Big Things

Today we publish one of the pieces I have been most excited about since Dan and I began editing this website, the return of the great Carter Scholz. Longtime readers of this magazine will know that name well, but for those who don't, Scholz was one of the great Comics Journal writers, and to my mind one of the greatest science fiction critics in any publication. Perhaps his most famous essay for TCJ was his "Seduction of the Ignorant", in issue 80, but he wrote a lot more than that. If you're a subscriber, and don't know his work, head to the archives immediately. In more recent years, he is better known as a fiction writer, and his novel Radiance is strongly recommended. Now Scholz is back, with a review of Gary Panter's long-awaited Dal Tokyo collection. Here's an excerpt:

...[Think] of it as a comic strip, a periodic commitment. A blog before and after its time, a day book spanning three pitiless decades. Each strip of the first series is time-stamped, by hand, to the minute, testimony to Panter’s living and working and recording in the here-and-now of it.

Not that there is ever (but once) anything like direct comment on our own here-and-now; Dal Tokyo is set on “Mars.” From Panter’s preface: “Jimbo and my other cartoon characters live on Mars in a well-established planet-wide sprawl of a city that was founded by Japanese and Texans.” The first four pages of the “story” are a beautiful set of overlay maps with these titles: Tokyo rail system 1930; Upper Triassic; Texas highways; Lowell Observatory 1896 (a map of Percival Lowell’s fancied “canals” of Mars).

So yes, we could pretend that Dal Tokyo is “science fiction” set on a terraformed Mars settled by Japanese and Texans, with some dinosaurs (they did roam in Texas) thrown in — and I’d vote for it in an instant in the Hugo or Nebula awards — but it’s more fundamentally a construct in the surreal obsessive-compulsive imagination of Gary Panter, a longtime occupant, a lifer, on our own Planet Xtinction, as astute and ornery and doomed as William Burroughs before him — another refugee from the flat middle of the country where you can see what’s coming for you a long way off — with a febrile subconscious informed by the relentless boombox of American empire, corruption, hypocrisy, media, and the manifold collisions that ensue.

Elsewhere on the internet, there is plenty to read, but very little as fine as that. Let's do the roll call all the same:

—This weekend saw the publication of the final syndicated Cul de Sac strip from Richard Thompson. Michael Cavna at the Washington Post has gathered comments on the strip's end from cartoonists ranging from Bill Watterson to Lynn Johnston.

The Guardian has the first formal review of Chris Ware's awe-inspiring Building Stories I've seen. I'm about halfway through the book myself, and it's already clearly an astounding achievement, and a certain landmark for what can be accomplished in comics for decades if not longer.

—Darryl Ayo shares some misgivings about Benjamin Marra's comics prompted by our recent interview with the artist.

—Big Other has an interview with Gabrielle Bell.

—Alan Moore made his first convention appearance in a very long time at an event called N.I.C.E. Bleeding Cool reports on his Q&A session, in which he apparently made some intemperate remarks about Stan Lee. [UPDATE: Stereoket has audio of the whole thing.] Coincidentally (probably), Sean Howe republished the first part of a long essay Moore wrote about Stan Lee in 1983.

—There are still a few straggling SPX reports worth reading coming in from such as Dustin Harbin, Rob Clough, and (again) Tom Spurgeon.

—Finally, Jim Rugg demonstrates how to make a zine.


Walking Talking

On the site today:

Tucker Stone returns with some Daredevil, some Love and Rockets, some Abhay and some new comics, too.

And in case you haven't been following along, yesterday Dave Sim responded to Kim Thompson's thoughts over in our comments section. There will be more.


Tom Spurgeon brings us a definitive SPX recap.

And... links are dull today. Let me instead recommend a comic to you: Leslie Stein's epic story "Jonathan Part 1". Briefly, a single mother and her two children visit a friend and her child at the beach. The children play. The mother meets a man, Jonathan, and becomes involved. It's a seemingly casual tour of a very rocky emotional landscape (childhood, parents and parental figures, illness), drawn with a care and devotion I hardly ever see anymore. Leslie's pointillist panels reveal a ton but never impede the story -- and instead kind of float along as the weight of the characters accumulates. That's kind of what I mean by "epic" -- this comic brings you through multiple stations of life in just 17 pages, compressing tumultuous child and adult needs and emotions into a handful of events. Anyhow, there's your weekend reading.



Moving Fast

Today, we have Rob Clough's review of this year's big Joe Sacco collection, Journalism.

Most of Sacco's stories are bleak, but there's often a small kernel of hope. Things might get better for the downtrodden, war might end, tyrants might fall, freedoms might increase. This doesn't usually happen or guarantee happiness, but sometimes a new steady state emerges that doesn't always produce misery. In Sacco's last story in the book, "Kushinagar", there is no hope, in part because the steady state is so thoroughly entrenched. Sacco visits a number of small villages in the titular region of India and spends time with Musahars, the lowest of the low in India's caste system. While there is misery and squalor depicted in each of Sacco's stories, this one details actual starvation and true deprivation. The Musahars cannot find employment in an increasingly mechanized system of agriculture. They cannot usually raise crops on their tiny plots of land, especially since they have to sell that land to pay off debts to banks they had to take out to pay off loan sharks to buy food on credit. The many government subsidy programs are hopelessly corrupt, with money and supplies going to village chiefs and siphoned off for the profit of higher caste members. Some Musahars described digging around in rat holes to get the grain that they steal in order to survive.


—Three publishers known for their excellent post-con blog reports have posted post-SPX blog reports: AdHouse, Fantagraphics, and Secret Acres. Especially that last one. Usually the royal we gives me hives, but somehow they always pull it off.

—The L.A. Review of Books' coverage of comics has slowed down, but it's not gone completely. This week, they published F.X. Feeney on Walt Kelly's Pogo.

—Marc Sobel, whose upcoming Love & Rockets book I'm greatly looking forward to, has penned two pieces for Comics Forum on lesser-known Alan Moore stories.

—I don't know what to think about this study claiming that fat guys who dig Batman have better self-images than fat guys who don't (besides the obvious fact that just one study like this basically proves nothing), but there you go.

—Junot Diaz, whose love of comics is obvious from his own fiction, took Vol. 1 Brooklyn to St. Mark's Comics to talk about his favorite titles.

—A couple of columnists have joined the Hooded Utilitarian hatefest: Shaenon Garrity on assorted titles, and Craig Fischer on David Small's Stitches.

—And Stephen Bissette's ongoing, enjoyable series on Steve Ditko moves on to tackle how Ditko is portrayed in Sean Howe's new Marvel history.



Today on the site:

Matt Seneca sits down for an in-depth interview with the cartoonist (Night Business, Gangsta Rap Posse) and publisher Benjamin Marra, who has carved out a fascinating body of work with deep roots in genre comics and an articulate, idiosyncratic worldview. I'm glad Matt asked him about some of his more controversial material. Here's a bit:

SENECA: I remember when people saw Night Business, everyone was saying that this was the fucking Paul Gulacy comic. How conscious were you of that influence?

MARRA: I mean, Gulacy was influential in a similar way to Laming and Stokes. It wasn’t as direct, but one thing I loved about Gulacy was just the attitude that he brought to drawing figures, it was just so intense, the way that he drew. Some of those Master of Kung-Fu issues, it’s the most intense comic book art I’ve ever seen. There’s one of them specifically, number 40, that blows my mind every single time I look at it. It’s the best comic book ever illustrated, in my opinion. I mean, as far as a total body of work goes, Kirby is the best. But this one issue, the emotional intensity that he had when he was drawing, it overrides any mistakes or lack of drawing ability. It’s sort of like Giotto in a way; the emotional intensity he brought to the images is so powerful it makes up for any drawbacks or flaws he might have as an image maker. Gulacy’s stuff is a little off, but it doesn’t matter because he’s just so committed to it. That’s what I wanted Night Business to feel like, one of the Master of Kung-Fu issues that Gulacy drew. It’s stuff he drew when he was probably like 19 or 20, so it kinda has that teenage mentality to it, you can tell it means so much to him even though it’s just this Bruce Lee knockoff comic, you know? It’s just capitalizing on this craze from that time! It doesn’t matter! But to him, it’s everything. And that’s what I wanted. It’s just so intense that you could feel it by looking at it.


-Eric Reynolds has an SPX photo round-up.

-Molly Crabapple tweeted about her arrest during an OWS protest on Monday.

-A Bernie Fuchs sketchbook.

-Ohhh, William Overgard.

-And finally, an interview with Adam Kubert in which he addresses the future of his father's school.


Pun TK

It's Tuesday, which means it's Joe McCulloch on the Week in Comics day. This time, his normal painstaking previews of the best-sounding comics of the week are being supplemented with a painstaking report on most everything he bought at last weekend's SPX.

Like Dan, I felt that this was one of the best SPX's I've attended. The guest list and panel programming was incredibly strong, the attendance seemed never to wane (but it never felt overcrowded), and a lot of people who don't normally come out came out. Tom Spurgeon was there, and has his traditional post-con report up here. If I remember correctly, he said he hadn't been to SPX in over a decade. This was a good year to come back.

Heidi MacDonald has a more business-oriented report up at Publishers Weekly. Special guest/Crockett Johnson biographer Philip Nel talks about his experience on a Barnaby panel here. And many more SPX reports are sure to come. If you want the full package, I'd keep checking in on the SPX Tumblr page, which shows no signs of slowing down yet. Probably the only part of the whole weekend that didn't quite work came in the form of super-corny presentation banter during the Ignatz award ceremony, but that's maybe unavoidable. All in all, a great time.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—Paul Gravett explores the comics connections of the great filmmaker Federico Fellini, with a particular emphasis on his collaborations with Milo Manara.
—The New Statesman runs a long interview with Grant Morrison on his apparent departure from superhero comics, in which Morrison explains why he doesn't actually think Batman's gay, and how he's not a sellout for being honored by the queen, along with an assist from reporter Laura Sneddon, who helpfully explains for him why people are wrong not only to judge Morrison for his association with DC's business practices (probably fair), but also for Morrison's own "pragmatic" statements on DC's treatment of Siegel & Shuster. That part I'm not really following. (There also seems to be a buried reference to a semi-regular contributor, but I'll let you find that for yourself.)

—Allan Holtz profiles pioneering female cartoonist Ethel Hays.

—Humor in America has a solid review of Gabrielle Bell's new collection, The Voyeurs.

—Bobsy Mindless has all the Avengers vs X-Men analysis you need.

—And Forbidden Planet has videos displaying the jazz side of Harvey Pekar.


Those Long Days

Well it was quite a weekend. I'm still swimming in it.

On the site today: Dave Sim's response to the publishing offers from Fantagraphics, one of which was made on this very site (scroll down for more). As you may know, Dave Sim and The Comics Journal have a long and contentious history. Here's an excerpt from today's piece:

Let’s assume we could “do a deal” and let’s assume further that we could have the deal done by this time next year. Even releasing one book a year — with the kind of contextualizing that you’re talking about — which would be extremely optimistic, I think… and I’d imagine with your long experience in publishing you would agree… at best we would be talking about a contract through to 2029. Given how quickly everything is changing in terms of technology and publishing — practically on a daily basis — that would be really foolish on my part.

SPX 2012 was easily the best in the festival's history, and one of the best comics events I've ever been to. Warren Bernard and co., along with a ton of able and cheerful volunteers achieved a great balance between commerce, art, scholarship and... carousing. And for me that means incredibly strong sales, interesting conversations and off-color stories about forgotten cartoonists and comic book store owners of the 1980s. I have no perspective on the actual books at the show because I was selling PictureBox books all weekend. I heard from both panelists and attendees that the programming was especially strong this year and it seemed like the layout of the show easy to navigate and low-stress. I also remain impressed with the partnership between SPX and the Library of Congress -- both the collecting aspect of it and the institution's willingness to host cartoonists in its stacks.

I'm sure there'll be plenty of other round-up posts in the coming days. For now, here are your Ignatz winners.


A Few Innocuously Drawn Charred Limbs

The megacorporate gods are displeased, and have silenced Tucker Stone's home internet capabilities once again, so unfortunately his "Comics of the Weak" column will not be appearing at its normal time. With any luck, Tucker will be able to get something in later today tonight, so stay tuned...

On the other hand, we have the final triumphant day of John Porcellino's five-day diary of his time in Gainesville, Florida, teaching a seminar at SAW. Thanks, John!


—The Hooded Utilitarian has republished some vintage Comics Journal invective in the form of Ng Suat Tong's infamous 2003 takedown, "EC Comics and the Chimera of Memory", as well as the critical back-and-forth between Ng and Blood & Thunder veteran R. Fiore that later ensued.

I think there's more to EC's admittedly uneven science fiction, crime, and horror comics than Ng does, and believe that the MAD and Kurtzman war material fully deserve their canonical status, but Ng's essay (especially when paired with its epistolary aftermath) is in its own way a weird kind of classic, vividly memorable nearly a decade later, and still capable of provoking fruitful argument. It's also wrongheaded and tendentious, which doesn't at all mean he doesn't land a few successful body blows on the indisputably flawed corpus behind the EC legend. But not only does he repeatedly ignore historical context and make several more-than-dubious assertions (such as his claim that Bernie Krigstein "had neither the desire nor capabilities to develop"), he also avoids almost all discussion of formal concerns, a pretty grievous flaw in this particular argument. I don't agree with everything in Fiore's response either, but I think he largely has Ng's number. The tell is Ng's clearly rattled response, full of bluster and unconvincing accusations (I'm sure an older, wiser Ng could do much better now) -- my favorite moment comes when he tries to downplay Fiore's point about the realism of Kurtzman's war comics by saying that the aftermath of a napalm attack in Frontline Combat is only shown by "no more than a few innocuously drawn charred limbs." Yeah, geez, charred limbs, big deal—what a cop out.

Ng doesn't mention it, but there's also an American soldier in that panel, standing over the carnage and exclaiming, "What a mess!" Which is more or less what I affectionately say now about this whole kerfuffle, which I would have happily published again today if it had been submitted (albeit with a bit of editorial back-and-forth first to fill in logical holes and sharpen the points); whatever merits there may be to particular arguments expressed here, it raises important questions worth tackling.

—SAW has announced their micro-grant winners.

—Joe Sacco is interviewed at the popular literary weblog, The Millions.

—Douglas Wolk reviews Gabrielle Bell's The Voyeurs for Print.

—Tom Spurgeon interviews SPX executive director Warren Bernard, who has perhaps the greatest comics collection I've ever seen -- and I've seen a lot of impressive comics collections.

—I don't think Spurgeon is wrong to be dismayed by the comments thread in the Sandra Fluke cartoon he discusses here, but I do think it's always a mistake to make any generalizations about the wider state of things or the effectiveness of arguments based only on the narrow, self-selecting band of humanity driven to fight it out in comments threads. But I make that same mistake all the time, so I sympathize.

The Onion has a story about a religious cartoon sure to please many.

—Nicholson Baker is a big Tintin fan.

—When Jack Kirby was 14, he wanted to draw cartoons for The New Yorker. Here's one of his rejected submissions.

—This review of the new Judge Dredd movie is only 35 words and one comics panel long, but it makes me feel like I've seen the film already. Though to be fair I felt like that before I read the review, too.

—In further not-exactly-comics news, they're making Fun Home into a musical.



Good morning. Today on the site we have R.C. Harvey's account of Chic Young and Blondie, the classic (and still-running) comic strip, which includes this choice bit:

Before Blondie debuted, it enjoyed a legendary promotional campaign that began (as Walker tells us) when newspaper editors around the country were sent an announcement of the engagement of Dagwood Bumstead to Blondie Boopadoop. This was followed by a letter from the Bumstead attorney, who alleged the engagement announcement was “a pure fabrication of fancy, if not a malicious attempt on the part of this Miss Blondie Boopadoop.” After which came a handwritten note from Blondie herself, protesting her innocence and saying she’d soon arrive to explain “in person.” She also said she was sending her luggage on ahead: “When you get it, hold it for me and don’t peek inside.”

A few days later, a cardboard suitcase was delivered to editors’ offices, with a note from Blondie, admonishing: “Don’t peek into it.” It being a blatant promotion, everyone peeked. The suitcase contained women’s clothing—for a paper doll. Next, as promised, Blondie herself arrived—a cut-out paper doll in her lingerie. With a note: “Here I am, just like I told you I’d be. Only, please, Mr. Editor, put some clothes on me quick. I sent them on ahead, you remember my pink bag. I’m so embarrassed! Blondie.”

And John Porcellino rolls on with Day 4 of his diary.

Elsewhere in the world it's video time:

Big congrats to artists and TCJ-contributors Dash Shaw and Frank Santoro on this gorgeous and moving music video or Sigur Ros.

And check out this new ongoing web series, featuring some serious Ron Rege visuals: We Can Do It!

Oh, it's the unlikely but heartwarming Dennis Fujitake week over at Michel Fiffe's place.

And lastly, remember the time Jim Starlin took acid and road an elevator? No? Luckily Sean Howe does.