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Indispensable

Everything's back to normal here now. First, R.C. Harvey is back with the third installment of his multipart series exploring the legendary feud between Ham Fisher and Al Capp. In this section, Fisher meets Capp and things start to take off.

Fisher’s self-aggrandizing embroideries betray his version as somewhat fictional — his generously offering lunch to an impoverished stranger, Capp’s naming Joe Palooka his favorite strip, Fisher’s taking pity on the poor lad and creating a job for him. Later in the article, Edgar quotes Fisher claiming to have “started the trend of comic strips away from vaudeville skits toward continuous adventure stories”; in fact, by 1930, Roy Crane at Wash Tubbs was well into telling adventure stories that continued from day to day. Fisher also told Edgar that he “innovated the use of current events as story backgrounds”; I suspect Caniff was a little ahead of Fisher with Terry and the Pirates set in China.

According to the Capp clan’s version of the events of his employment on Joe Palooka, Fisher, after a few months, went off to London on a trip with Flagg — just disappeared, Capp said. Interviewed by Carol Oppenheim at the Chicago Tribune on the occasion of his retiring from Li’l Abner in November 1977, Capp said, while Fisher was gone, the syndicate phoned and asked for four more weeks of the Sunday strip.

“Out of loyalty,” Capp said, “I didn’t mention Fisher’d vanished. I wrote the strip myself. But I wasn’t going to have anything to do with that stupid prizefighter; so I put in my own characters — the hillbillies. They were hilarious. But when Fisher came back, he fired me.”

Capp maintained that he’d conjured up the hillbillies from his memory of those he’d seen in his youth on that fabled trip through the South; he took Joe Palooka into the hills and staged a match between the champ and the meanest of the hillbillies, a ribaldly uncouth character named Big Leviticus. This episode became the bone of contention between Fisher and Capp, giving rise eventually to the most scandalous incident in the profession’s short history.

Ellen Lindner is back, too, with the second day of her Cartoonist's Diary.

And we also have Jason Michelitch's review of Tommy Redolfi's biography, Marilyn's Monsters.

Marilyn's Monsters is a new book trapped by old ideas, and Tommy Redolfi is an artist overpowered by the myths he seeks to manipulate. Redolfi's book is an attempt at a dark allegorical fantasy version of the life and death of Marilyn Monroe. While effectively creepy at times, with a few intriguing conceits within its nightmare vision of Hollywood, mostly it seems that the energy of Monroe -- her particular mixture of power and tragedy -- proves too wild and elusive for Redolfi to know what to do with. He ultimately falls back on cliches, both in his understanding of Monroe and in his use of genre tropes, and for all the Lynchian dread and ghostly weirdness Redolfi can muster, the book doesn't really deliver much more complex a take on Marilyn than Elton John does in "Candle in the Wind."

The story follows Norma Jeane, soon to be Marilyn, as she travels from Nowhere, America to the land of Holy Wood, a magical forest settled by vaudeville performers and transformed into the source of the world's movies, which are sent hither and yon through a complex system of iron pipes. Here, Norma will be scouted by the shadowy, eldritch powers-that-be, and transformed from a human woman into the ethereal, glowing icon of Marilyn Monroe. It's a weirdly charming plot conceit that places us firmly in the realm of allegorical fable, and Redolfi's art presents almost all the human characters as something akin to grotesque New Yorker caricatures. Everyone and everything is a little (or a lot) unsettling to look at, which makes the eventual introduction of Marilyn as a literally glowing beauty queen all the more pronounced.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Oni Press has named a new editor-in-chief, Sarah Gaydos.

Gaydos joined Oni in April last year as editorial director of licensed publishing, following a multiyear stint at IDW Publishing, where she was group editor of titles that included Star Trek and Jem and the Holograms. At Oni, based in Portland, Oregon, she was responsible for existing titles such as Rick and Morty, as well as acquiring and developing new projects based on existing intellectual property.

In a blog post, John Porcellino announces that he will be pulling back on his work providing comics distribution through Spit and a Half.

Like all of us I'm sure, I grow more and more alienated from the modern world with each new day. I'm broken down by the constant cycle of bad news, horror, stupidity, greed, anger. In the pre-Distro days, if I was overwhelmed like that, I'd be able to retreat for a while, hide for a bit, regroup. Draw, think, walk in the woods, heal. But with the Distro that's an impossibility. There's always another email, always another order. PLEASE don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly humbled by and grateful for the support the Distro has gotten from the community. It's an honor to serve you all! But the time has come for me to pass on this mantle to the next generation. It's just not a job one old dude can do on his own anymore.

—Reviews & Criticism. Jeet Heer reviews last year's consensus pick as comic of the year, Jason Lutes' Berlin.

Still, in reading the whole of Berlin, the immersion in a historical urban environment is secondary to the political dilemma that confronts the characters. Berlin features a large and diverse cast: workers and plutocrats, communists and fascists, bewildered liberals and political activists, Jews and anti-Semites, pacifists and street fighters. What unites them is the shared experience of living in a crumbling democracy, where economic chaos, distrust of the established order, and rising violence all work to destroy social cohesion. On a personal level, this means the characters are all tested, again and again, to show empathy, and even the best of them sometimes fail these tests. But the redemptive thrust of the book comes from the resilience of solidarity and hope even in the darkest times.

For the New York Times, Robert Gottlieb reviews Mark Dery's Born to be Posthumous.

There are mysteries within the mystery, and for Dery the mystery that matters most is that of Gorey’s sexuality — he gnaws away at it relentlessly throughout the 400-odd pages of his narrative. Was Gorey straight? Not very likely. Was he gay? Probably, but not actively. Did he have any sexual life at all? Was he asexual? Gorey himself addressed the question in an interview he gave to Boston magazine late in life. “I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something. I’ve never said that I was gay and I’ve never said that I wasn’t.” Responding to the direct question “What are your sexual preferences?” he replied: “Well, I’m neither one thing nor the other particularly. I suppose I’m gay. But I don’t identify with it much.” Dery makes much of the fact that when the interview was reprinted after Gorey’s death, the final two sentences were suppressed, but by the time this particular reader had reached Page 410 of “Born to Be Posthumous,” he was so tired of the endless speculation that he wouldn’t have perked up if it turned out that Gorey’s interests lay in extraterrestrials.

Robert Boyd reviews a selection of various comics, from recent Shortbox output to Noah Van Sciver and Johnny Ryan.

Noah Van Sciver is an extremely talented alternative cartoonist probably best known for his hilarious series of books about his poet-manque character who calls himself Fante Bukowski. One Dirty Tree is about his growing up in a run-down rental house in New Jersey. the street address was 133, and it had a dead tree in the front yard which lead one of his brothers to name it One Dirty Tree. He was from a Mormon family with 7 brothers and sisters, including Ethan Van Sciver, who has become one of the faces of Comicsgate. Ethan is a very talented artist who was quite successful for a while drawing mainstream superhero comic books. But he drifted over into far right politics and online harassment, burning many bridges. Noah never mentions this aspect of Ethan's life in the book, but he does depict Ethan as a budding comics artist creating his character Cyberfrog while still a teenager. Amazingly (or maybe not), Ethan is still trying to make a go of Cyberfrog, crowdfunding it to self-publish it. To me, these two brothers are exemplars of the difference between mainstream and alternative comics. Not because of Ethan's politics (although there has always been a whiff of the fascist in superhero comics), but in that Noah has advanced to a much more subtle and adult type of storytelling while Ethan, a 44 year-old man, is still drawing fucking Cyberfrog, a character he made up in high school.

At Jacobin, Imen Neffati argues that the Charlie Hebdo of recent decades is a betrayal of its original leftist ideals.

Created in 1969 by François Cavanna and Georges Bernier (alias Professor Choron) — both from working-class backgrounds — Charlie Hebdo began as a weekly supplement to another magazine, Hara Kiri, which had established itself in 1960s Gaullist France as an anticapitalist, anti-consumerist, alternative, avant-garde, and counter-cultural form of journalism, reliant on parody and surrealist content. Habitual objects of Charlie Hebdo and Hara Kari’s attacks included powerful institutions such as the advertising industry, the army, and the Church.

The project took a particular turn in the 1990s. Charlie Hebdo had been discontinued in 1981 just a few months after the election of France’s first Socialist president, François Mitterrand, and Hari Kiri followed suit at the end of that decade. When Charlie Hebdo was resurrected under the editorship of Philippe Val in 1992, a specific fraction of the working class — immigrants — and a specific fraction of immigrants — Muslims — became its targets.

Martin Dupuis looks back at Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.

