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Ashes of American Gags

Well, the week is out here at TCJ: but the geek culture behemoth that is San Diego Comic Con has already begun. That Cats trailer really is as bad as they're saying!

This week at The Journal, we finished out a week of cartooning with two more pieces by Elizabeth Beier, covering her time at the Queers & Comics Conference. Along with the giant line-up for the "Long Form Comics" panel, Elizabeth also delivered her take on the well received "Non-Fiction Comics & Comics Journalism" panel. It looks like we've already locked down our next one of these, so stay seated!

On Tuesday, Matt Seneca took a look at the tenth volume of Kramers Ergot, and spoke with editor Sammy Harkham as well. The book itself is an excellent collection of comics, with Sammy's extensive centerpiece one of the strongest of his career. 

Kramers Ergot 10 makes things plain as can be from its indicia on in, proclaiming debts in bright red capital letters to RawWeirdo, andThe Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a holy trinity of American anthologies. Weird shit in their time, in combination these titles laid out a rough playbook for the alt-comics style of the '80s and '90s - one that Kramers would provide a necessary pivot from a generation later. The name-drop opening of this volume suggests a circle closing, that focusing on differences between canon and challenger ignores their fundamental connection. "I felt like this issue could be the one where we make it explicit," Harkham told me in an Oakland alehouse on the eve of the book's release, "the relationship Kramers has always had to the history of comics. When issue 4 came out everyone was like 'oh, it feels so cutting edge and new, blah blah,' but the reason they're feeling that way is because it hearkens back to the last one hundred years of comics. There is a lineage that it's connected to. And in this one we just make that more explicit."

Since the pieces publication, the ongoing conversation regarding how its creators are compensated for their work in Kramers has returned in full force, primarily on social media (both public and private), while some have also brought up a lack of diversity amongst the book's contributor list. Both are serious subjects that deserve attention and conversation, and we will speak more about them soon.

But that's not all that went down this week--we're pleased to welcome two new TCJ contributors to these digital pages this week. The first is someone comics criticism readers will be well aware of: Hillary Brown! She's been assembling her first array of pieces for TCJ for the past few month, and the first appeared this week--a review of Tonta, by Jaime HernandezHere's how she opens that one up:

It seems like the abiding conception of Jaime Hernandez’s Tonta is that it’s a minor work of his, a sort of tossed-off compilation of stories focusing on a character who’s more an Io than a Jupiter, a character actor rather than a leading lady. But the fact is that reading it, for me, produced the same rush of blood to the brain and almost dizzying happiness as his “major” Maggie and Hopey stories. It’s not quite Stendhal Syndrome, but it’s close. Experiencing work that you love so completely is a sort of out-of-body experience, which is what Stendhal was getting at, whether or not he actually became physically weak by hanging out around various Florentine masterworks. Philosophers have been trying to unpack the idea of the “sublime” for centuries, so it’s unlikely that I’m going to put my finger on it here, but the general point is that it’s something that makes you feel small, as though dwarfed in the presence of a god or godlike force. So how does a comics nerd from Oxnard do that once, much less over and over again?

Our other new teammate is Ryan Flanders, formerly of MAD Magazine. While the unfortunate timing of MAD's transition towards the grave (a mostly reprint magazine selling only via Diamond is not MAD Magazine) forced the initial topic of Ryan's piece for us, he somehow managed to deliver something a lot more positive than one might expect. He'll get his venom on soon enough, one hopes.

To open an issue of MAD Magazine, from any point in its history, is to encounter an assemblage of many of the most brilliant writers, artists and satirists working in that era. It is a whole package you can hold in your hands, an ensemble of voices echoing out as one, an orchestra of insanity, hilarity, and cultural acuity. Though it’s had its imitators, and influenced many successful comedic endeavors, there is truly nothing else like MAD — a regularly-produced menagerie of carefully crafted, intertwining words and visuals. Within the staff, we were never satisfied if an issue was just okay — we always wanted the damn thing to be good. And good takes time. 

And then there's Brenda Dales! Another new contributor? We're not sure yet, as Brenda's main interest was in one book, and one creator, and now that she's delivered her interview with Wilfrid Lupano--whose A Sea of Love was released in the US via Lion Forge, after finding initial success in a Dargaud edition in Europe, and heads into the weekend with three Eisner nominations to its name--time will tell if she wants to go for round two.

