Lots of Snow on the Ground

Nicole Rudick is back on the site, with a review of Julia Gfrörer's Black Is the Color:

Water and time are the basic elements of the story in Black Is the Color, which involves a young sailor, named Warren, set adrift in the ocean in a small boat. Starving and alone (his likewise marooned compatriot dies quickly and is dispatched overboard), he is visited periodically by a mermaid, who provides him with companionable conversation and sex. Warren’s moments in the boat take up roughly a third of the book and are concentrated in two long sections, set, as the rest of the book is, in a six-panel grid. Many of these pages contain little or no dialogue and show Warren alone in the boat or being comforted by the mermaid, Eulalia; these particular pages draw out the passing of time, slowing it and pitting the finiteness of human life against the perpetuity of the ocean. (Gfrörer’s sense of pacing is superb—her panels advance patiently, so that the dread of her endings has the controlled pluck of a Twlight Zone episode.) Eulalia is Warren’s only reprieve from these interminable stretches: she helps carve out brief moments of humanity for him. In one such instance, she encourages him to relate the tale of his first tryst with another sailor. “What was it like?” she asks, and he tips his head back and closes his eyes thoughtfully, as though imagining himself in that moment. Over the next three panels, Gfrörer subtly alters Warren’s expressions as he moves through the memory, before concluding, with a painful, faraway look, “It was sweet.”


—Reviews & Commentary. Stephen Bissette reviews the new Miracleman reprint, and wonders why Marvel can't always do right by their backlist creators. Rick Marshall looks back at 1934, the birth of the adventure comic. Chris Randle reviews Michael DeForge's Ant Colony. Andrew White has two quick but solid reviews of horror comics by Julia Gfrörer & Sean T. Collins and Sam Alden. Greg Baldino reviews two feminist/LGBT anthologies, The Big Feminist But and Anything That Loves. The Tove Jansson biography (and a recently published memoir) were both reviewed at The Guardian and the Financial Times. Dana Jennings at the Times recommends various newspaper strip reprints. Sean Kleefeld writes about Jay Jackson's Speed Jaxon.

—News & Misc. Variety reports that a new team has purchased Heavy Metal from Kevin Eastman. The Shuster heirs were denied a rehearing. Retrofit is having a 2014 subscription drive. Tim O'Neil's blog is ten years old.

—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben talks to Jim Woodring about Fran. The Rumpus talks to Tom Motley. Ana Merino profiled Paul Gravett, and Richard Graham interviewed him, and both their stories are here. Michael DeForge and Shary Boyle both appear on a recent Hazlitt podcast. Somehow I missed this video of a conversation between Zak Sally and the late Dylan Williams:


Not Very Observant

We're back from the long weekend here.

Patrick Rosenkranz has written the obituary for the crucial underground figure Gary Arlington.

Gary Arlington started what might have been the world’s first comic book shop in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1968. The San Francisco Comic Book Company began inauspiciously in a small storefront on 23rd Street, where he offered duplicate copies of his EC Comics collection for sale. By a twist of fate, the store became ground central for the explosion of underground comix that began that same year with the publication of Zap Comix #1 by an unknown artist named Robert Crumb. Arlington soon began to sell Zapalong with his vintage comics and new Marvel and DC titles.

And it's Tuesday so, as I write this, one Joe McCulloch of Pennsylvania is frantically writing the week in comics.


Well, Marjane Satrapi has directed a Ryan Reynolds movie about a guy who takes killing commands from his cats. That's sort of awesome.

The Washington Post on Bill Finger. Tom Spurgeon interviews Ron Marz.

Chris Mautner interviews Kevin Scalzo.

Comics about the Civil Rights movement. 

A couple year-end lists.... Forbidden Planet and Jared Gardner.


His and Hers

Today on the site: A classic Gary Groth interview with one the great post-WWII illustrators, Ed Sorel. How I love Ed Sorel's work. What a great talker. Reading this interview is a perfect demonstration of why understanding the aesthetic history and context of your chosen medium is so important.

GROTH:Let me ask you about a few cartoonists, and ask you what you think of them. Pat Oliphant?

SOREL: The best political/editorial cartoonist around, and I envy him because he has more imitators than I do.


SOREL: The most miraculous of all. What he does is the most amazing to me. I have his Da Vinci book, which I’m sure you’ve seen. Now, how he did that, I don’t know. Just absolutely gorgeous. I mean, if we were living in any other age except this one he would be internationally celebrated, I think. I can’t speak too highly of him. And he writes well, too.