Miller’s contour lines are thinner than [Klaus] Janson’s, they have less thick and thin contrasts and make for a flatter result when looked at in black and white. But the restraint seems like a deliberate choice that allows Varley’s colors to play a significant part in the image making instead of it being an afterthought. It’s subtle, and in no way am I saying that Janson’s inks are bad – its just a slight difference that has recently been made apparent to me after years of feeling that some panels were slightly different than others. Below is Janson on the left and Miller on the right:

Janson’s rendering is slightly more “realistic” looking, Miller more caricatural. Janson inks the shadow on the bridge of the nose, Miller leaves it open for Varley to sculpt. Look at the thicker brush strokes used on the left in comparison to Miller leaving shapes empty and letting Varley use color to create definition.

Min Hyoung Song reviews Yeon-sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily.

To be candid, I struggled to get into this book. The title Uncomfortably Happily is awkward, suggesting perhaps that something idiomatic failed to translate from the original Korean. (I speak Korean like a five-year-old, so don’t ask me if this is the case.) It’s also very long — almost 600 pages — and dense, full of smallish panels and a lot of text. The images themselves are drawn in a rudimentary style, to the extent that it can be hard at times to differentiate between Hong and Lee.

Moreover, the book presents Hong as highly irritable and full of complaint. At the start, the copyeditor of the press he works for calls to request revisions on the comics series that Hong is writing for them. Hong resents being called so early. He resents requests in general. He resents having to work. All of this resenting doesn’t make Hong a likable person.

But as the story progressed I began to appreciate its willingness to let Hong’s flaws show.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Virtual Memories podcast interviews Kriota Willberg.

 

Dawg, In Furs

It's 2019, and you've arrived just in time for our first Cartoonist Diary of the year, from Ellen Lindner! She'll be here all week. Today, she's starting things off with a look at some idiosyncrasies that you might identify with: an ear for confusing accents, and a love of public transit.

Our review of the day comes to us from H.W. Thurston. This time around, H.W. is looking at one of the best looking books of recent memory, Roman Muradov's Vanishing Act. Are looks everything, though? Let's see what the review has to say:

To be honest, I’m still not sure whether I liked it, or whether I thought it was smart or merely clever. Part of that is due to the fact that it is often esoteric and hard to follow (I had to actually write down the story as I read it in order to keep track of what was happening)--though not in a way I take issue with, exactly. It feels deliberate. But it’s a bit like trying to decide whether or not I like Ulysses. To judge whether an obscure thing earns its obscurity, you have to find a way to clarify it in the first place.

And today, we've got another chapter in the history that was Stan Lee for you: a giant interview from a college visit, first published in an issue of The Journal published back in 1978. There's a decent amount of meat in here, but it also features a handful of very specific questions from college students...and those kinds of questions weren't any better in the late 70's than they would be now. Dig in!

EZRA GOLDSTEIN: Well, the obvious follow-up to that is, “Yeah, but is it art?”

LEE: None of us are going to live long enough to really come to any conclusions about what art is. I've been arguing that subject, or discussing it, all my life. I don't have the remotest idea, really, of what art is. I don't think that any two people have the same concept of it. Maybe the only thing you can discuss is, is it good art or bad art, and that of course is subjective also. I would say, though, and there's no way I'm going to convince anyone who disagrees, but I do feel that comic books are art, just as plays are art, and movies, and television, and sculpture and ballet and dancing are art. Maybe playing the Jew's harp and the kazoo are art. I think that anything you do that is creative is art. Whether it is good art of not depends on how well you do it. I think, for example, certainly comics presently do not enjoy the prestige of opera. But, I think there can be good comics, there can be good opera, there can be bad comics and there can be bad opera. I'd rather read a good comic than listen to a bad opera. I'd rather listen to, or see, a bad opera than read a bad comic. I think that quality is the big determination for any form of the media. I think, again, anything really can be an art, and anything virtually can be art, depending on how it's done.

