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Train I Ride

Ken Parille, probably the leading scholar of Daniel Clowes’s work today, writes a new column about his latest book, Patience, with loads of extra commentary and annotations on its allusions and themes.

In 2011, as Clowes was writing Patience, he was reading about Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, a late nineteenth-century group of mystics, paranormal investigators, seekers, and crackpots. Blavatsky (who believed in time travel) created her own religion. She assembled the belief system described in her treatise The Secret Doctrine by gathering concepts central to many religious and philosophical traditions, especially Eastern mysticisms. Clowes has said that Patience is his attempt “to create [his] own religion,” and the book is propelled by a mystical world-view embodied in its time-travel circularity, a vision of a cosmic order that lies just beyond our perception, recognition of the interconnectedness of all things, and embrace of contradiction. Patience believes that opposing impulses — whether ideological or aesthetic — can live side by side, yet somehow (perhaps only through the magic artifice of fiction) be absorbed into a larger, coherent whole. Clowes’s comic is disconcertingly violent yet contemplative, brightly colored yet psychologically dark, grounded in genre conventions yet not a genre comic, visually cartoony then hyper-realistic, horrifying and affirming. It upholds Clowes’s belief, rooted in his interest in artists like Hitchcock and Nabokov, that a work of art can be a universe and a religion unto itself. (As our world turns increasingly virtual, Clowes makes his cartoon worlds more material. With thick pages and sturdy cover boards, Patience proudly asserts its existence. It’s a heavy book.)

Today is also the first day for a new edition of A Cartoonist’s Diary. This week’s Cartoonist is Ginette Lapalme, and she shares her impressions of a trip to Tokyo.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Rachel Cooke at The Guardian profiles Riad Sattouf.

Sattouf, who drew a regular strip for Charlie Hebdo until a few months before the attacks, is not only half Syrian, the son of a Sunni from a village near Homs; he is also the author of a celebrated graphic memoir, whose title is The Arab of the Future. Whether he likes it or not, the media is quite determined to enlist him as a spokesman on Syria, if not the entire Islamic world.

So far, he has proved resistant to their efforts. It’s true that from the moment the demonstrations against Assad began in 2011, he was filled with foreboding: “I was sure there would be a war, and I was convinced it would lead to the complete destruction of the country.”

But this is as far as he will go. “Nice try!” he’ll say, asked a question he’d rather avoid.

Gil Roth talks to political cartoonist Dan Perkins (Tom Tomorrow).

We live in a world created by 21-year-old coders with no life experience, and we’re trapped in their little brains now. It’s like that Harlan Ellison story, “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”.

At The A.V. Club, Shea Hennum interviews the aforementioned Dan Clowes.

Every time I see a blockbuster movie, I find myself wondering about the guy in the background who got shot. [Laughs.] I think it’s that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall—where he does that thing we had all been waiting our whole lives to see, which is: There’s a shootout and Schwarzenegger just holds a random bystander in front of him to block the bullets. And that’s always the thing that everyone thought of as a kid, “Why wouldn’t somebody do that?” And then when he finally did it, it was such a mass relief to the audience. [Laughs.] But I remember days after thinking, “I would almost rather see the movie of that guy”; you know, that guy gets up and goes to work and gets on an escalator and then all of a sudden he gets killed. What a weird day for that guy! [Laughs.]

—Misc. Jaime Hernandez drew the cover for the new New Yorker and talks briefly about hot dogs.

 

Fewer Piles

Today on the site, Mat Colgate interviews Dan White, comics critic and cartoonist:

What was the first comic you published?

There were a few abortive attempts. I tried working with friends to write stories and quickly realized that working from another person’s script is difficult, but that working from a script from someone who doesn’t know how to tell a comic story – even though they might be a fan – is even more problematic, because you’re being asked to do something in a panel and you’re like “I can’t do that, that’s eight different things you’ve asked me to do”.

The big break through was when I moved to Brighton after university and picked up a couple of local self-published comics by Danny Noble and Paul O’Connell. I thought “I’m going to give this a go”, so I did a comic called Beau And Me. It was about a guy in his 20s and was infused with my experiences of  living in a city. It was real world storytelling but I made the main character a little wolf guy and his friend look like something out of a Ralph Bakshi cartoon. So these cartoon characters are telling a slightly bittersweet tale of 20-something angst. What an original idea! But it was liberating and it worked. I just kept doing it until it was done, and then I got it printed up and started selling it.

