Michael Jasorka’s December 3rd, 1967: An Alien Encounter

Until a few months ago, L.A.-based illustrator Michael Jasorka's awesomest project was "Roller Dames," his series of va-voomy (yet somehow also sweet) portraits of roller derby skaters. But that was before he self-published December 3rd, 1967: An Alien Encounter, a 56-page comic that decribes the night a Nebraska cop named Herbert Schirmer was abducted by aliens. This is not fiction but Schirmer's own story, which made headlines back in the '60s. In fact, the book's dialogue, which looks a bit stiff at first, turns out to be the direct transcript of an informal talk Schirmer gave at a UFO conference in the 70s, complete with ums and stutters. The book comes with a CD so you can listen to the man tell his story as you read along, which is nifty, of course, but also touching, even haunting. Plus, Jasorka's drawings have a Tomorrow Land quality that suits the era and subject matter well. Probably the most striking thing about this project is how respectful and unironic Jasorka is about his subject. His intro reads, "Dedicated to Herbert Schirmer, whose story I believe."



It’s a New World

Hi there,

On the site today we have a preview of Gary Groth's expansive interview with the late Maurice Sendak. It will see full publication this autumn in TCJ 302. And yesterday Frank Santoro reported back to us from deep within cartoonist Jim Rugg's Pittsburgh-area home. Frank is embedding himself in different locations.

The big story of the moment is perhaps the news that longtime independent cartoonist Roger Langridge, who recently wrote, among other comics, a very popular Thor series, has announced that he will not work for Marvel and DC any longer due to ethical concerns. Langridge currently writes Popeye for IDW besides doing his own comics.

There's been a whole slew of book previews:

-Eric Reynolds writes about a project he's very happy with -- Significant Objects.

-Gilbert Hernandez's upcoming Fatima: The Blood Spinners looks pretty great.

-Drawn & Quarterly has a very handsome new petit livre on the way.

-And finally, closest to my heart: There's yet another new Wally Wood collection coming.



Survival Tactics

Today, we are republishing a 1987 Q&A with Maurice Sendak that first appeared in TCJ #140. Here's an excerpt:

SENDAK: I think we assume that only children have this incredible flexibility — they talk to newspapers; they talk to tablecloths; they talk to bowls of water; and we say, “How charming, how cute.” We do it, too, but we don’t do it aloud. Because we have grown up and we have gray in our beards and we’re supposed to be adults and we’re all just nervous wrecks, basically.

Children have the privilege because we have endowed them with the privilege of having this fantasy life. So they move in and out of fantasy all the time. But, I think, people always say how wonderful that you can do books for children; you have your childhood intact. They give me this really ridiculous sentimental aspect, because I think we all do; I think it’s a survival tactic; if we didn’t live in fantasy most of the day, we’d all be off your famous [Golden Gate] bridge over here, for the most part.

So I think this trick you’re talking about is no more than the observation of real life.

QUESTION: I was referring, though, to how you can have that baby talk but make it believable. Some of the editors would say, “Well, this is a little contrived to think that a fish can rescue a jade bracelet.”

SENDAK: Well, this conviction has to come from you. If your fish is talking, then it’s got to be a perfectly reasonable thing that your fish is talking. If your fish is talking and it doesn’t come really from you, then your editor is correct. That’s a contrivance. Children will know instantly. Kids know instantly when you’re patronizing them, when you’re giving them ersatz fantasy or it’s coming genuinely from the middle of your gut; they know. They are not impressed with the fact that you’ve won the Caldecott Award or that you like Mozart or any of those things; they could not care less. The book goes flying across the room. You notice from their letters; “Dear Mr. Sendak: I hate your book. I hope you die soon. Cordially…”

We also have the latest column from Tucker Stone on the world of genre comics, which this week includes a report from Abhay Khosla on fans' reactions to a tepid review of their new favorite movie. Pretty horrifying stuff.

And we've finally convinced Dash Shaw to join our roster of contributors. Today he reviews Jeffrey Brown's cat comics, which gives him the opportunity to discuss what he calls "cat appreciation art" in general.

And of course, there are things on the internet that aren't on this site.

—Mark Evanier reports the death of Jonah Hex co-creator Tony DeZuniga.

—Another day, another set of Alison Bechdel interviews, this time a brief one in the New York Times, and another on the Paris Review's website.

—In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Michael Tolkin, Dallas Clayton, and Howard A. Rodman offer their memories of Maurice Sendak.

Speaking of whom, Stephen Colbert has released more outtakes from Sendak's excellent appearance on his show:


—Matt Seneca has just launched a new weekly column over at Robot 6 in which he plans to list and discuss what he considers to be the "greatest comics of all time." First up: Kirby and Lee's Thor #160.

