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An Experiment with Time

It’s always a good day when another Paul Tumey column comes down the pike, and today is a good day. He’s talking about Alley Oop:

It was the Dr. Who of the 1940s, a comic strip that traveled though history with verve and panache — not to mention lots of wisecracks. Only, instead of charming, eccentrically dressed Englishmen wielding sonic screwdrivers, there was a practically naked caveman with a stone ax. Begun in 1932 by Vincent Trout Hamlin (1900-1993), Alley Oop continues to this day, ably written and drawn by Jack and Carole Bender and appearing in about 600 newspapers.

Alley Oop is an iconic American newspaper comic strip character. His nipple-less, six-packed, Popeye-armed body is as memorable and weird as Dick Tracy’s hooked nose and Little Orphan Annie’s blank eyes. No history of 20th century American comics, no matter how slight, would be credible if it didn’t include Alley Oop. Aside from that iconic status, why should anyone today care about the early years of this ancient, dusty comic strip?

For me, a comics nut who was occasionally and momentarily drawn in by Hamlin’s singular visual language, but never fully “got”Alley Oop before, the answer lies in the strip’s seventh year, a good chunk of which can now be found between the slate grey covers of Alley Oop 1939 (Dean Mullaney, editor, introduction by Michael H. Price, IDW Library of American Comics Essentials, 2013). This spiffy little volume presents, with the typical smart design and good production qualities we’ve come to associate with Dean Mullaney’s Library of American Comics books, the daily episodes of the strip’s first time travel adventure, from March 6, 1939 to March 23, 1940. You read that right: time travel.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News.
After many years of avoiding commentary on Israel, Art Spiegelman has provided an illustration for a Nation article on the conflict in Gaza. He shared the art (and some of his thoughts) on this Facebook post. The Forward (the Jewish paper which originally ran his In the Shadow of No Towers) has more on the story.

—Podcasts. Roz Chast makes an appearance on Gil Roth’s great Virtual Memories podcast.

Roman Muradov made me laugh out loud two or three times on his episode of Inkstuds.

I also very much recommend the Tom Scioli/Ed Piskor episode of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, though the spirited defense of Rob Liefeld near the end of it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Artists legitimately get their inspiration from all kinds of sources, which I’d never want to question, but I didn’t really get any idea why the general reader (and particularly one who didn’t grow up at just the right time) would want to read Liefeld. This isn’t aimed at Ed P., who said he wasn’t interested in convincing anyone, but any others out there who want to spread the word on Liefeld (I hear scattered reports of their existence) should try to get more specific about what’s so great about him if they want to raise his stock. You know, make the case. What Liefeld stories (or pages or panels) might convert a skeptic? If he’s really worthwhile as an artist, it shouldn’t be impossible to communicate why.

—Reviews & Commentary.
The film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has reprinted a 1980 essay he wrote on the legacy of MAD magazine, on the release of the awful Up the Academy movie.

Literary blogger Ed Champion thinks Michael Cho’s Shoplifter finds the cartoonist pulling his punches.

Interviews. Tom Spurgeon talks to Françoise Mouly. Alex Dueben talks to Farel Dalrymple and Eleanor Davis.

—Spending Opportunities.
Sparkplug Books is running a modest Kickstarter to fund their fall line.

—SPX Previews. Rob Clough has posted his annual list of creators and publishers to seek out at SPX. Calvin Reid at Publishers Weekly has an article on the festival’s 20th anniversary. Panel Patter has a slew of SPX coverage up, including Rob Kirby’s interview with Sophie Yanow, and Whit Taylor’s interview with Josh Bayer.

 

Robust for Sleeping

It’s Joe McCulloch with your week in comics!

Elsewhere:

The closing of the comic book store Bigkatt’s, and the effect of that closing on the community.

This is a fun and groovy anecdote about a very early Bill Griffith drawing of Mick Jagger.

Here’s a nice profile of Gary Panter on the occasion of his new painting show.

Here’s another take on the Friedman and Beauchamp comic book history books.

 

Needles

Good morning and sorry for the somewhat late blog post — I plead unexpected automotive problems. Today we have Sophie Yanow’s interview with Simon Hanselmann. Here’s a bit of that:

What is this wedding you’re doing [at SPX]?

I was joking about having a fake wedding, and then Cohen at Fantagraphics got really excited about it and said, “We’ll do it, it’ll be real.” It’s a publicity stunt, basically. I’m going to buy a wedding dress. Grant and I have to get drunk and go to the wedding dress strip and buy a wedding dress. I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost. It’s a fake wedding; DeForge is my best man. It was going to be officiated by Gary Groth, but I think Chris Mautner is doing it now, from Comic Book Resources. There’s going to be cake, balloons, I’m getting married to comics. It’s going to be a beautiful, emotional, symbolic kind of tribute to my love of the craft. I’m kind of nervous about it now, because I kind of have to write it, like it’s a comedy bit in a way. And it’s very heartfelt in a way. I’m kind of a bit crazy. It will have meaning to me, but it’s just kind of a lark as well. I’m going to do a talk at Parsons, I’ve got my list of all the stuff I have to do, I’m going to do Gridlords.

Yeah, Gridlords is fun.

I think DeForge has organized like ten gigs, playing music. I’ve got so much to do in three and a half weeks, and I’m trying to get 8 weeks ahead on Vice, and I’m going stir crazy in this little prison cell of my own making.

Are you going to be playing those shows too?

Yeah, I’m doing all of them. I play music, I’m terrible.

I listened to it, I liked it. I like noisy stuff.

Yeah, I mean, I hang around with people in bands and that make music, so I just try and do it. When I lived in the UK I did a lot of gigs. I played the Big Chill, a big weird festival. There’s like Glastonbury, and the Big Chill. Somehow I ended up playing there with Lily Allen and Kelis. It was weird, and I played a lot of gigs, but they were terrible. Sometimes people wouldn’t want to pay me, like I’d hang around and be like, “C’mon, I want my hundred pounds. AHEM. You heard my MySpace, you heard what I sounded like, you knew what you were in for.” I’m nervous about it because I haven’t played gigs for a long time. My old band got back together recently. But we just get really drunk and it’s very shambolic. And it’s kind of mean as well. Horse Mania, my band, is weird. My friend Karl Von Bamberger is weird. It’s very confronting and really tests the audience. So I don’t know how it’ll go with Creep Highway. Yeah, people are mean in Australia. People like mean stuff.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Anne Ishii talks to Michael DeForge.

—Rob Clough writes about Drew Friedman’s Heroes of the Comics.

—BuzzFeed of all places has a history of Viz.

—And finally, the New York Review of Books has unlocked a 1985 essay on Peanuts and Krazy Kat by Umberto Eco. Nicole Rudick shared some thoughts on the Eco piece here.

 

Block Envy

Well, I’m in Providence for a week to install my exhibition, What Nerve! So I come to you from deep within a Hampton Inn hotel room. It’s cold in here! Last night I went to a music show organized by Carlos Gonzalez over at CF’s place. Here’s a bad photo of the flyer:photoI was allllmost the oldest person there, topped by the only other people I knew: Brian Chippendale and Ara Peterson. Old old old.

Here are some Forcefield dudes in mid-installation. photo 2

Here’s a detail of Jack Kirby’s Dream Machine, which I’ve been living with for two days. It does not ever get old. photo 3

OK, enough of me… today on the site:

Speaking of Providence, here’s Rob Clough on U.D.W.F.G.

That Fort Thunder aesthetic is kept alive in the Italian anthology series U.D.W.F.G (Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds). Editor and publisher Michele Nitri is obviously enamored of this style of storytelling, as he’s published the first chapters of five different serials from five different artists all working in this style. Brinkman is the name most familiar to English-speaking audiences, though his visual approach will appear startlingly different to anyone who hasn’t been following him in recent years. The visuals in his serial “Cretin Keep on Creepin’ Creek” are dark grey smudges with a dense, black background. The video game and superhero comic elements present in his earlier work have been mostly expunged in favor of a soupy, atmospheric approach. The visuals are actually quite similar to the work he did for the Cave Evil game a couple of years ago.

And here’s Sean T. Collins on Molly Colleen O’Connell’s Don’t Tell Mom.

In Don’t Tell Mom, Molly Colleen O’Connell successfully realigns form and function: She grants the poetically absurd sexts featured on each of this zine’s drawings of cellphones the power to derange not only the physical objects that convey them, but logic and language themselves. The message, about the distorting influence of sexual desire, is received loud and clear.

Elsewhere:

The Brooklyn Book Festival has released its slate of programming, including a panel moderated by our own Nicole Rudick.

I always love caricatures on restaurant walls, and The Palm had tons, including many by famous cartoonists. Well, not for long

The Sunday Press is having a helluva sale on its inventory of gorgeous and enormous books.

 

If I Was the Pope

Today we feature the return of Matthias Wivel’s Eurocomics column, and it’s been way too long. In this installment, Matthias writes in depth about the work of French-Beninese artist Yvan Alagbé, and his recent return to the characters from one of his key books. But Matthias also examines the artists’ group Amok, the sociopolitical legacy of French colonialism, and much more. Here’s a sample:

Alagbé’s brush-and-ink cartooning is alternately lush and sparse, scruffy and exacting, black and white, with echoes of Muñoz and Aristophane Boulon. He selectively lends texture to areas of focus, while leaving others defined only by contour. Although he makes selective use of symbolic passages, he is a realist at heart, attentive to facial and bodily expression. At times he errs on the side of the obvious, but he also occasionally catches real moments of ambiguity as well as emotional clarity—the combination of apprehension, skepticism, boredom, and impotence drawn on the faces of the siblings listening to Mario’s tales of African adventure; the genuine expression of affection shown by Mario as he speaks to his daughter on the phone; and so on, moment after moment.

Alagbé modulates his rendering skillfully. Everybody, whatever the color of their skin, alternately appears lighter or darker, and specific physiognomic traits, particularly those of the black Africans, are occasionally emphasized to contrast strongly with their white surroundings, reflecting the social context. The point, however, seems to be that in a graphic world consisting uniquely of black marks on white paper, everybody is black.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Chris Ware follows Robert Crumb as the second cartoonist to get major interview treatment in The Paris Review. They’ve posted an excerpt of Jeet Heer’s talk with Ware online. Brian Heater at Publishers Weekly catches up with John Porcellino before the impending release of his Hospital Suite. The Atlantic talks to Pat Oliphant. Paul Karasik interviews Jules Feiffer in comics form. Alan Moore talks Lovecraft. Liz Prince talks about growing up a tomboy.

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Constant on Jim Woodring’s Jim. Robert Wringham on R. Crumb. Sarah Moroz on Quentin Blake. Robert Boyd on a variety of different comics.

—Misc. Michael J. Vassallo has more on Stan Goldberg. Gene Luen Yang gave a well-received speech on diversity at the National Book Festival. Small Press Previews may turn out to be very useful.

 

Ride Soon?

Today on the site it’s R. Fiore on Mike Dawson and two “great men”-type books about comics.

To all appearances we have entered into an environment in which its never been easier to disseminate your work and its never been more difficult to make a buck from it. It’s easy to see the disappearance of means by which cartoonists used to make their living and it’s difficult to see what’s going to replace them. I couldn’t say that things are going to come out all right in the end, I just don’t see how. I can’t really see casting your bread upon the waters as a business plan. And its not just a matter of digital media and that sort of thing either. For example, for 20 years or so a cartoonist used to be able to publish his work in a magazine, being paid as he did it, and then publish it as a book and get paid for it again. Somewhere along the line, however, people began to realize that everything was going to come out as a book, so they decided to start waiting for the book.

Due to vacation confusion, both Tim and I forgot to blog. So please do check out Joe McCulloch’s week in comics, complete with a Tezuka mini-essay.

Elsewhere:

Longtime comic book artist Stan Goldberg has passed away. He was notable for his coloring work for Marvel in the 1960s and a long run for Archie. Sean Howe has a nice tribute, and Mark Evanier does, too.

The Cartoonists of Color Database has launched.

This is a solid piece about the history and mechanics of Francoise Mouly’s Toon Books. Sounds like a lot of rules and regulations to follow to make those things work.

Here’s a report on the new London comics festival, Safari, hosted by my candidate for most-promising young publishing house, Breakdown Press. What makes an exciting young comic book publisher? Well, pull up a chair and listen to this bitter old failure preach it: Precise and adventurous taste; a sense of serving an actual community (not fake mascot- or brand- driven community); the discovery and nurturing of young avant garde talent; a strong editorial vision; a crystalized production/design aesthetic; an ambition to advance the art form. Besides Leon Sadler’s Famicon, I can’t think of another publisher that’s done this lately. Pretty much everyone else right now is struggling for an identity or aping someone else’s, which may be related to the profusion of festivals and avalanche of self-publishing concerns. There’s so much stuff being made, so few venues, and so few rewards that people are literally taking to the road to just get the shit out. Another beacon of hope for me is Happiness, Leah Wishnia’s enthusiastic anthology of comics and underground culture. I like the spirit of it, the focus on unique creative voices, and the ambitiousness of her editorial and graphic scope. I also really appreciate the low price point and sense of a localized community. Hey humans who read this, I sure would like some writing about all this on TCJ.com. Send me your ideas! Boy, listening to this Grateful Dead channel on Sirius really got me going. Howard Stern is in repeats, so I’m on my other medicine. Phew. Ok, back to your daily links…

Robert Boyd writes about books-on-comics, including some of the same territory as Fiore’s piece, above.

And finally, here’s Douglas Wolk on the collected Grant Morrison Doom Patrol. Wait, I feel a rant coming on… I link to this review as I sit on a train to Providence and kind of imagine that in 20 years these reviews will be like reading rave reviews of Soundgarden records in the 1990s. I mean, those records are FINE but it’s still totally dull, pretentious music sung by a shirtless urban hippie. Grant Morrison’s comics are fine (and the rantings of a shirtless guy who never formed an identity independent from referentiality, but I guess that’s the point?), but I guess I just look on and think how profoundly fucking silly it is to take any of this seriously as art, criticism, or anything at all. Not that I don’t take cracked-out superhero comics seriously. Like I’ve said, I take DK2 very seriously.

 

Break

Eleanor Davis is here with the final entry of her very strong week of Cartoonist’s Diaries. IF you haven’t been reading them, I highly recommend doing so. Thanks, Eleanor!

We also have a review from Sean T. Collins of Renee French’s Baby Bjornstrand, which sounds typically atypical. Here’s a sample of Sean’s review:

A thing comes into three lives, without warning or explanation. A thing leaves those lives in much the same way. The time between: Baby Bjornstrand, the new Renee French graphic novel completing and collecting the webcomic of the same name. In the past, I’ve written that the hazy, watery wasteland inhabited by Baby Bjornstrand‘s masked, hooded protagonists and monstrous fauna evokes a post-apocalypticism that is, if not belied, then at least transfigured by the comic tone of the proceedings. Now that the series is finished, that’s only true to a point. As the uniform proscenium staging of its panels suggests, Bjornstrand remains much closer to Samuel Beckett than Stephen King, despite French’s astonishing proficiency with painstakingly penciled menace. Yet its morose ending has a bite that doesn’t require the jaws of a monster.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

It may not be quite as necessary or useful as Adaline Glasheen’s Census of Finnegans Wake, but Robert Boyd’s who’s who of characters from Jesse Moynihan’s Forming is still pretty fun.

Hannah Means Shannon reports from the Seth Kushner benefit earlier this week.

And yesterday was Jack Kirby’s 97th birthday. This being a three-day weekend, I suggest making a whole Jack Kirby holiday of it. Hand of Fire author and TCJ columnist Charles Hatfield posted an essay called “Kirby’s Second Act”. Tom Spurgeon posted his traditional overwhelming gallery of Kirby images. You might want to visit the Kirby family’s Kirby 4 Heroes page.

 

Richest Poor Guy

Today on the site: Mike Dawson talks to Caitlin McGurk and Jim Rugg about Ghost World and The Death Ray.

And Eleanor Davis brings us Day 4 of her excellent cartoon diary.

Elsewhere:

Gary Panter is opening a new painting show next week. It’s a really remarkable body of work, linked together by a new approach to his paint handling and an ongoing preoccupation with the idea of water. I’ve watched this work develop over the past two years and I’m just blown away by seeing it all together. In other Gary news, he’s written this fine appreciation of Ray Johnson for The Paris Review.

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In other art news, here’s a review of the very excellent Chicago Imagists documentary, which includes Gary and yours truly.

Back in comics, here’s a funny interview with Johnny Ryan. And a San Diego rundown by Michael Dooley; also: a nice look at a manga-in-America footnote.

In swipe file news, somewhere Kate Beaton is thinking: “Ripped off again?!”