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.


Literary Downers

Today: Paul Tumey joins us for a thorough look at Art Spiegelman's recent performance piece, WORDLESS!

If you’ve followed Art Spiegelman at all in the last 20 years, you’ve seen his lectures, filled with insight, wit, and lots of visuals projected onto screens. This has all been pretty swell -- but predictable -- stuff. But when have we ever seen Spiegelman take the stage to talk about comics with a giant movie screen and a six-piece jazz combo?

“I wanna talk to you about words and pictures. And pictures without words,” Spiegelman says in WORDLESS!, his new work created with jazz composer/saxophonist Phillip Johnston. In 90 minutes, WORDLESS! explores selected works of H.M. Bateman, Frans Masreel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel, Milt Gross, and Si Lewen -- with quick sidetrips into comics by Basil Wolverton, Wilhelm Busch, and several others. In addition, Spiegelman includes pieces of his past work as well as "Shaping Thought," a brand new comics tour de force designed exclusively for the hybrid live music and movie format.

Like the silent comics it presents, WORDLESS! has a lot to say. And much of what is said holds within it the potential to transform. Literature is transformed from prose to visual art. Simultaneously, visual art is transformed into literature. The introduction of old, strange comics to a new audience also creates a transformation around our understanding of the form itself.  In developing this luminous musical art lecture Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston have created yet another transformation: the intimate act of reading comics turned into watching/experiencing comics as part of a group.

And we are very pleased to present an original comic strip by the great Howard Cruse entitled Slang and Profanity Illustrated. I encourage everyone to check out Howard's work, which was and is brave, wise and beautifully drawn.


Jack Davis has announced that he is retiring at age 90. What a career that man had.

Rube Goldberg's old home in SF has been slated for landmark status.

Gil Roth's podcast lists some favorite books chose by his past guests.


Between the Panels

Today, as is traditional for Tuesdays, Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the most interesting-sounding new releases in comics stores. His highlights for this week include Aisha Franz's Earthling and a collection of Al Feldstein's 1940s teen humor comics.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. Bob Temuka interviewed Dylan Horrocks. Alex Dueben talks to Tim Lane. Megan Purdy talks to MariNaomi. Rob Kirby talks to Max Clotfelter. Salon talks to Grant Morrison. Comics Alliance talks to Box Brown.

—Best of Lists. Whit Taylor picks her favorite graphic novels of 2014. Robert Boyd picks his favorite comics of the year. Brian Nicholson picks his top ten online comics of the year.

—News. Seth Kushner has posted a very welcome Facebook status update.

The Wow Cool alternative comics store in Cupertino, California was burglarized.

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Mautner reviews The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio. Dana Jennings at the New York Times reviews the same book and the latest volume of the Complete Peanuts. Brigid Alverson reviews the deluxe edition of Tove Jansson's Moomin comics. Carla Kaplan at the New York Times turns in the latest in a long line of reviews of Jill Lepore's Secret History of Wonder Woman.

Cathy G. Johnson has a provocative take on a recent Mike Dawson strip.

Zainab Akhtar wades into the recent contentious debate over Lizz Hickey's online strip about crowdfunding (the eternal subject).


Good Play

Today on the site we have Katie Haegele profiling Leanne Shapton, an artist who has made multiple picture-story books, worked with tons of cartoonists, and published innumerable illustrations, but somehow remains little known in most comics worlds.

Like good character actors, some artists are everywhere and nowhere, consistently putting out high quality work but not drawing particular attention to themselves. A Canadian artist who lives in New York, Leanne Shapton is one of the more interesting artists working in the U.S. right now, and though you may well have seen her stuff—if you watched Spike Jonze’s exercise in awkwardness, Her, for instance, you’ve seen the artist’s rendering of what two people having armpit sex might look like—you may not yet know her name.

For an artist her age—Shapton is 41—she has already had a large and tremendously varied output. She paints lettering and patterns for book covers by Harper, New Directions, and Vintage Classicsand runs J&L Books, a small art book press, with the photographer Jason Fulford. She has seven books to her credit, some of which are almost purely visual and contain little or no text, while others (well, one, anyway) is a good old-fashioned prose piece with a few paintings thrown in.