—Drew Friedman is interviewed by Ralph Gardner at the Wall Street Journal, on the occasion, though I don't think the article actually mentions it, of Friedman's newly republished Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Coincidental (co-written by his brother Josh). It's a beautiful book, and I've been thinking a lot about it recently. There's a certain brand of mean-spirited, petty humor that's been pretty popular over the last few decades, in which the main point seems to be laughing at some celebrity or another who no longer has a thriving career. As if failing to maintain A-list status in as fickle and luck-dependent as Hollywood was a valid reason to be mocked. At first glance, some of Friedman's work, with its cast of has-beens and never-weres, can seem to be another example of this kind of comedy, but it isn't--most of these strips cut a lot deeper than that. The reader feels the sting and pain of failure and despair too strongly to feel superior. In other words, we're all Rondo Hatton.

—The movement to properly honor Jack Kirby for his achievements grew a little wider this week, stepping its toes into the mainstream with an Alex Pappademus profile of Stan Lee for Grantland, and a Ruben Bolling strip revealing the plot of the next Avengers film.

—Andrei Molotiu echoes 1965 Susan Sontag with an interesting (if somewhat vague) wish for more demanding, worthy, and artistically innovative comics.

—And finally, Jeet Heer discussed the politics of comics, at a panel with Sean Carleton and Franke James at the LeftWords festival. You can listen to it here.


On Our Travels

Today on the site we remember and pay tribute to Maurice Sendak. Philip Nel has written a comprehensive obituary. Nel has also posted a personal reminiscence on his blog. And we've begun a series of tributes from Sendak's colleagues, which we will continue to update in the coming days.


Aaron Renier posted a moving tribute to Sendak on his site.

In Marvel news, Tom Spurgeon writes about donating to the Hero Initiative in light of the Avengers movie. And Rob Steibel digs up a 1968 Stan Lee interview from Castle of Frankenstein #12. A relative rarity from the days before the hype vibe completely calcified.

Daniel Clowes is having a busy couple months. Here's a fine Artforum interview with him, focusing on his current retrospective, by TCJ-contributor Naomi Fry. And now he has a YouTube channel, too!

Speaking of motion, apparently Jodorowsky is crowd-funding his next movie. And Wired asks and answers "how the streaming revolution is changing the Japanese animation industry".


Back from the Swamp

You already know the saddest, most important news of the week: the great Maurice Sendak died yesterday morning. As a still relatively new parent myself, I've read one or more of his books almost every day for the last year or so. There is something about having a child in your lap, and seeing how she reacts to the book as it is read (and how more intense that reaction is than to other books), that really makes your appreciation for his accomplishments grow. There are few artists of any kind as influential and intensely loved as Sendak.

We will have much more to say about him in the following days, but in the meantime, Margalit Fox's obituary of Sendak in the New York Times is very good, as is the Fresh Air interview with Sendak from last December (which made my wife cry even back at the time). Blown Covers re-published a comic collaboration between Art Spiegelman and Sendak that is very much worth reading. The Guardian has a slideshow of his life in pictures. And Jeet Heer reminded me of an excellent critical look at Sendak that he found a few years ago from Hilton Kramer, of all people. There is much, much more, and we will have further coverage of Sendak's life and influence up on the site very soon.

On the site today, we present the first installment of John Hilgart's very thorough multi-part interview with Starstruck creators Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta, about the very strange and unique history of that project. (You may, or at least should, know Hilgart from 4CP.)

Joe McCulloch escaped Louisiana to bring us his column on This Week in Comics!, a little late but no less essential.

And Sean T. Collins reviews Arne Bellstorf's Beatles book, Baby's in Black.


A Mile End

Well, it's looking like Tuesday, and for the first time since 1922 there is no "This Week in Comics" from Joe McCulloch. Joe would like his faithful readers to know that his absence is due to his being trapped in a swamp in Louisiana, but that we shouldn't worry about him. He'll be fine.

But on the site today we have Nicole Rudick's interview with the great Diane Noomin, whose collection of thirty years of her stories, Glitz-2-Go, is out now and a great read.

Elsewhere all around:

TCJ-contributor Chris Mautner on why he isn't seeing The Avengers.

Timothy Callahan has a MoCCA Festival round-up with a list of promising new books.

There are some very psychedelic and deeply strange Edgar Allen Poe illustrations by the pulp artist Harry Clarke over at 50 Watts.

Design and illustration historian Steve Heller is interviewed at Design Matters.

And finally, just what you've always wanted: Early Dave Berg!


Too Many to Count

Whoa-kay, lots of links today. First off, Frank Santoro has his latest travel report, in which he makes some announcements anyone in the NY area is going to want to hear.

Then, we present a preview of Dan Zettwoch's new Birdseye Bristoe, which feels to me like a potential breakout book. I have always really enjoyed Zettwoch's work, and the way he tirelessly experiments with formats, panel breakdowns, and storytelling techniques of all kinds. What's also nice is that his stories work. (Some cartoonists who create "experimental" comics don't seem to notice or care when their experiments fail, and just publish the results no matter what. This might be the correct response if comics was a science instead of an art.)

We also have Rob Clough's review of the latest Jason collection, Athos in America.

—Speaking of Jason, the National Post has a short profile of the Norwegian cartoonist.

—The Doug Wright Awards were announced, with Kate Beaton, Ethan Rilly, and Michael Comeau taking the top prizes. (For those who like comparing and complaining about comics awards, it is worth noting that Best Book winner Hark! A Vagrant was not nominated for an Eisner this year.)

—Speaking of Canadians, Tom Spurgeon has a long interview with Jam creator Bernie Mireault.

Octopus Pie creator Meredith Gran talks to Gary Tyrrell.

—Newspaper History department:

1. Frank King explains where he got his characters for Gasoline Alley.

2. Peter Huestis has posted a whole bunch of difficult-to-find old Jimmy Hatlo cartoons.

—Adrian Tomine immediately jumps to the head of the list of cartoonists who have created covers for Thomas Pynchon novels.

—Chris Mautner has a photo diary of the MoCCA festival.

—James Romberger has a new online strip.

—Jason Thompson provides an excellent in-depth overview of Shigeru Mizuki, the artist responsible for Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. You should know about him.

—Daniel Best continues to do the Lord's work, gathering and posting legal documents related to the Superman case. The latest is a letter from attorney David Michaels, who had been previously been suspected of stealing various documents from Marc Toberoff and leaking them to DC. He gives his side of the story in the letter at the link.

—For a certain kind of person, the next two links—blog posts written by Steve Ditko biographer Blake Bell about his relationships with Ditko, Dave Sim, and Jesus Christ—will be the most interesting things they read all day.

—And finally, via Mike Lynch, a documentary about the infamous Jack Chick, posted in its entirety:



As Tom Spurgeon notes, TCAF is an ideal occasion to enjoy not just a superb comics festival but also a great city. So here’s a tip for Toronto visitors who want to see a little bit more of the city’s culture, while also enjoying a  comics-related jaunt: take some time out to go to the Tony Calzetta exhibit at the De Luca gallery (217 Avenue Road – about a ten minute walk from the main TCAF building).

Calzetta cartoons on the canvas, which puts him in a now venerable tradition of comics-inspired painters. Unlike Roy Lichtenstein, Calzetta doesn’t do cool, detached appropriations of illustration images from romance comics or war comics. Rather, Calzetta is closer in spirit to Philip Guston, doodling with his paint brush to evoke the warm, scribbly free-spirited iconic forms of early 20th comic strips. But where Guston’s stubbly, cluttered paintings called to mind the slightly-claustrophobic world of Mutt and Jeff, Calzetta’s open  spaces and bold colors evoke the antic play of George Herrimans's Krazy Kat.

Having spent a happy afternoon with Calzetta’s paintings, Herriman was never far from mind. Partially it was a matter of capering shifty shapes that are never content to settle down but are always transforming themelves before your eyes – the stumps that could be elephant feet or steep desert mountain, the upside down umbrella which could also be a ship or a mushroom, the trees that weirdly have branches growing at right angles making them at times look like chimneys with blowing smoke. Herriman’s also present in the way Calzetta stages his paintings – often putting a not-quite-rectangular border within the painting itself, calling to mind Herriman’s play with panels and placing of his characters in a proscenium theatre within the strip (and indeed in earlier painting Calzetta placed his images within a proscenium theatre). And of course, there are the colors – often circus bright in the foreground but set against a darker background.

Beyond all these surface similarities, there is also the feel of Calzetta’s work. Like Herriman, he’s an artist who makes me cheerful even when the work deals mournful themes of loss and separation. The joy that these artists provoke is not a naive pleasure and doesn’t come from the denial of pain. Rather, they have the special gift of returning art in its primordial roots of childhood play even as they grapple with adult concerns.

To say that Calzetta is a Herriman-esque artist is very high praise, but I think anyone who sees his work will realize that he deserves it.

(Calzetta's paintings will be available for viewing on Friday May 4th and Saturday May 5th).