Double Threat

Today, Shaenon Garrity returns with the latest installment of her ever-popular webcomics capsule reviews. This time, she discusses comics by Matthew Melis, Shaindle Minuk, Andi Santagata, and Drew Weing:

...this is a flat-out fantastic looking comic. The busy, bright-colored city streets and spooky building interiors are inhabited by pug-nosed kids, bug-eyed adults, and huge, snaggletoothed, Totoro-like monsters. Weing's art has gotten looser and more cartoony over the years, trading the cool clean-line perfection of Pup for a scribbly expressiveness reminiscent of Joann Sfar. The story is lively enough to match; I like the cleverness of having the kids work out their differences with the monsters instead of fighting them, and Charles has the nebbishy pragmatism of a Daniel Pinkwater protagonist. (Comparing a writer to Daniel Pinkwater is the highest compliment I have to give.)

And then Sean T. Collins is here with a look at Aidan Koch's digital comics project, "Configurations". Here's a sample:

Comics are whatever you put into them, and "Configurations," certainly a comic, puts in plenty. But it feels less like a strip you read and more like a participatory event. It's the rare experimental work that makes you feel as though you're there in the lab with its creator, conducting that experiment yourself.

Though it's in no way apparent at first glance, these 19 three-panel pencil-drawn strips, which you click through one at a time, comprise three distinct movements. (It's interesting, to me at least, that the musical term sprang to mind here, rather than "three-act structure.") The first opens with two minimalist hill-and-mountain landscapes flanking the classically inflected faces of an embracing couple. Koch places the title, "two doves", to the right of the three panels; almost immediately the eye wanders back to the start to re-read and recontextualize with this new information in mind, though in this case the relationship between the text and the images is apparent enough. The font is a butterknife-blunt digital script that borders on bubble letters; it's sensually ingenuous, but when combined with the quotation marks placed around each title, David Bowie/"Heroes" style, the effect is intriguingly distancing.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Cremins has a strong piece on the cartoons of novelist Charles Johnson.

Randi Belisomo reviews Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Sara Lautman reviewed Ariel Schrag's Adam in comics form.

A snapshot of Gilbert Hernandez's acceptance-speech notes.

And this is a great Eisner announcement.

—Misc. Sean Michael Robinson, who occasionally contributes to this site, is currently heavily involved with the digital restoration of Dave Sim's Cerebus, and is looking for help from those who own original art.

Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit, animated.

Ed Piskor participated in the AV Club's recurring "HateSong" feature.

And finally happy birthday in absentia to Dan Nadel.



Hello friends. As always, Tuesday means that Joe McCulloch is here to prep you for the week's new comics reading, highlighting all of the best-sounding books available through the direct market tomorrow. This week's spotlight picks are by Carol Swain and Eleanor Davis. First, he writes a little about the BDSM comics of Eric Stanton.

And as you may have noticed, I'm not Dan. He and Kristy are both on vacation this week, so I'm flying solo, and hopefully there won't be any problems too big to handle. I thought for a second there might be yesterday, when I saw the comics internet suddenly fill with waves of angry tweets directed at Frank Santoro. Oh oh, what did Frank say this time? Then I found his post on Tumblr, and was (a little) surprised it had provoked such a response, because it didn't seem like a particularly big deal. Here's what Frank wrote: "I’m done reading people who write about comics who don’t make comics." Obviously, I don't share Frank's opinion, but I also don't see why anyone should feel threatened by a statement like that; everyone comes to criticism with different concerns and perspectives. My own version of the same thing would probably be something like, "I'm done reading people who write about comics who don't read comics." (There are more non-readers of comics out there writing about them than you might think.) Frank's a practitioner of comics, and most of his own recent criticism is largely directed at the concerns of comics-makers; "the grid" is more important to someone creating comics than it is to someone just reading them. Technical knowledge can certainly enrich the reader's experience but it isn't necessary to it. Likewise, criticism that is more reader-oriented probably won't be as useful to someone who is more interested in technique and practice than in plot evaluation that largely ignores the way visual information is relayed. There are many ways to perform criticism and many ways to read it, and the way an artist responds to criticism may need to be more directed than the response of a general reader. So it's weird to get bent out of shape over someone else's tastes/needs!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—ComiXology. One of the bigger stories out of San Diego Comic-Con this year was the announcement that comiXology has begun offering DRM-free downloads from certain publishers, including Image, Top Shelf, Zenescope, Thrillbent, Dynamite and, Monkeybrain. Matthew Bogart explains some of the positives of the new deal.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Rob Clough reviews Pascal Girard's Petty Theft, and Andrew White finds the narration in Bryan Lee O'Malley's Seconds clunky.