Though she’s not really a comics artist herself, Shapton has also had a hand in putting the work of many cartoonists in front of a mainstream audience. As the art director of the Op Ed page at the New York Times from 2008-2009—and before that, for the Avenue section of Canada’s National Post—she hired visual artists with from a variety of backgrounds, from Blexbolex to Jillian Tamaki.


James Romberger has a nice review round-up of comics that mostly flew under my radar.

This is me being an old guy, but I really enjoy this kind of trainspotting, thought I understand if you don't.

This is old for the internet, but I hadn't seen this short profile of Jackie Ormes before (via Frank).


Slow Improvement

Good morning. We have two new pieces for you this morning. First, a previously unpublished interview with Zap contributor and Furry Freak Brothers creator Gilbert Shelton, conducted in 2012 by Patrick Rosenkranz. Here's a brief excerpt from that:

SHELTON:I don’t suppose you have a copy of Zap #1 printed by Charles Plymell, do you?
ROSENKRANZ: No I sure don’t.
SHELTON: You know the underground comix price guide says that’s worth $10,000.
ROSENKRANZ: A friend of mine sold one recently for $12,000 to the CEO of Nike.
SHELTON: That’s amazing.
ROSENKRANZ: One time I was in [Don] Donahue’s office in 1972 and he had a whole box of Plymell Zaps and I asked him how much are you selling those for? He said 10 bucks apiece and I remember thinking at the time, “Who would pay 10 bucks for that?” I should have bought all 30 of them, if I had 300 bucks.
SHELTON: You’d be wealthy today. If you tried to sell all 30 at once, it would probably bring the price down.
ROSENKRANZ: There are some that were damaged in the fire at the Opera House that have also become highly prized collector’s items now.
SHELTON: Because they’re damaged?
ROSENKRANZ: Yeah, because they’re charred.
SHELTON: That was a busy day at Mowry’s Opera House.

And then we also have a review of the new IDW collection of the 1940s Wonder Woman newspaper strip, written by Tim Hanley. Here's a sample of that:

The first week of strips was light on Wonder Woman. They were set in a newspaper office, with an editor keen to get the scoop on the new female phenom. Wonder Woman popped up briefly in each strip, saving a baby from a fire or stopping a runaway car, but most of the space was devoted to the increasingly frazzled editor.

It was an odd beginning to a strip that had a very specific purpose. Before becoming a comic book writer, Marston was a psychologist whose research led him to believe not only that women were superior to men, but that a matriarchal revolution was inevitable. He created Wonder Woman as "psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world." She was a way to get young readers used to the idea of a powerful woman, and thus pave the way for this revolution.

Giving Wonder Woman only two lines in the first week of strips seems like an ineffective way for Marston to further his cause, but week two launched into a detailed account of her origins that was chock full of matriarchal messages. The strips were an almost exact recreation of Wonder Woman #1. At first glance, it appears that Peter had simply reused the art, but almost every panel was actually an entirely new drawing based on, and often superior to, a panel from Wonder Woman #1. After years of drawing Wonder Woman and her world, Peter's comfort with the material showed in his more confident and detailed artwork.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, I hope you like interviews:

—Reviews & Commentary. Adam McGovern takes a look at Marguerite Van Cook & James Romberger's The Late Child and Other Animals.

Novelist Adam Roberts reviews Charles Burns's Sugar Skull.

Ivan Brunetti explains his latest New Yorker cover.

—Best Of lists. The Guardian has their Best of 2014 list. So does the A.V. Club (whose own comics coverage in general has improved dramatically this past year). Frequent contributor Rob Kirby has his top ten minicomics and top ten non-minicomics. Zach Hazard Vaupen offers a top-ten digital comics list.

—Interviews & Profiles. Both Boing Boing and CBR have interviews with Here creator Richard McGuire.

Alex Dueben talks to Olivier Schrauwen.

I always enjoy the Gary Panter episodes of Inkstuds.

The Toronto Star talks to comics scholar Bart Beaty about his new book and Archie comics.

Kevin Huizenga's on Make It Then Tell Everybody.

Off Life speaks to Isabel Greenberg.

The New Republic talks to the Danish editor Flemming Rose about the infamous Mohammad cartoons he published in 2005.

Gilbert Gottfried (!) has Drew Friedman on his latest podcast.

Chris Mautner talks to Zak Sally.

—Video. Here's the trailer for the She Makes Comics documentary: