It's Tuesday, which means it's Joe McCulloch day, and this week his column's a doozy, featuring copious images from and commentary on three untranslated manga magazines Joe bought while in New York recently.
I love Big Comic. Established in 1968, it's among the oldest seinen manga anthologies still going today, 300+ pages for ￥300, delivered every two weeks to a particularized audience of guys facing, experiencing, or at least contemplating middle age. "Comics for Men" means 'old souls only,' and that credo often seems to extend to the contributors, many of whom have known many decades of service to Japan's storied comics industry. This aspect helps me maintain perspective as a non-Japanese reader; half the fun of 'reading' untranslated manga for me is pouring over the internet for elusive bits of information on semi-familiar titles, validating that yes - that's the guy I thought it was, the mangaka everybody used to talk about in North America, who seemed to drop off the face of the Earth. He's still working, still knowing a circulation of maybe half a million... but foreign appeal is a capricious thing.
He also previews the week's new releases, of course.
The reason Joe was in NYC isn't hard to guess: he was here for the BCGF. Unexpected family obligations meant I couldn't go this year, but from all accounts, it went pretty great. Fantagraphics has a photo report here, and Tom Spurgeon turns in his traditional recap here. I'm sure many other reports are on their way, but honestly, I don't want to read anything about the show, which you can safely put down to sour grapes.
This 14-story charmer is built to exacting standards. Solidly constructed by master craftsman yet luxurious and appealing. Many distinctive features. Easy access to visual cortex. Some TLC needed. Must be seen to be believed.
Wilson’s favorite word is still “No!” He used to be a motor mouth but now he’s mostly monosyllabic. After a long life dedicated to being the baddest boy in comix, he’s become a grand old man, but he’s no longer in his right mind. He used to be able to out-talk, out-booze, out-cuss, out-draw, and outrage almost anyone but he doesn’t drink, smoke, snort or draw dirty pictures any more. He doesn’t walk much either and seldom leaves the house, and only in a wheelchair. He used to start each day answering a stack of correspondence with a variety of pens, rubber stamps and assorted collage materials, and then spend each day listening to talk radio while diligently drawing comics and commissions in his small home studio. Now he watches movies on TV while lying on the couch or in his hospital bed.
And in comic book link news...
An essay by Emily Cooke about writers she calls "The semiautobiographers", including Alison Bechdel. (via KH)
All of these writers — the new semiautobiographers, you might call them — reject privacy and propriety for openness and provocation. In their novels-from-life they aim for a synthesis of the personal and the intellectual on the one hand, and the fictional and the nonfictional on the other.
Good morning, friends. Tucker Stone got too toasted during all the NYC-based comics parties revolving around BCGF to write his column this week. But Rob Clough steps up to the plate with a review of the intriguing Solipsistic Pop #4. Here's a clip:
Editor and artist Tom Humberstone has made each new volume of his anthology Solipsistic Pop ever more complex, beautiful, and formally interesting. It is a formalist's funhouse in the vein of a Chris Ware, Jordan Crane, or Richard McGuire. To be sure, there's plenty of narrative and emotional content to be found here as well (as there also is in the work of Ware, Crane, and McGuire, of course), but the artists in this anthology run with this issue's theme ("Maps") and take it all the way. Funded by an Indiegogo campaign, Humberstone spared no expense in making the whole package look just right.
I say "package" quite literally, because there are any number of intricate parts that make up this anthology. SP4 comes in a blue folder with comics on the front, back, and inside, depicting the prologue, key, and epilogue to John Miers' story, "It Is Always Too Late To Save Krypton".
The Journal has learned that legendary EC writer/editor Al Feldstein and the estate of Mad editor/cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman have filed notices to reclaim the copyrights on their work. Feldstein confirmed the filing and told the Journal he has already reached a settlement with the William M. Gaines Agency, which owns all the EC horror, science-fiction and crime properties that Feldstein worked on as editor and writer in the early 1950s. Those titles include the classic Crypt of Terror, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, Weird Fantasy and Weird Science. Gaines agency administrator Dorothy Crouch confirmed the agency has reached an agreement with Feldstein, but declined to comment further.
