Theater of the Mind

We're excited today to introduce a new column from the cartoonist Julia Gfrörer. It's called Symbol Reader, and in it Julia plans, in her words, to use "principles of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and comparative mythology to deliberately overthink the symbolic language of comics." In her inaugural column, Julia overthinks comics by Joe Decie, Eleanor Davis, and Michael DeForge. Here's a sample:

The psyche requires an "other," the hypothetical imaginary friend to whom we address dialogues we cannot entrust to actual people in our lives. Often this other takes the form of an idealized version of a person close to us (we imagine a loved one holding our hand during a difficult medical procedure), or even someone we dislike (we visualize delivering the tirade an unscrupulous friend deserves, and enjoy imagining that person's reaction) and we withhold the pursuit of the experience in reality because we know it cannot produce more satisfaction than its counterpart in fantasy. In fact the task of reconciling our actual relationships against the projected desires with which we mentally conflate them can be aversive, leading us to dodge true intimacy lest actual events somehow contradict a more comfortable constructed narrative. Essentially this is the question posed in the very first panel of Eleanor Davis's comic for The New Yorker: Who needs friends when you have Terry Gross?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Joe Shuster Awards' most recent Hall of Fame inductees have been announced.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Rob Clough reviews the British volume of the Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humo(u)r, and pans Lucy Knisley's latest.

—Interviews. Shaenon Garrity talks to Gene Luen Yang, and Chris Mautner talks to translator/publisher Ryan Sands. Oh, and Ed Brubaker reveals some interesting Tom Hart/Jon Lewis trivia in an interview about the end of Fatale.

—Misc. Melissa Mendes wrote a candid short essay on her struggles with depression and anxiety.

The L.A. Register takes the 80th anniversary of Al Capp's Li'l Abner as a hook to run a timeline of American comics strips.

Cartoonist Hillary Price visited the home of Mort Walker.

Sean T. Collins takes to Rolling Stone to explain the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Wired has a nice, fascinating article on Topps veteran John Pound's code-based comics.

Seth likes his refrigerator.

—Funnies. Mike Lynch posts the midcentury pyschoanalysis-flavored cartoons of Marcel Vertès.

This Pete Toms comic going around is really strong.

—Not Comics. Still, this excerpt from ace designer Peter Mendelsund's new book, What We See When We Read, and the book as a whole, is worth reading by those interested in the comics form, both for the way he integrates visuals into his text, and for his analysis of how readers of prose visualize what they read themselves (a process that, according to one point of view, cartoonists supplant when they provide readers with their own artistic representation).


High School Yearbook

Today on the site: Sean T. Collins on the latest comic from Lala Albert:

True, in a way, to its title, Lauren “Lala” Albert’s Alien Invasion III has two primary concerns: aliens and invasiveness. The former are presented in the fashion that has become Albert’s trademark as an artist working with science-fictional imagery in an underground context — otherworldly and elfin, their ubiquitous third eyes a collective locus of mystical enlightenment, erotic fascination, and viscous physicality all at once. The invasions are varied. Aliens visit Earth, humans visit other worlds, humans and aliens travel between worlds together. Alien biology is probed by a human performing an autopsy, explored by two aliens in a body-modification ritual with romantic undertones, inserted unexpectedly and forcibly into an unsuspecting human’s more familiar body. In all four cases the theme is intimacy, invited or not.


Robert Boyd uses the NY Times Chronicle tool to track the mentions of "comic strip" or "comic book".

PW examines the current digital landscape for graphic novels.

A look at Japan's anti-piracy campaign.

And here's a chat with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller about the new Sin City film. I think there's probably some value in watching that movie from a visuals standpoint. I don't know what value, but some kind!


The Sheep Look Up

Today we have Greg Hunter's interview with the novelist and translator Brian Evenson, who earlier this year published a critical monograph on Chester Brown's Ed the Happy Clown stories and the various incarnations they have been published in over the years since they first appeared. Here's a little of their conversation:

I’d like to tug at one of the notions in your book. Specifically, can we overstate the importance of a transition to a comics culture that includes the graphic novel? Since most young cartoonists still publish mini-comics or single-issue comics before moving onto larger volumes of work. Publishing in the graphic novel form can be as much a matter of resources and profile as it is an aesthetic choice. I think the graphic novel does come hand in hand with a greater respectability for comics, but is the shift in form as substantial as the shift in perception?

I think the shift in form—you’re completely right, that there’s all sorts of ways, web comics and other things, to get your work out as a comic artist that really have nothing to do with the graphic novel. But at the same time, when Chester Brown was publishing Yummy Fur, there was really a robust culture of independent floppies. So you could go out and you could count on selling quite a few issues. I think he lived on his comic books for a while, and I think it’s very hard for most people to do that at this point.

