Speak, Memory

Today, we present something we've been excited about for a while, Sarah Boxer's interview with John Porcellino. This is an interesting year for Porcellino, seeing the release of his much-anticipated book, The Hospital Suite, and a documentary film about him, Root Hog or Die. Here's a small sample of Boxer and Porcellino's conversation:

My comics generally are about being honest, whatever the situation may be – great or terrible. I've always been comfortable writing about my depressive tendencies, but the anxiety, the OCD and stuff – it's so fraught with tension and fear that it was just really hard to express. In King-Cat Comics, my little zines, I would reference it, but pretty obliquely. There'd be little comments here and there, if you were paying attention, you might pick it up.

Where in King-Cat do you talk about your OCD?

In my book Map of My Heart, there's the bird story. I kind of talk about this bird and I see this bird and then it cuts to this panel – it's just me at my drawing table – and there's a look on my face, of fatigue or misery – and the text is: “Lately I've been struggling.” I remember when I wrote that, those four words encapsulated all the suffering of those four years.

That was the extent to which I could let loose what I was trying to say. I remember thinking then, that's not like the stuff in the other issues. It was all true but I was holding back. The OCD was holding me back. When I was in the grips of the anxiety, well, it just frustrates whatever you want to do. I wanted to express it. But the OCD would find ways of throwing me off. …

What do you mean? Did you draw comics and tear them up or could you not even draw?

I would get an idea and start it. OCD is insidious. It was like, you can't say that. I had a lot of – there's these subsections of OCD -- there's this thing called scrupulosity. It focuses on religious, ethical, and moral things, like you get hyper-religious. So I have all kinds of thoughts like, “If I write this comic or publish this comic, I'll be punished, God will stop loving me.” Or there will be these terrible consequences. Some of it I did put down on paper but I just lacked the will to actually publish. Sometimes I couldn't even get pen to paper. The OCD made it impossible to talk about just about anything, let alone this crippling illness that I felt deeply ashamed of.

With The Hospital Suite I finally got to the point where I could talk about that stuff not just emotionally but my brain was in a place where I could express this stuff. I was ready to do it. Enough time had gone by. I had finally worked out the pharmaceuticals and supplements to kind of get out of the grip on it. But it's a process. I still have weirdness, sure.

You wouldn't be doing comics if you weren't weird.

Yes, I've often said, somebody somewhere should do a research paper on cartoonists with OCD.

Who would you put in that book?

Who would I put in in the OCD book? In the club? Let's put it this way, when you have that kind of anxiety you become very perceptive of that anxiety coming off other people. I can sense it when I meet people. It's like ESP. I can see the way I act because of this disorder and I can see this manifesting in other people's actions. It's not like I'm sitting here diagnosing people, but when you have OCD you notice everything, you're hyper-aware.

Then we also have Greg Hunter's review of Lane Millburn's space opera, Twelve Gems. Here's a bit of that:

Milburn’s comics, like those of Benjamin Marra (Night Business) or Jim Rugg (Afrodisiac), occupy a space between the outright parody of a genre and full immersion within it. While this trend has produced some pretty insipid work—stories drawn inside quotation marks—a talented practitioner like Rugg can turn riffs on exploitation films into a showcase for his versatility. At best, these genre workouts provide good jokes and strong displays of technique. With Twelve Gems, Milburn confirms that he’s a cartoonist with much to give.

The first chapter of Twelve Gems, “Meeting at the Lab: Their Mission Explained”, assures readers that the book will be irreverent. “Meeting” does not assure us that the book will be good. After the opening info-dump, gags come sharp and unforced. A splash spread reveals Furz, the hoglike bounty hunter, wielding a giant gun with a buzz saw beneath the barrel; Venus, the space knight, hits a button labeled SUIT UP! as the mission commences; the team gripes about a space radio’s lousy reception. This stuff is the lifeblood of Twelve Gems: moments that celebrate the space opera’s straight-faced ridiculousness. (That doesn’t mean Twelve Gems is a comic for everyone—readers will either find a line like “I’m too pumped to knock!” funny or they won’t.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Domingos Isabelinho has a mixed response to Dan Mazur & Alexander Danner's ambitious recent book, The Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present.

Robert Boyd reflects on the recent talk about comics and money and sales begun by Mike Dawson, and how it has affected his own work as a critic and blogger.

