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Stupidity Fuels My Work

Today on the site, Annie Mok interviews cartoonist Yumi Sakugawa, much of whose work deals with self-help, a genre that I've always been somewhat allergic to, but is obviously important to many people, and also one that seems to be growing rapidly within the comics medium.

I had a comic essay that I never finished that was supposed to go into the book [Fashion Forecasts] that explores my own intuitive process for choosing the right outfit. I see the daily choice of choosing your outfit as a mindful creative practice in honoring your own intuition and feelings and desires of that particular moment in time. I am looking for the right combination of colors, patterns, shapes, and textures intersecting with external factors (the weather, the season, the particular occasion the outfit is for, etc.) that creates a resonant "yes" in my heart--and sometimes it is a matter of the right lipstick shade or the right accessory that is the difference between a good outfit and a transcendent outfit. I don't necessarily always go out of my way to do this-- because I work from home, I oftentimes default to my daily uniform of tank top, loose pants, and a denim jacket--but some days and events or my own simple desire to put in the extra effort on a particular day call for calling in intuitive magic to summon the perfect outfit. It can be very personal and even spiritual-- to consciously choose the avatar you wish to present to the rest of the world. And because you begin to recognize the resonant "yes" in your heart when you wear the right outfit that gives you that feeling of wearing powerful energetic armor, then you begin to recognize that same resonant "yes" feeling in other aspects of your life--how you decorate your living space, how you create your artwork, who you spend time with you, how you spend your time, the experiences and activities and stories that really speak to your heart. And then all these little micro-moment decisions of resonance add up to you practicing powerful agency in how you wish to manifest your life, on your own terms, speaking to your own personal and sacred desires.

Tegan O'Neil is here with a review of another prominent genre of comics I'm usually allergic to, themed anthologies, this one Iron Circus's sci-fi collection, FTL, Y'ALL: Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive.

One of the volume’s immediate pleasures is seeing how different artists respond to the visual challenge of designing the Enterprise on a Walking Dead budget. CB Webb literally has a kid climb into a clothes dryer and blast off, cramped accommodations to be sure but one that neatly illustrates the book’s premise. A refitted subway car with a glass biodome stuck to its ass (courtesy of Nathanial Wilson) is probably my favorite. If given the opportunity a lot of people in 2018 probably would take the certain shot of dying somewhere other than Earth, even jammed into a home appliance, to the certainty of living on a pretty shitty Earth (cf. the whole “It’s a weird time in the history of the republic” thing).

It’s that context that gives the best stories in FTL, Y’ALL their bite. These are about escape as much as exploration. The stories here aren’t set in any kind of shared universe, so some of the stories are set against grimmer backgrounds than others. Mulele Jarvis’ “Cabbage Island” is a good example: the woman who builds a tiny ship to Alpha Centauri is racing to stay one step ahead of both a fascist police state and ecological devastation. “Things could get better,” someone says, to which our heroine replies, “No, they won’t.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At the New Yorker, Joan Acocella writes about the work of Edward Gorey.

The book artist Edward Gorey, when asked about his tastes in literature, would sometimes mention his mixed feelings about Thomas Mann: “I dutifully read ‘The Magic Mountain’ and felt as if I had t.b. for a year afterward.” As for Henry James: “Those endless sentences. I always pick up Henry James and I think, Oooh! This is wonderful! And then I will hear a little sound. And it’s the plug being pulled. . . . And the whole thing is going down the drain like the bathwater.” Why? Because, Gorey said, James (like Mann) explained too much: “I’m beginning to feel that if you create something, you’re killing a lot of other things. And the way I write, since I do leave out most of the connections, and very little is pinned down, I feel that I am doing a minimum of damage to other possibilities that might arise in a reader’s mind.” He thought that he might have adopted this way of working from Chinese and Japanese art, to which he was devoted, and which are famous for acts of brevity. Many Gorey books are little more than thirty pages long: a series of illustrations, one per page, accompanied, at the lower margin or on the facing page, by maybe two or three lines of text, sometimes verse, sometimes prose.

At the New York Times, Ed Park reviews Jason Lutes's Berlin and Olivier Schrauwen's Parallel Lives.

The dirty secret about graphic novels is how fast they read; it’s rare for one to require more than a day or two to finish. (“I hated the lifetime of pain and struggle it took to create a thing that anyone could read in an hour,” sighs the cartoonist in Matthew Klam’s novel “Who Is Rich?”) Strange as it sounds, one of the virtues of “Berlin” is how it resists completion. It took me weeks to get through, at times backtracking in order to clarify who was who, always returning at last to a greater appreciation of Lutes’s vision and humanity. In the last pages, the book pitches suddenly, violently forward through time, as though to meet us — an ending so electrifying that I gasped.

Among many other authors invited by the Guardian, Chris Ware names his favorite books of the year, which includes Slum Wolf and two others:

In Slum Wolf (New York Review Comics), translator Ryan Holmberg, one of the world’s finest comics writers, smoothes out the folds and expertly sets the historical scene so that readers (and graphic novelists like me) find they still have a whole lot to learn.

The Paris Review excerpts a piece by Matt Madden on Edmond Baoudoin.

[Baoudoin] came to cartooning relatively late in life—his first album (as the French call their bound comic books) wasn’t published until he was forty years old, in the early eighties. From his earliest works, Baudoin focused on autobiography, making him one of the first French cartoonists to explore this genre, which has gone on to become one of the most prominent features of European literary comics. At the same time, his art—already confident, with an inky expressionist manner reminiscent of his contemporaries Jacques Tardi and José Antonio Muñoz—evolved quickly into a daringly loose, calligraphic brush style that has made him one of the most respected and recognizable cartoonists in Europe.

—Interviews & Profiles. Also at the New Yorker, Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes talk to Ronald Wimberley about LAAB.

I’m interested in Cedric J. Robinson’s idea of “racial capitalism,” looking at oppression not necessarily just pertaining to skin color but also through economic exploitation and the different strata in our society. It made me think, what is race but a narrative? It’s a narrative that comes together in various ways from different places … particularly how it relates to skin color. I’m interested in it because of how I feel. I have a visceral reaction, particularly in this moment, to the stories and the aesthetics that are really shaking our democracy to its foundation. Look at Trump—he’s literally just an aesthetic. He connects to people’s ideas and stories of who they are, how they view their own stories. That’s what Walter Benjamin and Brecht were talking about. Trump offers them a complete distraction from the reality of their life.

On CBS News, Garry Trudeau is interviewed by his wife Jane Pauley.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Summer Pierre.

—Misc. In anticipation of a retrospective series of Mario Ruspoli's work at the Metrograph in New York, Le CiNéMa Club is hosting a short documentary Ruspoli made about the French cartoonist (and secret filmmaker) Chaval. It will only be online until Thursday, so watch it soon if you're interested in mid-century French cartooning or film.

 

The Cloven Field

Welcome to December, Comics Journal reader. We're starting things off with a new column about Old Stuff. It's Marc Sobel, and he's named it "The Strip Mine".

Bold Adventure was a short-lived anthology from Pacific Comics published in 1983. The issue’s main feature is “Time Force,” a nearly incomprehensible cosmic superhero story written by Bill DuBay with art by Rudy Nebres. It’s a Starlin-esque space opera[ii] about a mad god who tries to gain some power spheres to conquer the universe (where have I heard that before?). It’s a needlessly dense piece with the same stiff language that DuBay hacked out for years in Warren’s 1984/1994. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this story was intended for 1994 since that series was cancelled after its 29th issue in February of ‘83.

Nebres’ art is solid, as always, but it makes a huge leap forward from the first to the second issue. His linework in #2 is much slicker and more polished. GCD lists him as the only artist on both chapters, but I suspect there was an uncredited inker on the first issue while Nebres inked himself in the second. Who knows?

But forget “Time Force.” The backup features are the real draw. In both issues there’s an outstanding tale called “The Weirdling” with art by Trevor Von Eeden and inked, on the second part only, by David Lloyd, an unlikely battery but one that works exceptionally well. This was around the time that Lloyd was working on V for Vendetta and his style is similar here, but it’s Von Eeden’s pencils that really make this story shine.  

