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Grilling in the Rain

Today on the site sees the long-awaited return of Ken Parille with his latest Grid column. This time around, he considers "the plight" of contemporary superhero comics.

The “comic-book movie” is perhaps our most significant form of mass entertainment. Superhero movies generate fan obsession, extensive media coverage, lots of think pieces, and tons of money. The comic book itself — a humble medium of ink, paper, and staples — has fared less well. Once the home of million-selling issues featuring an array of realistic and fantasy genres, it now serves mainly as an antiquated delivery system for formulaic tales about super-beings read by a dwindling audience of devotees.

When compared to its film offspring, the superhero comic book, though certainly not dead, feels a little exhausted. Writers and artists fight with the genre’s core clichés, unsure how to play things: serious and relevant (superheroes, they say, are essential myths for our time), or cutesy and comedic (if the genre is tired, let’s just have some fun with it!). Visually, the superhero comic has been struggling against its format for decades, but never more so than now. Many artists suffer from “film envy”: though confined to little boxes on small pages, they try (and inevitably fail) to capture big-screen-style drama. With limited distribution, weak sales, and the growing possibility that a comic may lead to a lucrative TV or movie deal, the safe bet is on the familiar: crank out another high-drama fable, reboot or revive a character, rewrite a classic, etc., etc.

Satisfied with narrative, visual, and verbal tropes stale since the early 1960s, most superhero comics have no interest in testing the genre’s boundaries. But several writers, artists, and cartoonists — some working for corporations and some independently — are self-consciously breaking from the past. They twist standard plots, reimagine superhero visuals by way of an underground aesthetic, embrace new kinds of characters, or blend genres in strange ways. In the midst of so much aggressive mediocrity, their work offers hope for a troubled genre.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Hogan's Alley talks to the post-retirement Cathy Guisewite.

Tom Heintjes: So, how does it feel to have gone from AACK to AARP?

Cathy Guisewite: [Laughter] I don’t think I’ve heard anyone refer to it quite like that.

Heintjes: Has the reality of retirement set in?

Guisewite: The shocking thing to me is that there’s still plenty of AACK in my life [laughter], despite the fact that I’m now into the AARP phase. There’s just an endless amount of stuff that fills up the time I used to spend being panicked about the strip. Now I feel panicked about other things. The big thing, though, is that doing a strip really sets the rhythm of the week. There was a very specific rhythm, from mild hysteria to complete hysteria [laughter] to 15 good minutes at the end of the week, after I’d sent everything in, and then the gentle hysteria would set in again. So that rhythm is gone, it was extremely disorienting. I’m not whining—believe me. That would be repulsive to anybody reading this. But it was very disorienting not to have that rhythm of panic guiding my every moment.

Heintjes: What have you found to make you feel less unmoored?

Guisewite: One of the reasons I retired from the strip was that my daughter was starting her last year of high school. And I also really wanted to spend more time with my parents, who live in Florida. I wanted the experience of being a real, full-time mom for one year of my daughter’s life. And I did exactly what I set out to do in that way. I’ve been present for both my parents and my daughter in a billion ways that I wasn’t before, and it’s honestly been a really, really happy and fulfilling year, and I’m unbelievably grateful that I’ve been able to do it. I feel that this year with my daughter has been priceless. She actually leaves the week after next for college. There was a lot I missed with her because I was always worrying about my deadlines, so I’ve tried to smash 19 years of stuff we didn’t do into the last year, and it’s been great

The New York Times profiles Gabe Fowler's Desert Island in Brooklyn.

Experimental and underground artistry is the norm at Desert Island. Look through the Williamsburg store’s plywood shelves and you’ll find glossy paperbacks as well as photocopied-and-stapled booklets with a D.I.Y. aesthetic. Surrounded by ice-blue stalactite sculptures and tapestries, regulars, travelers, and fellow artists immerse themselves in visual publications, seeking escape, inspiration, or both.

Gabriel Fowler, the owner, grew up playing in noise-rock bands and digging through record-store crates in Orlando, Fla. After moving to New York in 2004 and working as an art handler for David Zwirner and other upscale galleries, he felt there was a dearth of shops in New York channeling a certain communal alternative energy.

