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) 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.”
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.
Hi, it's Thursday. Frank Santoro is here with a post about old comics that just won't sell, darnit!
I have certain comic books for sale that just won’t sell. Ever. No matter how much I slash prices. I can’t give ‘em away!
Yet many of these comics are good. Or have a good page or two in them. They’re worth keeping around just for conversation sake. I call them “clunkers”. I can’t sell them but I can’t bring myself to throw them out.
You see comics like this over and over again in the back issue bins. The same ones. A certain era–1983 to 1992–is always well represented in almost every comics shop in North America. (Was it because they overprinted runs back then?) Most folks flip right by these clunkers because they look like garbage–and they usually are. However, some of them are worth a second look. Here are 9 of them.
Today, Zainab Akhtar returns to the site with an interview with 16-year-old wunderkind Anatole Howard. Here's a snippet:
I don't know when I actually got into comics, since as a kid they were just like any other book to me. I really liked Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2, but they never excited me as much as they do now. Back then I was way more interested in anime instead of manga/comics. Like a lot of people the idea of a western comic that wasn't Superman was an idea that never crossed my mind. My dad was really into old underground comics and he introduced me to Robert Crumb (he had a Crumb biography which I read without his permission), and discovering the alternative scene was great. When I started to explore comics on my own it was still mostly manga that I found appealing, with only a few western titles mixed in. Comics that had deep narratives, little dialogue, and lots of art were my favorite for a long time.
Yeah. It’s interesting how kids don’t really view comics as separate from other literature. That’s learned. It's only when you get older that you become aware that they’re viewed separately. It's cool you had your dad to guide and encourage you. Is he into comics? Did you have them around the house, or were they something you actively sought out?
No comic books were in our house besides the ones that I had checked out from the library, and so all the comics I read were ones I picked up on my own with some inspiration from my dad. He told me about how he used to buy underground comics like "Pudge Girl Blimp" but that he had lost them all, so later on he and I visited a con where he was able to buy a new copy. Later, I went to a bookstore and stood alongside him and bought a copy of Fantagraphics’ reprint volumes of Robert Crumb and kept looking at him saying, "Should I get this? Would you want this?" Whenever I discovered somebody or something new, I would always tell him about it. But Crumb is what bonded us as two people who knew about comics; Crumb always shows up in every small talk we have about them.
... David B. awakens to realize he has acquired the power to assume four different forms; he can be a shadow, a skeleton, a paper man, or human, four versions of his self which he depicts sitting on an eight-pointed wheel, a symbol suggestive of various mythologies. From a very simple starting point—the dream of a book—we have rapidly entered exceedingly imaginative, fantastical, esoteric territory, shifting from dream to “reality” to humorous fantasy, back to dream and then back to “reality.” Borders are blurred, the lines between realities are crossed freely, and yet the book has hardly started. And from this point, it only gets more baroque.
And for those of you who missed it, Joe McCulloch has updated the buyers' guide portion of his column from yesterday (spotlight picks: Gregory Benton and Bob Fingerman), which had been delayed due to technical difficulties.
Elsewhere on the internet:
Let's keep 2014 going right with another column from historian R.C. Harvey. This time he looks into some of the murkier aspects of the origin of the Superman comics:
We know who invented the Man of Steel. Jerry Siegel. But the invention in early 1933 was followed by frustration: for the next four years plus a few months, Siegel and his drawing partner Joe Shuster tried in vain to sell their creation to newspaper feature syndicates and to publishers who were just hatching the comic book business by reprinting newspaper comic strips in magazine format. Nobody wanted this super strong refugee from the disintegrated planet Krypton. And then, all of a sudden, Superman was “discovered” by a young editorial assistant tangentially connected to the McClure Syndicate. Sheldon Mayer, just out of his teens, was working with M.C. “Charlie” Gaines, who, in turn, was functioning as a sort of freelance salesman and packager, scouting for printing jobs for the two new color presses McClure had acquired when Bernarr MacFadden’s scurrilous Daily Graphic folded in 1932. Hanging around the McClure offices, Mayer saw the Superman comic strip Siegel and Shuster had submitted in the hope of getting their brain child syndicated. And Mayer’s brain exploded.
“I went nuts over the thing,” Mayer said years later when remembering the event. “It was the thing we were all looking for. It struck me as having the elements that were popular in the movies, all the elements that were popular in novels, and all the elements that I loved.”
But he couldn’t convince anyone to sign up the feature. Not Gaines. Not any of the McClure officials.
“They all asked me what I thought of it,” Mayer said. “I thought it was great. And they kept sending it back.”
And Rob Clough takes a look at Real Good Stuff, the latest Dennis Eichhorn comics:
[Dennis Eichhorn] was a sort of mirror image to Harvey Pekar, as both men were writers who employed a number of alt-cartoonists to depict stories from their everyday lives, as well as their checkered pasts. In Pekar's case, of course, he sought to draw poignancy from the mundane and quotidian while exploring his emotions, intellectual interests and the interesting people he happened to work with and frequently befriend. Nothing much "happened" in those stories in a kinetic, narrative sense, other than a particular thought or anecdote being relayed in a memorable fashion. Eichhorn, on the other hand, has led an extraordinarily colorful life and isn't afraid to share every detail with his readers.
