When the Sea Dies

Hello, friends. Today, Chris Mautner is here, catching up with Bone creator Jeff Smith on the occasion of the final, full-color collection of his sci-fi noir followup, RASL. Here's an exchange:

When you started RASL you had a couple different publishing things going. You had the pamphlet, you had the oversized collections and you had the pocket collections. Why so many different versions? What worked, what didn’t work and what did you take away from that experience?

The reason we did more than one version, quite honestly, is that RASL didn’t get a lot of traction after the initial burst of publicity that “The Bone guy is going to do something new!” It was not really taking, I could tell. So we got the first oversized trade out, that was the size I wanted to do it in, but again, I didn’t really feel like it was getting traction. I didn’t hear it being talked about or hardly even being reviewed.

This is one of the advantages of being a self-publisher: You can move fast on your feet. You don’t have to give up. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to fix it. So we thought maybe that first trade has 115 pages in it but it might not be enough of the story. Maybe we should have waited until we had a little more story. So that’s why we did the pocket book version, which was – it wasn’t the size we were interested in. We wanted to get two of the larger books, so we’d have double the story and see if that would catch people’s attention. And that in fact did work. We started seeing reviews and began to get a bit of traction.

And then, o boy, Dan Nadel himself has decided to open his trap and opine on the first issue of Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III's The Sandman: Overture. Has his old love stayed true? I don't want to spoil things, so I'll just share his review's first observation: "It's an awfully well-constructed comic book." Later, he says this: "This is pedantic and cloying prose."


—First, the sad news: Silver Age artist Nick Cardy passed away last night at the age of 93. Mark Evanier has an early memorial. A lot more are sure to follow, including a full obituary from this site.

—Reviews & Criticism. Adam McGovern reviews Frank Santoro's Pompeii for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Rob Clough is using the month of November to profile a different CCS-affiliated cartoonist every day. Ng Suat Tong reviews a child's comic available on online auction and compares it to later art comics.

—Interviews. Tom Spurgeon has a long interview with Jeet Heer, regarding his recent monograph on François Mouly, and a recent critical anthology he co-edited. On a comedy podcast that I haven't listened to yet, the always-funny Julia Wertz is a guest.

—News. Anyone aspiring cartoonist who hasn't yet read Megan Rosalarian Gedris's explanation of why she's taking down her popular Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space webcomic really ought to. Via Kevin Melrose comes news that a family in Kitchener, Ontario complained to the press after their 3-year-old daughter received Jack T. Chick comics for Halloween.



Tucker is here to ease you into the month of November.

Elsewhere online:

Julia Wertz is interviewed on a podcast.

Hey, that American Masters Charles Schulz episode is now online.

Various comics reviewed at the AV Club.

Lots of press for the Sandman prequel. Here's an interview with Neil Gaiman and one with artist J.H. Williams.

Paul Levitz does a brief Q &A over here.

Nice local piece on the new digs for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.


Scary Stuff

Today on the site, Frank Santoro is pondering the state of comics criticism, and discusses it at length with Sean T. Collins. I think their analysis will provoke some disagreement on a few points, but debate is healthy. Here's a brief exchange:

Frank: It might be hard to phrase this question - but about 2008-09 it seemed like that's when 1000-word reviews were common. And there was a "healthy" comment section in places like Comics Comics, the TCJ board, Study Group, etc. Then I noticed no one commenting anymore. Then I noticed that I wasn't taking the time to read long reviews or blog posts. I'm sure that's partly due to Facebook and Twitter and the conversation getting dispersed around, but it seems to me that there are less "longish" reviews and blog posts about new comics.

Sean: Yeah, I think the rise of social media leveled not just interactions of comparable length in "traditional" outlets like comment threads and message boards, but also larger reviews. It's exceedingly easy to type up your strongest single impression of a new work and post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and receive feedback almost immediately. And since your strongest single impression could be nothing more complex than "This is SO GOOD, you guys," and the feedback can just be a like or a fav or a reblog or a retweet or a share, it's tough to build up a thoroughgoing interrogation of a comic. The energy is diffused.


—Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an article on the myth vs. the reality of selling comic-book collections for big money, featuring our own Frank Santoro.

—Charles McGrath at the New York Times previews the new Jewish Museum Art Spiegelman exhibition at length.

—For Entertainment Weekly, Sergio Aragones draws an illustrated tour of Mad magazine history.

—Toyokazu Matsunaga, the creator of Bakune Young, has reportedly been arrested for allegedly making threats against a local politician.

—Can Allie Brosh's work be considered comics? It's certainly popular. Salon interviews her regarding her first Hyperbole and a Half book.

—Milo George looks at an old Al Wiseman Dennis the Menace story for Halloween.


Moving Day

Here on the site we give you a second day of Joe McCulloch. Here is reviewing Jim Woodring's Fran.

