The Auteur is a comic concerned with the process of the creative process. And not in the way that Oscar-bait movies about movies tend to be. The Auteur’s philosophies about the birthing of art are largely merciless in their honesty. For Nathan T. Rex, creative conception is selfish, even violent. When a starlet he hired purely based on the caliber of her breasts refuses to do a nude scene, T. Rex feeds her a bunch of manipulative BS about the power of art. “Good art is never easy. Creativity takes courage. To become truly immortal, an artist must escape all human limits.” For Nathan T. Rex, making art is not a righteous act, it’s often a criminal one as he finds himself ditching a growing pile of human remains into the ocean.
SULLIVAN: What other markets were you breaking into at the same time? You did get into Heavy Metal. When did that take place?
BURNS: Around 1982 or ’83. It didn’t pay great, but it paid, so that was nice. The El Borbah strips were serialized in there, and at that point I was starting to take the strips that appeared in Raw and sell them in European markets. That was where my other income was coming from. But it was a trickle, it was very, very gradual. I was trying to get a strip in The Village Voice, and I had a little one-panel strip that appeared in the The Rocket [a Seattle-based rock tabloid] for awhile. A couple of them got reprinted in that “Raw Gagz” [#8]. They were dumb one-shot gag cartoons. I wasn’t very comfortable with that, to tell the truth. I had made up a bunch of samples, and I was supposed to get this space on the back of The Village Voice, because supposedly whoever was doing that was going to be booted out or something. There was something weird there. I was talking to the editor about it, and he was encouraging, but I was never very happy with what I had come up with.
At that point Art Spiegelman was working for Playboy, and that was really big bucks. I remember trying to create a one-page strip for Playboy. It was kind of a romance throwback. I just never could get it. Art was trying to help me: “You’ve just gotta think about what Hugh would like.” And I never could figure out what Hugh would like. My stuff was still much too weird for them. I had a strip called “I Married a Maniac,” about some woman who’s chained to the bedpost, and she’s washing dishes. Their response was, “Uh, Charles, you’re not quite getting it. The guys who’re reading Playboy don’t want to think of themselves as sexist pigs. They’re not going to think that’s too funny.”
SULLIVAN: You were critiquing the Playboy ideal.
BURNS: Yeah. Then I was trying to throw in this sexy humor, but I just could not get with it. It was really lame.
SULLIVAN: Lots of big, buxom gals, though?
BURNS: Well … I was too embarrassed. I ended up doing stupid stuff. A woman comes home and her husband’s in a giant bunny outfit, and he says, “Come on, honey, can’t you get in the mood?” Just real stupid.
SULLIVAN: How did Art feel about working for Playboy and trying to meet that Playboy ethic?
BURNS: He was doing it for the money. It was one of the games in town. He was smart enough to figure out how to play by their rules, and did it. I think it was fairly painless for him. But it was pretty painful for me.
The original Incal is a tough act to follow- so esteemed in some quarters that Humanoids were recently able to charge $79.95 per volume (that’s for 48 pages of art in their luxurious “coffee table” format) and find an audience for it. That’s almost $500 for six books, which have been published many times before over the last three decades. But Final Incal is also a damn entertaining read, with pretty spectacular artwork by Ladrönn, and quite good artwork by Moebius. (The aborted volume of After the Incal is appended at the end, cleverly giving the book the same circular structure as the original Incal series.)
And speaking of Sugar Skull, we also have a more thorough review of the conclusion to the Nitnit trilogy, written by the great Richard Gehr. Here’s a bit of what he has to say:
Could the colorful Hergé-inspired trilogy Charles Burns concludes with Sugar Skull be read as a formally audacious sequel to his black-and-white masterpiece Black Hole? “A hole is never just a hole,” Burns has said of the series, which launched in 2010 with X’ed Out and continued two years later with The Hive. And the lacunae, tunnels, cavities, orifices, and other absences so present in these three books cover a lot of the same creepy-ass territory as their diseased-adolescence predecessor – although his trademark meticulously rendered deformities are relegated to a fantasy realm. This time around the emphasis is on the biological consequences of the sexual desires thrumming though Burns’s young fertile creatures.
Besides providing a delightfully Freudian read with heavy emotional repercussions, Sugar Skull also offers a final opportunity to enjoy the trilogy in all its fine Franco-Belgian drag prior to the inevitable single-volume repack. Hergé has been called a thieving magpie of imagery, and Burns wreaks artistic justice by inverting both Hergé’s narrative style and star. Tintin becomes Nitnit, the oneiric representation of Doug, whose three-stage development from the late-seventies art-punk wannabe who calls himself Johnny 23 to a slacker record-store clerk several years later is chronicled. Snowy the dog becomes Inky the cat, who leads Nitnit down a grungy hole on X’ed Out‘s first page and returns for the trilogy’s uncanny conclusion. (Burns’s books are also littered with desert skeletons reminiscent of the dead dromedaries Hergé snagged from photographer J. Pascal Sebah and dropped into The Crab With the Golden Claws.)
—SPX. This was the first SPX in something like a decade that I wasn’t able to attend, and of course the Social Media has made it seem like the most entertaining ever. As Joe mentions in his column, if all goes well, he will have a report from SPX up for us later this week. We also plan to publish another SPX report in a different mode, from Whit Taylor (who you may remember from her excellent piece on the Comics & Medicine festival earlier this year). In the meantime, we’ll all have to make do with what we can find elsewhere online, including Brigid Alverson’s photo report from the Ignatz Awards.
—Interviews. Tim O’Shea talks to the Magic Whistle artist (and occasional TCJ contributor) Sam Henderson.
—Reviews & Commentary.The New Yorker has a long piece by Jill Lepore on the hidden history of Wonder Woman (with a cameo from Margaret Sanger). I assume this is either an excerpt or includes material from her upcoming much-anticipated book on the same subject.
Birds and other flying creatures are associated with Mercury, the wing-footed messenger god, and thus with intellectual thought, ideas, and communication. Birds sing to one another and can be trained to speak and carry messages for humans who tame them, and like thoughts, they freely explore places beyond human (physical) reach. Inspired ideas can seem to be soaring overhead; we glimpse them and hope they will choose us as their perch. Untethered birds are impracticable ideas, ideas not yet snared by the ponderous necessity of action. Sometimes airborne imagery denotes wishful thinking: an unrealistic fantasy is a “flight of fancy,” a daydreamer’s refuge is “cloud cuckoo land.” When a flock behaves unpredictably or attacks, insanity is implied—the subject’s own thoughts are trying to kill them.
Grant Snider, in “Collecting My Thoughts,” presents himself as at the mercy of his untamed mind. In the form of winged animals, the thoughts swarm, buzz, evade, impose, stupefy and loom. He gets the better of them only twice—his “bottled up thoughts” (trapped safe in a jar) and “thoughtlessness” (the thought/bird apparently slain with a slingshot) allow him to feel in control, but now he’s attacking them, rather than engaging. And the rest of the time he’s content to let the thoughts run roughshod over him, while he plays the role of their hapless observer, apparently unmotivated to chase them down, preferring to be resigned to his neurosis.
At first glance, Gabrielle Bell’s six-panel daily diary comics don’t have a lot in common with the Mines of Moria sequence in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings . Or at any number of subsequent glances, I suppose. But the more Bell I read, the more I think they share a primary strength: a sense of space, of environment. Autobio slice-of-life comics, by the nature of what most of us tend to do with our lives every day, often consist in large part of conversations, either with a small number of other parties or within the head of the diarist as they go about their day. Unless those conversations reference a specific landmark, cartooned depictions of them can, and often do, devolve into dialogues that could be taking place anywhere, or nowhere. They have all the spatial context of action figures or dolls or sock puppets held aloft by the cartoonist, one in each hand, and made to speak with the voices of the participants.
Here’s a preview of my show opening on Thursday at the RISD Museum. The article itself is filled with misquotes and bad information, but hey, it’s publicity baby! Quick notes: I’m the curator of the show; Destroy All Monsters and Forcefield didn’t use YouTube and Vimeo to distribute their work; I never published “Forcefield”. etc. etc. But, other than that, dive in!
Fantagraphics is launching a new imprint, Fantagraphics Underground, which will publish books with potentially low commercial appeal in very small print runs. You can read their press release about the announcement here. It’s an interesting idea, but one that inspired more than a few questions. Dan posed them to Gary Groth last night, and you can read that interview today. Here’s a small taste:
DN: Who is the editorial director of this imprint?
Gary Groth: I am.
Why [lead off with] Fukitor? That seems like a particularly controversial choice.
Both books could be considered controversial choices. One is certainly a prime example of transgressive art and the other is a relentless attack on modernist art and beloved and successful artists such as Warhol, de Kooning, and Schnabel. I’m glad you asked me this because I’ve been wrestling with this for awhile. Jim Rugg, an artist I like and respect, was the prime mover behind Fukitor (he edited the collection). I am admittedly more ambivalent about it than Jim, who is a passionate advocate, but I ultimately concluded that its mockery and ridicule of the more idiotic aspects of pop culture makes it worthwhile (and funny). I know, of course, that that is not everyone’s interpretation, and I don’t discount the possibility that it is both a symptom of as well as a response to a rancid pop culture, which makes it a more difficult work to navigate.
I think it’s a publisher’s obligation to take risks; I could probably publish safe, respectable “literary” comics or solid, “good,” uncontroversial comics for the rest of my life. I think it’s important, personally and professionally, to occasionally get outside your comfort zone.
We also have Dominic Umile’s review of Michael Cho’s new Shoplifter, the latest comics publication from major publisher Pantheon, and I believe their first comics debut. (Certainly one of their first.) Here’s some of that review:
The budding kleptomania in Shoplifter isn’t as extreme a case as the one that Canadian comics creator Pascal Girard recounts in 2014’s funny and also love-and-misdemeanor-driven Petty Theft, but like Girard’s Sarah, who calls book-stealing “a bit of a rush,” Corrina Park finds comfort in the inherent sense of danger. Exiting the store with stolen goods is a break from the hours she spends fantasizing about leading an isolated novelist’s life or mulling her own overt difficulty with interaction: “I’m so bad at groups,” she confesses. “Sometimes when everyone is talking, I start to get self-conscious.” Peeking out from under a head of black bobbed hair that never quite crests the shoulders of her peers, Park is cast as diminutive, disconnected, and alone, even in an enormous city that’s overrun with people.
—More Mouly. Alex Dueben talks to Françoise Mouly about the expansion of her Toon Books.
The ways in which people express and compartmentalize their loneliness is comic artist Yumi Sakugawa’s thematic trademark. Her viral mini-comic I Think I’m In Friend Love With You, a neatly drawn love letter seemingly drafted especially for the world’s most introverted, is perhaps the work she’s most known for. But her latest, Never Forgets, is an exploration of a more abstract strain of alienation, the sort of bodily disconnect that forces a woman to efface herself to become a more admired, “true self.”
In this column, I typically look at cartoonists, artists, and comics that I like, focusing on those that do interesting things in unusual ways. This time, I examine five recent comics that didn’t work for me. I tackle a specific problem in each narrative that represents the comic’s larger troubles, as I see them. I conclude by recommending a few new books and answering the question, “Who is the best American-comics-influenced British writer?”
Jerry Beck has a fine book review round-up on recent publications by Barks, Rosa, Friedman and others.
Paul Gravett interviews Keiichi Tanaami, the Japanese psychedelic artist who has experienced a surprising resurgence over the last decade, and who I published in The Ganzfeld and Electrical Banana.
Hey, you can now get a gander at the Fantagraphics Complete Zap set. the astonishing comics aside, Patrick Rosenkranz’s oral history is great. Is it expensive? Yes, yes it is. But you can also buy the comics for less than $20 if you want to go that route.
The Guinness World Records organization and proclaimed this man to have the world’s largest comic book collection.
It’s always a good day when another Paul Tumey column comes down the pike, and today is a good day. He’s talking about Alley Oop:
It was the Dr. Who of the 1940s, a comic strip that traveled though history with verve and panache — not to mention lots of wisecracks. Only, instead of charming, eccentrically dressed Englishmen wielding sonic screwdrivers, there was a practically naked caveman with a stone ax. Begun in 1932 by Vincent Trout Hamlin (1900-1993), Alley Oop continues to this day, ably written and drawn by Jack and Carole Bender and appearing in about 600 newspapers.
Alley Oop is an iconic American newspaper comic strip character. His nipple-less, six-packed, Popeye-armed body is as memorable and weird as Dick Tracy’s hooked nose and Little Orphan Annie’s blank eyes. No history of 20th century American comics, no matter how slight, would be credible if it didn’t include Alley Oop. Aside from that iconic status, why should anyone today care about the early years of this ancient, dusty comic strip?
For me, a comics nut who was occasionally and momentarily drawn in by Hamlin’s singular visual language, but never fully “got”Alley Oop before, the answer lies in the strip’s seventh year, a good chunk of which can now be found between the slate grey covers of Alley Oop 1939 (Dean Mullaney, editor, introduction by Michael H. Price, IDW Library of American Comics Essentials, 2013). This spiffy little volume presents, with the typical smart design and good production qualities we’ve come to associate with Dean Mullaney’s Library of American Comics books, the daily episodes of the strip’s first time travel adventure, from March 6, 1939 to March 23, 1940. You read that right: time travel.
—News. After many years of avoiding commentary on Israel, Art Spiegelman has provided an illustration for a Nation article on the conflict in Gaza. He shared the art (and some of his thoughts) on this Facebook post. The Forward (the Jewish paper which originally ran his In the Shadow of No Towers) has more on the story.
—Podcasts.Roz Chast makes an appearance on Gil Roth’s great Virtual Memories podcast.
Roman Muradov made me laugh out loud two or three times on his episode of Inkstuds.
I also very much recommend the Tom Scioli/Ed Piskor episode of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, though the spirited defense of Rob Liefeld near the end of it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Artists legitimately get their inspiration from all kinds of sources, which I’d never want to question, but I didn’t really get any idea why the general reader (and particularly one who didn’t grow up at just the right time) would want to read Liefeld. This isn’t aimed at Ed P., who said he wasn’t interested in convincing anyone, but any others out there who want to spread the word on Liefeld (I hear scattered reports of their existence) should try to get more specific about what’s so great about him if they want to raise his stock. You know, make the case. What Liefeld stories (or pages or panels) might convert a skeptic? If he’s really worthwhile as an artist, it shouldn’t be impossible to communicate why. —Reviews & Commentary.The film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has reprinted a 1980 essay he wrote on the legacy of MAD magazine, on the release of the awful Up the Academy movie.