To be clear, Queers & Comics isn’t a convention with tables. It isn’t an entrepreneurial or even a primarily industry-oriented event. It’s an academic conference and cultural checkpoint.
My impression was that the conference was as personal as it was academic. Queer cartoonists making queer cartoons created a niche for themselves in the comics underground where none previously existed. We might have become cartoonists because of Hergé or Charles Addams or George Herriman or Bill Watterson, but see queer comics-making as a discrete and socially necessary act—because of each other. That’s very personal.
In prior generations of queer cartoonists (there are three), finding other gay voices who spoke in comics was a hero’s journey. Today, you get an email from Jennifer Camper.
If all goes according to plan, we should be publishing a larger, more comprehensive report on the conference next Monday written by Rob Kirby.
—Interviews & Profiles. One of the Q&C conference’s keynote speakers, Alison Bechdel, talked to the Times about her newfound acceptance, both as a lesbian and as a cartoonist.
Chris Randle profiled Lynda Barry for The Guardian, focusing on her work as an educator.
—Commentary. In twoposts, Tom Hart writes about his feelings after finishing Rosalie Lightning, his graphic novel about the death of his first daughter. (Dan linked to one of those posts yesterday.)
Blood banks and comics? The topic’s not as arbitrary as you might think. It’s quite a natural pairing, actually, both in Japan and in the United States, though for utterly different reasons.
In manga, one cannot call blood banks a major motif by any standard. But it is an important one that crops up at central moments in the medium’s history, serving as a touchstone in a number of artists’ self-fashioning, and a reference point in kashihon and kashihon-inspired comics’ much-celebrated link with poverty and the underclass. As I will explain in detail in the present article’s sequel, most artists who took up the topic did so within the framework of biography. These stories, whether hagiographic or self-deprecatory, typically present the selling of one’s blood to shady blood banks as an essential part of surviving the 50s before achieving stability or success in the 60s. There is also the unique case of Tsuge Tadao, who worked at a blood bank in Tokyo for ten years between the mid 50s and mid 60s, before creating a number of manga about the punks and down-and-outers who sold their blood there, and about the grisly practices and petty labor disputes that went on behind the scenes in the industry. Despite their variety of perspectives, these artists would probably have agreed with the basic point that baiketsu (“sold blood”) expressed how postwar growth, despite its promises of plenty for all, was marked by widening differences of class.
Yesterday Tim wondered why I hadn’t mentioned the hilarious Archie Kickstarter. It’s sort of too moronic to even get into, but I think it’s funny that a comic book company that has built its empire on treating its artists like human garbage is attempting a kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed “reboot”, complete with terrible super hero comics, obvious stunts, and an appeal to the public. What all this says about the publishing landscape is the usual, with a twist: no one wants to make a capital outlay but now somehow people are being conned into believing they’re “participating” in something by paying for it. Anyhow, fuck Archie. I will spare you a much, much longer digression. For now.
In other news…
Tom Hart has finished his much-anticipated book, Rosalie Lightning. He writes about the process here.
Today on the site, comics writer and historian Paul Buhle reviews a new nonfiction comic, Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, created by artist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and historian Ari Kelman. Here’s a bit of his review:
The artist suggests that the actual war-time engravings, in popular magazines like Harper’s or Frank Leslie’s, were themselves proto-comics of the violent, pre-Code type. Readers of all kinds picked up the magazines or even newspapers with front page images, and saw scenes of a detailed, realistic kind never presented of war before. These were obviously fascinating, in the grimmest sense. But hard, surely for many readers. to look at for very long at a time. Battle Lines literally, as far as comic art can be literal, recreates the work of the battlefield photographer tramping through a field, with his assistant, and capturing the visage of a corpse.
This is not a wholly new way to tell a story, either. There has been so much experimentation in styles of nonfiction comics narrative within the work of Peter Kuper, for instance, that the visualized path of a mosquito or the repetition of frames (to suggest a certain monotony of life in a military prison) will be familiar as other ways to do what only a comic can do. But the art of being playful in the most dire historic circumstances demonstrates, page after page, how a large event in US history can be depicted and understood, a prospect more vivid for today’s youthful readers. Battle Lines literally offers “new perspectives,” both because the scholarship is up to date and because the perspectives themselves as so fresh.
—Crowdfunding. On Monday, Archie comics announced that it was launching a Kickstarter to fund three new series, and I was really hoping that Dan the Bootseller would weigh in yesterday. He didn’t, but many others on the internet did take exception to the publisher’s choice to rely on crowdfunding. Archie CEO Jon Goldwater defends the decision at CBR.
—Reviews & Commentary. Last week, Jill Lepore at The New Yorker looked at a single issue of a Marvel comic book tying in to a larger crossover “event” and even after recruiting the help of two ten-year-old boys, found herself baffled by the story and bemused by its portrayal of female characters. G. Willow Wilson, the writer of the comic in question, is upset by a few minor factual errors in Lepore’s piece, as well as her failure to understand that the comic can’t be sexist because the characters on the cover face the reader head-on and don’t contort themselves into “brokeback” postures, artistic choices that are “pretty symbolic” to people who are immersed in online comics fandom. Wilson was building on an earlier fan critique of Lepore written by Leia Calderon. Abhay Khosla wrote about it (1, 2).
—Interviews. Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing has another in a series of recent strong interviews with Daniel Clowes.
—Conventions. TCAF reports will surely be coming in for a while. Two early ones come from Joe Ollmann and Robyn Chapman.
And no links today. Instead, a walk down publishing lane. Chris Oliveros is retiring from D&Q at age 48. For you kids out there, 48 is really young! D&Q began, as the best comic book companies have, as one person’s vision of the medium. Chris is a comics guy. He knows his Joe Sinnotts from his Vince Collettas. Back issues. Long boxes. I like talking comics with Chris. The really great publishers of comics of the last 40 years (and I can count them on one hand) know the medium deeply. You kinda have to in order to have a vision that extends beyond your immediate times and allows you to recognize and nurture talents others might dismiss and put your money where your mouth is. That’s the job, and that’s what Chris did.
Chris gave a home to some of the most important talents of his (or any) generation: Julie Doucet, Chester Brown and Seth, among others. Moreover, Julie and Chester were, like Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge, deeply connected to ’90s indie culture, which was, you know, a thing that counted. Companies from that era were taste driven (Drag City and Merge records come to mind as examples) and thus tended to live and die with their proprietors. But it’s good that Chris is letting it live without him, and it’s also in keeping with his natural modesty. He’s not someone who would ever think that somehow this thing couldn’t survive without him and, yet (I guess) he understand how important it is for it to exist as a home for the medium. As a publisher I really liked knowing Chris was out there, and on a few occasions he gave me really important advice and encouragement.
Anyhow, a little more history here…back in the ’90s and early ’00s D&Q was a genuine alternative to the older and more entrenched Fantagraphics both aesthetically and in terms of the actual physical objects. It was striking at the time — the actual visuals were often more elegant, more in tune with what was happening in illustration and design. The books were the first in comics to really dovetail with quality trade publishing standards — french flaps, quality hardcovers, matte lamination. No one else in comics was doing that. It might seem trivial, but look at the publishing landscape today and Chris seems awfully prescient.
Later, via the anthologies he introduced a lot of us to the work being published by Cornelius and L’Association in France. But for whatever reason, my first thought upon hearing about the retirement was the insane Doug Wright art book that D&Q published — Chris followed his passions in publishing, even if it was down the manhole. I love that book a lot — it’s one of my favorites — but, oof, not an easy sell. Anyhow, it’s a different company now, of course, so it makes sense that he could leave it in Peggy Burns’ hands — with Chris she has expanded the company’s purview to encompass a broad range of work in comics and visual culture in general. Anyhow, thanks Chris. Welcome to the other side.
—News. Probably the biggest news this TCAF weekend was the announcement that founder Chris Oliveros is stepping down from his role at Drawn & Quarterly, with Peggy Burns taking over as publisher, and Tom Devlin becoming executive editor. The news was first published in this Toronto Globe & Mail profile of the company on its 25th anniversary. Oliveros reportedly intends to focus on his work as a cartoonist. We’ll have more on this soon.
