Back in Town

Hello there, I’m back from not being here. Looks like the place is still in one piece and all that. Today on the site we have Frank Young with a look at the joy and madness of 1950s Dick Tracy. I’m happy to see someone getting at the sheer strangeness of the strip.

What made—and makes—Chester Gould’s work so damned compelling? There is much about Dick Tracy that has long been taken at face value, and never deeply explored. Gould’s aggressive, angular art style, and his off-kilter visual juxtapositions, have gotten lip service from the art world, and from a handful of writers on comics whose viewpoints can outwit the trap of nostalgia. Its gallery of stylized caricature-villains is always mentioned, in mass media, with a mixture of awe and condescension.

There is much more going on in Gould’s work—but it requires a devoted scrutiny. It asks its reader to pay close attention, to notice small, seemingly unimportant details and to accept and process arcane information, some of it inexplicable. Its voice is hugely eccentric, didactic and arrogant in its self-righteousness.


On Friday the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum announced the acquisition of Jay Lynch’s archives.  This is great news, and I hope will lead to other cartoonists of that era doing the same — there’s not a lot of first person archival material in public collections, so the more the better in terms of really understanding the history of the medium.

Carol Tyler posted a brand new comic strip, which is always good news. It’s on Facebook. 

Matthew Thurber uploaded a fine new video over the weekend:

Truly amazing dept: Andy Warhol in conversation with Herge in 1977. I was just looking at the newish Herge book from Rizzoli and there’s a nice section on his surprisingly diverse art collection.

Here’s an excellent Alex Toth 1950s story.

Sort of comics: Those Sea-Monkey ads in 1960s-70s comics? Here’s a NY Times article about a current battle over the property, which sure sounds familiar.

Not comics: Psychedelic beehives!



The Devil’s Chessboard

Today on the site, Rob Kirby reviews the latest slate of Kuš! minicomics, including books from Ingrīda Pičukāne, Tara Booth, Hanneriina Moisseinen, and Aisha Franz.

The latest quartet of Kuš! minicomics (pronounced “koosh!”) offers up yet another excellent sampling of the many and varied comics dished out by this Latvian art-comics publisher. For production value and design, the mini Kuš! series represents the pinnacle of what the minicomic art form can achieve. Of note: it wasn’t until several days after I’d first read them that I realized that all four comics were by women (the mini-Kuš! quartet of issues 30-33 were also all-female creations).

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The CIA agent turned political caricaturist Vint Lawrence passed away. (The New Republic has gathered some of his work.)

Vint Lawrence, a CIA para­military officer who helped organize a secret war in the jungles of Laos before becoming a critically acclaimed artist and caricaturist, illustrating wild-eyed literary giants and wide-eared politicos for such publications as the New Republic and The Washington Post, died April 9 at a hospital in New Haven, Conn. He was 76.

—Interviews & Profiles. Noel Murray talks to Dan Clowes.

Clowes started Patience when his son was barely out of preschool, and now he finds himself the father of an 11-year-old — which is itself a weird kind of time travel. “Parenthood changed the way I view characters,” Clowes says. “And the way I view humanity. I would’ve thought that you have a lot more input into raising a child, into how they turn out, then you actually do. The best you can do is sort of help them realize who they are, and not dissuade them. It’s not as interesting in a way to be a writer when you come to grips with that. You want to believe characters are controlled by the events in their lives, but that happens so much less than you’d think.”

Lucy Davies conducts a brief interview with Robert Crumb on the occasion of a new gallery show in London. (T Magazine has a preview.)

I try to meditate for 35 minutes every morning but don’t always succeed. I’ve learned that I need meditation to keep life from overwhelming me, to maintain some calm and detachment. As [Charles] Bukowski once wrote, “When I bend down to tie my shoes in the morning I think, ‘Christ almighty, what now?’”

Alex Dueben spoke to Al Jaffee for his 95th birthday.

I walk everywhere, I work five or six days a week, and I still get plenty of ideas. I won’t live long enough to get to all the ideas that I’ve put into files. I think it’s very important to work, to have something important to do, when you’re old. Just sitting around watching television or rocking on a porch is just inviting the grim reaper sooner.


After the Water, Fire

Today on the site, Ron Goulart returns with his column about Connecticut Cartoonists. This time, he focuses on three: Leonard Starr, Warren King, and Gil Kane (his collaborator on Star Hawks).

