Reverse the Polarity

Joe McCulloch would like to help those of you planning to purchase new comic books this week with an annotated list of the most-interesting-sounding comics to be released in stores tomorrow. His spotlight picks include new books from Sergio Toppi and Joe Sacco.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Hillary Brown in Paste has a nice, strong interview with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos about the process of putting together this year's Best American Comics anthology.

John Porcellino is the latest guest on Gil Roth's Virtual Memories.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Ng Suat Tong compares Lob & Rochette's comics version of Snowpiercer with its film adaptation. Rachel Cooke at The Guardian liked Charles Burns' Sugar Skull.

—Misc. Katy Waldman at Slate has a long piece on comics and the portrayal of mental illness. It's aimed more at casual comics readers than serious enthusiasts, but quotes people like scholar David Ball and Ellen Forney, and is generally fairly interesting. It also includes what I'd call an intellectually indefensible argument from an academic named William Kuskin: “You can’t separate graphic novels from their superhero roots. That origin story—the broken protagonist who transforms himself—is the true meaning of the genre.” Maybe his words were taken out of context or his meaning was in some way distorted, but otherwise, that represents some marked theoretical confusion.

I missed the recent Eleanor Davis drawing marathon to raise funds for a young man's wheelchair van, but it's not too late to help out. Robot 6 has more.


Documentary Evidence

Today, Alex Dueben interviews Jeet Heer, mostly about the recent Walt Before Skeezix collection, but also touching on his book on Françoise Mouly, independent comics scholarship, and other topics. Here's a short bit:

How did you first get involved in this project?

Drawn & Quarterly had this yearly anthology in book form and they had reprinted fifty pages of the color strips along with Chris Ware doing the cover of the book doing an homage to Frank King. I reviewed that for the National Post where I was doing other writing on comics. Through that Chris Oliveros became aware of my work and I met Chris Ware when he was on tour for Jimmy Corrigan. We knew each other and hit it off so when the time came to do the book it all came together.

There’s an earlier pre-history of all this where a big figure is Bill Blackbeard who in the 1970s had co-edited The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics. That book was very influential in reviving Frank King because it included six of the Sunday strips, very well selected and reproduced, which was not common in 1970s books. Chris Ware, Joe Matt, and I all read the Smithsonian book growing up and those six pages really sparked in all of us an interest in Frank King. Joe Matt is the real unsung hero of this. He started collecting Frank King dailies and Sundays and amassed a huge collection. Chris Ware had his own collection. I know that Bill Blackbeard died a few years ago but I always want to mention his name because he really planted the seeds that made the Walt and Skeezix books possible. Not just those books, but the whole age of reprinting comics that we’re going through is really a product of Bill Blackbeard.

What was the thinking behind collecting the daily strips but not the Sundays?

That’s Chris Ware’s intervention. When we first started doing it I thought we were going to do the Sundays. Chris and Joe Matt were more aware of the dailies than I was and those guys had an understanding that King’s genius was in the dailies, in the accumulation of stories and having the characters age in real time. That was something I was only vaguely cognizant of, but thanks to Chris and Joe we made the right decision.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Etelka Lehoczky at NPR reviews John Porcellino's Hospital Suite. Rob Clough writes about the new documentary about Porcellino, Root Hog or Die. Nicole Rudick talks about John McNaught's Dockwood.

—Misc. Speaking of Porcellino, Tom Devlin shares some memories of his long friendship with the artist.

Sean Howe shares (and provides some context) for some video from Marvel creator Mark Gruenwald's old public-access television show.


Set Up a Folding Table

Today, we are happy to publish the transcript to "Sex, Humor, and the Grotesque", a panel discussion that took place at this year's SPX, moderated by Katie Skelly, and involving the work of Eleanor Davis, Julia Gfrörer, and Meghan Turbitt. Here's a bit of their conversation:

Skelly: Julia, what drew you to comics? Why are you doing this?

Gfrörer: Looking back on it, I drew comics when I was younger, but when I went to art school I wanted to be a fine artist like Egon Schiele, and I was still doing comics on the side. When I moved to Portland I met all these comics people, and I met Dylan Williams and he asked me to do a book for Sparkplug and refined how it should be, and then that book became more popular than I’d anticipated. The positive reinforcement just kept me coming back.

Turbitt: I am funny, so comics are great for people who are funny. That’s why I do it. And also because I like to be gratified easily and very quickly, and when I was painting for years, it would take me months to finish a painting, and now it’s easy to finish one page a day in a couple of hours and feel good for forty-five minutes. And then you’re like, “Oh god, what am I gonna do next?”

And then the whole cycle starts again.

Davis: That’s a good forty-five minutes, though.