WGN interviews Nicole Hollander (Sylvia), and Comics Alternative talks to Karl Stevens.

—Commentary. The recent death of Anthony Bourdain has led to a deluge of coverage, even including several mainstream-press pieces on his involvement with comics, including a brief article in Entertainment Weekly and a remembrance by Karen Berger.

We didn’t talk about Vertigo. His comics love goes back to the undergrounds: Huge R. Crumb fan, huge EC Comics fan. Tony originally wanted to be a comic artist. He’s told stories when he was on our panel at New York Comic Con when we launched Berger Books. He was there, and it was fantastic that he made the time to schedule it to be there. On that panel, he talked about how he’s a huge underground comic fan, and he wanted to be an artist first, but his art wasn’t really good enough. He talked about how he went to some small comic show in the ’70s and he showed his work to [underground publisher] Denis Kitchen, who basically told him his art wasn’t very good. Joel was editing a underground magazine, this proto-hipster literary mag in the ’80s, and Tony had sent him some samples, some comic stuff, and Joel [Rose] got back and said, “Hey, the art sucks but the writing is pretty good.”

 

Hats In Hamburg

Today at TCJ, we've got a look at some comics from an interesting project currently amassing funds at Kickstarter. It's an anthology of comics inspired by folktales from the Oceania region, and we've got a look at it via the work of Brady Evans.

That's not all, of course--it's also high time for Noah Berlatsky to come by and grind his axe--or is it? It looks like Noah is getting his Roger Clemens on, because his take on Fiona Smyth's collected tome Somnambulance sounds pretty dang positive:

Normally, you'd expect such an expansive collection to feel disjointed, or at least heterogeneous. And sure enough, there is some variation; Smyth's first comics are relatively cramped; over time she started to play with color. But even with such shifts, Smyth's art is remarkably coherent over time, mainly because she's so dedicated to incoherence. From Somnambulance's earliest pages to its last, Smyth resolutely works to bend, fracture, and flat out ignore the "sequential" part of sequential images. Each overstuffed, vibrating, oversexed panel seems to freeze and burrow into the page or into your skull, distracting you from the next image, which, in turn, distracts you from the next, and the next. These are comics in which the panels don't so much work together as lovingly fight for dominance.

And while personal reasons (nice ones) call me away this evening, I'll leave you with a link to a comic that's been making the rounds, with good reason: Dakota McFadzean's Soon We're Both Screaming. It's lovely, painful, weird (and I hope, therapeutic) work. Have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

Unadorned

Today on the site, Alex Dueben talks to Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa Mendes about their collaborative political and journalistic comics work.

How did the two of you first start collaborating?

Melissa Mendes: A few years ago, I was marginally aware of the Ladydrawers and thought it was very cool. I was a little envious of them even, it looked like something I really wanted to be a part of but I wasn't sure how to approach them. Then Anne asked me if I wanted to draw for Threadbare, and I was like, um, yes please. So I started out drawing a few chapters of that, and it soon became clear that we really worked well together. There's something that clicks with us, that's kind of hard to pin down—but I think it could have to do with the fact that I consider myself a writer more than an artist, so I approach Anne's scripts like a writer, rather than just drawing exactly what she's written, like an illustrator might. And we are just similar in a lot of ways, we communicate really well. She's hilarious. So I think when we started the Detroit project there was a level of trust there already and that's made it really easy and fun to work together. Also I love doing my own research, like when I had to look up old pictures of Black Bottom in Detroit for one of the stories. I learn so much and it's fun for me, so that helps.

Moore: We had met years before that, when a friend introduced us in Providence, but I’ll admit it took a while for me to “get” Melissa’s solo thing. It’s sort of deceptive, in a good way—immediately palatable but something often happens that’s rooted in trauma or discomfort. Once I figured out that she’s using cuteness and innocence almost as tricks to pull you into these very, very complex stories I felt like we had something particular in common, something about not being interested in letting the sheen go untarnished, or something. “Wanting to peel back the skin,” might be a better metaphor. We watch a lot of lady detective shows.

And Rob Clough reviews the third and final issue of Ryan Standfest's black humor anthology, Black Eye.

