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Pacific Ocean

Today on the site, Michael Dean has our obituary for Supernatural Law creator Batton Lash.

Wolff & Byrd creator Batton Lash died Saturday at the age of 65 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. Though he was never a star of the comics mainstream, the announcement drew a surge of web posts from fans and independent comics creators who knew Lash as a friendly and supportive presence at comics conventions.

Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Lash attended New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he studied under comics legends Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. After graduation, he did illustrations for such publications as Garbage magazine and the book Rock ‘n’ Roll Confidential and worked as an assistant for comics artist Howard Chaykin. Invited in 1979 to contribute to newly launched newsweekly Brooklyn Papers, Lash noted that the area where the broadsheet was distributed included a concentration of courts and law offices: a prime audience for a humorous strip about the law. His Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre followed the case files of Alana Wolff and Jeff Byrd, whose legal practice specialized in supernatural and super-powered clients. Both gothic and cartoonish, Lash’s art reflected the influence of his mentors by combining realistic detail with expressive caricature. The strip ran in Brooklyn Papers until 1996 and, in 1983, was picked up by the National Law Review, where it continued until 1997.

Edwin Turner is here, too, with a review of Paul Kirchner's Hieronymus & Bosch.

Paul Kirchner's Hieronymus & Bosch collects over eighty comic strips that riff on the afterlife of a "shameless ne'er-do-well named Hieronymus" and his faithful wooden toy duck, Bosch. The hapless pair are trapped in Hell, the primary setting for most of the strips (although we do get a bit of heaven and earth thrown in here and there). Kirchner's Hell is a paradise of goofy gags. The one-pagers in Hieronymus & Bosch cackle with burlesque energy, propelled by a simple plot: our hero Hieronymus tries to escape, fails, and tries again.

And what sins have damned poor Hieronymus to Hell? When we first meet the cloaked miscreant he's passed out, drooling all over an altar, clearly having enjoyed too much communion wine. An annoyed bishop prods him awake and kicks him from the church doors and into the village, where he proceeds to sin his ass off. Kirchner's Hieronymus doesn't quite fit all of the seven deadly sins in this morning (those same sins that the historical Hieronymus Bosch captured so well in his famous table), but he comes pretty damn close. Notably, he steals his comrade Bosch--a toy duck--from some poor kid. The wages of sin are death though, and poor Hieronymus, in a fit of wacky wrath, slips in some shit, falls on his toy duck, and careens into death.

Bad news: He's in Hell, where hope is strictly prohibited.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Maria Bustillos reconsiders what is possibly Saul Steinberg's most famous images (and interviews David Remnick about it).

I was looking into this drawing because it had dawned on me recently that I’d never quite understood the joke. Was it “Oh New Yorkers! they think they’re the center of the world!”?? Or was it, “Well, it’s funny that they think that but also they are, right? ha-ha!” I saw in it a poking fun at the paradox, the small-mindedness of “cosmopolitanism.” Maybe, the artist’s little joke against himself.

Was I ever wrong! Not one person whom I’ve asked about this drawing understood what Steinberg meant by it, even though the answer is written plain as day in the weird and excellent 2012 biography by Deirdre Bair—and still more clearly in the image itself, once you know how to look. It turns out the answer matters, too; it matters a lot.

Brian Nicholson looks at Alack Sinner.

In the story “Life Ain’t A Comic Book, Kid,” two comic creators, Muñoz and Sampayo have discovered that there’s a real detective who shares a name with their fictional detective character, so they visit New York to meet him. It’s for comic relief, mostly, but crime fiction doesn’t really traffic in this level of fourth-wall breaking. There are arcs of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal and Rich Tommaso’s Dry County that work the job of a cartoonist into a crime plot, but that’s those works being beholden to the tenets of realism, and using autobiographical lived experience for verisimilitude, which isn’t the goal here. Instead, it creates a space for the cartoonists to say, explicitly, to their main character: “Yeah, you’re an honest man and you don’t kill people, but you’re still an American, and so complicit in a system that exploits the rest of the world, so we are not cool.”

Dana Forsythe revisits the well-trod but always worth revisiting story of Love & Rockets.

Groundbreaking, epic, and heartfelt, the quintessential indie comic Love and Rockets is as relevant today as it was when Mario, Gilbert (aka Beto), and Jaime Hernandez self-published the first issue in 1981. A blend of sci-fi, telenovela, superhero tales, comics, jokes, and short stories, the magazine was worlds away from anything anyone, especially Marvel or DC, was publishing during those days.

Not only did Love and Rockets usher in a new age of independent comic books, but it also broke ground with stories featuring marginalized voices and characters from the LGBTQ and Latinx community. By the time DC and Marvel had introduced Latinx characters like Sunspot, Firebird, and Bushmaster in the early '80s, Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo, Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass and the fiery Luba were living out real lives in the fictional towns of Hoppers and Palomar in Love and Rockets.

—Crowdfunding. Carol Tyler has launched a Patreon.

