Ware, who has often compared comics to music, uses the red circle as a visual leitmotif, a “short, repeated musical theme” that he associates with Brown and threads throughout the comic’s two narratives. It first appears as the razor’s cap and then as a pushpin holding up photos of the astronaut and his “first and only true love.”
It’s Tuesday, which means Joe McCulloch is here with his regular guide to the Week in Comics.
Also, if it’s been a while since you checked in with our collection of tributes to Kim Thompson, you’ll want to take another look at it soon. New additions have continued to roll in, most recently from Kim’s Fantagraphics colleagues Jason T. Miles and Kristy Valenti, as well as an essay-length remembrance from Gary Groth.
I’ve sketched the highlights of Kim’s “career” (he would understand and appreciate the quotation marks — neither of us thought of this as a “career”), but it barely scratches the surface — it’s impossible to adequately convey his devotion to specific projects and to the goals of the company generally, the all-nighters we pulled to get books to the printer, the tens of thousands of hours hunched over typewriters and computer keyboards and manuscripts, his above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty proofreading. What I’d like to do, though, is to offer a few words about something I’m uniquely qualified to talk about: the intersection between our personal and professional lives.
As a publisher of cartooning, Fantagraphics Books was an outgrowth of The Comics Journal, so a polemical chip-on-the-shoulder was built into its DNA. As recently as the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the whole notion that comics was a bona fide art form was still alien not just to the culture at large, but even to the fan sub-culture, most of which inhabited this bland, gray area between a connoisseurial love of great cartooning and the worship of pure drek (often both at the same time). The only way to break this critical complacency, I thought —and it may not have been the most effective strategy (because it was less a strategy than a compulsion)— was to confront the artistic status quo head-on with the best criticism we could muster — and Kim was right there with me in this Quixotic endeavor, as his reviews of Ronin, Detectives, Inc., The Death of Captain Marvel, and other books attest. Without this zeal, I don’t think we could’ve made a difference.
Elsewhere, lots of catching up to do:
—The long nightmare surrounding Dragon Con and Edward Kramer is apparently over. (Context here.)
—If you read the two-part Peter Bagge/Zak Sally discussion we ran a few months back, you recall how much of it had to do with the difficult economics of comics publishing today. Sally is now releasing the second volume of his Sammy the Mouse series, and talks a lot more about all of that in his announcement, in which he suggests ordering the book direct.
—As with most (all?) art forms, the history of comics is perhaps most efficiently grasped as the history of the technologies involved with its production. Pioneering underground artist Justin Green is figuring out how the current technological changes affect his work in a brief blog post here.
Songs of the Abyss, which likewise collects a number of mini-comics he’s published over the past few years, is in many ways a more mature and cohesive work. At its heart, this book is about worship. It’s about what we choose to worship, why we do so and the implications of this act. The essential point that Espey gets across is that what we choose to worship as a society and a culture has a savage component that is not unlike the way the Aztecs went about their ways: a vast civilization built on blood sacrifice, spectacle, hierarchies, false mysticism and degradation.
Today on the site, we are reposting three of Kim Thompson’s most memorable early pieces for The Comics Journal, which, added to his review of Ronin and his famous 1999 manifesto calling for new “crap,” may serve as a sort of miniature Best of Kim Thompson. These five pieces are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and I hope that eventually we might see more of his critical writings (and possibly interviews—here‘s a good one he did with Sergio Aragones back in 1989) collected into print.
First we have Kim’s 1978 review of the then-ongoing National Lampoon‘s presentation of the French cartoonist Claire Bretécher, much of which revolves around translation issues:
Translation is a difficult craft (or art). If the translator is less than fluent in the language of origin but fully conversant with the target language, the result is frequently a grammatically, idiomatically, and dialectically “correct” translation, but unfaithful to the original and in some cases downright nonsensical. On the other hand, if it is the target language that is the weaker of the two, awkward and ruptured translations abound. Upon buying the book and noticing the name of the translator, Valerie Marchant, I expressed some concern that it might be one of Bretécher’s cronies with an M.A. in English and that the book would boast a conflagration of massacred pseudo-colloquial English with gallicisms running rampant. (“I demand pardon of you.” “Oh, that makes nothing,” for instance.) Happily, I found this not to be so, and with a few awkward exceptions, particularly when coping with the labored ironic politeness that is the staple of French argument (“Quit it with this shit, please.”—“Mood Music”), the English dialog flows nearly as well as the original. Sadly, several strips are rendered pointless or even unintelligible because Ms. Marchant’s command of French was shaky enough for her to misunderstand the originals. A few examples will suffice.
Our second selection, Kim’s 1979 review of a collection called Masters of Comic Book Art, displays more of Kim’s theoretical side, and is also just fun to read for sections such as the following:
Undoubtedly the worst chapter is the one on Barry Windsor-Smith. Smith rose to fame in the early to mid-’70s not only for his highly illustrative approach to comics and his tremendously effective mood in Conan and a handful of other books, but also for his unique pacing and continuity (involving, in particular, successions of high, thin panels), derived in part from Steranko. The book communicates none of this. Smith’s entire comic book career is encapsulated in two comic book panels (which aren’t even in sequence); then, having done his duty by establishing Smith as an artist who once worked in comics, Garriock proceeds to offer what looks like a catalogue for Gorblimey Press, all posters and prints and paintings. This is absurd; while the latter are undoubtedly better in terms of draftsmanship and polish, they are utterly irrelevant to the comics medium.
The question was thrown at me in person by Jack Harris, who then wanted to know why DC should help the Journal with news and cover reproductions when all the magazine does is denigrate his and his peers’ efforts; it was posed to the readers of The Buyer’s Guide by two of that paper’s most persistently lowbrow columnists; and it has surfaced in various guises in a number of letters of comment to the Journal.
The question is: “Why, if you have such contempt for the medium, do you publish a magazine about comics?”
If that one confounds you for a moment, as it does us, you can probably rally your faculties and mouth the predictable answer along with us: “Damn it, we don’t have contempt for the medium—we just have contempt for the vast quantities of dreck and drivel that deface it. The medium we love.”
Now this seems to me a pellucid answer to a question that was poorly thought out to begin with. Unfortunately, it appears not to be so. Generally, reaction to it is something along the lines of, “Well, yes, I understand that, but if you have such contempt…” etc. Clearly, a few words of elaboration on the subject are needed.
A note to our readers outside the States. Tomorrow is a big national holiday here, so we’ll be on vacation until next week. Elsewhere:
—A new documentary about Tomi Ungerer has been made, and the Alsatian artist talked to NPR for the occasion. The Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves blog has the first part of another interview with Ungerer here.
—Publishers Merging. Dennis Kitchen’s venerable Kitchen Sink Press is becoming an imprint of Dark Horse. Ross Richie and Jackie Cummins talk about the Boom!/Archaia merger here.
—Ng Suat Tong writes about Graham Chaffee’s Good Dog, a book pretty much guaranteed to appeal to (and possibly addle the critical faculties of) all dog people—amongst whom I count myself. Even the notoriously cranky Suat himself seems to have been softened up.
Good morning. Today we introduce a new occasional column from Paul Tumey, “Framed!” In the first installment, “The Lost Comics of Jack Cole“, Tumey tackles Cole’s very early years, after explaining why the exercise is necessary:
Jack Cole kept secrets.
When he was in high school, Cole would quietly sneak into his family’s kitchen in the middle of the night where he would assemble and wrap a sandwich for his school lunch the next day. Back in his room, he would hide the sandwich inside a hollowed out book.
His boyhood room contained cabinets Cole – a sort of small town Buster Keaton — built, complete with hidden compartments. One of these compartments held electronic gear Cole had assembled that allowed him to eavesdrop without detection on his family’s telephone calls. Much like his 1940-41 comic book character, Dickie Dean, a boy inventor (who lived in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Cole’s hometown), the young Jack Cole was endlessly resourceful.
Smuggling a sandwich to school allowed Cole to secretly save his lunch money to invest in his passion: cartooning. Cole eventually saved up enough quarters and dimes to buy correspondence courses from the Landon School of Cartooning — courses that his father, a small business owner, had refused to subsidize.
A career born from such stubborn resourcefulness and playful secrecy is bound to hold some surprises. Over half a century after Jack Cole’s life abruptly ended, we are still discovering his secrets.
A study of Cole’s lesser-known –and mostly forgotten – comics and cartoons sheds light on his greatest work, his Plastic Man stories and Playboy cartoons. It also reshapes in fun, manic Plastic Man fashion our current narrow understanding of this secretive, influential 20th century pop artist who was never interviewed, never profiled in his lifetime, and rarely even photographed.
—The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library’s Dylan Williams Collection is looking for help identifying the creators of minicomics.
—The Daniel Clowes MCA show in Chicago has gotten more coverage, in the Chicago Tribune (with another look at Clowes’s Chicago landscape I linked to last week, only with newer, more in-depth annotations), and a review from Noah Berlatsky in the Chicago Reader, and gets in an argument in the comments with a representative of Pigeon Press.
—I missed Ted Rall’s recent column announcing the death of editorial cartooning after before the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention. Matt Bors, a young cartoonist mentioned in Rall’s column, wrote about the same AAEC event, including a great Pat Oliphant anecdote. Then Tom Spurgeon interviewed Bors yesterday, which I haven’t read yet, but it’s top of my list for today.
—Not comics at all, except tangentially. Last week, a woman claimed that she was sexually harassed at a science-fiction convention by a prominent member of that community, and chronicled what happened when she tried to report him. The post went viral, which led to further developments. Seeing as comics is similarly dependent on a convention culture, this seemed worthy of note.
Today we bring you Robert Kirby’s review of the new Ulli Lust book, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, which has proved itself very popular in my household. Here’s a bit of Robert’s review:
Thus begin her adventures as a 17-year-old Austrian punk rock girl ambling her way across Italy in the summer of 1984 with her newfound friend in tow, a tall, gangly girl named Edi. With no money or passports they forge ahead by sheer force of will, armed only with the invulnerability of the young and rebellious. Though Lust’s youthful exuberance and energy are severely tested by the inevitable pitfalls an attractive young woman will encounter hitchhiking in a country bound by traditional (i.e. highly sexist) cultural mores and traditions – and by the personal betrayals of certain fair-weather friends – this is no glib Live-and-Learn morality tale. One of the reasons the book is so successful is that Lust let the experience gestate over years, allowing for a certain distance and detachment. She captures perfectly and without judgment the complex social, cultural, and personal maelstrom she willingly entered into that summer, offering readers a wonderfully vicarious thrill in the process – especially readers like me, whose travelogues are generally limited to the “what I ate that time I went to Reykjavik” category.
I spent a very long day yesterday in Storybook Land, New Jersey, so may have been too discombobulated when I got home to recognize interesting news, but in any case I wasn’t able to find quite as many links as usual. Here’s what I’ve got:
—As you may have heard, a group of scholars have changed their minds about which is the first “true” graphic, now nominating something called the Glasgow Looking-Glass from 1825 Scotland (and thus prior to Töpffer’s Obadiah Oldbuck). Here‘s a selection of images from the publication.
—Hogan’s Alley has a ton of photos from the most recent Reuben Awards.
In this 1989 interview, Bill Watterson talks about the tension between realities in Calvin and Hobbes, how popular art doesn’t have to pander, nuance, animation and why he chose not license the strip. Continue reading →