The third and final volume of Ryan Standfest's black humor anthology Black Eye is subtitled, "A Shameful Enlightenment". It's the best of the three volumes. Standfest has a firmer grip on how to combine new and old material and pare down excess. Standfest doesn't worry about manifestos, indulge in fake ads, or otherwise introduce extraneous material; he just gets right down to it. The book is once again a collection of new and reprinted material from other writers and artists. For the most part, it consists of mostly six- to eight-page stories interspersed with repeating single-page gag strips from a few different cartoonists. With a relatively short page count, that allows the anthology to flow in a way the other two volumes did not while helping to strengthen the book's identity.

Standfest's editorial decisions essentially help get him out of his own way and allow the impressive lineup of artists to speak for themselves. The "enlightenment" explored by the artists is often one of an apocalyptic nature. David Sandlin's piece is about the Rapture, punctuated by the most odious aspects of the "prosperity gospel" teachings that emphasize material success as a function of one's spirituality. The "elevator to heaven" winds up leading to a much less desirable place.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Diane Nelson is leaving her position as president of DC Entertainment.

Nelson took a leave of absence in late March in order to focus on family-related issues. She had been expected to return, but sources say that very recently she decided not to resume her duties, announcing her plan to Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara.

Tsujihara on Wednesday revealed the move in a companywide announcement.

Jordan Shively is recovering from gall bladder surgery, and a GoFundMe has been set up to help defray costs.

—Interviews & Profiles. Vice profiles the pseudonymous new Nancy artist Olivia Jaimes.

After Bushmiller’s death in 1982, Nancy continued under various creators. “We had known and liked Olivia’s work as a web cartoonist, and found out she was a huge Nancy fan, so we queried her,” Glynn told me. “After we got back her samples, we felt that we had found the right person.”

It’s a mystery as to which web comics she previously published, though. “If it was up to me, I’d rather use her real name," Glynn said. "Her fans would’ve been incredible advocates, but she wants to keep her two lives separate, and we respect that."

“I’m a pretty private person and I want to be insulated from the whole ‘Big Thing’ that a classic comic strip is,” Jaimes said of the pseudonym, speaking to the New York Times. “The pseudonym lets me do that, and I’m really grateful for it.”

“Nancy is the only legacy strip I would have even considered taking on,” Jaimes told me. “For any other, the cons—it's somebody else's baby, there will be grumblers—would have easily outweighed the pros.”

 

That Car’s Not On Fire, That Car’s My Dad

It's Wednesday, June 6th: and I'm tingling with anticipation...to share with you our latest installment of Retail Therapy, wherein we hand our old time phonograph to another Store of the North! It's Peter Birkemoe of The Beguiling and TCAF fame, and he's not pulling any punches--and regardless of what cultural cliches may have told you, Canada punches hard.

What's changed the most for your business in the last ten years?

Personally, what’s changed are my expectations as to where the industry would go. I had experienced and hoped for an ever-broadening audience for comics, one that would render the previous collector/nostalgia/fandom model more of a quaint relic of the past and would allow great and interesting work [that] would rise on merit. I imagined an idyllic future where you would be able to say the word ‘comics’ without wondering if the person you were talking to immediately had an image of Spider-man in their mind. Or of a comedian.

That broadening did happen. Comics now means more than superheroes to most people. But what I didn't foresee was the significant growth and sustained appetite for pop culture garbage, or the hold children’s entertainment would have on readers well into adulthood. Even outside what was comics’ little niche. Who knew such huge swath of the public would be ready [to] declare themselves nerds of some stripe or another?!

That's not all we've got, of course: this being a day that ends in y, we've got the latest in our installment of TCJ reviews for you. Today, it's from Irene Velentzas, and it's on Godhead--the latest comic from Ho Che Anderson!

The rich duality Anderson sets up with his characters is also expressed between his worlds – the clean-lined corporate world and the sensual and gritty underworld. These worlds are represented as starkly different by Anderson. The corporate world with its violence and espionage is expressed by the calm, cool contours of his artistic line evoking an empty and soulless dystopia. The dingy underbelly of this clean world is contrastingly expressed in rich textures and tones, filled with sensual surfaces and expressions of love and loyalty that feel more tangible and inviting than those expressed in the corporate world. Anderson’s dichotomy between his story-worlds poses the question: does the future we’re striving for come at the expense of our humanity?