What was it that was so liberating about going for that approach rather than just going straight in and doing a sci-fi epic, for example?

I had big plans about doing certain comics, but then you realize that your artistic skill set isn’t suited to the 12 part mega-epic involving drawings of other planets. Also I’ve always been a fan of Raymond Carver, who could carve out intensely meaningful moments from the everyday without going into soppy sentimentalism. I realized that by having a fantastical element I could satisfy my interest in drawing weird things, but that welding that to the mundane meant that I could also look into what it’s like being a person and living now. It was a practical decision, but I found the alchemy of it really appealing.

Elsewhere:

Comics-vid: It’s Bill and Frank talkin’ Bob Powell.

Comics-crit: Nick Gazin reviews the hits and misses of late.

Comics-adjacent: Here’s a good look at the influence of the Pee-wee’s Playhouse aesthetic.

Comics-movies: I’m a sucker for Valerian and Luc Besson, so here’s a look at the director’s upcoming movie.

Comics-cash-in: Here’s the NY Times on Glen Weldon’s history of Batman.

 

 

Back to the Beach

Today on the site, we present a new episode of Mike Dawson’s TCJ Talkies podcast. This time around, cartoonist/publisher Austin English and editor/scholar Bill Kartalopoulos discuss Daniel Clowes’s Patience, but they do it the long way around, via a 1963 issue of Superboy, and a reprint of Blutch’s Peplum.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Daniel Clowes is all over the internet these days, including a profile by TCJ.com alum Sean T. Collins at The Observer.

“I haven’t been in a fight in a long time, but as a young man…” He pauses. “I can’t say I was ‘in a fight,’ but I got the shit beaten out of me several times. I remember the feeling of when you get hit in the head, and it flashes to white and you’re just like—” He makes a sound like a zombie in the process of being brained. “It’s just this jarring shock: Boom, there it is, and then it’s over and you’re sort of lost afterwards. I really wanted to capture that.

Jessica Gross interviewed him, too.

There’s also something about saying the names of your own characters that is really embarrassing, I’ve found. I was talking to another cartoonist about this and we realized we never say the names of our characters unless we have to. You just say, “the guy in the story.” There’s something deeply embarrassing about thinking, I just made up this character and now we’re talking about him.

Tripwire talks to Howard Chaykin:

Whereas Gil [Kane] demonstrated, albeit with a skepticism borne out of having spent his entire adult life in the field, that a career in comics could be at least somewhat rewarding, [Wally Wood] was so profoundly self loathing and self destructive that by the time I met him he was a ghost, a feeble echo of the towering talent he’d been throughout the fifties and early sixties. He was still breathtakingly proficient with a brush, however – able to transform my barely creditable effort, not to mention the work of at least one non-artist who simply traced stuff, into his own recognizable style.

So I wanted to be Gil Kane when I grew up, but I lived in terror of ending up like Wallace Wood.

—Commentary. Artist Matt Jones writes about six things he learned putting together his recent book, Ronald Searle’s America.

Searle’s prolific output was driven by a genuine love of drawing and a rigid work ethic. He kept a meticulous deadline chart on his studio wall detailing the multiple assignments he was juggling at any given time. Art directors attested to his unfailing ability to meet deadlines and thorough exploration of the brief. He often submitted multiple finished variations on a theme for them to choose from. Even in his late-eighties he continued to work diligently. His wife, Monica, complained that she never saw him as he spent up to 11 hours a day in his studio.

 

Betty Boop Backgrounds

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to have Peter Bagge interviewing Kaz, focusing mostly on the early years. Great, great stuff from two giants of the medium.

BAGGE: Almost all of your work is set in a rundown, urban residential landscape – not unlike Hoboken or Jersey City, though more depressed than those places are now. Might this be the Hoboken of your youth permanently planted in your psyche? Or perhaps because you moved back there when you started doing comics in earnest?

KAZ: Yes, Hoboken and Jersey City did look like Betty Boop backgrounds back in the 60’s. It’s perhaps a psychic space that reflects my own run down mind. But the simple truth is that I like drawing depressed backgrounds and interiors as well as weird architecture. 

BAGGE: Your interiors always include naked light bulbs, pealing wallpaper, broken plaster, torn shades and wobbly floorboards. You should have been an interior decorator! Ha ha. And the exteriors include abandoned littered sandlots and people going in and out of sewers. Stuff that kids are fascinated with, actually (or at least when we were kids).

KAZ: Yes, sewers are fascinating. I love the idea that there’s an underground world connecting the whole city. I lost a lot of Spalding rubber balls down sewers. My brother Vincent accused our mom of shoving his dog, Zero down a sewer after she was sick of taking care of it. He claims a friend saw her do it. When he confronted her she denied it. The dog just disappeared. Zero the sewer dog.   

BAGGE: I just heard Zero’s echoing, ghostly bark!  Since you mentioned Betty Boop, I’m guessing those type of backgrounds also evoke cartoons and comics from the 30s and 40s that clearly had a huge influence on you. Were you always drawn to that old-timey stuff, or did it start to grow on you once you were out on your own?

KAZ: I think I always liked it. I never considered it old timey. Just different. The underground comics that influenced me the most had the same feeling. Robert Crumb and Kim Deitch. But yes, I was drawn to them because they looked like Hoboken. I found drawing plain suburban houses, storefronts, and strip malls pretty boring at the time. 

Here’s a fine documentary on the cartoonist Richard Thompson.

Steve Wozniak brought a comic con to San Jose — crowds ensued.

A handy guide to the Batman / Superman relationship over the years.

 

Be Nice

Joe McCulloch is here as usual with his regular guide to the Week in Comics, and this time he takes an extended look at

the newest work from Julie Doucet, one of the absolute titans of the Canadian alternative cartooning generation to rise to prominence in the 1990s – her new book, Carpet Sweeper Tales, arrives in comic book stores this week. It’s an unusual work, which some readers will probably slot in with the ‘post comics’ collage or mixed media output Doucet has shown in books like Lady Pep (2004), which is to say it won’t be read as ‘comics’ in the way a new (let’s say) Chester Brown book will, even if the new Chester Brown is 1/3 prose-format annotations.

Rob Clough is here, too, with a review of Jennifer Hayden’s The Story of My Tits.

As a rule, I tend to detest cancer memoirs because they tend to be reductive in how they treat the narrative of the protagonist, usually showing them as victim or hero (or some combination thereof). The reality is that cancer, devastating as it is, is simply a disease. It doesn’t alter character, and nor does it make a person’s narrative instantly compelling. The reason why The Story Of My Tits works is that it’s about much more than cancer; the hook of using her breasts as the book’s focus may be gimmicky, but is enormously effective. It’s a gateway that allows her to tell her own story without seeming too pretentious or precious. Hayden has the rare ability to depict emotion without indulging in sentiment, which I think is due in part to her willingness to laugh at herself on nearly every page.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. KQED talks to Daniel Clowes (this is a good one).

I heard that Oakland Museum exhibition was great, but it also sounds a little bit like being eulogized before your time?

It absolutely felt like that. It was like attending your own funeral and hearing what people say about you — which was all very nice. There’s a movie called Scarlet Street that opens with Edward G. Robinson going to his retirement dinner, and he’s presented with this gold watch and everybody pats him on his back and then that’s it. He leaves and he has no friends or life after that. It really did feel like that. It was weird. I disassociated myself from it and started to just think of myself as a collector of Daniel Clowes artwork after a while, because you’d see name tags on things like they were on loan from a collector — but it was ‘on loan from Daniel and Erica Clowes.’ I would be so proud. Like, wow, I have artwork loaned to a museum!

Little Village talks to Gary Groth about 40 years of Fantagraphics and The Comics Journal.