Indeed, every Eichhorn story includes either a fight or some threat of violence, a wild drug sequence, a graphic and frequently hilarious sex scene, a recounting of some interesting and generally unbalanced person he happened to encounter, or some combination thereof.
—Interviews. Excellent interviewer Michael Silverblatt has a discussion with Joe Sacco. Tom Spurgeon talks to writer-about-comics (and TCJ contributor) Zainab Akhtar. Political cartoonist Zapiro talks about getting a complaint by phone from his frequent target Nelson Mandela (via):
—Funnies. The Barnacle Press site has a bunch of newly posted strips from George McManus's Newly Weds. And Janelle Asselin & Katie Cook start a series of webcomics on gender and comics at Bitch magazine. (Slight point of disagreement: in my opinion, "sequential narrative/storytelling books" is definitely not a term worth knowing.)
SOBEL: Did you plot the story out from the beginning, or did you write it as you were going?
LUST: I brainstormed from the beginning to the end. I wrote down everything that I remembered in a book, but I didn’t do a storyboard for the whole book because that would have bored me. A lot of ideas come during the drawing.
SOBEL: I’ve heard a lot of artists say that the best drawing is the first drawing.
LUST: No, not with me. I always start with something simple, you know, the first idea which comes to my mind, and most times that idea is ok. Then I start re-doing it and it gets better and better all the time. (laughs)
SOBEL: So was that your typical process as you were drawing it?
LUST: I’d do the sketches in the evening, in bed… like little sketches just for the next scene.
SOBEL: You did it in sequential order?
LUST: Yes. That’s very important, it was in chronological order. That’s a very important point. Maybe if you do a storyboard, you don’t need that, but without storyboards, it’s extremely important because of the flow, you know? Also to build the tension and make it stronger and stronger. I think it’s very important to be in the timeline.
So I’d draw the sequence in the scene, and then I’d read it, and then I’d redraw it, and then I rearranged stuff, and then finally, when I liked it, I would make the final drawings. Sometimes I also redrew the scene but not too often.
Co-mix is not light reading, although it contains a great deal of humor. These are comics that use — among other things — sex, drugs, funny talking animals, and well-crafted comics to encourage one to think harder. A joke in a Spiegelman comic is rarely just that, being more often an inquiry: why is this funny? About ten years into his career, Spiegelman began to figure out ways to cram more and more information into his verbal-visual matrices, so that a medium supposedly for beginning and semi-literate readers actually tasks — and rewards — as much as art and literature. In addition to the high density of information contained in Spiegelman’s comics, there is also a moral stance, fiercely taken, that challenges us to go beyond the escapist qualities of comics as entertainment. In some sense, Maus can only work at its deepest level when we constantly see past the animal masks, and refuse to de-humanize. In his work, he questions everything: culture, art history (including comics), and politics. Often, his work co-mixes what we might consider extreme opposites — comics and genocide (in the 1970s, this was a radical idea for mainstream America), jazz and politics, the Crucifixion and taxes, hard-boiled detective fiction and Cubist art, to name just a few of the heady concoctions. While there is a certain amount of formal experimentation in Spiegelman’s comics, there is also a tremendous personal investment that makes the work relevant and worthwhile. Spiegelman’s comics may not be light reading, but they are enlightening.
The Shia Labeouf story just gets better and better. I mean, now that we're past the "he did something immoral and illegal" part (which is actually the only important part), it's just like watching TMZ, but in some bizarre and goofy microcosm. I hope it goes on for all of 2014 and beyond. I can't get enough of this guy. He's the lesser James Franco. Or maybe he's the better James Franco. Who knows! He loves Jeff Koons. He's got big, undergrad ideas about authorship swiped from Richard Prince. I love it. He's not what comics deserves, but he's everything the comics internet deserves. Anyhow, here's an incredibly awesome interview with him.
Shia is alllllmmmmost like a character out of INFOMANIACS -- almost a creation of the internet. And here's Matthew Thurber at The Paris Review to tell you about all things INFO.
It's a brand new year, and here at TCJ (Internet division) we have a brand new attitude. Dan and I are well-rested and have spent our web-free days meditating on how to provide better criticism and coverage of the art of comics. I think it's fair to say that 2014 will likely be the best year here yet. So prepare yourself.
To start things off, we have Joe "Jog" McCulloch, who has a recap of his own personal experiences with the last two weeks of comics. (This has been a trying fortnight for Joe, who has been e-mailing us regularly to see if he might be allowed to post during the holiday hiatus. I'm feeling a little guilty now, seeing what he Joe resorted to reading during his imposed vacation.)
—News. Marvel has decided to stop selling individual issues of their comics in traditional bookstores. Columbia University's library has received the Kitchen Sink archives.
—Funnies. Kate Beaton went home for the holidays and posted a slew of comics about her visit. Joe Ollmann on the job. Sean T. Collins has started a new Tumblr called Comics Democracy reposting only the most popular webcomics, without commentary. He explains his reasons here.