The comics in his new, almost literally dizzying book, The Cartoon Utopia, are packed with visual detail and collect his thoughts on magic in some of its many incarnations: astrology, the occult, sex magic, the “alchemy” of love relationships and other hermetic principles, and communion with animals. It opens with a short introduction by Maja D’Aoust, the self-described White Witch of L.A. who had Regé as a student in her “Magic School” lectures. In it, she describes the otherworldly sense of coincidence that swirled around the group of artists and musicians that took her class during this time.
And The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, which I co-organize, really picks up steam today with, among other events, a couple exhibition openings, a film screening and a conversation about French comics.
I imagine that comics won't be foremost in most people's lives today, but that won't stop us. The invaluable R.C. Harvey is back with a column on H.T. Webster, once known as "the Mark Twain of the drawing board." Here's a snippet:
Webster participated enthusiastically in the social life of his professional milieu, joining other cartoonists (including [Clare] Briggs, once the latter arrived in the city) and writers, actors, and illustrators in the after-hours convivialities that commenced near the offices of the New York World and continued at the Players or Dutch Treat clubhouses. He went angling whenever he could get away and never passed up an annual invitation to join a banker friend fly fishing in his private Canadian stream. And on weekends, he regularly convened with friends in a hotel room at the old Waldorf-Astoria for a ferociously dedicated poker game that began on Friday evening and didn’t end until Sunday morning. The concentration at these contests was so intense that on one occasion when Webster chomped on broken glass in the lettuce on the food tray that had been sent up, he spit out the shards without comment rather than disrupt the game.
Elsewhere, there are a few comics-related things you might want to distract yourself with, including:
Well, there's one large thing occupying a lot of attention today and tomorrow, and I hope it's not comics. But who knows, maybe there'll be a good Garfield comic strip about it. If you're stateside, please go vote and then come back and read Joe McCulloch's opinions on comics. Think of it as a palette cleanser.
Or perhaps you need a few more distractions from issues of all kinds. Here are some:
Adrian Tomine talks about his new (and great) New Yorker cover. I really enjoyed his handsome recent book, New York Drawings, which showcased his nuanced observations of the emotional life of the city.
Hey folks -- glad to be back after a week and counting of superstorm Sandy. Compared to what happened to many others, things weren't too bad for us: power, phone service, and heat have finally been restored, and other than a bunch of spoiled food, some apparently minor roof damage, and a newly stressful commute, we're more or less in the clear. That isn't true for a lot of other people of course, and I won't go on about it very long because most of you who have had the internet and television over the past week are probably sick of it, but consider helping out if you can manage it. There are many places to donate your much needed time, food, clothing, or money.
But back to comics. Today, we have Ken Parille's latest column, this time featuring a close reading of Steve Ditko, and his use of abstraction, text, and motion. Here's an excerpt:
In The World of Steve Ditko, author Blake Bell recounts a story about the publication of Ditko’s Static, a superhero tale serialized in the first three issues of Eclipse Monthly in 1983. Eclipse Editor Dean Mullaney initially altered Ditko’s script for the episode in #2 because it was “too wordy, and visually unappealing.” Bell agrees with Mullaney’s assessment, noting that Ditko’s debt to Ayn Rand “continued to have an impact on the quality of the storytelling” (145). Ditko, however, rejected the changes, and the story ran as he originally intended.
Mullany’s criticism reflects a widespread belief about comics storytelling: comics is primary a visual medium and so the text must always be dramatically subordinated (at least in terms of the space it occupies) to the images. But I think the intensity of Ditko’s sequence visuallydepends upon the fact that, as we move through the first three panels, words take up an increasing amount of space while the image decreases (with the fourth panel echoing the first):
We also have something I haven't read yet, but am super-excited about: a review of Charles Burns's The Hive written by The Orange Eats Creeps author Grace Krilanovich. Here's a brief clip:
The cast of characters found in Nitnit land includes mutant, decrepit or aged quasi-ethnic shopkeepers and loiterers, or otherwise quasi-human piglet men and humanoid lizard drones. The creases, scars and raw wounds on their hyper-specific faces contrasts sharply with Nitnit’s smooth (Caucasian) mask face, fixed in an expression of frazzled dismay.
The Hive references the pre-PC ethnic caricatures of Tintin comics and presents an Orientalist fantasy realm that is confusing and disorienting on purpose. In Nitnit, words, faces, roles and customs are indecipherable. Our comfort in recognition is partially dismantled. It looks almost like a place we could inhabit, and yet that only makes it more troubling as we strain to find a way to make sense of the gaps, where it betrays us. Johnny 23’s confusion is ours. Aggro lizard dudes berating you at every turn certainly don’t help.
And finally, we are also republishing a 2006 interview with Joost Swarte conducted by David Peniston and Kim Thompson. Here's an excerpt from that:
PENISTON: Can you name a few of your favorite artists or designers that you admire or who have had an influence on your artwork?
SWARTE: Well, when I was still studying industrial design, I learned about artists that worked for the De Stijl movement and the Bauhaus movement.
PENISTON: Like Gerrit Rietveld?
SWARTE: Yes, exactly. And I was very much interested in it because they seemed to work in the artistic field without making a choice on a medium. Rietveld started out as a furniture designer, as a carpenter, and he developed his interest in this field and just enlarged his disciplines. Besides him, there was the Dutch artist Theo Van Doesburg, the leader of the De Stijl movement, and he started within the funny borders of the Dada movement, which had an idealistic side. That is to say that Dada was a reaction to what happened in the First World War and they were artists that didn’t understand that culture, although everybody was always proud of European culture. But even within this culture it was still possible to have a disastrous war like the First World War and they reacted with their Dada movement. Now, I don’t know exactly if the war was the main goal, the impetus for it, or maybe the culture was already ready for a movement like Dada, but they made fun of whatever they liked to make fun of so it was sort of a ‘nothing is sacred’ movement.
SWARTE: Not necessarily “anti-everything” because they had their own things they liked and wanted to do but nothing was sacred, which means also that they almost worshiped individuality so they gave freedom to the artists to do whatever they liked. Now if you at that period had said, “I like to make beautiful paintings,” that wouldn’t be considered as very Dada. But the reaction of the whole European culture, well, it was fun in a way and it made me also think. What made a great impression on me as a youth was the Provo movement in Amsterdam. That was young anarchists that made fun of the police, etc., and I thought it was very funny.
And links to comics pieces elsewhere are going to be relatively light, as I'm about a week out of date right now. (I'll try to go back and repost anything big that got missed as time goes on.)
—Tom Spurgon interviews Gabe Fowler, proprietor of Brooklyn's Desert Island, editor of Smoke Signal, and co-founder of the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, which I can't believe is this weekend.
—At Comics Alliance, J. Caleb Mozzocco interviews Steven Weissman about his new comic-strip collection, Barack Hussein Obama, one of the weirdest books of the year. Still haven't wrapped my head around it, though I am enjoying the attempt.
—The aforementioned Joost Swarte has a video interview up right now (via):
—And finally, in the Not Comics category: Alan Moore has released a single:
I can't believe this week is STILL happening. I hope everyone out there is doing OK. Things are a little strange around here (Brooklyn) and a number of my gallerist and artist friends have been badly hit, particularly in Chelsea.
One volume relates the heart-rending tale of a funeral and the protagonist’s participation therein, while a separate volume, closing with the death of Miss Kitty, casts doubt on whether that earlier story exited anywhere other than in the narrator’s pained imagination. (“Earlier,” of course, comes preloaded with scare-quotes, given Ware’s refusal to provide readers with a pre-set reading order.) At times, it seems that each page is an interaction of conflicting registers of memory. Images are overlaid with texts from different times, played at different speeds. Character’s visions are framed by their revisionary thoughts, often asking, “Why did I do that? Why did I think that?” Moments like these indicate how thoroughly, in Ware’s world, one’s life if open to revision – how memory, itself, is an act of “building” stories.
-Ben Jones of Problem Solverz, Paper Rad, etc., is opening a solo exhibition at at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, tonight. Large-scale video paintings and installations are in the offing. Should be great. Congratulations to my pal.
-A preview of the promising forthcoming graphic novel by Miriam Katin.