Bass Speakers

Happy Friday. Today we have Jeff Trexler weighing in on the Kirby settlement.

On Veterans Day Marvel celebrated Jack Kirby’s military service with photos and recollections from Kirby’s son Neal. Does this collaboration prove that the Kirby heirs triumphed in their fight for justice, or did their settlement betray creator’s rights?

A little over a month ago, the Supreme Court was on the verge of giving new life - or dealing the final blow - to the attempt by Jack Kirby’s son Neal and daughters Barbara, Lisa and Susan to claim the copyright such iconic characters as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, X-Men and the Avengers. What the Court would have decided we may never know for sure, since the company and the family settled just days before the scheduled date for the Court to decide whether to take the case.


Here's one-time  underground cartoonist and founding Screw art director Steve Heller on Zap.

TCJ-diary contributor Kayla E. has launched a Kickstarter for the anthology she co-edits, Nat Brut, and she's such a good thinker and the new issue certainly sounds promising enough for me to briefly set aside my aversion to Kickstarter.

Hey, I was on NPR on Wednesday talking (with Norman Hathaway) about my new book, Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream.

Book industry: Ursula K. Le Guin is awesome (I mean, I knew that already, but this is extra).


It Was Someone Else

Frank Santoro has a new column for us following up on his experience at CAB, but this time he focuses on how the market for the back issues he sells has changed.

The most interesting thing to me is how sets of the original issues (of a series) are nearly impossible to sell. For years I had a set of the original Black Hole issues for sale. It never sold. Charles Burns himself would stop by the table, at different shows in different cities to see if it sold. I just couldn’t move it. At cover price alone (for all the issues together) it was more than double the cost of the collection. I finally took it out of circulation because Mr. Burns’s stare was too much. (I had a set of the original appearances of The Rocketeer in Starslayer but Chris Oliveros broke up the set 'cause he was only interested in one of the issues that had a Steve Ditko Missing Man back up and asked me to cut him a deal.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Consortium has begun distributing for Secret Acres and Alternative Comics.

Jillian Tamaki has won the Governor General Literary Prize.

—Interviews. Virtual Memories talks to Jules Feiffer.

—Commentary. Jared Gardner looks at recent developments in funny animal comics.

—Misc. Zainab Akhtar has a report from this year's Thought Bubble.

Master letterer Todd Klein is six entries in to a history of digital lettering.

David Brothers has ended his popular decade-old group blog, 4thletter!

—Video. There's a short documentary online for the new Art of Richard Thompson book:

The Art of Richard Thompson from GVI on Vimeo.


No More Openings

Today we have Gary Groth's 1991 interview with Robert Crumb, part of our ongoing spotlight on Zap.

GROTH: Don’t you think that representations of sex in the media can affect people, just like 40 years of being indoctrinated bPlayboy can affect people?

CRUMB: I think anything that is propaganda or panders to people is definitely not good for them. They’re just pandering to people’s weaknesses, and trying to undercut the next guy in the competitive marketplace. But that’s anything; you can say the same thing about breakfast cereals with a lot of sugar in them.

GROTH: Yes, but misogynistic work could be pandering to the misogynistic impulses of misogynists.

CRUMB: But pandering cannot be truthful. There’s a dif­ference. You’re trying to appeal to a market in order to sell something.

GROTH: So in assessing a work you’re really relying heavily upon the motives of the artist.

CRUMB: Absolutely.

GROTH: But most of the time you really don’t know what those motives are.

CRUMB: But honesty rings true. Of course it takes somewhat of an educated taste, or a certain cultivation, to see what’s true and what isn’t — which means you have to look at a lot of work and make comparisons over a period of time. As a kid you don’t perceive those things quite so much. Kids can’t be expected to see what’s truth and what’s pandering. Kids are much more susceptible to victimization by marketing schemes and aggressive sales.

And Greg Hunter on Fukitor:

Fukitor is a collection of rebellious gestures performed on repeat. The book, a bellwether title for Fantagraphics’ F.U. Press imprint, brings together entries from cartoonist Jason Karns’s series of the same name. The individual stories are genre pastiches of about five-to-ten pages in length. They typically feature murderous ghouls or hyperviolent men of action or both. They are designed to accommodate as many instances of bloodshed and rape as possible. Much of the advance buzz surrounding Fukitor took the form of a debate concerning Karns’s depictions of sexual violence and his use of ethnic caricature. Some aspects of this conversation are larger than Fukitor, and if the book represents failures of empathy within the comics community, people besides Karns share responsibility for those lapses. But Karns alone is responsible for his book’s failures of imagination.