A time when adventure strips were dying and funny ones were filling their slots was probably not an ideal time to try to peddle a jumbo one. But, since it had long been my ambition to write a comic strip, I did not share my thoughts with Flash Fairfield. I did, however, suggest that instead of a Raymond idolater, NEA hire a popular contemporary comic book artist who was steeped in science fiction and drew in an up-to-date manner. Specifically, Gil Kane. Nobody at NEA had ever heard of him, but when they saw samples of his work and learned that he’d drawn Spider-Man, they were impressed. NEA and United Features had a dinner for all their Connecticut artists, writers and executive. After the dinner Gil and I were invited to have drinks with some of the visiting executives. One of them asked Gil if he could send him a drawing of Spider-Man for his grandson. And he said, “My boy, I’ll draw it for you right now” and turned over the large paper place-mat and drew a complex drawing of Spidey swinging through a Manhattan nightscape. The executive was obviously delighted. And I thought, “We’ve got a deal.” And we did.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Biographer Michael Maslin talks Peter Arno.

Q: It’s hard to imagine the magazine without Peter Arno. How responsible was he for the development of the modern New Yorker cartoon?

A: Ross called Arno the New Yorker’s “first pathfinder”; it’s true that Arno was, in those early years at the magazine, finding his way, along with Ross, and Rea Irvin, to what we now recognize as the New Yorker Cartoon. Could the New Yorker Cartoon have happened without Arno? His two peers at the top of Ross’s ranked artists, were Gluyas Williams and Helen Hokinson — both incredible artists, both well represented in the magazine. Their work was graphically opposite Arno’s: gentler; their captions subtle. Arno’s work hit hard and fast. He wanted the readers to experience an instantaneous connection: drawing, caption, Bam! Had his work not been in the mix, who knows if the magazine’s cartoons would’ve headed where he took them.

The Guardian talks to Simon Hanselmann.

When not putting himself in mortal danger, Simon Hanselmann is responsible for the cult comic series Megg, Mogg and Owl. “If I don’t do stupid things every now and then, I will run out of stupid things for Megg and Mogg to do,” he says. “If I stop being a fuck-up, then Megg and Mogg will soon just be about managing European translations and Skyping with network executives.”

—Commentary. Longtime Mad editor Nick Meglin remembers the magazine’s art director, Leonard Brenner.

During one long, boring cover conference going nowhere, Lenny finally stood up and with a colorful display of profanity stated that he had had it and was going to lunch. Seizing a similar escape route, I followed, flashing a middle-finger salutation saying, “Here’s our next cover idea, guys — MAD, The Number One Magazine of Good Taste,” and exited.

When everyone cracked up, Lenny did an about face and declared, “Now, that’s a great cover idea!” He was dead serious and so insistent that several of creative team started to lean in his direction. I pleaded, “Hey guys, it’s just a joke, let it go,” but despite my protestation, the group voted to show the mock layout to our publisher, Bill Gaines, the final arbiter of covers (his one editorial involvement in the magazine’s content).

Bill asked incredulously, “Do you really want to do this?” I said, “Not me, Bill!”, prompting Lenny to describe me in a volley of adjectives of which “chicken-hearted bastard” was the most complimentary and mentionable in mixed audiences. He ended his tirade with, “…and people will be talking about this cover for years to come.”

—Misc. Frank Santoro is auctioning off Chris Ware art to raise funds for the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency.


Mental Crockery

Today, we are very pleased to present Charles Hatfield’s review of Chester Brown’s latest book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, which melds Brown’s interests in Biblical interpretation and sex work.

Tacking back and forth between comics and apparatus, I see a kind of detective story taking shape, starting from the Gospel of Matthew’s unexpected inclusion of women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary—in the genealogy of Jesus, then chasing clues from there. Brown interprets the Matthew genealogy as a kind of coded hint meaning that Mary was a prostitute. A good chunk of Mary Wept—almost a hundred pages—is devoted to retelling the stories of these Biblical women, in the order they are named in Matthew. Each has a chapter of her own. A further chapter, the seven-page “Mary of Bethany,” tells the story of Jesus’s anointing by a woman, perhaps Mary Magdalene, perhaps a prostitute—an incident recounted in all four Gospels. That anointing, Brown reminds us, literally “made Jesus a christ” (183); that is, the ceremony of anointing identified Jesus as messiah. (The Greek Khristos arose from a verb meaning to anoint, used to translate the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ, mashiah.) Brown speculates that the ceremony may have had a sexual dimension. Ultimately he stresses a heretical, law-defying point: that a woman who was very likely a prostitute “had the spiritual authority to anoint Jesus as a christ” (252).