In late June of 2019 I met up with Wilfrid Lupano in Washington, D.C. at an event connected with the American Library Association annual conference, and we had a conversation that navigated throughout his creative process for the book. Here I follow up with him in an intercontinental email exchange in early July of 2019 about this maritime masterpiece (he’s now in France, and I’m not).

And finally, this week's reviews were both returns of sorts--a new book by Max de Radigues, which is probably his fifth in the last twelve months--reviewed by Rich Barrett,  and the latest installment in the Brubaker/Phillips Criminal series, the cheekily comics-focused Bad Weekend, reviewed by Sean Witzke. (He seemed to like this one.)

Next week, we'll aim to find something at San Diego worth jawing about, review some comics, interview some cartoonists, and find some decent drawings to look at. 

 

 

Live Scribing with Elizabeth Beier: Non-Fiction Comics & Comics Journalism

From May 16-19 2019, New York City's School of Visual Arts hosted the Queers & Comics Conference, a biennial LGBTQ cartoonist conference. The event was organized by Jennifer Camper and Justin Hall and provided a space for artists, writers and fans to discuss everything from publishing to story structure to social justice to different kinds of pens. Bay Area artist Elizabeth Beier attended the event and created visual notes of some of the panels. 

In today's installment, Elizabeth recounts the Non-Fiction Comics & Comics Journalism Panel, featuring MK Czerwiec (moderator), Rosa Colón, Martina Schradi, Alison Wilgus, and Elvis Wolf discussing comics based on true stories. While they all have very different subject matter, ranging from health and care-taking to aviation to women's bookstores to queer immigrants to Puerto Rico, they had some common concerns. These included the importance of research and learning as one goes, the struggle to be timely when long-form researched work takes time to create, and the tension between explaining or telling a true story vs advocating for a point of view. 

 

Envy Not The Oppressor

This week in TCJ, we've kicked things off with a classic monster interview with a stone cold master: Everett Raymond Kinstler, whose career stretches from pulp covers through to US Presidents, with a stopover at Hawkman. If you're at all familiar with my preferences regarding interview subjects, you may know that I love to hear about what goes into working on Hawkman, a character I have absolutely no real affection for nor nostalgic connection to, and yet nonetheless remain fascinated with hi: however, this is the third time an interview with a Hawk-related creator came along where the interviewer refused to engage with the aforementioned Hawk-related creator about what it's like working the Katar beat. In his defense, I didn't actually speak to Steven Brower prior to his conversation with Kinstler, and would have lacked the courage to even make the request--but I can certainly grouse about it now and I believe Kinstler wouldn't have minded a bit as he has dealt with far more difficult individuals than I. Here he is, recapping his first meeting with James Montgomery Flagg:

So I got up and here was this guy, he looked big to me, he wasn’t that tall, but he was maybe 6’1” or 6’2”, a great shock of white hair, heavy brows, and I remember he was wearing a navy blue shirt, with red suspenders, and he said, “Come on, let me see your work, it probably stinks.” Made me feel great, as a 17-year-old, and he looked through the work and I remember he said to me, I have reason to remember this of course, “Well, I see so much crap these days. And Mayor LaGuardia believes they can make art in the school programs, all they do is produce mediocrity.” He started to look, he said, “Young fella, you’re doomed to be an illustrator. Or doomed to be an artist.” And then he asked me about Mr. DuMond, he kind of settled down, and then talked about Mr. DuMond and he told me he studied with him 50 years ago.

Today, we've got an official statement from Robin McConnell on the future of Inkstuds. Robin's decade plus time at Inkstuds has produced hours of interviews with many of the creators and critics featured both here and in our print edition.

This week, we'll be running some non-fiction comics--but this time, they aren't part of our traditional Cartoonist Diary series. Instead, it's Elizabeth Beier's look at various panels from the recent Queers & Comics Conference, hosted at NYC's School of Visual Arts. So far, she's given us her notes on Magdalene Visaggio's  conversation with Justin Hall, and today she's recapping another conversation, this one between Nicole Georges and Mariko Tamaki. Stay tuned for two more installments, arriving on Thursday and Friday.

Our first review of the week comes courtesy of Robert Kirby. He's here with his take on How I Tried To Be A Good Person, by Ulli Lust. Those of you with access to Tim and my email accounts will be aware that more people wanted to review How I Tried To Be A Good Person than any other title so far this year! Here's some Kirby Krackle on Lust for ya:

Her follow-up, How I Tried to be a Good Person, begins a few years after Today. Lust appears more settled, yet no less driven to live according to her own lights, come what may. A thread running strongly throughout both books is the allure of wresting oneself from societal conventions—and the often-heavy costs of doing so. Lust is determined to live her truth, even occasionally putting herself in physical danger. At other times, she’s left contemplating the line between self-actualization and selfishness. Lust relates all this in an uncompromisingly frank manner, with anthropological detail. It’s a rich narrative.

And of course, last week was a full house as well. We delivered a giant look at Polish cartoonist Przemysław Trusciński's TRUST album. Only days later, ICv2 published a galley of overly serious actors dressed up in his Witcher designs. Coincidence, or excellent advance planning and trend-forecasting? (Spoiler alert: anything that distracts Henry Cavill from recording voice-overs for the Synder cut is a waste of time.)

We also celebrated the return of Alex Dueben, who was here talking to J.M. DeMatteis about all things Moonshadow. (The only thing Alex loves more than Moonshadow is apologizing to DeMatteis about his love for Moonshadow. I would do the same if I was talking to Keith Giffen about the 5YL--two sides same coin.)

As I think I’ve said in our previous conversations, I think this is one of the great comics. Period. But I will admit that re-reading it again for this interview, I found myself sometimes thinking, it’s a very wordy book.

You have no idea how much copy I cut out of that book! I’d write a page and then start slicing and dicing. That said, comics aren’t one thing or another. They’re anything we want them to be. And with Moonshadow—and a number of other projects I’ve done over the years—I wanted to explore the line between prose and comics.  

There are some people who say that comics should be “movies on paper.” And they can be that. But they can also be a thousand other things. Want to do three of four pages that are essentially illustrated prose and then shift into more typical, or perhaps even wordless, comics? Why not? Don’t let the format lead you, let the story lead you.

The other big return we had last week (along with Alex and Rob Clough) was Tegan O'Neil's surprise return to her super-hero column, Ice Cream For Bedwetters, which had run its official last installment a few weeks prior. In this follow up, Tegan used an oversized collection of bad Spawn spin-off comics to talk about the dawn of Image Comics. And RUNE! (Stick around for the comments, where Don Simpson shows up with enough sauce to make the whole thing a sundae.)

Malibu was Image’s original publisher, until the money materialized and the founders realized they had no need for middlemen. In their absence Malibu rolled out a new superhero line, too, this time with a bunch of guys you remembered from the 70s and 80s. Which was also a pretty good marketing gimmick for the time, if we’re being completely honest. And, before we go any further, it bears stating for the record that there was good stuff under the Ultraverse banner. A lot of seasoned pros doing very confident but rarely phenomenal work.

Except for Rune, which was one of the very best comics of the decade, and you only don’t think that because you haven’t read Barry Windsor-Smith’s ode to the naked lavender space vampire who likes ripping people in half with his bare fucking hands. I mean, Rune should be a household name. If people know who Spider-Man: Noir is, then by god they should know about Rune -

Other recent reviews included Josh Kramer's take on Cannabis, the latest in Box Brown's attempts to get paid for drawing about all the things he's interested in. Personally, i'm looking forward to future installments where Box really drills into the sort of mundane middle aged things that fascinate me. A whole comic where you keep pretending you've seen TV shows just so your younger coworkers will include you in conversations? A stack of sequential art devoted to how proud you feel when you don't take your phone with you to the bathroom? Here for it, big guy. 

Last week also saw Oliver Ristau deliver review coverage on Diabolical Summer, one of the many European graphic novels that IDW publishes makes physically available on a frequent basis. As part of shout out summer, Oliver has included a dig at a random Grant Morrison comic in the middle of his review as an attempt to lure Marc Singer out for a legit take on that GMoz Green Lantern comic that nobody I pay attention to has ever talked about with more than a cursory nod. Here's hoping!

As someone who enjoyed every cigarette he ever smoked right up until he stopped, it's great to see that John Constantine covers have returned to their original glory, featuring close-ups on the character lighting up a smoke. I can still remember that old 90's SPIN article where Trent Reznor kept talking about drinking protein shakes and thinking: man, growing up must suck. Don't go changing, Hellblazer!

Fleet Foxes. Get the hell out of here, Fleet Foxes.

Sophie Campbell's a very talented cartoonist, but I have to admit that my first thought when I heard there was a female turtle entering the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe was: agh, i hope that doesn't mean the turtles are gonna start fucking, nobody wants to see the turtles fucking. Unless they get Zulli back, of course. If they're gonna get sex into the Turtleverse, it's gotta be 100% serious, all the time. (THE HAND)

 

 

 

Farber Vs. Lester

This week at The Comics Journal, we're going all in on Nate McDonough, whose Cartoonist Diary launched on Monday with a near real time look at his various travels. Today, he's visiting with a Pittsburgh classic: Bill Boichel, the physical embodiment of the phrase "gateway drug" as it applies to comics. What's to come for the rest of the week? Come back and see.

This week's big conversation is with Trevor Von Eeden. In our latest edition of Creator X Creator--the badly named but roughly accurate category of interview where the people who make the stuff talk with others who do so as well--Eeden gets into his history with Josh Bayer, and how that history has influenced the work these two have done together for the next wave of All Time Comics.

I'm COMPLETELY self-taught. As mentioned above, I learn the Zen way--by observation, experience...and as an artist, self-contemplation--because Art is all about expressing The Human Condition...which is inside of EVERY human--so why look elsewhere to learn it? I discovered Alex Toth's work while devouring Neal's photo & art morgue files at Continuity after work (I enjoyed free access to the studio, 24/7)...I also discovered Ayn Rand in '82, while working at Neal's studio. Her book The Fountainhead infused me with the idea that an artist could and SHOULD be a person of INTEGRITY--and her BRILLIANT, dramatic, and highly visual writing style inspired me to create visions of my own on paper--first inside of my head... All of the above, plus my desire to impress and inspire Lynn Varley as an artist (to prove to her her OWN worth) led into the creation of my own comics art and story-telling style in The Batman Annual # 8 (and the early THRILLER issues later on--but that's another story...) I never ask anyone for assistance nor advice in my life, and definitely not in my art...it's all MINE, and that's what makes me HAPPY.  

Today, you'll find the return of Rob Clough's High-Low column--this time around, Rob is taking a look at some more off-the-beaten path work from the boundary-pushing kuš!, who recently released some Chinese underground comics.

R. Orion Martin worked for a time as a translator in China, where he found a burgeoning underground comics scene. He has since published fascinating minicomics translated into English and has partnered with the stalwarts over at kuš! as well. These comics feel familiar in appearance and subject matter for American alternative comics readers, but also strange and original. Martin has noted that while a number of Chinese artists looked at manga and manhwa, they either didn't feel like they could draw in that style or it simply didn't speak to them. When they got hold of European underground comics, that proved to be a game-changer. Let's take a look at a few of these unusual comics.

Our first review of the week comes to ya from Paul Tumey, who returns to us with a look at The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster StoryTumey claims he's here to stay, and said the handcuffs weren't necessary. But hey, that's company policy!

I almost didn't read this book. Not only is the story familiar to me, but it also stirs up my dyspepsia something terrible. The shameful saga of how badly the Men of Steal who ran National (the company that eventually became D.C. Comics) treated the creators of Superman, the property that made the company wildly successful, is well documented. In 2004, Gerard Jones told the story in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book (Basic Books). Almost a decade later, Brad Ricca expanded the story with his in-depth book, Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—the Creators of Superman (St. Martin’s Press, 2013). Voloj and Campi are well aware they are walking a fairly worn path—these two volumes and eight others on the formation of the superhero comic book are listed in The Joe Shuster Story’s selected bibliography.

Over at Inkstuds, Aisha Franz is talking with Robin about Shit Is Real and the recent Clubhouse anthology. 