Looking over the interviews I’ve done, there are different slants to them. Some were contentious, closer to debates than interviews, such as Todd McFarlane or my illuminating (to me) one with Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette about creators’ rights. [There were] those that were more journalistic or historical in nature—I think my interview with Kevin Eastman is a high point, but there are a number of interviews I did with Silver Age artists like Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert. I love the interviews where we get into the nitty gritty of the art and the art-making and explore the philosophical disposition of the artist: Robert Crumb, Ralph Steadman, David Levine, Burne Hogarth, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, off the top of my head — Jesus, six artists who are so utterly different from each other!

Syracuse.com talks to Roz Chast.

She decided to try submitting to The New Yorker just because her parents subscribed to them. She collected every cartoon she had and dropped them off in April of 1978.

“I never thought I’d be doing cartoons for The New Yorker,” said Chast. “I didn’t think what I did was commercially viable. I thought, ‘What’s there to lose?’ I didn’t have my hopes up.”

Sex magazine talks to Aidan Koch.

 

Pie Please

Today we have Chris Mautner on Mark Beyer’s Agony, the first release from New York Review Classics.

Most of us have at one time or another suffered from the nagging suspicion that the universe is out to get us. Or — even worse — that our suffering, whether brought upon by malevolent forces, just plain bad luck or random occurrence, will never end. That will always be just one damned thing after another, ad infinitum.

Which is exactly what makes Mark Beyer’s work so appealing and funny. Beyer takes that self-absorbed conceit (because, really, the basic cri de coeur of this type of angst is “why me”?) and expands it to absurd levels on the comics page, using his grotesque and at times primitive art style to create a hellish and unrelenting nightmare for his protagonists, where the basic question isn’t “will things ever get better” but “what type of misery awaits us around the corner?”

And R.C. Harvey on the meaning and origins of the ongoing newspaper downturn.

First, consider the source of the stories about the death of newspapers. That news is lofted  mostly by large, metropolitan newspapers. Small city newspapers (dailies and weeklies) aren’t complaining. Why not? Because they’re not in the kind of trouble big city papers are in. They still get sufficient revenue from advertising, display and classified: local businesses have no place else to advertise. In big cities with hordes of national chain stores (rather than small town Mom ‘n’ Pop establishments), businesses advertise nationally via television. Newspapers lose out. And classified advertising has all but disappeared. Newspapers lose out big time.

Finally, to drive the nail in the coffin, readership is evaporating. The most populous newspaper reading demographic is the 55-and-older category. And newspapers appear too busy wringing their hands at the loss of the 18-35 age group to find ways to exploit the other demographic. I’ll come back to this in a trice. But before I leave small city newspapers, their apparent fiscal health is small comfort to us: few of them run comic strips, and those that do, don’t run many. But that is, for the nonce, beside the point. The continued existence of small town papers serves simply to make my point: the newspapers that are in trouble financially in this country are big city papers.

Elsewhere:

Amazingly, Frank Santoro and Chris Diaz have unearthed and posted an interview I didn’t even know was recorded: My infamous (to me at least) interview/quiz with Dan Clowes in 2010.  Look how young I am! Only 6 years ago but oh how I’ve aged.

Paul Karasik’s final Angouleme round-up for the year 2016.

Dan Clowes (again!) interviewed over at Salon.

Paul Buhle on Bill Griffith and romance comics.

 

Garbage Day

Today, we bring you the final day of Jen Lee’s week contributing our Cartoonist’s Diary. Thanks, Jen!

And Greg Hunter is here, too, with a review of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s The Demon: Hell’s Hitman.

The issues collected in Hell’s Hitman, dating to the mid-’90s, are not much of a talking point, even among fans of the issues’ writer, Garth Ennis, and they’re probably best remembered as the birthplace of Tommy Monaghan, later the title character in Ennis’s Hitman series. DC released this collection with little fanfare, perhaps to coincide with Ennis’s recent All-Star Section Eight series, a belated Hitman spin-off surrounded by little fanfare itself. Ennis and Etrigan make for a counter-intuitive pairing; the Demon speaks in verse, precluding the scenes of between-fight bullshitting that fill Ennis titles like Preacher. (The release may also be part of an effort to put as many Garth Ennis collections on the market as possible before the Preacher TV series premieres.) Ennis himself admits in his author’s note at front of the collection, “I see some things I don’t like, but an awful lot more that I do.” In short: Hell’s Hitman is an especially weird bit of back-catalog excavation, both in its narrow appeal and its wild vacillations in quality.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Gilbert Hernandez is the latest guest on Inkstuds.