GROTH:And as you know he speaks well. He’s funny. Do you know Gerald Scarfe’s work?

SOREL: Yeah. Scarfe interests me less than Steadman. I’ve seen stuff by him that I admire. It just doesn’t interest me that much.

GROTH:How about an old-timer like Herb Block?

SOREL: Well, I certainly admire his thinking, his ideas are simply grand. Many of his cartoons are like icons now. He had one drawing during the ’50s, when Eisenhower was avoiding any confrontation with Joe McCarthy, and he had Eisenhower wearing a scabbard and pulling a feather out, instead of a sword, and Eisenhower is stating, “Have a care, sir!” That is such a brilliant concept. But his drawing doesn’t interest me as much as Oliphant’s.

GROTH:Or Feiffer.

SOREL: Just brilliant, just brilliant. He’s doing it every week. I do the Nation thing once every three weeks, and I feel like I’m running dry all the time.

GROTH:What about old newspaper cartoonists, like Winsor McCay?

SOREL: Winsor McCay. It’s like liking movies that everybody else likes. Everybody loves Winsor McCay and recognizes his genius. It’s more fun liking Cliff Sterrett. There are some examples of his work in theSmithsonian Collection of Comic Strips. Those were the best art deco strips I’ve ever seen, and nobody writes monographs about Cliff Sterrett, although I might. Incidentally, I write monographs on cartoonists for American Heritage — I’ve done one on Claire Briggs and one on Auerbach-Levy. Of course, Billy DeBeck is just incredible. Just incredible.

GROTH:What about Walt Kelly?

SOREL: No. [Laughs.] Aesthetically, to me, he’s ugly. This has nothing to do with the thinking which is very witty, but I don’t understand how somebody that witty can do drawings that ugly. [Laughter.] Overworked. I guess we get back to the spontaneity of it. Billy De Beck, of course, had to trace, because there is almost no way to do a comic strip without tracing, but Billy De Beck’s stuff has marvelous spontaneity, as does Claire Briggs. But not Walt Kelly. Who else?


Jonny Negron, who I published, has been shamelessly ripped-off by a group of animators for a French band. It is not a tribute (as they say), but rather blatant theft perpetuated by a well-funded organization. Shameful and illegal behavior.

A short talk with Eddie Campbell.

Steve Heller looks at an early booklet for commercial design education. There are numerous such things for illustration and cartooning.

Finally, spend your weekend gazing at these Richard Powers covers.



Today, Frank Santoro explores the work of his friend and comics mentor Bill Boichel:

BEM was Bill's first comic-book shop. It was called "The Store" really. BEM was named after the Gilbert Hernandez story of the same name that ran in issue one of Love and Rockets. So, BEM, or "bug-eyed monster," was the machine that ran the store. The store's early logos said, "Coming to Grips with the Machinery." It meant the machinery of art and commerce together--comic books. It was high concept for a comic book store in a rundown post-industrial Rust Belt neighborhood like Wilkinsburg, just outside the city limits of Pittsburgh, PA. Somehow it all worked. Like a machine.


Boichel also made a ton of fliers for the store--check those out here. And he made a ton of variations on his store's logo--check those out here. So, it seemed really natural when he started making these wacky mini-comics. He'd make the comic at his desk and then print it up in the basement on the xerox machine and then give it away or sell it upstairs on the new comics rack. It was a way for Bill to be fully in the "machine" that was BEM. It was also a way for Bill to produce art like a machine. All of the comics Bill made at this time are credited to BEM which was, of course, the name of the store.

And Paul Buhle reviews the new collection of Gilbert Shelton's Wonder Wart-Hog:

Shelton's famed Texas-style characters, the Freak Brothers, were unique, and their Austin-ness was little grasped elsewhere in the country. But Shelton was also unique in his story-telling genius. Because the sense of opposition to the existing society was so unquestioned in the underground genre, satire often overwhelmed the storylines. The dopey ambience of the protagonists, frequently stoned-out, didn’t help either.


—Interviews. du9 talks to James Sturm and Rich Tommaso. Underwire talks to comiXology's David Steinberg. Art Spiegelman talks about his new show. The CCS blog interviews TCJ columnist Rob Clough. Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins discuss their Massive gay manga project.

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Mautner reviews Dennis Eichhorn's Real Good Stuff. Sean Rogers has expanded his excellent top 5 of 2013 list to a top 20. Atomic Books is posting various "best of 2013" lists from people like Liz Prince, J.T. Dockery, Box Brown, Kelly Froh, etc.

—Giving Opportunities. There's one week left for the Sequential Artists Workshop fundraising campaign.

