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To Be Continued

Today at the Comics Journal, we're starting off an abbreviated holiday week with Mark Newgarden. Mark's here with a deep dive into a very specific comic: the Bushmiller one where the dog pisses on the guy's couch.

Although intended only as a cheap laugh for his Dutch Treat Club cronies, "How To Housebreak YourDog" assumed an illustrious afterlife. The irresistible (and un-copyrighted) page was promptly bootlegged, perhaps by a fellow Dutch Treater gone bad. It was soon launched into a surreptitious, labyrinthine underworld through which such illicit printed matter of the day was channeled. No other work produced for this obscure social club ever enjoyed such far-flung distinction. In various modes and media over the past six decades, this mutt has stepped up to the couch again and again.

Our review of the day comes to us from Shea Hennum, and he's got his library card at the ready for a look at Manuele Fior's Red Ultramarine. 

The book makes no effort to clarify the relationship between characters, though this is not itself an issue. Rather, it piles on the confusion at the expense of its own emotional gravity. In the mythic story, Daedalus is the focus and the life of his son is at stake. Likewise, in the contemporary story, Silvia is the focus and it is the life of Fausto at stake. Her fear, which we are made to share, is that Fausto might harm himself. This differs significantly from the danger threatening Icarus, and so the parallels between them are limited. This fact is compounded by the vast differences between the narratives themselves, though the characters do occupy similar positions in their respective stories. What’s more, they look identical, so much so that, in a brief interlude, Silvia travels into the Daedalus narrative to encounter Icarus on a beach. She is struck by the similarity he shares with Fausto, and it is only after being warned of his fate that she begins to fear for Fausto’s. Fior presents the relationship between the two figures as though it were something crucial—crucial for the reader, but also crucial for the characters themselves. Yet there is little effort done to make it sensible. In its too neat conclusion, it is Silvia’s love—or so we are meant to intuit from the brief, wordless scene—that saves Fausto, and it is here, most acutely, where the parallels between the characters breakdown. Did Daedalus not love his son? Is that why Icarus dies? Fior does not give the impression that this is what he means, but the problem is precisely that it is unclear what it is he did mean. Rather than being given room to breathe, the characters are suffocated by these tenuous parallels and unclear connections. The ideas fail to meaningfully develop, so they cannot support their weighty pretensions. They cave in on their own hollow center. And, as a result, the story feels rushed, abrupt, confusing, slight.

And now, let's talk.

As you've heard, Tim Hodler has stepped down as co-editor, and I will be continuing on as a solo act. What does that mean?

Hopefully, it won't mean that much.

Realistically?

The loss of Tim is the end of an era of reliability, professionalism, humor and fearsome, intimidating intelligence. I've known for months he was going to step down, and as someone who has spent time with his wonderful family, completely support his decision--Tim and his family has sacrificed a lot for his commitment to The Comics Journal, and even if he would never admit it, I will: the exchange was never in his or their favor--it was always in ours. This kind of work is paid attention to by very, very few, cared for by even less, and only provided widespread recognition when it blows up in our faces faces. If you come to it for anything financial, you're a stupid fool, and if you come to it for ego fulfillment, you're something even worse. Either way, it's surefire disappointment to come to it expecting anything from it but the work itself--and Tim has spent years embracing that work, and I'm proud to have been his partner in it for the last 18 months, and even more proud to have been one of his writers years ago. This is something he did because he loves what the Journal has come to represent, and while I may not share his kinder traits or his experience, I share his passion. This is a place where we are trying to remember the history of this artform, to treat its work with interest and intelligence. We're here to document the passing of its participants, and to ask its newest generation what it is they're seeking to contribute. We're here to wave a dismissive hand at work created by people who dismiss their obligation to not suck. We're here to get overly excited about minute details in a work that you'll never be able to see, but that you'll think about for too long. We're here to pump your brakes, and we're here to get your engine going. It's a messy, sprawling thing.

What comes next is intended to be more of the same. There will be less blogging, and we'll be a bit more focused on reviews for the summer as we continue to expand our list of contributors. Some of our upcoming features will be long, some short, and the Cartoonist Diaries will continue. Interviews ain't going anywhere. But throughout the next few months, my non-content related focus will be on a full overhaul and redesign of the site, one that can better serve those who read it (or would like to read it) on mobile devices, and above all, one that will make it that much easier to find, read, and immerse oneself in the Journal's unmatchable archive of interviews, reviews and analysis--while also easily able to see what we've done today and who has been doing it. A good publication is built off of the intelligence, diversity and wit of its contributors--and in the coming redesign, it is our aim that is something that will be inarguably obvious when your browser finds it way here.

It's a weird time in comics right now--many of the old guard institutions are facing obsolescence, some deserved for their repugnant behavior, some expected for their continued financial ineptitude, and some because they just don't seem to care about this stuff anymore. It's my aim that the Journal will take the pulse of those things--but right now, we need to get our own house in order. I'm excited about the changes to come, but i'm not going to ask you to be, nor am I going to ask you to trust me. What I am going to say, instead, is this: we aren't going anywhere. See you in a few.

 

The End?!

This is the final day of my final week as co-editor of The Comics Journal. As you might expect, this event inspires mixed emotions. On one hand, it's been eight-plus years of headaches and elevated blood pressure and late nights and early mornings and I'm ready to move on to a more normal life; on the other, the Comics Journal is one of my favorite publications of any kind, it's held a central place in my imaginative life for nearly as long as I can remember, and it's an honor to be associated with it in any way. I'm not sure I've really come to grips with the fact that it's over.

While pondering this farewell, I've considered discussing the transformations that have taken place over the last eight years, both in comics and in internet publishing, but I'm not sure I have much to say that isn't obvious, or that wouldn't seem out of place. Still, I didn't want to leave without any goodbye at all. I'm leaving for no dramatic reason, but because of changes in my professional and familial obligations that have been taking much more of my time over the last year or so. Tucker Stone will be staying on as editor of the site, and I'm sure he will do an outstanding job. He has big plans, and I can't wait to experience them as a reader.

When I look back at my tenure here, my temperament leads me to focus on the missed opportunities and mistakes: articles that needed one more round of editing before publication, interviews that were never finished, emails and projects left undone. But that isn't the whole picture, and it's not the right note for today. Art matters, and so does this site. Because I do believe that even with all its faults, TCJ has for the last eight years been far and away the best, most consistent, most principled, and most thorough publication devoted to comics published in English, on or off the internet. I am proud of that.

So I want to focus on the positive today. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone who helped make TCJ the website that it is: Dan and Tucker, my co-editors, who more often than I'd like to admit did most of the work; Gary Groth, who gave us this opportunity, and whose responsibility for the ever-growing cultural health and relevance of comics over the last forty years can't be overstated; Kim Thompson, whose early encouragement and advice were immeasurably helpful; Kristy Valenti, who has put countless thankless hours into this site, and who deserves more recognition for her work; everyone else at Fantagraphics who has helped in innumerable ways; the site's many writers and contributors, too many to name individually, though of course I will always have a special place in my heart for the ones who came on to TCJ at the same time we launched, and those I personally edited; my collaborators at Comics Comics (Frank, Joe, Jeet, Nicole, Dash, Jason), the site before the site; Mike Reddy, who drew so many great illustrations at such short notice; my wife and family, who have been very understanding; the artists and publishers whose work makes all of this necessary and possible; our many critics and haters, who made this publication better, whether they meant to or not; and, of course, the readers, who make this site feel like a true community. (Any community worth the name includes a few village idiots.)

It is impossible to measure how much I've learned while editing this site, about not only comics, but everything that writing about comics intersects with, which is nearly everything. Thank you for supporting my education.

 

Oops

Today on the site, Ken Parille is back with another Grid column, this time close-reading Steve Ditko in terms of his relationship to "comic-book people."

In 1978 Steve Ditko contributed a curious illustration to the San Diego Comicon’s program booklet:

Steve Ditko © 1978.

Shown in outline, an artist leans over his drawing table, hard at work on a page of comic-book art. But before he can finish a few panels, nearly thirty figures storm the page, disturbed and angered by what they see. Some grip their foreheads in disbelief, others raise their fists in righteous indignation. Several deliver a more aggressive form of critique: one steals the artist’s inking brush, another shoves his pencil through the art, while others bend the page and set it on fire.

Fans typically gather at conventions like the San Diego Comicon to celebrate the medium they love and artists they admire. Ditko conjures up an altogether different kind of con: enraged fan-boys (and perhaps a fan-girl) convene solely to attack his work. In the upper-left, he signs the art “regards.” Is he joking? How can he have any regard for a mob out to destroy his art?

Along with comics fans, industry professionals attend comic conventions — and Ditko’s not so fond of them, either. In comics and essays he rails against the kind of “comic people” he derisively calls “handlers.” During a comic’s production, they “handle” (which for Ditko meant “ruin”) pages after the artist submits them. In the Comicon drawing, figures with the brush and pencil evoke handlers who, in order to align a comic with the publisher’s dictates, usurp the artist’s role by erasing or redrawing art or by adding elements such as sound effects without regard for the artist’s compositions. By 1978, Ditko had suffered decades of aggressive mishandling. He cared immensely about his work’s “integrity” (a key term in the Ditko lexicon) but most editors and publishers had no such lofty concerns. They believed that, since they paid for the pages, they could do what they wanted to them. An editor’s goal was not to create “art”: it was to please readers and sell comics.

In Ditko’s anti-con, angry fans and incompetent handlers unite against him and his work. Is anyone brave enough to dissent from mob rule? Perhaps the person sitting calmly atop the chair can see the scene from Ditko’s perspective. Unlike the others, he appreciates visionary comics. Or maybe he’s just waiting for the right moment to join the fray.

Yesterday, the great comics scholar Joseph Witek paid tribute to his mentor, the recently deceased Donald Ault.

When I heard the news that Don Ault had passed away, my first coherent thought was, “This is how Pinocchio must have felt when Geppetto died.” Logic tells me that I still would have existed in some form or other had I never met this brilliant scholar and teacher, wise mentor, and surpassingly kind and generous friend, but the person I am today simply cannot imagine how such an ‘I’ could possibly be. My next coherent thought was, “I never would have thought of that Pinocchio analogy if not for Don Ault.”

And then suddenly I’m back in Don’s classroom at Vanderbilt in the mid-1980s taking “Popular Narrative: Comics, Animation, and Early Television”, and the shortish, slightly hunched figure at the front is explicating the contrast between the nature of evil in Disney’s flagship early animated features: where in Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs evil is localized in the Wicked Queen and containable by virtuous action, but in Pinocchio it’s pervasive and can come at you from anywhere and in fact may very well be inside you, and if you give it free rein you may end up a donkey yourself. And then I’m with another class of students and we’re all in the basement of Don’s house, sitting in seats scrounged from an old theatre while the 35mm projector in the back runs an original print of Snow White (obtained somehow from who knows where), and the Queen’s robes are the deepest, purest colors I’ve ever seen and have never forgotten.

That Geppetto analogy soon breaks down, of course, because Don Ault wasn’t a dogged craftsman shaping students into what he thought they should be, and while the transformative power of the Blue Fairy might hit closer to the mark, Don’s teaching, unlike hers, certainly wasn’t about inculcating socially acceptable conventional behavior, either. But her name does recall a much more appropriate reference point: the concept of faerie as understood by that poet of Don Ault’s life-long study, William Blake--not the tiny dancing woodland creatures but the domain of the uncanny itself.

We also have Day Three and Day Four of Chris Kuzma's Cartoonist's Diary.

Rob Clough reviewed Marnie Galloway's Slightly Plural.

Marnie Galloway began her career with In the Sounds and Seas, a silent comic about the creative, gestational spirit of women. Her comic Slightly Plural is a more literal representation of motherhood—both giving birth and the quotidian experience of being a parent. This comic covers the full gamut of Galloway's skills as a draftsman, cartoonist, and storyteller, as there are poetic comics, gag comics, straightforward autobiographical comics, densely illustrated stories, and minimalist pieces. She keeps each story short for maximum impact as she builds up to an overarching narrative regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

"River" is full-on dense Galloway illustration: lush greenery, detailed hatching and crosshatching, and vividly portrayed characters. It's fitting that Galloway, who holds a degree in philosophy, would open the book with pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus' famous quote about not being able to step in the same river twice. It's an apt quote, given that this book is not only about pregnancy but about being pregnant multiple times. The lesson learned here is that "experience isn't prophecy," but experience is helpful nonetheless.

Next, Sean Witzke really doesn't like Adam Smith and VV Glass’s At the End of Your Tether:

Ugly and boring and terrible. An early scene in Adam Smith and VV Glass’s At the End of Your Tether features a bully dressed as if the Karate Kid was fully relevant to our culture in 2019 buying a motorcycle from our lead character’s dad in a dismissive and douchey manner. It is a scene we’ve all watched and read so often that you expect something to happen that’s different or nuanced, or even played as a cliche to the hilt (we live in an era starved for camp). It does none of those. It’s just that scene. That’s when I realized that this comic was not only going to be bad but also difficult to finish.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At the New York Times, Brian Selznick reviews Seth's Clyde Fans.

Seth draws time out, both literally and metaphorically. It took him over 20 years to finish this book (he made lots of other books during that time, and published chapters of this one as he went along, the way Dickens did with his novels). His drawing style changed over those years. It’s as if “Clyde Fans” itself is a monument to passing time, and the first direct mention of time in the story is, curiously, a reference to a broken clock. “By the way, pay no attention whatsoever to the clocks. I’d be very surprised if any of them are still wound or working.” This is spoken by the character Abraham Matchcard in 1997, during an extraordinary 69-page sequence that begins the narrative, and it seems like good advice for the whole book.

At HiLobrow, Annie Nocenti remembers Dick Tracy.

These grotesque tales fixated in my young memory, at least as best I can recall down the tunnel of time. As a child, I felt trapped in sheltered suburbia. I scrawled a Jean Genet quote, “Family is the first prison,” on my school notebook. I must have noticed how cool Dick Tracy looked, with his futuristic two-way radio watch. I might have felt relief when he nabbed and jailed the dreadful Pruneface, Mumbles, Pear-Shape. Memory is treacherous. Mostly I recall sympathy for monsters. Dick Tracy’s captivating villains lured me into an early monster love that morphed over the years, the kind of monster love you can only have until you actually meet one.

 

Let’s Go to the Zoo

Today on the site, Matthias Wivel is back with one of his best columns yet, a look at the thoroughly individual (and empathetic) work of Dominique Goblet.

The Belgian artist and comic-book maker Dominique Goblet is intensely concerned with life as lived by others, and life as a communal experience. She is among the most empathetic of artists working in the comics form, with each project pushing further the boundaries of interpersonal hermeneutics. Goblet is of the generation that emerged in the '90s and helped consolidate ‘the graphic novel’ and ‘art comics’ in broader cultural terms—the first, arguably, to unabashedly self-identify as artists.

It is probably unsurprising, therefore, that she made autobiography—the genre that centered that movement—her proving ground. But she differs from most of her peers in that she has consistently looked beyond herself, in the process redefining for reality-based comics the way of working that has determined so much of the historical evolution of comics: collaboration.

Her latest book, Amour dominical, published this year, is no exception. On the face of it, it is less her book than that of her collaborator, Dominique Théate. Badly injured in a motorcycle accident when he was young, he suffered brain damage that radically changed his life. He lives in the area in which he grew up, the Vielsalm municipality in the Ardennes region in southeastern Belgium. Goblet first met him there in 2007 when, as part of a group of comics-oriented artists associated with the Belgian collective Frémok—of which she has been a constituent part since the early '90s—she visited La “S”, Grand Atélier, an arts center for the mentally handicapped located in an old army barracks.

We also have a new artist making the Cartoonist's Diary this week: Chris Kuzma. Here's Day One and Day Two.

Robert Kirby is here, too, with a review of Joakim Drescher's Motel Universe.

The intergalactic adventures of Motel Universe unfold in seemingly free-form fashion, driven by creator Joakim Drescher’s delightfully go-for-broke imagination in both storytelling and visuals, along with his seriously loopy sense of humor. Drescher sneaks in some potent tropes about scapegoating and the exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society, but his satire is offered up in such over-the-top surreality that it all goes down quite easily. Drescher is clearly having a lot of fun with his creations and that fun is contagious.

The plot centers around a hapless slave race of folks known as the Skins. The story opens with two of them, a father and his young daughter named Plum, being cast out of an apparent place of safety by a weird tiny being who rides a bird as if it were a horse. As they are forced to fly off into the dangerous unknown, the father laments: “Nothing changes, there is no sanctuary. As long as the skin of our people is precious – we will be HUNTED FOR IT!”

And AJ McGuire reviews Rich Tommaso's Dry County.

Rich Tommaso’s Dry County has a regular-guy protagonist, Lou Rossi, who plays at being a detective. It’s hard to blame him for this bit of make-believe after he stumbles into what anybody would recognize as the start of a mystery. He meets a pretty girl, Janet Laughton, and then only a few days later she disappears, followed by a note that reads, “Do not call the police or she dies.” He spends the rest of the book trying to track her down with the skillset and street-smarts that would actually be available to him as a young cartoonist and movie critic in the year 1990 - which is to say not much. He bumbles around, recruits some friends to stake out her ex-boyfriends, and runs a contest in his newspaper comic strip to try and send her messages. The most daring he gets is when he climbs through a window and looks around in someone’s house for her, thinking she may be inside being held prisoner, but since she’s not there he leaves the way he came in.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. DC has announced a restructuring, part of which will involve finally putting the long-suffering Vertigo imprint out of its misery.

DC will shut down Vertigo, its pioneering non-superhero comics imprint, at the end of the year, a move that has been rumored for weeks. Shuttering the imprint is part of a restructuring that will also eliminate DC’s recently launched Zoom and Ink publishing imprints, which published children's and YA comics, respectively.

All DC titles will now be published via three age-specific publishing lines: DC Kids, which will serve middle-grade readers or readers ages 8-12; DC, for ages 13 plus, which will primarily include the DC universe of characters; and DC Black Label, for readers 17 and older. The newly announced publishing lines will launch in January 2020.

—Interviews. Glen Martin interviews Darrin Bell.

What’s the bedrock ethos of editorial cartooning?

An editorial cartoon is not a gag. Bob Mankoff [former cartoon editor for The New Yorker] called me a few years ago out of the blue and asked me to submit cartoons to the magazine. And I pointed out that I’d never done gag work. And he said editorial cartoons were basically gag cartoons—both have a single image and a caption. But they’re not the same thing. For me, editorial cartoons don’t have to be funny. I want them to make people think and feel, even if they end up thinking I’m an idiot and want horrible things to happen to me.

In Candorville, one of the main characters is a young writer who regularly submits his work to The New Yorker and is rejected. Did you ever submit any of your cartoons per Mankoff’s request?

I did, and one was accepted after eight or nine attempts. And it just ran, as a matter of fact. They held it for a year or so, and then finally published it. I’d been checking each issue every week to see if it had run and then basically given up. But apparently, that’s standard practice—they can hold cartoons for a long time.

The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Edie Fake.

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Buhle uses the occasion of a new edition of Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls to write about the history of sex in comics.

Erotic art as actual comic art, sequential art in panels, is necessarily of a still more recent vintage. Anthologies of explicit sex comics, published within the past few decades, reveal very little before the 1920s, when some joke book series, like Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, pushed at the limits of the publishable. In these cartoons, “college widows” (unattached older women living in the campus area) and hot-to-trot coeds set the pace, with their avid boyfriends, for the rawer material to follow.

“Tijuana Bibles,” eight-to-24-page small-sized comics, began to appear during the Depression, following the expansion and consolidation of organized crime networks. Never sold in public, they circulated mysteriously, and sexual organs were very much on display. They were first distributed in tobacco shops (which at an earlier time had offered a literal entryway to commercial prostitution). Rendered less necessary by the slippage of censorship in wartime, these “bibles” slipped downward to distribution at gas stations and off-the-truck direct sales.

—Misc. Kevin Huizenga has a Patreon account.

 

One to Go

Today on the site, Derik Badman writes about Guido Crepax.

Valentina Rosselli was a Milanese photographer born in 1942, fashionable, a communist. She first appeared as a side character in the 1965 story "The Lesmo Curve", which largely focuses on the character Neutron, a.k.a. Philip Rembrandt, an art critic with the mysterious power to stop humans or objects via his gaze. The two characters became lovers and Valentina assumed the role of protagonist in subsequent stories, which were, at first, genre adventures reminiscent of American newspaper serials and mixing science fiction, horror, and intrigue, and later on, grew into tales more concerned with the reality (and the fantasy) of her domestic life.

Valentina's rich dream/fantasy life often features eroticism and a predilection towards s&m, and that last element is probably the main source of notoriety for Guido Crepax, Valentina's creator. Previous to the Complete Crepax series, currently ongoing annually from Fantagraphics (the fourth and latest volume of which I am mostly concerned with here), the easiest English translations of Crepax's work to find were his adaptations of such titles as The Story of O, Venus in Furs, and the Marquis de Sade's Justine. Other translations have appeared in English, primarily in the late '80s and early '90s from Catalan Communications, NBM (via their Eurotica imprint), and a handful of stories in Heavy Metal, but they have been long out of print, and represent only a patchwork of a larger whole. The heavy focus on the erotic aspects of Crepax's work has made knowledge of him in English-speaking countries too limited. He is a master of the comics form, creating beautiful drawings within a framework of innovative page layouts and panel breakdowns.

Yesterday, we published an excerpt of Sean Knickerbocker's Rust Belt.

Rob Clough is here, too, with a review of Mary Fleener's Billie the Bee.

Mary Fleener's first new book in years, Billie the Bee, is one part Jon Lewis' True Swamp (a favorite of Fleener's), one part Jay Hosler's Clan Apis, and one part Fleener weirdness. If you're one of the fortunate few who read her eponymous series Fleener back in the '90s, you'll have a sense of what you're getting into here. Fleener uses highly stylized and surreal character designs, exotic settings, and an overall bizarre aesthetic that differentiate it from Fleener's more familiar autobiographical comics.

Billie the Bee is set in a coastal lagoon that is also part estuary, with a mix of fresh and salt water in the environment. Fleener has clearly done a lot of research into this subject and mixes nature facts into her narrative in the way that Hosler did in his story about a beehive's inhabitants. Fleener adds footnotes regarding these facts and scientific classifications of the flora and fauna in the area. The various insects and animals that we meet have anthropomorphic qualities while still retaining their natural qualities. Things don't get quite as weird as they do in True Swamp, as Fleener is clearly interested in hewing as close to the actual qualities of the creatures as possible, and resists adding the bizarre and supernatural elements that are present in Lewis' work.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—This year's Russ Manning Award nominees have been announced.

—Naomi Fry writes about the comics-adjacent work of Judith Kerr.

"Once there was a cat called Mog. She lived with a family called Thomas. Mog was nice but not very clever. She didn’t understand a lot of things. A lot of other things she forgot. She was a very forgetful cat.” So begins Judith Kerr’s picture book “Mog the Forgetful Cat,” published in England in 1970. Though this was only the first of Kerr’s “Mog” volumes—which ended up numbering more than a dozen by the time the last of the bunch, “Goodbye Mog,” came out, in 2002—these opening lines establish the series’ rhythm and sensibility. Kerr, who died in May, at the age of ninety-five, having published more than thirty much-beloved books in the course of her career, once said that she tried to never use more than two hundred and fifty words in any of her books, so that young children could follow along. But it was, perhaps, exactly this limitation that heightened her ability to pinpoint, with a beautiful specificity, the character of her feline protagonist. Just like Mog—a stout, friendly tabby with a round face, a white bib, and white paws, who gets into a variety of small domestic scrapes because of her limited grasp of the world around her—Kerr’s language is simple and a little plodding. The sentences are short and of consistent length—not unlike the padded footfalls of a rotund cat—and, in their occasional repetitiveness, mimic a feline’s clumsy thinking.

—The Paris Review excerpts the new book from Ulli Lust.

 

Grind

Today on the site, Bill Kartalopoulos reports from a recent panel at the Society of Illustrators, celebrating the Book of Weirdo and including Weirdo contributors (and rivals) including Kim Deitch, Drew Friedman, Glenn Head, John Holmstrom, Mark Newgarden, and Art Spiegelman.

Several of the panelists agreed that Weirdo’s embrace of outsider cartoonists — “outsider” even in the context of underground and alternative comics — was among the magazine’s unique and memorable characteristics. “What I always really dug about Weirdo was that it had this unvarnished kind of originality,” Head said. “So there could be this work like Eugene Teal’s ‘Sunday Frog Funnie’ or the Elinore Norflus stuff, where it really looked like the artist doing the work was completely untutored in art as well as comics. They just didn’t even have a background in it. So you could put Crumb’s work up against it, and a lot of artists’ work up against it, and it was like there was different work from different universes all mixed up in Weirdo. So I was really into that.” Newgarden agreed that among the magazine’s three successive editors, “Crumb tended to go for more what he considered primitive.” When selecting artists to portray on the book’s cover, Friedman was mindful not to only include the magazine’s most well-known contributors. “Weirdo was all about the lesser-known contributors and the fringe artists and the social misfits who contributed to the magazine,” he said. “Weirdo gave guys like Bruce [Duncan] a chance to be published and be seen,” Deitch affirmed. In a sense, Crumb’s openness to artistic outsiders in Weirdo sits in continuity with his embrace of the underground comix work of Rory Hayes, who was very much an artist's artist during his life.

Yesterday, we published the final installment of Michel Fiffe's OVERWORD column, focused on Mark Gruenwald.

We've reached peak clusterfuck in terms of any sort of hardline continuity in comics today. There's a thin narrative thread running through mainstream comics, but we all know it doesn't matter anymore. Anything goes, it just has to be compelling, it just has to sell books, and so the hyper attention to long running, company-wide continuity doesn't hold much weight anymore.

When was the last time it did, though? Crisis in '85? Post-Heroes Reborn? Pre-Hickman's Secret Wars? Like Roy Thomas a generation before him, Gruenwald lived to serve continuity. There was a groundwork for him to study and work from, and it had real value to the readers, too. That was part of the Marvel appeal, being the longest running shared universe in history.

So I can't help but root for the guy who was fighting an uphill battle with the times. Especially when his writing style was geared towards those unwavering convictions. And he wasn't gonna go rogue and do his own thing! No way was he gonna go independent; as established in the Quasar post, the Big Two establishments are where it's at. Anything outside of that simply didn't count. And this isn't some sort of demented corporate loyalty, it's a marriage to the ideas he surrendered to as a kid, as a professional, and as a creative force.

Sean Witzke reviews Rick & Morty Presents Mr. Meeseeks.

Rick and Morty is a television show originally created as a joke where Marty McFly blew Doc Brown for a Channel 101 pilot, and it is now the current cause du jour cartoon for a theoretical 16-year-old white male who hates everyone and thinks he’s smart but really isn’t that smart because he’s still too dumb to realize that true nihilism is going to require a lot more reading than he’s prepared to do because said 16-year-old is too busy saying “tampon tampon tampon” in the comments section of a YouTube video that will be revealed as the work of an astroturfing Nazi in about three months.

Leonard Pierce reviews House of the Black Spot.

Good comics, in whatever form they’re presented – graphic novels, monthlies, daily strips, zines, or any of their other manifestations – have to do one job that is simultaneously stone simple and devilishly complex:  use a primarily visual medium to communicate a narrative story. All the best comics do this well, and all the worst don’t do it at all. 

Ben Sears’ “Double+” series, released around this time each year for the last few, is indisputably in the former category. It’s probably an exaggeration – well, cards on the table: it’s definitely an exaggeration to call it one of the best comics being made right now; Sears’ talents are remarkable, but his work also occupies that porous border between good and great. While he takes care to provide enough chewy content for older readers who want to take what they read seriously, it would be a stretch to call his work thematically weighty in any meaningful sense. But it would also do him a great injustice to call it slight.  Sears’ strength is absolutely as a visual storyteller, but there’s enough happening in his engaging characters, involving storylines, and light-fingered explorations of contemporary issues that the books are always something to look forward to, and the latest, House of the Black Spot, is a perfect example.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. I missed this, but earlier this month, the editorial shakeup at Esquire magazine also included the dismissal of cartoons editor Bob Mankoff.

Ronald Wimberly's LAAB is crowdfunding a new issue, including comics from Emily Carroll, Ben Passmore, Hellen Jo, Jonathan Djob Nkondo, Nishat Akhtar, Josiah Files, Freddie Carrasco, Richie Pope, Tanna Tucker, and Gymah Gariba.

—Reviews & Commentary. Jeet Heer has a new position at The Nation, and his first piece is an essay about the New York Times and its recent decision to cease the regular publication of political cartoons.

Speaking for many in his profession, Joel Pett, a Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist for Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader, decried the decision as “chickenshit and cowardly.” More politely, CNN’s Jake Tapper told The Daily Beast that this was “just one more nail in the coffin of what is a struggling art form, given how corporate America has taken over local newspapers and gutted the industry.”

It’s undeniable that editorial cartooning, even more than journalism as a whole, is in crisis. A 2012 report by the Herblock Foundation found that there were fewer than 40 editorial cartoonists with newspaper-staff jobs in America, a steep decline from more than 2,000 such positions in the beginning of the 20th century. The situation has gotten only more dire since that report, with the high-profile firing of Rob Rogers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for penning anti-Trump cartoons. Newspaper editorial cartooning is well on the path to extinction, a dire end for a vital art that has been inextricable from modern political protest.

At the New York Times, Hillary Chute reviews recent books by Mark Alan Stamaty and Jaime Hernandez.

The comics form sets up poignant juxtapositions in “Is This How You See Me?” The book is structured episodically, with present-day sequences — in which the two women, in their early 50s, return home, full of self-consciousness — intercut with scenes from the past. While in the table of contents these sections are marked out by year — 1979, 1980 — the story itself seamlessly slides into the past without announcement or warning. “Love and Rockets” focuses sharply on style, and we see how the characters shift fashions, grow older, change bodies. But other juxtapositions float throughout: the as-obnoxious-as-they-used-to-be young queer couple whom Maggie and Hopey encounter at the art house movie theater; their friend Daffy and her punked-out daughter standing side by side at the reunion for the local band Ape Sex. (The mom has some good advice: “I told her you never wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see.”)

And Michael Sherber writes in the journal Physics about a recent conference in France in which cartoonists and scientists discussed how to depict science through comics.

“The comic strip is a storytelling art,” says Pierre-Laurent Daures, one of the TSDS organizers and the president of Stimuli, an association that directs artist-scientist collaborations. The typical comic contains characters whose experiences are captured in a time-ordered sequence of panels. Scientific findings, by contrast, are usually presented as objective, timeless facts—with rarely any story behind them. “Combining scientific knowledge with comic drawing is a challenge, but it can lead to innovative solutions for communicating science,” Daures says.

These “solutions” were on show at the conference. In the entrance of the Museum of Comic Strips—where TSDS was held—several graduate students displayed comic-strip versions of their Ph.D. theses that were made for university-sponsored outreach programs. In talks, researchers from France, Morocco, and Chile presented a number of science-based comic books, such as one that used Alice in Wonderland to explain elementary statistics.

 

Whoops

Today on the site, Simon Abrams interviews Michael Kupperman.

In a lot of criticism, personal art is presumed to be better art. The idea that you have to literally bleed on the page to get people to take you seriously or to find your work “accessible,” which is another critical crutch. Was moving away from your collage-style work your way of making your art more accessible? That is: was it a conscious goal? 

Oh yes, absolutely. I mean, I think there are very few artists who don’t want more audience. Yes, I wanted to make my work more accessible and have it read by more people. The thing about Hodags and Hodaddies which was great was: I would do these comics and then people I know would see them and comment on them to my face. That was really rewarding for me. That aspect to the work disappeared pretty quickly after that.

You’re now on Patreon. How has that worked towards your goal of fostering a more immediate connection between your readership, your work, and you?

I think it’s still developing, really. Patreon is part of a more conscious shift on my part to make that connection and to build it. The old system has so consistently failed me. If I have a chance now to keep making comics the way I want to, it’s only going to be with the direct support of an audience that enjoys them.

Was it harder to be taken seriously by comics gatekeepers—both critics and publishers—because your style is not stylistically dense? You’re not exactly Chris Ware, who puts all the work on the page and kind of overwhelms you.

Absolutely, yes. I am not a designer per se and my work is not design-heavy. And yes, I think Chris Ware’s work, which is omnipresent now, has achieved that status partly, or mainly, because of its design sensibilities. I think design has really overtaken art in our culture right now. People think they’re the same thing and they’re not at all. In some senses I’m anti-design, and I see it as a limitation that our culture has placed on itself now, that everything has to be “designed” just so. I find the disruption caused by the human touch and the human brain to be much more interesting than something perfectly designed.

On Friday, Alex Dueben spoke to William Johnson, deputy director of Lambda Literary, about that organization's relationship to comics.

“The cartoonist Jennifer Camper made a great note at the Lammys,” Johnson said, mentioning the legendary cartoonist who was a presenter at this year’s Lammys alongside other distinguished figures like Jen Benka, Melissa Febos, John Roberts, Paul Tran, and Christine Vachon. “She said we shouldn’t really call it a graphic novel because comics exist cross-genre – memoir, science fiction, poetry. Comics is a huge door and anything can fit through it. That’s important to recognize.”

Since establishing a graphic-novel category, the Lammys has continued to recognize comics in other categories as well. This year, two comics were on the shortlist for the LGBTQ Erotica prize—Crossplay by Niki Smith, and Miles and Honesty in SCFSX! by Blue Delliquanti and Kazimir Lee—competing against prose work, with Delliquanti and Lee winning the prize.

As far as why they were nominated for and won the erotica prize, Johnson said that it was simply what the judges decided. “It’s judged by a panel of their peers so the judging panel is other erotic writers,” Johnson said. “The panel felt that this was the most notable book of the year and that it deserved the award.”

Keith Silva reviews the new collection of Don Rosa's Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes about how the combination of a cartoon character in a realistic setting creates a ‘mask’ for the reader--think European and Japanese comics or any animated Disney movie ever. And speaking of the big ‘D,’ the popularity of Donald Duck—the most published non-superhero comic book character in the world—is thanks to Carl Barks, a maestro of masking. And so it must follow, as a mother duck with her ducklings, Don Rosa, self-disclosed super fan of Barks’s signature work-for-hire creation, Scrooge McDuck, is a mask maker par excellence too.

Barks and Rosa’s use of masking in Duck books provided the reader with agency, engagement and complicity, the act of becoming, of being—the foundation of fiction, of comics. And what better places to be than a haunted castle, a riverboat plying the mighty Mississippi or a tumble-down town on the frontier? Masking means layering, which makes Rosa's The Complete Life and Times of $crooge McDuck a veritable French pastry full of adventures, history, laughs, thrills, sorrows, failures, triumphs and morals. Most of the lessons like fairness, frugality and forgiveness are child’s play. It’s the sad and wiser truths that The Complete Life and Times of $crooge McDuck masks about comics, corporations and the reader’s (consumer’s) conscience that makes this the ultimate work about understanding comics.

And Tegan O'Neil reviews Benji Nate's Lorna.

Benji Nate’s Lorna is one of the cuter books to cross my transom in a minute. I debated how and whether to use the word “cute” because under certain circumstances it can certainly be an insult, and indeed the last thing I would want to do is be seen to damn with faint praise merely by calling a book “cute.” But in this instance “cute” is the word because it seems difficult to imagine from the results on display that Nate wasn’t striving for cute the whole time.

The titular Lorna is a bit of an odd duck, by which I means she really likes carrying knives and stabbing things. She’s carrying a knife on the cover, carrying a knife on the first page, and although I didn’t actually count she’s carrying a knife on most of the interior pages as well. “Threatening boys with knives is just a hobby of mine,” she relates. Just one of those girls who really likes murdering people, y’know? And only sometimes scavenging their bodies for loot, like sunglasses.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Johnny Ryan is one of the writers working on a new series of Looney Tunes.

The shorts are part of the studio’s commitment to creating 1,000 minutes of new Looney Tunes animation. When WB announced the project at last year’s Annecy festival, the studio touted that the shorts would take a “cartoonist-driven approach to storytelling,” and based on what was screened today, they’ve stayed true to that mission.

—Andrea Ayres at The Beat writes about the possibility of a union in comics.

Saying you want a guild or union is one thing; actually forming one is an entirely different beast. How do you organize a disparate collective of workers? [Sasha] Bassett believes other industries, like construction, can serve as a template for comics. She says, “Another example can be found in a recent development with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), who has helped establish the IWW Freelance Journalists Union – comics could go a similar route and have all freelancers work within the same bargaining unit, rather than with smaller groups oriented around individual jobs.”

—The NCS responds to the recent New York Times decision to suspend regular political cartoons.

Editorial cartooning is an invaluable form of pointed critique in American newspapers that dates back to the 19th-century work of the legendary Thomas Nast, as well as to pamphlet images published by Benjamin Franklin. The history of our great nation can be read through the pens of our editorial artists and cartoonists. Journals of record are the conduits to this history.

The cartoonists that contribute to your publication are not mere hobbyists, but deeply committed life-long devotees to the art of political commentary. It is not a job that is taken lightly, nor done with ease. It is a passion that not only feeds the national and international conversation, but just as importantly, feeds their families.

 

Two to Go

Yesterday, we published an essay by Zoran Djukanovic exploring the visual storytelling of José Luis Salinas's Cisco Kid.

The Cisco Kid is one of the famous “eternal” Westerns, appearing on the pages of American newspapers for eighteen years, which can be considered a short period for a syndicated comic strip. In the world of comics done for King Features, many series lasted for more than half a century. The editors of KFS knew pretty well whom they were engaging as an artist for this series. José Luis Salinas (1908-1985) was an extremely skilled comic artist and illustrator. Prior to The Cisco Kid, he showed his extreme craftsmanship in a series of strip adaptations of well-known classic adventure novels in collaboration with the writer José de España. More importantly, Salinas was the author of the masterful Hernán el Corsario (1936-1938; 1940-1941; 1945-1946), which absorbed a lot of creative influence of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. Hernán el Corsario is considered the first great comic series in Argentina. Salinas was a quick-drawing artist. This proved to be important in nearly two decades of work on The Cisco Kid which was an exclusively daily strip. It’s one of the few syndicated comics where one can hardly notice variations in drawing quality.

[...]

The lightness of the narrative tone, with elements of exaggeration that verges on the comic, is immediately established from the first weeks of The Cisco Kid. Were the King Features Syndicate editors the ones who set the task of simplifying the story in The Cisco Kid? Yes, there was a warning that Cisco’s character always had to be good. It created a somewhat narrowed space for individualization of characters. It’s divided between good guys and bad guys, providing a certain naivety ready-built into the storyline.

And what about Cisco? There is a certain almost boyish enthusiasm in his character. Cisco is partly based on a humorously simplified characterization. He is an indisputable hero, a young man with a well-shaped, tight waisted body, always dressed in the same embroidered black shirt. A more ironic reader would have called him Narcissus. He is tirelessly flirts with women, and then triumphs against desperados.  Cisco’s romantic vision of falling in love is not exclusive and focused upon only one woman. He is primarily attracted to falling in love, to flirting as such and it doesn't matter if his sympathies overlap partners in real time. That brings a certain element of self-parody. Despite the Latin, partly frivolous Prince Charming appearance, sooner or later, he provokes trust and a feeling of protection for women. However, there are very little sexual undertones coming to the surface, if we compare it with other comic classics (Prince Valiant, Casey Ruggles, Lance, The Heart of Juliet Jones, and most of Alex Raymond’s work).

Today, we published an interview with the Indian artist and comics scholar Aarthi Parthasarathy, conducted by Kim Jooha.

Kadak Collective

What is Kadak Collective? How did it start?

Kadak is a collective of women, non-binary, and queer artists who are talking about a gamut of social issues, mainly related to gender and sexuality, through graphic storytelling. So it is not just comics, but also illustration, graphic design, animation, and now hopefully other forms as well.

Kadak started in 2016. Eight of us came together to showcase our work at a table for ELCAF. Under the collective, we’ve got approximately forty self-published books/zines/comics in different formats. We showcase them in The Reading Room. There are webcomics too. We’ve done a few commissions for different publications/organizations as well, including Gaysi Zine (an Indian queer zine) and the Akshara Foundation (an NGO working with issues related to gender). Last year, we spoke about the direction the collective should take and we decided to take on a big publication project, and that’s where we’re at right now, with the Bystander anthology.

Why feminist and queer?

In India, the last decade has really brought a lot of issues into people’s consciousness - the issues of violence against women, representation, caste hierarchies, intersectionality, among others. Before 2016, when Kadak formed, there were a lot of incidents like violence against women and minorities that fired a well overdue outrage. There was the case of the rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012 that really shook the nation, and this led to big societal shifts in the way people talked about sexual assaults and toxic masculinity, embedded patriarchy in systems. We realized how the media had contributed to lopsided representations, encouraged misogyny, turned a blind eye to forces of caste and class hierarchy. A lot of us were wondering, asking ourselves, discussing, how we could contribute to this conversation? As artists, storytellers, we felt we had a responsibility. And as women, queer, non-binary individuals, we knew we were best equipped to tell our own stories. We believed there was a kind of storytelling that hadn’t been foregrounded, and we wanted to bring attention to it.

Greg Hunter reviewed Dash Shaw's Clue: Candlestick #1:

An ideal encounter with Clue: Candlestick #1 might involve discovering it in a dollar bin twenty years after publication. Already a curious aside in the bibliography of a celebrated cartoonist, Dash Shaw's board-game tie-in miniseries is likely to look even stranger as time passes and its context begins to blur. But here we are, only a few weeks after its release. Without the benefit of any back-issue-disinterment aura, Candlestick #1 sometimes reads like a comic for nobody--perhaps too odd for a fan of the game (or film) who stumbles upon it, perhaps too restrained for fans of Shaw's most ambitious works. But comics for nobody have an aura of their own, and Candlestickstill illuminates Shaw’s skills as a storyteller.

And Sean Witzke reviews Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman's Thumbs #1.

The opening issue of the five-issue miniseries Thumbs, by Sean Lewis and artist Hayden Sherman, mainly focuses on a sister taking her wounded brother to the hospital for medical care. The press release for the book mentions Charlier Brooker and Annabelle Jones' Black Mirror, our current moment’s most relevant science-fiction concern. Brooker has always in his writing shown a true distrust of human selfishness, working in the territory scratched out by Rod Serling and George Romero--it's a world view where people poison their own well, where we are the monsters. It's a place where it doesn’t matter what the hook is, because you have to be more worried about your neighbor with the gun than any monster that is breaking down the door.

Thumbs seems to come from a different school, one which the creators may not even be aware of, the post-cyberpunk of the '90s, things like Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, what you could call pre-9/11 tech anxiety books. In them, there are the kids who have been left behind by a technologically advanced society, the omnipresent tech du jour (a character is very clearly meant to be Elon Musk), adults that are often bad or missing, and a half-useful slang that’s only there to patch over uninteresting character motivations. Thumb's creators don’t need to have read those books as there's a type of science fiction that seems self-generating. The kind where it’s too clever by half, and could come from video games or YA novels or anime. The kind where the world falls apart if you tug at the ideas just a little. A book like Jennifer Egan’s Welcome to the Goon Squad can exist where it hits dozens of cliches and you feel like it’s not on purpose, but because the author literally has never read or watched any science fiction.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The very first piece of original Tintin cover art created by Hergé sold at auction for over $1 million this week.

Three separate bidders placed bids exceeding $1 million for the first cover illustration by Hergé, who is considered the star of European comics. The title character is shown carving a makeshift propeller for his plane from a tree trunk, under the watchful eye of his bandaged-but-attentive dog, Snowy.

—D.D. Degg has collected various reactions to the New York Times's recent decision to stop publishing editorial cartoons.

—Carol Tilley tells the story of the overlooked Golden Age cartoonist Jane Krom Grammer.

When Barrie Schindler was young, her mother Jane Krom Grammer mentioned to her that she had drawn art for comic books. Jane kept a package filled with several issues of Supersnipe Comics from the mid-1940s and pointed to the Dotty stories in them. But Jane’s name didn’t appear anywhere on the art and there were no pay vouchers or contracts to back up the story, only her word.

—And don't forget: midnight June 14 is your final deadline to vote in the Eisners.