Nick Gazin's most recent review roundup for Vice includes a short interview with Simon Hanselmann.

—Misc. Through Sunday, Ben Katchor's work is being shown at the Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg.

Rich Tomasso needs to raise money, and is selling a lot of original art to do so.


Timely Comics

Joe McCulloch is talking about a blast from the weird past today, Michael Zulli & Stephen Murphy's Puma Blues, which is being republished/continued by Dover Publications, until now not much known for comics publishing outside things like their reprints of Lynd Ward and the like. (Dover actually just announced a whole new line of graphic novels, and you can see more details in this Publishers Weekly report from Calvin Reid.) As usual, Joe also has a guided tour of this week's most interesting-sounding new comics releases, and spotlights Kerascoët & Hullbard's Beauty in the process.

And then we have Jeremy Sigler's review of Dash Shaw's new Doctors. Here's a bit of that:

Set in the future, the story is about a wealthy woman, Mrs. Bell, who slips at a public swimming pool, hits her head, and dies. As the narrative unfolds, we discover that upon her death, Mrs. Bell’s corpse has been displaced from the conventional morgue and brought by two so-called doctors—Dr. Cho and his daughter Tammy—to a creepy Brooklyn basement where, with the help of an assistant named Will, they attempt to head off Bell’s spirit in the afterlife and convince it to return to life.

The doctors claim to be rescuing Mrs. Bell before her post-death “fade to blackness,” but it takes quite a lot of deception and coercion to pry her away from her fairly cushy stay in the afterlife.

Meanwhile, we sense that business is not going so well for Dr. Cho’s pioneering practice. The finicky machine they use to enter the afterlife is an aging dust-covered computer, outfitted with equipment vaguely reminiscent of vintage electroshock therapy. At one point, Dr. Cho blows the dust off the tangled wires in his computer’s hard-drive to get it going again—a wink at the classic dystopian sci-fi world run by obsolete machinery from all eras. Fearlessly, Tammy lays down on her back, side by side with the corpse of Mrs. Bell, allowing her living brain to be hooked by cables to the dead brain of the corpse—the connection creates a portal between life and death. And this is how the therapy is administered.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Supreme Court decided not to review the Shuster estate case against Warner Bros.

At Boing Boing, Monte Beauchamp explains the idea behind and presents excerpts from his recent book, Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World.

—Reviews & Commentary. The previously skeptical Paul Constant has very strong praise for the new edition of The Best American Comics, guest edited by Scott McCloud. Zainab Akhtar likes Brandon Graham's Walrus.

And TCAF co-founder Chris Butcher weighs in on the recent online debates surrounding cosplay and changing convention culture, and his post will probably drive a lot more discussion. Here's a brief excerpt:

I think Denise Dorman’s railing against the ‘instagram’ generation is hilarious but actually has a point–she’s just not using the best terminology to describe what is an actual phenomenon–before 5 years ago, no one (in their right mind) would go to a show thinking that they were an ‘attraction’ without buying themselves an exhibition space, a booth, an artist alley table, something. However, in the last few years the number of people who think that a badge (whether paid for or comped) entitles them to an audience within a convention space is on the rise dramatically. It’s been pegged as cosplayers, and honestly there are more cosplayers at shows than ever, and more professional cosplayers who are going to shows to make money and build an audience. Cosplayers attending shows as businesspeople, who aren’t contributing to the economy of the show.

But professional cosplayers (and I think there’s an important distinction there between people who cosplay and people who earn money cosplaying) are literally nothing compared to the other social media personalities who have begun to call comic-conventions theirs. Where previously you had nerdlebrities like Wil Wheaton building a social media empire out of their cred, today’s social media personalities have amassed huge followings through their postings, videos, and photos on YouTube (largely) and other video and media services. They are the product, they have 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 subscribers on social media, and they announce that they’re going to COMIC-CON X and all of their fans should meet them there. It’s easy to see how that’s a boon for a convention looking to sell tickets… they get a crazy-popular ‘guest’ and they don’t have to do any of the work of actually bringing this personality as a guest. The dude with the media badge AS the thing being covered. But tell me that a fan motivated to go to a comic show to see a dude who talks about shit on Youtube is gonna buy the same way, at the same level, as the fan motivated to go to a comic show because she likes comics.


The Water at Night

It's been too long since we've been able to offer you a new installment of Richard Gehr's great column, Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists. Today, he's back, with a profile of Zachary Kanin. This is an excerpt from Richard's new book collecting and expanding upon his column, I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker's Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists, which will be available at bookstores tomorrow. Here's a bit from the middle of the Kanin piece:

A week before graduation, a human resources person from The New Yorker called the [Harvard] Lampoon office to inquire if anyone might be interested in becoming cartoon editor Robert Mankoff ’s assistant. "I answered the phone, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’" Kanin recalls. His interview with Mankoff consisted of the editor talking to him "for like an hour and a half, and then he was like, ‘I didn’t ask you any questions. Go write an essay.’" Kanin’s response included a section analyzing successful and unsuccessful drawings from the magazine’s cartoon archive.

At the time, the assistant art editor’s duties consisted of reading the mail and sorting out submissions from regular contributors. Kanin would then go through the hundreds of unsolicited submissions the magazine received each week and pick out anything showing promise amid the slush. Another large part of the gig involved sifting through the thousands of weekly Caption Contest entries, which took him two or three days. Other administrative duties included answering phone calls and e-mails, and he provided quality control for images and links on the magazine’s early website.

Kanin began submitting his own cartoons his second week at work. Technically, he’d mailed his first New Yorker submission to Tina Brown when he was but in second grade: "Hey, Tom," says one hunter to another while standing over Donald Duck lying in a pool of blood, "I think you'd better take a look at this one." His earlier rejection behind him, Kanin sold his first cartoon in September 2005. His timely rendition of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin Olive Oil," as its interior caption reads, consists of a half-empty uncorked bottle with flies buzzing about it. "It’s not one for the ages, but I was happy about it," he declares.

Mankoff offered his assistant a cartooning contract during the editor’s 2006 Christmas party. "I called my parents after the party, and I was really excited. My mom shook my dad awake and told him, ‘It’s like winning an election!’"

(As noted at the beginning of his column, I will be appearing with Richard at BookCourt in Brooklyn this Sunday afternoon, where Richard will give a presentation about his book and answer questions, and I will attempt not to accidentally short-circuit the sound system or knock down all the shelves or burn down the store.)

We also have Rob Kirby's review of Jesse Jacobs' Safari Honeymoon:

Safari Honeymoon is essentially a three-character adventure tale. The plot is simple: a newly married man and woman spend their honeymoon on safari in a mysterious jungle with a young man acting as their guide. The guide was first seen in Jacobs' gripping, compact eight-page mini from last year, Young Safari Guide, fighting to survive the attack of the ferocious spawn of a dreadful crawly creature. By the time he reappears in Honeymoon, the young man has become grimly expert and efficient at staying alive in the wild, knowing the habits and tricks of various parasitic, monstrous creatures infesting the jungle, creatures that forever await their chance to find new hosts, new sustenance.

The safari starts out idyllically enough, with the guide showing the couple myriad exotic sights and sounds of the jungle, waiting on them hand and foot. But he makes no bones about the ever-present danger all around them. After he pulls a hideous centipede-like creature out of the husband’s ear, he explains: "The creature will penetrate any orifice. Most likely it passed through your rectum while you slept.” He cautions them further: “Have you folks been wearing your butt plugs?” Clearly, one needs to be prepared for what this particular jungle has in store.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Tom Spurgeon interviews Renée French.

—Chris Mautner reviews a bunch of new books.

—And Ed Piskor visits his childhood home:



Today Rob Clough looks at comics published by Pikitia Press.

I was happy to run into Matt Emery at SPX 2013, who handed me a pile of comics that he had published. His Pikitia Press is located in Melbourne, but Emery is a New Zealand native and unsurprisingly publishes the work of a number of Kiwis as well as Aussies. There’s a scene there that’s always been small but feisty; however, it seems like the alt-comics scene has grown dramatically in the past five to ten years. Here’s a look at Pikitia’s offerings.


The Boston Herald racist cartoonist controversy continues.

Ben Katchor writes about an exhibition in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Steve Heller tells us a bit about some Time Magazine covers by the great Artzybasheff.

And finally, you know you grew up as a comics fan if you were just a bummed out by this announcement.