 

Blood on the Tarmac

It's Friday, and we're pleased to be sharing the final day of Ellen Lindner's Cartoonist Diary. In today's installment, she fucks with her hair. When you're young, this is something you do because you claim you're trying to express yourself, but it's actually an attempt to discover yourself via a means of expression. When you do this during adulthood, then it becomes more of a means of enjoyment and pleasure. I just made all that up, but I bet it's true for somebody! Ellen is a pal from a ways back, and I like her more than I like most people. And I like people a lot: they're my favorite!

It's also time for some more pals--hell, i'm gonna call this a Conflict of Interest Friday! Why not. It's Joe "Jog" McCulloch and Matt "Ezekiel" Seneca, taking a look at Parallel Lives. Longtime fans of TCJ will know that these two powerhouses only team up on the most important of topics, unless they're teaming up with me, in which case we talk about late period Garth Ennis comics. Get your Schrauwen on!

Yeah - Arsène Schrauwen, especially, spun comedic gold out of what we in the present inevitably see as the banality of the past… but that stuff is still banality. Even toward the end of that book, its artist seemed decidedly tired of the period drag he’d draped his story in, pivoting first into fantasy with an attack of half-human leopard men, then into a very specific quasi-futurism with the construction of a technological wonderland deep in the African jungle. The past is pork and beans, the future is whatever you want it to be. Maybe Schrauwen just didn’t want to hold back his prodigious ability to invent from whole cloth anymore! His vision of the future is basically a point-A-to-point-B extrapolation from our own present - or just the intensification of a culture shift that’s already begun, as you suggest. But powered by Schrauwen’s unique creativity, which forgoes the big sweeping visions sci-fi usually affords and focuses in instead on the ins and outs of leisure, it feels novel.

This is in part due to Schrauwen’s switching up the structure of his pages. Where his previous work mainly used a gridded structure seen in any number of comics (usually a 6- or 8-panel page layout), here he scales up to a 6x4 24-panel grid, usually broken up slightly by one or two larger keystone images. The grid will get even denser in subsequent stories. This obviously enables Schrauwen to pack more information into less pages; “Hello” and later chapters of Parallel Lives could have filled out album-format graphic novels if they’d been illustrated more expansively. But it also forces Schrauwen into a highly elliptical visual treatment of the future, with the technophilic landscapes we expect from sci-fi comics relegated to a few geometric shapes and bold colors in the backgrounds of tiny panels. Schrauwen is focusing on people, using the futuristic setting not as a character itself (as we see so often in comics), but only the push that puts the personalities he’s playing with in motion.

The narration in Arsène and “Greys”, as well as all the other comics in this volume, is absent from “Hello”, robbing it of some absurdity and giving it a cracked sitcom feel. I didn’t enjoy returning to the story as much as I thought I would: put in context among other Schrauwen works rather than Mould Map, it feels a little less distinct. Still, as the only story here to straddle our world’s past and its future, it’s an important piece in the puzzle Parallel Lives presents, acting as a pivot point for the book’s subject matter.

Did I say it was conflict of interest Friday? Big surprise: this artform has less people participating in it than my high school has who participated in breathing, while the business division lacks the numbers to fill out a bowling league. The question isn't whether or not you know the people involved, it's whether or not you check your spelling. That being said: I love Michel Fiffe, and I'm becoming deeply invested in winning Austin Price's approval. Here's your Bloodstrike Brutalists review!

 

Ready

RJ Casey is here today with an interview with a young cartoonist named Katie Fricas, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and Hyperallergic, among other places.

I was going to bring up those [Blabbermouth] comics because they seem especially like a way to excise humiliating memories.

I’m never going to do something like those comics again. I was actually reading the journals of Paul Klee and his journals are really good. They are all these short paragraph snippets that are like arbitrary memories. Have you ever read Andy Warhol’s journals?

No, I haven’t.

His journals are like what he ate and who he hung out with. They are more like lists. Paul Klee’s journals would be like him looking into his brain for memories and pulling out anything and writing it up in three sentences. At the end of the paragraph, he would put how old he was. It was like, “Went to the market with Mama. Seven years old.”

OK.

I was reading those and having some depression issues. I was trying to pull myself out, so I was just like, “Let me just do this exercise where I just think of everything I can and put an age on it.” I was going to write it in short snippets too. That’s what turned into Blabbermouth. I noticed as I was doing it that a lot of the memories were kind of sexual. Then I was starting to think of things that were related. Then the memories stopped being like random grab-bagging.

Connections were being made.

Yeah. They all connected into this TMI comic. It was like an exorcism in a way. I wanted to confess, move on, then start hitting the pavement. I’ve been making comics forever, but I’ve only been sort of an “art monster” about it for the past four years. That’s when I really started being thirsty for blood.

And, of course, Ellen Lindner is here with Day Four of her Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Colin Beineke talks to Now editor Eric Reynolds.

Given Fantagraphics’s access to the market and reputation within the field, when you select what to include in issues of Now what sort of responsibility do you feel to your readership and to new artists? In a sense, editing an anthology like Now is a gatekeeping position.

