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Gathered from Coincidence

This weekend marks the second annual Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, and festival director (and Comics Reporter editor) Tom Spurgeon talked to me about what people can expect at this year’s show, about the process of putting together We Told You So, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics coming out this December, and what it was like to work with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson in the 1990s.

I was probably one of the last employees who went to work for Fantagraphics in part because I wanted to be with people who got my jokes. I was pre-Internet, a solitary comics reader, and the thought of working on a magazine I enjoyed about a subject I loved was way more appealing than watching people sniff underwear at a Home Shopping Network warehouse. I was Gary’s fifth choice.

It was really young, Tim. I showed up for work about two months after Kurt Cobain killed himself — not related — so the whole city still felt young, but not excitingly so, maybe. But the office, Jesus. Gary and Kim were the oldest and they were like 37 and 39. Conrad Groth was a baby. The vast majority of us were 26 or younger. It was a lot rattier, with loud music and a lot of smoking on both porches. We did not have full computer coverage — Roberta Gregory used to come in to cut Rubylith and what is now the marketing room was half Kim’s office and half the stat camera room.

Joe McCulloch is here too with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, spotlighting the most interesting-sounding books new to stores. His spotlight picks this week include new titles from Baudoin and Sarah Glidden, but it’s a packed week, with comics from such major talents as Anya Davidson, Shigeru Mizuki, Ted Stearn, and Abner Dean, too.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Commentary. Jeet Heer writes about the alt-right’s appropriation of Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog character (and the history of funny animal racial politics) for The New Republic.

Mickey Mouse was in fact racially ambiguous, since he owed much to black culture but wasn’t seen as black by the audience, all the more so because as he became a corporate symbol Disney played down the black cultural references. By the 1950s, Mickey was a home-owning suburban rodent living in a white picket house. The 1927 Disney short Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon with sound, was inspired by Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer—which is not surprising, since both Disney and Jolson (famous for his blackface) belong to the tradition of white artists who appropriated black culture and sold it to mass white audience. What got lost in the process was Herriman’s satirical intent. While Krazy Kat remains a powerful commentary on racism, one looks in vain for such commentary in most Disney cartoons.

The Melville House blog spoke about the situation with Furie’s old editor at The Believer, Andrew Leland.

The Pepe knockoffs online are pixellated and shitty and have none of the charm of Furie’s achievement. They’re like the disenfranchised Bart Simpsons of the 90s, playing in the NBA or brandishing bongs and wearing dreads. But in reverse: Bart was born to be a schoolkid, but then got coopted into underground drug culture. Pepe, conversely, was born to get high, but now he’s been conscripted into a hateful subculture that has nothing to do with his true spirit.

I’ve heard several cartoonists describe Furie’s situation as an artist’s nightmare, and it’s not hard to agree. I might add, though, that if Furie were inclined to take it, he has been handed a very rare opportunity to create a comic that will be read by an extremely large audience, one that might even be career-defining. I guess in a way that’s kind of an artist’s nightmare, too!

Over at The New York Review of Books, they have excerpted Chris Ware’s introduction to the new Pushwanger translation, Soft City.

Soft City is something of a miracle. Not only for existing in the first place, but for surviving at all. Drawn between 1969 and 1975 by the Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner (now often just Pushwagner, though born Terje Brofos in 1940), it languished in obscurity for decades and was very nearly lost before finally being issued in book form by the Norwegian publishers No Comprendo in 2008, following a messy legal dispute involving the artist and his former dealer. Most pointedly, however, it is a miracle of its native medium—the comic strip—for its startling and disquieting vision in a form that had never before quite seen anything like it. Funny, or maybe not so funny, that it would take forty years for the rest of the world to realize it.

—Interviews & Profiles. SPX has posted videos from many of this year’s panels on YouTube.

The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Glen Baxter.

 

Where Is Everyone

Today on the site, Bob Levin writes about Robusto!!!, a collection of subversive punk comics from Serbia, and interviews its main writer, who is known as Wostok (among other names).

Robusto!!! is set in 1993, but seems to have been published between 2001 and 2005. If this is correct, why did you wait until so long after the events that you depicted had occurred?

Robusto!!! started more like a joke, actually. I was teasing my friends Red and (Peki?) because they tried to sell a few pirate discs just to get out of some debt. Then I said, “Hey, guys, you are criminals now, hahaha! But don’t feel ashamed because you are only small time crooks and the real big criminals are employed in our government and on other important positions in our state! Then I started to remember everything that happened in previous years in our unhappy and fucked up society and than I decided to make a comic serial.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, a slow comics news day:

—News. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s March: Book Three is now a finalist for the National Book Award.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Comics Alternative podcast talks to Jason Shiga.

—Reviews & Commentary.
For the Village Voice, Mallika Rao writes about diversity at Marvel Comics.

But these characters can also front, deceptively, for a monochrome industry. [G. Willow] Wilson blames “a certain amount of gatekeeping” for sustaining this status quo. “Any time you get a new creator or writer or artist, there’s this question of, well, how are they qualified, especially if this person is female or a person of color. The fact is, there is not such a thing as being qualified to write comics. A lot of the best comic writers don’t have high school degrees. Now we have Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Roxane Gay [the writer, also black, tapped to write World of Wakanda as a companion to Black Panther]. If you look at their qualifications — he’s a MacArthur ‘genius.’ Gay is a bestselling author, teaching at the college level. Margaret Atwood is another public intellectual [who’s been recruited]. If you’re a white dude, you can just write comics because you’re good at it, but if you’re a person of color or a woman, you have to be a MacArthur genius or have a Ph.D. or speak three languages.”

 

Fear, Relief

On the site today: Greg Hunter’s Comic Book Decalogue features an excellent discussion with Anders Nilsen about his new book, A Walk in Eden, comics, and art.

Elsewhere:

Tucker Stone went to SPX and reports back on some of what he brought home with him.

Here’s a 2013 video tour of Un Regard Moderne.

Not-comics but comics adjacent: A portfolio of early work by Austrian painter Maria Lassnig, whose expressive figuration and muted palette could teach cartoonists a lot.

 

It Follows

It’s been a sad week for French comics. In her second memorial piece on the site this week, Cynthia Rose remembers the legendary bookseller Jacques Noël.

Under cover of night, as September faded into October, bookseller Jacques Noël of Un Regard Moderne departed this life. It was not the sort of loss that cranks Le Monde into hyperbole. But outside of Noël’s Left Bank bookstore, the stream of passing mourners has yet to pause. A few leave notes or flowers but most stand in silence, remembering.

That’s because there is really no other bookstore – possibly no other place – like Un Regard Moderne. A literal temple to the book, it is most frequently compared to a den, a grotto or a cavern. Here the wary customer has to browse carefully, weaving in between the shaky stalactites, mountainous piles and heaving shelves of barely-balanced volumes. Noël’s tiny kingdom is layered, stacked and crammed with riches: bandes dessinees, fanzines, monographs on art, graphics and literature, Beat Generation rarities, Situationist tracts, self-published everything, graphzines, underground comics, leftist lit and erotica. It’s a place where Guy Debord meets Gary Panter, the Marquis de Sade sits atop Nazi Knife and William Burroughs knocks elbows with L’Association. For almost two decades, the shop has functioned thusly – both a living sculpture and a natural resource for artists, writers and thinkers.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Jillian Capewell at the Huffington Post interviews Sarah Glidden.

She’s still present in this second book, but more in a minor way. “I guess I’m coming from the school of journalism where you don’t really believe in objectivity,” Glidden said. “Part of the reason I like comics journalism is that, by drawing, you’re kind of showing with every single panel that it is subjective. Somebody not only witnessed all of this stuff, but somebody drew it. I hope that the medium of comics itself reinforces that idea, that, hey, remember, somebody is telling you this story. Somebody is choosing what’s important.”

And so does the podcast Comics Alternative.

CBR talks to Dave Sim, who has returned, in a way, to Cerebus—in webcomic form.

It is very much a branding exercise. When we started putting “Cerebus in Hell?” together, at first I was just using the image of Cerebus from the “Cerebus” trade paperback cover. This is the “Cerebus” trade paperback that sell the best and this is the one that all the retailers keep in stock, so let’s just have this be the only Cerebus that we use.

It’s a branding exercise, and it’s getting back to the humor that attracted a lot of people to “Cerebus,” that it was actually a funny comic book as opposed to in quotation marks “funny.” By the time the twentieth or thirtieth “MAD” imitator was coming out, it was like, “Yeah, yeah, we get it, but this is not particularly funny.” Funny isn’t something that you can fake. You either read it and laugh or you don’t read it and laugh.