And elsewhere:

A piece on a new Richard Thompson documentary, and the trailer here:

And here's a Jillian Tamaki interview:

Good news: Sean Howe has a new book on the go, and it's comics-adjacent. Check out the news here.

Here's a Nate Powell interview in comics form.

And here's an interview with manga artist Hiroaki Samura.


License Revoked

Joe McCulloch has your weekly guide to the best-sounding new comics out in stores this week (spotlight picks from Lynda Barry and Régis Loisel), but starts things off by looking at a fairly obscure collection from Blutch:


This too is part of the character of the work - I'd argue more prominently so than Blutch's carefully parceled marshaling of sonic lines. No, the Jazzman strips are often jokes, and this is an old-but-good one: the too-cool yé-yé singer is unmoved by booze, smoke and sex, but throw on some Duke Ellington and he is open-mouthed and post-coitally limp. It's like a Carl Barks gag page, though Blutch takes different strips in different tonal directions. A horn player is seen beating a woman bloody, then rolling out to the club to reduce the audience to tears. A black superstar basks in the public adulation of Paris, only to spy provincial women grimacing at him behind his back. A promoter lazes through a parade of sub-par players, only to perk up at the sound of truly great playing, then scowl and storm away upon discovering the musician is a woman. Lee Morgan is shot dead by his lover, prompting a bassist to kiss his long-suffering wife. A harried woman in a nightgown, cleaning up after her unconscious husband, stares at a shirtless man practicing in a window across the way, and she lays down satisfied.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Michael Cavna talks to Flemming Rose, the Danish newspaper editor who commissioned the most controversial cartoons about Islam of all time. Rose has a new book coming out.

Andrice Arp has ten questions for Simon Hanselmann.

—News. The third annual British Comics Awards were announced, with Isabel Greenberg taking Best Book, and Posy Simmonds making it into the Hall of Fame.

Richard McGuire did the cover for the latest New Yorker in the style of Here.

Add W. C. Fields to the list of wannabe cartoonists.

Also, The New Yorker has its special "Cartoons of the Year" issue out now. Looks like it might be worth picking up for the two-page Paul Karasik article on a Charles Addams gag alone.


Blue Rooms

Today Julia Gfrorer, who just released an excellent and terrifying new comic with fellow TCJ-contributor Sean T. Collins, brings us a column about Aidan Koch's recent work, first serialized over at Comics Workbook. Aidan has also just released a new book I'm quite fond of entitled Impressions.

Some languages depend more heavily than others on sequence to convey meaning. Word order in Latin is fungible because each word in a sentence is inflected to denote its role: “Agricolam amat puella” and “puella amat agricolam” are the same, since the accusative “-am” ending indicates the recipient of the verb’s action. In English, word order is more important: “the girl loves the farmer” and “the farmer loves the girl” describe different matters entirely. The syntax of comics is expressed through order, proximity, and repetition: we learn what an image is doing on the page almost entirely by examining its position among its neighbors. Not all cartoonists draw attention to this–in fact many labor to make the psychological interval between each panel as unobtrusive as possible. In Aidan Koch’s “Configurations”the interval is central, impossible for the reader to ignore, and in a sense that’s what this comic is actually about: the struggle to glean narrative significance amid disparate objects and incidents, the search for a meaningful story arc within seemingly random events.

Ok, what else?

If you're in NYC tonight, come see me and Norman Hathaway at 7 pm at The Strand. We will chat about our new book Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, in which we document the life stories of two fantastic modernist designers responsible for everything from The Cubs uniforms to Wrigley's Gum packaging to Catalina Island. Dorothy Shepard was the first major female modernist designer in North America. Experience the love! Need more convincing? Here's the best piece I've read about what we were trying to do with the book, courtesy of our pals over at The Paris Review.

More Paris Review: TCJ-contributor Nicole Rudick on Megahex.

Nice interview and article on Zap over at the Chicago Tribune.

I like this series on digital lettering by lettering maestro Todd Klein.

And here's a fine interview by Tom Spurgeon with the perennially underrated cartoonist Eric Haven, who has a new book out from Adhouse.