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Salon talks to Brown about his new book.

Have you discussed your ideas with mainstream Christians and gotten a sense of how it strikes them? Have people gotten angry as you’ve talked about it?

I’ve really only talked about it with friends of mine, and most of my friends are not that religious. I do have one very good friend who is a Christian, who is obsessed with the subject, as I am too… When I told her about the idea of the book, she was very offended, which is not surprising. When I was done the book, before it was published, I gave it to her… She was very offended, and found it blasphemous. But for some reason we’re still friends anyway.

The Spanish publisher of Richard McGuire’s Here has produced a video of the artist:

"Aquí", de Richard McGuire from Salamandra Graphic on Vimeo.

The Beat talks to Sonny Liew about The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

I mapped out a timeline of Singapore’s history alongside major comics works and creators. For example, I would look at the year 1961, when Marvel came out with Fantastic Four and juxtapose it against what was happening in Singapore at the time. Aside from a chronological matchup, you also had to find the stories and styles that would fit the narrative needs. Like the section about Malaysia and Singapore’s merger and separation– to me, the politicking involved had an air of childishness about it, so Peanuts or Pogo seemed like plausible vehicles. I picked anthropomorphic animals in the end because they seemed to provide the right flavor to the narrative.

The Washington Post talks to Grant Morrison about his new take on Wonder Woman.

Another twist in Morrison’s Earth One tale is the revelation that Wonder Woman already has an Amazonian lover — a fact she’s open about. Morrison views that turn as logical after, in his story, a barbaric act by Hercules plays a part in isolating Paradise Island from men.

“Women living on an island for 3,000 years together — you don’t give up sex just because you gave up men,” Morrison said. “And [sexuality] certainly is part of this culture. I’m sure they would explore sexuality, so all we did was we made a little bit more explicit. We talk about it.”

—Commentary. The Paris Review has posted an essay by Edward Gauvin about Blutch’s Peplum. (They’ve also posted a preview.)

“I’d had enough of parodies, the constant nods to this and that, the innuendo and authorial winks,” Blutch remarked, “all the mental crockery and referential baggage, the byzantine architecture of humor. I needed to do something pure, stripped down, fresher and more direct.” What better source than antiquity? Blutch set out to create the sequel to a beloved book he’d “never wanted to end”: the Satyricon. Already a motley tonal medley—prose and verse, comedy and tragedy, romance and satire—Petronius’s novel has survived only in fragments, a condition Blutch found conducive to leaving his artistic mark. “The people were all naked; all I had to draw was bodies moving through space. Peplum paved the way to a kind of musical physicality for me, a path I’ve been following ever since.”

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rebecca Wanzo reviews Ramzi Fawaz’s book of superhero scholarship, The New Mutants.

DC comics most often embraced becoming or being seen as normal. In his discussion of DC’s Justice League stories from the 1960s, Fawaz looks at the team’s embrace of a universal human rights model, with its heroes epitomizing cosmopolitan citizenship. However, these characters were so often aligned with state interests that it undercut the series’ claims to advocate for a global constituency. Moreover, in their embrace of liberal individualism, these stories eschewed otherness. In a fabulous reading of a 1965 story, “The Case of the Disabled Justice League,” Fawaz recounts how the heroes become temporarily disabled after visiting some disabled boys. The superfast runner, the Flash, finds that his legs are glued together. Hawkman develops asthma and finds that flying requires too much exertion. The Green Lantern, who needs the power of clear speech to call on the power of his ring, begins to stutter. Green Arrow, the archer, finds himself without arms.

What is striking about these disabilities is that they go to the heart of what allows the heroes to have powers.


Tomato Can

Joe McCulloch is here with his usual Tuesday guide to the Week in Comics!, running down all the most interesting-sounding comics new to stores. This week, he particularly highlights Barbara Yelin’s Irmina and, of course, Chester Brown’s much anticipated Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus.