Today, Frank Santoro returns to his Riff Raff column, after a few months traveling the world as an ambassador of comics. Now, he's back,and talking about his most recent trip, to the Entreviñetas Festival in Colombia:

I think, for me, what was most exciting about Entreviñetas was that the audience in Colombia seems hungry for comics—and are coming to the table with very few pre-conceived ideas as to what comics are and who they are supposed to be for. There were lots of younger people. During a panel discussion on the topic of what the “graphic novel” term means, a teenager asked, “Doesn’t graphic novel just mean 'more expensive?'” I had to laugh. It made me think about all the “Comics versus Art” discussions in the States over the last thirty years as somewhat meaningless. I mean, I guess if a kid in the U.S. asked the same question at a panel I might think the same thing—but listening to the question translated from Spanish into English into my earpiece, I just burst out laughing.

And Paul Tumey is here to talk about Patrick McDonnell, with a review of The Mutts Diaries. Tumey admires the strip, but is disappointed by the book:

Mutts, Patrick McDonnell’s sweet, smart comic strip has joyfully chased its tail across the funny page sections of newspapers and book collections for the last two decades. The strip, written and drawn by a cartoonist who co-wrote a deeply admiring biography of George Herriman (Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman, 1986), has functioned both as a daily treat and as a deconstructed, minimalist heir to Herriman and Krazy Kat.

Even though Patrick McDonnell's Mutts comic strip is sublimely designed to work on multiple levels, it comes perilously close to losing its charms in the dumb, exploitative packaging employed in The Mutts Diaries, a collection that Andrews McMeel Publishing has created to launch its AMP! Comics for Kids imprint (what amperage or amplifiers has to do with comics, I’m sure someone will let me know). The mid-sized, cheaply priced trade paperback is, as the accompanying press release informs us, “a collection tailored for middle-grade readers.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. Oliver Sava conducted a super-enjoyable, lengthy interview with Simon Hanselmann.

Michael Cavna spoke to New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly about nominated for the Thurber Prize.

Alex Dueben talked to Charles Burns.

—Reviews & Commentary. MariNaomi, who recently put together the Cartoonists of Color database, has written an article for cartoonists who want to include characters of (a different) color into their work, and talked to artists like Keith Knight, Whit Taylor, and Elisha Lim about their own thoughts on the matter.

James Romberger reviews a slew of comics he found at SPX. Rob Clough looks at Koyama Press's new kids' comics.

—Kirby vs. Marvel. A few of the stronger analyses of the recent settlement and its implications so far (we will have our own soon) have come from Charles Hatfield, Alison Frankel at Reuters, and Kurt Busiek.

—History. Smithsonian magazine has another big article about Wonder Woman and William Moulton Marston written by Jill Lepore.

Phil Nel visits the home of Crockett Johnson.

Scholar Frank M. Young remembers researching comics history back in the days of microfilm.

—Misc. Finally, and for some of you maybe most importantly, Jack T. Chick has released an app.


The Judge

Well today we have Cynthia Rose on the work of Nine Antico, who will soon have her first English-language book out towards the end of the year.

Working with a novel-like accumulation of detail, Antico tells their stories using cinematic ploys. Her books move via close-ups and long shots, establishing frames and jump cuts. She also plays with narrative structures and often shifts our point of view, pulling back in order to reveal that things were not what they seemed. Although her characters are drawn realistically, sections of their faces, figures or surroundings are missing. She handles everything to do with her art, including the color, herself.

And Hazel Cills reviews Mis(h)adra.

“No way. This can’t be right,” Mis(h)adra’s protagonist, Isaac, wonders ominously in a flashback, “This is me?” It’s a scary question to contemplate for someone experiencing an epileptic seizure for the first time. Iasmin Omar Ata’s comic Mis(h)adra is a story about the daily life and struggles of Isaac, a college student who’s just trying to get through parties, midterms, and his struggles with epilepsy. 


Slow news day....

I saw bits of this, but this might be the first complete listing of the ICAF / OSU schedule. Sounds good.

As long as Gabrielle keeps making comics I'll keep linking to them. And this one is really good.

This Ryan Cecil Smith mini-comic sounds cool.



Today, Joe McCulloch is here with his usual buyer's guide for the Week in Comics, with spotlight picks from John Porcellino and Dash Shaw.

Sean T. Collins is here, too, with a review of Sophia Foster-Dimino's "Sex Fantasy". Here's an excerpt:

Her line is clear, clean, and precise, ideal for her geometric interpretations of the human face and figure. Her intrapanel layouts emphasize the diagonal, creating a sense of dynamism-in-stasis that largely abrogates the need for panel-to-panel continuity of motion or setting; she can draw what she needs to, and only what she needs to, to get her point across. She repeatedly nails gestures: A panel from issue #1 uses a pair of faces (one upturned and downturned), a blocked-black head of hair, hunched shoulders sloping down, long legs reaching up, and an arm the eye follows downward like a child on a slide to emphasize an outstretched hand gently proffering a much-needed tool as though it's a drawing of the Childlike Empress giving Bastian the grain of sand that is all that is left of Fantasia. Her clothing and prop designs are inventive and singular, yet observed and easy to parse and contextualize. It's hard to be this easy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Spending Opportunities. Last Gasp is crowdfunding their fall publishing lineup. And Sparkplug Books has just a couple days left on its Kickstarter, and is just a couple thousand short right now. Both of those publishers are well deserving of your support.

—Reviews & Commentary.
David Ulin wrote about Porcellino's Hospital Suite at the LA Times. Ruben Bolling likes the John Severin EC collection. Bob Temuka reviews Gilbert Hernandez's Bumperhead.

—Profiles & Interviews.
Prominent book-world interview Robert Birnbaum talks to Roz Chast, and is surprised she's content to identify herself as a cartoonist.

Steven Heller has a profile of Richard McGuire and his upcoming Here at The Atlantic.

Tom Spurgeon interviews Dan Steffan, the comics retailer and filmmaker behind the new John Porcellino documentary.

—History. The New York Times published a bizarrely ahistorical article about New Yorker covers, acting like the shift to topical covers just happened rather than starting way back in the Tina Brown era. Spurgeon takes this in stride like Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye ("It's okay with me"), and maybe that's a wise reaction, but this is really shockingly ignorant coming from the Times and I can't figure out how the editors let it by.

Finally, if you're Facebook-compliant, Eric Reynolds has your time machine to the Fantagraphics van from twenty years ago.


Surrogate Phone

Today Bob Levin visits us with one feature comprised of two book reviews, both on under-recognized cartoonists: R.L. Crab and Erik Nebel.

R.L. Crabb, an ex-newspaperman and rock band lyricist, the author of about 20 comix, and a contributor to a dozen others, is a word guy. Scablands, his latest, is available from the author (P.O. Box 313, Nevada City, CA 95959).

Crabb is writing in the present, but a spat of recent deaths has led him “to gather up the fragments of my life.” Most tellingly, his parents, who had been secretive about their life, had passed, leaving an unfillable hole in his and motivating his wish “to lea ve something of myself behind.” The result is an assemblage of stories, most of which occur in eastern Washington state 20 years ago but enlivened by rollicking recollections of the Bay Area, between 1984 and 1990, and Atlanta in 1973. Star-quality pizzaz is achieved by references to gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, porn film moguls Jim and Artie Mitchell (none of whom actually appear), and that “shadowy figure of myth and legend,” the cartoonist Dan O’Neill, who does. Spiritual depth is provided through dippings into, extractions from, and reflections upon Drummers and Dreamers, the tale of Smowhala, a 19th century prophet among the Wanapuni Indians.

And George Elkind reviews The Bad-ventures of Bobo Backslack.


The big news is that, in something of a surprise, Marvel and the Kirby family have reached a settlement. The story, what little there is, is here. And Tom Spurgeon reacts. We will have our own coverage shortly. Here's a great tribute to Kirby's DC work of the 1970s via this post of Forever People original art.

In yet more art showcase news, here's Jamie Hewlett's uncollected and perhaps final comic strip series, Fireball.

Another nice comic over at The Nib, making great use of the screen scroll format.

Scroll into the comments of this Facebook post for some fine John Porcellino commentary. And look out for our forthcoming interview with John by Sarah Boxer.

Finally, hey, another Steve Ditko Kickstarter. I love Steve Ditko, but does it strike anyone else as odd that these publishing efforts rely on from-scratch crowd-funding each time? Usually a sound publishing model allows for future books to be planned. But hey, sound business and comics usually don't go together. Sadly.