Over at The Nation, Jeet Heer is delivering a major comics adjacent article, and it's on the subject that's been the talk of the town since last week: the changes at Mad Magazine. We'll be covering this subject in our own way pretty soon. For now? Get your Jeet on.

Over at Sina Grace's Tumblr, there's a much shared post from the creator about his experience working at Marvel Comics on the Iceman series. While it's easy--and correct--to criticize the people in charge of things at Marvel for being fundamentally lousy at their job and offensively stupid, it's often something you can only reckon with by pointing out how bad most of their comics are, and how gross most of their employees act on social media. Having someone like Sina come along and give you the actual receipts--that's the stuff!

Over at Longbox Coffin, you'll find an article on Alan Moore's Supreme that nails it about as hard as the truth can. Stick around for a guest appearance of a TCJ regular, and then say Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday, Brian!

Over at Ink Logging, Tom Kaczynski has his take on Silver Surfer Black #1, a recent Marvel comic I also purchased and read. Like Tom, I was also impressed with the splash page that is framed with the Surfer's smooth non-penis dead center.

Tom of Finland is gearing up for a special birthday!

 

Thanks, President Pullman

Today at the Comics Journal, we're launching you into the weekend with Tegan O'Neil's final column for us under the Ice Cream for Bedwetters banner--what's that? You'll have to read it to find out what comes next--but here's a bit of it, to get you started:

I really didn’t enjoy Spider-Verse - it made me grouchy in a way I hadn’t been expecting because it made me feel decidedly out of touch. It wasn’t that I didn’t get it, it was that I got that it represented a completely new paradigm of fandom that didn’t hold much appeal for me. And after I mulled that over for a while I realized something else: that was OK, too.

Sometimes it takes seeing something you don’t like to bring into relief what you do: all the cool stuff that audiences were responding to onscreen didn’t really interest me because what I really like about these characters and stories has absolutely nothing to do with them as ongoing properties. I can’t identify with a character in a movie when I’ve personally written thousands of words about how his creators hated each other. There’s no way to get back to that place, for me, for so many reasons, but that’s a really big one.

Today's review comes to us from Matt Seneca, who is here with a deep dive into Yuichi Yokoyama's Plaza. I've been suckered into buying expensive foreign editions of comics that are over my head by Matt, Joe McCulloch and Chris Mautner before, but let me spoil Matt's review a bit to say this: Plaza is the real deal. When we get to the end of 2019 and start arguing about which comics are as great as Kevin Huizenga's River at Night, there's gonna be one real contender for the fight--and it's this comic right here.

This might not be the best Yuichi Yokoyama comic, but it's definitely the most Yuichi Yokoyama comic. For my money, the enigmatic mangaka is the contemporary cartoonist whose work carries the highest sum total of uniqueness and quality - the guy out there right now who there's the least amount of stuff as weird as, and the least amount of stuff as good as. Even given that distinction though, Plaza sits in rarefied air. It's a book that challenges you to read it all through in one go, one whose every new panel throws another hard left jab out at your eye and dares you to assimilate its information into the story you've been reading. Yokoyama is many things, but accessible has never been one of them, and this is his least accessible book. It's also the hardest to buy - no American edition, no importer, and almost sold out in Japan - but I bought one, so I'm gonna talk about it anyway.

Yesterday, I hope you read our nice long interview with Polish comics superstar  Przemysław Truściński, in the first TCJ work from Michal Chudoliński, who will be covering the Polish scene in comics for us. Next week, we'll be spotlighting some more of Truściński's work that we weren't able to fit into the interview.

We also had another extended glaring contest from Sean Witzke, who was able to find a way to lower his standards enough to not completely dislike a genre comic about space truckers.

Because of the July 4th we'll be quiet until next week. Tune in then for a new Cartoonist Diary, the return of Rob Clough's Hi Low Column, an interview i'm kinda worried about, and a whole mess of reviews. Here's a picture of me and Gary Groth discussing our plans for the website, taking just this past week! 

 

To Be Continued

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

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

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

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

And now, let's talk.

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

Hopefully, it won't mean that much.

Realistically?

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

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

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

 

The End?!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oops

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

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

Steve Ditko © 1978.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Clough reviewed Marnie Galloway's Slightly Plural.

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

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

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

At HiLobrow, Annie Nocenti remembers Dick Tracy.

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