Sounds Like Fun

Busy day here today:

Rob Steibel is here with his final Kirby column for TCJ.

Jack did not need to put that much detail into a piece like this. A few very simple lines would have given his inker Vince Colletta enough to go on. So why did Kirby pack so much detail into an image like this, using thousands of pencil lines to provide shading for the illustration, especially considering he worked under such crushing deadlines cranking out an average of three entire comic books a month? I suspect that Jack Kirby was very passionate about his work. I think he was a perfectionist, and I think he enjoyed illustrating a page like this. He was finding the image throughout the illustration process, experimenting, and interestingly that quest for perfection is similar to the journey Jack talks about in his directions for Stan Lee on this page: the “trail may lead to ends of infinity – but he can only redeem himself through this assignment.” And that’s what many artists do, yes they make a living if they are lucky plying their craft, but the process of creating imagery on a blank page can be an adventure into your own imagination and a great excuse to study history and art.

And Richard Gehr reviews Roz Chast's new graphic novel.

Like much of Chast’s work, Can’t We Talk is a formal triumph that at first glance looks somewhat a mess.The New Yorker‘s most stylistically experimental cartoonist, Chast draws single-panel cartoons and multipage nonfiction narratives for the magazine in addition to creating monumental lists, typologies, calendars, archaeologies, fake publications, and real children’s books. Chast rarely makes do with a single gag. Her cartoons are often mini-multiples. From the rocky collection of “little things” (“chent,” spak,” “kabe,” etc.) that comprised her first TNY cartoon, she has been the magazine’s preeminent underpromiser/overdeliverer. She also happens to be one of the magazine’s best writers, and the book gives her the space to expand on funny, anxious, and often infuriating things that happen in her cartoons when she wants to convey the full weight of the Chast clan’s considerable neurotic karma.


The great New Yorker cartoonist Charles Barsotti has died. Richard Gehr interviewed him for this site just last year.

Cartoonist Matthew Thurber's excellent play Mining the Moon, which I saw and loved, gets a very nice review over here.

And I'm always happy to see more Blobby Boys.


Burnt Offerings

Quick, quick! Joe McCulloch is giving a guided tour of the most interesting sounding new comics in stores this week. His spotlight pick is the collection of Wally Wood's Witzend, which really is an amazing object I've been spending a lot of time with myself over the last few weeks. A fascinating historical document, with lots of great comics, too.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. SpyVibe talks to Richard Sala. Tom Spurgeon talks to Mike Dawson.

I try not to link to podcasts I have not yet had the time to listen to, but here are several that I am guessing are worth it, based on past performance: Gil Roth talks to Seth. Dan Berry talks to Jason Shiga and John Martz & Dustin Harbin.

—Reviews & Criticism. Rob Clough writes about Chris Wright's Black Lung. Susan Burton reviews the Tamakis' This One Summer as a children's book in the NY Times. Gabriele Di Fazio writes about Sam Alden. Zaina Akhtar writes about Gipi.

—Misc. SPX has announced another impressive guest list. Michael Cavna of the Washington Post won well-deserved awards from the Society for Features Journalism.


Figure That Out

Today on the site: I had a back-and-forth with Hillary Chute about her new book, Outside the Box, among other things.

I wondered if you could, for the record, restate your response to the criticism of the Chicago symposium. I think your defense is important — do you worry about canonization and exclusion? It’s a function of any event that not everyone gets invited, but are the ramifications of such groupings of concern to you?  It was, I think, the whiteness of the panel, omission of Hernandez Bros, and the idea that it was a conservative canon-making. And finally, what’s next?

About the whiteness of the conference (and it wasn’t entirely white, but largely so): I appreciated Keith Knight’s comments a lot, and I also appreciated, in the follow up, his thoughts on how diversity in the comics field is growing.  The conference website (for which all of the editorial content was written by me) states that the conference “brings together 17 world-famous cartoonists whose work has defined contemporary comics.”  That is a true statement, in my opinion, for everyone who was invited. But it doesn’t mean that I think they are the only cartoonists whose work has defined contemporary comics, by any means.  It would have been fabulous to have more people up there, and more non-white faces up there.  If I could have gotten the funding to pull off an even bigger conference and invite more people, I would have!! I asked people I knew, who I had worked with or interviewed or met before. It’s a pretty white crowd, but not intentionally so!


Kim Deitch aired some concerns about Alvin Buenaventura's business practices over the weekend. It's all on Facebook here, here and here.

Here's something I've rarely seen: An English-language profile of the French cartoonist Gotlib.

Richard Brody on screenwriting vs. writing over at The New Yorker.

And Craig Fischer is organizing a big panel for Heroes Con, and he'd like to tell you about. Link is here, and text is below:

Comics Regulation, Comics Censorship: Past and Present

For their 2014 mega-panel, cartoonist Ben Towle and writer Craig Fischer team up with a cadre of expert commentators to examine those moments when political and public outrage over the content of comic books disrupted the body politic. The panel begins with a discussion of the recent South Carolina Fun Home controversy, where legislators in the House of Representatives tried to reduce state funding to the College of Charleston as a penalty for using Alison Bechdel’s lesbian-themed graphic novel in a campus program. Present for the Fun Home discussion are Dr. Consuela Francis, a comics scholar and professor in the English Department at the College of Charleston, and Christopher Brook, the Legal Director of North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then we’ll reconsider one of the most controversial figures in comics history: Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of 1954’s Seduction of the Innocent (published 60 years ago) and outspoken critic of what he considered the negative effects of comics on children. We’ll be joined via video by Dr. Bart Beaty (the author of Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture [2005]) and Dr. Carol Tilley (the author of an article about distortions in Wertham’s research) to chart the latest developments in “Wertham Studies.”

Finally, Craig will conduct a career-spanning interview with legendary industry figure Denis Kitchen. We’ll zero in on the censorship hassles Kitchen tackled as a publisher and distributor of underground comix, on his role in the founding of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1986, and on his involvement in the CBLDF’s highest profile case, the arrest and conviction of artist Mike Diana for obscenity in 1994 (20 years ago!). Join us for a thought-provoking exchange of ideas…and for a cake decorated to look like the seal of the Comics Code Authority!

This panel is sponsored by the ACLU of North Carolina.




When She Woke

R.C. Harvey is here with a report from this year's Reuben Awards. Here's a sample:

The formal climax of the evening is the presentation of the Reuben, the name of the trophy given to the “cartoonist of the year.” By the custom of the awards banquet, the Reuben is presented by the oldest Reuben recipient present—for years, that’s been Mort Walker (who won in 1953 for Beetle Bailey), but he was unable to attend this year; hence the next in age and dignity, Mell Lazarus (who won in 1981 for Momma and Miss Peach), presented the trophy this year to Wiley Miller, whose unique achievements in on the funnies pages of the nation’s newspapers exceed even the customary high standards set by previous Reuben winners, as we hope to convince you in a subsequent Hare Tonic PROfile of Wiley (his signature name).

Taking the podium to receive the trophy, his cherubic face aglow, Wiley began a graceful acceptance speech by noting that it was “a once-in-a-lifetime award.” He probably thought he was speaking figuratively, but it is also true literally. Only a handful of cartoonists have won twice (Milton Caniff, Dik Browne, Charles Schulz, Pat Oliphant, Jeff MacNelly and Bill Watterson), and after Watterson won in 1986 and 1988, NCS adopted a “one to a customer” policy. Never again will two Reubens decorate the mantlepiece of some cartoonist’s domicile.

And we also have John Seven's review of Conor Stechschulte's The Amateurs. Here's a sample of that:

Stechschulte spoke at the New York Comics and Picture-Story Symposium about his influences in crafting The Amateurs, a mix of various heady ideas spurred on by a passage in a Werner Herzog book about the filming of Fitzcarraldo that relates a bloody scene involving some bumbling butchers in India in a bloody scene of carnage. This is directly reflected in Stechschulte’s story, a gruesome slapstick, as are the other influences he mentioned in the talk, including the film writings of Kaja Silverman, particularly in regard to disconnection, and the horror of Lovecraft. All these concerns, though, are filtered through Stechschulte’s personal approach and tempered by the most overt presence in the entire book — absence. Not just absence of memory, but absence of context, as if Stechshulte has stripped away explanations in order to focus his study on results. A sense of foreboding dominates the book, but foreboding of what? Nothing set the foreboding in place and there are no promises of solid reasons to explain the unease.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Criticism.
Matt Kuhns looks more closely at Seth's Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and realized it was much more nonfictional than he'd previously realized.

