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King of the Monsters

Today on the site, we have a TCJ debut appearance from Juliet Kahn, who makes the case for the long-derided Cathy.

Cathy, Cathy Guisewite’s eponymous chronicle of one woman’s struggles with the “four guilt groups: food, love, family, and work,” ends not with a bang, but a simper. She visits her mom, claiming to have news. Mom shores up the strip's feminist bonafides: “You’re an incredible woman from an incredible time for women! You have to know anything’s possible!” She is visibly anxious. She is preparing for the worst. But there is no need to worry: Cathy, hand on belly, is pregnant. The fetus emits a single, pink “Aack” from within the womb. At last, she has it all.

Despite this attempt to encompass both domestic bliss and feminist ambition, Cathy’s 2010 end seemed to please no one. In a piece for The New Yorker entitled “The Demise of Cathy,” Meredith Blake lamented that, like Family Circus, Cathy is “hopelessly out of fashion.” “Perhaps Cathy spoke to the women of the seventies and eighties,” she allowed, “but nowadays the strip feels, well, cartoonish. The facile jokes about feminine neuroses are the essence of everything that people have come to dislike about chick lit.” Over at The Frisky, Jessica Wakeman was markedly more positive, deeming the strip “groundbreaking” and remarkable for validating the lives of single women. But still, she protested: “I’m not saying the “Cathy” strip was particularly feminist, because it wasn’t: the character was obsessed with finding a husband and watching her weight.” It is “kinda outdated… and certainly it’s still stereotypical and annoying.” The Los Angeles Times criticized Cathy for “starting to feel a bit old,” and compared it unfavorably to Sex and the City, Melissa Banks’s The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed. Feministing.com was more measured, recalling that “from what I heard, during her inception in the 1970s, she was actually a breath of fresh air.” But still, the boom was lowered: “I don’t know what happened. It seems that Cathy went from Everywoman to a giddy, whiny, chocolate-eating woman that seems to have no sense of self.” Even the Jezebel community mustered little fondness: The top comment beneath “Cathy’s Last Act Ack” excoriates Guisewite for undermining the strip’s message with a comfortably patriarchal ending.

Beneath this intellectual crust, however, lies the bubbling magma of Cathy-anger. The Observer chronicled the GoComics.com commenters who cheered the end of such a “neurotic wimp,” the Democratic Underground forum threads “for all those who hate the comic strip Cathy,” the blogs that replaced Cathy’s captions and word balloons with expletives and fat jokes. The roundup remarked, with a blinkered sort of innocence, “people really hate this comic!” Look up #WaysCathyShouldEnd on Twitter, and you’ll find a snapshot of 2010 vitriol: “Hoarding experts arrive too late to find Cathy flattened under a heap of diet aids, cats and dating books,” “In a fit of self-loathing, Cathy performs at-home liposuction with a carving knife and a dustbuster; dies of sepsis,” and, perhaps most emblematically of all, “just like Sylvia Plath did.”

We also have the second day of Alejandra Gutiérrez's Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Nancy has a new artist.

—Profiles & Interviews. At Hazlitt, Matthew James-Wilson interviews Anna Haifisch.

I think when Drawn & Quarterly came to me I said, “That book is gone, but I have this other book. Do you want to have a look at this?” I just sent over a PDF of it with the English translation in the comments. Then after that they picked it up.

I didn’t expect this to be happening. I was just like, “Ah, let’s see what happens,” and when they came back and said, “We actually want to do it!” my heart just skipped a beat while I was in front of the computer. I just started gasping and I hit the desk really hard with my hand out of pure joy and almost broke my finger. It was on my left hand, which is my drawing hand, so I was like “Fuck!” But really, it’s a big thing for me since it’s a big publishing house. I’ve always admired Drawn & Quarterly. The German publishing house Reprodukt picks up so many titles from them, so they’re very present here. I grew up with them! I read Julie Doucet in my teenage days.

For The Guardian, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman say nice things about Eddie Campbell.

The Ace Rock’n’Roll Club, the series that caught Moore’s eye, were beautifully formed slices-of-life which introduced, as a part of the supporting cast, Alec McGarry. Alec was a cipher for Campbell, a fictional avatar through which Campbell could filter his own life, ranging from his punk years in Scotland to his sojourn on England’s south coast, to his first marriage and life in Australia. “His appreciation for the sensory phenomena of ordinary existence, as rich as Henry Miller’s, made his autobiographical narratives into instant classics, streets ahead of the largely self-absorbed comic-strip memoirs that were to follow,” says Moore.

The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Dean Haspiel.

—Reviews & Commentary.
At The Atlantic, Sarah Boxer writes about how various artists draw Donald Trump.

Consider Warren Craghead, the TrumpTrump author, who draws in a style that’s vaguely reminiscent of the gonzo mode of Ralph Steadman (best known for his work with the journalist Hunter S. Thompson). Craghead, like many cartoonists, does use Trump’s tweets and speech as source material, but he could not possibly be mistaken for a collaborator. He turns Trump’s words against Trump’s person. For instance, in one of his drawings, Trump is shown as a sweaty, fat, hairy man with saggy breasts, and this image is humorously paired with one of Trump’s own insults: “A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”

 

Know Your Enemy: Sodium

Today at the Journal, Rachel Davies talks with Anna Haifisch about her work, its ability to travel across the globe, and what it's like to see her past reintroduced to a whole new audience.

Do you feel that there’s much different of a reception when you release something to a German market versus to an American one?

In Germany, I toured Von Spatz when that came out, and it caught some attention, that’s for sure, but Germany’s very conservative in the reception of comics, or like even visual work in general. It was only when The Artist went on Vice that, back home, people responded to it like, “Ah, okay, the North Americans obviously liked it so it must be good for some reason.” It’s a bit strange to feel that, I mean it doesn’t feel like a rejection or something, but I think without Vice, for example, The Artist or Von Spatz wouldn’t have been so interesting to anybody.

And that's not all! Starting today, The Journal is excited to release an all new Cartoonist Diary--this week, you'll be riding shotgun with Alejandra Guitérrez as she makes her way to a movie shoot. An adult movie shoot, that is. In today's installment, it's all about trip prep.

Elsewhere: I got an "elsewhere" for you. Go dip into this website for a while and get back to me. My current favorite part is the video, which I've embedded below, because it was in watching said video that I found out that one of the things that is now labeled "diverse" is when you make a superhero into a white guy with a beard and a stupid hat, but he still wears a super-hero costume? 

 

Staples

Another day begins, and we have a lot of comics commentary for you. First, Tegan O'Neil is here with a new take on that perennial bugbear: Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In the first place I should probably say that when I was younger and getting sporadically published in The Journal during roughly the last quarter of its initial print incarnation – a healthy run by any stretch as a semi-regular contributor – I never imagined I would be published one day in those same pages (albeit virtual), singing the praises of Crisis on Infinite Earths! I thought for sure and for certain I’d spend the rest of my life publishing sober analyses of all the latest impenetrably minimalist monographs produced by extraordinarily talented but also minutely obsessive middle-aged craftsmen with the time, resources, and patience available to design a single book to within three tenths of a micron of its life. But alas.

[...]

Crisis on Infinite Earths is a book that many people have read, many more people have discussed, but apparently few people have ever actually enjoyed. I’ve seen younger fans approach the idea of reading Crisis for the first time as if it were some sort of chore or obligatory duty – yeah, yeah, if I like DC comics or want to understand Final Crisis or maybe just check another one off the proverbial “1001 Comics To Read Before You Die,” I have to at some point wade through this monster. And I have never understood that attitude, I find it completely alien. Incomprehensible!

And Brian Nicholson is back, too, with a less than rapturous take on Dilraj Mann's Dalston Monsterzz. Here's a chunk from the middle:

This comic also does the always-irritating thing of having a character use "Google" as a verb in a fictional world where the Google-type service is later shown to be called something else arbitrarily; here, the search engine is called "Soosle." Why?

There's also a point where a character says "Time for some exposition" as the author's self-aware joke, that seems unaware of how much stuff has already felt plainly expository, when the reader has been waiting, endlessly, for something to instead be evocative or atmospheric or thrilling. The comic has no style, despite the fact that it clearly wants to be something where its style overcomes its lack of substance. It has polish, but anything it's been applied to it's eroded.

The first moment where the story does breathe, and you see what might be underneath the whole thing, is a fight scene. It's clearly indebted to Street Fighter, or the impossible physics of similar fighting games, and it was so dumb I had to put the book down. I hadn't realized I hated the book yet, because it hadn't slowed down enough for me to see what it was even trying to do. That was the point where I realized the book was mortifyingly shallow, and that the scene of the main character playing video games was meant for a reader to identify with it, so they would be into the fight scenes with a Street Fighter vibe.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The National Cartoonist Society has announced its nominations for Cartoonist of the Year.

—In the NY Times, Bruce Handy reviews a new picture book by Jillian Tamaki.

—RIP Isao Takahata

—RIP Cecil Taylor

 

Querulous Handiwork

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got ourselves a bit of a theme. See, back when Jillian Tamaki released Boundless, she sat down with Eleanor Davis for one of our very favorite conversations. Now that Eleanor has a new book, Why Art?, we thought it made the most sense to turn the tables a bit and have them sit down again. Thankfully, both participants were up for it, and the ensuing conversation is today's must read.

What's your relationship between activism and art? Or, alternatively, what frustrates you about some of these discussions around activism and art?

Art is secondary. It should be the glue, or the gasoline, the thing that helps facilitate the change. Like, so much of what I do now is "armchair activism," posting on Facebook, writing email blasts. By itself, without a goal, that stuff is worse than nothing. But ideally it's in the service of unifying and strengthening people, putting pressure, voting the old bums out, pushing the new bums to not be bums.

I fucking LOATHE the shitty smug self-satisfied idea that art is a political means unto itself. Even if it ends up working out like that, I hate the not-getting-my-hands-dirty feel of it.

And then there's this: Jillian isn't the only person who has stopped by to talk about Eleanor's work today--we've also got the book's review, brought to you by the ever insightful Rachel Davies.

While the book remains instructional and educational about art, Davis goes on to prove that this doesn’t have to be entirely simplistic. Davis manages to discuss such complicated issues as how the burden of student loans affects one’s output, feeling far too close to an artwork, and being defined by one past artwork, into two to six page bites throughout the book.

But we've also got another reason for you to stick around today, which is this: a nice chunk of The Case of the Missing Men, a recent graphic novel release by Kris Bertin & Alexander Forbes, published by Conundrum Press. 

And with that, i'll bid you a happy Thursday. I have a five year old with a fever, and it's eating my lunch.

 

This?

Sloane Leong returns today to examine another set of webcomics caught in the Comics Dragnet. In this installment, she also discusses what she calls "Tumblr style."

Mildred [Louis]'s art is exemplary of what I call "Tumblr style," a look that's cropped up around this fourth generation of webcartoonists, a confluence of unexpected, eclectic influences and inspirations coalescing into a single, quirky style and executed through a digital medium. Tumbling is actually a pretty good descriptor of what a lot of internet-born artists go through who cut their teeth on filling DeviantArt galleries with fanart and OCs, spending hours in oekakis and taking cheap Gaia commissions. It’s art that’s been rolled as if in a rock tumbler of inspiration, where there’s little direction applied except for technical and stylistic trends of the current platform being used or the whims of their $10 commissioners. Art history itself is flattened out completely on the internet but especially on Tumblr where Late Byzantine pieces are posted alongside glossy superhero pinups and over-filtered anime screencaps. Your eyes start gliding over the illuminated visual noise. It takes a severe focus to keep from getting haphazardly dented, to instead be polished by the constant battering of styles. Habitual techniques leave deep tracks in one's muscle memory and absorbing the same family of visual vocabulary repetitively makes even microscopic changes feel vast. Sometimes muscle memory will beat out my will to execute a new texture or a new type of line. Only repetition carves space in my mind for it to exist but it's like pulling teeth as I get older. Deeply rooted teeth. With Mildred, I see the impact of the animated Sailor Moon series, cleanly lined and expressive, as well as other early 2000s Toonami toons in the bright cel coloring style, blurred shallow focus, dynamic beady pupils. There are also other cute quirks, for example when tiny panels with character's heads pop-up to continue a conversation with the focal character in the larger panel, an anime/manga technique that I find really charming. It's a style that can swerve hard between being in a constant state of growth and becoming to indulgently emulative of one's inspirations. Often though it gives us something unique and when it fails it was because a risk was taken, which is exciting to me as a reader and an artist.

Irene Velentzas is back too, with a review of Pascal Blanchet's unusual picture book, Go West!

If the devil is in the details, then Pascal Blanchet is the very devil himself. Known especially for his 1920s Art Deco artistic style with a whimsical twist, Blanchet’s work is a masterclass in simple elegance. Blanchet’s colorful geometric style is a feast for the eyes, mesmerizing the reader with block outlines and silhouettes, somehow giving just enough of a hint to suggest shape without a single line more. Simplistically color-blocked building facades create a riot of color that give way to such intricately woven details as a single archway, clock, or window, which become the heart of the image’s mastery. Blanchet creates breathless articulations of intricate natural and manmade landscapes that produce audible gasps of wonder from the reader.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Scotland Herald interviews John Porcellino.


How much work do you have to put into making your strips look so simple?

I always say, it’s harder than it looks. If you have a comics panel with a thousand crosshatch marks in it, it’s easier to hide errors, or missteps in drawing. When you have a comics panel that consists of just three simple lines, they better well be the right three lines. There’s no place to hide in that kind of simplicity. I’m not always happy with every single drawing, I feel I’m always learning, but at this point having drawn comics seriously for 35 or so years, much of it is intuitive. I generally don’t have to redraw much from my first draft. On the other hand, when I do have to redraw a panel, I often have to redraw it 10 times. I either get it on the first go, or I can be in for a slog.

The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Sloane Leong.

—Reviews & Commentary. Jared Gardner writes about Charlotte Salmon's Life? or Theater?

Charlotte Salomon’s short life was haunted—by the rise of the Nazis, who ultimately took her life, but also by her family’s history of severe mental illness. Salomon’s attempt to make sense of this history—and of the role of art in the face of both despair and genocide—is found in her major work, Life? or Theater? A work of almost 800 sequential paintings, Life? or Theater? is arguably one of our most important graphic narratives, and yet until recently few people have had the opportunity to read it in full. The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam recently exhibited the complete work for the first time, and now Overlook Press has produced a gorgeous English-language edition of the complete series that will make the work more widely accessible than it has ever been.

 

Three Quarters Dead

Today at The Comics Journal, you'll find the latest episode of Greg Hunter's dynamite podcast, Comic Book Decalogue, which this month poses its traditional ten questions  to Meags Fitzgerald. In the episode, Hunter & Fitgerald discuss Geneviève Castrée, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Ames Lettering Guide revelations, and circus art.

And then we've also got a review, this one from Noah Berlatsky. It's on the latest graphic novel from Nobrow, Out Of Nothing. Noah's opening lines are a pretty indication of where he went with this one:

God died a while ago, but we still haven't entirely figured out how to get on without him.  The old guy with a white beard still hovers ghost-like in the back of our minds and the corners of our narratives,  giving our lives a patina of meaning, comfort, purpose, or morality until we remember, with that sinking sense of grief, that he's not there, and we're alone.

Jeez Noah. So close to Easter, too! 

ELSEWHERE, The Daily Beast published a long, detailed piece on the hate and harassment taking place online and off that's categorized under the name #Comicsgate. It's a depressing look at extremely repellent behavior, which, as the articles makes clear, has no purpose beyond its own repellence. 

 

Road Rage

Oh boy, holiday travel did a number on me. Luckily, Dan Nadel has returned to the site with a review of a new book about one of the most mysterious cartoonists of the last century, Herbert Crowley (who was featured prominently in Dan's own Art Out of Time).

Looking back on my own interest in the strip, now I realize that "The Wiggglemuch" strips were partly compelling because Crowley suggested an affinity with a larger and also esoteric visual and literary culture, which was unusual in comics at the time. The spiritual allusions, stiffness, and symbol-driven character design also suggested another way to think about comics entirely: less drawing-based and more like moving sculptures. I wondered then, as many others did, just how he intersected with comics. As it turns out, Crowley really was just stopping over. His life and work is now the subject of a large and generously illustrated book, Herbert Crowley: The Temple of Silence by Justin Duerr. It is the kind of scholarly and research-driven deep dive that I wish for about... well, most everything. Duerr gathers every conceivable strand of Crowley's unusual and extremely complicated life and work and weaves them together into a coherent and quite moving whole.

Duerr begins the book with a lengthy illustrated biography of Crowley, and then turns it over to absolutely stunning reproductions of Crowley's work, including the complete "Wigglemuch" run, plus two-unpublished installments, and numerous drawings and paintings. The artwork, aside from the comic strips, is wonderful, but not entirely unique to him. The imagery -- gargoyle-like forms, temples, and other mystical symbols -- is in keeping with slightly older contemporaneous Symbolists, like Odilon Redon and Felicien Rops, and the proto-Surrealist literature bring published at the time in Paris. It is certainly connected to last year's incredible exhibition at The Guggenheim in New York: Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The two winners of the sixth annual Slate/CCS Cartoonist Studio Prize have been announced. This year, Keren Katz won for print, and Michael DeForge won for the web.

—And the latest guest on RiYL is Julia Wertz.

 

His Stutter Step

Today at the Journal, it's Friday: Good Friday, if you care. I'm using the opportunity to get out of work early to visit my local cinema and catch the new Spielberg picture. Not because I'm itching to see that lousy actor who somehow managed to fuck up Cyclops, the second best X-Man, but because I want there to be more movies featuring the Battle Toads. After that? I'll probably re-read today's Journal installments, because they're just that good.

First up, we've got Ardo Omer talking to gg, whose 2017 graphic novel I'm Not Here has been continually accumulating praise since its release. (We reviewed it in January). I was struck by this portion of gg's response to Omer's question about the theme of freedom in her work.

Everyone pushes up against all kinds of walls every day and it's natural to wonder how to go beyond that. I'm don't think we can ever know what's beyond the outermost walls (ie. totally free) but the struggle to get closer is fascinating to me. Isolation, escape, and abandonment (being abandoned and abandoning) can be strategies to deal with this unknowable thing, but as you can probably see in my stories, they're never really effective and often become traps themselves. I think of my work as a way to meditate on my general feelings, whatever they may be at any given time but I guess I think about these particular things a lot and that's why they come up so much.

On the review front, Tegan O'Neil read all 300 plus pages of First Second's latest by Pénélope Bagieu to find out if you had to. (She makes a case that you do.) It's called Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World.

The most remarkable aspect of Brazen is Bagieu herself. She tips her hand early in the book with a profile of cartoonist Tove Jansson, creator of the deathless Moomins. Bagieu draws the Moomins really well, as well as every other Jansson creation she packs into those pages. Jansson is perhaps just one influence but it’s interesting to see just how unerringly her style reflects Jansson’s very particular and peculiar line. Bagieu’s thin and expressive lines communicate a great deal. She has an eye for caricature without which this book would be a futile endeavor.

And for your final piece of TCJ content, here's an excerpt from the long awaited debut of controversial cartoonist Dilraj Mann, Dalston Monsterzz. The graphic novel was released earlier this month, and we'll have a review of it up next week. 

ELSEWHERE, Buzzfeed published an extensive, revolting piece on John Kricfaulsi's past relationships with two teenage girls. It's a disgusting, criminal situation described in excruciating detail. Buzzfeed has done excellent work exposing and thoroughly documenting the behavior of sexual predators in the past, but what remains even more impressive is the courage shown by the women who are telling their stories, at a time (and via a type of media) that continues to lash out at them for doing so. Although I personally found out about this story via an email from my co-editor, who has by now figured out how bad I am at the linkblog part of TCJ, I was later struck by the comments I saw in response to a successful female cartoonist who had merely linked to the piece on twitter, like countless others had. Over and over, the responses attacked her for daring to even mention the article, and by the time I'd scrolled 15 lines down, the hateful and crude attacks on her began in earnest. Is it a surprise? No, of course not. But it was to me a reminder of how much is owed to people like Robin Byrd and Katie Rice, who are willing to tell their stories in this climate, for a website du jour, knowing full well the sort of targeted harassment that will follow.