—History. 2014 is the centennial year for Tove Jansson, so expect a lot of coverage of the Moomin creator for a while. The Guardian reviews a new Jansson biography. Zak Sally continues to document the story of La Mano. Mindy Kaling was a cartoonist in college.

—The Funnies. Julia Wertz has a long autobio comics/prose piece on And I can't believe I forgot about Peter Maresca's "Origins of the Sunday Comics" feature at GoComics. (via)



Today on the site Chris Mautner interviews Paul Pope.

MAUTNER: Listening to you talk I get the feeling that you’ve had a very valuable relationships with your editors. 

POPE: Yeah, by far.

MAUTNER: Is that something you look for now? Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve gained? There are plenty of cartoonists that just want to be left alone to do their own thing.

I did that also. The first seven years of my career was working as a self-publisher. The only input I got was letters from readers. There was no editor on THB. There was no editor on the Ballad of Doctor Richardson or any of that stuff. The first time I had an editor was when I worked on the One-Trick Rip-Offwith Bob Schreck and then subsequently Batman Year 100. I was getting a lot of complaints from people before that, where they’d say, “Oh the drawings are good, but the stories are kind of light” or “They don’t go anywhere.” That was frustrating because I wasn’t trained as a novelist or a storywriter. I was trained first as an artist working in different disciplines whether it’s art history or studio art. And then as a printer, where I was doing everything from working in a commercial printing house doing web-set printing, printing magazines and menus and things like that. So working with editors was the first time I had to get muscular, in terms of writing.

MAUTNER: But you feel like those relationships have helped you as a writer and storyteller?

POPE: Yeah. I think I would take it a step beyond that and say it’s more primal to have [that] rapport. Your editor is like your Virgil. You need to be able to have a guide or at least a companion when you walk through Hell. With Mark Seigel at First Second, we’re taking it to a different level, where we just got off a multi-city [tour]. We’ve been on the road together, we go to bed at the same time, we get up at the same time, we’ve eaten every meal together, we’re on trains and planes and automobiles together – we’re pretty much together constantly on this junket. Now that Book One’s done we took a train back from DC a couple days ago and we spent the entire time thumbnailing out [what] I need to get done when I get back from Toronto. In a sense, it’s sort of like a creative marriage. He’s a coach, he’s a cheerleader, he’s a taskmaster, he’s a friend and a sounding board. I think ideally that’s the most harmonious relationship between the editor and the artist.


Michael Dooley on banned comics.

There's a comics round-up over at the AV Club.

Eleanor Davis has a pie blog.

The Beatles in comics.

And Batman in the funny papers.



Feeling Cramped

Joe McCulloch is here with his latest This Week in Comics! column, a buyer's guide to the most interesting-sounding new comics available in stores as of tomorrow. He also writes about a little-noticed recent comic from Akira Toriyama:

Okay, show of hands – how many of you even *knew* Akira Toriyama not only released a totally new 217-page comic last year, but that it was published near-simultaneously in English? I ask because the Festival de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême is nearly upon us again, and last year’s festivities were marked by hints of conflict in the Grand Prix voting, which purportedly resulted in popular candidate Toriyama receiving an ad hoc commendation for the occasion of the show’s 40th anniversary while another cartoonist was selected for the top honor. Truthfully, this situation summarizes Toriyama’s present status in North America as well – unavoidable in terms of legacy, but rarely all that immediately accessed.


—Reviews & Criticism. The academic journal PS: Political Science & Politics has a symposium on superheroes and politics in its latest issue, available free online through the end of the month, if I understand correctly. Ace designer Jacob Covey reviews Michael DeForge's Very Casual. Craig Fischer writes about the gender politics of B.P.R.D. Rob Clough on Kent Olsen & Sabine ten Lohuis's Life Through the Lens. Lots of angry commentary out there on Alan Moore's interview from last week; I found this the most thoughtful by far.

Comics Bulletin released their top 10 of 2013. Robert Boyd has some comics content on his top ten art list.

—The Funnies.
Michael Kupperman and David Rees just started a recurring political strip at the Sunday New York Times. Maria Popova has reposted Ralph Steadman's illustrations from a 1973 edition of Alice in Wonderland.

Tom Spurgeon talks to Jesse Reklaw. Bleeding Cool talks to Brandon Graham.

—History. Sean Howe has begun posting outtakes from his Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. First up is a story about Barry Smith and Tom DeFalco from Terry Kavanagh. Tom De Haven has posted a short essay he wrote about Yellow Kid creator Richard Outcault (who figures largely in his Derby Dugan novels). Ron Goulart on Jefferson Machamer's Gags & Gals. John DiBello (aka Bully the Stuffed Bull's friend) is now writing regularly about comics for 13th Dimension. His first piece is about the history of Miracleman.