This week marks the release of a new work by Chester Brown, and with it a volume of supplementary text unseen in Canadian comics since Cerebus closed up shop at century’s dawn. Over approximately 97 pages at the rear of the book, we are treated to an Afterword, Acknowledgements, notes on the comics, a 20-page addendum comic, notes on the Afterword, notes on the addendum comics, and then notes on prior notes, along with a 55-item Bibliography… or so it is in the uncorrected proof Drawn and Quarterly sent me. Maybe he’s added more. As a reader, I tend to put each portion of the animal to use, and in this sense, coupled with the ‘seriousness’ of the religious topic, I think the book will be received as sort of a hybrid work, as was Brown’s preceding Paying for It. It probably should be. Nonetheless, in the spirit of Christian charity, I will suggest that you — the I-will-now-presume-sympathetic reader — temporarily excerpt your initial experience with the book to the preceding 170 (or so) pages of comics, because they function in much their own self-sufficient manner, and actually register as far more pleasing without the interjection of the artist’s prose reflections.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Riad Sattouf’s Arab of the Future has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Mark Evanier remembers the just-departed Leonard Brenner, former production manager and art director of Mad magazine.

“The Beard” (that was his nickname) didn’t write or draw articles in the same way as most MAD contributors you could name but he touched almost every page between 1958 when he joined the magazine and 1995 when he retired. Aside from publisher William M. Gaines, Lenny’s name appeared on MAD‘s masthead more than anyone else’s.

—Gil Roth interviews David Leopold, biographer of Al Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld is an artist who discovered what he wanted to do early on, and works at it his whole life and gets better and better at it.


Fat Banker

Today on the site, Annie Mok interviews Eleanor Davis.

One of the most desperate feelings that I contend with, and that I feel like a lot of folks contend with, is—like, you mentioned earlier, like a desperate sense of isolation. Not being understood, being cut off from the people around you. In that way, wanting to have an effect on the reader isn’t manipulative. The purpose of it is to try to have a connection in some way. Like, if I have this strong feeling, I’ll make this other person who’s so disconnected from me, who’s so far away from me, make them mirror that feeling. Then that will help me feel a little less alone. Will help me feel a little less scared of the feeling. I don’t know.

One of the things that feels odd to me about people’s response to Happy is that—I tend to think of those stories as sad and a little bit cynical, but people respond to it in a positive way, and say that it feels uplifting to them. What they mean is that it’s a relief to read something that they see themselves in, or they feel a connection with me as the author of the story. It’s really complicated, and maybe a little bit of a burden in some ways. Before I put the book out, I was far less aware of the audience. These stories were made seeking an audience, seeking people to relate to, people to connect with. When I found them—it kinda freaked me out.

And last Friday, we published my interview with Richard Sala, about his latest book, Violenzia, politics, serialization, horror, and once making a child cry.

I actually once made a little kid cry by telling him a spooky story. He was the nephew of one of my exes and we were watching after him and telling him stories and he listened to my scary story about a monster who lived in a cave, then suddenly burst out crying. It was awful. I’ve never stopped feeling horrible about that. I also remember being extremely upset myself by an EC comic, reprinted in one of those Ballantine paperbacks and which I was probably too young to read. It didn’t scare me, it just depressed and disturbed me on a level I had never felt before. It was so bleak and cruel. I couldn’t sleep and went down to the kitchen in the middle of the night where my mom was also still awake and sitting at the table smoking a cigarette. That human connection and small talk was enough to reassure me and I went back to bed. And despite what Dr. Wertham might want you to believe, that story didn’t make me run out and kill people, it made me want to be kinder to people because life is so horrible. Take that, Wertham!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The longtime New Yorker cartoonist William Hamilton has died at the age of 76, after a car accident in Kentucky.

Robert Mankoff has gathered a selection of Hamilton’s cartoons.

Carol Tyler and Boulet have won this year’s Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize.

A new $30,000 Creators for Creators grant for cartoonists has been announced.

—Interviews & Profiles. Slate interviews Chester Brown about his new collection of Biblical adaptations, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus.

Your central contention is that Mary was a prostitute. Why was this an important assertion for you?

It’s important because I’m someone who’s involved in the sex worker rights movement—at least to some degree, at least an ally in the movement. It seems to me that Christianity is the force behind the opposition to prostitution, starting with St. Paul. The condemnation of sex work and prostitution all comes from there. If I want to attack that sort of thinking, why not attack it at the root? Christianity.

A Moment of Cerebus has published the first part of Dave Sim’s enormous 2003 interview with Chester Brown. This is a true meeting of comics eccentrics.

How did I know you were going to see it as a gender thing? Having met rational women and overly-emotional men, I fail to find convincing your contention that women are emotion-based and men are reason-based. You’re right that there isn’t a universally agreed on perception of what reality is and that there’s a clash of views-of-reality going on, but I don’t see that clash divided between emotion-based beings and reason-based beings. I think the division is between everyone. I think that, if we were able to somehow create a society that was completely made up of Sim-approved reason-based humans, there would still be people in that society who would seem crazy to the majority.

Alex Dueben talks to Brian Chippendale about Puke Force.

Maybe I’m spoiled because I play drums in a pretty wild band and those shows are definitely cathartic, so I’m not sure if releasing books can compare. The release of “Puke Force” feels OK because it is political. Certain aspects of politics do change quickly, so you want your satire to come out when it’s still relevant. But luckily, or unluckily, divisiveness and paranoia has only been increasing since I started “Puke Force,” so I’m still pretty on target.

I think we all do live with all these concerns and obsessions, and as an artist, I take time to dig them out and work with them, make connections. Excavating internal garbage, that’s the job.

—Misc. Dangerous Minds has excavated the Feds ‘n’ Heads board game invented by Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers creator Gilbert Shelton.


The Shape

Paul Karasik has dropped by to review Carol Swain’s 2014 book, Gast. We ran an excellent Sean T. Collins piece about the book back then. More the merrier, I say.

Gast  does what good literary fiction does, it transports you to a specific location, introduces you to specific characters, and takes you to unexpected and very satisfying conclusions…and it does so with spare text and precise pictures. Swain is a keen observer and a stringent editor; every panel is intentionally composed and framed, every word balloon lean and to the point. But the effect is the opposite of being left with a sparse, cold, shorthand. Her charcoal and ink drawing is lush and textured. In paring down the exposition, the reader is asked to work a bit harder than in the typical graphic novel, and that extra bit of work is part of the pleasure of reading Gast.

Links today are all publishing previews!

Moebius at Dark Horse in detail at last — sounds OK.

Chester Brown’s new book at AV Club.

Grant Morrison’s debut issue of Heavy Metal.



Mama Tried

Today we bring you Aug Stone’s interview with the Dutch artist Hanco Kolk.

“So we were at a great secondhand bookshop by Pier 7 and Peter [de Wit] hands me Al Hirschfeld’s Show Business Is No Business. And I said, ‘Woah, I’ve never seen this before!’ I immediately fell in love with his lines, his fluidity. I wanted to master the same simplicity, the seemingly simple drawings. I did my own version and worked on it with a brush until I got that line. Years later I saw a Hirschfeld original and it appears that he didn’t do fluid lines at all! He made them little by little with his pen. But he got me to find this line that I have and it’s served me well.”

Served him well it has. Kolk has forty books to his name, a handful of album covers, and his long-running daily strip S1ngle was even turned into a television show. This year he’ll be releasing The Man Of The Moment as well as a new S1ngle book, drawing his version of Spirou (“I was really proud they asked me”), and making the posters for the Stripdagen festival in Haarlem. Comics, it seems, was always in the cards for Kolk.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. There is too much Ta-Nehisi Coates hype to keep track of right now, (I haven’t read Black Panther #1 yet but I would be amazed if it lives up to a fraction of the hoopla — and I am a Coates fan) but a couple of items that stand out include Evan Narcisse’s profile at Kotaku and J.A. Micheline’s interview at Vice.

At Comics Alliance, Caleb Mozzocco interviews James Sturm for the 10th anniversary of First Second.

—Commentary. Bill Boichel talks about Jackie Ormes.

—Misc. The University of Chicago Library is currently showing an exhibit of Daniel Clowes’s creative process, and many of the images are online.

Gabe Fowler isn’t sure whether or not there will be a CAB festival in New York this year.

Tom Kaczynski appeared in a Levi’s 501 ad in the early ’90s. “Tom, he’s cool.”

Julia Wertz has been evicted from her NYC apartment, and is selling lots of stuff (art, books, etc.) before her move.

Today is the last day to vote for the Eisner Hall of Fame awards.