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Children of the Korn

Boker tov! It's June, TCJ reader. Why not get it started with Eli Valley? He's here talking about what he's aiming for with his comics, and unlike some, it isn't a licensing deal with the SyFy network. (At least, not yet). Sam Goldstein brought the questions, Eli brought the thunder:

Tell me about using a Jewish vernacular. Most of your comics in Diaspora Boy were written for a very specific community. Did that language limit you? What was your hope in bringing the vernacular of Diaspora Boy to a larger audience?

There’s a purpose of the book in the Jewish community and a purpose for the wider world. For the Jewish community it’s to reclaim authenticity. To be told that we are less pure is one of the things that allowed Netanyahu to be normalized. It’s a reason why under Trump the community has been silent at best, or complicit at worst. Maybe this book can give us the tools to help fight that. It doesn’t limit me in terms of creativity because I find it too exhilarating to maneuver through Jewish history and culture.

The ideology behind the comic Israel Man and Diaspora Boy is something that we don’t know enough about. It’s not well known outside of Israel or academia. It sheds a lot of light on both Israel, the American-Jewish relationship to Israel, and by extension the American relationship to Israel. And so the book offers a sort of guide to how we ended up in the horror that led to Trump. I wrote the entire introduction during the election campaign. Watching Sheldon Adelson pour millions of dollars into the campaign of the hero of American Nazism. At the time I thought Trump was just a buffoon who showed signs of extremely dangerous trends in America, but would fizzle out by election day. The fact that I was wrong only helps the relevance of the book. It’s come out in the beginning of the reign of America’s Netanyahu.

I don’t create my comics to convince the other side. I think the other side is lost basically, they‘re not open to being convinced. If my comics can add strength and nourishment to our side, then that’s a good thing, with the horrors of what we’re witnessing.  The things that I‘m pillorying are so off the deep end, I think people who continue to support these personalities and these policies are beyond convincing. I’m interested in expressing the visceral gut punch that I feel when I read the news.

That's not all: it's also review time here at TCJ, and today, Gorgon's eye turns to...Shea Hennum, who joins the team with a look at Weegee: Serial Photographer. (We interviewed the author last week). Here's Shea, getting specific about how this one works:

While it’s doubtful that Weegee authors Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert knowingly make this argument about their subject, it’s hard to shake the sense that they nonetheless understood this about Fellig. The book’s first scene introduces us to Weegee. A man has been killed, and his body lies motionless in front of a movie theatre. The lights from the marquee highlight the body, and a crowd looks on in shock and horror. Bystanders in the crowd cover the mouths—as though they are too shocked to close them—and Mannaert draws their eyes so that they appear ready to pop out of their sockets. In the first few panels, Mannaert renders Weegee as a morass of criss-crossing lines that amount to a silhouette and a pair of bulging eyes. It is only by wielding his camera that Weegee—figuratively and literally—distinguishes himself from the crowd (or at least, that is how the scene is drawn).

Out in the world, you can read all about the latest attempt to get comics readers interested in Richard Starkings' Elephantmen, a series of comics created in part to help legitimize an ad campaign for a font company. The announcement of this development came via Twitch, that streaming website where people generate income by showing you videos of themselves playing video games.

In addition to new content, the Comics MNT website has been rolling out pieces that were originally only available to Patreon subscribers. As such, they posted Megan Purdy's insightful review of First Second's Decelerate Blue, one of the few pieces of writing that really grappled with that book's weird ambition.

 

 

Closet

R.C. Harvey writes our obituary for Lee Holley, the creator of the long-running teen strip Ponytail who also worked on Dennis the Menace and many iconic Warner Brothers cartoons.

UPON RELEASE FROM THE NAVY, Holley took advantage of the GI bill and enrolled in famed Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and was later hired by Warner Bros Studios. Although he aspired to do a comic strip, doing animation was a great experience.

“I was surrounded for the first time with people who were professional artists and cartoonists,” Holley remembered. “I was working with the most talented people in the animation business, and it was a fun environment. I was an in-betweener for a couple of months when they moved me into Friz Freleng’s [award-winning] unit as assistant to Virgil Ross. Neat guy. He was a great animator, very quiet and low key. Virgil worked real rough, and my job was to clean it up. I worked hard at it for years. The animators from that era really couldn’t draw well, but they could animate like gangbusters.”

For Chuck Jones, he worked on “What’s Opera, Doc?” in which Elmer Fudd is singing “Kill the wabbit!”

“I later found out that Chuck asked for me and another fellow to help because we could draw so well.”

Over four years, Holley worked on three cartoons that won Academy Awards—one with Yosemite Sam, another with Sylvester and Tweety, and another with Speedy Gonzales.

Holley moved up from assistant animator to a ‘B’ animator and got small scenes to animate. “It was really great training,” he said, “but I persisted in dreaming about a comic strip.”

We also have an excerpt of Ben Sears's Ideal Copy, which you may remember we reviewed earlier this week.

And finally, Jason Michelitch reviews the latest true crime comic from Rick Geary, The True Death of Billy the Kid.

Rick Geary has been doing pretty much the same thing for over thirty years. This is not a criticism. Though his long career as cartoonist and illustrator is dotted with a variety of interesting tributaries – strips for the National Lampoon and RAW, illustrations for the New York Times Book Review, and drawing Gumby comics, to name just a few – the main arterial flow has been his steady stream of historical true crime comics. Fascinated from the start by the myth and mystery of American murder (his first comics work was inspired by reading the file on an unsolved murder he got from a police officer friend), Geary’s work took shape as a long-term project in 1987, with the first volume of A Treasury of Victorian Murder, which combined with its sequel series, A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, is up to 22 volumes. Add to that a number of historical and biographical side projects, and you find a slowly accreting magnum opus, a life’s work of capturing society’s weird dark substructure.

The True Death Of Billy The Kid is one of those side projects, though to call it that might wrongly imply that it is a minor work.  It is not, though neither is it necessarily a major one. Part of the nature of Geary’s project is the relatively egalitarian relationship among his various books. Each volume, whether in the Treasury of Murder series or produced outside it, performs more or less the same task: to map another event in Geary’s history of (mostly) American infamy. The impact and importance of a given book is roughly the same as any other, differences registering in millimeters rather than miles.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Over at the Smart Set, Chris Mautner reviews Eleanor Davis's Why Art?

Right away, however, we can see this book will be anything but an academic discourse. For one thing, Davis’s narrator begins by separating art into some odd categories. Under color, for example, we are presented (in black and white no less) with “blue” and “orange” objects. One of the blue objects is a small pig. No mention is made of the rest of the spectrum.

From there, the narrator notes goes on to discuss “mask” artworks, “mirror” artworks, and the popular “concealment” art which hides unpleasant things from view (“Some of us have student loans to pay off” exclaims a defensive sculptor in the midst of creating such a work). The narrator also darkly reminds us that there is some art “meant to remind the audience of things we’d rather forget, things so awful they shouldn’t be true.” This type of art is represented as a simple black square the slowly grows to consume the page. “Many people try hard not to look at this type of artwork,” we are told.

At the New York Times, Ed Park reviews the latest books from Nick Drnaso and Michael Kupperman.

Not yet 30, Drnaso has topped his virtuoso 2016 debut, “Beverly,” which had a cheerful palette gleefully at odds with all that roiled beneath its speckless Midwestern skies: class friction and psychosexual urges, brain-draining sitcoms and kneejerk racism. (Nearly everyone in Drnasoland is white.) Some of the visual shocks in “Beverly” lodge in the head, like certain demonic glimpses from “The Shining” — but “Sabrina” goes deeper, risks more. It’s an unnerving mystery told by a rigorous moralist, a profoundly American nightmare set squarely in the first year of the Trump presidency. Politics is never mentioned, but the dread is everywhere: on the airwaves, at an open mic, in a kid’s activity book, and — most barbarically — online.

For Print, Michael Dooley explores Black Comix Returns.

Black Comix Returns isn’t simply about black comic books. More expansive than that, it’s a celebration of African American independent comics art, spotlighting nearly 100 cartoonists in practically every genre and category: educational, experimental, erotic, horror, humor, kids, and sure, superhero. This lineup includes established pros like Lance Tooks, Keith Knight, Ben Passmore, and Afua Richardson, whose World of Wakanda covers were part of that GLADD award. But mostly it presents relatively unknown but praiseworthy rising art stars.

Many have done licensed material for the mainstream majors, but the majority are developing their own, creator-owned projects. One of the book’s authors, cartoonist-scholar Damian Duffy, explained to Women Write About Comics that “the ‘x’ in ‘Black Comix’ is there because its focus is on independent work, which often means work sold outside or alongside the local comics shop market. Indy comics are put out by everyone from amateur artists to storyboard artists to fine artists to commercial illustrators. Some work is self-published, or only published online.”

And finally, Eddie Campbell explains to Entertainment Weekly why he's coloring From Hell.

The good thing about computers is they have a million colors. I remember when we used to hand-separate colors. We would cut up zipper tones and overlay them on four separations to make the colors for our comic covers back in the ‘80s. We were stuck with a dozen or so variations of colors, because we couldn’t afford to buy every possible zipper tone, but with the computer you can get all kinds of muddy and subtle shades. It’s enjoyable. It’s Eddie Campbell coloring, it’s not regular comic book coloring. I did something for Marvel once, and there was a shine on people’s kneecaps and elbow points. They always like to put these glistening highlights on everything. But here, there’s lots of evening fading into night, where it starts in evening and colors fade until they disappear, and then suddenly we’re in the darkness and gloom, where things are only dimly glimpsed.

 

I Admire Its Purity

Today at TCJ, we've got that rare occasion (that's about to become less rare) where one cartoonist interviews another cartoonist. Today's installment sees Charles Forsman speaking with Max de Radigues. While their initial focus is on Max's graphic novel Weegee with Wauter Mannaert, recently brought to English by Conundrum, Max's prolific output sees them going into even more. Here's a bit on the co-operative publishing set up that Max is currently a part of.

I want to ask about l’employe du moi, the publishing Co-op you are a part of in Brussels. Can you tell me a bit about how that is set up? I’ve been thinking about publishing co-ops lately and wonder why no one in comics has done something similar in North America. Maybe you have some insight into that?

Yeah, I always wondered why there aren't more small publishing house in the US. It seems like most of any alumni for a French or Belgian art-school start a project with his classmate that pretty often becomes a publishing house. I lot of them come and go but a lot stick also. L’employé du Moi, started as a weekly zine made by students of a school in Brussels in 1999. After a bit more than a year, they were tired of the intensity of that rhythm and decide to move to bigger anthology project. To make that project exist, they created a small publishing company. It started by them just doing anthologies and publish themselves and slowly they started publishing other friends and people they were meeting. I got in, in 2006, because I shared a studio space with them and I was very interested in the process of making a book, not just drawing it but the whole process until it reaches the reader. I think it really helped me a lot in my cartoonist career to be able to talk like equal with the publisher and to have a sense of what I can and cannot do technically.

Today, we are five people in the house, Sacha Goerg, Stéphane Noël, Phlippe Vanderheyden, Matthias Rozes and me. I’m not sure about the word Co-op. I think we are the equivalent of a non-profit… i’m not sure what the differences are between the two.

Meanwhile, on the TCJ Review front, we're pleased to introduce you to another new writer: Mel Schuit. She's here today with a review of Ben Sears' latest Double+ story, The Ideal Copy.

In The Ideal Copy , Sears sticks to the series formula of a short, quippy escapade in which the stakes are generally low in terms of danger and real-world impact. Perhaps because the bulk of the adventure doesn’t feature Plus Man and Hank physically working together, this book in particular feels almost like a filler episode intended to focus less on action and more on character development, specifically for Plus Man. Plus Man not only gets the bulk of the screen time in the book, he also gets the bulk of the story. He’s the one who discovers that something is amiss with their party hosts and he’s the one who investigates it. He also has the added benefit of meeting Gene, a former treasure hunter and mentor of sorts. As a wrongfully convicted former convict, Gene has a lot of offer Plus Man in terms of advice and perspective, and this chance meeting puts a harsh spotlight on the fact that Plus Man is human and that Hank is a robot: Plus Man is growing and changing and learning, but Hank is stationary.

