Last time, I provided a brief overview of Matsumoto Katsuji’s early career, in honor of an excellent retrospective at the Yayoi Museum in Tokyo. I argued that Matsumoto’s famous Kurumi chan (b. 1938), oftentimes seen as one of the first commodity icons of Japanese kawaii, was probably based on a mix of Grace Drayton’s New Kids dolls and American jazz age cartooning. This time I want to focus on The Mysterious Clover (Nazo no kurobaa), a sixteen-page comic published as a premium insert furoku for “a girl’s best friend,” the magazine Shōjo no tomo, in April 1934. There’s a buzz around the manga’s formal innovations, and in a future article I will add my two cents about them. First I think it useful to see how Clover introduced a novel character type – a type reminiscent of the athletic and righteous young man described above, and thus more in line with stereotypes of proper Japanese boyhood than those of prewar shōjo culture, even though the character is a girl. It was a type, as we will see, that additionally reflects the influence of a specific form of American masculinity.
Artforum's new issue has a comics-focus. TCJ and I both make appearances in this article by curator Fabrice Stroun, who has also done great work on Jim Shaw.
[He] is only known in English as a name in the credits to a movie: the 1996 Jet Li vehicle Black Mask, which was based on the artist’s comics. Wendy Siuyi Wong, in her 2002 survey Hong Kong Comics: A History of Manhua, notes that Li-the-artist was once heavily influenced by the Japanese mangaka Katsuhiro Ōtomo; his work in this 1996 book, Tiān Yāo Jì (created with Yuen Kin To), seems slightly more comparable to brawny action specialists like Takehiko Inoue or Kentarō Miura, though Li himself has cited influences ranging from Suehiro Maruo to Minetarō “Dragon Head” Mochizuki.
We also have James Romberger's review of IDW's third and final volume of their Alex Toth retrospective, Genius, Animated, edited by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell. Romberger has great respect for Toth, but not so much for this book. An excerpt:
Let me just say upfront that the production values in the now-complete three-volume biography of the cartoonist Alexander Toth are beyond reproach. Visually, [it] compares favorably to IDW’s other collections that I own and admire regularly, such as their exemplary Milton Caniff collections. One can quibble with the editors’ selections and the books’ design and I will—-but all of the art is shown in a generously proportioned format and the printing is very sharp and clear.
But for a series that claims to be the definitive statement on Toth, it falls short, because the text does not do justice to its subject. As biography, the account it presents feels skewed against the artist. Further, because of the books’ tendency to highlight the least interesting and most conservative aspects of what he did while ignoring or misunderstanding or failing to communicate in any meaningful way what makes Toth’s work so exciting and innovative, what is established is that Toth was a contentious man who became a particularly boring and cranky old fart.
—Funnies. Speaking of the Times, this week's strip by Michael Kupperman and David Rees was rejected by editors there, because of "too sensitive" subject matter, according to Kupperman. He's posted the rejected strip online here. As always, read the comments at your own risk.
Although many artists struggle with the comic page’s limitations as a static, silent surface, Morisi harmonizes with newsprint’s inert pulp essence. His peculiar genius lies in the way he seems to disrupt our desire to glide across a page. While it’s hard to talk about the specific effect that images have on us, many of his panels feel calming, almost a little hypnotic and “sculptural” to me, working against the animation that Seth rightly sees an important feature of narrative comics.
In fact, Morisi’s characters often resemble a drawing of a sculpture of a person, rather than a “direct” representation; and many of his horror comics feature sculptures in the panels’ backgrounds and margins.
First, we have the great Bob Levin here with us today, bringing the story of publisher Malcom Whyte to the masses. Everything Levin writes is worth reading.
Whyte had been an admirer of underground comix since the afternoon he had walked into Gary Arlington’s tiny store in San Francisco’s Mission District and been introduced to a tall, skinny fellow named Bob Crumb, who sold him a handful of first edition “ZAP” Number Ones for a quarter apiece. Whyte, as a married man with three children, who had been into, he recalls, “drinking martinis and not eating dope” had missed out on the early days of rock poster collecting, immediately recognized he was being invited into the ground floor of the latest exciting development in the graphic arts. He would stop by Arlington’s once-a-week, buy comix, meet artists, and acquire work from them. “They were interesting guys,” he says, “doing wonderful work, and I was in awe. I’d just go ga-ga.”