J. Caleb Mozzocco talks to Tom Gauld.

I like the dated-ness of the idea of living on the moon. It seems to come from a time when we were more simply optimistic about science and technology’s ability to change our lives for the better. It seems amazing that the moon was there for millions of years and humans looked up in wonder, then we went there, and for a few years people were bouncing around, playing golf, driving a car etc. Now, again, it’s completely lifeless and has been for more than forty years.

Frank151 discusses how Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog character has been co-opted by online Trump supporters with Furie’s editor at Fantagraphics Eric Reynolds.

At first I was watching it from a distance and not necessarily feeling like we had to do anything or should do anything. When it really first started to take a more disturbing turn, in my mind, was first when Hillary Clinton’s website had an explanation about Pepe being associated with white supremacists and there was no mention of the fact that, actually, he was this sort of innocent creation of this innocent cartoonist in Southern California who has had absolutely nothing to do with his character being associated with these groups. I’m a Hillary supporter and it sort of bummed me out that there was this only half-truth to the story.

But then the really disturbing turn was when the Anti-Defamation League felt the need to categorize Pepe in this way, and in their defense, they perfectly did their due diligence in terms of identifying Pepe as the creation of Matt and as this character that took on a life of its own, completely irrespective of Matt’s desires or wishes and didn’t reflect on him personally. But still, it’s just creepy. It’s definitely disturbing and it’s also just really frustrating to see the Trump family being heavily responsible for all this. I don’t know, the whole thing is very, very, fucking weird.

 

The Greatest

Lots to do today. Joe McCulloch bring us his weekly report.

Elsewhere:

Jacques Noël , the great founder and proprietor of the Paris bookstore where all good and bad forms of comics and illustration converged, Un Regard Moderne, passed away on Friday. The store was particularly renowned for championing the likes of Le Dernier Cri, ESDS, CBO, UDA, and other publishers of transgressive art. I was always honored to see one my books in the chaos. But that place (because calling it a store would be deceptive — it was a place where you went and had an experience that sometimes resulted in maddening frustration and other times in walking out with a rare Pascal Doury edition) was just as likely to have a great stash of fiction, art monographs, pulp, and incredible reprints and archival material. Also, most of it was in head-high piles. What a place. I loved going there. It was a temple to print and it brought its owner few rewards, I suspect. I was just there in May and with a sly grin Jacques showed me a delightfully vicious Bruno Richard pamphlet. The vicious cannot be underestimated. I miss the vicious in art. RIP Jacques Noël.  Thank you.

1013651_402701963176966_48828589_n14485133_983133278475801_6576641402789910022_nMore prosaically, on to some links:

Gary Reed, founder of the classic 80s/90s company Caliber, passed away.

Yet another piece on Matt Furie’s Pepe character., this time in the NY Times.

Want to wear Frank Santoro around your neck? Here’s your chance.

I like cute little profiles of comic book collectors. Here’s one, with a cameo from some excellent artworks.

Robert Crumb’s parents: Bewildered!

 

Bein’ Green

Today on the site, Cynthia Rose has our official obituary for Ted Benoit.

La ligne claire has not made this much news in Europe for decades. On Wednesday, the Grand Palais opened an epic Hergé expo, which has received only raves from critics and the art world. Its curator, Jérome Neutres, calls it an ambition fulfilled. “Our whole aim is to show that Tintin’s creator was, quite simply, a truly great artist. We want to put him on the same footing as a Vélasquez, a Helmut Newton or a Fantin-Latour.”

Then two days after the opening, France discovered that Thierry “Ted” Benoit had died. Benoit, 69, may not have been the ligne claire‘s purest inheritor. But he was certainly one of its great innovators. As the obituaries and tributes to him proliferate, many have begun with similar sentiments. Benoit, they note, was more than just a wonderful draftsman. He was – quite simply – a truly great artist.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Rachel Cooke profiles Sarah Glidden.

Glidden, the daughter of two doctors, studied painting at Boston University. “But then 9/11 happened. I was only 21 and I started to be interested in journalism. My reaction to it, besides feeling a sense of horror, was that if a war was going to happen immediately, there must be more to the story than I knew. So I started reading everything. I was drawn to photojournalism. I think I wanted to be Tyler Hicks [the Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times staff photographer], but I was also very shy. I didn’t have what it took to talk to people and take those kinds of pictures and nor did I have any training.”

Angelique Chrisafis talks to Riad Sattouf.

Sitting in his Paris publisher’s office, as the second volume of The Arab of the Future is released in English and the third volume comes out in French, Sattouf is hesitant about being seen as a voice of the Middle East. He views himself as stuck somewhere, neutrally, in the middle of his mixed French and Syrian roots and hates any kind of flag-waving or identity politics.

“I waited so long to tell this story partly because when I started to make comics I didn’t want to be the guy of Arab origin who makes comics about Arab people,” he says. “I didn’t want to be the official Arab comics artist. So I made a lot of comics in France which weren’t related to this part of me. I made a movie. But even during all that other work, I was thinking I have this good story, how could I tell it?”

The RIYL podcast talks to Matt Furie.

—Reviews & Commentary. Speaking of Furie, Chris Mautner explains what’s happened to Pepe the Frog.

The character has been deemed an “online hate symbol” by the Anti-Defamation League.

How could a goofy-looking cartoon character be considered a symbol of anti-semitism? To explain that we’ll have to take a quick spin through Pepe’s brief history.

Pepe was created by cartoonist Matt Furie around 2005 as one of the characters in his comic book series Boys’ Club, a surreal stoner comedy about a group of anthropomorphic buddies sharing an apartment. Most of the jokes involved bathroom humor, body fluids, or just plain goofy absurdism. It was about as far from political (or even topical) humor as you could get.

Christine Smallwood reviews Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts for Harper’s.

The book comes alive when the Americans recede from the frame. Glidden draws excellent grimaces, arched eyebrows, and narrowed eyes; her smiles are good, too, but she has less cause to use them.

For PEN America, Meg Lemke writes about Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer.

This One Summer has been removed from schools and (K-12) school libraries, on the basis of “use of profanity,” and the sweeping charge of “vulgarity,” which covers allusions to a potential abortion—and a miscarriage—and one suspects the possible queerness of one of the main characters. It was also removed from shelves at some elementary schools where perhaps, as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund wondered, teachers added any Caldecott short-listed title without researching its recommended age group (12+, in this case). In news footage that I admit cracked me up (with the kind of laughing that leads to tears), a coiffed local newscaster in Florida reports on the plea of the alarm-raising parent who just wanted other concerned mothers to “be aware of this ‘illustrated book,’ described as a graphic novel…” as she flips fast through the lushly drawn pages. A GRAPHIC graphic novel: Be afraid, be very afraid.=

 

Oxygen to the Dumb

Today on the site we bid Dash Shaw a fond farewell as he wraps up his Cartoonist’s Diary at Fantastic Fest.

Elsewhere:

The great French master of the clear line, Ted Benoit, has passed away.

Matt Furie has had a shitty year, as his character Pepe was appropriated by right wing nut jobs and then declared a symbol of hate by the ADL. Herewith a summary of the events.

Adventure Time, the animated show that seems to employ a generation of post-Kramers cartoonists is calling it a day in 2018.

Longtime cartoonist Sparky Moore has passed away.

Here’s a look at how actors rake in the cash at conventions. 

 

Frank Santoro and the young cartoonist Cameron Weston Nicholson were in conversation at SPX:

 

Cave-In

Today on the site, Rob Clough reports on this year’s SPX, which seems to have been a very successful one.

The tension that has marked some past shows was simply not in evidence this year. I attribute that to Bernard’s decision to take over the entire ballroom at the Marriott hotel that serves as the show’s headquarters. The show moved to its new location a decade ago, after outgrowing its old Holiday Inn location in Bethesda. That first show had about three hundred exhibitors; I attended, and was interested in about a quarter of them. The show this year had seven hundred exhibitors, and I was interested in about the same proportion, meaning that the actual number of interesting exhibitors has zoomed up to nearly two hundred people. Bernard solved the problem of turf by expanding it for everyone. This year more than ever, it was possible for fans of different interests to have completely different experiences, to never interact and still have a fully satisfying experience. Of course, some of the differences were less pronounced than one would think. For example, the crew behind Adventure Time is like a young alt-cartoonist all-star team, featuring the likes of Tom Herpich, Jesse Moynihan, Michael DeForge, Seo Kim, Sam Alden, Luke Pearson, Jillian Tamaki and more. An upcoming issue of Ryan Sands’s cutting-edge anthology Frontier will feature Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar.

Also, Dash Shaw brings the fourth installment of his Cartoonist’s Diary. This time, he describes the U.S. premiere of his new film at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.

The sensibility of Alamo Drafthouse reminds me of Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, but on a way bigger scale. They play strange videos before movies and have a huge appreciation of exploitation movies and goofy humor and anything bizarre. Everyone working at the theater is having a blast. You can tell everyone wants to be here, which is (strangely) not the feeling you always get at film festivals. This feels like something in-between a film festival and a comic convention! I even wear a badge around my neck, and there are sword jugglers and snake handlers in the theater lobby.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. AMFM Magazine has a very nice interview with Dash, which I highly recommend.

BEARS: It seems like it’s a big risk for somebody working in animation to go the more abstract route, which I love that you did. I don’t see people making a lot of animated movies that are taking risks. Everything looks like everything else. Everything is either trying to look like Pixar, live-action, CGI thing, or it’s trying to look like a Studio Ghibli thing. I love that your cartoon can only be your cartoon. It has your voice just in the picture. I don’t feel like enough people take advantage of that.

Shaw: I think the reason for that is it’s a ton of work to make all of those drawings. Even though the tools now are very accessible— like I just made this with a scanner. Really, the same tools that I could make a comic book, I used to make this movie with. The tools are there to make a movie like this, a lot of people have those tools. But it’s a lot of drawing. My experience in comic books both helped me know how to do a lot of drawing because I would make books that were hundreds of pages long. I would have to draw the same character over and over and over. So that experience prepped me for this. Also, the alternative comic world, to me, is the most exciting and diverse place for graphic personalities and sensibilities. When I think of the visual storytellers that I like, it’s 99% comic book artists. I love Miyazaki but I think these comic book artists are the coolest.

At Vulture, Abraham Riesman profiles Karen Berger.

Berger chafed — first quietly, then publicly. In late 2012, it was announced that she’d be leaving DC. She stayed on to help with the transition, but made her dissatisfaction known in a May 2013 New York Times profile. In it, she called DC and its rival Marvel, “superhero companies owned by movie studios” — an increasingly true statement, but one tinged with obvious disdain. The next year, after she had left the company, she spoke to me for a feature about John Constantine and earned DC’s ire by being even more explicitly critical, saying, “They’ve taken the character and put him in a place that’s Constantine-lite” and adding, “As far as I’m concerned, he’s not the real Constantine.”

At The Beat, Alex Dueben talks to Teri S. Wood of Wandering Star.

I was originally one of those 1990’s, Independent creators, inspired by Bone and Cerebus. That had been my plan, to stick with self-publishing, until the big, comic book crash of 1995 hit. So many stores and distributors went under, unable to pay for the books they’d ordered, and suddenly, I had no way to pay my print costs. I was thousands of dollars in debt. Wandering Star almost died right there. It was pretty scary.

—Reviews & Commentary. In a short burst of 24 tweets, Joe McCulloch critiques Chris Ware’s recent New Yorker covers, and in the process puts the standard lazy, one-note, imaginatively cramped attacks on Chris Ware to shame. Hopefully he’ll expand these thoughts into something longer.

Liam Baranauskas from n+1 visits Pogofest in Waycross, Georgia.

I came to Waycross because a friend told me that in the 1980s, the town had marketed itself as the home of Pogo Possum, which seemed like an absurd pitch, even to a fan of the strip like myself. By 1987, the year of Waycross’s first Pogofest, Pogo had been defunct for a decade and a half and was long past its pre-Flower-Power-era sell-by date. Fetishism and irony had not yet merged to resurrect every pop-cultural fad of the postwar era, and anyway, we’re talking about southern Georgia, not Brooklyn or Portland. Pogo’s winking political allegories—a parody of the Dixiecrat stance on school desegregation, a plotline about the John Birch Society (renamed “the Jack Acid Society”)—had targeted a political consensus widely held in Waycross at the time, so it was hard to imagine its residents responding with anything more enthusiastic than skepticism.

For The Guardian, David Barnett writes about various attempts to censor comics, checking in with Mike Diana, Denis Kitchen, and Neil Gaiman.

Diana was just 25 when he became the first person in the US to be convicted of “artistic obscenity”. The jury took 40 minutes to find him guilty on three counts: for publishing, distributing and advertising his comic series Boiled Angel.