Tim is back, and with him some balance has been restored. Maybe. In honor of his return, I will unfurl some deep thoughts…
This past weekend I visited the Raymond Pettibon exhibition at the New Museum, which served as an excellent reminder that I don’t like Raymond Pettibon’s artwork very much. I have enjoyed his zines, and I think he’s fine, but the stuff never reaches past itself. It’s a 40 year slog through various parts of American culture (surfing, baseball, hippies, religion, murder, etc.) that manages to never rise above or offer any perspective on it. His text, embedded in numerous drawings, is never more than on-the-nose and pat. In a way the show is like a three-floor installation of a Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta (two obvious influences): It shows us plenty of “awesome” things but it’s just that thing and only that thing, and I find that ultimately dull in a museum context. As a 16 page zine, yes, ok. Or even seeing, as I have, a half dozen drawings on a wall. But he’s just not an interesting enough mind or hand to sustain three floors. I prefer the Mike Kelley dive into the same material — the transformative approach rather than regurgitation.
Ah, what a relaxing two weeks of child care and Olympian detachment from the comics internet. I wonder what’s been going on in my absence?
Ha ha ha. Good cop/bad cop works again.
Elsewhere on the site, R.C. Harvey is here with a new column on Gluyas Williams.
Williams was soon also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, which had been launched by Harold Ross in February 1925. Although Ross began soliciting cartoons from Williams almost at once, the cartoonist did not produce anything for the magazine until 1926. “Ross would write,” Williams told Marschall, “but I’d say that I was based in Boston and I didn’t know enough about New York to be of any use. And then he finally sent me a cartoon idea about the house wrecker who has the wrong address.
“I did it and sent it over, and Ross sent it back and said that it won’t do: he said to get more fun into it—have a woman taking a bath while they’re taking the bathtub out and like that. [Cartoons with women in bathtubs were standard fare in the Ballyhoo magazine comedy of the period, but I doubt Ross thought along those lines. He did, however, make suggestions that Williams couldn’t accept, whatever they were.—RCH]
“Ross said to change it and put those things in it, and he’d buy it. I sent it back just as it was and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t touch it because my idea of humor was understatement rather than slapstick.’ And Ross wrote—oh, how I wish I’d kept that letter!—it was a wonderful letter, saying, ‘You’re perfectly right. I’m going to change all my ideas on drawings. Of course that’s much subtler your way and better.’
“And after that letter,” Williams concluded, “I thought to myself that this was an editor I’d like to work for.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere, there are too many links I’ve missed, so I’ll dole them out.
—News. Longtime great New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler has passed away. Here is the NY Times obituary.
Some of Mr. Ziegler’s subjects were recurring ones, like the Lone Ranger, hamburgers and comic-book characters.
Superman appeared more than a dozen times. Mr. Ziegler depicted him changing his clothes in a telephone booth while a cat (or is it Batman?) surreptitiously watched from a nearby window, going to therapy to face intimacy issues with Batman, and being forced to hand in his cape after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
Mr. Ziegler was not a big fan of the Man of Steel, he wrote in a New Yorker blog in 2013, but “he’s a guy in a cape and a body stocking and he can fly, which makes him amusing and fun to draw.”
Richard Gehr interviewed Ziegler for this website in 2013, and their conversation is well worth revisiting.
I went to the Fillmore a few times and saw the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and…I don’t know if we actually saw Quicksilver. There were a couple of concerts in Golden Gate Park. The last apartment we had in San Francisco was on Stanyan Street, right across from the park, so we used to be there quite a bit. That’s when I started doing cartoons and figured I should move back East if I wanted to be serious about this.
I also took six months off to try to write. I completed this novel I thought was good when I was writing it, but turns out it wasn’t.
While I was doing this writing, or trying to be a writer, Brian [McConnachie] was in New York and he was also trying to be a writer. He was also doing cartoons on the side, but he can’t really draw. He’s a terrible artist but he has funny ideas, so he started selling stuff to National Lampoon. And he said, “I can’t even draw and I’m selling cartoons. You can actually draw. Maybe this is something you might wanna think about.” So I did. I started kind of fiddling around with it, and then I found that I really enjoy doing it. I mean, I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I found I could do it. So I started doin’ that and then thought maybe this would be a way to make a living without having to sell my soul in some awful job.