They were also artists whose choice of content had limited their audience and restricted their possibilities. By the mid-nineties, most of them worked in relative obscurity. Now, he hoped to bring them at least some of the attention and rewards they deserved.
—Interviews. The 2D Cloud site has a short talk with the pivotal former cartoonist (and new publisher) Julie Doucet. Make It Then Tell Everybody has a very worthwhile interview with Christopher Butcher, cofounder of TCAF. (I miss Butcher's blog.)
Speaking of TCAF, here is video of the panel featuring Lynn Johnston and Kate Beaton:
—Misguided Editorials. This anti-self-publishing editorial in The Guardian is fascinating, not because I can't follow the logic, but because its conclusions do not in any way match up with my own experiences with self-published zines and comics.
And probably the less said about Amity Shlaes's slapdash National Review editorial calling for conservative graphic novels the better. I say that not because of her political stance, but because of her lazy ignorance: she seems entirely unaware of the many right-wing(ish) cartoonists, including pantheon figures from Chester Gould and Harold Gray to Steve Ditko and Chester Brown; she credits Edward Said as co-author of Joe Sacco's Palestine; and thinks "manga" is a synonym for "fantasy," which leads to bizarre nonsensical sentences like this: "This attitude, high-minded though it be, is itself a bit of a manga." Readers of this site may enjoy her characterization of the cartoonists at White River Junction, though.
I’ve been following Julie Delporte’s comics work for a few years now. I enjoyed Journal, her first book. I like seeing fragments of her work floating around online. Her handmade graphic approach is very refreshing to me and I think her work often looks particularly striking online. Journal was good, but it became slightly repetitive as a comic book. Each entry had its own strengths and sometimes the pieces seemed to not hang together all that well to make a cohesive narrative. (I get that it wasn’t a narrative and that it is a diary–I’m just saying the book’s strength was not in its structure.)
So I was slightly hesitant to check out Delporte’s new book, Everywhere Antennas, only because I figured it would be another diary. Even when I was flipping through it at first it looks like a diary that is going to stick to a certain layout and a certain way of delivering information: one or two drawings floating amongst some text. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the “information delivery” varied from section to section. For the most part it is a diary; however, there is a part in the middle which utilizes more of a traditional comics approach. I like the tension between this section (that is rendered in gray) and the rest of the book (that is in color).
And some links:
Great cartoonist (Quadratino!) and design and illustrator Antonio Rubino spotlighted at 50 Watts.
TCJ-contributor Nicole Rudick on Karen Green's poetry/art -blend book Bough Down.
This link made me think of Dash Shaw, though he's not to blame for that.
Today, Matthew Thurber interviews the mysterious Carlos Gonzalez, creator of Slime Freak:
Tell me about what confusion means to you, and mystery. For instance, readers might never be able to get a clear picture of the whole story of Slime Freak. Does it matter?
Well, the majority of life is mysterious and confusing. There is rarely closure, as there often is in most stories and plot lines (my own included). Almost everything I encounter is in fragments. Most of the comics I read are from the quarter bin. I'm just jumping into some ragged issue of The Eternals, Dreadstar, whatever...
I like that. You don't need to read every issue of my comic, or any other ones to appreciate a weird hand touching a door knob, or a swollen, exotic mask being applied to a damp face. That's just good stuff, take it for what it is.
I hope people enjoy the journey they take with each issue, but whether it's "clear" or "practical" is not a huge concern.
—Digital. The comics-centric publishing site Graphicly has been purchased by Blurb. Alan Moore is heavily involved in a newly announced digital comics app (which apparently will also offer an open-source platform for any cartoonists interested in using it) called Electricomics.
—Funnies. Cartoonist-turned-nude-selfie-artist Blaise Larmee is releasing his second graphic novel, and Study Group has a preview.
—Crowdfunding. I think we've neglected to mention the latest Steve Ditko Kickstarter. There's also a new Robert Anton Wilson crowdfunding effort for a theatrical production which will feature Alan Moore.
Sam Alden is among the most gifted of the young cartoonists I’ve come across in recent years. He has already established a sizable, rabid fan base through his Tumblr and deservedly won the Promising New Talent nod at last year’s Ignatz Awards, amidst a strong list of nominees. The two stories featured in It Never Happened Again display Alden’s impressive strengths as a visual storyteller. They feature completely different settings and characters, but have in common protagonists in search of things ineffable—perhaps unattainable. Each story casts its own strange sort of spell, making for a very strong debut book.