Today's review comes to us from Sarah Horrocks, and it's of Paul John Milne's Grave Horticulture--a real neat meatsack of comics that seems designed to boil the skin off your bones.

Milne can handle the pace of this kind of storytelling because he has those old school character designer chops that allow you to shorthand visually who someone is, what they stand for, and what their abilities might be--a talent that has faded out of the superhero genre under the weight of the contemporary predilection for toiling with childhood fanfiction in the big corporate IP graveyards. Milne is an artist who can effortlessly land a fiery car engine on the neck of a musclebound maniac and you immediately understand what that’s all about. And unlike most writers today, he can give an origin story for a character in two pages or less.

Last week on Twitter, the cartoonist Evan Dorkin pulled back the curtain a bit on the state of his career, the lack of progress on his popular Beasts of Burden series, and his concerns about the future. As you'd expect from that kind of delivery, it's a tough read. Bleeding Cool rounded it up.

Comics are free and available. Over at Popula, Trevor Alixopulos is mistaken if he thinks we can all identify with him (the problem is the solution: clean the chair) while Siobhán Gallagher gets specific about physical therapy. Over at The Believer, they've got a three-fer up for you--one on making it through, one on baking, one on being pissed off.

The latest episode of The Organist features Seth, Chris Reynolds, Ed Park and more, all in service of a conversation about The New World, which saw re-issue earlier this year thanks to the New York Review Comics.

 

To Be Cont.

Today on the site, Alec Berry files an update on the ongoing Cody Pickrodt lawsuit, which now involves a counterclaim filed by Whit Taylor.

Cartoonist Whit Taylor, one of the 11 defendants named in a defamation lawsuit brought by small-press publisher Cody Pickrodt, has filed an answer and counterclaim, making an allegation in civil court that the plaintiff raped her in New York City in December 2013.

Her response, submitted on Nov. 5, 2018 in Nassau County, NY, arrived with answers from cartoonists Hazel Newlevant and Morgan Pielli, who each assert more than 30 affirmative defenses. Eight other defendants offered a motion for dismissal, which questioned the court’s jurisdiction due to their residencies in other states, their lack of business within New York and their having been in other states when the allegedly defamatory statements were made. However, this motion has been withdrawn.

Defense attorney Aurore DeCarlo of C.A. Goldberg, who represents all 11 defendants, submitted the stipulation to withdraw on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 after Pickrodt’s attorney, Joe Carbonaro of Carbonaro Law, amended his client’s complaint to address the defense’s Nov. 5th filings. DeCarlo described the action as a formality. The motion to dismiss had addressed the contents of the original complaint. A new motion must now be filed to meet the amended version.

The deadline to file a new motion is Jan. 4, 2019, according to the stipulation.

We also have a review of the new Sunday Press collection of E.C. Segar's prep-Popeye Thimble Theatre strips, written by Frank Young.

Christmas came early with the welcome arrival of this new tome from Peter Maresca’s Sunday Press, an important and joyous addition to the comics canon. One of comics’ greatest storytellers, Elzie Crisler Segar created a thoroughly American icon with the addition of the Spooneristic, squinty Popeye the Sailor. Popeye’s 1929 entrance in the daily Thimble Theatre marked a literal sea change in a decade-old strip.

In its first tenyears, Segar’s strip focused on the risible relationship of Ham Gravy, his sweetie Olive Oyl, and her brother Castor. He mined sublime comedy from this trio, but Popeye gave the strip star quality. His quirky can-do mindset was manna for Depression-era America. When the Fleischer brothers’ animated studio began Popeye cartoons in 1933, the mumbly tar overtook Mickey Mouse as the nation’s top cartoon character.

Because most of these pre-Popeye strips haven’t been reprinted, only those with access to the chipping, crumbly original newspaper pages or the courage to squint at microfilm are familiar with much of this work. This 13” x 17” hardcover restores to public circulation an unsung epic of 20th-century cartooning. For two years, Segar took Castor Oyl (and, later, Ham Gravy) out West, in a rowdy, atmospheric narrative that, like its desert landscape, is full of peaks and valleys. Segar wasn’t alone in achieving these mega-stories. Rube Goldberg did a similarly long sequence in his contemporary Sunday strip Boob McNutt—another marathon episode that deserves reprinting.

This sequence marks Segar’s rise as a master fabulist. As Paul Tumey notes in his informative introduction (one of three top-flight pieces in this book), Segar entered comics as a lesser light, and had the good fortune to develop his populist art on the clock. From its inception in January 1925, six years after the daily strip’s debut, the Sunday Thimble Theatre was a down-to-earth, rough-edged physical comedy, shot through with its creator’s school-of-hard-knocks philosophy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Lion Forge, which has repeatedly made waves with prominent hires and deep pockets, is restructuring, and confirmed to Publishers Weekly that it has laid off twelve employees.

In an interview with PW in September, Lion Forge founder David Steward II said the house had about 60 employees and planned to publish about 130 titles this year.

In a prepared statement, the company said, “We are restructuring from the top down, and across departments to ensure that our organization’s size and structure remains in line with our sales, as well as providing support for future increase in title output."

Former New Yorker editor and founder of the Cartoon Bank Bob Mankoff has launched a similar new site, CartoonCollections.com. It is being billed as "a way to spotlight and monetize thousands of works published in the New Yorker, Esquire, National Lampoon, Playboy and Barrons."

Cartoon Collections will also curate from the half-million works from the library of the recently acquired CartoonStock.com.

Mankoff says he is drawing upon years of hard-won lessons to try to create a destination site as part of a larger licensing business.

“The market for cartoons is large but widespread and dispersed,” Mankoff tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “It needs a central place where anyone who needs one for any purpose can find what they need.

“Cartoon Collections will be that place,” he adds, “as it aggregates cartoons as Getty or Corbis aggregates photos.”

—Reviews & Commentary. Apollo Magazine has an appreciation of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, to coincide with a London exhibition of art inspired by it, which is also discussed.

In a Peanuts strip from March 1962, Charlie Brown and Linus discuss the nature of criticism. Linus was the strip’s intellectual: a gentle, fragile child, the stripes on whose T-shirt were almost as wispy as the hairs on his head, and whose security blanket D.W. Winnicott wanted to use as an example of the transitional object. The two boys are leaning on a wall, as they often do when waxing philosophical. ‘Of course I realize there will always be criticism,’ Linus concedes. Television in particular and even ‘higher arts’ such as theatre can come in for a rough press. ‘The most recent criticism is that there is too little action and far too much talking in the modern day comic strip. What do you think about this?’ ‘Ridiculous,’ replies Charlie Brown.

Mark Dery's biography of Edward Gorey continues to attract review attention, including new pieces at the New York Times and the New Republic.

One of the virtues of Dery’s book is its reminder that Gorey’s art was far more subtle, diverse, formally inventive, and just plain weird than his reputation for sinister whimsy suggests. In the 100-odd books that he published during his lifetime—books with three-word titles like The Fatal Lozenge, The Pious Infant, The Blue Aspic, The Disrespectful Summons—he experimented promiscuously with format. He crafted abecedaries (alphabet books), postcard sets, pop-up books, “slice books” (in which the reader can mix and match portions of an image to create new ones), and even a variant of the choose-your-own-adventure story (from 1987’s utterly confounding The Raging Tide: “Hooglyboo crammed Figbash inside a vase. If this strikes you as clever, turn to 11. If all this seems too terrible to contemplate, turn to 29.”)

—Interviews & Profiles. GoComics.com talks to Tom the Dancing Bug creator Ruben Bolling.

GoComics: When did you develop an interest in politics? When did you decide you wanted to be a political cartoonist?

I still haven’t decided to be a political cartoonist! Since the rise of Trump, I feel like I’ve been temporarily conscripted into service. Tom the Dancing Bug began as an apolitical comic strip, and I was fairly uninterested in politics when I started it. At some point, I realized that politics is another subject I can use to come up with my weekly idea — one more thing I can try to be funny about each week. As I introduced more and more politics in the strip, I got more attention, and I started to get more personally interested and invested. It’s reached a fever pitch right now, but I still hold out hope that someday soon the comic will start to reach a different equilibrium.

 

Surf’s Up Pal

Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to share Patrick Dunn's in depth conversation with Ellen Forney about Rock Steady, her self-help (non)graphic novel manual for those living with mental illness.

My personal stories and my personal point of view, that’s coming directly from me. But I did a ton of research that’s available to anyone, really. It’s just really dry. You’d have to do a lot of work. Like, who wants to read those studies? I was a psychology major, so I find it really fascinating, I love that kind of thing. But it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to appeal to the general public, or people who read for pleasure, or for that matter have a mood disorder and are in an emotionally stimulated state. It’s hard to focus when you’re manic, it’s hard to focus when you’re depressed, it’s hard to focus when you’re anxious.

One of the things that is a strength of comics is that words and pictures engage your brain in a different way – I would say maybe in a more thorough way. I’ve heard from people who were bipolar who said that Marbles – and Rock Steady, for that matter – is the first book that they’ve read cover to cover in years. And I think it’s because of the power of comics. It’s specifically a self-help manual for when you’re feeling emotionally rocked. You’re not in balance and you need to soothe yourself or figure out what to use. Then you can go to a comic, or go to a self-help manual that’s in words and pictures. You can understand the information better.

Our review of the day is from Tegan O'Neil, and it's all about Winsor McCay...after a fashion. Out of all the non-Garth Ennis comics released this year, there's no better example of Jeet Heer clickbait than this McCay, from Titan Comics.

Winsor McCay as he appears in Smolderen and Bramanti’s account appears almost to be sleepwalking through the narrative of his own life. The most consequential thing that McCay does is draw, after all, and that takes up most of his time (which, to be fair, it does for most cartoonists). But as with his real life, the slightly fictionalized McCay we meet here also meets the likes Houdini, William Randolph Hearst, and George Herriman. Honestly, the narrative through-line is a bit difficult to follow without already knowing the contours of McCay’s career, so if you don’t remember which years he worked for which tabloid you will probably need a refresher.

But that points back to the weaknesses of the present volume, which can probably best be summed up by referring back to the book’s significant ambitions. McCay wants very badly to be a worthy tribute to one of the great cartoonists, one of the very founders of the modern art form. However it is also built around a plotline where Winsor McCay learns how to harness his psychic powers and travel in and out of the fourth dimension, AKA the dimension of dreams. In order to solve a crime involving ghost anarchists. Whether or not you appreciate that kind of fantastic insertion will indicate whether or not you finish the book or throw it across the room in disgust, but it is pervasive.

Over at AV Club, the list season has begun--and the AV Club is one of the first out of the box, and they're going hard. There's some good write ups to be found here, friendo. 

 

Fire Drill

Today on the site, Alex Dueben interviews David Small about Home After Dark, his recent followup to the very popular Stitches.

It started with my friend Mike telling me stories about his youth. Mike is my same age, so we both experienced the culture and the styles of the 1950s, but from different parts of the country, he from then-rural Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and I from industrial Detroit. 

One morning, over coffee, Mike began reminiscing, in particular about one bucolic summer he spent with two buddies, all of them free of parental influence. They built a tree fort in the woods and, there, did guy things, smoking their first cigarettes, getting drunk, playing games in a junk-filled gully and hanging around the local soda joint watching the older teens, to see what lay in their future. To me all of this had a kind of legendary Huck Finn, quintessentially-masculine quality. I wanted to have been that kind of boy having those kinds of experiences, with that kind of freedom. So, I listened with a kind of hazy, inattentive envy until a little psychopath came into the story. At that point I sat up, paid closer attention, and taking notes. Because, I mean, who isn’t interested in psychopaths?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Abraham Riesman interviews Nancy's "Olivia Jaimes."

About how long had you been putting comics online by the time you started doing “Nancy”?
I’ve been making comics in one form or another for so long. Ten years. Because, basically, as soon as I got on the internet, I just started putting things online. I mean, it might be like one thing a year. Not regularly, but for that long.

At what point in that ten years did it start to become an obsession where you started doing it pretty regularly?
I don’t know, maybe never. I mean, doing “Nancy” is the most regular I’ve ever been with comics.