Also, we have Rob Clough's review of T. Edward Bak's Island of Memory.

Bak's Wild Man series initially ran in the pages of the anthology Mome. In this first volume of his story about the German naturalist and explorer Georg Steller, he's altered the format and some of the content considerably than what was published in Mome, and created a far more coherent and powerful experience. On the surface, a historical comic about Steller and the Second Kamchatka Expedition and the harsh winter conditions he and his team faced is a fairly straightforward idea. Bak is not interested in a straightforward presentation, however, and instead carefully uses a number of techniques to expand on his themes.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Shannon Maugham at Publishers Weekly has a nice piece on Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash and their upcoming children's book, Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors, which is essentially a 64-page wordless comic, and one likely to be worthy of interest to comics enthusiasts of all ages.

Jed Oelbaum has a strong interview with Art Spiegelman at Good magazine, primarily focused on his Wordless! show.

Michael Cavna has another strong interview, this time with Scott McCloud about guest-editing the most recent Best American Comics anthology.

Series editor Bill Kartalopoulos talks about the same book with Graphic Novel Reporter.

Anne Ishii has posted the first of a two-part interview with Jillian Tamaki.

William Nericcio celebrates Jaime Hernandez's birthday by way of an anecdote about an academic pursuit in the late '80s.

—Reviews. Paul Gravett takes on a variety of recent graphic novels.

—Conventions. 2D Cloud has a report from APE. Linework NW has announced they will expand their show to two days next year.


Spliced at the Bottom of the Sea

Frank Santoro's back with another Riff Raff column this morning, this time chronicling his time teaching a comics class in Denmark this summer. Apparently, Denmark didn't agree with him quite as well as Colombia did:

People laughed at me everywhere I went. Schoolchildren ran away when I approached. I guess I do look like Bob from Twin Peaks some days. The airline lost my luggage though, so maybe that was it. I was wearing the same clothes from the flight when I met the students and faculty on the second day I was there. And I was jetlagged. Going from the States to Europe is the worst jetlag to cure. Takes days. After the orientation one of the students asked me if I was okay. I went to my little room and slept it off.

My luggage arrived on the third day, thankfully. The director of the graphic storytelling program, Peter Drying-Olsen, told me that there may be a curse on American cartoonists who come to teach there, because Paul Karasik and Matt Madden had also had their luggage lost. At least I was in good company.

And we have Sean T. Collins' review of Céline Loup's Honey.

Honey is set among a group of worker bees on a mission to collect pollen outside their hive that brings them into contact with other, rival species, namely butterflies and wasps. And simply on the "huh, what a good idea" level, this is Loup's most striking and entertaining innovation: They're pretty much just human women. The stripes on the jumpers worn as uniforms by the bees are as much of a nod in the direction of insectoid features as Loup gives them -- no wings, no antennae, no stingers. The wasps are a bit creepier, more stylized, but this broadcasts their villainy, not their bug-ness; their sleek black bodysuits, wrap-around shades, tight black ponytails, and towering height make them look like the Terminator. Only the butterflies retain any characteristics of their real-world counterparts, but their gossamer wings are joined with long serpent tails that end in a fish's tail-fin, which together with their bare breasts and their fangs evokes a mermaid, a siren, a harpy; the bees seem to see them as animals, and they look the part. Like a bizarro Maus -- Art Spiegelman gave his characters animal heads but in every way intended them to be seen as people; Loup draws her characters as people but intends them to be anthropomorphized animals -- Honey is pushing at the boundaries of the funny-animal form. Quite independently of whatever else is going on in either of these comics, watching artists roll up their sleeves and say "okay, let's see what else this thing can do" before tackling a genre is an entertaining proposition.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. Al Jaffee and Drew Friedman were on the Leonard Lopate radio show yesterday (hear it here) to discuss Friedman's Heroes of the Comics.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Boing Boing has excerpted Bill Watterson's foreword to a collection of cartoons from Puck.

Rob Clough is looking at comics related to political activism this week, with Peter Kuper, Ethan Heitner, Kevin Pyle, and Greg Farrell covered so far.

—Misc. Bill Kartalopoulos has posted the contents list from the new edition of Best American Comics, along with a list of notable comics from the year covered.

I believe we have neglected to mention that Gabe Fowler has announced the extremely impressive guest list for this year's CAB, as well as the fact that the festival is adding a second day, which will apparently be reserved for talks and interviews.

Speaking of conventions, Martin Wisse has an interesting response to the Chris Butcher post about convention culture I mentioned on the blog earlier this week, calling out for more fan-run conventions and wondering if "perhaps the dismal state of mainstream comics cons is due to the dismal state of the (supposedly mainstream) superhero comic."

Just one week left for the Last Gasp Kickstarter.


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.