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Train I Ride

Joe McCulloch is back for another round this week, with a lengthy interview with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, the comics writer and co-founder of Métal Hurlant and Les Humanoïdes Associés. They discuss the gamut of his career. Here, Dionnet discusses the very early days of Métal Hurlant:

So suddenly, everybody in a new generation is connecting. I didn’t know that a new generation was waiting to do the next thing. They came from everywhere. As said the Nietzschean philosopher Bruce Willis, about his movie Die Hard, you only come at the right place, at the right moment, one time. An all-new generation, mostly in science fiction at the beginning, but after, some of them were singers, artists, whatever. Some came with dirty drawings, and I took them the same way I used some sex to sell; then we stopped showing sex, because we knew it was suddenly okay – we were kids. Some were waiting for the flying saucers to come to earth.

Me, I had no point of view. In my head, I was like Elric of [Michael] Moorcock, a servant of the chaos. Some were communists, but they were Stalinians. Some were near the right – I mean the extreme right, but not in what they brought me. It was funny. So my idea was that my taste was not important. What was important was that the stories were well done, that those people were convinced – I would publish them. The tone of the magazine would come from a mix of everything.

And here’s where he discusses how US editors adapted Métal Hurlant into Heavy Metal for the American market:

I made a big mistake, because I said I don’t want to colonize America, so let’s say that it would be good if you can put some American stuff in also, maybe 10 or 20 percent. What I didn’t know is that all the editors – Julie Simmons was the daughter of [National Lampoon co-publisher] Matty Simmons, and Ted White – were great with science fiction, but had very bad taste in art, like a lot of science fiction people. They began to have stories by people I don’t like. Aside from [Richard] Corben, who I published first. Aside from Kaluta. I was very naïve, I’d say maybe you could give stories to Spiegelman, to Crumb, to Moscoso. And they didn’t want to work with those people. Art was starting RAW at the time, and didn’t need to, but I think that most of them would have accepted to have, let’s say, a comics section in Metal at the time.

One fun thing to do with this interview is to count the number of actual questions Joe asks. This is great stuff.


Elsewhere:


—Interviews.
The San Francisco Gate talks to Joe Sacco about The Great War. Paul Gravett talks to Hong Kong alternative cartoonist Chihoi. Dan Wagstaff talks to Gene Luen Yung. Mike Lynch interviews Brian Moore. At CBR, Paul Pope talks Battling Boy. Ryan Cecil Smith stops by Inkstuds.


—Reviews.
Sarah Horrocks reviews Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly. Tom Spurgeon reviews Hellen Jo in Frontier #2. Colin Smith lists 27 comics that fail the Bechdel test.

—News. Tom Spurgeon asks some questions regarding Fantagraphics’ first digital-only comics release, Richard Sala’s Violenzia. Middle East scholar Juan Cole ponders the possibilities of Marvel’s planned reboot of their Ms. Marvel character into a Muslim-American superhero.

[UPDATE: It is being reported that Joey Manley, the founder of Modern Tales, passed away last night. Many people are leaving tributes on his Facebook page. Shaenon Garrity wrote about her own experiences with Modern Tales on this site earlier this year.]

That’s it for today. Time for CAB.

 

Vacation?

Oh my goodness it’s a busy day here.

We have Frank Santoro with an abbreviated column. Then on to Shaenon Garrity with a full column of web comic capsule reviews, and then Dominic Umile with a review of Look Straight Ahead:

The Canadian comics writer and artist began putting rough concepts together for a webcomic before she was awarded one of the last self-publishing grants from the Xeric Foundation, which has since shifted from bestowing grants upon the comics community to a strict diet of charity donations. In her now-print story, Will follows seventeen year-old budding artist Jeremy Knowles through the halls of his high school, where he battles a swiftly deepening identity crisis, hallucinations, and the detrimental sense of ignorance of his mental illness that awaits him at every turn. Owing to the struggles that Will has experienced since she was a kid, the wealth of hurt in Look Straight Ahead gathers like a storm in the frames dominated by Knowles’s shouting, frustrated father and in his dealings with typical schoolyard bullies. “It’s bad enough that everyone I go to school with hates me and wants to kill me,” Jeremy explains when finally ushered to a medical facility. His serial defeats, under the great weight of a disorder, are palpable and heartbreaking while Will’s pens dazzle.

Phew. What else is out there?

The Fantagraphics Kickstarter as covered by The New York Times and some commentary on it from Tom Spurgeon.

Sean T. Collins on a page from a comic by Leah Wishnia.

A nice think piece on digital lending and Charles Burns.

Thoughts on Alan Moore from his biographer, Lance Parkin.

Here’s a good list for any purpose — this one for what to look for at the upcoming Short Run Festival in Seattle.

Incidents in the Night reviewed in The Washington Post.

Finally, a bit about The Brownies.