—Misc. Renee French is the guest on Make It Then Tell Everybody. You have less than a week left to subscribe to the Australian Minicomic of the Month Club. I continue to be a Grant Morrison skeptic, but the Mindless Ones come as close as anyone can to making excitement over his work contagious.


Celebrity Sightings

Today, we have Cynthia Rose's report from "Comics Unmasked: Art & Anarchy in the UK", Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning's exhibition on British comics. I believe they call this counter-programming. Here's a taste:

Britain was the home not only of Hogarth and Gillray, but also Punch and Judy, Charles Dickens and Cruikshank. In terms of narrative satire and storytelling, work by figures like these has profoundly shaped British perceptions. Maybe critic Thierry Smolderen is right that comics are all anarchic. But Comics Unmasked confirms that the British comics tradition, at least, has structural roots in rebellion.

From mischief-making in kiddie strips to chronic debunking of order and class; from satire about the opposite sex to mockeries of manners and style, the British definition of "anarchy" asks that its viewer question everything. This is illustrated over and over throughout the show – from The Magic Beano Book's Snitch and Snatch in '49 to Tank Girl in the '90s or 2010's Kick-Ass. But nowhere is it more intriguing than in the forgotten characters Gravett and Dunning have brought out of the UK's past.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Eisner Awards. The winners were announced this weekend, and Rutu Modan took the top new graphic novel prize. Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez both won their first Eisners. On the other hand, The Oatmeal won best webcomic, so The Balance between Order and Chaos has been maintained.

—SDCC. It's harder to avoid San Diego coverage than it is to avoid it, so I'll keep links selective. I enjoyed Philip Nel's reports, and Abhay Khosla and Brian Nicholson independently raise some good questions about coverage from the more excitable members of the comics press.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Gary Panter honors Jesse Marsh. Jared Gardner pans Bryan Lee O'Malley's Seconds. Paul Buhle looks at World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014. And Rob Clough reviews Jacques Tardi's Goddamn This War!


Fly Away!

Hi there, today we're republishing Gary Groth's 1994 interview with the political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. Here's a sample of their conversation:

GROTH: I was unsure how much you actually draw the strip and how much of it is photo-referenced.
TOMORROW: It varies from strip to strip. Most of the time I’ll draw in people’s bodies and their hands if they’re holding things, that sort of thing. The main thing that is photo-referenced at this point are the faces because it’s a certain look and it’s a hard thing to mimic this photocopied look, which is a deliberate thing that I’m trying to put in. The penguin and the space alien are always drawn freehand.
GROTH: This isn’t meant as an insult, but I was wondering how well you drew.
TOMORROW: Oh, it’s atrophied a lot, so I don’t really know how anymore. I’m certainly no Paul Mavrides, I’ll put it that way. But I can do what I need to do to make the strip work.
GROTH: One of the many sources of depression, as far as I’m concerned, is even though I love the work you do, and the work Tom Toles or Bill Griffith does, it doesn’t seem to me that it actually changes anything. Do you actually write and draw this with that in mind? Trying to affect the world, trying to affect the people who read it? Or are you giving solace to the people who agree with you?
TOMORROW: I have always only viewed it as something that is comforting the afflicted. Because as I say, when the debate ends at the middle of the road, to even get a more progressive perspective in print, I think, gives people a certain amount of comfort. There’s just a constant battle of ideology in this country: “You can’t print that! You can’t print that!” The religious right are especially bad about that. I think the left tends to be more, “OK, you print your thing, but for Chrissakes, let us get a word in edgewise occasionally.” Of course the right just cannot tolerate dissent. “You simply cannot print that,” and most of the time they get their way, whether they realize it or not. It’s continually amusing to me that conservatives go on about the liberal media bias. I mean it bloody well hasn’t kept the conservatives from running the country for 12 years, has it? So occasionally I get a letter from somebody who says, “I’ve always voted Republican but you really made a good point here,” and that’s nice, but it’s nothing I expect at all.