I do feel a genuine responsibility on that front. You’re trying to thread a needle of quality but also trying to provide a gateway drug for comics fans into other stuff. But you have to balance that with the type of work that you’re running. There’s a lot of work that I like but I wouldn’t necessarily run in Now: a lot of more outré, avant-garde, more transgressive, more provocative stuff that I genuinely get off on as a fan of comics, but I wouldn’t necessarily think would be the best thing to put in Now. You’re constantly, whether you want to admit it or not, balancing aesthetics and common sense and market considerations. Not just because you, as a publisher, want to make money, which is invariably true, but also because you want to be a good ambassador for the work.

Abraham Riesman talks to Nnedi Okorafor.

When Marvel asked if I wanted to write T’Challa, I hesitated, and it was because of my issues with Wakanda. I had serious issues with Wakanda. And also a lot of my comics friends were like, “You need to do this.” I was like, “Well, okay, if I have these issues with Wakanda, I can address these issues by writing it. I can expand things.” I think it was Stan Lee who created it.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby together, yeah.
How they created it and their limited ideas and understanding and knowledge of Africa, that’s really what it is. And it’s no judgment on them, but that’s really where I think its issue came from. Because having a country that is the most technological and wealthiest nation in the continent, and then have it hide itself and keep all of its technology to itself from the rest the continent of Africa, with everything around them. They’re landlocked, so that means all the countries around it were having different types of issues, and Wakanda just kinda stayed quiet with all of its technology and wealth. The excuse is, Well, if we let people know, they’ll consume us. I get that, but it’s still problematic.

 

Rather Like Fairy Land Isn’t It

It's Wednesday here at TCJ, probably means it's Wednesday wherever you are: that's how days work, most of the time. Today, we've got our last look back at 2018 before committing ourselves fully to 2019. It's a special edition of our Retail Therapy column, with a whole mess of retailers swinging by to let us know what a "Best of" means to them as readers & retailers.

It's also time for day 3 of Ellen Lindner's Cartoonist Diary. In this installment, she's getting her Instagram on.

Our review of the day is of the most recent Street Angel release, from Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca. Courtesy of Marty Brown, it continues the Journal's tradition of liking Rugg related items.

In fact, some of the most fun Rugg and Maruca have is when they’re cheekily referencing an elaborate backstory for Street Angel that never gets shown in the books. Each successive volume seems to push the boundaries of what is possible in Street Angel’s world, and vs. Ninjatech is perhaps their most delightfully bonkers hardcover to date, going deeper into the Shiraz Thunderbird Expanded Universe than we’ve seen before. Typical Street Angel encounters tend to happen at, uh, street level: she gets into a fight after school or rescues a dog or goes trick-or-treating or finds a dead body in an alley – all things that could reasonably pop up in a homeless girl’s periphery on a given day. In Ninjatech, we start to see the larger infrastructure (“the ninja industrial complex”) of the world she inhabits. It’s like Rugg and Maruca’s season 3 of The Wire.

Ramble # 3: I watched that scene at the end of Sully that's made up, the one where he makes people feel bad by being the best dad with the second best mustache (Aaron Eckhart has the best mustache), and at the end, the Breaking Bad lady apologizes to him on behalf of America for not giving him the Best Dad award earlier. Clint Eastwood made all that up, apparently. I'm in Austin, what do you want from me. I found some deal to rent a tiny shitbox car for 7 bucks a day, but they didn't have any shitboxes, and the guy behind me in line was being a real Charlie Asshole to everybody, so the dude at the counter said "lemme help you out here". His "help" turned out to be a giant red pick up truck. It's great! I keep accidentally driving over curbs because the fucking thing is huge, I love it. Great food out here, FYI. I'm no foodie--my doctor actually told me i'm in the minority of the population who has no emotional attachment to food, that I view it purely as fuel--but I can tell the difference between good and great. Great stuff here!

I'm in Austin for a show, and I got to see a whole big presentation on the history of graphic novels, but it was a history that starts in 2006, because it was a history on making lots of money in graphic novels--so you can skip past all that stuff about underground comics and zines and what not, get right to the kids stuff they're now doing million count print runs on. It was interesting in a way, seeing how much of the financial legs of this thing has been built off of basically five people (3 creators, one marketing director, whoever the buyer was at Target back in 2010), a giant entertainment conglomerate that prints comics as an afterthought to their global movie empire, and a huge, never-ending beating stream of goodwill. But it was also a reminder that progress doesn't necessarily take everybody with it, which is painful. 

Like everything else, the most exciting parts where the tinier revelations, about how the mechanics of a basic panel to panel transition becomes so useful in a classroom, or how the experience of personal expression that eludes some children falls immediately into perfect flow when comics are touched upon. It's nice, after so much time in 101, to hear a conversation getting taken past the introductory stage. It's not the conversation I had expected, but the older I get, the less my hunches are turning out to be correct--i'm starting to develop a taste for surprise. Luckily, as my doctor said: that shit is just fuel.

 

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!)