And then there's this, rolling around in my head: While Aftershock has gotten off to a rough start, mostly because it uses the publishing model of taking comics writers who have been hitless for multiple years and partnering them with artists who often lack talent, energy and craft (you need at least one of the three to coast)--which, when you say it out loud, should probably just be called "the Dynamite model"--at least one of the more recent Aftershock books is as compelling as the "it's late, let's watch this" entertainment they're most similar too. That aside, their most recent advertising campaign is maybe the most embarrassing one I can remember, and I'm saying "maybe" because a more definitive answer would require looking at other advertising campaigns for the other comics publishers whose publishing model consists of trying to turn mediocre television scripts into more colorful mediocre television pitches at a rate of speed faster than comics retailers can realize they need to cut their orders. Calling the sorts of comics Aftershock publishes--which are aesthetically indistinguishable from many comics published by IDW, Image, Dynamite and whomever else there is currently churning this stuff--"dangerous" and "edgy" is only mildly less embarrassing than that IDW comic they have that talks about punk rock in a fashion that makes me feel like i'm 14, being embarrassed by my father attempting to rap at a summer camp skit night. Does no one want to age gracefully anymore? While writing this, I thought to myself that Aftershock's advertising campaign does actually do an excellent job of letting me know what the actual comics are like by calling them "dangerous" and "edgy", and by the same token it probably repulses younger people who wouldn't like those comics, so maybe it's a great idea after all. Point taken, Aftershock! Ramble #1 over.

Ramble #2: the other thing that I had to roll my eyes about was this particular news: Greg Rucka's gonna write Lois Lane? I have no allegiance to any particular portrayal of Lois Lane, although I do think that the old post-Byrne 80's/90's one depicted her pretty well as a tough, smart lady with a unique personality, and I dug the comics after she found out Clark had been lying to her for so long although that particular thread should've have run longer--but can there be a worse choice for a Lane comic? Rucka's bonafides as a guy who isn't totally gross seem to be legit, but he's got another set of bonafides, which are that the only way he has ever known how to write a powerful female character is to A) make her a drunk, B) make her a depressed, sour drunk and C) give her all the traits of a depressed, sour drunk but not depict the alcohol or depression, which means she's just angry and fucked up all the time with no convenient explanation. I guess you could count his run on Batwoman as breaking the mold, but is it really replicating the mold when you copy Bruce Wayne's backstory entirely, staple some Alice In Wonderland schtick to it, and let JH Williams draw a bunch of pinwheels? C'mon, son. There's gotta be a better way!

 

Tally Time

And we're back!

This is the time of year when we ask all of our contributors and other comics figures to send in lists of their favorite comics of the year. We got an even bigger response this year than last time around, so these lists should keep you busy for a while.

For most of the titles there wasn't much consensus, but when all of the votes are tallied, here is the TCJ Top Thirteen of 2018:

1. Jason Lutes, Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly), 16 votes
2. Julie Doucet, Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly), 13 votes
3. Eleanor Davis, Why Art? (Fantagraphics), 12 votes
4. Lauren R. Weinstein, Frontier #17: Mother's Walk (Youth in Decline), 11 votes
5. (tie) Tommi Parrish, The Lie and How We Told It (Fantagraphics), Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam (First Second/Avery Hill/self-published), and Lale Westvind, Grip Vol. 1 (Perfectly Acceptable Press), 9 votes each
8. (tie) Yvan Alagbé, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures (NYRC), Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (D&Q), Hartley Lin, Young Frances (AdHouse), Olivier Schrauwen, Parallel Lives (Fantagraphics), Noah Van Sciver, One Dirty Tree (Uncivilized), and Jim Woodring, Poochytown (Fantagraphics), 8 votes each

Note: If all votes for works by Olivier Schrauwen, Noah Van Sciver, and Lauren R. Weinstein were added together (each artist received multiple votes for multiple works), the list would have been somewhat different. The top 13 artists of 2018 would then be 1. Lutes, 2. Van Sciver, 3. Weinstein, 4. Doucet, 5. Davis, 6. Schrauwen, 7. (tie) Parrish & Walden & Westvind, and 10. (tie) Alagbé & Drnaso & Lin & Woodring.

We also published Edwin Turner's review of the new edition of Steinberg's The Labyrinth.:

Steinberg's Labyrinth is a maze of aesthetic transfiguration. His illustrations show a full command of brush, nib, ink, and the various qualities of paper itself. Steinberg's lines course through the wordless novel, tangling the reader into cartoons and cubisms and caricatures, blemishes and brushstrokes, dots and loops that simultaneously satirize and substantiate mid-20th-century modernist art, when commercial illustrations and comics were transmuted into Pop Art. Under each seeming squiggle is an assured hand and an even sharper mind.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The tally above has been corrected, after a few errors in tabulation were brought to our attention.]