 

 

 

Show & Tell

Today, we have Bill Schelly’s obituary for Nick Cardy, the artist perhaps best known for his work on Aquaman and Bat Lash. Here’s a sample:

Probably Cardy’s most critically lauded work was for the Bat Lash series from DC, launched in Showcase #76 (August 1968) and Bat Lash #1 (November 1968). The unorthodox Western series was conceived by editorial director Carmine Infantino, editor Joe Orlando, former editor Sheldon Mayer, and cartoonist Sergio Aragonés. The protagonist of the tongue-in-cheek series was a self-professed pacifist, ladies’ man, and gambler, so Cardy adopted a looser visual style to better accommodate the pronounced humorous elements in the book. (Some have compared it to the James Garner episodes of the TV series Maverick.) The stories, dialogued after the first issue by Denny O’Neil, were engaging, and immeasurably enhanced by Cardy’s inventive story-telling techniques (experimenting with the way the pictures flowed from panel to panel) and expressive inking. Produced when Cardy was 48 years old, Bat Lash benefited by work by an artist with decades of experience, who was also able to bring a remarkably youthful spirit to the pages. It represented a creative peak, and cemented Cardy’s position as an important interpreter of the sequential art form.

We also have the most recent column from Rob Steibel (not long after the comments-thread war from his last column finally died). This time, he looks at documents uncovered by Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Throughout the entire letter notice Lee emphasizes the fact that they are all under crushing deadline pressure. I think that’s true and I’m sure it was hard work, but I bet making comics sure beat working in a coal mine. Joe Sinnott was actually a real coal miner at one point in his life.


Elsewhere:

—Kickstarter & Criticsm. Probably the first thing worth noting today is the Kickstarter fund-raising event announced by Fantagraphics in order to support its 2014 spring season. As of this writing, the effort has reached nearly half of its $150,000 goal. Gary Groth explained the decision in more detail to Kiel Phegley at Comic Book Resources.

Since this site is published by Fantagraphics, I don’t know that any further comment is appropriate here (other than to say that some of those rewards are pretty amazing), but I have noticed a few commenters here and there online either amusedly or angrily referencing my co-editor Dan’s famous blog rant from a year or so back regarding the Retrofit Kickstarter for Secret Prison 7. (Phegley asks Groth about it, too.) I have two things to say about that: 1) It’s important to note that there’s nothing monolithic about The Comics Journal. Gary is fairly hands-off regarding the day-to-day operations of TCJ.com, and except when we ask for his opinion or advice (or on special occasions such as our tributes to Kim Thompson earlier this year), Gary is rarely directly involved with the articles and reviews we publish on the site. He undoubtedly disagrees with and/or rolls his eyes at multiple things we publish every month. For that matter, I do too. In my mind, TCJ is ideally a place where questions about comics as an art form and a business are debated, not answered definitively. The point is that readers shouldn’t assume that any particular point made on the site by one writer is something agreed to by other writers and editors here; it just as likely isn’t. 2) People forget that there were multiple angles to Dan’s anti-SP7 rant. Some of it was about using Kickstarter, but the more cogent part of his argument (as I wrote at the time) regarded their announcement’s slapdash appeal to poorly explained and misunderstood manga history. When the book finally came out, it was clear that Dan had hit the right nerve, because the editors made an obvious effort to strengthen the historical foundations of their argument, which in turn strengthened the book as a whole. The uproar from Dan’s post also seemed to lead directly to increased donations to Retrofit’s fundraiser. So in the end, the outcome of the exchange was elevated publicity and funding and a more solid final editorial product. Criticism should always be so productive.

This is one reason why I am not too dismayed by the multiple articles and flame wars appearing online this week attacking this site and its writers over Sean T. Collins and Frank Santoro’s discussion about comics criticism. (For those curious, two of the most noteworthy come from Ng Suat Tong here and Heidi MacDonald here.) It is important to recognize what we are doing wrong (and hear what readers perceive as us doing wrong) in order for us to improve, and to the extent that the critiques are legitimate they can only guide us in our our attempts to do so. (I do wish that more effort was taken by critics to accurately assign responsibility for arguments and decisions—just as Gary might not agree with any given argument made on TCJ.com, Dan and I have nothing to do with editing the print version of TCJ, and Frank and Sean have even less—but that’s a minor issue.)

—News. Diane Nelson takes to the Wall Street Journal to explain the reasoning behind DC’s move to California. Publishers Weekly profiles the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Bleeding Cool reports on a baffling Apple decision. At Print, Michael Dooley talks to a cartoonist in a trademark dispute with Starbucks. Believed Behavior, an intriguing looking new art-comics subscription service has been launched.

