Hero People

Today Joe McCulloch brings you the week in comics, as usual.


Another new comic fest has launched: The Black Comix Arts Festival in San Francisco.

Inkstuds visits Gary Panter in Brooklyn.

Jed Perl is a great art writer, and here he is on Picasso. Read and learn. I could learn a lot. Perl's new book, Art in America, is a pretty astounding gathering of writing about art that everyone should check out.

I fondly remember these superhero gag cartoons by Kyle Baker, even if they are for hardcore super hero nerds only. Love those colors, too.

Your most important link is naturally to a review of my book, Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream in the New York Times Book Review.

And: This Bill Everett artwork, circa 1940, when the artist was figuring out what his comic book world might look like, is the damndest thing. It popped up on Heritage auctions yesterday, which lately has been auctioning material from the Everett family, most unpublished and easily enough to make a fine little art publication (hint hint, email me if interested, har har) Here is a man in mysterious garb, somewhat SF, somewhat aquatic, halfway mythic. All primary colors. He appear to be controlling some kind of gear-related machine. The woman (in red dress, natch) is holding a helmet as well. It's rendered in the Alex Raymond-influenced style that Everett would refine for the next 30 years, here still loose and sketchy. To me this drawing communicates so much of the invention and excitement these young artists must've felt when giving life to a new form, despite the shitty business conditions, etc. What a clear and ebullient vision he had.



Gone Hollywood

Today, we have two new reviews for you. First, Hazel Cills writes about Inés Estrada's Sindicalismo 89, a short comic documenting the lives of the residents of an apartment complex in Mexico City:

The story focuses on three very different types of city dwellers who inhabit the building. There’s Mecha and her roommate Pau, two young stoner women. Across the way live the loud Lopez family made up of Paco, Yoni, and their impatient mother. And then there’s the little old lady who lives alone with her yippy lap dog companion, just trying to live peacefully among the youthful hustle and bustle that build up outside her blinded windows.

This idea of comfortable, natural chaos reverberates through out the stories of Sindicalismo 89’s characters as they go about their days and deal with problems that range from the inane (“I want mojitos!”) to the more serious (the building is flooding.) Most of the comic centers around Mecha and Pau, the free-wheeling girls who seem to spend more of their time looking for boys to bone, throwing parties, and getting high. The privilege of their carefree fun is laid bare later in the comic when the darker, dangerous realities of Sindicalismo 89’s city setting come to light.

Then we have the return of Matt Seneca, whose encounter with the graphic-novel-length expanded version of Richard McGuire's Here has forced him out of retirement. Here's Matt:

I never really rated the original “Here”, having seen it alongside the more advanced work that Ware, along with Frank Quitely and Olivier Schrauwen (among others) produced after being shown the way by McGuire’s example. For me, anyway, “Here” the anthology short belongs with things like “A Trip to the Moon” and Naked Lunch - formally audacious, narratively light works of serious historical import that were inevitably superseded as the new ideas they brought to the table were absorbed into the mainstream. So when I learned a few years ago that Here the book was in the offing, I was pretty skeptical. It sounded like a cash-in, or maybe a failure of imagination - 300 pages of that old thing? Especially given that McGuire had made far more interesting work since 1989, it seemed a waste, so I wrote it off.

It took one look at a single spread from the new book to convince me I might have made a mistake - in the past twenty-five years, McGuire’s presentation of his concept has managed to expand as much as the comics form itself has.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Qiana Whitted looks at the ways in which political cartoonists have reacted to the killing of Michael Brown and subsequent public outrage in Ferguson, Missouri.

Douglas Wolk reviews recent books (Stephen Collins, Michael Cho, Eleanor Davis, etc.) for the New York Times.

Alex Dueben talks to Lewis Trondheim about the end of Donjon.

The National Writers Union talks to New Yorker cartoonist Carolita Johnson.

—News. The prominent retailer organization ComicsPRO has announced it is investigating possible embezzlement of funds by one of its members. ICv2 is reporting that the director Gary Dills has been removed from his position with the group.

Brumsic Brandon, Jr., creator of the comic strip Luther, has passed away. The Times has an obituary.

Tom Spurgeon muses publicly about his new role as a convention organizer, and hints at potential changes at his Comics Reporter site.

Gilbert Hernandez has a new regular strip at Vice.


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.