I was doing a lot of cartoons in San Francisco. I think I sent some stuff out and it all got rejected. Then I thought maybe I should go to New York and actually visit some of the magazines and do an in-person thing. So I went to New York for like a week, and stayed with Brian and his wife. That’s when I decided we should move back there. If I’m ever gonna make this work, it’s not gonna happen in San Francisco. We packed up the bus again, got a U-Haul, and attached the bus to the back. Jean-Anne and I had a kid at that time – the first kid, Jessica. They flew back to Chicago and I drove from San Francisco to Chicago and met them there, spent a weekend, and then drove the rest of the way to New York. Once I got settled in New York, they took a plane and followed. It was just me and Blanche, the dog, in the truck. That was a good trip.
Marvel sales VP David Gabriel gave an interview to ICv2 in which he blamed falling sales of Marvel titles on reader disinterest in diversity.
What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.
We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.
Check that same link for Marvel’s later scramble to clarify Gabriel’s comments and reverse the PR damage.
This of course sparked a lot of outrage in various corners. I’ll share just one viral response (to another response), G. Willow Wilson’s.
If you’re going to write a smug thunk-piece about the “failure” of “diversity” in comics, maybe don’t use the cover image of a book that’s had 4 collections on the NYT graphic books bestseller list, won a Hugo and cleaned up at Angouleme. Just because you HOPE it’s on the chopping block, oh Riders of the Brohirrim, doesn’t mean it is.
Adams’s house is a shrine to the cartoon character that made him rich. One section, visible from the pool area outside, clearly resembles Dilbert’s head, with two oval windows for eyes, connected by a thin line that suggests spectacles. “They look out from the cat’s bathroom upstairs,” Adams told me. The structure is full of indulgent quirks. In the kitchen, Adams installed three microwaves so he “can make a lot of popcorn at once.” Nearby, he transformed a bar area (Adams doesn’t drink) into a display case for Dilbert books and paraphernalia. Other features include a 10-seat movie theater, a gym, and a room filled with beauty salon equipment, where his ex-wife (now Adams’s personal assistant) used to host spa days for friends. Off to the back is an indoor tennis court.
Ironically, given my spiel yesterday, there’s nothing new on the site today. It’s been a busy week of content, so I suggest poking around the site and settling in with something of interest. Here are some fine links:
Barbara Nessim is a wonderful illustrator who has mostly been overlooked — her work in the 1960s was hand in hand with Push Pin in establishing the look of commercial psychedelia. Great, linework and a luminous, bendable sense of color and form. There’s a great-looking show in LA right now.
And now we have The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, a long-form graphic novel biography that focuses on a very complex and tragically human character that you sort of pulled from the dustbin of history, really. It seems like you’re playing outside of your sandbox here a little bit. Can you explain how you came to this project?
It was just a thing I was researching in the background for years. Seabrook had this really weird, interesting life—he knew all these famous artists and writers—and I was surprised that I’d never heard of him before. So I just started researching him, then bought all his books and I thought he was a very good writer.
When did this happen?
I looked at my notes recently and the first ones I had about him were from 2006. So that’s 10 years that I had it kind of in the background, five years of those being committed to writing and drawing this thing nearly full-time. But it wasn’t much of a conscious decision. I toyed with the idea of doing it, and then I had a script written, and then all the research was done, so I was like “I guess there’s no excuse not to do it.” It was daunting though, because it was big. 300 pages, y’know. I discovered Seabrook in an anthology of zombie stories edited by Peter Haining called Zombie. The story was “Dead Men Working in a Cane Field”, a famous Seabrook story that’s an ostensibly true story of these zombies working cutting cane—it’s great. But what really interested me the bio of Seabrook in the book which gave me a glimpse of this guy; all the people that he knew and his life, plus he was an alcoholic, a cannibal, a bondage freak, and all this stuff.
Chris Mautner writes really nicely about Demon Vol. 1, a great book from one my favorite cartoonists, Jason Shiga. I think, as far as I can tell, that Shiga has nicely escaped the comic world orbit into some kind of regular world success, which is awesome for the world.
More on the only important comics-related event this weekend. Seriously — I got an email listing comics events this weekend and I nearly threw myself in front of a bus just to stop the agonizing boredom it brought on. Wegman and Thurber, take me away! Make me laugh. Make me feel. Feel me up! Anything to distract me from endless panel discussions about anthologies, librarians, and dead people. Maybe comic book conventions should go back to showing old video tapes of anime and 1970s Marvel TV shows. Also, can we go back to calling them comic book conventions? I keep writing and deleting thoughts in this space — mostly questions I have about various people and ideas… and the longer Tim stays on paternity leave the less restraint I’ll have. That kid better grow up fast! Anyhow, here’s the good news:
William Wegman, 2017, after a drawing by Matthew Thurber.
“No Maine Is An Island”
William Wegman & Matthew Thurber
Opening April 1, 7 to 10pm
William Wegman and James Thurber, together at last. What’s that? A filing clerk sent the invitation to the wrong Thurber. Too late to retract the invitation now. But when Wegman met Thurber he was crestfallen. That is, he dropped a tube of toothpaste into the toilet. I don’t know why they decided to meet in the bathroom. Maybe it seemed like gender-neutral territory. Foolish Thurber left some Wegmans too close to a scented candle and…whoops.
It seems they’ve started to copy each other’s drawings. To become the other’s ‘evil twin’…but let’s not be naive here!…a ‘good’ drawing? an ‘evil drawing’? No such thing exists…we all know that. We…did you close the chimney flue? You fool, don’t you know bad drawings can crawl down the chimney like bats, like leopards, like Wegmans and Thurbers???? There is however, possibly at this moment in your unattended studio washroom a witch, laughing at you in the mirror. Come on now…enough is enough. Are you being serious? Or are you just halving Fun?
“No Maine Is An Island” includes new call-and-response drawings by William Wegman (b.1943) and Matthew Thurber (b.1977), as well as a selection of Wegman drawings from the ’70s and ’80s. The exhibition remains on view, by appointment, through May 7.
Teen Party is located at 874 Greene Avenue, Apt 2A, in Brooklyn.
On the site today, Greg Hunter talks to Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) on the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue.
Well folks, the beat goes on. Apparently it’s MoCCA this weekend in New York! Can you believe it still exists? Good heavens. Anyhow, here are some events, including one with noted Legion of Superheroes author Paul Levitz, and another with our own fearless leader Gary Groth! I hope there’s some ice cream in this for me. Seriously. The best news is that both Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga, National Treasures both, have new comic books coming out.
In other comics news, the Paris Review has a fine interview with Pénélope Bagieu, author of the new Mama Cass graphic bio, California Dreamin’. And Heidi MacDonald brings news of the Neil the Horse reprint — a beloved 1980s comic that has aged… well, we’ll see.
I thought more about what I wrote yesterday and realized that my instinct is to be defensive, for fear of being called a killjoy. But then I remembered that I actually like so much superhero stuff… I just like it done well. It should go without saying that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the genre. What I guess I find depressing is that the jump to this stuff is somehow held up as rebellious. It smacks of reactionary politics and head-burying by once “sensitive artistes” indulging in… not their own ids, but someone else’s. It’s an odd kind of role-playing in public. Publishing-as-cosplay, maybe?
I don’t care about either of the links above, but, y’know, gotta fill the space! I actually find Chabon especially irritating in almost everything he writes. Remember when he had his own comic book version of the fictional comic book from his novel? Ooof. Anyhow, a side note: I read the much-hyped Crime Destroyer #1, the first release from All Time Comics, a Fantagraphics imprint funded by writer/artist Josh Bayer’s brother, Sam. It is basically a sub-par Marvel or DC comic from the early 1980s… imagine a random issue of Indiana Jones or Legion of Superheroes written and drawn by a couple of young hacks as a try-out for the “big time.” It’s not bad-good, or kitsch, or anything on which you could hang a reason for liking it. And of course it’s vaguely misogynist and racist, but so is the amped-up pop culture world it comes from. All the publicity that money can buy positions All Time Comics as daring and both somehow new and somehow classic. It’s none of these things. Bayer’s writing is overly verbose and mostly incoherent. The drawing by old-time hack Herb Trimpe (now, along with fellow hacks Al Milgrom and Rich Buckler, somehow regarded as an important artist — so depressing) is badly composed, static, and without a trace of distinction. Even the lettering is terrible — crooked, inconsistent and crowded. Some recent superhero riffs, like, say Copra or Street Angel, have actual narrative momentum, personality, and individual points of view. This is just soulless and boring. I suppose some of this comes down to being unable to differentiate between good work and the work you liked as a kid. Or, rather, work with interesting qualities and the work you remember fondly.