And Rob Clough reviews Jason Shiga's Demon:

Jason Shiga is known for, among other things, having a degree in pure mathematics from Berkeley. That background informs his comics; they frequently play out as problems waiting to be solved. That's obvious in both Meanwhile and his epic Hello World, which are demented choose-your-own-adventure books that mostly result in characters getting killed off in brutal & hilarious ways. However, it's true of his other work as well. Bookhunter was notable for its 1970s detective-show setting and the novelty of a "library police" existing in the real world, using the best technology of the day to solve book-related crimes. At its heart, however, the book is devoted to solving interlocking locked-room mysteries. Double Happiness is about negotiating and solving life-or-death matters related to race. Fleep is about a trapped man trying to solve the mystery of his missing memories while finding a way to escape from a rubble-pinned phone booth. Even Empire State, a quasi-autobiographical story about unrequited love, features a character trying to use logic as a method for finding love.


Did you know it's Comic-Con time? Here's a photoset to remind you of what's happening right now.

Here's an unusual article on how college/university life is portrayed in comics.

I like this post on comics strips in newspapers the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

TCJ contributor Matt Seneca previews some of his own upcoming comics work.

And finally, I liked this essay by Michael A. Johnson on possible implications/meanings of Rutu Modan's clear line renderings.

I'm taking a little vacation from today until Thursday. Tim's in charge!


Sincerest Flattery

Frank Santoro is disillusioned with New York.

When does a place flip from being alive to being mummified? Everyone’s pretending that New York is still New York. It’s strictly Greenwich, Connecticut—not Greenwich Village anymore.

But whatever. Fuck that town. I worry about my friends, though. They seem to pretend that they’re doing okay. So does everyone, right? No. New York squalor is a particular type of squalor. It’s like living at the airport. I know a guy who hasn’t been above 14th Street since the 1970s. He’ll probably live in his little cell until he dies. Maybe he’s happy? Maybe my friends who are already there can hang in there while the city gets turned into a Las Vegas walking mall. The worst part of it is is that all the knuckleheads who can’t break in to NYC now are gonna go to Rust Belt depression towns and make it like everywhere else AND beat my friends stuck in NYC to the punch and buy up all the good stuff in places like Pittsburgh before my friends can extract themselves from their NYC prison cells.

And Rob Kirby likes Noah Van Sciver's Youth is Wasted:

His ability to realistically yet sympathetically limn his characters, presenting them in their full warts-and-all human dimensions, is one of his greatest strengths as an artist and writer. It’s a Crumb-like ability, actually, especially in “Who Are You, Jesus?” where the sad-sack title character has a lapse in moral judgment and pays dearly for it. Van Sciver is one of those artists – like Seattle's Max Clotfelter – whose comics strike me as the missing link between today's alt-comics scene and great old '80s and '90s-era anthologies like Weirdo and Street Music.

And I am disillusioned with this time of year on the comics internet, always more full of dubiously interesting publishing announcements and enough movie/toy/collectible news to make you choke.

But I found a few links worth checking out:

—Janelle Asselin writes about comics-convention harassment issues for Bitch, using some of the data gathered from the sexual-harassment survey she ran earlier this year.

—For their new tour, the band Everclear has commissioned a poster clearly based on iconic Jaime Hernandez art (without permission or compensation).

—Tove Jansson makes it onto Finland's currency.

—CBR's Kiel Phegley talked to Mimi Pond.

—Brian Cremins borrows filmmaker/critic Paul Schrader's "transcendental style" concept to discuss minicomics by Julia Gfrörer and Jessi Zabarsky.



Today on the site: Craig Fischer on Connor Willumsen's Treasure Island. I hugely enjoy Willumsen's work. Here's a bit:

Who is Connor Willumsen? Before and while drawing his Punisher story, Willumsen made career moves unusual for genre cartoonists. He took Frank Santoro’s correspondence course, and Santoro later praised the above page from Punisher Max for retaining a powerful page center “by breaking up the grid at the bottom tier.” Willumsen also served as the 2012-13 Center for Cartoon Studies Fellow, and told James Sturm that his initial goals for his Fellowship year were modest: “I wanted to facilitate a situation where my obligations were as aimless as they ever had been, cultivate a patient boredom, and see what materialized in the vacuum.” For Willumsen, finding his aesthetic way via “patient boredom” helped him grow beyond the idea of a conventional career, into a purpose “that has no obvious practical merit,” the creation of new images of “worth” for readers hungry for new ways of seeing. Willumsen reminds me of David Mazzucchelli: both quickly mastered genre comics, and then just as quickly left behind mainstream publishers in search of Meaning and Art.


Here's a fine interview with Gabe Fowler of the great Desert Island.

I've run across this book many times in used bookstores, but I always forget it's that Ward Kimbell.