The Prehistoric Animal in the Room

Jill Lepore has gotten a lot of attention and given many interviews for her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, but I don't think anyone has asked her the kind of questions that occurred to cartoonist, Wonder Woman enthusiast, and occultist Ron Regé, Jr. Here's a sample of their discussion:

Can you tell us anything about Marjorie Wilkes Huntley that might not have made it into your book? Her presence in this story is a bit mysterious, and seems almost secretly pivotal. She enters Marston's life at such an early stage, and remains involved with the family until the very end. She was an early suffragist, and visited Ethyl Byrne. Did she first introduce this idea of plural relationships? I was halfway through preparing this interview when I noticed your footnote that explained that Elizabeth Marston told her children that "everything was explained in a box of documents that were in a closet in Huntley's home" and that Huntley had later burned the box saying that "the world isn't ready for this, I have to destroy it." For all the "incense burning" feminist fans of Wonder Woman, what more can you tell us about her? I'd like to note that as a cartoonist, as well as a magical thinker, the fact that Huntley actually helped ink and letter the comics is pretty significant!

I am frustrated that I was able to discover so little about Huntley. She died alone, in a nursing home, and she had no children. So far as I can tell, she left no papers, and, as you point out, I did come across evidence that she may have destroyed them. I was thrilled to find some correspondence from her in Gloria Steinem’s papers at Smith. And there were other treasures, here and there. I was especially intrigued by a photograph that I found—it’s reproduced in the book--of all three women, sitting on a garden bench: Olive Byrne and Elizabeth Holloway Marston each hold an infant; Huntley holds a baby doll. For the record, I am unconvinced that Huntley actually burned her papers, and I would not be at all surprised if, one day, they turned up.

We also have Rob Kirby's review of Spankies, a collection of internet-addicted art school grad humor comics from Nick Sumida. Here's how Rob begins:

In the prologue to his debut book, Nick Sumida receives an online game called Snackies. He describes it to his roommate: "You play this narcissistic millennial with an art school degree and an addiction to outside validation." Various parts of the gameplay involve putting cookies over your eyes to avoid seeing a deluge of student loan bills, and experiencing a nervous breakdown in a café while thinking about death. Sumida apologizes that it's not multiplayer while his roommate remains unimpressed: "What a weirdly specific and boring game." Welcome to the Snackies universe.

In Sumida’s world it is imperative to hide your slightest flaws and insecurities from the world, lest you be made vulnerable. Your suspicion that the future might be a bleak, existential black hole may well be true, and pretending you have even a chance at a fulfilling relationship is a big fat cosmic joke – at your expense. But Snackies is no nihilist vision; the book is the work of a delightfully demented, wonderfully imaginative humorist and satirist.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. I think we missed this interview with Seth from the London Yodeller last week. He's having some year.

Alex Dueben talked to Aisha Franz for Comic Book Resources.

—News. A sedition investigation has been opened against the Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar. Three people were arrested for selling his books last week.

—Reviews & Commentary. Hillary Brown reviews Walter Scott's Wendy strips. That's some funny stuff.

Rob Clough is about halfway through a month-long look at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Zainab Akhtar looks at Darryl Seitchik's Missy.

Dominic Umile has what I believe is the first review I've seen of Richard McGuire's expanded Here, which I'm guessing may cause a bit of a stir upon release.

—Misc. I know it's harmless, but something about the fact that they've begun selling adult Underoos makes me sad.


Human Be-In

Hey, it's Thursday! Today we have Frank Santoro, with whom I spent a quiet Sunday evening discussing the finer points of "liking" vs. "really liking" things. It was a warm autumn evening and we were hippies. Anyhow, here he is on CAB, the comic book convention held last weekend here in Brooklyn.

I had fun. Good sales. Same as last year. Which was great. It felt less crowded however maybe that was good? It was so packed the last couple years that often you couldn’t see anything so I dunno when I came up with the same numbers as last year I was fine with it being less crowded. You could actually walk around. Anywhere else it would be a blockbuster but in Brooklyn it felt like we were all talking about how “slow” it was. So that’s something to chew on.

Lala Albert’s Janus has to be the book of the show. At least for me. Lala can fucking draw. And this new story is a killer “identity” riff that feels so timely and NOW. Exciting stuff. Check it out!


Here's The Japan Times on a film called Tatsumi, which animates the titular author's works.

