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The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

Today on the Journal, we’ve got an interview with Gabe Fowler about this weekend’s Comics Arts Brooklyn festival. Longtime readers will know that Gabe used to do a similarly themed show in Brooklyn with former TCJ editor Dan Nadel and beard enthusiast Bill Kartalopoulos, but that relationship fell apart when they realized they were the same person.

“Is it possible to have a comics festival on the East Coast and not have Peter Kuper as a featured guest? How did you keep Dean Haspiel from attending?
Kuper is a featured guest, partly because he is awesome and partly because he is a Pratt alum.  We want Pratt to feel good about our newfound partnership and are taking the opportunity to focus on alumni who have impacted comics culture, such as Kuper, Bill Griffith, Paul Karasik, and Jules Feiffer, who will all participate in programming.  I can just hear Haspiel bitching that I didn’t personally handcraft a royal invitation for him to participate, but nobody gets that treatment around here.  But really, he has been involved in our show in the past and I would love to have him.”
 

ELSEWHERE

While it might be fun to ignore yesterday’s latest development in the longest and dumbest fight between two entertainment conglomerates, ya gotta admit: DC hiring away Brian Michael Bendis, the dominant creative voice behind the last two decades of Marvel Comics is big news. It’s not as big as it would have been seven years ago when the creator in question was still king shit of fuck mountainbut it’s DC Comics–they didn’t get ahold of John Romita Jr. when he was still taking chances, either. There’s a lot of uninteresting articles out surrounding the move, but what unifies all of them is the total lack of access to the people and company involved. The move was announced via the DC Comics Twitter account at 6 in the morning, with a follow up tweet coming from Bendis a few hours later–and the rest of the day consisted of thinkpieces and shot-from-the-hip takes until George Gene Gustines remembered where he’d written down Brian’s phone numberYou’d think years of cheerleading might get you more access, but apparently, that isn’t the case. 

Anyway. If you’ve read a few Bendis comics in your time, then your prediction of “what this means” is as valid as the next persons. They will probably be readable, have a compelling enough thru-line that you will be curious about what happens next even if you don’t really enjoy the experience. They will have too many words. But whatever it is, it’ll just be another super-hero comic. It won’t be as good as the ones you read when you were younger, it will be too expensive, and it will probably be drawn by someone you don’t like. Enjoy!

ONWARD, TO INTERVIEWS

Jesse Jacobs, whose only failing seems to be that he’s so effortlessly interesting that I take for granted that he’ll keep getting better and have forgotten to be surprised at how consistently he does exactly that, is as fascinating an interview subject as he is a cartoonist. He showed up at Hazlitt in an interview with Matthew James-Wilson, the same person whose praises are being sung in today’s Gabe Fowler interview.

I thought this Kelly Sue DeConnick interview was pretty interesting. I haven’t read much of her writing, but it’s rare to see a comics creator speak with such frankness about the nature of creative work. DeConnick seems to have been saddled with the “explain sexism to people” role that certain women in comics get assigned when they’re smart and successful, and she handles that task with real passion. 

 

The Ball is Rolling

Those of you suffering from Dan Nadel withdrawal will get some temporary relief today, as we present his interview with Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden, regarding their extraordinary new book, How to Read Nancy.

You mention a few times that Nancy has not received the historical attention (or affection) it deserves. I wonder if that’s because is so prosaic on the surface. What is it about the way comic-strip history has been written that you think kept out Nancy? Is part of your contention that the almighty gag is equal to, say, the emotional heft of Krazy Kat or Peanuts, or the grandeur of Little Nemo? I think the answer is yes, and I agree, but perhaps you can explain a bit.

Krazy Kat and Little Nemo resemble “Art.” Peanuts resembles “Philosophy.” Nancy resembles nothing more and nothing less than a comic strip (and a gag-driven, self-proclaimed “dumb” one at that), hence: easily dismissed from the canon.

The public’s affection has always been there. Savvy critics such as Manny Farber certainly “got” Nancy at the time of its initial popularity, but the next wave (1960s–1990s) of “serious” comics historians tended to revile the strip, for a variety of reasons that reveal more about their agenda (and their generational bias), than the merits of the work. Nancy was simply a hard sell for anybody trying to get the middlebrow public to take comics “seriously” when, for whatever reason, that was the name of the game. This includes the heroic Bill Blackbeard who single-handedly archived complete runs of nearly every 20th century American comic strip of consequence except Nancy, so deep was his ambivalence. (Due to this sin of omission, as far as we know, there is no complete hardcopy run of this once–ubiquitous comic strip left on planet earth.)

Our choice of the late, great Jerry Lewis for a foreword was highly intentional, yet despite some obvious parallels, Ernie Bushmiller never had the contemporary equivalent of the French New Wave publicly championing his work. Lewis gave us a great compliment in saying that ours is “a book that was written with an infinite care rarely seen in today’s world.” This is how we feel about Nancy.

We hope that How To Read Nancy will encourage the skeptics (who assume that Nancy was just another vapid kiddie strip), as well as the hipsters (who Instagram their Sluggo tattoos, yet have never actually read it), to reevaluate and appreciate the mastery of Bushmiller’s work.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian ran a special comics edition this weekend, featuring several pieces of note, including an interview with Alison Bechdel, interviews with various literary celebrities about their favorite comics (Zadie Smith seems to have the best taste in the bunch), and a slate of cultural recommendations from Chris Ware.

My own profession currently seems divided between comics fiction and comics memoir, the former more or less growing out of the childish fantasies now grotesquely metastasised as “superhero stories for adults” — which makes about as much sense to me as writing pornography for children. Some middle-aged colleagues and I believe literary comics fiction is possible without resorting to fantastical heroics, however, and the youngest and finest exemplar, 28-year-old Nick Drnaso, offers a new book next year to possibly top us all: Sabrina, about a missing woman, a video and the unspeakable possibilities of our contemporary mitigated reality. (After I recommended his first, Beverly, to Zadie Smith, she wrote back a one-word review: “wow,” and she’s just called Sabrina “the best book – in any medium – I have read about our current moment”.) I have no doubt that if Nick keeps it up, he will do things on paper that no other human has yet imagined (he basically already is), and that’s the best kind of heroism imaginable.

The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Sarah Horrocks, and the most recent guests on Inkstuds are Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone of the latest Shade the Changing Man series.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Rob Clough reviews Anders Nilsen’s somewhat under-the-radar Tongues.

The series is pretty much peak-level Nilsen, but what immediately struck me about this 48 page comic is how it mixes and matches various Nilsen themes and approaches from over the years. There’s the apocalyptic quality of his mythological work like Rage of Poseidon and his classic short story “Sisyphus” from Kramer’s Ergot. There’s the typical wrecked and bombed-out backgrounds of Big Questions, complete with intelligent animals. There’s even the central character from Dogs and Water on a walkabout, his teddy bear still strapped to his backpack. It’s a recapitulation of his entire career, yet it still feels fresh and bold.

—News. New York City is naming a street in the Bronx after Batman co-creator Bill Finger.

David Lasky and Mairead Case have been chosen by the city of Seattle to create a comics history of the Georgetown Steam Plant.

The team will begin work immediately with in-depth research. As part of the project, they will be sharing progress throughout the next year in a combination of online updates on their blog at SteamPlantGraphicNovel and in-person events.

 

Maybe You’re Just A Muggle, After All

Today on the site, we’ve got Carta Monir’s review of Higu Rose’s Tittychop Boobslash. While it’s normally a punk move to jump to the final sentence and spoil the blurb, I feel it’s best to welcome Carta aboard with the same level of disrespect I once received, back when Michael Dean commissioned reviews from me for the print edition, and then never spoke to me again. Note to self: Fire Michael Dean

“Although this book isn’t framed as an educational comic, it is an excellent resource for any young trans person navigating the healthcare system. Understanding how other people manage against the same kinds of obstacles can be lifesaving, and Rose’s clear, personal account is full of helpful details. Trans or not, you owe it to yourself to read this book.”

ELSEWHERE

Over the weekend, a number of comic and geek culture figures outed Lucas Siegel — a comics blogger, journalist, Disney and Star Wars enthusiast, improv comedy practitioner, and veteran of the Armed Services — as a serial harasser of women. While it doesn’t appear, so far, that there’s an actual news article out regarding the charges, it’s rather early in the cycle. Lucas has posted a response on his Twitter account, which one can read if you feel necessary: it is, in classic fashion, not really an apologySo far, his statement has been met with almost universal derision. Janelle Asselin, who was once married to Siegel, wrote about Lucas’s past behavior and her own comments to him— which occurred long before the recent allegations were made, and so cast Siegel’s comments (that he learned about his behavior “yesterday”) in an extremely curious light.

It’s worth noting that Lucas is not someone who most Comics Journal readers may even be aware of. His tenure as an editor at Newsarama primarily consisted of him writing drearily written enthusiast prose about tiresome superhero comics, responding to any criticism by exaggerating his military record or accusing the critics of being “haters,” all the while attempting to cash his mediocre role into a gig writing Star Wars comic books. I’d be hard pressed to imagine a reason why someone reading the Journal would have seen anything by him, or even been aware of him beyond the one thing that made him unusual amongst the rest of the mouth-breathers who are desperate to turn the hours they’ve invested in nerd products into a consistent paycheck, which is that he happened to be trusted by the US military to carry a firearm into combat. More to come on this subject!

 

Funny But How

Today on the site, we present a debut review from Tessa Strain, who evaluates the latest Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov Punisher comic.

Set dressing aside, this “America Was Never Great” narrative path is a well-trod one, memorably blazed by James Ellroy, among others, in his Underworld USA trilogy. Ellroy’s influence was all over Ennis and Parlov’s Fury: My War Gone By series from a few years back, and like him, Ennis has a tendency to use his cynicism about American self-mythologizing as a moral smokescreen for indulging in violent, macho excess. The nastiness can be exhilarating, but culturally (in both media and real life) it feels like we’re well past the point of saturation for that brand of nihilism, and it makes me wonder if it’s still possible to enjoy these kinds of stories, let alone gain anything from them. This may sound like I’m holding Punisher: The Platoon to an unrealistically high standard, but it would be easier for me to read it as straightforward exploitation fare were the framing device any less naked in its intentions. But when you have characters bludgeoning you with the thematic context of the story every five pages, at a certain point you have to take them at their word.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Misc. Ron Wimberley is Kickstarting LAAB, a new magazine that looks like it will be exploring the intersections of black culture, science fiction, and comics, among other things.

Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do has been nominated for the NBCC Leonard Prize.

IDW’s Library of American Comics has launched a podcast.

Here’s a 1970s NYU documentary on Marvel artist Herb Trimpe:

 

A School Of Inattention

Today on the site…we got nothing? Shit, pal–that’s on me. What can I say? Halloween and early morning flights and bad scheduling. I’m over the moon excited about what we have coming for you soon though. It’ll be worth the bumps this week: promise! Here’s a picture of what my brother did to his dog.

ELSEWHERE

Publishers Weekly posted their list of the Best Comics of 2017–if that feels early to you, I get it–it is early! But generally speaking, Publishers Weekly gets to look at books months before they come out, so they can get away with it. If you’ve kept up with PW, the list is an accurate reflection of the books that they’ve championed this year. While the big news at PW on the comics front is (and should be) Heidi’s departure to focus on a Lion Forge-sponsored Beat, it will be interesting to see how their comics coverage changes in the coming year without her at the helm.

The newest episode of Salt and Honey features Rem, and it’s as educational as it is fascinating.

I’d never read Remy Charlip’s brief essay “The Page is a Door”, but I knew it was a big deal to Brian Selznick. I guess I should’ve just checked his website, because he has it posted there. Handy!

Josh Simmons is going to be releasing another one of his Batman comics at the upcoming Short Run Festival, and to remind you why that’s a good thing you can read Mark of the Bat (which is now ten years old) over at Study Group. It’s as grotesque as you remember, which is good!

I haven’t found much in the way of interesting writing about the new Grandville book by Bryan Talbot, but that will hopefully change in the coming weeks. This video succeeds about as well as any video does in selling a comic, which is to say, not very, but it’s still Grandville.

comiXology’s Pull List service, which actually predates their digital comics business, will be ending in mid 2018. I know firsthand how useful the service could be to direct market comic book stores, but I also know how frustrated some retailers found it to be partnered with comiXology as their business grew, and it would be interesting to know how many retailers still use that particular service. One could ask, but considering the way Amazon responds to even the most generic of questions, it doesn’t strike me as a very productive way to spend one’s time.

The Weekly Standard has a review up about some more non-fiction books focused on DC & Marvel. Neither of the books sound that interesting–I can’t imagine reading anything with a spine about Stan Lee as a realistic option, the idea seems ludicrous–but I’ll always support a mainstream publication of any kind taking shots at Marvel movies on the behalf of the Snyderverse. Go for it, you beautiful asshole!

 

Far Beyond Driven

Today on The Comics Journal, you’ll find the conclusion of Alex Deuben’s interview with Katherine Collins, which focuses on the difficulties she has had to face in the last two decades, and the lack of support that the comics community had to offer her until quite recently.

In the meantime, it’s hardly a side story, but after a lifetime of not being very happy about being a man and realizing that I should have been female it finally came to the point where I realized that I could do something about it. And I couldn’t live any longer being somebody who I really wasn’t. The transition takes time, so from 1992 to late ’94 I was going through the process, but in mid-1993 I had to announce to the world – or to anybody who was paying any attention – that I was going to start living as Katherine. So I came out and started being Katherine – and that was the end of my career.

Meanwhile, elsewhere…

No. I don’t think I’ll do that today.

Hi. I’m Tucker Stone, and I’m the new co-editor of The Comics Journal. Along with Tim Hodler and Kristy Valenti, I’ll be working here from now on. I’m a former TCJ contributor, a former comiXology columnist, a former comic book retailer, and most recently, I’m the former US Sales & Marketing Director for a comic and children’s book publisher called Nobrow. Currently I publish collections of work by Michel Fiffe and Chuck Forsman, and my day job is at a book distributor, where I work with children’s book publishers, libraries, and comics publishers. I’ve worked in comics now for a decade. I also have a small child and a wife. I’m a straight, cis white male, and officially middle aged.

I don’t have a grand design for what I intend to do at this site. There’s a legacy to the Comics Journal that I plan to honor—but if you pressed me to define that legacy, I would have a hard time explaining what it is. There is a history of pissing people off for reasons both real and imagined, but that is not very useful as an operating principle.

My feeling right now is that the hole the Journal needs to fill is a mechanical one. The speed and accessibility of the internet has come to comics and kickstarted it into action in a way that comics has been sorely in need of for a long time, both as an art form and as an industry. It’s been an amazing time to be involved in this industry over the last 15 years, and anyone who says different is either not paying attention or so consumed with their own singular taste that their opinion is simply useless. Things have changed for the better. To say they have a long way to go is absolutely true, but for me to pretend that I will be leading any of those charges is absurd–I won’t. What I will be doing is attempting to document the place we are in as it changes around us, to find the people and the things that those people make and tell you about them, and to work with smart, passionate writers who will find and discover even more. 

I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

But if you’re not, it doesn’t really matter.

I’m not going anywhere!

 

Late Late Late

Today on the site, we present the first part of Alex Dueben’s two-part interview with Katherine Collins, creator of Neil the Horse, member of the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame, and a Doug Wright “Giant of the North.” Among other things, they discuss her early radio career, the creation of Neil, and the appeal of musicals.

Around the same time I started to do Neil I did radio shows for the local Vancouver CBC radio. CBC in Canada is like the BBC in Britain, it’s a radio network that is owned and financed by the federal government but the government has no control over it whatsoever – and they dearly wish they did. [laughs] I did an interview about Neil on the local CBC afternoon show. The afternoon shows are a big deal here. Every city has their own independent one. They liked the way I talked and they liked my sense of humor and so I started to get paid to come on and review things and talk about subjects I was interested in. After a couple of years of that I moved to Toronto, which is the big media center in Canada. I moved there because I realized I was not going to get any further in Vancouver. I was given the name of a woman who was working at the CBC Radio National network in Toronto. I went in to talk to her and they immediately put me on the air on the national morning show. Here’s the funny part of it. She told me later that she had belatedly realized that she had misunderstood something that I said and she thought that I was very highly experienced and that’s why they put me on so readily. Of course I was just a rank beginner, but everybody on the show liked me for some reason. That was 1977 and that touched off six years in which I was on the morning show and a number of other shows as well. I practically lived at the network office. I became a producer and writer.

My favorite gig was on the five-days-a-week early morning show, three hours a day, called Morningside. The host of that was Don Harron, who I found out later had been a cartoonist in his younger days. He was a famous comedian and writer. Don and I really hit it off and I started doing these features where I would choose a comic strip to feature on a show – usually an older comic, but not always – and I would do taped telephone interviews with anyone I could find who had anything to do with it; most of the people were still alive. I got lots of wonderful interviews from really great cartoonists. I would fashion the program with clips from these interviews and then I would write an adaptation of the comic for a radio comedy skit. I have a huge collection of old newspaper strips and by that point I had hundreds of old Sunday pages I could go through. So let’s say for example we were doing Bringing Up Father. I would read a huge pile of Sunday pages and find ones that would adapt well for radio. This was a little bit difficult because radio doesn’t have pictures. [laughs] I had to find strips that didn’t depend entirely on the visual gag. We had a wonderful sound effects department in those days, and we would get into the studio with a little group of actors. I’m a terrible actor but I would be one of them because I didn’t cost any extra money. [laughs] Don would play one of the parts and we’d get some good actors and the sound effects guy would sit there surrounded by all sorts of weird devices and he would make the sounds live as we were acting.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Colin Beineke reviews several recentish horror comics for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

If [Gou] Tanabe shows the power of images to bring out nuances in adapting prose fiction, the haunting affects of artist Julia Gfrörer’s work spring first and foremost from her masterful imagery. Borrowing a phrase from Stanford professor of French literature Brigitte Cazelles, Gfrörer’s website avows that “The discourse of romance […] can therefore be characterized as an ideology of suffering, since the experience of human or divine love seems inevitably grounded in pain.” Gfrörer’s art, from her self-published minicomics to her commissionable tattoo designs, is nothing if not grounded in pain (literally so in the latter instance) and an appreciation of the play between suffering and love is essential to understanding her longer works. Following her much lauded full-length debut, Black Is the Color, Gfrörer’s sophomore effort from Fantagraphics, Laid Waste, smoothly surpasses its predecessor with its pitch-black artistry, coldly sparkling pessimism, and devastating humor. Gfrörer’s line recalls both fine-spun gossamer lace and cold-steel etching — bringing to mind a combination of Gary Panter’s ratty line and Kate Beaton’s caricaturesque minimalism — while the black sheet of her narrative is made all the more heartbreaking through interspersed punctures of hope.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Process Party is Tillie Walden, and the most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Julia Wertz.

—Misc. The prolific comics critic and TCJ columnist Rob Clough is looking for emergency help.

 

Hungry

Today on the site, Marc Sobel interviews Ulli Lust about her just-translated graphic novel, Voices in the Dark, which is an adaptation of a WWII prose novel by Marcel Beyer.

Can you describe your approach to sounds in the book, particularly since they are such an integral part of the story?

First, even before the challenge of choosing a story came up, I had some very strange acoustic hallucinations in my inner ear. I heard women weeping, like weeping under the earth from the subsoil of the city. It was like I heard the mourning of the dead, people who had died in bombed houses, or the voices of women mourning over their dead families. I was not having any big troubles at the time; in fact my life was happy and fulfilled, so these sound-visions were irritating. After I had drawn the book, they were gone.

Comics to me are a musical medium. Drawings produce a visual tone (in Germany we call this Bildsprache, or “picture language”), the timing in the sequence of panels produces a rhythm, and staging the movement of the characters is like dance choreography (at least in my mind). In the book, Karnau is very sensitive and highly attentive to sounds. His ears are always wide open for all the incidental sounds in everyday life which normal people rarely even notice. This is one of the inspiring aspects of the book, it makes you more sensitive to the small sounds in the world.

In Germany we usually use English sound effects. There are very few generally understandable German sound words. For this story, I had to invent German sounding ones because English sounds would have been strange in the Nazi milieu. For example, in the bunker the sounds becomes a rhythmic constant din of machines, air conditioning, and warfare. These sounds build like the pressure in a steam engine, rising until it bursts.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Cambpell Whyte.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Caleb Orecchio ponders Chester Brown’s biblical adaptations in Yummy Fur, in response to Brian Evenson.

After reading this, and the rest of Ed vs. Yummy Fur, I can’t help but see YF as anything less than one complete work–as oppose to a book containing many serialized stories. All comics in YF from “Ed” to “Showing Helder” to “The Little Man” to “Fuck”, (AND the letters pages) etc. have an interesting give and take with the Gospels they share a book with. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is an unsevered umbilical chord connecting the early pre-“Ed” material to the later autobio stuff; and going further into Underwater. I see Yummy Fur being the record of a developing cartoonist constantly tinkering with his craft, and a self-aware conscience looking at it’s old-self in the face. When you read the “Playboy” stories, the juxtaposition of the Gospels are impossible to ignore while reading about young Chester’s religious upbringing. It’s like the Gospels and the teachings of Christ are always in the back of Brown’s mind and dictate his actions and motivations for better or for worse.

Becky Morton at the BBC writes about the lack of recognition for women in UK political cartooning.

Out of nearly 180 cartoons featured in last year’s edition of Britain’s Best Political Cartoons not one was drawn by a woman.

It was flicking through a copy of the book that first highlighted the gender imbalance in the industry for Ella Bucknall, an illustrator currently studying at Camberwell College of Arts in London.

This realisation prompted her to start Whip, a magazine of political cartoons by women, to give them a platform that didn’t exist elsewhere.

“Particularly at the moment when there are so many aspects of politics affecting women’s lives, from Trump to the DUP, we need to be able to have our own voice. We need to be able to argue back,” she said.