 

Another Cheater

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got that giant interview you've been craving: it's Sean T. Collins & Phoebe Gloeckner, talking about what went into her selections for the most recent edition of The Best American Comics. And speaking of that word "best"--

To get deep in the weeds a bit, when you’re selecting the best comics—

Okay, get rid of that word. Get rid of that word, because it’s not possible. OK, yeah, you’re choosing the “supposed best” or “so-called best comics,” right, yeah?

Mmhmm.

What is your responsibility to your leadership? What do you think when you’re possessing them? Well, I don’t fucking know. [Collins laughs.] No, honestly! I’m not thinking I’m choosing the best because I know I am the filter. What matters to me is, Do I like it? Did I like it more than a number of other comics? If the answer is yes, maybe I’ll include it, because what else do I have?

Our review of the day is by our own Matt Seneca, who took a look at another recently translated monster of a work from New York Review Comics--it's Edmond Baudoin's Piero, recently translated by Matt Madden.

The superstructure of Baudoin's story does not differ much from the average memoir. Beginning in early childhood with a few scraps of pastoral reminisce, it proceeds through school days and adolescence to a conclusion at the cusp of adulthood. In its particulars, however, Piero is a radical book. The scattershot quality of the earliest impressions Baudoin shares remains even as the memories described move closer and closer to the present. Scenes whisk by in a panel or two, not leading into one another so much as they are placed in proximity. Transitions that jar at first come to feel downright liquid after awhile, with Baudoin's casual narration building up something that feels more like a museum exhibit than a novel, with each individual fixture to be left behind for the next at the moment one's interest is diverted.

Are you ready for the holidays? As both the father of a young child and a guy who is about to officiate a wedding ceremony in the part of the South where they talk about God like, a lot, I can guarantee you I am not! However, The Comics Journal does have one tradition left before we disappear up our respective chimney: our annual look at the Year In Comics! After you've finished today's reading, please return on Monday to find out what the luminaries, malcontents and professionals thought 2018 had to say for itself. (The comics, at least!)

 

Bizzy Times

Wotta rotten holiday season so far. But not here at the Journal, where the Quality Content keeps on coming. Today, we have an excellent report from Cynthia Rose of a Paris exhibition on Victor Hugo that tunes into something much more ambitious: a short history of French cartooning.

If French press cartoons are unashamedly rude, what's at the heart of such a caustic culture? To find out, you just need to meet its great practitioners. Some of their names, albeit dusty, are still revered: Honoré Daumier, Nadar (Felix Tournarchon), and André Gill. But many more – once celebrities with powerful pens – are now obscure. Outside of experts, who mentions crazy guys such as Henry Monnier and Jean-Pierre Dantan?

I found the answers in a current Paris exhibition, Caricatures: Victor Hugo On Page One. It's a show focused on the man who wrote Les Misérables, but one that tells his story wholly through caricature. In the exhibition are almost two hundred drawings, many rarely if ever shown, that take you straight to the art's historic heyday.

To revive that era, Hugo is a perfect choice. His eighty-three-year life (1802–1885) coincided with both technological change and huge events. A supersized ambition kept him at their centre and, being a Royalist who defected to socialism, every sort of detractor got to take a shot at him.

No human life supplies the satirist's every need, but that of Victor Hugo certainly came close. Hugo was a prolific, epic intellect and also an epic over-achiever, braggart, philanderer, self-promoter, schemer, liar, and nostalgist. His modern legacy may be the Les Misérables musical but the author's stardom was already global during his lifetime.

We also have a review from a new contributor Toussaint Egan, who takes an enthusiastic look at Ronald Wimberly's LAAB #0.

As a sequential media text, LAAB is a narrative of sorts, though not framed around the actions of any one fictitious character, but rather a discourse centered on the sordid history of an aesthetic entrenched within the complementary forces of racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. Per the issue’s opening essay, Wimberly cites theoretician Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" to outline how the anti-semitic caricatures created by the Führer cult to lull the German populace into stupefying docility during WWII were preceded nearly 200 years by the racial capitalist aesthetics of Thomas “Dartmouth” Rice’s Jim Crow character, the archetype of what Wimberly calls “the Nigger Aesthetic.” As he describes it, the Nigger Aesthetic refers to the "representation of the Black body, Black life and the corresponding way of seeing and thinking about the Black body, as informed by white supremacy’s stigmatization of the Black body and Black life.” Wimberly proposes that, in order to meet and nullify this pernicious strain of systemic defacement, artists must consciously prefigure the black body and its ontological history within the Western cultural imagination at the forefront of attention so as to eclipse the dangers posed through the tacitly unconscious consumption of these aesthetics. “I believe the presence of Black personhood itself erodes the lie of white supremacist aesthetics.” Wimberly writes. “The juxtaposition of the Black body and its inherent personhood with the reductive Nigger Aesthetics activates a political subjectivity. Like seeing, touching, smelling a human body vs. seeing a drawing of a human body. The presence of the body and its personhood is a material anchor to reality and therefore acknowledges the aesthetics and the political constructs relative to that reality.”