So I think that’s it. It’s not that that a culture [of independent floppies] doesn’t exist; it’s not that you can’t use it, as a comic artist, as a testing ground; that you can’t do some really amazing things with it. It’s just that it no longer has the kind of prominence—it’s not a kind of necessary step that everybody goes through. And it’s also not something that—I think it’s less likely to lead naturally do the graphic novel than it used to be. A lot of people publish first as a graphic novel, but of course that has a lot to do with finding the right editor and things. And then a lot of people who publish comic books just never get to that point.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet:

—News. At Publishers Weekly, Bruce Lidi analyzes the state of digital comics publishing post-Amazon/comiXology, and Deb Aoki reports on a Japanese effort to curb online manga piracy.

There is a dispute between Greg Theakston and the Jack Kirby Museum over art.

—Reviews & Commentary. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan writes about the history of Dick Tracy. At NYRB, Gabriel Winslow-Yost covers Jacques Tardi's war comics. Brian Nicholson reviews Farel Dalrymple's The Wrenchies.

—Profiles & Interviews. Chris Randle visits Emily Carroll. Nikolai Fomich talks to filmmaker Robert Emmons about his new documentary on Fredric Wertham.

—Misc. BuzzFeed did a weird sort of "listicle" about women cartoonists drawing themselves naked?

—Giving & Spending Opportunities. The Independent Publishing Resource Center is raising money for a Dylan Williams scholarship fund to help cartoonists in financial need.

Jesse Reklaw has a successful, but ongoing Kickstarter. And there's another successful but ongoing Kickstarter for a reprint of Jon Stables adventure comics.


Plus Plus

Today on the site , Joe McCulloch on the week's comic book offerings from all your favorite publishers.


Old pal Kayla Escobedo sent along this link to a fine online mag, Nat. Brut, with work by Mark Newgarden and Gary Panter, among others.

Female cartoonists write about drawing themselves in the nude.

Here's a good, brief discussion of the idea of "literary comics" by Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone, and Ryan Cecil Smith.

Project alert: I want to see more photographs of Tove Jansson's world.

Not comics but why the hell not: George Plimpton's plaster head!


On and On Coeurl Prowled!

Okay, back from vacation and ready to go. First up, Rob Kirby is here with a review of the third collection of Esther Pearl Watson's strip Unlovable. Here's a sample:

Unlovable, which has been running for over a decade in Bust magazine, is based on an actual diary Watson found, apropos, in a gas station bathroom. It follows the travails of Tammy Pierce, an overweight, generally unlovely high school sophomore in a small Texas town, circa 1988-1989. Though Watson illustrates Tammy's life in excruciating, embarrassing detail to often-hilarious effect, her clear affection and empathy for her subject shines through. She universalizes Tammy's experiences, taking us back to relive our own tortured, giddy, deadly serious, horny, boring, and horribly self-conscious teenage years. Tammy is like the heroine of a John Hughes flick, minus the forced happy ending or the perfect Prince Charming (Tammy’s prince calls her "Puke Face," among other things).

This third volume of Unlovable opens at the start of summer vacation. Tammy’s adventures are presented in vignettes, touching on both the big events and quotidian details of teenaged life. In between laying out in the front yard for 40-minute sessions and visits to Collin Creek Mall, Tammy goes to summer school (bummer!), and hangs out with her skanky, big-haired friend Kim, whose boyfriend Erick Tammy eternally pines after (and he’s by no means her only heartthrob). Tammy is the third wheel of the group, but she remains undaunted: “Sometimes Erick tries to get me to do degrading things. But I would still go out with him.” Despite the pain of her unrequited crush, Tammy manages to have some fun times with Kim and Erick, especially making mischief, like when Erick shaving-cream-bombs a car full of screeching girls, or when they toilet-paper the yard of mean girl Courtney Brown on the night of her big party (to which they pointedly weren’t invited).

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. RIP, Dana Crumb.

Amazon has expanded its battle with Hachette, and is now also taking on Disney.

The original art for the Stephan Pastis/Bill Watterson Pearls Before Swine strips raised over $74,000 for Parkinson's Disease research.

For perspective, the original art for the infamous Brian Bolland page depicting the shooting of Batgirl also just went on auction, and sold for more than $107,000.

—Reviews & Commentary. Gary Panter on Victor Moscoso's poster designs. Kevin Huizenga has started an ongoing project involving Saul Steinberg. Rob Clough reviews David King's Crime World. Abhay Khosla looks at the end of Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips, & Elizabeth Breitweiser's Fatale. Tim O'Neil ponders the Marvel Miracleman reprints.

—Profiles & Interviews. Chris Ware gives a funny interview to Dazed Digital, in which he reveals the time the police let him off with a warning after he was recognized as "that alternative cartoonist." Heidi MacDonald interviews Mike Dawson about being a midlife cartoonist. Paul Gravett profiles Matilda Tristram.

—Misc. Jerry Moriarty has a Tumblr.


Young Nerds in Control

Today we have Bob Levin on J.T. Dockery's Despair Vol. 2.

