Pencil Box

Shawn Gilmore joins our Building Stories quasi-symposium with a piece on "formal disruption and narrative progress" in the book. Here's an excerpt:

There are complex patterns and resonant thematic connections here, but they operate in a slightly different mode than in Ware’s previous works. Building Stories is less maudlin than many of his previous works, instead presenting a more nuanced portrait of the long arc of a character’s life, with all of its psychological drama, conflicting emotions, and shifting commitments. In Jimmy Corrigan, Ware treated the epic saga of a particular family, spanning a century or so, and while we have some historical notes in Building Stories—for example, at one point, the landlady works in the old Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building during her youth in the mid-twentieth century—the focus is quite different.

This is a story of our moment, filled with iPads and cellphones, with the hectic day-to-day push and pull of life and the commitments of memory and old relationships. There are some of Ware’s tropes throughout—visual repetition and the importance of key locations in Chicago, the desire to affect change and the inability to do so, the rigorous attention to composition and uncluttered storytelling. But in Building Stories, these tropes are undercut by the lack of a master narrative that establishes and fixes the pieces together. Instead each book carves out a piece of the overall narrative, often leaving the rest to the side, offering only glimpses of the wider world in which the scene is set.

Tucker Stone is back again, as is his wont on Fridays, with a stripped-down column reviewing Julia Wertz and Tezuka on one hand, and old Punisher comics and unsatisfying superhero crossovers on the other.


—I'm sure some people are starting to get a little burnt out on Building Stories coverage, but The Los Angeles Review of Books has a couple more items for you to check out before you're done: the novelist Rick Moody reviewing the box set, and Casey Burchby with a top-drawer brief interview with Ware.

—The Independent has a good short profile/check-in with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat.

—David Smay at HiLobrow makes a persuasive case for forgotten Surrealist "Claude Cahun" (Lucy Schwob) being a secret influence on V For Vendetta.

—And via D&Q, video of Brecht Evens making a mural:



Today on the site we take a break from the hustle and bustle of new comics, new interviews and Building Stories to look at the great illustrator Ed Sorel. The equally esteemed illustrator and writer R.O. Blechman wrote this profile of his friend and colleague. I have great affection for both artists -- they brilliantly capture the times they pass through, and do so with wit and humanity. Along with Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Paul Davis, James McMullan and a couple others, they're kind of the last of the illustrator-humanists that briefly ruled the roost.

From the profile:

The special quality of Sorel is that he captures our zeitgeist as few artists have, and fells his victims with the rapier of irony rather than the blunderbuss of satire. In his first cover for The New Yorker, which happened to be Tina Brown’s inaugural issue, Sorel pictures a barechested, pink “Mohawked rocker arrogantly draping himself on the seat of a horse” drawn carriage. Sorel even gets the rocker’s shoes right. They are pointed like daggers at the back of the hapless driver. Traveling through the gorgeous autumn scenery of Central Park, our passenger might as well be Yeats’s rough beast “slouching towards Bethlehem.”


-Less genteel but quite articulate: the latest Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

-This possibly upcoming new magazine about actual design processes looks interesting. The editor has a good track record. Steve Heller asks some good questions.

-Image Comics artists talk about drawing.

-More on genre at The New Yorker. I would need Tim's brain to properly discuss this.

-And congrats to TCJ-contributor and pal Dash Shaw on this announcement of new comics on the way. I've seen material from both projects -- incredibly exciting stuff.




Bodies of Work

Today on the site, we have Chris Mautner's interview with Glyn Dillon, creator of the new graphic novel, The Nao of Brown. Here's a brief exchange:

MAUTNER: You were talking about your brother’s influence on you in making comics. Do you feel competitive with him?

DILLON: When I was young and just boldly, precociously going to editors and showing them my work, I think they didn’t turn me away because they knew I was Steve’s brother. If I wasn’t his brother, they might have said, “Come back when you’re a bit better.” But they’d always be kind enough to entertain me when I went into their offices and bugged them. But my brother was always very conscious of not wanting there to be any nepotism, so he never helped out. I never did any work for Deadline until he stopped editing it. It was the next phase of the editors that came in that invited me to do some work. So I didn’t feel competitive, no. Not with him. In the early days of the Internet when Google was brand-new I’d Google my name and there was some quote that said, “Glyn Dillon, Steve Dillon’s less talented brother.”


DILLON: I suppose that spurs me on a little bit, but I don’t feel direct competition with him. He’s lovely. We get on really well.

We also continue our coverage of Chris Ware's Building Stories with Joanna Davis-McElligatt's "Body Schemas", which examines the way Ware handles human physicality:

If Jimmy Corrigan is a comic about men and representations of race, then Building Stories is about women and representations of sex and gender. As such, Ware’s attention to the principles of physiognomy have turned corporeal, centered almost compulsively on the female body. His protagonist is singularly obsessed with her body’s shape and size, an attention that is often expressed as self-loathing. Women’s bodies are everywhere in Building Stories: the protagonist’s childhood, young adult, pregnant, post-baby, and middle-aged bodies; her landlord’s youthful and elderly bodies; the bodies of the protagonist’s friends, including her best friend, Stephanie, who is recurrently mocked for being “fat”; the body of her downstairs neighbor, who in middle age has developed “child-bearing hips … without bearing any child”; and the infant body of the protagonist’s daughter, Lucy, blown up to an enormous size in the middle of a page.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—The Phoenix New Times interviews Carol Tyler in advance of the final installment of You'll Never Know.

—Drew Friedman shares several personalized drawings he's received from Mad artists.

—Sean T. Collins reads and critiques 67 different comic-book issues at once.

—Matthias Wivel republishes his 2004 interview with Gary Panter.

—At the Hooded Utilitarian, Noah Berlatsky takes note of Joe Sacco, and Jacob Canfield worries about Johnny Ryan and Benjamin Marra.

—Apparently Clark Kent quit his job or something? I'm not going to link to them (such behavior should not be rewarded), but newspapers are actually reporting on this comic-book plot point as if it is news. This continual urge on the part of the media to treat fictional events as newsworthy developments is the one thing comics as an art form has going for it that no other American art form seems to, but boy does it seem dumb.


Liking Comics

Today on the site we have Joe McCulloch giving us the latest in funny book releases.

My own recent reading reading has included the new IDW/Library of American Comics-published Gasoline Alley. It's 1964-1966 by Dick Moores, who was Frank King's assistant and then successor.

I don't often use my kid-self as a gauge for comics, but I have to say, this strip, which I read five days a week throughout the 1980s, more or less signals "comics" to me. Just the lines and shapes alone remind me of straightforward enjoyment not just of the strip itself but of "comics", a category that might also include Far SideSteve Roper and Mike Nomad and Spider-Man.

Seeing this artist's work for the first time in 25 or so years has been delightful. Moores' Gasoline Alley is not King's. Moores is not graceful like King was, but instead brings mid-century solidity to the people and places. He was an exacting craftsman seemingly utterly at home in his pictorial world. This sequence, below, is crisp and clear cartooning, full of personality but all in service to the moment it depicts which, in purely formal terms, is kind of challenging. A handful of moving parts, and Moores brings the reader right in and manages wonderful extraneous details (the truck driver's face, the planks of the bridge, the mallet) as well. Like King, Moore had real graphic flair.

There's pleasure to be taken in being led through such a complete-drawn world by such a steady guide. Moores' lines are thick and resolute, his pace and attitude free of anxiety. There is no strangeness in his work. Rather, there are on-model characters that work through various situations that resolve nicely and without ambiguity. In other words, it's the fantasy America that, every now and then, I like to drop into. But better still, it's really fine and classic cartooning, and that craft, in service to a sense of decency that King established almost a century ago, makes for heartening reading.

Still elsewhere -- old comics only:

-Some early Katy Keene ovah heah!

-Some seriously incredible details in this Simon and Kirby spread.

-Abe Lincoln: always good for comics.


Nudder Time

Another week begins, and the Chris Ware/Building Stories mini-symposium isn't over yet. Today we have Georgiana Banta's essay on the book, focusing in on Ware's use of silence. An excerpt:

In a separate series of snow-suffused panels, the monologue of the heartbroken protagonist juxtaposes the silence of despair with the soothing quiet of expected, even longed-for extinction. She looks through the film of falling snow to imagine her death, and the relief that death would bring her, and to remember the sense-enhancing silence of childhood, of long Saturdays spent drawing. In the longer flipbook the snow burial appears in a different, more emollient light. In the diaper-change scene our gaze wanders to the snow-coated windows behind the doting mother. We realize the snow doesn’t layer any higher from one panel to the next, which tells us how much time has passed in between panels. It’s a matter of minutes, which fall here as slowly and lackadaisically as snowflakes. The wordless flipbook suggests a dilated, endlessly elastic sense of time by monitoring the almost imperceptibly shifting curlings of a cat asleep on the bed. In moments such as these the silence is situational rather than imposed, and the quiet lull of the panels emerges from the unnaturally prolonged focus on naturally quiet phases of life.

We also have Rob Clough's review of Circles Cycles Circuits, by Dunja Jankovic.


—Rachel Cooke reviews Building Stories at The Guardian. The one thing that has surprised me most so far about the reception to this book is how many people have been disappointed that Ware has given no set reading order—it's as if the very idea of making sense of the book independently of the author makes them anxious.

—Big Interviews, Dept.: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez talk entertainingly and at length with the A.V. Club, and Julia Wertz talks to Tom Spurgeon.

—Gary Panter has a short tribute to mangaka/tv hero Yoshikazu Ebisu.

—Philip Nel has written up a NYC Crockett Johnson-based walking tour.

—And for a certain segment of the comics world, Caleb Mozzocco is sadly right.


Paper Compulsions

Ok then. Here we are.

We have the sixth in our series of essays on Building Stories, this one by Margaret Fink, focusing on the central character's disability.

What we have among these papers is the funny high-low meeting of major human questions of how we make meaning, how we know things, and how to act (hermeneutic, epistemological, and ethical concerns) with the ordinariness of tourist traffic, toast, fellatio, and Facebook.  So many of the novel’s reviewers explicate beautifully how Ware is asking us to think about how meaning is made, and how the odd format unsettles routine reading practices, but as far as the ways in which gender, race, and ability inflect the protagonist’s experience, there’s been an eerie silence.  The critical—and potentially political—clout that Building Stories wields risks going unnoticed, perhaps, because of its subtlety and its embeddedness in the mundane. Oppressive, and unfortunately still normative, interpretations of disability see it as a life-wrecking condition, a subhuman existence; if a way of seeing or representing starts from these assumptions, disability as a characteristic of a human being metastatizes, becoming the only salient feature. If the New York Times run I analyzed in TCCW managed to represent disability as something quotidian by mostly eliding it in the verbal register, this novel form of Building Stories has managed to represent disability as having a real weight in the unfolding of a life without making it exert the kind of overwhelming gravitational pull that ableist interpretations of disability have to assume.

And Tucker Stone and co. bring what they need to bring to those that need to need it.

Because the combination is irresistible, here's Tucker, Joe McCulloch, Matt Seneca and Chris Mautner talking about Building Stories.

More Building Stories, this time by Douglas Wolk in the NY Times Book Review.

Other topics and other places:

Tom Spurgeon has the most cogent analysis of this week's Shuster/Superman decision.

Here's an interview with Sammy Harkham, whose Everything Together I published.

This is a funny and fairly true post about trying to get published over at First Second. I'm not quite so gung-ho on collaboration or super duper niceness, per se, but a sense of being human beings in it together is important, that's for sure. That sense is indeed pretty rare.

Hey, it's Virgil Finlay, who looks better and better with every passing year. I like a fantasy artist not afraid to be out and out weird.

Here's a piece of a debate about the fuuuuttttturrrre of books.