TCJ-contributor Rob Kirby interviews Kevin Czapiewski.

As long as Leslie Stein posts her art, I'll link to it.

This is a great picture of Ed Piskor and Harvey Pekar.

Definitely not enough gorillas in comics today.




Trompe le Monde

Tuesday is the day set aside for contemplating the week's new comics releases; let our own Joe McCulloch be your guide, bringing special attention to new projects by Emily Carroll and Gene Luen Yang.

And then read Sean T. Collins on Jillian and Mariki Tamaki's This One Summer, which has gotten the kind of mainstream attention this year that would have been eye-opening a decade ago but now seems almost par for the course, at least for the annual handful of comics that are deemed acceptable to be seen in normal society. Here's Sean:

At the beginning of This One Summer, its main character, Rose, splashes down into her bed, holding her nose and falling backwards as if leaping off a dock into the lake nearby. At the end she and a friend dig a hole in the beach big enough to contain her, and she lies in it, posing for her last picture of the summer -- this is how she wants to remember it. In between, nature, as drawn with preposterous skill by Jillian Tamaki, proves capable of enveloping her without her help. Big summer-night skies, full of stars and moonlight. Bright summer sun, hanging overhead like it will never set again. Wet, heavy summer rain, seemingly just as endless, pouring into puddles drop after drop. Trees and vines and bushes and grass and undergrowth, verdant, overripe to the point of hysteria. The lake, which is alternately drawn dominating a spread vertically like a monolith, suspending the joyous bodies of tumbling teenagers in its inviting murk, and enveloping them like a sunlit shroud when they no longer wish to be found. Against this brush-stroke backdrop stand Rose and the other impeccably cartooned characters, whose stylized simplicity (relatively speaking; no sense that these are real people is lost) when juxtaposed with those wall-of-sound environments makes them feel like inner tubes bobbing in the water, or stones tossed in it. Immersion is This One Summer's strength, and it works alarmingly well for the story that cousin-collaborators Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki are telling. It's a young-adult graphic novel, and young adults are constantly tossed into new circumstances by forces beyond their control, from puberty to parents. Out of their depth, do they sink or swim?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Commentary. George Gene Gustines at The New York Times has a very rosy-eyed look at digital and print comics sales, including quotes from Mark Waid, Brian K. Vaughn, and retailer Brian Hibbs.

Jim Geraghty continues the recent spate of comics coverage at National Review (that's the place which hosted the editorial by Amity Shlaes calling for more conservative graphic novels, you might remember; it was "a bit of a manga," to use her expression). Geraghty writes about Marvel's announcement of a female Thor on The View last week, and it's not the Neanderthal-like misogynist response you saw from some dark corners of the internet. Tom Spurgeon has a response to the main thrust. More interesting to me is the fact that Geraghty copies and pastes much of his argument from an article by Comics Alliance's Andrew Wheeler complaining about the sexualized portrayal of superheroines. What does it mean when the National Review seems to take an ostensibly feminist position? Maybe this just hits the sweet spot of a demographic Venn diagram. Or perhaps reforming and strengthening the appeal of corporate superhero comics is an inherently conservative position.

Adam McGovern at HiLobrow has inaugurated a new series of critical posts on Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics.

Chris Gavaler has photos of comics-related murals in Angoulême.

—Giving/Spending Opportunities. Both Justin Green and Bob Levin note that July 25 is S. Clay Wilson's birthday, and provide information for fans and well-wishers who want to send letters or financial help. Wilson is still ailing after a 2008 head injury.

Steve Ditko has a new Mr. A Kickstarter. Gabrielle Bell is was selling original art from her "Oslo Diary". Dane Martin has an online store.

The Baffler, which was one of the best publications of the '90s, and which recently resurrected itself, has just put its entire archives online. The New York Times writes about the move, illustrating their article with a Joe Sacco drawing. TCJ readers may be interested to read a 1995-era Gary Groth piece excoriating Quentin Tarantino.


No Driver

Today on the site Mike Dawson presents his latest installment of TCJ Talkies. This time out: A conversation with Julia Wertz about Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Joe Matt's Spent.

And I wrote a review of The Bungle Family.


It's old home week on the internet: Matthew Thurber has launched an Etsy site to sell his original art. There are some great deals to be had. And Anya Davidson drew a wonderful comic strip tribute to The Ramones.

Ever wonder what our Seattle collaborator Kristy Valenti does? Now you know.

And finally, Tom Spurgeon presents his annual guide to this weekend's Comic Con.