First up, here on the site, Rob Clough is back with another High-Low column. In this one, he’s going international:
One of the interesting things about reading current comics is the truly international reach that small press artists now have. Thanks in large part to the internet, artists have a chance at reaching audiences from across the globe. It’s not just the web, however—in what seems like a fulfillment of Dylan Horrocks’s Hicksville, minicomics and handsome books are appearing from countries not necessarily known for their alt-comics scenes. In this column, I’ll be looking at comics by cartoonists from Poland, Latvia, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Turkey. (I’m still waiting for the Mongolian mini-comics mentioned in Hicksville to show up on my doorstep.)
Elsewhere there are a million things.
—First, all the interviews. Every single one of these is worth reading, watching, or listening to, believe it or not. Don’t let your eyes glaze over. Daniel Clowes spoke to the AV Club, and to NPR. (Yr pal and mine Frank Santoro has thoughts on the latter here.) Alison Bechdel also spoke to NPR. Longtime Mad writer Dick DeBartolo talked to the Paris Review! Guy Delisle spoke to the Guardian. Comics scholar and Squa Tron editor John Benson talked to Print. Dylan Horrocks talked to the Italian website Conversazioni Sul Fumetto. (Barely comics–& some people could skip this one, actually: Glenn Danzig talks to the L.A. Weekly about his alternate-dimension movie performance as Wolverine.) Finally, via everyone, a really great Fear No ART interview with Chris Ware:
—Dept. of the World is Changing.Herman creator Jim Unger has passed away. Tom Batiuk was profiled on the 40th anniversary of Funky Winkerbean. Dave Sim announces a Kickstarter project to release digital editions of Cerebus (and more or less immediately reaches his goal). There is now a Jack Davis blog.
—Dept. of Miskellaneous. Zak Sally follows up his recent Inkstuds appearance with a longer explanation of his position on Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Stan Lee and creators’ rights. Warren Ellis talks webcomics page (or screen) formatting. The Team Cul de Sac auction has begun (and is selling lots of great-looking stuff). Stephen Bissette shares some really early, rare gay comic books. Matt Seneca namesParadax as one of the Greatest Comics of All Time.
Bechdel subtitled Fun Home (her previous graphic novel) “A Family Tragicomic.” Are You My Mother?’ssubtitle, “A Comic Drama,” echoes this phrase. Both genre terms (comedy and drama) are curious words to preface this book with. Though it includes a few lightly comic scenes, Are You My Mother? is relentlessly serious. Its non-linear structure often moves rapidly between scenes, excerpts from other writers, and personal archival materials —usually without identifying the chronology.
-Paul Gravett scoops us all with a check-in with the great Mark Beyer.
-Designer, illustrator and the author of a couple recent graphic novels, Seymour Chwast, has a new children’s book out.
CAMPBELL: Most people take a lot of things for granted, like what a thing is worth and how much they should get paid for an hour’s work etc., but for a few other people nothing arrives without a set of negotiations. Like agreeing on how much is to be paid then, when the time comes, having to phone up to make it happen, then having to shepherd the money through international exchange channels. Nothing is ever worth the same amount twice. I don’t take anything for granted. There was a time when I got two Australian dollars for one American. Now I get less than one. And I make all my income from foreign countries, so multiply the problem by Euros and pounds. So yes, I guess I see money differently from Joe Average. Explaining it to my wife is where the difficulty resides.
And of course, Joe McCulloch is back with his usual Tuesday column on the week in comics.
We’re still running on vacation time here, so undoubtedly we’re missing a lot, but here are a few comics-related links worth looking at.
—Perhaps the most surprising development was the Wall Street Journal‘s publication of this review, which uses the occasion of Christopher Irving’s Leaping Tall Buildings to display attitudes towards Marvel and DC and creators’ rights more typical of your average comics blogger than you’d expect to find in a financial newspaper. (A sample: “If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new ‘Avengers’ comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.”)
—J. Caleb Mozzocco notes the appearance of a creator portraits page at the DC Comics website, which Mozzocco thinks may have been spurred on by some of Chris Roberson’s public comments upon his departure from the company.
—Finally, it’s always worth noting when Robert Boyd is writing about new comics. Here he is on three recent “art comics” he thinks show signs of being influenced by the more cosmic side of Jack Kirby.
It’s coming up on Memorial Day here in the States, so we’ve got a meaty article to keep you going over the weekend, an excerpt from TCJ columnist Jared Gardner’s recent Eisner-nominated book, Projections. Among other things, this chapter features the now-little-known debate between Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and Cleanth Brooks (!) in the pages of The American Scholar. A taste:
In the next issue of American Scholar, Cleanth Brooks and his Louisiana State colleague Robert Heilman responded with a long, facetious account of their sudden conversion to Marston’s philosophy in their literature classes, claiming that they now will even employ models dressed as Wonder Woman to help illustrate their lectures and demonstrate female superiority. Brooks and Heilman maintain their deadpan approach throughout their letter, expressing their gratitude to Marston for inspiring their “conversion” to comics over traditional literature, and they conclude by calling on Marston and the editors of The American Scholar “to tell us more about the comics by means of comics”—even offering to furnish the editors with the zinc plates necessary to transform the journal into a comic book: “We are sure that there are literally thousands of Phi Beta Kappas who will happily contribute their keys, if need be, to bring the power of the ‘visual image’ to the aid of puny reason in the great fight to save the humanities to which we are all committed.”
And then of course, it’s Friday, so Tucker Stone is here (along with friend Abhay Khosla), with another hair-raising look at the commercial dregs of the industry.
—With this article on the history of gay characters in supehero comics, Alex Pappademas shows that his excellent Stan Lee profile at Grantland was not a fluke, and apparently they’re going to be featuring intelligent comics coverage on at least an irregular basis.
—Leonard Pierce has a good response to the recent Scott Kurtz anti-Kirby diatribe (which previously I felt was too moronic even to mention).
—Rob Clough surveys the current state of comics for children.
—I keep forgetting to link to this really great audio interview with Bill Griffith recorded by Benjamen Walker at WFMU. (You may remember his Chester Brown interview from last year. If not, check it out, too.)
As if it wasn’t enough that comics are the domain of the obsessive control freak, there is a cartooning sect that perfectly defines the creative mania responsible for some of our greatest works: the one-man anthology. It’s a publishing sensibility that may have had its moment in the sun decades ago, but it’s never really been a dominant point of interest for cartoonists.
Certainly, the comic’s self-contained gag-a-day format, along with the clarity and force of Bushmiller’s compositions, can often make each strip seem like an instance of emphatic singularity, a totem to be worshipped in dumb awe. But Nancy is Happy returns to this gag-a-day strip precisely its daily qualities, so often overlooked. There is, we rediscover, an aspect of the quotidian to Nancy, a rhythmic unfolding in time, an ordinariness repeated with such unrelenting frequency that we’ve opted to shunt it into the sublime. Reading Nancy in continuity, rather than in isolation, may be an unfamiliar experience, but it is one which reveals the strip’s patient and inquisitive reaction to the bric-a-brac and ins-and-outs of everyday life—an attentive curiosity whose effect is diminished by removing the comics from their daily or weekly contexts.
Today on the site, Hayley Campbell returns after a too-long absence to interview Tom Gauld, the cartoonist behind the new graphic novel, Goliath. Here’s Gauld on adapting the Bible:
I don’t have a religious faith, but I’m interested in the Bible because the stories are such well-known, common parts of our culture. A few years ago I did a version of the story of Noah (for Kramers Ergot 7) and I liked that I could rely on the reader’s knowledge of the story, and play with their expectations. That story was one of the things which led me to do Goliath. I didn’t want my book to be anti-religious, or even to paint David as a fraud or a villain, but the God (or maybe just strong religious faith) which makes David so powerful is definitely not there for Goliath.
O’Connell’s weapons of choice are perspective and detail, throwing enough conflicting examples of both at you at once to make each turn of the page a “wait, what?” experience. Her characters limbs elongate at odd points so that you’re never sure exactly how large their bodies are in relation to their environments — is this some weird, deliberately inconsistent use of foreshortening, or are they just built like warped marionettes?
Elsewhere on the internets…
—Okay, easily the link of the week comes from Gene Deitch, who writes at length (and with copious illustrations, videos, and archival evidence) about his experiences adapting Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are into a short animated film.
—Your Alison Bechdel link of the day comes from Ng Suat Tong, who focuses in on the psychoanalytic content of Are You My Mother?, which is sounding more and more fascinating as the reviews come in. As Dan mentioned yesterday, our own coverage will be coming soon.
—I also missed the Chicago Tribune‘s excellent coverage of last weekend’s “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference.
—The outrage of the moment just over came when McSweeney’s announced a cartoonist contest, which would award a $500 prize to the winner, in exchange for two cartoons a month. This sparked something of a revolt online, mainly from cartoonists concerned about what they perceived as exploitation, which eventually led to McSweeney’s apologizing and canceling the contest. This seems worth mentioning after the fact, if only for taking note of changing comics-community standards, and the force an internet-focused protest can have, at least when aimed at a smaller, community-minded organization.