Meanwhile, while I realize this is not exactly Onion level stuff, I doubt the Onion could find a large enough audience that would understand what this piece is satirizing to justify them bringing it into existence. So bravo!

This past week saw BookExpo and bookcon take over the Javits Center, and while there was some solid comics related programming to be had, the show was not without its problems--the biggest one being the one recounted in this article, when comics writer Miz Tee Franklin arrived at a panel only to find that the stage had no wheelchair accessibility. Franklin, who had already endured this issue at multiple convention panels prior to traveling to BookExpo, at a panel the previous day (and had even tweeted about the issue earlier Saturday morning,), refused to participate in the panel and settled for an ad hoc signing at the Image Comics booth instead. A follow up post from Heidi MacDonald (the panel's moderator) about the event at The Beat was not well received by Franklin. It's difficult to quantify the impact that this sort of fiasco has--beyond the personal indignity suffered by Franklin, she loses her ability to speak about her work amongst her peers for an audience who might support it, as well as subtly implying that--because no effort had been made to provide her stage access--she is not actually part of said peer group. It's an ugly event, and despite the embarrassment it has caused multiple individuals, the only real victim is Franklin, and doubly so: because instead of returning from a panel where she talked about her work, she's returning from a panel where the conversation is primarily about the ramp that nobody thought to provide her. 

Before all of that happened, I also went to a panel: it had Garth Ennis on it. He was up there with a guy named Frank Tieri and the dude who wrote Kill Shakespeare, and they were talking about historical fiction. It was a great panel even if I was only intermittently interested in the comics they were talking about--Garth talked about riding around in an antique fighter jet and how the near total lack of visibility helped him realize how deep the trust becomes between a couple of wingmen, and even though I knew that all that research had been done in the service of one of the worst comics in a pretty long career, I ate it all up. The dessert to that hearty meal was listening to Tieri, who I genuinely, sincerely enjoyed--at first, I thought he was making a joke with his central casting I'm-a-Brooklyn-guy, but he wasn't, that's how he really is. His wry, who-gives-a-fuck amusement at being the dude onstage whose main installments in the historical fiction genre are A) a comic "where Wolverine meets Al Capone" and B) one where "the Punisha' kills Dutch Schultz" never stopped being funny, even more so when it would follow Ennis giving some concise description of his interest in war comics, and his attempts to give them a philosophy. The Kill Shakespeare guy even got in on the act too, by telling everyone that he liked to tell teachers that Kill Shakespeare was "the gateway drug to Shakespeare", which is the sort of absurdly arrogant bullshit that only comics marketing can produce. My favorite part of the Q&A session was when a man--a man who quite honestly looked like a Kevin Maguire drawing of the target audience for Frank Tieri comics--loudly asked from the back of the room "who was the AUDIENCE for ANY of this STUFF", to which I desperately wanted Frank Tieri to say "You, you motherfucker", but no luck--they all just talked about things being "Rated R". It was a great way to spend 45 minutes, and I highly recommend checking Tieri whenever you get the chance. 

 

Post on Demand

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey returns with a look back at Ted Shearer, creator of the pioneering Quincy strip.

Shearer also freelanced illustration work and cartoons to newspapers and magazines. Before long, he was making the rounds of magazine cartoon editors’ offices in New York every Wednesday, “Look Day,” when cartoonists living in the area submitted their offerings in person. And he worked in animation for a while as an inbetweener. But when he first approached an advertising agency, he ran up against the kind of wall African Americans often ran into in those dismal days (and still do).

“When I gave my name over the phone in arranging for an appointment, I suppose they figured that ‘Shearer’ was Irish. But when I showed up for the meeting and the receptionist saw me, she went into an inner office and made me sit out in the reception room for an hour. When I finally did get in to see my man, he went through my portfolio in about three seconds and then said, ‘If there’s anything, we’ll let you know.’”

We also have Austin Price's review of the latest from Gipi, Land of the Sons.

Italian comics auteur Gipi’s novel Land of the Sons feels at first like something of a small revolution for the post-apocalyptic story. “On the causes and motives that led to the end, entire chapters of history books could have been written. But after the end, no more books were ever written,” reads the epigraph, and though this very novel would seem to contradict Gipi’s own insistence (for what is Land of the Sons if not a kind of history book of this place and time?), for a time he seems to be actively trying to refute literary critic Jame Woods’ insistence that the post-apocalyptic story is “necessarily paradoxical… As long as language can be used to recount the worst, then the worst has not arrived” by presenting a story that exists post-language.

Yes, it’s true that the father of the titular sons keeps a journal, but from the opening portion of the novel he and his sons – our protagonists – move through their post-cataclysmic wasteland of bayous using little else but barked monosyllables when they deign to speak at all; it is not rare for a page or two or even three to pass in total silence. And why shouldn’t it be, when the boys’ own father refuses to teach them how to write even though he himself keeps a journal, when he communicates with them almost entirely through violence and threats that seem designed to beat the language out of them entirely?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Nick Meglin, longtime editor of Mad, has died. We will have an obituary soon. In the meantime, there are many remembrances online, including these by Sam Viviano and Mark Evanier.

Emil Ferris's My Favorite Thing is Monsters has won the Lambda award for best graphic novel.

Last Friday, ComiXology and Amazon announced comiXology Originals, a new line of comics to be available both digitally and via print-on-demand.

[UPDATED TO ADD:] For anyone who doesn’t already know, last weekend, the cartoonist Brandon Graham had something of a social-media meltdown, and published a comic on his Tumblr responding to various allegations that have been made against him; he calls it a “diss track,” and in it he attacks some of his critics. His defense seems to have provoked an almost universally negative reaction. The comic is easy to find if you want to read it, as are the various criticisms against him. We are looking into the situation, and hope to report more soon.

—Reviews & Commentary. Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds took to Twitter to explain what the comiXology/Amazon move mentioned above may mean in a broader sense.

If you value high-quality printing and diverse books, today's amazon/comixology announcement is concerning. Amazon's print-on-demand offers exactly one paper stock option, two finishes (matte/gloss), limited trim options, and paperback only.

...

Amazon's end game here is clear. They eventually want their proprietary P-O-D tech to fulfill as much consumer book demand as possible, & these exclusives are a way of conditioning comics fans to this process, so we publishers will eventually conform our business.

Reynolds continued his thoughts on Twitter in a second thread as well.

If you don't have a healthy skepticism of Amazon, you should, regardless of Comixology. Ask a Seattleite that doesn't work for Amazon.

Brian Nicholson reviews Margot Ferrick's Dognurse.

Margot Ferrick’s new comic, printed by Perfectly Acceptable Press, has an obvious difference with her book Yours, published by 2D Cloud last year: There’s pictures. Not totally coincidentally, I like it more. I like her drawings, for one, but also, Ferrick’s work seems specifically about emotions- big, uncomfortable, overpowering ones, relationships that are not necessarily healthy, and the use of drawing to depict a physical world gives readers a way to be more objective about what they’re seeing. Yours is pretty much all lettering, a sort of comics equivalent to the form of the love letter. In the act of reading, we feel our way along with it, in an intimate, experiential way. It’s a unique comics experience, but for me it feels somewhat one-note. When her words work in tandem with her drawing, it seems like we’re not just being given feelings, but are presented with the task of making sense of them. I think this is harder, and consequently more rewarding, though certainly I know others will differ as to the latter point.

—Misc. Michael DeForge shares Steve Ditko's reaction to his own bootleg Spider-Man comic from a few years back.

That 'free' spider-man comic is another example of anti-story and art, anti-property rights in every way and the practice continues and spreads and to be accepted.

It's the "Dumbing Down" and "Deviations Up".

 

Children of the Korn

Boker tov! It's June, TCJ reader. Why not get it started with Eli Valley? He's here talking about what he's aiming for with his comics, and unlike some, it isn't a licensing deal with the SyFy network. (At least, not yet). Sam Goldstein brought the questions, Eli brought the thunder:

Tell me about using a Jewish vernacular. Most of your comics in Diaspora Boy were written for a very specific community. Did that language limit you? What was your hope in bringing the vernacular of Diaspora Boy to a larger audience?

There’s a purpose of the book in the Jewish community and a purpose for the wider world. For the Jewish community it’s to reclaim authenticity. To be told that we are less pure is one of the things that allowed Netanyahu to be normalized. It’s a reason why under Trump the community has been silent at best, or complicit at worst. Maybe this book can give us the tools to help fight that. It doesn’t limit me in terms of creativity because I find it too exhilarating to maneuver through Jewish history and culture.

The ideology behind the comic Israel Man and Diaspora Boy is something that we don’t know enough about. It’s not well known outside of Israel or academia. It sheds a lot of light on both Israel, the American-Jewish relationship to Israel, and by extension the American relationship to Israel. And so the book offers a sort of guide to how we ended up in the horror that led to Trump. I wrote the entire introduction during the election campaign. Watching Sheldon Adelson pour millions of dollars into the campaign of the hero of American Nazism. At the time I thought Trump was just a buffoon who showed signs of extremely dangerous trends in America, but would fizzle out by election day. The fact that I was wrong only helps the relevance of the book. It’s come out in the beginning of the reign of America’s Netanyahu.

I don’t create my comics to convince the other side. I think the other side is lost basically, they‘re not open to being convinced. If my comics can add strength and nourishment to our side, then that’s a good thing, with the horrors of what we’re witnessing.  The things that I‘m pillorying are so off the deep end, I think people who continue to support these personalities and these policies are beyond convincing. I’m interested in expressing the visceral gut punch that I feel when I read the news.

That's not all: it's also review time here at TCJ, and today, Gorgon's eye turns to...Shea Hennum, who joins the team with a look at Weegee: Serial Photographer. (We interviewed the author last week). Here's Shea, getting specific about how this one works:

While it’s doubtful that Weegee authors Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert knowingly make this argument about their subject, it’s hard to shake the sense that they nonetheless understood this about Fellig. The book’s first scene introduces us to Weegee. A man has been killed, and his body lies motionless in front of a movie theatre. The lights from the marquee highlight the body, and a crowd looks on in shock and horror. Bystanders in the crowd cover the mouths—as though they are too shocked to close them—and Mannaert draws their eyes so that they appear ready to pop out of their sockets. In the first few panels, Mannaert renders Weegee as a morass of criss-crossing lines that amount to a silhouette and a pair of bulging eyes. It is only by wielding his camera that Weegee—figuratively and literally—distinguishes himself from the crowd (or at least, that is how the scene is drawn).

Out in the world, you can read all about the latest attempt to get comics readers interested in Richard Starkings' Elephantmen, a series of comics created in part to help legitimize an ad campaign for a font company. The announcement of this development came via Twitch, that streaming website where people generate income by showing you videos of themselves playing video games.

In addition to new content, the Comics MNT website has been rolling out pieces that were originally only available to Patreon subscribers. As such, they posted Megan Purdy's insightful review of First Second's Decelerate Blue, one of the few pieces of writing that really grappled with that book's weird ambition.

 

 

Closet

R.C. Harvey writes our obituary for Lee Holley, the creator of the long-running teen strip Ponytail who also worked on Dennis the Menace and many iconic Warner Brothers cartoons.

UPON RELEASE FROM THE NAVY, Holley took advantage of the GI bill and enrolled in famed Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and was later hired by Warner Bros Studios. Although he aspired to do a comic strip, doing animation was a great experience.

“I was surrounded for the first time with people who were professional artists and cartoonists,” Holley remembered. “I was working with the most talented people in the animation business, and it was a fun environment. I was an in-betweener for a couple of months when they moved me into Friz Freleng’s [award-winning] unit as assistant to Virgil Ross. Neat guy. He was a great animator, very quiet and low key. Virgil worked real rough, and my job was to clean it up. I worked hard at it for years. The animators from that era really couldn’t draw well, but they could animate like gangbusters.”

For Chuck Jones, he worked on “What’s Opera, Doc?” in which Elmer Fudd is singing “Kill the wabbit!”

“I later found out that Chuck asked for me and another fellow to help because we could draw so well.”