J.T. Dockery has been at it most of his thirty-eight years. He is from Grey Hawk, in rural eastern Kentucky, baptized at eight, out of the church by ten, diagnosed at twenty with psoriatic arthritis, caged within its pain since. Heavy drinking was replaced by heavy reading, when his liver quit on the former. The tuburcular novelist Hubert Selby, Jr. became an inspiration, the noir-enraptured author Nick Tosches another, the manic depressive, psychobilly one-man band Hasil Adkins, a third. Dockery draws, writes, and plays in garage bands. He has said, "(T)he only gods I believe in are concepts of endless mystery, endless questions, and guiding precepts of love, compassion and forgiveness..." He has been to Berea College, UK, and Morehead State and, after a lengthy stop in White River, VT, lives in London, KY.


Remember: Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit is also a cartoon you can watch.

Chip Kidd talks Batman to Comics Alliance.

Nice to see old highlight from the Sparkplug Books list.

Informational comics over heeeaaaahh.

Here's a video of the always entertaining Rob Liefeld.

And finally, a cool process post on Saul Bass.



Emotional Friendship

Today on the site we have Sean T. Collins on Kjersti Faret's Danny Boy.

Why is a comic a comic and not some other thing? This question tends to get brandished most frequently in the direction of high-concept genre comics that one suspects were created because access to the big-budget filmmaking industry eluded their authors. But it's worth asking about most any comic, no matter the form of artistic expression that comes to mind when contemplating the alternatives. Is it a series of astutely composed images separated from illustration only by a sketched-in narrative skeleton? Is it an essay in comics drag, the art that should carry it serving as little more than glorified gutters between panels of the text where the authors' attention truly lies? Does it describe a thought the intensity of which masks its banality -- the kind of thing better left a private journal entry than offered for consumption as a comic to the world?

In creating Danny Boy, a comics adaptation of the lilting Irish ballad -- its melody the traditional "Londonderry Air" from present-day Northern Ireland, its lyrics written by English barrister Frederick Edward Weatherly in the 1910s, its presence ubiquitous among communities of Irish ancestry throughout the English-speaking world -- cartoonist Kjersti Faret makes the implicit argument that the comic serves a purpose the song does not or cannot. That, of course, is a tough row to hoe.

And elsewhere:

The New York Times on Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffen and the rights issues around superhero films.

The great artist Jess, known to comics people for his Tricky Cad series, was born yesterday. Here's a good place to start.

-Cranky art critic alert! I love cranky people. Another cranky person: artist Randy Queen, who is doing battle with Tumblr critics.

-Here are some really fantastically repulsive comics from the Children of God church.

-I wonder if anyone at Marvel thought this tweet might be, I dunno, totally offensive given Brian Wood's self-confessed sleazy/actionable behavior? Whatever, it's cool, bro! 


Moldy Books and Odd Endorsements

Hi there,

Today we have Cynthia Rose on the four-volume graphic novel series PABLO.

Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie’s PABLO tackles something big: what – and who – turned a young Spanish painter into Picasso? Set between 1900 and 1909, their four-volume series covers Picasso’s earliest years in Paris. It’s a true story, but one whose details are largely forgotten. Birmant presents it with sympathy for the elements at its heart: youth, love, friendship and artistic transformation.

Anglophones may know Oubrerie’s art from the Aya series (published by Drawn and Quarterly in the US and Jonathan Cape in Britain). Birmant, who penned 2010′s Drôles de Femmes (“Curious Women”), works in both television and live theatre. Together they introduce us to a Bohemian, fin-de-siècle Paris. Here, the population is eccentric: a bearded chap whose pet donkey learns to paint and ‘sing’, drug-fuelled anarchists and plenty of girls who will pose in the nude. But some of its figures – like Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Gertrude Stein – make lasting contributions of their own to art.

And elsewhere:

The best-ever film about comics, Artists and Models, gets some love at the AV Club.

The book jacket designer Peter Mendelsund has been getting a ton of press for his two new books. Deservedly so. He's actually a good designer, not an illustrator pretending to be a designer.

It still cracks me up when Image is cited as a mecca for "creator-owned" books. I love that that's a thing stupid people think. I mean, you'd have to be basically an idiot? I guess? Here's one of those people talking about one of those things in Wired, which seems to specialize in overawed coverage things of comics with little merit. In case I need to say it clearer: Ownership and character diversity in comics has existed for over 50 years. Nothing new here. Move along.

Here's a review of a graphic novel by an artist I've never heard of. In the New York Times. Scooped! The comics world is just that big now.

I wonder if this documentary about The Million Year Picnic will also interview that many publishers and artists the store never paid. I'm available. It remains sad and funny to me how you can totally fuck people over in comics and get away with it. It's in the DNA of the medium, and it helps that we eat our own. Kim Deitch wisely wrote about this recently on Facebook and the reaction was predictably not in his favor, because, y'know, artists should shut up and stop whining.

Speaking of real talk, Abhay Khosla has a couple of responses to Mike Dawson's recent writing about his own career.