That’s a big step up, if you’re all of a sudden doing a daily strip. How did you get from not doing “Nancy” to doing “Nancy”?
[Editor] Shena [Wolf] called me and was like, “Do you want to try out for ‘Nancy’?” And I was like, “Hahahaha, no way.” Not that I wouldn’t want it — it just seemed fake. And then I’m drawing the comics to submit for the test to be like, “Here’s a couple weeks.” And as I’m doing it, I’m like, “Hahahaha, no way, no way.” In a very Nancy move, it wasn’t like I was like, “No way they would pick me.” I was just like, “Obviously they would pick me, if they have any taste at all, because these jokes are so great.” But it didn’t really even feel real as I was signing the contract. I was like, “Hahaha, what a funny joke this is.” But, yeah, it worked out pretty good, and they’ve been really quite good in easing me into it, and giving me feedback, and having me go from not being a regular comic-maker to being “make one every day.”

The New York Times has an interview with Roz Chast, who has a new retrospective up in Manhattan.

The show includes some of the first cartoons you published, in a gay men’s magazine called Christopher Street, in 1977, right after you graduated from art school. How did you start publishing there?

When I got out of RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], I never thought I’d be able to make a living as a cartoonist. I didn’t really know where I would fit in: What I did wasn’t really underground, and it wasn’t really New Yorker-like either. I was living with my parents in Brooklyn, and I would take around a portfolio of illustrations. I got a bit of work, but I just thought, ‘God, I hate this.’ I didn’t want to be an illustrator. It’s going to sound so corny, but I was looking for some kind of sign. And then one day I found a copy of Christopher Street on the subway. I saw they used cartoons, so I called them up, and started selling them cartoons, for 10 bucks each.

The aforementioned Alex Dueben speaks to Ali Fitzgerald about her recent book, Drawn to Berlin.

A historical perspective is definitely necessary for understanding the complex political underpinnings of most countries, Germany included. For example, the rise of nativism in Germany is strongest in former G.D.R. areas, where the educational perspective on World War Two was not one of acknowledgement and atonement – students there were taught that the nazis were “other” while West German students used the word “we” when speaking about the atrocities of the Holocaust.

The fact of the matter is that Germany (and Berlin in particular) has always been a site of migration – and I use the journalism of Joseph Roth from the 1920’s to explore this in the book. A greater understanding of transience as cyclical allows us to have greater empathy for those fleeing war now.

The Jewish Ledger profiles Liana Finck.

Her latest book, Passing for Human, is more personal, a “graphic memoir” in which she focuses on the experiences of the women in her family. In the whimsical yet serious memoir, each woman is born with a shadow that guides her life. But as they age they eventually lose the shadow. The book, published in September, features a main character, Leola, who looks for her own shadow and the shadows of her female relatives.

“It’s half about me and half about my mom, and the thing we have in common is that we are women and we are artists, so that’s what it’s about,” she says.

The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Leif Goldberg, and the most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Liz Prince.

—RIP. The creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Hillenburg, died this week at the age of 57.

 

Isle of the Cheetah

Today at The Comics Journal, we're taking a look at Nick Thorburn's Penguins, thanks to Nate Patrin. It's a doozy!

That might be part of why Penguins, the graphic novel debut by singer/musician Nick Thorburn (Islands; The Unicorns), initially seems to operate from a basis of familiar shorthand. During a brief phone conversation with Thorburn, I picked up on the notion that his artistic influences and technique share a common lexicon with the last few decades' worth of indie and alt comics. There's the usual suspects in Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Joe Matt, and so forth, paralleling a teen-years interest in making DIY Xerox zines and following a childhood interest in the gag-driven simplicity of Archie comics. That's fairly unsurprising, given what emerges in Penguins -- a blend of juvenilia and melancholy that's grown into a default setting for a significant cohort that grew up in the same context.

To dig further down into what that common experience actually translates to on the page, then, takes more than just an interrogation of influences and comparisons. And if Penguins proves anything, it's that Thorburn has taken well to the narrative potential and visual simplicity of a mute, almost-faceless character going through physical mayhem in ways alternately (or concurrently) amusing and despairing. "I wanted to be as low-res as possible," Thorburn explained, "and have these characters that weren't quite human, weren't quite penguin, had no facial expressions, didn't speak… to me, having it be flattened like that made it all the more cruel." The old Mel Brooks line about the difference between tragedy ("when I cut my finger") and comedy ("when you fall into an open sewer and die") is blurred when the characters all look largely identical and it's unclear, save your own perspective and whatever mood strikes you at the moment, whether you're supposed to empathize with them or laugh at their misery.

Our review of the day comes from Ryan Carey, and it's of Becca Tobin's Understanding, which recently made its way into the world thanks to the Retrofit crew.

The relentless pursuit of diversion and distraction undertaken by Tobin’s protagonists can be an exhausting thing to witness, but it’s certainly never dull, narratively or visually : largely-borderless panels coalesce into intriguing page layouts that are never less than equal parts absolutely inventive yet intuitively easy to follow, while the characters themselves morph into unusual shapes and formations that are somehow consistently recognizable as being the same individuals that they were before. By and large they’re not doing anything you wouldn’t see in, say, your average Cathy strip, but Tobin (thankfully) disposes of that comic’s garden-variety neurosis and replaces it with explosions of vibrant color (okay, fair enough, except in the two-tone strips, but those are still quite effective in their own right) that reflect the deliberately, one could even argue aggressively, unconcerned outlook of the denizens of planet blob. Think of it, then, as Cathy with the consumerism dialed up to 11, then fed a couple hits of purple microdot.

Over at Popula, Lauren Weinstein's dropped her latest Normel Person. On Facebook, Mardou got into her home life.

Over at Talkhouse, Mudhoney's Mark Arm talks about the many side gigs he's taken on over the years, including a stint at Fantagraphics.

Over at Diamond, Craig Thompson's upcoming serialized comic series, Ginseng Roots, was discussed

 

Tummy Ache

Welcome back to the funny pages. This morning, R.C. Harvey returns with a look at the life and work of early comics master Art Young.

ABOUT THE SAME TIME as his marriage was dissolving, Young's political views were taking their final shape. In 1902, Young had returned to Wisconsin briefly to lend his pen to Robert La Follette's Progressive (Republican) campaign to be re-elected governor. But by 1905, Young had rejected the Republican politics of his heritage— including "all bourgeois institutions." And he had resolved never again to draw a cartoon whose ideas he didn't believe in.

Not all of Young’s cartoons were “political cartoons” in the current sense. He also drew cartoons that were simply humorous. And even his political cartoons were seldom of the modern sort, skewering politicians by name. Not at first. Instead, Young sent out barbed shafts aimed at general targets: bloated businessmen who ignored the plight of their workers. And it was for these that he declared his independence from any imposed point of view.

“I would no longer draw cartoons which illustrated somebody else’s will,” he wrote. “Henceforth it would be my own way of looking at things—right or wrong. I would figure things out for myself. If success came, well and good; but to win at the price of my freedom of thought—that kind of success was not for me. Though I perceived that much of life was compromise, in dealing with world affairs or with my own, I would have to sink or swim holding on to my own beliefs on questions of vital importance.”

In 1906, he graduated from Cooper Union where he had been taking courses in debate and public speaking. And in 1910, he realized that he belonged with the socialists "in their fight to destroy capitalism."

“Speakers for the Social Democratic party provided me with much food for thought,” Young wrote. “They attacked the whole capitalistic system, showed how its different units combined to exploit the producing masses to the nth degree, and how the press distorted or suppressed news to protect this system, of which it was a part.

“Listening to lectures on the class struggle (after I discovered that such a struggle had been going on for ages), I found that I had a great deal in common with the everyday workers. ... I was living in a world morally and spiritually diseased, and I was learning some of the reasons why.”

Matt Seneca is back, too, with a review of Shintaro Kago's Dementia 21.