The truth is, all you really need to understand the Frank comics — those wordless exploits of a quintessential Funny Animal Character set loose in a “closed system of moral algebra,” per his creator — is to understand virtually anything of our long, shared cultural history of Silly Symphonies and Looney Tunes. And if Frank is not so cuddly as the rest of the menagerie (though still cuddlier than some), it’s because Woodring is less interested in replicating popular cartoon formulae than in distilling the fraught concept of “antics” itself into a sort of linguistics – observing, again, a reality of intuition.

Lately, Woodring has been concerned with what the book dealers call graphic novels, and it was to my delight that these latter works did not come across simply as longer Frank stories between hard covers, but rather as works of mythopoeic sweep, in ready dialogue with one another. In 2010′s Weathercraft, Woodring revised one of his crueler gag shorts (1996′s “Gentlemanhog”) into a study of cyclical mechanisms, in which a corpulent, ignorant humanoid beast becomes an enlightened and empathetic individual, only to find himself reduced again to a bestial state as the story concludes with everything reset for further exploitation later on. Frank is just a supporting character, “adopting the attitude that will bring him the most fun,” and occupying the book’s final panel by sitting down to peruse a magazine, as if eager to get the next story started.


Our own Frank Santoro interviewed by James Romberger about Pompeii over at Publishers Weekly.

And the big publishing news of the day is that DC Comics is going to move its editorial offices, and everything else, to Burbank, California.

Sean Howe features some of Jim Lee's early career rejection letters over on his Tumblr.

Josh Neufeld contributes a comic strip reportage piece on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.



You Say Potatoe

It's Tuesday, which means Joe McCulloch is on the scene, with recommendations for the Week in Comics.


—Interviews. Seth fills out a questionnaire. Al Hirschfeld's last interview was apparently given to a ten-year-old boy. Xavier Guilbert discusses things with Marc Bell. The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Roger Langridge. Paul Gravett has a short profile of Michael DeForge. Lance Parkin talks a little bit about the behind-the-scenes for his new Alan Moore biography. Keith Knight appeared on Kamau Bell's Totally Biased (via):

—Reviews & Commentary. Over at the L.A. Review of Books, David M. Ball writes on Ivan Brunetti's Aesthetics: A Memoir. Ng Suat Tong excavates The Trigan Empire. Rob Clough looks at the evolution of Jeffrey Brown's autobio comics. Tom Holland reminisces about Asterix.

Dylan Horrocks appears in this Auckand newspaper story about the banning of Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls from area libraries. Brigid Alverson caught a New York Post story I missed, about Al Plastino and his surprise upon discovering that original art he thought had been donated to the JFK Memorial Library was up for auction by another seller.

Two fund-raisers you might be interested in: a revival of Neil the Horse and the fourth-year subscription drive for Mothers News.

—Finally, Lou Reed, R.I.P.
There are many strong pieces out about him now, but keeping it at least somewhat comics-related, here's Neil Gaiman's very well done 1992 interview with Reed, plus Robert Guffey's anecdote about meeting Reed in 2005 that also surprisingly involves Gaiman. Gaiman wrote more about Reed for The Guardian yesterday. Sean Howe has proof of Reed's one-time brush with the Marvel universe. And of course there was his collaboration with Mattotti.


Not Again

Today Bob Levin is back with a conversational essay on Black Eye #2. You'll just have to read it, but here's the beginning:

I met Renee Blitz twenty years ago in the hot tub of our health club, where she discussed Kafka while others planned vacations in Tuscany or weekends at Squaw.  Renee is eighty-two and a grandmother. She grew up in the Bronx, the tomboy daughter of Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews. She graduated Hunter College and married a stand-up comedian who, after moving them to Berkeley, the laughs not coming, became an ass-chasing social worker.

Renee passed her time hanging at dives with a jazz pianist who’d 4-F’d the army and on-the-roading with a salesman whose best attribute was how much fun he was to get stoned with.  The surrealist poet Nanos Valoritis recruited her into the graduate writing program at San Francisco State after reading her self-described, stream-of-consciousness “typewriter plays.”  (“Get your ass in here,” he said.)  He declared Renee the only of his students destined for a career in the theater.  She thanked him for the flattery but spent her time raising three daughters.


The New York Times on the enduring appeal of EC Comics.

A fun interview with Marc Bell.

Cartoonist and essayist Tim Kreider on not working for free in the NY Times.

A brief look at Jack Davis.

Some Superman/JFK art that was supposed to go one place went somewhere else entirely.

The last part of The Beat's Marvelman/Miracleman Alan Moore interview.

Sean Howe shows us some Falcons.

And it's the final week for Jeffrey Brown's show at Scott Eder Gallery.