Over four years, Holley worked on three cartoons that won Academy Awards—one with Yosemite Sam, another with Sylvester and Tweety, and another with Speedy Gonzales.

Holley moved up from assistant animator to a ‘B’ animator and got small scenes to animate. “It was really great training,” he said, “but I persisted in dreaming about a comic strip.”

We also have an excerpt of Ben Sears's Ideal Copy, which you may remember we reviewed earlier this week.

And finally, Jason Michelitch reviews the latest true crime comic from Rick Geary, The True Death of Billy the Kid.

Rick Geary has been doing pretty much the same thing for over thirty years. This is not a criticism. Though his long career as cartoonist and illustrator is dotted with a variety of interesting tributaries – strips for the National Lampoon and RAW, illustrations for the New York Times Book Review, and drawing Gumby comics, to name just a few – the main arterial flow has been his steady stream of historical true crime comics. Fascinated from the start by the myth and mystery of American murder (his first comics work was inspired by reading the file on an unsolved murder he got from a police officer friend), Geary’s work took shape as a long-term project in 1987, with the first volume of A Treasury of Victorian Murder, which combined with its sequel series, A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, is up to 22 volumes. Add to that a number of historical and biographical side projects, and you find a slowly accreting magnum opus, a life’s work of capturing society’s weird dark substructure.

The True Death Of Billy The Kid is one of those side projects, though to call it that might wrongly imply that it is a minor work.  It is not, though neither is it necessarily a major one. Part of the nature of Geary’s project is the relatively egalitarian relationship among his various books. Each volume, whether in the Treasury of Murder series or produced outside it, performs more or less the same task: to map another event in Geary’s history of (mostly) American infamy. The impact and importance of a given book is roughly the same as any other, differences registering in millimeters rather than miles.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Over at the Smart Set, Chris Mautner reviews Eleanor Davis's Why Art?

Right away, however, we can see this book will be anything but an academic discourse. For one thing, Davis’s narrator begins by separating art into some odd categories. Under color, for example, we are presented (in black and white no less) with “blue” and “orange” objects. One of the blue objects is a small pig. No mention is made of the rest of the spectrum.

From there, the narrator notes goes on to discuss “mask” artworks, “mirror” artworks, and the popular “concealment” art which hides unpleasant things from view (“Some of us have student loans to pay off” exclaims a defensive sculptor in the midst of creating such a work). The narrator also darkly reminds us that there is some art “meant to remind the audience of things we’d rather forget, things so awful they shouldn’t be true.” This type of art is represented as a simple black square the slowly grows to consume the page. “Many people try hard not to look at this type of artwork,” we are told.

At the New York Times, Ed Park reviews the latest books from Nick Drnaso and Michael Kupperman.

Not yet 30, Drnaso has topped his virtuoso 2016 debut, “Beverly,” which had a cheerful palette gleefully at odds with all that roiled beneath its speckless Midwestern skies: class friction and psychosexual urges, brain-draining sitcoms and kneejerk racism. (Nearly everyone in Drnasoland is white.) Some of the visual shocks in “Beverly” lodge in the head, like certain demonic glimpses from “The Shining” — but “Sabrina” goes deeper, risks more. It’s an unnerving mystery told by a rigorous moralist, a profoundly American nightmare set squarely in the first year of the Trump presidency. Politics is never mentioned, but the dread is everywhere: on the airwaves, at an open mic, in a kid’s activity book, and — most barbarically — online.

For Print, Michael Dooley explores Black Comix Returns.

Black Comix Returns isn’t simply about black comic books. More expansive than that, it’s a celebration of African American independent comics art, spotlighting nearly 100 cartoonists in practically every genre and category: educational, experimental, erotic, horror, humor, kids, and sure, superhero. This lineup includes established pros like Lance Tooks, Keith Knight, Ben Passmore, and Afua Richardson, whose World of Wakanda covers were part of that GLADD award. But mostly it presents relatively unknown but praiseworthy rising art stars.