Small Rooms

Well, let's do some shilling right at the top here: The TCJ archive is now available by subscription for just $30! That's right: You get access to nearly the entire run of the print TCJ (we're almost done posting it) for a measly $30. Lose days or weeks or months bing-reading Gary's old editorials and News Watch columns about people you've never heard from again (these are two of my most favorite activities in the world).

And speaking of losing yourself... Today on the site:

An unexpected treat: Bob Levin on Guy Colwell's comic book series Doll.

Doll (Rip Off. 1989-95)[1] was written with a consciousness that remained engaged with and troubled by the world.  At the time, Colwell was living in a second-hand mobile home in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and working part-time as a typesetter and graphic artist. He had been through one marriage and several short term relationships.  Now, he announced in his introduction to the first issue, personal experience had led him to explore “sex… desire… greed… caring (and)… especially loneliness.”


The LARB on Feminism in Comics.

Finally some good movie news. Phoebe Gloeckner's all-time great graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl has been cast and is moving into production.

TCJ-contributor Sean Rogers on the reissue of the classic Canadian graphic novel The Cage.

NPR on race and identity in superhero comics.

TCJ-contributor Alex Dueben talks to Chris Claremont about some less-discussed aspects of his career.

Over at The Paris Review, TCJ-contributor Nicole Rudick wrote about Jeet Heer's (another TCJ-contributor) In Love with Art.


Don’t Look Back

Today, Katie Haegele is here with a review of Jesse Reklaw's unusual Couch Tag.

The first part—the book’s five sections are described by Reklaw as novellas—is told as a series of stories about each of the pet cats his family had throughout his childhood. There were thirteen of them, and they all met a bad end—by dying of distemper, having too many litters, getting run over, or just running away. They were given names like Paranoid and Dead Duck by Jesse’s dad, and tripped with fishing line by Jesse himself on a day when he was feeling mean. Reklaw’s drawing style has a rounded softness to it, and the cutesy lettering of the chapter titles belies a nastiness underneath these stories. In this clever way, Reklaw manages to impart a queasy but subtle sense of unease and instability. If this is what became of the cats, what was life like for the kids?


—Internet Controversy du jour.
Alan Moore has been enraging the Twitter masses on a regular basis for years now, usually through offhand interview comments dismissing superhero comics, superhero comics readers, and/or superhero movies, but this time is on another level. Pádraig Ó Méalóid asks Moore about some of the criticisms that have dogged his work over recent years and Moore responds in essay form, addressing topics such as, yes, his aversion to superhero comics, but also accusations of racism, rape fixation, and more. There's a lot to unpack, and I will leave it for interested readers to judge how convincing his arguments are. Much though not all of it seems reasonable to me (I continue to think that while Moore and collaborator Kevin O'Neill's intentions were clearly benign, their handling of the golliwog character in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was ill-advised), but his manner of presentation seems unlikely to win over skeptics. It also would have been nice if there were more followup questions on the points where his arguments are less than air-tight.

Moore then goes on to fire back at some of his critics, including journalist Laura Sneddon, Dez Skinn, someone "whose name escapes me but who is evidently pleased to identify himself as a Batman scholar," and Grant Morrison, whom he insults at length, only stopping just short of comparing him to Shia LaBeouf. Moore also declares this to be something like his final interview, at least of this nature that he will be dramatically decreasing the amount of interviews he gives from now on, so longtime fans (and detractors) should not miss this one. Those not well-versed in the background may find the reading unpleasantly bitter.

—News & Profiles.
Calvin Reid profiles international comics agent Nicolas Grivel (who represents artists like Ulli Lust, Blutch, and Dylan Horrocks). The Eisner Awards are currently accepting submissions. The Image Expo is currently going on, and those interested in upcoming announcements from that company should check in with more mainstream-oriented comics sites today. The New York Times reported on one such announcement, a new deal with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. The CBLDF reports on a New York district court ruling upholding the government's right to search laptops at the Canadian border. Tom Spurgeon interviews Gilbert Hernandez.

—Reviews & Commentary. Rob Clough writes about Julia Gfrörer's Black is the Color. Neil Cohn comments on the non-universality of some visual imagery. The Gilbert Hernandez interview linked to above led to a brief but interesting discussion between Andrew White and Frank Santoro on how much influence "classic" American comic-book aesthetics should have on current artists.