Today we bring you a classic: The Fiore/Pekar Blood and Thunder letter exchange of 1989 and 1990. Publishing this chestnut feels like watching Scrooged on Christmas. Kristy Valenti gives us some context:

The grand tradition of the flame war as a snapshot of the pressing issues of the day and as a catalyst for criticism that has its own literary worth is not new. (For the 1730s version, check out Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s “The Reasons that Induced Dr S to write a Poem call’d the Lady’s Dressing room.”) At its best, before the Internet was widespread, The Comics Journal letter pages, dubbed “Blood and Thunder,” served essentially as a message board for the comics community. It was a forum where cartoonists, fans, critics and professionals debated and dissected every development — aesthetic and commercial — in the medium at the time, whether it was the formation of the Direct Market, Creators’ Rights, “writing for the trade,” or “craft is the enemy of art” (or simply trolled each other: The insults in the great R. Fiore/Kenneth Smith showdown got positively Shakespearean).


I have a softspot for 1987's Return of  the Skyman, drawn by Steve Ditko. This issue contains Ron Frantz's account of searching for Skyman-creator Ogden Whitney. Most of what Ron found remains all we know of Whitney. Ogden Whitney and Steve Ditko: The only cartoonists I'd like to have met.  Anyhow, Bob Heer kinda likes it, too.

It's cartoonist and TCJ-contributor Eddie Campbell talking over at The Beat.

And to send you merry into the weekend, "The Perils of Pauline," Renata Adler's 1980 take-down of Pauline Kael. I'm not sure if this piece has just been posted online to coincide with the reissue of her novels, or if it's been up awhile. Whatever. She has so much to say about critical writing, all of it worth considering.




Today marks the return of Sean T. Collins with a review of Julia Gfrörer's popular webcomic, Black Is the Color. Here's Sean:

As befits a comic that mostly takes place in a rowboat going nowhere in the middle of the ocean, Black Is the Color frequently collapses time and space into one another. Often its two-panel rows, or indeed entire pages, will depict a contiguous space split between the panels, the passage of time conveyed by the movement of your eye from one panel to the next within that space. Clouds drift and morph; a lonely cabin looks out over the sea; a storm descends over multiple pages, dwarfing a lone doomed ship; merfolk make idle chatter while watching men burn and drown; a mermaid descends through fronds of seaweed after leaving her dying lover to the daylight.


—The same Sean, inspired by the recent Diary of a Teenage Girl film teaser, resurrects his 2003 interview with Phoebe Gloeckner. Among her other accomplishments, you can definitely list memorable conversationalist.

—Grant Morrison always gives good interviews, too, though I have to say that the example he uses here to argue for how comics alone can accomplish things impossible in other media (having Superman break the fourth wall to talk to the reader about the devil) is rather depressingly unambitious — not to mention not hard at all to imagine being done in other media.

—Chris Randle's interview with Geneviève Castrée at Hazlitt about her debut graphic novel ends our comics discussion trio nicely.

—Paul Gravett writes a long essay on Roy Lichtenstein, his recent show at the Tate, and his legacy as it relates to comics. (Dave Gibbons makes a guest appearance.)

—Michael DeForge's Lose #4 is reviewed by Ale Hern at The New Statesman.

—I don't know Dorothy's last name, but I really enjoy her series of super-short Nancy appreciations at Comics Workbook, and am glad she put up a new one this week.

—Via reader e-mail comes this article I missed on Josefina Larragoiti’s Editorial Resistencia, a publisher trying to establish a market for serious comics in Mexico.

—Has any other publication boasted a dream team of cartoonists to beat the old Chicago Tribune? Not many... (via)


Robustly Simple

Today on the site... well, I wrote about an unusual comic/narrative/art project called The Magician.

Byrne’s succinct description of The Magician (published in an edition of 20 by Marquand Books) is: It’s set in a public bathroom. The Magician is this character that goes through and reconciles opposites. Every misunderstanding I have about the universe is documented in these objects. And creation myths, too. But it’s all tongue-in-cheek.” The Magician takes different forms. He is a sleeping figure. He is a hand. He is sperm. He is a cape.


Truman Capote and New Yorker cartoons.

Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth and Drew Friedman discuss Harvey Kurtzman on the Leonard Lopate Show.

This article on the publishing biz and technology was zooming around the web yesterday.

From R. Fiore comes Petra Haden singing the Superman theme.

And here's one I knew nothing about: A teaser for a film version of Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl.


How Do You Like This?

Today Joe "Jog" McCulloch is here again with another column on the Week in Comics, to which he has attached an essay on the great and mysterious Gerald Jablonski. I'll leave it to Joe to explain Jablonski, other than to say that reading his work will cure the attentive reader of any certainty she might possess about "rules" that must be followed when creating comics. And also that there are very few times I have laughed as hard as I have when reading Cryptic Wit #2 out loud.


—As you no doubt have heard, last week a dispute erupted over whether or not the Chicago public school system would be pulling Persepolis out of 7th grade classrooms. Here is an article at the Chicago Tribune, and here is a recent roundup of reaction at Robot 6. Search around if you want more -- there's plenty of commentary out there, though it's pretty repetitive. Usually in these cases I can sort of understand the rationale for censorship, even while almost always disagreeing with it, but this time around, I'm at a total loss.

—In the department of reaction to The Comics Journal: Glen Weldon raves at The New Republic over issue 302's Maurice Sendak interview, and a reviewer at the A.V. Club uses the occasion of a Fantagraphics-published book on popular music to flail at a tiny straw statue of Gary Groth he'd apparently built for himself in the early '90s.

—Stephen Bissette and Richard Gagnon are trying to use media coverage of the next Spider-Man movie to draw attention to Marvel's treatment of co-creator Steve Ditko.

—Lisa Hanawalt racks up an unusual accomplishment for a cartoonist: being nominated for a James Beard Award.

—Gil Roth interviews Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist Matt Wuerker.

—Chuck Austen tells his fellow Tokyopop creators to "move on."

—Finally, via the entire internet, a short PBS video on webcomics:


What Color Is It?

Today brings us the return of Jeet Heer to this site. We have missed you, Jeet. Here he interviews Walter Biggins, who is leaving University Press of Mississippi after 14 years, where he published some of most significant prose books on comics. Some of my favorites are: Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack KirbyThe Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is a Way of ThinkingDrawn and Dangerous: Italian Comics of the 1970s and 1980s, and Howard Chaykin: Conversations.


Here's a beautiful Connor Willumsen comic originally worked on for our own Frank Santoro's correspondence course.

A Xerox bought on eBay from TCJ-contributor Ron Goulart leads to some thoughts from Paul Tumey on Cole's early technique.

David Lasky interviewed.

Tom Spurgeon picks up and comments on the recent internet meme going around: working for free.

More online comics: Thomas Herpich at VICE.

Finally, I know I'm showing my age here, but when I was an 11 year-old comic book fanatic, this comic somehow seemed old, hard to find, and mind-blowing. All those heroes in one place? Unthinkable.



201 Minutes of Space Idiocy

We started our week with a question from Ryan Holmberg, and we end it with a full-blown column. This time in What Was Alternative Manga?, Holmberg looks at a Japanese-language comic from the Philippines, involving mad scientists and cloned women, and wonders about its origins:

Hypothesis: it was designed for sale to Japanese male businessmen and sex tourists, who were sometimes one and the same. This makes sense not only time-wise, but also content-wise.

Tourism exploded amongst the Japanese in the 1970s. Thanks to increasing affluence and a strong yen, more Japanese had the ability to travel both domestically and overseas. In Japanese studies, one often reads about the “Discover Japan” campaigns initiated in 1970, targeted primarily at young women, urging them to find themselves through trips to exotic corners of their country. This is also the period that young artists and middle-class Japanese began flying to the centers of European civilization, or hopping across America from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon and over to the Big Apple. In the pages of Tezuka Osamu’s COM circa 1970, there are a couple of articles about its artists visiting the States, Nagashima Shinji in New York, Fujiko Fujio meeting Roy Thomas. Meanwhile in Garo, Tsuge Yoshiharu was becoming famous with literary versions of his solitary sojourns to fishing holes and hot springs in the Japanese countryside – not organized tourism, obviously, but a sign that the romance of travel was beginning to grow in various corners of Japanese culture.


—The digital manga service JManga announced that it is shutting down at the end of May. Johanna Draper Carlson has commentary.