Hey it's Jim Drain, sometime-cartoonist, all-the-time artist, on his week in culture.

As a kid I was fascinated and thought this scene was pretty much the coolest thing in the world.

Oh the glory of Drag Cartoons!


This is a Science

First, Ken Parille is here with a new Grid column, and he's tackling a subject that I'm sure everyone is happy to keep reading about, James Sturm's "The Sponsor". But Parille being Parille, he brings something new to the table, examining the strip from 14 different perspectives, at least one of which will probably appeal to you:

Online tweets/posts/etc. about comics (or any subject, really) often seem like futile skirmishes in an unwinnable war. Each critic takes a narrow position and holds that territory, refusing to grant any validity to divergent arguments. Isn’t it possible, especially when talking about art, that different and even contradictory interpretations can be equally valid, that a short comic strip, for example, can communicate its meanings (if that’s ever the right word to use when talking about art) in opposing ways? In other words, isn't it possible that a comic can simultaneously express X and Not X, with both interpretive camps being right? I think so.

Recently, James Sturm’s online strip “The Sponsor” (read it here) has generated a lot of commentary that takes the form of “It clearly can mean only X.” Making no effort to look for evidence that complicates or undermines their claims, these writers lack "interpretive sympathy": they fail to identify with readers whose experiences lead them to very different conclusions. They also overlook a fact about reading comics: one element — a line of dialogue, a facial expression, a subtitle — can simultaneously suggest different interpretations.

Below are fourteen responses to “The Sponsor”. While writing each, I tried to imagine what it was about the comic that would lead a critic to view this reading as the “correct” one. When I first read the strip, it seemed fairly transparent in its “message” (which is never the right word to use when talking about art). But now I’m unsure that my initial response was anything like “true” or “accurate.” (Doubt can be a positive interpretive approach.) As of today, I don’t agree with all — or even most of the claims — I make below. But trying to understand each as I was writing it — to act for a moment as if it were true — was instructive. To me at least.

And then we have Sean T. Collins's review of Aisha Franz's Earthling. Here's how he opens:

Aisha Franz's faces are an architectural marvel. Their features bunch up in the center of great round white circle heads crowned with hair that looks sculpted from clay. They're bookended by apple cheeks drawn with a perpetual blush rendered as circular gray scribbles, as though a physical ordeal or an uncomfortable emotion were always only scant seconds in their past. Eyebrows, wrinkles, creases, and smile lines push the eye toward the beady eyes and pug noses they ring. (The look is very Cabbage Patch Kids, but there's a reason those weird-looking things made millions.) They broadcast emotion from the center of the head like a spotlight focused down into a laser -- curiosity and confusion, peevishness and puckishness, boredom and loneliness and anger and, very occasionally, satisfaction and delight. In a book where Franz's all-pencil style -- the lack of inks and the deliberately boxy and rudimentary props and backgrounds suggesting a casual, tossed-off approach completely belied by Franz's obvious control of this aesthetic -- works very well, those faces work best of all.

The story is another matter.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The National Book Foundation hosts an interview of NBA nominee Roz Chast.

Smoky Man talks to the contributors to the Italian anthology U.D.W.F.G., including Mat Brinkman.

Drew Friedman answers five questions for Book Soup.

Hannah Berry, Kevin Huizenga, and James Lloyd talk about their participation in the WWI-themed anthology, Above the Dreamless Dead.

Newsday checks in with Jules Feiffer.

Tim O'Shea talks to Eric Haven.

As part of a longer interview about his writing in general, novelist Will Self talks about his start as a cartoonist.

—Reviews & Commentary.
The A.V. Club reviews new titles by Jeff Smith, Mickey Zachilli, and others.

Gary Panter appreciates Richard Lindner.

Adrian Hill has published the next two parts of his examination of the William S. Burroughs/Malcolm Mc Neill collaboration, Ah Pook is Here.

—News. The Rosenbach Museum is suing Maurice Sendak's estate for allegedly refusing to turn over rare books as dictated in Sendak's will. Among other books, the dispute involves several Beatrix Potter titles, which the estate apparently considers to be "children's books" rather than "rare books."

Heidi MacDonald has a photo report from last weekend's CAB.

Amazon has released its list of the best comics of 2014.

—Funnies. A few people sent me this collaboration between Zack Soto and Connor Willumsen.