For a mangaka whose work has just begun edging into official English translation, Shintaro Kago is in the rare and enviable position of needing little introduction. If you're reading about comics on the internet (you are), you've probably seen his art somewhere - that Flying Lotus album, old issues of Vice, random can't-unsee-it images on tumblr, or any one of numerous scanlations. It's actually somewhat surprising that Kago books haven't had a longtime presence in the comic stores of the West. I don't know that guro manga has a particularly large fandom here numbers wise, but it's certainly got a passionate one, and after Junji Ito and maybe Hideshi Hino, Kago is one of the idiom's biggest names. At its best (and especially when it's in color), his imagery transcends simple grossness for the truly uncanny, opening page- or screen-sized portals into a world that's impossible to get your head all the way around.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Gasoline Alley. This weekend saw the 100th anniversary of Gasoline Alley, which, at least in the original incarnation drawn and written by Frank King, is one of a small handful of works that could plausibly be held up as the greatest comic strip ever created. We've covered it many times in the Comics Journal, and today's a good day to look back at a few highlights, including R.C. Harvey's history of the strip's early years, a conversation with Jeet Heer about the recent Drawn & Quarterly reprint series, and Frank M. Young's review of a recent Sunday Press collection of Frank King work.

—News.
Abrams Books has cancelled a forthcoming book by Jack Gantos and Dave McKean called A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, after widespread criticism online.

The graphic novel, written by the Newbery medal-winning author Jack Gantos and illustrated by Sandman artist Dave McKean, follows a young, brown-skinned would-be terrorist. It was due to be released in May 2019.

“When a young boy enters a library wearing an explosive vest hidden underneath his lovely new red jacket, he has only one plan on his mind. But as he observes those around him becoming captivated by the books they are reading, the boy can’t help but question his reason for being there,” reads a description from its publisher, Abrams.

Comics publisher Zainab Akhtar described the comic on Twitter last week as dealing with “an illiterate brown Muslim boy who goes into a library with a suicide bomb only to start having second thoughts because people seem so into the world of books and if only he could read”.

“Because reading will help the ignorant brown Muslim boy question/renounce his beliefs, you see, in addition to being some vague kumbaya about how a specific interpretation of culture will save the barbarian,” she wrote.

—Interviews. On last week's episode of Behind the News, Doug Henwood interviewed Mark Dery about his new biography of Edward Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous. The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Tom Tomorrow.

—RIP. Nicolas Roeg

Bernardo Bertolucci

Ricky Jay

 

Grave Grove

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got our latest installment in Retail Therapy: and we're close to home on this one, with Larry Reid from the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery!

What do you wish more publishers knew about comics retail?

I don’t order through the customary “direct market” distribution channels.  I always thought that model was unsustainable – even when I worked as Marketing and Promotions Director for Fantagraphics in the early to mid-90s. There were about a half-dozen direct market distributors then; now there’s only one, so I suppose that assessment was correct. I have a great deal of respect for retailers that can work within that complex system. I’m reminded of the perils whenever I visit mainstream comics shops and find hundreds, if not thousands, of comic books in the discount bins.

In keeping with the theme, our review of the day is of Bastard, the latest book from the prolific Max de Radigues. J. Caleb Mozzocco has the score:

It’s an admirable level of restraint on the artist’s part, making literature out of what could so easily be a generic genre story, partially by choosing what to show and what not to, even if what doesn’t get shown also tends to be the stuff that would likely have been the most fun to draw.

Instead, we watch the pair live their lives on the road, surviving off fast food and diners, scamming the cops and authorities, fighting off rivals and accepting help only when desperate, sometimes from a friend who turns out to be an enemy, sometimes from a stranger who turns out to be a kindly ally. While it would be wrong to call this a coming of age story for Eugene, it does chronicle a sort of end of childhood, as the idyllic but tenuous life he shares with his mom starts to come to  a close, and a new chapter for them both begins.

Over at Vent Scene, they're digging into Josh Pettinger's Goiter and getting pretty aggro about auteur theory.

Over at Bleeding Cool, they've got the latest on another comics related lawsuit, which involves a bar that made a comic book about mixology, which is one of those words completely identified with an unlikeable subculture that, in a twist of fate that never fails to impress, is completely unaware of how unlikeable its members are and would be incredulous to discover that the world rolls its eyes every time they open their mouths to talk about bringing back mint juleps, or whatever.

Over at Comicosity, Mark Peters put together a Jack Kirby post about big drawings just because it made him feel better. I can totally rep for that.

The US holiday of eating and buying shit begins tomorrow: your Comics Journal returns on Monday!