Modern Thinking

It's been a good week for alumni of The Panelists; first, we posted Charles Hatfield's very nice review of Battling Boy on Monday, and now Craig Fischer hits it out of the park with a piece you could call twenty-six short essays on Dave Berg. Dave Berg, of course, is the cartoonist behind Mad magazine's time-defying "The Lighter Side of..." feature, and Fischer's article examines him from multiple angles, in fact one angle each for every letter of the alphabet:


The characters in a typical “Lighter Side” strip believe themselves to be normal and well-adjusted, with personalities and behaviors that remind me of Eric Wilson’s description of Americans in his book Against Happiness (2008): “They tilt their heads to the side, feign amusement, and nod knowingly. They clinch their eyes in looks of concern. They blink a lot, bewildered. They murmur truisms about overcoming adversity. They say that they love their parents and puppies and all babies. They devour bestsellers about the wisdom of children or coaches. They can be smarmy war-mongering conservatives or passive-aggressive peace-loving liberals. They can be Christians hiding their meanness or New Agers hungry for power. They adore the Lifetime channel. They are happy campers. They want God to bless the world. They want us to ask them about their children. They believe that a hug is an ideal gift; one size fits all. They think that kind words make good echoes. They join Book-of-the-Month clubs and identify with sympathetic characters. They sign their e-mails with chirpy icons. They swear by the power of prayer. They swear by the power of positive thinking. They dream of having Norman Vincent Peale as a dinner guest. They would eat Jell-O and Cool Whip. They would eat turkey too and make an endless Thanksgiving.”

And they are, of course, all hypocrites. “The Lighter Side” was a central reason why teenagers love MAD: teens realize that all adults are two-faced, and saw that fundamental truth in Berg’s cartoons.


—Talk. The latest guest on Inkstuds is Jim Woodring. Alex Deuben has an interesting report from a panel featuring Jules Feiffer and Darwyn Cooke at NYCC. Michelle Pauli interviews Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, the creative team behind the relaunched Asterix series. And talking to the New York Times about books, J.J. Abrams elaborates on his enthusiasm for Chris Ware (and Mo Willems).

—Criticism. Ware gets the academic treatment as Paul Williams at Comics Forum compares his work to literary modernism. Rob Clough briefly reviews three independent adventure comics.

—News. The CBLDF blog reports on a Kickstarter-funded anti-military comic book being refused by multiple UK printers. I missed this Jonathan Guyer piece on "blasphemous" cartoons in Egypt.

—Misc. J.J. Sedelmaier shares a huge gallery of Mad paperback images. Herb Trimpe on 9/11. And finally, I didn't realize this Osamu Tezuka documentary was online. It's well worth watching. (via)



Today we re-present Gary Groth's 1998 interview with Peter Bagge.

GROTH: Well, we don’t know for sure what the demographics of people reading alternative comics are. I mean, we’re guessing between 18 and 25 predominantly, but it’s hard to say with any certainty.

BAGGE: I would say with considerable certainty that our readership drops off fast once you get beyond age 25. But I have some ideas of how we could at least try to reach older readers. One idea is to format it like the [Fantagraphics Books] catalogue, and I wanted to do everything that we can to sell as many via mail order, and really play it up on the Net, which is something that we haven’t really tried yet. I’ve been intending for like a year to get a web site going, that’s where people do a lot of their “shopping and strolling” these days, on the Internet. The Journal and the Fantagraphics web sites haven’t been up that long, but it’s a pretty sizable number of people who have at least checked it out. So as long as it’s on there, there are people who would still be buying our comics, except for the fact that they’ve got families and careers. They can’t be bothered to go all the way down to the “hip” comic shop and pay for parking, or find a parking space, but if they see the stuff on the Net, or get it into their hands somehow, maybe even sending it out mail order. You know, like maybe putting out one, a test one, that is most like a catalogue. Or we could take one issue of the Fantagraphics catalogue and kind of introduce “Let’s Get It On!” within the pages of that, because the problem of why people buy comic books, and why they don’t is logistical. I think it’s a geographic problem, as well as a cultural one.

GROTH: Is it your opinion that people drop off from reading alternative comics at a certain age, that they just move into other things at a certain point of their lives —

BAGGE: Yeah, I think that what’s going on in their lives has a lot to do with it, then it just carries on physically and time-wise. Takes them away where they just can’t afford to invest the time and money —

GROTH: But they don’t stop watching movies, or stop watching TV —

BAGGE: No, that’s right, because you can do that without leaving your home.

And elsewhere, the world spins 'round:

Tom Spurgeon has commentary on the latest Kirby estate legal go around. And more commentary is at The Beat.

Peter Bagge's Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, excerpted on Flavorwire.

I missed this Brendan McCarthy interview last month. Here it is.

Robert Boyd writes about Zinefest Houston 2013.

Robert Stanley Martin has published the second part of his examination of his Jim Shooter: A Second Opinion.

Matt Madden spends a week in Helsinki.

Yet more of an interview with Alan Moore on Miracleman.