 

Ghost Roper

Today at The Comics Journal, it's time for Michel Fiffe's monthly look back, The Fiffe Files. This time around, he's got George Freeman up on the whiteboard.

George Freeman always comes to mind when I think of comic book powerhouses who can do it all. Freeman's got the goods: killer drawing chops, excellent timing, a sharp sense of design, and he gives his work enough of a cartoon shine to make it look fun and alive. He's like Michael Golden as inked by P. Craig Russell. It's exceptional work, but due to his erratic résumé, Freeman's never been closely associated with any one major title or character and thus, his work is easy to miss.

Our review of the day is also a dip into super-hero obsession: Noah Berlatsky, who remains on brand by shaking his head at the latest attempt by DC Comics to get Wonder Woman right

Usually when people discuss "adult content", they mean sex. But the original Wonder Woman comics by were saturated with themes of lesbianism, bondage,and cheerful eroticism intended to thrill and entertain children of all ages. Marston, who in his personal life lived in a polyamorous relationsip with two bisexual women, believed that loving submission to eroticized female authority led adults and children of every gender to peace, happiness, and matriarchal utopia.

Morrison and Paquette aren't quite true believers, but they obviously enjoy pretending. Volume 2 kicks off with Nazi superwoman (and Marston creation) Paula Von Gunther  invading Paradise Island with a battalion of storm troopers during World War II. She's quickly subdued (in various senses) by Queen Hippolyta and her warriors, who fire orgone blasts that convert Nazi soldiers to love as each cries out with an ecstatic "yes!" Paula herself realizes that she should submit to the love of women, rather than to the hate of man, and falls in infatuation in quick succession with Hippolyta and with Diana, aka Wonder Woman. Paquette's drawing of Paula's moment of transformation— eyes wide, expression rapturous—would please Marston mightily. That's exactly how he wanted his readers, girls and boys, to look at Wonder Woman—as a love leader who will restrain us, retrain us and lead us all to kink and virtue.

Over at The Scores, Varun Nayar has delivered a fine review of Sabrina.

Much of the story takes place in Colorado, occasionally flickering back to Chicago, where Sandra, equally listless and confused with the grief of Sabrina’s disappearance, spends most of her days indoors. Drnaso’s storytelling style excavates his characters context; his illustrations, reminiscent of airport security pamphlets from the early 2000s, scrub faces of expressiveness. The physical spaces, too, are equally nondescript: most rooms are under-furnished; beds lack frames; not a picture-frame in sight; and the only words that appear on the page are pieces of dialogue in speech balloons.

Over at The Montreal Gazette, Ian Mcgillis has the latest in Julie Doucet profiles, and it's one of the more involving ones so far.

As for a possible return to comics, she doesn’t rule it out. Nor does she seem especially bothered either way.

“Who knows? Not me. It would have to be something completely different from what I used to do, and right now I don’t feel I have any stories to tell. Besides, you go to a store like Drawn & Quarterly now and you open a few books … there are just so many amazing things being done. I tend to get discouraged when I see stuff like that.”

Over at BOOK RIOT, S.W. Sondheimer gets very specific about how the way the publicity department at DC Comics handled the Eric Esquivel fallout has impacted the way that site will be covering DC and Vertigo titles in the future.

 

Lava Man Protects Normals

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey continues his epic history of the legendary feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. He's still warming up at this point, with an introduction to the work of Ham Fisher.

In his own account of his life, Fisher was profuse in thanking “a good and gracious God for letting me be on my way at last.” He produced a daily column (“Cousin Ham’s Corner”) with caricatures of local celebrities and drew a cartoon or two, sports or political. After a year, he left the Record to join the staff of the city’s other paper, the Times-Leader, because, he explained, “they let me put my name bigger on the cartoon. That’s a fact. All we cartoonists are hams and my name especially fits me. But boy, it was great. I was a personage in our city. If I hadn’t been a cartoonist do you think that judges, mayors, the governor — well, in fact everybody — would have sought me out? I had a position of influence and power, but not too much affluence. Soon I was toast-mastering at banquets, getting good money as an after dinner speaker with nice little political plums thrown my way."