—Interviews. On Too Much Information, Benjamen Walker will get you psyched up for this weekend’s CAB show in Brooklyn (the Gabe Fowler-run successor to BCGF), interviewing Fowler, Art Spiegelman, and Peter Bagge. Memoirist and star Twitter-er Rob Delaney explains his admiration for Phoebe Gloeckner. D&Q creative director Tom Devlin shares some of his favorite books. Frank Santoro talks to Chris Mautner at Robot 6. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know features Farel Dalrymple as a guest.

—Reviews & Comment. Chip McGrath explains Joe Sacco’s The Great War. The New York Times compares online comics reading services. Jared Gardner reviews Dash Shaw’s New School. (People coming to New York for CAB might want to visit the show at Adam Baumgold which is featuring Dash Shaw among many other artists, by the way. Art Spiegelman also has an exhibit up at the Jewish Museum, which is previewed here at the Times. And Charles Burns is being shown at Desert Island.) The Guardian reviews Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Janean Patience revisits Matt Wagner’s Grendel. Finally, this Huffington Post best comics of the year list is weeurd.

 

Take Credit

Hello! Today is the second day of the working week and so we bring you Joe McCulloch for his first of two contributions this week. What’s the second one? That’s a surprise.

Kristy Valenti brings us a recording of a recent discussion at Geek Girl Con with Donna Almendrala (Bingo Baby), Jen Van Meter (Black CatHopeless Savages), Jen Vaughn (Cartozia TalesAdventure Time) and Karin Weekes (Bioware: Dragon AgeMass Effect)

And Rob Clough reviews Zak Sally’s Sammy the Mouse vol. 2.

What all this means for Sally in this volume is the possibility of action and motion. These are all cartoon characters, after all. They’re all living in the same city as every cartoon character ever, and that city is grungy, strange, and not all that friendly. So when Feekes hops from bar stool to bar stool and then “sproings” up to sit next to Sammy, it’s a perfectly natural Looney Tunes sort of moment. That sense that every cartoon character from Dr. Seuss to the present is reinforced when Peter Bagge’s Goon on the Moon pops up at the bar to annoy Sammy and when Kim Deitch’s Waldo is the one who pays Urbanski (a sort of grown-up version of Charlie Brown, down to the zig-zag-striped shirt). The world of Sammy the Mouse is not unlike Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: What are the characters doing when they’re not in adventures? What are they doing on their days off? I imagine for Sally, a former professional touring musician, this had to be a question that constantly dogged him. That’s why this comic feels so personal, even as it’s filtered through an anthropomorphic comics lens that bends reality when the narrative needs it to be bent.

And a load of links to be found around town:

Steve Bissette on an early encounter with Fletcher Hanks.

Kim Deitch interviewed.

DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson on the company’s move to Burbank.

 

The aforementioned Mr. McCulloch, along with TCJ-contributors Tucker Stone, Chris Mautner and Matt Seneca perform the latest Comic Books are Burning in Hell podcast.

Here’s a nicely psychedelic Steve Ditko strip.

It continues to warm my heart that Arnold Roth has a blog.

The Huffington Post has a slightly wonky Best of 2013 post up.

The time Little Orphan Annie discussed the comics.

And School Spirits author (ahem, a PictureBox book) Anya Davidson interviewed at CBR.

 

When the Sea Dies

Hello, friends. Today, Chris Mautner is here, catching up with Bone creator Jeff Smith on the occasion of the final, full-color collection of his sci-fi noir followup, RASL. Here’s an exchange:

When you started RASL you had a couple different publishing things going. You had the pamphlet, you had the oversized collections and you had the pocket collections. Why so many different versions? What worked, what didn’t work and what did you take away from that experience?

The reason we did more than one version, quite honestly, is that RASL didn’t get a lot of traction after the initial burst of publicity that “The Bone guy is going to do something new!” It was not really taking, I could tell. So we got the first oversized trade out, that was the size I wanted to do it in, but again, I didn’t really feel like it was getting traction. I didn’t hear it being talked about or hardly even being reviewed.

This is one of the advantages of being a self-publisher: You can move fast on your feet. You don’t have to give up. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to fix it. So we thought maybe that first trade has 115 pages in it but it might not be enough of the story. Maybe we should have waited until we had a little more story. So that’s why we did the pocket book version, which was – it wasn’t the size we were interested in. We wanted to get two of the larger books, so we’d have double the story and see if that would catch people’s attention. And that in fact did work. We started seeing reviews and began to get a bit of traction.

And then, o boy, Dan Nadel himself has decided to open his trap and opine on the first issue of Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III’s The Sandman: Overture. Has his old love stayed true? I don’t want to spoil things, so I’ll just share his review’s first observation: “It’s an awfully well-constructed comic book.” Later, he says this: “This is pedantic and cloying prose.”

Elsewhere:

—First, the sad news: Silver Age artist Nick Cardy passed away last night at the age of 93. Mark Evanier has an early memorial. A lot more are sure to follow, including a full obituary from this site.

