Old One Hundred

We begin another week today, as always with an installment of Frank Santoro's Riff Raff. This week is double-sized, as he recruits guest reviews from Ariel LeBeau and Matt Seneca, and includes an e-mail interview of his own with Simon Hanselsmann.

We also bring you Sean T. Collins's review of the new Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009. His reaction is measured:

Moore’s oft-expressed, arguably oxymoronic, simultaneously held ignorance and contempt of contemporary entertainment leaves his stab at a post-millennial literary mash-up a much less comprehensive, more idiosyncratic venture than past installments of this long-running series. The events of the issue are dominated almost entirely by pastiches of the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, both of which he reduces basically to bad jokes: The various movie Bonds are a series of replacement agents who’ve all aged in real time, up to and including a wheelchair-bound nonagenarian version kept alive by M (who’s also Emma Peel) as punishment for being a dick; Harry is the Antichrist, which discovery he celebrates by massacring everyone at Hogwarts before transforming into a giant with hundreds of eyeballs all over his body who shoots lightning out of his dick. Nods to the two TV shows Moore has admitted to watching over the past decade are almost disproportionately prominent: The fathers of half the cast of The Wire are the protagonists of the prose backup story, while the fellow who curses creatively in all those YouTube supercuts assembled from Armando Iannucci’s various enterprises does so here for two full pages.

Personally, I haven't known quite what to make of any of the Century volumes so far, and probably won't until at least one more re-read—they are too dense for me to entirely parse on first attempt. (Although in general, I think that Sean and the other critics I've read assume far more contemporary cultural ignorance on Moore's part than is actually demonstrated. There are a lot more than two recent tv series referenced in it, to pick one example... Of course, some of the references are extremely hard to spot, which may be another kind of flaw.) But anyway, when I do re-read it, I am sure that the new annotations from Jess Nevins will help, and in the meantime, the Mindless Ones have begun their own series on Century, and it's the kind of long, wide-ranging critical conversation they do best.

—Rodrigo Baeza investigates the non-Marvel work of letterer Artie Simek.

—Michael Dooley interviews JT Waldman about his work on one of the more interesting looking posthumous Harvey Pekar projects, Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me.

—Tom Spurgeon interviews Jessica Abel and Matt Madden about their upcoming move to France and their most recent book, Mastering Comics. (We have an interview with the pair too that was conducted a while back and should appear soon, once it makes its way through the transcription process at our Seattle offices.)

—Christopher Irving has a nice, long interview with Peter Bagge, one of the great comics talkers. Here's a brief excerpt of his discussion about when Hate sold out:

“We – meaning me and Fantagraphics – started selling ads so we could expand the page count and run color comics by other artists without raising the cover price. Rick Altergott was the first, with his soon-to-be-regular regular ‘Doofus’ strip. Rick knew how to use Photoshop, which was still a fairly rare skill back in 1995, and I was really impressed with the full color comic strips he had done on it. He also was understandably eager to see his color work in print, but the only way we could afford to include him or anyone else in Hate was by selling ads.

“Well, it was that or raise the price, which I was loathe to do. I was determined to keep Hate’s cover price as low as possible back then, since I associated that with accessibility. A lower price meant someone was more likely to buy it on an impulse, thus making Hate double as a recruiting tool or introductory title to indy comics in general. Which it was to some degree, though I’ve come to realize that it was pretty futile of me to try to make anything published by a company like Fantagraphics cheap and ‘accessible.’ Trying to create ephemera just doesn’t fit into their business model, since it ignores the fact that alternative comics – and at this point, all comic books – are and always will be a specialty item that only appeals to a small subset of the general public. I deeply regret and resent that that’s the case, but I’ve finally realized that there’s no point in fighting it, either.

—Andrew Wheeler's long, annotated list of fifty LGBT characters and comics for Comics Alliance is much more thorough and thoughtful than those kinds of lists usually turn out to be.

—And in the New York Times, film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis talk about the soul-deadening nature of what they call "comic-book movies" (superhero movies to you and me) for ever and ever and ever.


Shoes Off

Hear that? No? Me too. It's quiet out there in comics land. I mean, there is a gentle humming of the usual controversies and complaints, but really, it's summer and there's a slow-down afoot. I mean, unless you count SDCC, but I'm not going, and really, why go when I can just read Tom Spurgeon's reports. Soooo much more satisfying. Anyhow, on with the day I guess?

Tucker Stone slows down for no one, and so here he is to get you through the weekend.

And Rob Clough reviews Nelson, the enormous British comics project.

Elsewhere online:

Here's David Brothers on Garth Ennis. Everyone tries to get me into Garth Ennis, but so far I think I only liked his Punisher series. R. Fiore has me wanting to read The Shadow, though. See, I'm susceptible. Oh, and holy shit, did you all read Funnybook Roulette on Wednesday? It's nice to publish one of the all-time greatest writers about comics. I mean, he went from Chester Brown to Alex Ross without skipping a beat. That's just goooood.

And the great R.O. Blechman was recently inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame and here's a fine profile on The Atlantic site. Blechman's work is worth seeking out in any form, whether the recent short story collection that D&Q released or his incredibly fun monograph, Behind the Lines, which is now out of print but really important. Jeet Heer interviewed the artist for us last year.

And finally, hey, it's Vern Greene! I love to read about Vern Greene, one of the great personalities in comic strips. Not a major talent, but an important figure and I guy it woulda been fun to chat with.


Puffs of Smoke

Today Jeet Heer is back again with a new column, using examples from Seth's latest release, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, to make the case that the cartoonist has been largely misunderstood. An excerpt:

I’ve written in the past about the process whereby cartoonists invent their ancestors. I meant by that something very banal and literal: the cultural recuperation of Frank King by Chris Ware and Doug Wright by Seth, both cases where the cartoonist being recovered can now be seen as a predecessor of their later-day champion. But Seth has been engaged in the task of inventing ancestors in a more imaginative way as well. In both A Good Life and in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (or The G.N.B. Double C) Seth very convincingly makes up cartoonists who serve as role-models for the type of work he wants to do.

And Sean T. Collins has a review of Gabriella Giandelli's recent graphic novel Interiorae. An excerpt:

Using a mystical cartoon white rabbit as a sort of spirit-slash-tour guide — half Virgil, half Harvey — Interiorae depicts the discrete, discreet lives of various residents in an apartment building, whose dreams fuel a big, whiny black blob called the Great Dark One that lives in the basement and serves as the building’s heart and soul. The patina of magic realism enlivens the slice-of-lifey material: an old woman dreams of making a grand exit with the help of her immigrant caretaker, a bored housewife makes a big show of cheating on her workaholic husband where everyone can see, a teenager dreams of running off to meet a rock star, a misanthropic horticulturalist alternately accepts and rejects the advances of a promiscuous and attractive neighbor, a boy whose parents are freshly and unpleasantly separated escapes into superheroes and visions of the rabbit himself. It's familiar material.

Elsewhere, there be links:

—Speaking of Jeet, he has a new review of Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? at the Globe & Mail, and recommends another one of Chester Brown's Ed the Happy Clown at Maclean's.

—The always-worth-reading Christopher Butcher reacts to the disconcerting new trend of professional publishers resorting to online fundraisers such as Kickstarter. [Argh. I forgot that Dan mentioned this yesterday. But two can play at this game, because yesterday, he stole my Sendak/NYRB link from Friday. So... I guess that's twice as bad, actually. Anyway, the Butcher post is still definitely worth a look.]

—Salon has reprinted a Steven Heller article chronicling the history of Italian comics, with a particular emphasis on photo-comics.

—John Adcock digs up another valuable find, this time from a dusty 1917 issue of Cartoons magazine: "How the Comickers Regard Their Characters".

—Matt Seneca, whose enthusiasm is never set lower than 11, praises the genuinely underappreciated Greg Irons, and his Light.

—Missed it/not comics: Terry Gilliam has listed his ten favorite animated films.


All Thumbs

Today we bring you the latest from R. Fiore, who not only discusses the new edition of Ed the Happy Clown, but also has a lengthy disquisition on variant comic book covers for The Shadow, and actually quite a bit more. This one'll keep you busy for a while. Here's a bit about The Shadow:

The prime beneficiaries of the alternate cover come on opposite sides of the consumption spectrum. At one extreme is the collector-loon, who likes nothing more than to have something more to collect. For this buyer Dynamite supplies not only 4 or 5 evenly distributed variant cover designs, but God’s own number of hyper-rare “retailer incentive” variants for collectors to war over. On the other end of the spectrum is the buyer of the collected edition, which will contain all the variants as an appendix. For the buyer who wants to read the comics as they come out but will be damned if he’s going to be gulled into buying more than one copy of the same comic book, it becomes a matter of dubious consumer choice. You are called upon to choose how your comic book is going to be decorated in the same way you choose what color car you’re going to drive. Or more charitably, you are promoted to a practical art critic through the act of choosing.


-He brought us some attention this week... here's a fine appreciation of Maurice Sendak from the New York Review of Books.

-Prompted by a recent Tezuka fundraising campaign, Christopher Butcher posted a series of thoughts about Kickstarter. Last week Tim mentioned the ongoing Kickstarter discussions. I'm glad there's some public debate about it.

-Mike Gartland's Failure to Communicate, a series of close readings of the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee comic book stories focused on the tension between Kirby's intentions and Lee's published versions, is now online at the Jack Kirby Museum.

-Cartoonist Brandon Graham checks in with one of his extremely fun updates on all things in his world.

-And finally, via Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand comes news of sad cutbacks at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Here's a petition should you wish to get involved.


Making Comics Fans Happy Since ’76

Today, Joe McCulloch brings us word of the latest comics, and somewhat troublingly continues his ingenuous focus on the work of Sammy Harkham favorite Tim Vigil. (Well, the folks at D&Q will be happy.)

The lobrow yu(c)ks continue in Brandon Soderberg's review of Pat Aulisio's Bowman 2016, a loose riff on/rip-off of/sequel to 2001. An excerpt:

Bowman 2016 has a warts-and-all approach to science fiction that recalls films like Alien or Silent Running as much as the heady, sophisticated Kubrick classic. The Bowman series’ brilliance comes from the way that Aulisio attacks 2001 like an adoring slavish fan of the originals, and a snarky jokester, who deflates the whole thing with Porky’s-esque dick jokes and gritty, autobio comics emotion.


—The animation historian Michael Barrier reviews a new Thomas Andrae & Carsten Laqua book on Walt Kelly.

—Chris Mautner remembers Matt Groening's Life in Hell.

—Tim O'Shea interviews Mike Dawson about Troop 142 (and Mike explains why he had to stop producing podcasts for this site).

—Michael Shelley's WFMU program this past Saturday included a brief interview with Mark Newgarden about Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. (It starts at about an hour-and-a-half in, if you don't feel like listening to the music.)

—Famed convention reporter (and cartoonist) Brian Ralph has photos and stories from the just-past Heroes Con in Charlotte.

—And Kramers Ergot contributor Shary Boyle was chosen to represent Canada in next year's Venice Biennale.


Bulletin Board Art

Welcome to the new week. Yesterday on the site Frank Santoro put up his latest New Talent Showcase, this time with guest writer Ariel LeBeau.

And R.C. Harvey comes in with his latest profile, this time of the underrated adventure cartoonist Zack Mosley. Mosley had a great feel for the grotesque, which, as you'll learn, he came by via the great Chicago cartooning school, not to mention a serendipitous hiring of Boody Rogers. Here's a taste:

While waiting for an appointment, he wandered in to Walter Berndt's office, and after canoodling a little about Berndt's strip, Smitty, Mosley heard some startling news: Patterson was about to double the Sunday comic section to sixteen pages. Before Mosley had time to rejoice at the timing of his errand, Berndt went on to explain that the new strips would be selected from 400 candidates already on exhibition awaiting the Captain's decision. Mosley decided to enhance the odds in this 400-1 shot: he would go ahead and see Patterson in order to show his strip personally.

The Captain was not impressed. "You're a lousy artist," he said when he saw Mosley's samples. "But you seem to know a lot about aviation. How much pilot time have you had?"

And elsewhere:

Tom Spurgeon has an excellent interview with Ed Brubaker, in which they discuss Marvel, Before Watchmen, and ownership. It's your essential read of the week.

The Mindless Ones has a fine installment of its podcast, Silence!

Over at our kind publisher's site, Kim Thompson has notes on the latest Tardi book, New York Mon Amour.

And finally, here's "The Impudent Excursion" by Edward Gorey, from the May 1962 issue of Holiday.


Wake Up

Today, we bring you the tireless Rob Clough's review of Kevin Pyle's Take What You Can Carry, and Kristian Williams's review of the recently released facsimile edition of Shannon Wheeler's Too Much Coffee Man #1.

Also, I want to let Tucker Stone fans know that unforeseen circumstances have delayed the writing of this week's column. So you'll have to think of your own reasons not to buy or read new action comics this morning.


—In the New York Review of Books, Alison Lurie has a nice appreciation of Maurice Sendak.

—Alex Pappademas contributes a fine personal remembrance of Matt Groening's Life in Hell to Grantland. He gets at a lot of what's great about the strip, and I hope other pieces like this continue to appear, because there's so much to unpack. I am sorry to see the end of Life in Hell myself, but also pretty excited to see what Groening does in its place -- I would very much like to see what he might do with long-form comics, for example.

—In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, critic Mark Dery talks a little about working on an upcoming biography of Edward Gorey:

MD: [...] The problem is that the guy was a brain-wrenching polymath. And there’s every bit of evidence to suggest that he was one of those vanishingly rare creatures, the true hyperlexic, someone who begins reading at a very, very early age — probably around age three, all the evidence suggests. And I don’t mean Pat the Bunny. By somewhere around six, he claimed, he was reading Henry James. He had certainly read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula by that age; that’s adequately evidenced. He does concede, in a number of interviews, “I can’t imagine I understood James at that age,” but he did toil through some of his books, and then later went on to both read James’s entire corpus and then emerge an inveterate James-loather. He had an absolutely unalloyed detestation for James, but for whatever incomprehensible reason, felt the need to read him and, on occasion, even reread him!

MG: What was it about James that he didn’t like?

MD: He felt James was an over-explainer. And, as I said, Gorey is sort of Derridean in the sense that he’s profoundly convinced in his bones of the inadequacy of language, and even of art, even as he is simultaneously convinced of their ability to gesture toward their inadequacy in a way that communicates beyond the signifier and the signified into a sort of cosmos of dark matter where a meaning exists that is beyond meaning. Don’t ask me to explain, since I haven’t fully theorized this yet!

—Finally, there's been a whole lot of debate about Kickstarter as a way to fund comics this week. It isn't hard to find if you're interested in joining up. But I find the whole thing vaguely depressing. Secret Acres has the tweet to read. (Did I just write that?)


Bye Binky

Today on the site we have Rob Clough on some selected periodical comics of all shapes and sizes.


The big news is, of course, the end of Matt Groening's long and excellent comic strip, Life in Hell. Here's TCJ-contributor Richard Gehr's interview with the artist, and here's a short appreciation by Tom Spurgeon.

Benjamen Walker has a wonderful radio report on the gathering of the comic book tribes last month in Chicago. Two more from Chicago, this time from last weekend's inaugural CAKE: A wrap-up from Secret Acres and a very funny travelogue from D&Q's Jessica Campbell.

Elsewhere in the midwest we find this interview with Joseph Remnant and Jeff Newelt on Harvey Pekar's Cleveland.

And a couple of excellent image-based posts: Who knew that the great Seymour Chwast took a crack at redesigning the Bazooka Joe graphics? And Greg Cook visited Brian Chippendale's studio; I can tell you that these pictures are real.