Alex Dueben talks to Jeff Nicholson about coming out of retirement for Through the Habitrails.

I was just not getting enough returns for the energy. Which is hard to really quantify. It’s not just financial. Some form of success whether it’s financial or fan reaction or critical acclaim. There are different degrees of success. Something could sell really well like “Ultra Klutz” #1 and make lots of money. Something could get really awesome reviews like “Habitrails.” Something could have a cult status. I don’t know, but there’s a threshold where you need a certain amount of whichever form of success it is to make up for the fact that you’re making comics on the evenings and the weekends.

Xavier Guilbert talks to Dragonhead creator Mochizuki Minetarô about a new story, Chiisakobe.

When I’m drawing, even if I’m not conscious of it, the situation of Japan always seeps through. It’s like I was feeling with my skin what is happening around me, in Japanese society. When I was working on Dragonhead, there was the Kôbe earthquake in 1995, and that tragic event probably influenced the narrative of this manga. Prior to that, there had been the bursting of the bubble economy in Japan, during which everything which was highly coveted became worthless overnight. There was nothing left for us, and for me it was as if invisible monsters where hiding out in the world.

—News. Ted Rall is suing the L.A. Times for defamation.

The suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also contends that The Times fired him unfairly.

Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for The Times, said in a statement that Rall’s allegations in the lawsuit were unfounded, adding: “The Times will defend itself vigorously against Mr. Rall’s claims.”

In sad news, Zainab Akhtar, who runs the valuable and well-liked Comics & Cola blog, has announced that she will be shutting down her site at the end of the month, citing racism and sexism in the comics community.

—Misc. Mental Floss has published an oral history of the Garbage Pail Kids, featuring Mark Newgarden, Jay Lynch, and many others.

Newgarden: Arthur Shorin was the final word at Topps, period. So the line was probably drawn depending on whatever Arthur had for breakfast that morning.

[John] Pound: Religious elements didn’t fly. One little gag sketch had a little kid like Moses receiving GPK stickers instead of the Ten Commandments tablets. Then things, gags that were suicide-related, like someone hanging themselves, you didn’t want to promote that as something kids might do or try.

Steve Kroninger (Freelance Artist): There was one of a kid in an oven. It was a sketch from Mark or Art. It got painted but didn’t get final approval.

Newgarden: I don’t believe we ever put a baby in an oven.

—Technical. It has come to my attention that several people have sent me emails over the past few months which I never received. I believe the problem has now been fixed, but if any of you have sent important emails and never heard back about them, please resend. Thanks.

 

Back in the Day

Hello people, today we have Annie Mok’s interview with Michael DeForge on the occasion of the cartoonist’s latest book, Big Kids.

DEFORGE: I frequently have a hard time organizing my memories, or certainly from key parts of my life, and particularly traumatic parts. A lot of the way I circle the same themes and topics… I would have a hard time writing something overtly autobiographical, but by having all these different fictional parts of me, or fictional vantage points of certain moments or thoughts… it’s the only way I’ve been able to maybe objectively… or not objectively, but come close to objectively, looking at what it was that happened, or what I was thinking, or the mental state I was in. I found my memory has been fairly unreliable, and it’s taken a lot of parsing. It took me awhile to feel like my life had a linear narrative. And I know, logically it actually doesn’t. But it’s easier to think of it that way than as a bunch of unrelated pieces of information. So I worked pretty hard to try to piece something together with what did seem sort of like a lot of loose change. My stories are pretty meandering, and sometimes possibly even arcless. That’s sometimes how I look back on how events actually unfold.

And Jen Lee’s diary continues with Day 4.

Elsewhere:

What you and I have always wanted: An oral history of the Garbage Pail Kids, featuring copious images, to boot.

Former (and perhaps future?) comics editor Marc Weidenbaum recalls his days in the strip trenches.

Pal Anne Ishii interviews Japanese artist Rokudenashiko, whose controversial fortcoming book Ishii has packaged for Koyama Press.

A surprisingly in depth profile of groundbreaking female manga artist Keiko Takemiya over at the BBC.