Many have done licensed material for the mainstream majors, but the majority are developing their own, creator-owned projects. One of the book’s authors, cartoonist-scholar Damian Duffy, explained to Women Write About Comics that “the ‘x’ in ‘Black Comix’ is there because its focus is on independent work, which often means work sold outside or alongside the local comics shop market. Indy comics are put out by everyone from amateur artists to storyboard artists to fine artists to commercial illustrators. Some work is self-published, or only published online.”

And finally, Eddie Campbell explains to Entertainment Weekly why he's coloring From Hell.

The good thing about computers is they have a million colors. I remember when we used to hand-separate colors. We would cut up zipper tones and overlay them on four separations to make the colors for our comic covers back in the ‘80s. We were stuck with a dozen or so variations of colors, because we couldn’t afford to buy every possible zipper tone, but with the computer you can get all kinds of muddy and subtle shades. It’s enjoyable. It’s Eddie Campbell coloring, it’s not regular comic book coloring. I did something for Marvel once, and there was a shine on people’s kneecaps and elbow points. They always like to put these glistening highlights on everything. But here, there’s lots of evening fading into night, where it starts in evening and colors fade until they disappear, and then suddenly we’re in the darkness and gloom, where things are only dimly glimpsed.

 

I Admire Its Purity

Today at TCJ, we've got that rare occasion (that's about to become less rare) where one cartoonist interviews another cartoonist. Today's installment sees Charles Forsman speaking with Max de Radigues. While their initial focus is on Max's graphic novel Weegee with Wauter Mannaert, recently brought to English by Conundrum, Max's prolific output sees them going into even more. Here's a bit on the co-operative publishing set up that Max is currently a part of.

I want to ask about l’employe du moi, the publishing Co-op you are a part of in Brussels. Can you tell me a bit about how that is set up? I’ve been thinking about publishing co-ops lately and wonder why no one in comics has done something similar in North America. Maybe you have some insight into that?

Yeah, I always wondered why there aren't more small publishing house in the US. It seems like most of any alumni for a French or Belgian art-school start a project with his classmate that pretty often becomes a publishing house. I lot of them come and go but a lot stick also. L’employé du Moi, started as a weekly zine made by students of a school in Brussels in 1999. After a bit more than a year, they were tired of the intensity of that rhythm and decide to move to bigger anthology project. To make that project exist, they created a small publishing company. It started by them just doing anthologies and publish themselves and slowly they started publishing other friends and people they were meeting. I got in, in 2006, because I shared a studio space with them and I was very interested in the process of making a book, not just drawing it but the whole process until it reaches the reader. I think it really helped me a lot in my cartoonist career to be able to talk like equal with the publisher and to have a sense of what I can and cannot do technically.

Today, we are five people in the house, Sacha Goerg, Stéphane Noël, Phlippe Vanderheyden, Matthias Rozes and me. I’m not sure about the word Co-op. I think we are the equivalent of a non-profit… i’m not sure what the differences are between the two.

Meanwhile, on the TCJ Review front, we're pleased to introduce you to another new writer: Mel Schuit. She's here today with a review of Ben Sears' latest Double+ story, The Ideal Copy.

In The Ideal Copy , Sears sticks to the series formula of a short, quippy escapade in which the stakes are generally low in terms of danger and real-world impact. Perhaps because the bulk of the adventure doesn’t feature Plus Man and Hank physically working together, this book in particular feels almost like a filler episode intended to focus less on action and more on character development, specifically for Plus Man. Plus Man not only gets the bulk of the screen time in the book, he also gets the bulk of the story. He’s the one who discovers that something is amiss with their party hosts and he’s the one who investigates it. He also has the added benefit of meeting Gene, a former treasure hunter and mentor of sorts. As a wrongfully convicted former convict, Gene has a lot of offer Plus Man in terms of advice and perspective, and this chance meeting puts a harsh spotlight on the fact that Plus Man is human and that Hank is a robot: Plus Man is growing and changing and learning, but Hank is stationary.

Elsewhere, the site Women Write About Comics scored what has to be the hands down best subject for an interview I could have imagined and in to make it that much sweeter, found that subject to be more than happy to speak in detail. Nobody--no single person--understands the mechanics of publishing quite as well as an accountant. (I grew up with more in a house that had a few, why do you ask?)

This is such a bad idea, but who cares, the world is probably going to end. Hail Satan!