—Finally, there’s apparently some kind of TV and tabloid frenzy going on over the fact that a few characters at DC and Marvel are about to be revealed as either gay and/or getting married while gay. I wonder how many times those companies can get PR mileage out of this kind of thing; it feels like they’ve already done this multiple times, but the media’s obviously still buying. In the meantime, someone should tell the New York Times about Maurice Vellekoop.
Is this mutiny? We’ll work to bring you the answer.
Frank M. Young delivers unto us answers about John Stanley in reference to questions you didn’t know you had, and we should thank him for that. This kind of deep comic book archeology is needed. It gets to the weird smudgy bottom of aesthetic developments. So here’s Young on proto-Tubbys.
Here’s a funny thing: A group of documents containing an alternate plot point for The Little Prince was recently sold at auction. It sounds interesting:
In this version of the story, after visiting six planets, the little prince arrives on an alternate-reality earth. One particular line reads as an homage to the melting pot of New York City: “If you brought together all the inhabitants of this planet close together as if for a meeting, the Whites, the Yellows, the Blacks, the children, the elderly, the women, and the men, without forgetting a single one, all of humanity would fit on Long Island.”
Hamlin kept up a merry round of madcap adventures in Moo for the next five years before beginning to feel constrained by the narrow range of story possibilities imposed upon him by his chosen locale. Then Dorothy again supplied a vital prompt: remembering a story her husband had written in high school, she suggested introducing a time machine. If Alley Oop and Ooola could travel through history, stopping here and there wherever a good story seemed likely, the story possibilities would be limitless.
Hamlin’s interest in prehistory had by this time broadened considerably into ancient history (as it would eventually into all history), and time travel enabled him to pursue this interest in the strip. He went to the syndicate editors in Cleveland immediately and, after “the best part of a week” of persuading and pleading, got permission to change the strip, a violent wrench of a change, something no other strip at the time had managed.
On April 6, 1939, Oop and Ooola suddenly fade from our sight in the Moovian jungle; and two days later, they materialize in the laboratory of a twentieth century scientist, Elbert Wonmug (a punning last name celebrating science’s most famous theorist, “en stein” being German for “one mug”). Wonmug has invented a Time Machine, and, seeing the rugged resourcefulness of the prehistoric pair, he subsequently sends Alley and Ooola on “fact-finding” missions through the ages: they become time travelers and have adventures in every famous epoch in history.
And Jeet Heer reviews the new IDW collection of Otto Soglow comics. I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard more about this book. Soglow is hilarious. Here’s an excerpt from Jeet’s review:
One of the great strengths of Cartoon Monarch is that it gives us a very generous sample of Soglow’s work from many facets of his career so that we can see that the clear line style was a hard won victory for the cartoonist. Rather surprisingly, Soglow started off as a student of such Ash Can School masters as Robert Henri, George Luks, and John French Sloan. Like them, he specialized in charcoal-dark representations of urban squalor (some of which appeared in radical publications like The New Masses).
Soglow’s move to the clear line wasn’t a complete break from his earlier art since he continued to do anecdotal art about urban life, but his art started to become more line-focused and less shadowy as he became a fixture in The New Yorker, where the Little King first appeared in 1930. I’d speculate that Rea Irwin was an influence. Contractual wrangling with the New Yorker seems to have prevented Soglow from immediately moving the monarch to newspapers when the Hearst Syndicate hired him in 1933. As a stop-gap measure, Soglow created The Ambassador, who was the Little King in everything except title and facial features (the Ambassador had a bulbous nose and a walrus moustache).
—By all accounts, the star-studded, Hilary Chute-organized “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference held this weekend at the University of Chicago was a huge success. Many of you hopefully found some time this weekend to watch the live streaming video of various panels, but if not, know that many of them will soon be archived at this page at the Critical Inquiry site.
—Joe Sacco has a short story, “Kushinagar”, in the New York Review of Books(!). (Am I right in thinking this is the first comic strip ever published in that magazine?)
—Talking to The Guardian, Dan DiDio tries to justify DC’s decision to create Watchmen sequels, and responds to Alan Moore’s stated opinions on the matter: “Honestly I can understand why he [Moore] might feel the way he does because this is a personal project to him. He has such a long and illustrious career and he’s been able to stand behind the body of work he’s created. But quite honestly the idea of something shameless is a little silly, primarily because I let the material speak for itself and the quality of the material speak for itself.”
—Jason Thompson’s manga column, always worth reading, concerns Cromartie High School this time around.
—And finally, assuming those of you who are interested didn’t already see this at one of the many, many places that linked to it over the weekend, Neil Gaiman gave the commencement address at the University of the Arts: