Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to introduce--well, that's probably not the right word. Welcome? There we go. We're pleased to welcome Whitney Matheson aboard, with her first piece for TCJ. She's spoke with Box Brown about his new book Cannabis, his current work methods, and more. There was no discussion of footwear, or its financial value.
Cannabis doesn’t focus on pop culture like your previous books. Is this topic something you’ve been interested in for awhile?
Cannabis is more of a lifelong obsession. I was arrested for possession when I was 16. I didn’t see this as an opportunity at the time — it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me — but I got to go through the legal system, being handcuffed, that whole thing.
Wow. What year was that?
This was 1996. And what I found out in my research, actually, was that in 1996 the number of people arrested for cannabis doubled. In 1995 there were 200,00 people arrested for cannabis laws, and in 1996 there were 400,000. So I just got caught up in that. But going through probation and urine tests and seeing how people of color are treated differently from white kids in the middle-class suburbs … I got off probation on good behavior in four months. At the time, I was happy, but you know, in high school kids would get busted for underage drinking, and they didn’t get arrested. Their parents would get called, and that was it. I just saw that as a huge hypocrisy, and since then, it’s never been far from my gaze.
Over at Smash Pages, Alex Dueben can be found speaking with Diana Chu about her music and Dante focused issue of Ley Lines.
While the MoCCA Festival took place this weekend, the focus of the comics community was turned towards Craig Thompson. Sometime last week, Uncivilized Books released a mock-up design for a box set of Craig's still-to-be-released comic series, Ginseng Roots. The design, featured below, was immediately criticized for Orientalist content--a criticism that has circled Thompson's work for years, including in our 2011 roundtable on the book, and by The Hooded Utiliarian's Nadim Damluji, who challenged Thompson about this aspect of his work directly--and within hours, the design had been taken down by the publisher Tom Kaczynski (who is also currently writing a column for TCJ) who then issued a public apology.
How do you communicate your ideas to the various artists that illustrate your stories? Do you give them a lot of notes?
Yeah, well, I put notes on paper, and then I’ll call them up. I talk to everybody on the phone. I’ll go over the story and tell them what I’m looking for. And I always say, “Look, if you run across something that you can’t understand, or if it’s illegible, just call me. Or I’ll call you in a couple of weeks if I don’t hear from you, just to make sure everything is fine,” you know?
That’s an important part of my communication that a lot of people don’t see. And if it’s a real long piece, I’m dealing with somebody maybe quite a few times. Like if it’s a graphic novel. I’m working on this graphic novel now about how I lost faith in Israel [Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, published posthumously by Hill & Wang, 2014]. You know, I’m Jewish, and I write about when I was a little kid, and all I heard was Israel’s side of the story from everybody. Everybody in my family, and my friends, and their family... You just heard one side of the story. And then if you believe you’re one of God’s chosen people, that’ll settle things for you, sure.
As time went on, and I became independent, and I formed my own ideas, I got pretty upset with Israel. I’m at a point now where I think that their foreign policy is self-defeating. All this for nothing, you know. First of all, the Arabs have a beef, but nobody wants to hear about it. Which was that the whole Middle East used to be under Turkish control and the Turkish empire. But the Turks were stripped of all that Arab territory after the First World War. Provisions were made for everyplace else, like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. It didn’t happen overnight, but there were provisions made for self-government. But in Israel’s case, everybody was hyping the hell out of their position, and talking it up... politicians and everything like that. So the British had a mandate at the League of Nations: “take care of Israel until there could be a vote on it in 1947 in the UN.” And instead, war broke out in ’48, and the Jews won the war. People around here, in the United States, where Arabs were mistrusted, as they still are today. People said, “Well, good for the Jews.”
The Palestinian Arabs got treated worse than any of the other Arabs. They didn’t even have a stab at self-government That was one of my points; that [point] takes a long time to develop. And then their use of force… it’s one thing if you use force and you really gain something. I’m not for going out and having a war, or anything like that, but if you’re going to have a war, it should get you something. And these wars that Israel’s fighting, they’re going to have to keep on fighting them as long as they exist, unless they change their policy. I went into a lot of detail, and I did a lot of research on it. Then I sent it into the editor, and the editor wanted me to restructure it, and in the mean time I got together with a real good illustrator. His name is JT Waldman.
Also, Joe Decie joins the ranks of the artists who have contributed to our Cartoonist's Diary feature. Here is his Day One.
The network was instrumental in the release of graphic novelist Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé who was imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea on bogus counterfeiting charges because of his criticism of the country’s president and government.
CRNI tracks censorship, fines, penalties and physical intimidation (including of family members), assault, imprisonment, and even assassinations. Once a threat is detected, CRNI often partners with other human rights organisations to maximise the pressure and impact of a campaign to protect the cartoonist and confront those who seek to censor political cartoonists.
Cartoonists are frequently targeted by authoritarian governments and lack the protection offered by unions or large media organisations, therefore external support is crucial.
The Labyrinth, a collection of drawings Saul Steinberg made between 1954 and 1960, reached bookstores too late for the 1960 Christmas market. Its consequently dismal sales gave the forty-six-year-old artist his first dose of public indifference. A Romanian by birth who had found overnight success at cartooning in 1930s Milan, Steinberg had arrived in New York in 1942, preceded by a run of mailed-in work for The New Yorker that laid the ground for instant and enduring American acclaim. Irritated though he was by his book’s flat reception, he might really have been more in the mood to ponder a flop (which he said left him feeling “as flattered as Stendhal”) than to add another conventional success to his total. “I admire more and more people’s literary qualities,” he would write to his friend Aldo Buzzi in 1962. “I mean the possibility of recounting a fact or making a true and proper observation. Most people transform things that happen to them into things read in the newspaper. Those who don’t know how to tell things are scary.”
“A few years back, we re-launched Bazooka Bubble Gum, reinvigorating the brand for kids who may not have been familiar with the eye-patch wearing Bazooka Joe or the brand’s place in America’s pop culture landscape,” Matt Nathanson, Bazooka Brand Manager, told me. “Yet even as Bazooka continued to thrive with its new look, we have never stopped hearing from our passionate consumers who longed for the Bazooka bubble gum of their past. Those classic Bazooka Joe comics clearly have a special place in the hearts and memories of so many fans. We are always listening to our fan, and are incredibly excited to bring back the Bazooka fans remember!”
Nathanson says that a lot of effort went into choosing which comics to bring back as well. “We began by diving into the Topps vault to find the original Bazooka Joe & His Gang comics… Believe it or not, some of these assets hadn’t been seen for decades,” he explained. “We selected 48 of the best comics from the 1970s and 1980s—all with Bazooka Joe’s trademark (and maybe a bit off-beat) sense of humor — to include in our new throwback package.”
Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to share a beast of a conversation between two creators--it is killing me not to have a name for this series, especially as this is the third week in a row that we've had one--and this one is coming to you straight out of left field. Tim Sievert, the cartoonist behind The Clandestinauts. Kieron Gillen, the writer behind Phonogram, The Wicked + The Divine and Die. They're here, talking about role playing games...but they also find a way to bring up one of the greatest television projects of the last twenty years, and then Kieron reveals something that I don't know that I was aware of:
Hopefully – I’ve somehow found my life writing about teenage – I do a lot of work for hire stuff so you’re ending up writing a lot of books, all over the place. As opposed to [being a cartoonist] and having a few “these are the milestones and you see them.” If you’re a cartoonist, you get to do it and these are big solid things. Also, me, I do a lot of random stuff, but you get a weird reputation based upon which ones people [pick up on]. So, I’ve found myself – a lot of my books are about teenagers and that wasn’t deliberate. [Laughs.] I mean, one of them was deliberate. But like, I was aware that I did this book Phonogram and that was actually about 20-somethings and after that, that ended up with me asked to do Young Avengers and this book called Journey into Mystery which is about a teenager Loki – I didn’t make him a teenager. [Laughs.] All these kind of things and [The Wicked + The Divine] being about teenagers because it kind of – we did Young Avengers – it was like, “okay, let’s do something which is spiritually a sequel.” So, I was I found myself, “oh, no, I’m somehow a teen writer, which that was never the plan.” [Laughs.] You know, I’ve loved it, but it was definitely "I need to write about someone at least as old as I am or god knows what would happen". [Laughs.] But it’s fun, throwing them into horror is also fun as well, I think.
Today's review is of a Tim Heidecker comic book, written by J. Caleb Mozzocco. While multiple other people are involved in Giraffes On Horseback Salad, I saw that movie Us and really appreciated seeing Tim rocking Keifer Sutherland's haircut from The Lost Boys so I'm single minded right now. Take it away, J. Caleb!
Enter life-long Marx Brothers fan Josh Frank, a playwright, author and self-proclaimed “archaeologist of forgotten pop culture.” Unable to travel back in time and convince Mayer and the other Marx Brothers to give Harpo and Dali’s passion project a chance, and not being a modern day studio head himself, Frank did the next best thing in order to bring Giraffes to life: he produced a graphic novel adaptation/extrapolation of the treatment.
Frank tracked down every scrap of information he could find about the project. Not just Dali’s invaluable “Giraffes notebook”--including a version of the treatment, as well as sketches and a list of ideas for gags--but also Dali’s writings about meeting Harpo, their correspondence, and what was going on in Dali’s life at the time. He then enlisted comedian Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! to help him write the script, with some of Heidecker’s collaborators from the show contributing original dialogue and gags as part of an informal writers’ room. Research might have provided Frank with Dali’s contributions to the film, but he would need a comedian to provide some of the Marx Brothers comedy to Giraffes that the the Brothers themselves so obviously could no longer provide. Spanish artist Manuela Pertega was recruited to draw the whole thing and, incidentally, she provided the American/Spanish cross-cultural collaboration that Harpo and Dali would have had. Noah Diamond, who had previously revived the Brothers’ 1924 off-broadway musical I’ll Say She Is, was approached to provide some “musical numbers”--actually just pages of lyrics set to art-- as there would have been musical numbers had the film actually have been made.
A 15-year gap between issues? This might be a world record. But a new infusion of comics by Marc Bell is a gift to us all. In the interim, Bell has released the graphic novella Stroppy, two anthologies of various comics and fine art (Hot Potatoe, Pure Pajamas) and has been a contributor to Sammy Harkam’s Kramer’s Ergot, that annual tome of cutting-edge comics. He has also done recurring strips for Canadian weekly newspapers.
Marc Bell’s work stays with you. It is disarmingly funny, random, bleak and touching. It doesn’t explain itself or make a concerted effort to shepherd your attention. Its visuals suggest Crumb, Basil Wolverton, vintage black-and-white animated cartoons and off-brand funny animal comics. Bell’s work is also akin to the techniques of early newspaper cartoonists and to the artists of Harvey Kurtzman’s original Mad comic book. Visual information is everywhere on Bell’s pages. It clutters the corners, careens along the margins of its panels and often creates narratives within narratives. It’s compulsively readable and re-readable.
The pool of Marc Bell is all deep end, so the second Worn Tuff Elbow is a fine place to dive in if you’re new to his work.
So how did this project begin? Did you approach Kevin and L and say, “I want to make a Ley Lines comic”?
In a way, yes! I encountered Ley Lines the first time I attended SPX in 2016. Somehow the series kept cropping up in my life, and I loved the idea of comics that paid homage to the intersection of this traditionally mainstream, low-brow art form, with “various fields of art & culture.” That description created an entry point for me; I didn’t feel like a neo-comics-phony. I could use comics as a lens, a tool; it sounded freeing. Using my old Corona typewriter, I wrote a love letter to Ley Lines that expressed my admiration and interest in possibly contributing. I stuffed the envelope with a few printed samples of my drawings, addressed it to L. and Kevin, and dropped it off at their SPX table the following year. I remember that neither of them were at the desk when I mustered the courage up to drop that letter off — L. was out to lunch!
—This year's Hugo Award nominations have been announced.
According to the note in the back of the book, it sounds like Vei had a long and complicated process.
Karl was interested in the giants of Norse mythology. Most of the time they’re portrayed as the bad guys but he wanted to create his own mythology around them and tell the story from their perspective. There was this magazine called Utopi that Karl and a couple friends of his – I was involved in that circle, too – started. They wanted to promote science fiction, fantasy and horror comics. In Sweden for the past twenty-thirty years we’ve had a lot of great comics but often they’re political satire, humor, or autobiography. There was a group of people trying to do other things and make different types of comics and this magazine was supposed to publish these comics in episodes and then there would be books. So Karl started working on this comic for this magazine and I was there in the beginning as a friend and I got more and more involved. On chapter two he asked me, would you like to do this together? We ran the comic in the magazine for six or seven episodes, but Karl had developed so much as an artist and we had discovered so many things about the story that we realized we don’t want to finish it the way we started it. We made this huge decision – especially for Karl – to stop and redo the whole thing. [laughs] Sheer madness. Especially for Karl. He’s spent a few years on this now.
Last week at Her Campus, writer and editor Hannah Strader published an essay accusing comics writer Jai Nitz of sexual harassment. Within days, more women came forward with stories about Nitz, and then Nitz himself told Bleeding Cool that he was "stepping away from comics and public life" and "seeking counseling". Around the same time, Dark Horse annoucned The story has also seen coverage at Comic Book Resources,Comics Beat (the Beat's piece extensively details one of the more recent series of allegations), with more sure to come.
As a reminder, the Eisner winning Comics Journal is, and always has been, staffed by fans of the Snyderverse, so allow us to break ranks from our fellow comics websites who prefer their doomladen death worshipping super-hero movies to be of the Marvel variety and lack surprises and say: Bring it on, Warner.
Today on the site, we have Steven Ringgenberg's obituary for Ken Bald, who until recently held the World Record as oldest working cartoonist.
Veteran cartoonist Ken Bald is someone who can truly be said to have grown up in the American comics industry. Bald, who died on March 17th, was born on August 1st, 1920, went on to have one of the longest and most prolific careers of any cartoonist, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, which honored him in 2017, not once but twice, as the "Oldest Comic Artist," and the "Oldest Artist to Illustrate a Comic Book Cover," which he accomplished in 2016 at the age of 96. Because of the many contributions he made to the comics industry, as well as the epic length of his career, Ken Bald deserves to be much better known than he is in the present day. Many comics creators are given legendary status if they hang in there long enough, but Ken Bald really was a legend.
Born in New York City, Bald grew up in Mt. Vernon New York and later attended the Pratt Institute, and at some point took classes at the Toronto College of Art in Toronto, Ontario. After graduating from Pratt, Bald moved to Englewood, New Jersey.
His first published work was a fan drawing printed in More Fun #9 (April, 1936) which had the distinction of being the first standard-sized comic containing new material. It was published by National Allied Publications, which later became National Periodical Publications, more familiarly known as DC Comics. After attending the Pratt Institute for three years, through 1941, Bald immediately joined the Jack Binder shop which packaged entire comic books for various publishers, Fawcett, Nedor, and Lev Gleason Publications. At first, the Binder shop was a modest affair, with Bald and a handful of other artists working in Jack Binder’s living room. However, within a year or so, business was so good that Binder was able to rent a Fifth Avenue loft and employed fifty or sixty artists. In addition to Bald, Binder employed such future greats as Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Bill Ward, Kurt Schaffenberger and Pete Riss, among others. Studio mate Gil Kane recalled in a 1996 Comics Journal interview, “Binder had a loft on Fifth Avenue and it just looked like an internment camp. There must have been 50 or 60 guys up there, all at drawing tables. You had to account for the paper that you took."
Frank M. Young is here, too, with a review of the recent Jay Lynch anthology,Ink & Anguish.
Jay Lynch is the underdog of the first wave of American underground cartoonists. Had he been born 30 years earlier—or later—fame and fortune might have been his as a comic artist. Lynch went through much personal struggle to stay afloat, but he kept going, and always produced first-rate work.
Lynch is best-known for his “Nard ‘n’ Pat” series—an old-school style strip about a hapless, hat-wearing divorcee and his smart-ass cat companion. Like Robert Crumb and Bobby London, Lynch was inspired by the low art that he saw throughout his childhood. Early appearances in Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine and decades of work from Topps got Lynch’s work broad circulation—although he never signed his Topps work until the 21st century.
The comics contained in this volume are comical—sharply written, flawlessly constructed and, as the years go on, increasingly impressive as cartoon art. Lynch founded a Midwestern underground style, with Bijou Funnies, which also featured work by Crumb, Kim Deitch, Skip Williamson, and other major cartoonists, being his major contribution to comix. A hard worker, Lynch pursued the sheer craft of cartooning. By the mid-1970s, his comics and illustration work have a dazzling professional sheen. Gone are the callow, tentative lines of his work c. 1968—every pen stroke is unerringly right, and in service of whatever he’s illustrating. His 1970s color work for such magazines as Oui, Details, Gallery, and the Chicago Sun-Times is first-rate—and very much of its time. Given what a smart social satirist and deft humorist Lynch is, his talent feels wasted on the likes of Oui, but Lynch was always a professional, and his most commercial work still bears his stamp of individuality and quirk.
—News. Last week saw the death of cartoonist Leslie Sternbergh Alexander, a longtime fixture on the New York cartooning scene well-liked by many. We will have more coverage soon.
—Interviews & Profiles. The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews Julie Delporte.
NATHAN SCOTT MCNAMARA: While This Woman’s Work doesn’t explicitly engage with the Kate Bush song it borrows it title from, it’s a fitting homage. Could you tell us about your history with Kate Bush’s music?
JULIE DELPORTE: One of the translators of the book, Aleshia Jensen, found this title. The original french edition had a different title which made reference to a French grammatical structure (the masculine takes over the feminine, something that literally every french kid learns at school) and couldn’t be translated. I like the English title because it adds one more inspiring woman to my research of desirable feminine identities — Kate Bush joins Tove Jansson, Chantal Akerman, Paula M. Baker, Geneviève Castrée, and other women present in the pages of the book. I like Kate Bush’s music, though I don’t know it really well, but it made total sense that the title references another woman’s inspiration, whether it’s my translator’s or the reader’s. The goal of my book is for it to be about something larger than myself. I wanted to ask readers: “this is what it’s like for me, was it like this for you?” The title Aleshia Jensen found makes me think of the idea of women as a working class… This Woman’s Work talks a lot about maternity — a subject I never planned initially, and only discovered when I finished drawing the book — which is considered the work of women above all. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici addresses it, explaining how capitalism was partly built on the appropriation and exploitation of the reproductive work of women.
[I] feel bad about trying to join in the chorus of people talking about how Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye was pretty good. It is absolutely a fun and well-crafted comic, deserving of some praise. However, it’s already been written about a lot, and by people whose writing basically makes me want to kill myself when I think about how the distinction between me and them is virtually nil. I can write about some under-discussed alternative comic and feel like I’m basically doing literary criticism, but writing about a Marvel comic, published during the era of Marvel movies and Netflix TV shows totally dominating culture, makes me feel bad about myself at least in part because it feels like willfully choosing to do something I will fail at.
Today at the Comics Journal, we're bearing down for the annual onslaught of April Fool's themed marketing emails by reading Michel Fiffe's latest episode of The Fiffe Files. This time around, Michel is here to make the case for Mike Sekowsky...along with a whole mess of Justice League of America comics.
And look at that amazing Mike Sekowsky art! Inked by Bernard Sachs this time around. Like Dillin, I've always thought Sekowsky had an old school illustrator vibe to him, but that he was more concerned with speed and efficiency than technical virtuosity... less concerned with showing off and more about meeting the deadline. Either way, I was all in, expecting a slog of pseudo science over-explained by a pack of humorless boy scouts. That's not what I got at all. I cracked open this new comic Christmas afternoon. A few hours later, the hooks were in. I wanted more.
Still, to my eye at least, Quitely is the most apparent influence on the way Bertram draws. This isn't surprising; as one of a very few modern cartoonists whose work on corporate properties hasn't led to a bibliography comprised mainly of bad comics, Quitely is cruising toward elder statesman status these days with an ever widening circle of published acolytes. Bertram flexes a strong individual style while picking up on two important, underappreciated aspects of Quitely's: his markmaking and his passion for grotesquerie. Bertram's forms are his own, but they're shaped with profusions of crabbed, gossamer-thin lines that rarely extend for more than a centimeter before breaking off a micron from another, nearly identical stroke. Quitely fans will recognize this impressionistic, almost sculptural approach on sight, but Bertram brings a more frenetic, compulsive hand to his pages, locating a strong gristle of connective tissue between Quitely and Dave Cooper. And like Quitely, just about every one of Bertram's characters are imbued with Extreme physicality: a Strong guy looks like an NFL lineman with hypertrophy, a Regal dude's robe-swathed legs extend well over twice the length of his torso, a Small girl approaches a lithe brand of dwarfism. This is influence properly wielded, not copycat work but an identification and exploration of shared strong points.
I had never read such a confident, surreal, mythological, entrancing comic. As Tom Scioli has said of New Gods #7 (“The Pact”), you could build a religion around this comic.
Over at Bleeding Cool, there's a fascinating look into the financial tentacles of IDW, a company that has spent the better part of the last twelve months involved in so many different types of drama, legal maneuvers and fiscal hopscotch that I wouldn't even know how to summarize it.
The numbers show that IDW’s sales revenue percentage from direct market sales grew significantly more than traditional retail. Digital comics sales revenue percentage actually decreased from 2018 to 2019. We’ve prepared pie charts to illustrate the breakdowns.
Still don't even understand what this is, and i've read the NYT on it, and then I read the WWAC making fun of the NYT on it. Why is Garth Ennis so great at making war comics and Punisher stories and yet still so bad at picking business partners?
Today on the site, Robert Kirby reviews Zidrou and Aimée de Jongh's Blossoms in Autumn.
Blossoms in Autumn tells the story of a man and a woman who become romantically involved late in life. Though at first they seem to be polar opposites, the focus isn’t on their differences, as it would be in a typical romantic comedy, but on their shared sense of making the last chapter of their lives count—of making up for lost time. While there are a couple of weakly imagined story points, it’s a sweet, skillfully rendered piece.
Zidrou takes his time to properly introduce us to his protagonists. His heroine is Mediterranea Solenza, a former model now in her early sixties who runs the cheese shop that has been in her family for a few generations. Having just lost her mother to cancer, Mediterranea is understandably thinking a lot about her own mortality and mourning the loss of her youth. When her brother tells her that she is now “the oldest Solenza!” she likens his words to being bitten by a viper.
We then meet Ulysses, a widowed blue-collar guy who is forced into early retirement at age 59, when the moving company he works for downsizes during an economic downturn. Ulysses is quite unhappy to lose his job and feels at loose ends. Though he has a good relationship with his adult son, a doctor, he’s lonely. He doesn’t appear at first to have much of an inner life and has no artistic outlet–in fact, early on he informs us that he hates reading. He joylessly ticks off the non-events of his day like grocery shopping, feeling at a loss for anything exciting that the future might hold. He does, however, make regular visits to a prostitute who offers him sexual release, but no lasting inner satisfaction.
I did a lot of writing around this episode, much of which didn’t make the final cut. Here’s a bit that got left on the cutting room floor. One thing I found myself struggling with is the large body of Batman literature. Much of this literature is very similar to itself, with small differences. The more I thought about it, the more it resembled a fractal structure. And when zooming out on this fractal, Batman and superheroes in general acquire a fractal self-similarity. But I get ahead of myself.
How do you write about Batman? How do you write about a property like Batman? Specifically, how do you write about a single episode of one of the longest running comics properties in the world? How do you write about something like Batman: Son Of the Demon ?
After 80 years of continuous publication — after countless issues, series, specials, graphic novels, novelizations, TV & film adaptions — what is Batman? Which Batman do you write about? Batman the character or Ba(TM)an the franchise? When you write about BSOTD, which Batman do you compare him to? Is it possible to evaluate BSOTD on its own merits? How can you evaluate Batman’s behavior and story arc in this book? If you don’t know the history between Ra’s al Ghul & Batman will this make any sense? If you know it only in-part, is that enough?
The pioneering co-editor of Twisted Sisters and creator of DiDi Glitz talks about the underground comics scene, Communism, abortion, the politics of anthologizing, contact paper-derived orgasms, and nail polish. Continue reading →