The Doug Wright Awards were announced, and the winners are Nina Bunjevac, Meags Fitzgerald, and Connor Willumsen.
The Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize was announced. The winning book was the Tamakis’ This One Summer, and the honoree Richard McGuire’s Here.
Like many things in comics (well some things, and almost never the things comics people think of. Any “art and comics” panel discussion bears that out), if Richard Corben existed now as a young artist in the right circles he would be hailed as a genius and included in shows at the New Museum and Kunsthalles up and down Switzerland. As it is, he has this fan site.
Getting [this] published in one volume is an important step to building continuity in the history of gay comics. Once a widely-distributed strip in gay-oriented publications, the comic became popular and significant enough to inspire a film adaptation. As noted in the foreword, the strip ran from 1989 to 2005, produced more than 300 strips, and appeared in more than eighty publications at its height. This volume collects all of those strips and adds some new material as well, giving the hero of the strip something of a happy ending (or perhaps more accurately, a happy beginning).
Visually, the strip is highly uneven. Orner’s drawing style changes a couple of years in and becomes denser, filled with zip-a-tone effects, cross-hatching and a greater dependence on spotting blacks to add atmosphere. The most recent strips looked like they were drawn and colored on a computer, which was jarring to say the least. These strips didn’t look nearly as polished as the earlier strips, and the garishness of the color detracted from some of the content. The use of color also seemed arbitrary at times. It’s obvious that Ethan Green was Orner’s laboratory for becoming a cartoonist, and not every experiment was a success.
I have three fundamental difficulties with Scott McCloud’s years-in-the-making opus, The Sculptor. First, the way the female love interest is portrayed betrays a staggering lack of nuance regarding mental illness and borders on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that plagues a certain kind of romantic drama. Second, the pacing of the book is herky-jerky, with little in it justifying its extreme length. Indeed, the book is repetitive and often tedious in exploring its main characters. The final “action sequence” is laughably silly in light of the rest of the book. Third, the essentialist nature of McCloud’s stances on art that are on display in his famous Understanding Comics also hold sway here, a bias that I found tremendously tedious and distracting.
Let’s unpack these critiques in light of the story and McCloud’s long career. …
Miseryland, Keiler Roberts’ third paperback collection of autobiographical comics from her zine, Powdered Milk, is an invigorating blend of observational comedy, quiet domesticity, and existential angst, captured in realistic line drawings that have a slightly rough, appealingly improvised feel. Though delightfully funny, these stories have a melancholy running underneath, a sense of the fragile order of existence and how quickly emotional equilibrium can be upset by small incidents, unwanted exchanges, doubt, or self-recrimination. With a keen ear for dialogue and nuance, Roberts captures human nature in all its quirky contradiction.
The New York Times chats with Daniel Clowes about The Complete Eightball and, most importantly, drops tidbits on his upcoming graphic novel.
Alison Bechdel explains her reasons for attending the controversial PEN Gala, which Tim updated you all on yesterday. As for me, I’ve rarely seen so many people whose work I admire make such boneheaded arguments (I’m looking at you, Rachel Kushner). As Tim pointed out, this whole controversy is also indicative of how little the various lit establishments (still!) regard the medium of comics that most dismissed the Charlie work without actually having read it. Amazing.
Gil Roth interviews Jonah Kinigstein. I love this work, and published it back in 2004, but I’m interested that so far it’s only gotten play in the comics and illustration world, which still thrives on a reverse snobbery about modern and contemporary art. A lot of what Kinigstein says is right on the money, but a lot of it is simply spleen-venting by an artist who sees only a monolithic “art world”. I’d love to see an art writer (not me) engage with this material.
Finally, I missed this lovely little PDF from 2D Cloud documenting the publisher’s experiences at this past MoCCA, a festival about which I saw astonishingly little. I was also out of town, so maybe I missed a weekend of furious tweeting. Who knows.