Worse (since my own problem is that I somehow care), one of the big selling points for this line, both in interviews and in Bayer’s editorial in Crime Destroyer #1, seems to be that it’s wacky and transgressive that supposedly “snooty” Fantagraphics is releasing superhero comics — a genre which somehow becomes Trumpian code for populism. How is that true? Fantagraphics, by its own lengthy, page-after-page confession/admission in the recent 40th anniversary brick, has been releasing garbage, including superhero comics, for decades: Amazing Heroes, John Byrne comics, impossibly long novels by Charles Schulz’s son, and imprints including Eros, Monster and others I’m forgetting. That’s not a knock. I’m actually proud to work for a publisher that will do anything it takes to continue publishing great material and doesn’t spin a line of bullshit about community or connection. I would hope and guess that Sam Bayer’s money is very green and very plentiful, so my Seattle brethren held their noses, closed their eyes, and took it like champs. Plus, some of my freelance friends are earning solid (and easy) paychecks working on these comics, and money is hard to come by in this biz. So, for my friends’ sake, I guess I hope this line will last until the money or attention span runs out. As Bob once said, you gotta serve somebody, and, on a spiritual level, this is not that much worse than the very few other outletsthat pay money for art. So, finally, in it’s favor, the money-beats-all viciousness of All Time Comics is perfectly 2017.
Frank comes back with his Riso journey, this time talking to Ryan Sands, publisher at Youth in Decline.
I really think it is interesting that riso and the “art book fairs” of Printed Matter have run concurrent – meaning we are seeing more “zine” people at comics shows and vice versa – can you speak to this loose crossover? I feel like your label sort of runs in that corridor…
Whenever there’s a tool that has lots of funky ways you can mess with it AND a fairly low cost to experiment and make mistakes, this sort of machine is good for folks that care about all the details of physical book production. I get super bored by books that are simply “risograph-themed” anthologies, but I love seeing “art book” folks use it in unexpected ways – like the thermography technique of Colour Code Printing to create elevated inks and push the envelope with the machine. That said – at its heart, the machine was intended to be a blue collar workhorse for schools and churches and offices to churn out hundreds of pages a minute for cheap, so I bristle a bit at the trend of high-end “risograph prints” in limited editions. I saw a gallery show in SF recently that had a 3-color risograph print for $40!!! Are you kidding me? That shit cost like $0.90 to print and you could make 1000 prints in an afternoon (including drying times!).
On a less cranky note, some of my favorite risograph books are actually not comics at all, but text-heavy magazines and journals. When I visited Motto in Berlin back in 2011, I saw a bunch of poetry zines and literary journals published on risograph – my favorite in this vein is the queer film journal Little Joe Magazine. Their embrace of a limited spot color palette feels vintage without being slavishly retro or lame. So nice.
-Tomorrow night the great Brian Chippendale is opening a show of his new paintings at one of my favorite galleries, Safe Gallery in Williamsburg. Go check it out.
-TCJ-contributor Philip Nel discusses children’s books that address the ideas and realities of refugees.
Do you consider yourself a cartoonist? What led you to creating your “Samplerman” persona?
I am a 46-year-old cartoonist. I’ve been writing and drawing comics for more than 25 years, without any popular success, I have to admit—perhaps because of a lack of self-confidence, not harassing publishers enough, taking no answer for a “no thanks,” and no longer posting my pages (lots of improvised and unfinished stories) on my obscure blogs.
I have always chosen the DIY way to make my fanzines and minicomics: it is affordable and it mostly requires commitment and time. Due to lack of feedback, I’ve felt discouraged from time to time. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve kept doing this for so long instead of finding a real job…
I’ve been obsessed with comics all my life. I would have liked to be a comic strip cartoonist, but that career doesn’t exist in France. The conventional formats here are the hardcover, annual 44-page book or the black and white, 300-page one-shot graphic novel. I’ve always been attracted to arts of all kinds: poetry, radio, cinema, animation, the avant-garde, experimentation and the borders of communication. I’m also drawn to abstraction, distortion, destruction, surrealism, sociology and politics. Most of my past comics are kind of absurd and meaningless (nonsensical, to say it nicely). At the end of the day, whatever I am doing, the path from a panel to another has become for me the ordinary way to explore this alternate reality (comics) where I feel at home. So yes, I think am a cartoonist; a weird cartoonist.
Hence the question could be: “Are the Samplerman pieces strictly comics?” I would answer: “Depends on how restrictive your definition of comics is.” If the reader considers certain of my “stories” just as a sequence of panels without any logical connection, I am fine with that, but my works are at least a failed attempt at doing a story from a cartoonist’s neurasthenic brain.