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.


Everything is Synced

Today on the site: Joe McCulloch's latest news about life in comics.

I raced through CAB on Saturday with just 2.5 hours of free childcare courtesy of my mom.  My faves were Lale Westvind's latest publications, Breakdown Press (New Ines Estrada, Lala Albert, Conor Stechschulte, Connor Willumsen), Noel Freibert and the unstoppable Leon Sadler, briefly ported over from England and having the great American adventure.

And there are some art/comics articles on the internet worth checking out:

James Ensor looks like CAB, or CAB looks like James Ensor.

Via Bill K., A Finnish animation.

Jeet Heer wrote a great Twitter essay on Steve Ditko, Ayn Rand and Spider-Man.

And here's a good evaluation of the problematics and politics around the acceptance of the work of comics-influenced artist Allen Jones.

Now watch this, all of you, and despair...


Ups and Downs

Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the oral history of Zap Comix compiled by scholar Patrick Rosenkranz for the forthcoming collection of Zap.

In September 1969, the Berkeley police raided the Print Mint warehouse to seize all their copies of Zap #4, but owner Don Schenker had been tipped off and had moved their stock to another location. When they saw bookstores and distributors getting busted, the Zapsters suspected they might be next.

[ROBERT] WILLIAMS: We just thought we were all going to get arrested somewhere down the line, because there had never been material like this. Remember, 1969 is when the first adult magazines ever came out that showed pussy and asshole, and this was just flipped, to actually have this in a printed magazine that went through a printing press. You know, anything before that was just some secret thing.

[ROBERT] CRUMB: There was an organized, systematic, repressive action taken against every aspect of that outburst against the system, including alternative print media, by the powers, agencies, and institutions of the corporate state. It is not paranoia, but the fact of history to say these things. They didn’t sit back and passively watch while Abbie Hoffman and Huey Newton strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage. They had their think tanks staying up nights plotting and scheming new techniques to squash, neutralize, and co-opt this threat to everything they held dear. They constructed sophisticated strategies for instilling fear into the general population. You could watch it happening all through the ’70s and into the ’80s. Fear was a weapon the bastards used very effectively.

[GILBERT] SHELTON: There was a lot of pressure at the time. I guess a lot of people have forgotten how paranoid everyone was, that we were either going to be rounded up and all put in prison camps, or just shot down on the streets by the forces of reaction. Things didn’t look so good in ’68 and ’69.

WILLIAMS: There was a shaky period there in ’70–’71, where we thought the government was going to clamp down. There was a chance there that the country could have swung to the right. We know for a fact that they were reconditioning internment camps in Eastern and Southern California and Arizona where they put the Japanese in, and there were remarks about doing it from the government. We stuck our necks out already so we might as well stick them out all the way and violate everything.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Ware writes about the story behind his latest New Yorker cover.

Rachel Cooke at The Guardian briefly reviews Joe Sacco's Bumf (which is very much in the tradition of Zap, and which I predict will blow a few of his more recent readers' minds) and Jean-Pierre Filiu & David B's Best of Enemies.

Zainab Akhtar reviews newish work by Rob Davis, Stephen Collins, and Hermann.

—News. Koyama Press is going digital via Sequential.

Jim Woodring receives the Lynd Ward Prize.

No one writes catalog copy like Zak Sally.

FAIR WARNING-- please DO NOT send it back for any of these reasons:

it is physically difficult to read.

yup. there are literally MILLIONS of books that are very easy to read, physically. this is not one of them (but maybe if you get through it you can find out why). [Etc. ...]

—Interviews & Profiles. Here is a transcript of Alan Moore biographer Lance Parkin's live interview with Moore, conducted a few weeks back for the UK publication of Parkin's book.

—Controversies. Russ Heath recently wrote and drew a strip for Hero Initiative about Roy Lichtenstein's use of a Heath panel for one of his most famous paintings. As the mention of Lichtenstein in comics circles usually does, this quickly spurred a lot of vehement and largely predictable arguments online (although noted Before Watchmen participant and apologist Darwyn Cooke doing the strip's lettering added an ironic new sideshow to the main event). The issue of whether or not Lichtenstein exploited cartoonists' work for his paintings is in my opinion more complicated and less clear-cut than either side will usually admit, but however you feel about Lichtenstein, it's important to remember (as Evan Dorkin pointed out on Twitter) that his paintings only affected a relatively small number of artists -- the comics industry as a whole exploited many, many more.

Second, after nearly a week of nonstop debate over the recent James Sturm strip, I don't think anyone needs my take on things, but there are still a few things I think worth saying that I haven't seen said. Tom Spurgeon had what I thought was a reasonable response last Friday, if you aren't familiar with the controversy. And Brandon Graham drew a very effective response strip of his own, depicting a version of the story in which the characters react in a positive manner instead of a negative one. It's a fun strip, and I can see why it's so popular, but I wonder if people would have liked it so much if the Sturm strip wasn't already there for context and comparison. That may seem obvious, but what I mean by that is I'm not sure stories in which the main characters always do the right thing make for the best, most lasting art.

Let me be clear here if I can. I think the debate over the strip's perceived sexism is largely a healthy, useful, and important thing, even though I don't fully agree with that reading. (I think any reading of the strip that doesn't include its premise -- that envy and fear of a (female) fellow artist's perceived success is akin to a pointless, harmful, and debilitating addiction -- is at the least incomplete. I also think that if a reader isn't already familiar with the culture surrounding 12-step recovery programs, that central premise is clearly a lot harder to discern.) There are always multiple competing valid readings for any work of art, and everyone is entitled to their own response. Discussions about the political implications of any work of art can only be enriching, assuming they are entered into honestly, and people don't have to agree on every particular to learn from each other's perspectives.

But there has been another popular response to the strip that I think is far less defensible, and much less healthy, and that's the apparent belief that artistic depiction of bad behavior necessarily equals endorsement. (Obviously not every detractor of the strip falls into this trap.) While Graham's strip is excellent as a response to Sturm's, I think if Sturm's initial strip had taken the same tack as Graham's, it would have been much less effective, and frankly, unmemorable. It doesn't take too long imagining the application of this approach to other stories before you can see why. Suddenly the three little pigs all responsibly build their houses out of bricks. When the witch in the wood meets Hansel and Gretel, she feeds and comforts them for the sake of kindness rather than cannibalism. Macbeth chooses to set his ambitions aside, and the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird quickly agrees to Tom Robinson's acquittal. Obviously we would have to lose a great many stories.

Sometimes art provokes uncomfortable responses. Kafka, who wrote better uncomfortable fiction than just about anybody, once famously said, "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." I don't think I'd claim so much for Sturm's strip, but the fact that it explores discomfiting territory is a point in its favor. The same is true of the debate it inspired.

(By the way, this little-noticed tweet provides interesting context to the whole business.)



On this exciting comic book convention weekend we present Matthew Thurber's Letter to a Young Cartoonist.

What is the meaning of the Internet? And what can be done about it? I am 36. Like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno I come from Another Time, the pre-Internet era, to guide you, Young Cartoonist through the architecture of Hell. Young Cartoonist, born in 1990 (shudder!!!) I ask you, what does the Internet mean to you? Is it your preferred medium? Is it your Life? Is it your Wife? An altar of sacrifice, at which you offer up your artwork, hoping to feel like someone cares even tiny bit? Even one Like?

Historically cartoonists drew on paper. Why? Only because it’s available and cheap. People who draw will also draw on tables, on their clothes and shoes, on walls, and on bathroom stalls. People will draw with sparklers and with lawnmowers to create crop circles. People will draw with invisible lines to connect the dots in the Milky Way. It is evident that people who want to will draw in any available format, whether it is a beautiful sheet of hot-press watercolor paper or a virtual 3D space in Google Sketchup or the skin of a water buffalo. The desire to make marks comes with no predetermined appropriate surface.


I'm pleased to report that I have seen a copy of Frank Santoro's new comic, Morgan, and it rules very hard. Go forth and acquire it at CAB! Also, be sure not to miss Leon Sadler and Lando's table, as well as the Breakdown Press table, which has some fine debuts from Inez Estrada, Antoine Cosse and Ryan Holmberg's latest vintage manga publication by Matsumoto Masahiko.

In NYC for the CAB? I suggest you visit Tomato House tonight for Anya Davidson's art show, as all as Takeshi Murata's Om Rider at Salon 94 on Bowery at Stanton.

A graphic novel account of union negotiations at NYC's beloved Strand bookstore has just been published. More here. 

The Beat has a round-up of people misunderstanding James Sturm's very funny and accurate comic strip.

Steve Heller previews the new Ed Emberley book.



Sidetrack City

Today, Dan Nadel interviews the great Italian cartoonist Lorenzo Mattotti about his newest book, Hansel & Gretel, and many other things. Here's a small sample of their conversation:

Are these all the images you created or are there some left out?

No, normally I use everything. I did maybe two or three more images for this main subject. I did three versions. One I put inside and the other one I only used for myself. It’s incredible how this work came out. It came in a very natural way. I ‘d like to make all the books like this.

(laughs) I was just going to ask. Is that unusual for you? Is it usually more organized?

No, I’m quick for my kind of images. For my research, for my paintings. Normally, I’m quick. I make many, many images with the pen and also the brush. For my personal drawings and paintings, I’m very quick. I like illustrations I can do in two days, one day. Luckily, I’m quick. But for some books, I take my time. I do after I think after I do. And for my stories in comics, for my stories I’m very slow. For other stories like Jekyll and Hyde, I’m much more quick.

Hansel and Gretel was just one or two weeks?

More or less. Maybe less.

That’s fast.

After Hansel and Gretel, I decided that I was really interested in this kind of method, so I started to make other images in a very free way. Only black and white. There was not a story, but there was a sort of an evocation of a story. I did an exhibition in Bologna of 50 or so of these works.

We also have Robert Kirby's review of the last eight minicomics releases from Kuš!, the Latvian publishing effort. Here's his introductory paragraph:

Kuš! (pronounced "koosh"), the Latvian Comics anthology launched in 2007, recently sent me their eight most recent minicomics, half of which were released in late 2013, the rest earlier this year. Each 24-page mini is a solo effort from a different creator in their growing stable of Latvian and international artists. Each creator employs elements of fantasy or magical realism in his or her stories, with one piece being flat-out science fiction (albeit in a very whimsical fashion). Even the one comic that appears to be a straightforward, grounded-in-the-real-world story—Oskars Pavlovskis' Lucky—dips into the Twilight Zone before the final page. The comics and artists featured by Kuš! often work in an elliptical fashion; the stories revel in ambiguity, traffic in surreal imagery and storylines, and are frequently grounded in the conceptual rather than the concrete. Each mini has a brief, well-written synopsis on the back cover, which can help the uninitiated suss out some of the more abstract tales. They are all 4" x 6", in color, impeccably designed and produced, making them collectible little art objects.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Biographer Lance Parkin has posted the final interview he conducted with subject Alan Moore in four parts so far.

In advance of CAB in Brooklyn this weekend, Al Jaffee.

Peggy Roalf at DART interviews cartoonist/illustrator Jonathon Rosen.

The latest guest on Anshuman Iddamsetty's Arcade podcast is Nina Bunjevac.

Alex Dueben talks to Copra creator Michel Fiffe.

Zainab Akhtar talks to Swedish cartoonist Erik Svetoft.

Tom Spurgeon talks to comiXology's Chip Mosher about their Submit program.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Nicholas Lezard writes about Hunt Emerson's Calculus Cat.

Martin Wisse writes about the online controversy surrounding the James Sturm comic Dan linked to yesterday.

Ruth Margalit writes about the disturbing messages of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

—News. As just about everyone reported yesterday, Bill Watterson has released the poster he has drawn to promote the next Angoulême festival, and announced via interview that he won't be attending the event. Because hers was the first post I saved, let me send you to Brigid Alverson for the details.