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has a great short review of Maurice Sendak's last book on The New Yorker website, linking it to Sendak's first unpublished book, which he created as a child.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



Brittle Bones

It's Tuesday and that means while you were sleeping Joe McCulloch was writing about the week in comics.


TCJ-contributor Nicole Rudick interviews 7 Miles a Second artists James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook for Artforum.

There is a new Seth book on the horizon and it sounds excellent.

George Lucas has a proposal for a "Cultural Arts" museum with a heavy illustration and cartooning emphasis, which could be interesting. Lucas once was a backer of a comic art gallery in NYC some 30 or more years ago. Aside from his Rockwell collection he's known to have one of the largest George Herriman collections. Who knows what else is in there...

This the first review I've seen of Renee French's TOON book, Barry's Best Buddy. I'm looking forward to that book.

Click here for fear.

Attention Chester Brown: Louis Riel photos found in Australia. That's a commute.

It's pix from the Society of Illustrator's Harvey Kurtzman opening.

I've lately been amazed at how corporate hacks and apologists have reinvented themselves as "historians" but that's showbiz, folks. In any case, I'll let you guess which of the panelists at this talk have anything relevant to say about the topic.



Ryan Holmberg has some questions for you.

And today we republish Gary Groth's 1996 interview with Barry Windsor-Smith, from TCJ 190. Here's a sample:

GROTH: I don’t read mainstream comics much but we get piles of them in the office and I look at them once in a while. And because I read them as a kid and I can go back to that Kirby and Ditko and Stan Lee stuff and so on, I have this morbid curiosity about why they look like such unadulterated shit these days. I read interviews with contemporary creators who write and draw them and they seem to be very excited about what they’re doing. And I wonder about why the stuff is so wretched. I wonder if it’s just the Zeitgeist or if it’s just the creators themselves or if it’s me.

WINDSOR-SMITH: I know exactly what you’re saying. I have the very same wonders myself. You and I can just sit around and scratch our heads over the phone, because I don’t have any answer either. Yeah: is it the Zeitgeist? Are we missing something? Is it the same now as it was then but we just didn’t know because we were in a different position then? This sort of questioning comes to us all. It has been the standard cliché for decades now, from the ’60s with rock ’n’ roll, or at least the British invasion style rock ’n’ roll, where people would say, ‘They can’t play, they’re only playing banjo chords. Whatever happened to Ella Fitzgerald and Satchmo and hey, Frank Sinatra — now there’s a voice!” And all this sort of shit that I went through when I was a teenager, absolutely adoring everything I was hearing, from the Beatles to the Stones... Well, actually I was extremely judgmental even then: I fuckin’ hated the Dave Clark Five because I could see them for the no-talent copyists that they were! But I loved anything that I thought was quality, and I certainly thought Lennon and McCartney were.

I actually have this strong memory of an uncle of mine whom I greatly admired. He was a musician, played jazz. I was over at his house one day, I was only about 15 or 16, the Beatles had been around for about a year or so — at least in Britain; they hadn’t hit America yet — and he was sitting there just trashing them. Saying, “They can’t play any notes. You call that singing?” And I really disliked my uncle from that moment onward. I’ve never liked him since. Because he seemed to totally sell out himself as a musician. In other words, he wasn’t broad-minded enough to see that there is always new music. And he insulted one of my favorite things. So I’m dreadfully afraid that I’m doing exactly the same thing now!

GROTH: [Laughs.] You’re turning into your uncle.

WINDSOR-SMITH: Yeah, I’m turning into an old complaining fart. There are so many people, I hear it all the time: “Oh my God, I’m beginning to sound like my dad!” It’s a standard routine for stand-up comedians nowadays.

GROTH: But seriously, there is a maturing process, and some people go through it and some people don’t. And I think in some ways you do start sounding if not like your dad, at least like people you remember as having antiquated attitudes.

WINDSOR-SMITH: Somebody you don’t like. I can remember a long time ago, you did a major interview with Jim Steranko.

GROTH: Whew—you’re talking 25 years ago.

WINDSOR-SMITH: Yeah. And you seemed absolutely in awe of Jim at the time.

GROTH: I was.

WINDSOR-SMITH: And you were young. And Jim was lapping it up because we know what an egoist he is. But in recent times, or at least within the last eight or five years, I can remember when you totally trashed him in print for some reason. It wasn’t out of hand, there was some purpose behind it; I forget what it was. I was thinking, “Gee, what happened to Gary in the meantime?” Yeah, we’ve all changed our taste — I guess. And now, Steranko was pretty damn good at what he did. We know it was derivative to a degree, but some of it wasn’t. So for the people who were working at that time in that heyday of Marvel comics, Steranko certainly gave far more energy to his books than your average guy. Certainly he was no genius on the level of Jack Kirby, but who the hell was? So Jim’s material was innovative to a degree, exciting to a degree, good for what it was. So why do you not see Jim’s work in that perspective? Or do you?

GROTH: Looking at his Marvel work, I can’t help but see it as thin and anemic. Whereas Kirby was genuinely original, and Ditko was too, Steranko was a compendium of graphic tricks and gimmicks picked up from various sources inside and outside of comics. So I don’t think he’s... If you look at it closely it tends to fall apart. It doesn’t hold up to very close scrutiny.

WINDSOR-SMITH: I agree with you. I was thinking that way back when.

GROTH: Yeah. Well you were probably ahead of me because as you say, I was in —

WINDSOR-SMITH: I was right in the thick of it and I was functioning in the same capacity as a storyteller. So I could certainly see through Steranko.


—The much-missed-around-these-parts Jeet Heer wrote a review of Ben Katchor's new Hand-Drying in America for the Globe & Mail.

—Jonathan Clements has a tribute to his friend, Toren Smith.

—William Blake scholar Mark Crosby has a great post analyzing Maurice Sendak's use of Blake imagery in his last book.

—CBR talks to Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson about writing for Marvel.

—Domingos Isabelinho writes about OuBaPo founding member Jochen Gerner.

ARTnews has a piece on a 1950s mural Saul Steinberg made for the World's Fair.

—That B. Kliban guy was funny.


Investigated Something

Ron Goulart returns to the site today with a remembrance of Fred Ray.

Although Fred Ray is best remembered for the two decades he devoted to drawing DC’s Tomahawk, he had already been in comics for several years before he took over the buckskin-clad hero and, in the early ‘40s, he did some of the best straight adventure stuff in the comic books of the time, as well of some memorable Golden Age covers.

Frederic E. Ray, who usually signed himself Fray, was born in Pennsylvania in 1922. He always had an interest in history as well as in comics, and his major influences growing up were illustrators Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and Frederic Remington, as well as cartoonists Hal Foster and, most important, Noel Sickles. He was impressed, too, by a nonfiction newspaper strip called Highlights of History by an artist named J. Carroll Mansfield.


A Kickstarter campaign for the book Sullivan's Sluggers gets ugly and then gets uglier.

Thomas Nasts's traveling murals.

A tribute to Al Capp's various activities.

More on Jerry Ordway and thoughts on "ageism" in comics.

Cartoonist (conflict of interest alert) and author of Men's Group: The Video, Ben Jones, gets a preview here.

An essay on Tumblr and photography, some of which could be applied to comic book pages as well.

And finally, enjoy the weekend with the old National Lampoon and this great bit about John Lennon  from its 1972 Radio Dinner LP.



Wishing and Hoping

Before getting to the regular body of this blog post, please allow me to reproduce the following statement from Kim Thompson (introduced by Gary Groth) in full:

Kim Thompson has been my partner at Fantagraphics Books for 35 years. He's contributed vastly and selflessly to this company and to the comics medium and worked closely with countless fine artists over that time. This is a tough announcement to make, but everyone who knows Kim knows he's a fighter and we remain optimistic that he'll get through this and report back to report to work, where he belongs, doing what he loves.

– Gary Groth

I'm sure that by now a number of people in the comics field who deal with me on a regular or semi-regular basis have noticed that I've been responding more spottily. This is because of ongoing health issues for the past month, which earlier this week resolved themselves in a diagnosis of lung cancer.

This is still very early in the diagnosis, so I have no way of knowing the severity of my condition. I'm relatively young and (otherwise) in good health, and my hospital is top-flight, so I'm hopeful and confident that we will soon have the specifics narrowed down, set me up with a course of treatment, proceed, and lick this thing.

It is quite possible that as treatment gets underway I'll be able to come back in and pick up some aspects of my job, maybe even quite soon. However, in the interests of keeping things rolling as smoothly as I can, I've transferred all my ongoing projects onto other members of the Fantagraphics team. So if you're expecting something from me, contact Gary Groth, Eric Reyolds, or Jason Miles and they can hook you up with whoever you need. If there are things that only I know and can deal with, lay it out for them and they'll contact me.

On behalf of Kim, we would like to encourage anyone who would like to reach out to him to feel free to send mail to him c/o Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, or email.

As an editor, publisher, translator, and writer, Kim's importance to North American comics (not to mention this magazine) would be difficult to overstate. He is not just a personally inspiring figure, but is also an extremely friendly, helpful, & enormously fun person to work with. We wish him a full and speedy recovery, and can't wait for him to be back.


On the main body of this site, we have another installment of Richard Gehr's excellent and too-infrequent "Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists" column. Today his subject is Charles Barsotti. Here's a brief excerpt:

GEHR: How did you end up at Hallmark in Kansas City?

BARSOTTI: I answered this ad in Advertising Age and got a call from this guy in Chicago. Hallmark then sent me a psychological test but I just set it aside. Then they shot Kennedy, and the atmosphere I ran into the next day in San Marcos was a little too much. I figured, "It’s time to buckle down, take the psychological test, and get serious about this." Anyway, Holly [William Hollingworth] Whyte wrote a book called The Organization Man, and he had things to keep in mind when you’re taking a psychological test for a big organization. I remembered to say things like, "I love my father and my mother both, but I love my father a little bit more." That kind of thing.

GEHR: Was Hallmark your first real art job?

BARSOTTI: It was really writing, at first. I was in the editorial department and then switched to contemporary cards.

GEHR: Was that where you began cartooning seriously?

BARSOTTI: Rapidographs had just come out and I splurged and bought myself a set. I was doing some sketches, and a friend of mine in a different department of Hallmark asked me if I would use that style to illustrate a little pamphlet of Ogden Nash poems. So I did it on my own time, and it got me in trouble in my department. That’s the way Hallmark's bureaucracy worked. That sort of set me off, and I sent some drawings to Mike Mooney at The Saturday Evening Post — and didn’t hear anything. The next weekend, I sat down and did another big batch of these things. I sent it in and thought, "Oh, this is it. This isn’t working." But! I got a call from Mooney at work. I thought it was a joke, but he said he had turned the big hallway at The Saturday Evening Post into a gallery. "I’ve got your cartoons up and down it," he said. He was a very ebullient fellow. Then I went there and met the editor, Bill Emerson.


—Steven Heller writes about an interesting Thomas Nast project I don't recall ever hearing about before: a traveling series of murals used in performances to tell the story of the American Civil War.

—Carol Tilley takes to Boing Boing to explain her recent Fredric Wertham research.

—Colleen Doran has given a two-part interview to SciFi Pulse, in which she discusses her recent experiences publishing comics online.

—Ben Katchor has a new strip online.

—Paradise Valley, Arizona is trying to raise funds to build a bronze monument to Bil Keane.

—The Belgian cartoonist Didier Comès and Studio Proteus founder Toren Smith have both reportedly passed away.

—Via Drawn, here's a short clip from the upcoming Stripped documentary, dealing with how webcartoonists make money:



Today on the site:

Rob Clough reviews Ellen Forney's Marbles.

A lot of “graphic novels” coming out from major publishers these days really seem to be variations on the graphic memoir. A cynic might say that many of them derive their hook from being about death, illness, abuse, tragedy, etc. An alarming number of them have come from first-time long-form cartoonists and are aimed squarely at the sort of mainstream reader who enjoys this sort of confessional, miserabilist but ultimately triumphant story about tragedy and unfortunate circumstances. I’ll rattle off a few titles in this vein: Cancer Vixen,StitchesThe Impostor’s Daughter (perhaps the most egregiously manipulative example of this sub-genre). As someone who has long found autobiographical comics to be rewarding on any number of levels, some of these books feel like a distressingly cynical way to make money on the part of the publishers. Life and death is big business, after all.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me. It’s less a story than it is a therapy journal comic, but Forney’s instincts as an entertainer kick in even on the dreariest of pages.

Elsewhere: Good news and bad news.

This piece by freelance writer Nate Thayer about payment is fairly typical, unfortunately. The Atlantic responds.

Related: More from artist Jerry Ordway on his relationship with DC Comic.

Only slightly related by dint of money/ethics. Artist Chris Sprouse has withdrawn from drawing that Orson Scott Card Superman comic.

Speaking of Superman: More developments in the Siegel/Shuster case. I won't even pretend to follow the recent round of developments.

And on an up note, the first round of guests for SPX 2013 has been announced, and our own Frank Santoro is among them.


Keep Your Hands Off My Stack

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings you the Week in Comics —and endorses one of last week's.


—The often excellent essayist Joseph Epstein writes about Saul Steinberg at The Weekly Standard, and Michael Kammen touches on the same subject in his L.A. Review of Books essay which primarily concerns Thomas Nast, political cartoons, and public art.

—Cartoonists are talking money. First, read veteran artist Jerry Ordway's thoughts on being sidelined at DC. Mark Evanier comments. Then read prominent webcartoonist John Allison's post wherein he writes about feeling like his means of making a living is threatened by the migration to Tumblr. Matt Bors comments on that.

Faith Erin Hicks is interviewed by Jim Rugg, Jason Lex, & Ed Piskor.

—Dave Sim responds to Comics Journal Chester Brown coverage, by way of explaining why he's against prostitution.

—Reviews. Robert Boyd reviews five semi-recent comics; Noah Berlatsky reviews the reissued 7 Miles a Second for Slate; The Advocate reviews Gilbert Hernandez's upcoming Julio's Day.

—Michael Dooley interviews Denis Kitchen about his new Al Capp biography.

—Chris Mautner explains where to start with Winsor McCay. (Personally, I'd give a beginner John Canemaker's biography before expecting them to shell out for the Sunday Press books.)

—Julie Doucet and Simon Bossé have started a Tumblr devoted to mail art.

—The Siegel/DC Superman legal battle continues.

—Justin Green's introduction to book-burning.


Slow Jamz

I know this is classically "TCJ" of me, but "Will Eisner Week" seems silly. I like Eisner's work very much, particularly The Spirit and the near-hysterical melodrama (that's a good thing) of A Contract with God, the gauzy false history of The Dreamer, etc. But the ongoing deification of the man does his actual achievements a disservice. As Gary Groth has written many times (that it's never sunk in is a testament to the unique mix of self-love and self-hatred that is comic book culture for men over the age of 40. What my generation does with all this stuff is up for grabs. Maybe nothing. Maybe it'll be "Fletcher Hanks Hangover Day" in 30 years. Or "Rory Hayes Mondayz".) the best way to appreciate an artist is to be realistic about what he did. I'm all for appreciations and weeks and blah blah. Couldn't it just be Will Eisner Day: A guy who managed to make a buncha good comics and inspire people? Or Will Eisner Weekend: Read comics by his assistants! Or Will Eisner Hour: Read Hawks of the Seas!

 Eisner is neither the father of the "the graphic novel" nor is said "graphic novel" even a "uniquely American art form". He was a popularizer and an advocate. This has all been written about ad infinitum over the last decade or so. But! Writing this kind of thing is more or less pissing in the wind. This precise little blog post will not convince anyone. No argument can, actually. There's a kind of calcified fandom in place rooted in a striving emotional attachment to a father figure and the hopes for acceptance of the idols of one's youth. Kind of like the terrible "nerd culture" that's sprung up. It just won't budge. It's not disingenuous: I think that whoever wrote those taglines actually believes them, and all that takes is a certain passivity and (maybe) willful blindness. I suppose the irritation on my end is that obscures the facts and pushes what limited resources there are in this medium onto something both false and unnecessary. Telling someone to read a graphic novel is like saying "Watch some TV" or "Read a Poem". Why in the world would that matter? Well, anyway, another ranty aside down the hatch.

Well, speaking of Boss Groth, here he is with a sadly truncated interview with artist Jerry Moriarty.

GROTH: Do you think all the arts have essentially the same creative process: writing, painting, making music?

MORIARTY: I think that they share. I think collaborative arts are different. I recognize certain tricks when I see Actor’s Studio guys on TV talking about their process. Christopher Walken, on one of the shows, he said something about, they’d all get their scripts, and he would go through his script and take all the punctuation out, so he wouldn’t know if it was a question or whatever. And so he delivered a line without any knowledge of whether it’s a question or exclamation, so the actor he’s playing to would freak. And I just love that, because it’d make the other actor improvise, somewhat. Of course, he’s in the dark himself, because he took all the punctuation out. I think that’s nice.

Another actor said that, on the stage before an audience, if you got to the point in the part where he’s supposed to cry, he doesn’t cry, because he wants the audience to cry — because if he did cry, then the audience wouldn’t have to cry, because he fulfilled what the need was. I love that, so when I hear these things, I find connections.  But I think the real distinction is collaboration, because they have to work with someone else in that moment, whereas writers and artists generally don’t. So, it’s like a tightrope, there’s no support at all. No net at all. You survive the fall, but you know the fall exists. There’s no support structure for you. It could be a lifelong thing, like the Henry Darger life — I don’t know if he sensed that. I think there are differences. Jazz comes the closest to my sensibilities.


It's a Groth-a-palooza. Here he is on the other side of the mic with Tom Spurgeon.

Steven Heller writes about the new Al Capp bio over at The Atlantic. That book, which I just finished, is long on gnarly anecdotes about Capp (which I'm all for) and very short on any kind of aesthetic analysis or coverage of the process of making that strip. Kinda like author's bio of Will Eisner. If you're gonna write one of these books it seems odd to be disinterested in the visual aspect of what your subject did.

Two recent tributes to the late Spain Rodriguez. One from Artforum and another, an absolutely essential memoir by the great Ed Sanders. Don't miss it, at the very least for Sander's description and accompanying photos of an art show he mounted at his space, Peace Eye, in 1968. If this reaches Ed Sanders somehow: We'd love to see more of those photos! Was this the first gallery exhibition of underground comic art?

More underground: A little bit on a previous iteration of Robert Crumb's published sketchbooks. Click around for a nice cover gallery.

And finally, Gavin Lees reports on an Elfquest panel at this past weekend's Emerald City Comicon.