—News. Brigid Alverson delves into the fallout of the sale, interviewing creator Dave Dellecese about alleged payment problems, among other issues. There will be a bone marrow drive in support of Seth Kushner at this weekend's New York Comic Fest.

—Interviews & Profiles. Paul Constant writes a mini-profile of Seattle Genius nominee and Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth. BuzzFeed talks to Sam Alden.

—Misc. Luke Pearson, book cover designer. looks into the history of the "official" map of Gotham City.

—Funnies. Comics Alliance has a preview of the upcoming, long-awaited new collection of Jim Woodring's Jim. And Emily Carroll has up a new webcomic, The Hole the Fox Did Make.


Don’t Hang Up

Today on this site, here's Chris Mautner interviewing Katie Skelly, author of Nurse Nurse and Operation Margarine.

Both in Nurse Nurse but especially in Operation Margarine you’re drawing to a large degree on a certain kind of pulp comics and cinema that trade heavily on sex and exploitation. Despite its influences, Margarine avoids any overt sexualization of its characters, for romantic purposes or otherwise. Is that simply because you felt that element didn’t fit within the structure of the book or was there a more considered, deliberate or even political reason?

I think to this point I’ve tended to compartmentalize sex in my work; like, if I’m going to have sex in a comic, I just want to do a sex comic, even then it tends to stay on the cheekier side of X-rated (for instance the comic “Breeding Season” in Thickness #1 and the Agent 8 series I’m doing for I haven’t really found a way to work sex into my longer stories that feels natural yet, you know? There’s a little vignette where Gemma is post-coital in Nurse Nurse, but I think having sex removed from the equation in Margarine adds to the sense of detachment in that story. I mean sure, I took inspiration from Russ Meyer, but more the spirit than the letter. I think the character Margarine is so detached from her body that sex wouldn’t really enter her universe right then, and it’s implied that Bon-Bon gets used as a side piece, but it doesn’t do very much for her. I saw someone on tumblr say they thought there was room for romance between Margarine and Bon-Bon in the story, which I thought was an interesting way to read it.


Paul Karasik deconstructs a Peter Arno New Yorker cartoon on the... New Yorker site. Which reminds me of this photo of Arno, which remains very very strange.

Jesse Moynihan is on Inkstuds.

Here's a particularly nice Leslie Stein cartoon.

Photos from the Dan Clowes opening at Ohio State.

And here are some oddball examples of mid-80s underground art up for auction, including some Clowes work.







Rods & Cones

Today, historian and filmmaker Patrick Rosenkranz (whose own much-anticipated bio of S. Clay Wilson is imminent), writes about the art and comics collector, Glenn Bray, whose collection is featured in the recent Blighted Eye. Here's a brief sample:

Bray is listed as author, but [Lena] Zwalve contributed as much to the book as he did, he insists. “During production she said you don’t have to put my name on it, because I’m all over the book already, but now she says she’s kinda sorry she did not take more credit.” She does get star billing in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, with the inscription: “Lena Zwalve, to whom my love and this book are dedicated.” Not the same as a shared byline, but he spelled her name right. Zwalve was the founding mother of Tante Leny Presenteert, a Dutch underground comic series from the 1970s.

Their home is not a museum, says Bray, a retired hardware store proprietor. “We live here. And we don’t charge admission.” He does rotate the exhibition periodically, and many visitors have asked to bring friends to view their wide-ranging artistic accumulations. Bray’s taste runs to the satirical and the surreal, mostly by artists from the second half of the 20th century, but also embraces the current crop of cultural curiosities. Harvey Kurtzman’s comic pages are well represented in this collection, along with fellow MAD artists Al Feldstein, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, and Basil Wolverton. The underground cartoonists have a large presence, especially Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, Robert Crumb, and S. Clay Wilson. More recent alternative cartoonists are also in the mix, including Dan Clowes, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Gary Panter, and Johnny Ryan. Several illustrators and fine artists from the early 20th century are represented, including Gluyas Williams, Virgil Finlay, Alan Odle, and the focus of his current fascination, Art Young.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Granta talks to Adrian Tomine. The Quietus talks to Alan Moore, primarily about the influence on him of writer Iain Sinclair. Hogan's Alley has posted their lengthy interview with Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis.

—Reviews & Criticism. Tom Gill continues his examination of Tsuge Yoshiharu. NPR looks at Frank King's Walt Before Skeezix. Dominic Umile writes about I.N.J. Culbard's Celeste.

—Misc. There are only a few days left to vote for the Eisner Awards. The Daniel Clowes Reader site has found some old OK Cola ads.

Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal (Google Cache here) doubling down on the call for "conservative" comics written by their collaborator Amity Shlaes the other week. I will resist the urge to pontificate here, but will note that it's strange how they elide over the fact that Superman's most common early foes were ubercapitalist businessmen abusing labor...

Finally, the comics writer/editor/scholar (and contributor) Paul Buhle talked about his most recent book with Rick Perlstein on C-SPAN.



Hello, it's Tuesday and so Joe will take you through the notable releases of the day, with a side dish of Ping Pong.


Tom Spurgeon pointed to this post by Julia Wertz about publishing a new book. I was a little baffled by this part of the post:

If you cannot afford a book package directly from me, I highly encourage you to purchase the book directly from Atomic Books or your local comic book store. I understand that sometimes Amazon is the only choice, in which case, please try to buy the book from Atomic Books on Amazon, under Wunderpants Productions. When you buy a book from some random place, neither my publisher nor I see a penny from that and the sales does not count as a book sold for us...

I hope that's some sort of misunderstanding, as every sale, short of used books, of course, goes to the publisher and then the author. Or at least that's how I always did it. Maybe I'm missing something. I'd love to see more honest and frank conversations about publishing like Julia's. I often wonder how all these companies without distribution are getting by. The internet and the festival circuit are awfully expensive and labor intensive ways to distribute a book. Stores help a lot.

I will never tire of knowing that Arnold Roth posts new work online. It makes me happy. Does anyone draw like Arnold Roth? Nope.

Remember that Antonio Rubino stuff I blabbed about last week? Well it's apparently available very cheap right now. In Italian. But still.

David Brothers quit reading Marvel and DC comics and explains why.

And finally, Tom Gill on Tsuge.


Ever Heard of Calvin and Hobbes?

Today, Rob Clough is here with a long, detailed look at cartoonist (and sometime contributor) Rob Kirby's latest comics anthology, QU33R. Here's a brief excerpt:

What's interesting about Kirby is that while he's been a prominent queer cartoonist and editor for nearly twenty-five years, he also sees himself and the artists he publishes as part of the greater alt-comics scene. The queer alt-comics scene is one that has evolved parallel to the straight underground scene, with surprisingly little crossover or awareness between the two audiences. Of course, that's never been the case for Kirby himself, who grew up reading Weirdo and worked to have John Porcellino distribute his comics through Porcellino's Spit And A Half. It's always been part of his mission to find ways to connect the two communities without compromising the identity of the queer community. This is one reason why the 2012 Justin Hall-edited No Straight Lines was such a landmark. While that totally uncompromising survey of queer comics not only won a Lambda Literary award, it was also nominated for the (quite mainstream) Eisner Award. Kirby's new anthology QU33R is very much a reaction to and extension of No Straight Lines. If the latter collection represents the past of queer comics (including the very notion of what it is to be queer in the modern day), Kirby wanted to assemble an anthology that provides a snapshot of its present.

Today also marks the return of TCJ all-star Bob Levin, who reviews Adam, the debut prose novel from longtime cartoonist Ariel Schrag, who, Levin says, previously "produced the most compelling rendition of adolescence by an adolescent I have ever read." Here's a snippet from Levin's review:

...Schrag ceased creating graphic novels. (She wrote, in Likewise, that the comic had overtaken her life. Her daily experiences were being shaped by a "predetermined" view of how they would fit into her book-in-progress. Perhaps, that is why.) She graduated from Columbia, in 2003. She wrote for the television series The L Word and How To Make It In America. She did some stories in comic form. But after publicly chronicling the most intimate details of her life, she was essentially quiet. Now Schrag has returned with a "non-graphic" (in the pictorial sense) novel, Adam (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Again, her protagonist is a Bay Area teenager. Again, sexual exploration is her major concerns. But now her major figure is male, Adam Freeman (a risky name choice, granted; but if repeated rapidly a dozen times, immunity can be acquired to its bludgeoning "Get-it?" aspect). Now his quest relocates quickly to New York City and is complicated by his exposure to the crossed-over (MTF and FTM), those who remain in-transit between arrival, and those at play with the varied permutations spread upon the table.

And finally, Dan forgot to mention in his blog post last Friday that we had published the latest review from Greg Hunter, this time on Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's very popular Sex Criminals. And here's a bit of that:

The world literally stops for Suzie and Jon when either of them has an orgasm. These characters can temporarily move around while everything around them remains frozen in time. In One Weird Trick, the two find each other. Not long after Suzie and Jon hook up, the couple decides to rob banks during this post-orgasm “Quiet” time. But even before the robbery scenes, Fraction and Zdarsky use their conceit to examine the different roles sex plays in the lives of ordinary people. In the story’s first installment, Suzie tells readers how alone she used to feel when the rest of the world froze—a sideways depiction of the failure of sex alone to complete a person. And an anecdote in which Jon describes his orgasm-power learning curve reads like a true account of puberty writ large. Even if genre comics have used the emergence of superpowers as a stand-in for adolescence since 1962 or so, the mix of excitement and confusion in these scenes is recognizable and vivid.

For much of One Weird Trick, Suzie acts as a guide to the reader, relaying the story’s events in the first person. If the comic’s overarching metaphor is strong, the line-by-line narration of Sex Criminals is the book at its weakest. Although Suzie isn’t likely to wind up in Avengers Tower before Sex Criminals ends, her narration resembles the self-conscious quippiness of Fraction comics like Marvel’s Hawkeye. In lines like the following, Fraction writes Suzie as if she’s fiction’s first self-aware narrator: “That [question] was rhetorical. You don't need to answer. We couldn't hear you anyway, this is a book and you are a person and that's not how it works.” This performed cleverness is a feature of Fraction’s writing across his body of work, and here as in elsewhere, it distracts from the actually clever moments throughout the story.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Bill Watterson's Return to Comics. So this of course was the biggest recent news around: Calvin & Hobbes creator Watterson returning from his longtime retirement from comics to ghost-draw parts of last week's Pearls Before Swine strips. Pearls creator Stephan Pastis explains how it happened here. Michael Cavna has more from both artists at the Washington Post. Apparently, Watterson and Pastis plan to eventually auction off the original art to help Team Cul de Sac fund the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Chris Sparks has more about that here. And our own Joe McCulloch had the best Twitter response to all this that I saw.

—Interviews. CBR's Alex Dueben talks to the great Gabrielle Bell. The Comics Tavern talks to Jim Rugg. And The Guardian talked to Alan Moore and others to try and get more details on the recently announced Electricomics app.

—Reviews & Criticism. When Jesse Jacobs' Safari Honeymoon gets review treatment at The New York Review of Books, and no one blinks an eye, it feels like we've really turned a corner. At Hazlitt, Chris Randle takes on Jillian and Mariko Tamaki's This One Summer. At his own blog, Rob Clough looks at the work of Luke Pearson. And Ladies Making Comics has a post suggesting various women they believe could have been included in Drew Friedman's upcoming Heroes of the Comics.

—Misc. For the first time, DC is giving Batman co-creator Bill Finger cover credit on a special issue of Detective Comics #27. (You may recall Finger's granddaughter's statement last month -- I'm not sure if there is any connection.)

Finally, anyone who's been involved in comics for more than a few years is likely to find something they can relate to in this recent blog post from Jason Shiga titled "Webcomics, a Young Person's Game?"