Elsewhere, the site Women Write About Comics scored what has to be the hands down best subject for an interview I could have imagined and in to make it that much sweeter, found that subject to be more than happy to speak in detail. Nobody--no single person--understands the mechanics of publishing quite as well as an accountant. (I grew up with more in a house that had a few, why do you ask?)

This is such a bad idea, but who cares, the world is probably going to end. Hail Satan!

 

Sinus Congestion

Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews the first two issues of Mike Freiheit's autobiographical minicomic, Monkey Chef.

The hook for Mike Freiheit's minicomics series Monkey Chef is a strong one: it's an account of time spent in South Africa, preparing food for monkeys at a sanctuary, as well as cooking food for the humans who worked there. A more conventional version of this story would be just a straight journal comic; the sheer novelty of the experience might have made it worthwhile in that form. However, Freiheit's approach is a more artful one, juxtaposing different events against each other in interesting ways. That said, the story is a fairly straightforward but episodic series of anecdotes and observations about his experiences that doesn't set out to make him look good. As Freiheit demonstrates, his time spent in South Africa was the epitome of a difficult but worthwhile experience.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Whit Taylor interviews Ellen Forney.

When I did Marbles, it took so much effort and so much emotional work that when I was done I felt like whatever I do next is not going to be a memoir. It’s going to be in the third person, and it’s not going to have to do with mental health. So I brought up another couple of topics, and nothing really struck me to do a book. In the interim, I got so much feedback from people who found Marbles helpful that it made me feel really purposeful. It took a few years for me to be able to come back and say, “I really like doing material about mental health and I feel like I have more to offer.” What I needed was a break from it and, in the interim, I feel like I became a mental health advocate or activist. I’m really excited about and comfortable with that role.

Someone has posted the audio from Ronald Wimberley's panel discussion with David Brothers at this year's TCAF.

—News. The NCS has announced this year's Reuben winners.

—Reviews & Commentary. The aforementioned Ronald Wimberley has written an interesting essay about Dilraj Mann's story in Island #15 (the one with Mann's highly controversial cover).

The fact that Dilraj’s cover is a part of the narrative makes the entire magazine, as an object, a part of the story. Dilraj is using the form to express the grand idea in the story.

As you may have already seen in this site's comments section, Paul Slade has found some intriguing hints that Andy Capp's Reg Smythe may be a strong influence on the work of Jaime Hernandez.

I’ve never seen Hernandez acknowledge any debt to Andy Capp in his interviews but, by whatever route the influence came, it’s clear the two men ended up using a very similar toolbox of quite specific cartooning techniques.

 

Seven American Brothers

Today at the Journal, we're pleased to be walking neck deep in a sea of Koyama Press titles. To start things off here at this abbreviated week of TCJ, we've got a review of the new Alex Degen graphic novel, courtesy of Oliver Ristau.

Though Alex Degen's comics are crowded with weird superheroes, poorly wrapped mummies and giant self-improving automatons – as well as lots of statues, which are often smashed to pieces – piles of dead bodies appear, too, sometimes covered in blood, and serve as a reminder for parts of Darger's work.

And most important, there's an ongoing absence of words. Degen once stated in an interview, “I believe in the power of this form, the silent comic, and am trying to get better at conveying complex feelings and concepts with it. Because when it connects it seems to connect with readers on a deep level.”

Did you have a three day weekend? I did. But you know who rarely takes three day weekends? Colorists! They work like animals. They're crazy for the stuff, that work stuff! Ben Towle agrees, which is why he's here with an interview with one of those colorists, Walter. You've probably come across his work before. Here's a bit on how he got started in the ashes of retail:

How did you become interested in specifically the coloring part of comics-making?

Well I had a comics shop back in the mid '90s when a big comics distributor company (Capital, I think) went bankrupt. We were collateral damage and the shop closed. I nearly lost everything. So after my shop closed I had to find a new job. I wanted to go back to drawing (I was an art student for years before the shop), but realized I stopped too long to get at a level where I could make a living from my art. I was a big fan of Steve Oliff’s work on Akira and read an article showing his process that got me really curious. The whole comics industry has turned to computer coloring but it was nearly nonexistent in France at the time. Coloring was still mostly done by hand on a separate paper sheet with the art printed in blue, so I decided to become a computer colorist, took a loan to buy a computer, and learned Photoshop with a friend who already knew the software.

Meanwhile, over at Vice--sure?--Tara Booth has a rock solid comic called Trying To Be Positive that I quite liked.

Annie's right.

 

 

 

Joyce Carol’s Oatmeal

Today at the Journal, we've got a titan's take on a heavyweight: Tegan and the Bros! It's new Love and Rockets week, cousin. Will we bite the hand that feeds (and has fed) since time immemorial? 

That’s something about both Jaime and Gilbert, as they got older and their respective serials eased into the comfortable rhythms of mid-life: saying each chapter seems slight on its own is hardly an insult when the sum is immeasurably greater than its parts. At this point even the idea of something as distinct as “story arcs” seems like a mundane imposition. Maggie & Hopey’s lives, to say nothing of those of Fritzi and her extended fractious clan, don’t fit into beginnings, middles, and ends. Maybe every now and again events cohere into distinct climaxes and denouements, but mostly things just keep going one damn thing after another. You know, like life. 

That's not all! Today we've also got a bit of Nobrow's King of the Birds to share with you. This is how they described their graphic novel interpretations of Slavic myths by writer/artist Alexander Utkin:

When a merchant nurses the King of Birds back to health after he is injured in a great war, he is offered a great reward. Together they travel far across the land to the domains of the King's three sisters to claim the merchant's prize... but will they give up that which is most precious to them?

Of course, this being the Internet, we're not the only ones with free comics--there's also The Passing, by Marian Churchland. It's excellent, stirring, and all too brief. 

For those of you in Belgium: first off, congratulations! I have never been. Second off, they have a Gilbert Shelton show going on now at Comic Art Factory, which you should check out. For the rest of us, drink in this interview they provided.

 

 

The American Kids

Nick Drnaso's Sabrina is one of the most acclaimed books of the year so far, and Patrick Dunn is here to talk with the artist about it.

I’m curious about how your life led you to comics in the first place. When did you first develop your interest in the medium and what creators influenced you?

I started a bit late. I was 18 and a high school friend and I were both going to community college. He was drawing crude notebook drawings and something about that appealed to me. I think ever since then, I have been trying the process of moving away from where I grew up and changing the way – Well, basically what is behind this whole interview is that there is a ton of uncertainty and a ton of negative feelings that have come up in the past year or so. And it makes me very conflicted about even doing an interview, taking in any kind of attention or validation that might come from what I’ve made, because it’s just wrapped up in a lot of self-hatred. And that’s another thing that has been kind of hard to get over recently. And somehow making art is very comfortable, or very comforting to me. But also, when I am being my most self-critical, it just seems like this exercise in ego gratification or something.

So I think that's why I'm having trouble answering these questions in a clear-headed way, about even simple things like my process, because in my mind I'm getting tripped up thinking, “What is my process? What does this even mean? What am I doing?” And the silver lining is that I think all of these things will just funnel into whatever this next project is. I think that the little bit of work I’ve started on, and a little bit of notes I’ve jotted down, have all been centered around these feelings. And I feel like there might be something healthy and relatable in doing that and just being able to share that with other people. So that is kind of the mode of thinking that is keeping me working these days.

Irene Velentzas is here too, with a review of Karl Stevens' latest, The Winner.

“It’s funny how people ask me if the stories in my comics ‘really happened’” writes Karl Stevens in his latest graphic narrative, The Winner. The back of Steven’s book jacket will tell you “Karl Stevens uses the graphic novel to dissect the line between the worlds of high and low art. While working as a museum guard he contemplates the plight of his aesthetic choices, and how they have affected his life thus far.” Since this is true of The Winner, I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise to an artist straddling the lines between reality, unreality, and surrealism, that his audience approaches the narrative reliability of his work with some skepticism. Stevens’ wry and often laconic wit are as much a part of the subversion of his words as they are of his images. It often takes an extra beat after the punchline to determine the double edge of his intension.

In Stevens’ work, I do not distinguish between high and low art, however. I would never say his work is not cartoony enough for comics, or realistic enough for the art world. While Stevens expresses simple sketches, primary color blocks, detailed engraving-like cross-hatching, and photorealistic paintings, I do not see these artistic styles as juxtaposed so much as superimposed in his work. The work that Stevens’ graphic narrative reminds me of the most is that of William Blake, who by his own admission endeavored to create works of “memorable fancy” – something descriptive both of reality and the heightened ability of the human mind to imprint the imagination onto memory. I find Stevens’ work converges upon itself, using his etched line-work as a type of base upon which he layers his colored portraits, and sometimes prints on colored paper. It is the repetition-with-a-difference in Stevens’ work that makes up both the reality and the fantasy of his tales.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Art Spiegelman has won the McDowell Medal, and Stan Sakai was won the inaugural Joe Kubert Storyteller Award.

—Reviews. Charles Hatfield reviews Vera Brosgol's Be Prepared.

About seven years ago, animator and storyboard artist Vera Brosgol entered the world of graphic novels with a walloping big success: Anya's Ghost, a supernatural fantasy rooted in the experience of being a Russian immigrant girl struggling to fit into American life. Brosgol knew this struggle firsthand, having moved from Russia to the US at age five. Anya's Ghost changed Brosgol's life: rapturously reviewed, the book went on to win Eisner, Harvey, and Cybil Awards. Its theme of trying to disavow one's cultural roots resonated with Gene Luen Yang's epochal American Born Chinese, which had been published some five years earlier (both were published by First Second). The two books drew upon popular genres—myth fantasy, superheroes, ghost stories—to fashion nervy fables of complex and ambivalent identity. In that sense, Anya's Ghost​ appears to have struck a nerve.

Now Brosgol, having also authored a Caldecott Honored picture book (2016's Leave Me Alone!), has just released her second graphic novel: the autobiographical Be Prepared, in which a nine-year-old Vera, again a self-conscious Russian immigré, goes to summer camp.

 

Her Satanic Hands

 

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got the latest installment of Retail Therapy. This time around, Steve Anderson is holding it down with his perspective from the giant display windows at Third Eye Comics. This is him on his running crew:

I could be away from the store for a good while, and as long as I am working remotely, nothing would change, because of the strong team we have. What I find myself doing more so than bringing up folks to take over responsibilities, is bringing up folks to take on responsibilities so that it allows me to do more for the company as a whole. There are a few things that I really have a hard time letting go of, but I've gotten pretty good over the years at identifying those things, and being realistic about just how much I can have on my plate at one time.

We pride ourselves on having very low turnover at Third Eye, and because of that, we're super lucky to have one of the most dedicated, knowledgable and committed teams in retail - not just comics retail, but retail as a whole. It's our staff that has allowed us to grow as much as we have, and they're what provides me the constant motivation to make the stores bigger and better.

RJ Casey has also returned to us, if only for a brief moment, so as to share us with his take on Sabrina, the new Nick Drnaso graphic novel. His take is that it's one of the best comics you'll find, anywhere:

The only thing I love more than an overly ambitious project that falls just outside its target is one that hits the bull’s eye. Sabrina splits the arrow with over 200 pages of Drnaso flexing. He puts a striking amount of detail in interiors, capturing the stale-aired drabness of “EMPLOYEES ONLY” backrooms and nearly empty month-to-month apartments. In a few large panels, he pulls out a Where’s Waldo-esque style to illustrate a children’s book inside the book. On other occasions, Drnaso, drawing haunting dream sequences, makes a negative image with his minimal line in neon over black. Sabrina’s art throughout is assertive and immediate, yet non-hurried.

If you want to know more, you can check out a preview of Sabrina, over at Comicon. We'll be talking with the artist behind this contender later on this week.

By the way, if you're aiming to grab an Ignatz, the first step is going to be getting nominated for one, and those submissions close June 1st, allegedly. Submit away!

One publication alone is too small to contain American hero Rob Clough, which is why you'll have to get on over to Your Chicken Enemy to find out what he thought about Michael Kupperman's All The Answers. I've never had the privilege of editing Rob's reviews, but if I was in charge of this one, I would have violently disagreed with the concept that Snake, Bacon, Pagus, Twain or Einstein areanywhere near as star-making as the infamous 4-Playo. Blasphemy, thy name is Elkin!