Bubbling Up

And today we take a brief break from our ongoing Building Stories fest to offer something a little different, Brandon Soderberg's interview with Josh Simmons, creator of one of 2012's most underappreciated books, The Furry Trap, who's now also a filmmaker. Here's one exchange:

SODERBERG: Let's talk about sequencing the stories in The Furry Trap. It seems like the main stories are organized so that each one is darker than the previous one. It says a lot that "In A Land Of Magic" – which depicts a wizard neck-fucked by a rage-filled knight – is the most humorous, but I do feel like each story moves readers into a harsher world.

SIMMONS: Overall, the stories do get less funny, and less fantasy-based. The most obvious way to see this is to compare the first story to the last. "Magic" is the most cartoonishly drawn, it's brightly colored, and obviously fantastic in its subject matter. With "Demonwood", I tried to do a naturalistic strip in terms of the drawing, the characters, the coloring, and even, the supernatural elements. At the same time however, the stories also generally, become less graphic. The idea of leaving the worst of it up to the reader's imagination works not just in individual stories, but in the final story in relation to the rest of the book. "Demonwood" shows no sex or violence at all. Yet, what is going to happen is described very clearly, and it is maybe the harshest story of all.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Fast Company talks to Scott McCloud about how the ideas he laid out in Understanding Comics relate to, uh, business leadership. I am allergic to this kind of talk, and am thus unable to tell you anything useful about it except that it exists.

—The cartoonist and publisher Tom Kaczynski is profiled by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Uncivilized Books is one of the most intriguing small and relatively new companies out there.

—According to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. has just won a major ruling in the ongoing Superman rights case. This will likely head to appeal.

—Missed this Editor & Publisher interview with Richard Thompson earlier this week about the end of Cul de Sac.

—If I lived in Cleveland, I'd get this new library card.

—WFMU's Benjamen Walker paid Gary Panter a studio visit.

—Finally, Joe Procopio sent me an e-mail about a guest post at Today's Inspiration he wrote about "the lost art" of Heinrich Kley, and I'm glad he did.


Beach Bully

Well now here's some more Chris Ware for you. The latest in our series, this one by Matt Godbey covering the implications for urban life in Building Stories.

Today, more than ever, cities are defined by a near constant sense flux which has the effect of leaving us feeling disoriented and overcome by a flood nostalgic memories, both real and imagined, for cities as they used to exist and the lives we lived in those past iterations. In the face of the provisional nature of the urban experience, buildings offer at least the possibility of order and structure, no matter how messy the lives of the inhabitants they contain.

Ware assembles Building Stories as the literal embodiment of this messiness, self-consciously subverting linear narrative conventions in the box’s structure in order to reflect and shape the stories told inside. Throughout the strips, time constantly shifts and circles back on itself, which parallels the circuitous nature of time in our daily lives.

And TCJ-columnist Craig Fischer spoke to the artist himself and comes to us with a report on that encounter and how it affected his perception of the publication.

Building Stories taxes our abilities to build a tight story out of its discourse fragments. If you begin the book by reading one of the “Branford Bee” pamphlets, for instance, and then read the volume designed as a children’s Little Golden Book, you’ll be hard-pressed to see connections between the two. You’ll have to wait until you stumble across the panel in yet another piece of Building Stories that indicates that “Branford Bee” is a bedtime story that the central protagonist sometimes reads to her daughter. Yet even though this information places “Branford Bee” in the same world as the human characters, it doesn’t tell us the order in which we should read “Bee” in relation to the main narrative. I suspect that no matter how much I analyze Building Stories, some challenges and ambiguities will remain.

Elsewhere (old comics and no comics):

D&Q goes Rookie in NYC. I missed these parties and now I have to live with my regrets.

-Oh that Turok!

-Some nice and weird early Jack Cole comics here.

-Jog has a great story about Jesus. Of course.

Waaaay off topic, let's take a moment and look at some moments in this Bob Montana 1963 Archie Sunday.

Look at Veronica's swim cap. What a wonderful rubber pattern. Check out the porcupine-like hair on the bully. And then look at how the bottom tier builds to a (classic) crowd scene and the comes down with a gag. Woof. Great workman-like cartooning.