He confessed that he even drew political cartoons for both the Democratic and Republican parties. And then, he said, “came a mistake.” He joined a friend in launching a new newspaper. It lasted only about a year, but its collapse (due to the effects of a strike in the local industry, coal mining) was undoubtedly a blessing in disguise for Fisher. A couple of years before, in about 1920, he had been smitten with an idea for a comic strip, and if the newspaper had succeeded, his comic strip might never have germinated, and the pugilistic world would have been poorer.

We also have Josh Kramer's review of Vagabond Valise.

The Vagabond Valise, just out from Conundrum Press, is a new entrant for admission into the canon of very sad nonfiction graphic novels. It follows Chick-o, a stand-in for Canadian author Siris, through a long, disparate series of grievances and injustices in and out of the foster system in 1960s and ‘70s Quebec. There’s no question that it is sad: gross food, emotional and physical abuse, losing an adolescent crush when her house burns down. There is some rough stuff. But even though the contents sufficiently sad, I’m not sure that’s enough to make Valise good.

Siris has a scratchy line, likely from a nib pen, but it’s not super variable. There are few small details (forks on the dinner table are little tridents, backgrounds are sparse) and a loose hatching permeates nearly ever panel. This wobbliness can be endearing, and the art is on the more cartoony end of the spectrum, like Rocko’s Modern Life. There is a low-simmering magic realism a la Pee-wee’s Playhouse — Chick-o is a Lewis Trondheim-esque bird boy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Over at the Beat, Alex Dueben talks to James Romberger about his new book on James Steranko.

I did the interview with Jim intending to make it the main focus of the 3rd issue of a comics zine that Marguerite Van Cook and I were doing for fun, Comic Art Forum. But then it felt like it was so significant, and presented such a good opportunity to establish language for comics scholarship to be able to talk about the dovetailing relationship of art and text in comics, that I thought I’d try to get it done by a major publisher as a book. It seemed to need a biographical intro, which at the time I didn’t have the writing chops to do properly. At that point, one thing led to another and I returned to college at BMCC, then Columbia and CUNY Graduate Center. I spent a decade and a half completing my masters because I drew five books worth of comics and a few gallery shows in that time. Drafts of both of the essays in the book were originally done as papers for classes. The critical analysis training I got led me to writing for Publishers Weekly, The Comics Journal, etc. – and to teaching. So it has been a journey that took me to some unexpected places.

Just to note, I had originally counted 200 unique graphic and storytelling devices for our “Innovations” list that runs through the interview, but between Jim and I, we weeded out around a quarter of those as having been previously done by others – so Steranko was quite active in trying to not take undue credit for himself. And I retained my independence in writing the essays and assembling the book so it would have critical validity, rather than being an “approved” publication.

Also at the Beat, Romberger himself interviews Jim Woodring.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about that… what would have happened if my folks had sent me to a late 50’s-style child behaviorist? Christ. I’m sure they thought about it. Probably the stigma of having a certified nut for a kid prevented it. But the truth is that these visions and things were peripheral to an innate and intense metaphysical longing, that well-known nostalgia for the infinite that drives so many of us, which was and still is at the forefront of my consciousness. So I’m glad I didn’t get diagnosed, held back, drugged, shocked or subjected to whatever other barbarous rehabilitation techniques they used on wayward children in the Beaver Cleaver era.

At Paste, Hillary Brown talks to Ariel Schrag.

Paste: Is it hard for you to be so open about your life or does it come naturally? Has it gotten easier or harder over time?

Schrag: As a teen, I mostly wrote whatever I wanted to about myself and other people, which was freeing, but led to a lot of personal complications. Now, I’m more careful about not exposing others, which is its own relief, but can make the writing more difficult. Disguising people or fictionalizing autobio is just another layer of work. There is a sweet spot where you say what you want and it feels like the truth and no one gets hurt or feels exposed, but that spot is hard to come by.

The Comics Alternative podcast has two recent interviews up, a new one with Bill Kartalopoulos and another with Tom Hart.

—Reviews & Commentary. The Paris Review has published Harold Rosenbeg's essay from the new NYRC collection of Saul Steinberg's The Labyrinth.

Both because of his superb penmanship and the complex intellectual nature of his assertions, I think of Steinberg as a kind of writer, though there is only one of his kind. He has worked out an exchange between the verbal and the visual that makes possible all kinds of revelations. For instance, there is a drawing in which a triangle on one end of a scale weighs down an old, patched-up, decrepit question mark on the other. Axiom: A NEAT FORMULA OUTWEIGHS A BANGED-UP PROBLEM.

To build his labyrinth, Steinberg had only to draw a line from A to B on the principle that the truth is the longest distance between two points: the result is an enormous scrawl within which the original two dots appear as the eyes of the Minotaur.

As if the relations between words and objects weren’t complicated enough, Steinberg has thrust between them the illusions of the drawing paper. “There is perhaps no artist alive,” E. H. Gombrich testifies in Art and Illusion, “who knows more about the philosophy of representation.” A long straight line keeps changing its pictorial functions—first it represents a table edge, then a railroad trestle, then a laundry line, until it ends up in an abstract flourish. Steinberg is the Houdini of multiple meanings: the line with which he creates his labyrinth and entangles himself in it is also the string that leads him out of it.

The much-missed podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell (featuring TCJ all-stars Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, Matt Seneca, and Tucker Stone) has finally dropped a new episode.

—Misc. Courtesy of Sean Howe, I recently learned about two YouTube videos of interest to old-school fans. First, an interview with Jack Kirby:

And then a "debate" between Todd McFarlane and Peter David.

 

We’re Back?

Last week, some adjustments to the TCJ website made the backend of the site unusable for a time, which is why you did not see a blog post. Previously scheduled posts did appear that day. Since then, we've worked with the website programmers so that we'll be able to return to regular posting, and it is our hope that the upgrades we were in the process of setting up will appear without issue in the coming weeks.

On Friday, we featured Greg Hunter's most recent episode of Comic Book Decalogue, this month featuring Ben Passmore. In it, the BTTM FDRS creator discusses the impact of Prince of Cats, shelving a post-collegiate magnum opus, and when leather jackets and moshing came to hip-hop. (As observant readers will note, Greg refers to this as the podcast's penultimate episode. More about that later...)

Today's feature comes to us from the sorely missed Ng Suat Tong, who goes into great detail to refute recent criticisms of Mort Cinder that have focused on the book's plot and narrative mechanics.

There have been suggestions that Oesterheld dragged out and improvised the introduction of Cinder because of Breccia’s difficulties with finding the right look for the character—hence the strangely meandering first chapter (“Lead Eyes”). Yet whether this forced discursion truly affects the narrative as a whole is difficult to determine.

While the construction of Mort Cinder has been noted to be a flexible and collaborative effort between Breccia and Oesterheld, there are distinct and recurrent motifs in it which suggests it was not put together for reasons of mere entertainment or with little forethought. If anything, there is a coherence and depth in its plotting which suggests a steady hand at the tiller.

Last Friday's review came to us from Rob Clough, who took in Robert Dayton's Empty Bed and came away laughing.

Robert Dayton's The Empty Bed is a long howl and a laugh up his own sleeve. This is the multidisciplinary artist's first long-form comic, and its mixture of word and image has more in common with Ray Fenwick's typographical comics than anything else. This is a dense, splotchy pen-and-ink affair about a devastating breakup. Actually, it's not so much about the breakup as it is the long, long aftermath. That aftermath, featuring the dreaded "I love you but I'm not in love with you" rejection, is interminable, self-indulgent, self-pitying, and frequently hilarious.

Today's review comes to us from Tom McHenry, and it's of one of 2017's more inventive works, Sophia Foster-Dimino's Sex Fantasy.

Foster-Dimino excels at taking the fantastic and anchoring it to earth with well chosen details and physical stuff. Too much whimsy and nothing connects, but too much reality and nothing delights. With the right mix, though, the emotional stakes of every mode get raised for the reader: the comic, the tragic, the erotic.

The past week saw a flurry of action involving DC Comics, sexual harassment and online activism. As covered by comics websites like Bleeding Cool & The Beat, the general story followed what is now becoming standard operating procedure: a victim's public proclamation of harm, support from major industry figures boosting the story's profile, websites & social media users deducing and publicly declaring the name of the alleged predator, and then the firing of the individual. It took less than a week for this situation to reach that conclusion. One would hope that kind of pace will eventually find its way towards curtailing the abuses described in the first place.