—Reviews & Criticism. Adam McGovern reviews Frank Santoro’s Pompeii for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Rob Clough is using the month of November to profile a different CCS-affiliated cartoonist every day. Ng Suat Tong reviews a child’s comic available on online auction and compares it to later art comics.

—Interviews. Tom Spurgeon has a long interview with Jeet Heer, regarding his recent monograph on François Mouly, and a recent critical anthology he co-edited. On a comedy podcast that I haven’t listened to yet, the always-funny Julia Wertz is a guest.

—News. Anyone aspiring cartoonist who hasn’t yet read Megan Rosalarian Gedris’s explanation of why she’s taking down her popular Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space webcomic really ought to. Via Kevin Melrose comes news that a family in Kitchener, Ontario complained to the press after their 3-year-old daughter received Jack T. Chick comics for Halloween.

 

Discourse

Tucker is here to ease you into the month of November.

Elsewhere online:

Julia Wertz is interviewed on a podcast.

Hey, that American Masters Charles Schulz episode is now online.

Various comics reviewed at the AV Club.

Lots of press for the Sandman prequel. Here’s an interview with Neil Gaiman and one with artist J.H. Williams.

Paul Levitz does a brief Q &A over here.

Nice local piece on the new digs for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.

 

Scary Stuff

Today on the site, Frank Santoro is pondering the state of comics criticism, and discusses it at length with Sean T. Collins. I think their analysis will provoke some disagreement on a few points, but debate is healthy. Here’s a brief exchange:

Frank: It might be hard to phrase this question – but about 2008-09 it seemed like that’s when 1000-word reviews were common. And there was a “healthy” comment section in places like Comics Comics, the TCJ board, Study Group, etc. Then I noticed no one commenting anymore. Then I noticed that I wasn’t taking the time to read long reviews or blog posts. I’m sure that’s partly due to Facebook and Twitter and the conversation getting dispersed around, but it seems to me that there are less “longish” reviews and blog posts about new comics.

Sean: Yeah, I think the rise of social media leveled not just interactions of comparable length in “traditional” outlets like comment threads and message boards, but also larger reviews. It’s exceedingly easy to type up your strongest single impression of a new work and post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and receive feedback almost immediately. And since your strongest single impression could be nothing more complex than “This is SO GOOD, you guys,” and the feedback can just be a like or a fav or a reblog or a retweet or a share, it’s tough to build up a thoroughgoing interrogation of a comic. The energy is diffused.

Elsewhere:

—Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an article on the myth vs. the reality of selling comic-book collections for big money, featuring our own Frank Santoro.

—Charles McGrath at the New York Times previews the new Jewish Museum Art Spiegelman exhibition at length.

—For Entertainment Weekly, Sergio Aragones draws an illustrated tour of Mad magazine history.

—Toyokazu Matsunaga, the creator of Bakune Young, has reportedly been arrested for allegedly making threats against a local politician.

—Can Allie Brosh’s work be considered comics? It’s certainly popular. Salon interviews her regarding her first Hyperbole and a Half book.

—Milo George looks at an old Al Wiseman Dennis the Menace story for Halloween.

 

Moving Day

Here on the site we give you a second day of Joe McCulloch. Here is reviewing Jim Woodring’s Fran.

The truth is, all you really need to understand the Frank comics — those wordless exploits of a quintessential Funny Animal Character set loose in a “closed system of moral algebra,” per his creator — is to understand virtually anything of our long, shared cultural history of Silly Symphonies and Looney Tunes. And if Frank is not so cuddly as the rest of the menagerie (though still cuddlier than some), it’s because Woodring is less interested in replicating popular cartoon formulae than in distilling the fraught concept of “antics” itself into a sort of linguistics – observing, again, a reality of intuition.

Lately, Woodring has been concerned with what the book dealers call graphic novels, and it was to my delight that these latter works did not come across simply as longer Frank stories between hard covers, but rather as works of mythopoeic sweep, in ready dialogue with one another. In 2010′s Weathercraft, Woodring revised one of his crueler gag shorts (1996′s “Gentlemanhog”) into a study of cyclical mechanisms, in which a corpulent, ignorant humanoid beast becomes an enlightened and empathetic individual, only to find himself reduced again to a bestial state as the story concludes with everything reset for further exploitation later on. Frank is just a supporting character, “adopting the attitude that will bring him the most fun,” and occupying the book’s final panel by sitting down to peruse a magazine, as if eager to get the next story started.

Elsewhere:

Our own Frank Santoro interviewed by James Romberger about Pompeii over at Publishers Weekly.

And the big publishing news of the day is that DC Comics is going to move its editorial offices, and everything else, to Burbank, California.

Sean Howe features some of Jim Lee’s early career rejection letters over on his Tumblr.

Josh Neufeld contributes a comic strip reportage piece on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.