—The Harvey Awards are now accepting nominations.

Dylan Horrocks draws Jack Kirby, and explains the provenance of that famous "Comics will break your heart" quote.

—Interviews. Jaime Hernandez talks to Hazlitt, James Vance talks to CBR, and Julia Grörer talks to Inkstuds.

—Lea Hernandez remembers Toren Smith.

—Drawn & Quarterly has announced their fall list.

—Kickstarter kontroversy kontinues.

—The Robot 6 team talks about reading digital Marvel comics on the new app.

—Grady Hendrix at Film Comment writes a short history of Mad magazine's movie parodies.


The Popcorn

Today on the site R.C. Harvey reviews Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen's Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary. The Harv has written not only a thorough examination of the book, but also added some of his own memories of the man. So check it out.

The chief occurrences of Capp’s life are treated in great detail: the loss of his left leg at the age of nine and the probable psychological consequences; his education at a succession of art schools he was too poor to pay tuition to; his apprenticeship to Ham Fisher and the dispute about who created the hillbilly Big Leviticus in Joe Palooka; the resulting feud, its nastiness, and Fisher’s attempt to smear Capp’s reputation; Capp’s emergence as a pop culture celebrity; his shrill attacks on the New Student Left on college campuses; his notorious visit to John Lennon and Yoko Ono; the subliminal eroticism in Li’l Abner; Capp’s extracurricular sex life, preying upon show girls and college co-eds, and his fall from grace as a result. In every instance, the book offers insights into these events that are new to me (and I’ve researched Capp’s life for my book, at least as much as publicly available documents permit).


TCJ-contributor Sean T. Collins writes about the web comic Haunter.

Cartoonists on rabbits.

Publishers Weekly reports on SXSW and SelfMadeHero.

Richard Brody on Pixar's storytelling.

A Kirby "rant" from Rob Steibel centered around the Captain America #200 letters column.


What’s the Good of Anything?—Nothing!

Today, Rob Clough reviews the Runner Runner anthology. Here's some of what he had to say:

Greg Means is well known for his "Clutch McBastard" zine alter ego as well as for editing the exquisitely designed Papercutter anthology. Runner Runner was his contribution to Free Comic Book Day 2012 as well as a staple at his convention tables. Far from a throwaway freebie, this lean minicomic has a killer lineup of excellent work. It seems like Means will be concentrating on Runner Runner as far as his anthologies go, as he's discontinued Papercutter and Nate Powell has announced he is doing a comic with Al Burian for this year's Runner Runner. The anthology is mostly comprised of West Coast cartoonists, including a number from Means' home base of Portland, Oregon. As such, it's an excellent sampler of the most experienced cartoonists from that scene (as well as a smattering of other good cartoonists) who are mostly known for their minicomics.


—Avi Steinberg has a great short review of Maurice Sendak's last book on The New Yorker website, linking it to Sendak's first unpublished book, which he created as a child.

New progress seems to have been made in the age-old quest to find the secret origins of MAD magazine's Alfred E. Neuman. (John Adcock has more.)

The New York Times profiled a day in the life of comiXology CEO David Steinberger, written just before the Marvel promotion that knocked out the site's servers for two days.

—Michael Barrier has a short essay on Walt Kelly, illustrated and explained through publicity photos taken for a Chuck Jones-directed Pogo animation special.

—Paul Di Filippo reviews Lynda Barry's Freddie Stories, Glen Weldon reviews Ben Katchor's Hand-Drying in America, and Craig Fischer reviews Bernie Krigstein's Messages in a Bottle.

—Maren Williams at the CBLDF blog writes a short history of the end of Australian comic-book censorship.

—Via Twitter, Erik Larsen argues, "If you need to include an arrow to tell readers which panel to read next your page is a failure. It should be obvious." Which seems more or less like a comics equivalent to "invisible style." And like invisible style in film, its use-value depends on what kind of comic you are making.

—For his day job, Chris Mautner profiles a local comic-book collector.

—Not Comics: What a great photograph. I know it's hipper these days to dig Keaton and disparage Chaplin, but I don't care what you say. City Lights, man.

—Also Not Comics, But Closer: Here's the trailer for a new documentary about a group of artists not so dissimilar from cartoonists, sign painters: