted black, with an Italian flag sticking up. He wasn’t Italian. He was a big guy. He had this sweater that hadn’t been washed in a long time and it had these little beads on it: these pants that came up to here and sandals.

Some guy like that, especially in 1965, would attract a lot of cop attention. It was about four o’clock in the morning we’re going through or around Schenectady, where the cops were known for being nasty. The cop pulls us over and sees him and … Hey, man! The head guys from every police department around there. Here would come the state cops and different cops. He had this way of talking. He would say this strange stuff but in a conversational tone. They started talking to him and he was saying all this weird stuff and after a while they just start walking away. He was the editor of Pith. His name was Gary Stevens. Unfortunately, he committed suicide. They entrapped him in some drug bust and he was facing time. The sad thing, in Buffalo — I wasn’t there at the time — I think if they had gotten enough community support behind him, they might have helped him to stave off that kind of depression about the jail time. Or brought him out here. He killed himself. He was a real strange guy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Morton at the literary site The Millions has an interesting, ambivalent take on the Scott McCloud volume of Best American Comics, saying that comics have divorced themselves from irony.

Inés Estrada presents her idiosyncratic take on the year in comics.

Richard Metzger enthuses over The Complete Zap.

Robert Boyd reviews a bunch of minicomics he picked up at this year's CAB.

Tim Callahan is excited about Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison's Pax Americana.

—Interviews. Frank Quitely himself gives his views on that comic in an interview with Newsarama. (Colorist Nathan Fairbairn discussed the comic, too, at his own blog.)

Chris Arrant talks to Derf Backderf.

—Misc. Frank Young shares a bunch of one-page pantomime Little Lulu strips from John Stanley.

The PEN American Center is auctioning off classic or important books that have been annotated by the authors. One volume that may be of interest to our readers is a copy of David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik's City of Glass.