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It’s always a good day when a new Ken Parille Grid column shows up, and today he’s got a long look at that most underappreciated and unusual cartoonist, Abner Dean, whose example is if anything even more instructive and relevant today. Here’s how Ken’s column opens:

After years of reading Abner Dean, I still can’t answer a fundamental question: Are the drawings in the books he released from 1945 to 1954 cartoons? In one sense, of course, what we call them is irrelevant: they are beautifully drawn, thought provoking works of art. Yet the question gets at issues central to Dean’s philosophy and the trajectory of his career. Prior to releasing It’s a Long Way to Heaven in 1945, he had worked for over a decade as a commercial artist. Having drawn countless ads for products like crackers, cereal, and insurance, as well as hundreds of cartoons for popular magazines, he felt burdened by the limitations of contemporary cartooning formulas. Looking to create complex works of lasting value, in the early ‘40s he took the vocabulary of the single-panel gag cartoon — a genre he had long since mastered — and began producing “drawings” (his preferred term) that he thought of as something original, even “striking.” These innovations expressed his belief in the power of images, not simply to get a laugh, but to get readers thinking about themselves in new ways. The typical gag asks only for a quick chuckle at how we — or, more often, other people — act. But for Dean, the combination of image and text could stimulate a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses: delight, frustration, provocation, bewilderment, sadness, or illumination. To bring about such reactions, Dean created “cartoons” (a term he also used) that placed a greater demand on readers than typical gags and generated more questions than answers. Take Dean’s “Opportunist in a Strange Land”:

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What’s the opportunity presented the protagonist? (To be a voyeur who can’t be caught looking?) Why don’t the others just remove the sacks from their heads? (Are they content in their blindness?) Why is he wearing a hat? (After all, no one can see it). But most importantly: What’s in the bag he’s carrying?

We also have Rob Kirby’s review of Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer:

In this follow-up to his acclaimed The End of the Fucking World (a/k/a TEOTFW), Charles Forsman introduces us to a new pair of alienated, apathetic teenagers, Mike and Wolf. Wolf, an awkward, taciturn lump of a boy with a Mohawk who lives with his grandmother, has just graduated from high school and is quietly freaked about what’s next. Mike – lean, lank-haired and a bit older – is more established and outwardly sure of himself. At the outset of the story, the boys drop acid and, like Fucking World’s James and Alyssa, take to the road, heading no place in particular. Thus begins their “celebrated summer,” a reference to the Hüsker Dü song that gives the story its name: “It’s back to summer, back to basics, hang around.”

Rather than finding the life-changing transcendence or groovy adventure depicted in acid trips of movies and other popular media, the boys – particularly Wolf – turn inward. Their ambivalence towards each other and their lives fuels the narrative. Celebrated Summer is a quiet, funny-sad character study in which what isn’t said speaks volumes; its broader subject is the liminal state of teenagers standing uneasily on the cusp of adulthood and responsibility, anxious or just plain numb at the prospect of leaving the “carefree” days of childhood behind forever.

Elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Edie Fake reviews the new Mould Map 3. Brian Cremins reports on the Chicago performance of Art Spiegelman’s Wordless! Greg Hunter on Paul Pope’s Battling Boy. Rob Clough reviews MariNaomi, Sean T. Collins & Julia Gfrörer, and Spencer Hicks. Wim on Olivier Schrauwen’s My Boy.

—News.
Paul Karasik is reporting from Angoulême. Uncivilized Books has announced its spring 2014 lineup.

—Spending Opportunities. Here’s a Kickstarter for a new Kim Deitch collection that hits its funding goal almost immediately.

—Interviews. J. Caleb Mozzocco talks to Lucy Knisley. And here’s Matz on collaborating with David Fincher on a graphic-novel adaptation of Fincher’s aborted version of Black Dahlia.

 

Writing on the Wall

Good morning. Rob Steibel is back with another installment of his Jack Kirby: Behind the Lines column, this time looking at ’60s Captain America:

Note how Jack makes the Skull’s face distorted, emphasizing his evil. He’s literally twisted.

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Shores’ inking gives the face a three-dimensionality and the line variety and texture gives the image a bit of photorealism you don’t see in Jack’s pencils filtered through most of his other inkers, aside from Wallace Wood in the famous Skymasters dailies and Sundays. Here’s an example of Kirby/Wood from my old Kirby Dynamics weblog sent to me by a reader. Beautiful delineation of the machinery and note Wood’s distinctive shadows on the faces.

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Obviously Wood was a lot slicker than Shores, and Woody was considered a master craftsman as an inker, but I do think Shores was going for this type of effect over Kirby — less cartoony and drifting a bit towards photorealism — and in that sense I think Shores was successful although reactions to any artist or approach will be varied.


Elsewhere:


—Morrie Turner.
Cartoonist Jimmie Robinson pays tribute. The San Jose Mercury-News gathers social media reactions to Turner’s passing.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Novelist Adam Roberts on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Atomic Books continues to gather best-of-2013 lists from notable creators, including Josh Bayer, Conor Stechschulte, and Lale Westvind.

—Interviews & Profiles.
Raighne Hogan interview Zak Sally in three parts. Heidi MacDonald talks to outspoken Image publisher Eric Stephenson. Old but new-to-me: Jim Steranko interviews Barry Windsor-Smith.

—Misc. Presented without comment: “Batman scholar” Will Brooker’s response to the recent Alan Moore interview.

 

What Troubles

Joe McCulloch is here today to guide you through the most interesting-sounding new comics releases available in stores as of tomorrow morning.

Elsewhere:

—News. The pioneering cartoonist Morrie Turner, credited for being the first nationally syndicated African-American strip cartoonist, passed away this weekend. We will have more soon.

—Reviews & Commentary. In the New Republic, Jeet Heer thinks the HBO Herblock documentary was a bit much. In the New York Times, Dana Jennings reviews Charles Schulz’s Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955. In the Chicago Tribune, Jake Austen reviews Ed Piskor, Alex Schubert, and Michael DeForge. Rob Clough on Noah Van Sciver’s sketchbook comics. Zainab Akhtar on Boulet’s webcomics. Alicia DeSantis on Ad Reinhardt’s How to Look comics. Finally, as he does every year, Chris Mautner picks the six most unfairly overlooked comics of 2013.

—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon interviews Rich Tommaso. The latest guest on Inkstuds is underground great Jay Lynch. The Belleville New-Democrat profiles local boy Alex Schubert.

—Alan Moore Interview Controversy Reservoir. Alan Moore’s most recent interview continues to draw comment. Tucker Stone, Matt Seneca, Joe McCulloch, and Chris Mautner discuss it on their podcast. The journalist Laura Sneddon, mentioned and criticized by Moore, has put up a statement disputing some of his comments. She asserts that Century: 2009 was out in stores two days before her Independent review (and its accompanying article) revealed its ending. This puzzles me, because I distinctly remember reading about the Harry Potter reveal before buying the book; her review is dated June 17, and the book came out in the U.S. direct market on June 26. Maybe it was released earlier in the UK? This blogger argues with some of her other points, perhaps a bit too impolitely. He also posted a link to some of the tweets left by “Batman scholar” Will Brooker and others that Sneddon assembled into a Storify post. These were the comments Moore was responding to in the original interview, which may go some way in explaining his tone and approach.

—Video. An oddly revealing short Q&A with Todd McFarlane and Stan Lee (via):

And (via FS) a 1988 appearance by Lynda Barry on Late Night with David Letterman:

 

Rest Time

Today on the site:

Ryan Holmberg delves into occupation-era Japan and some things that got lost.

When I first started using the Prange, I was asked to watch a tutorial video about the collection. There were some clips from the Occupation period. One of them shows a Japanese boy and a Japanese man, if I remember correctly, reading an American comic book while sitting on the curb. The footage, I am told, came from the National Archives, also located in College Park. I have not bothered yet to hunt it down, though some day I will. The Prange has an amazing collection of press photographs, and I assumed that they must have similar images. But the curators could recall no such item, and within the subject categories under which the photographs are listed, there is no entry for comic books. Look at any twelve manga in the Prange collection and you are likely to find concrete evidence of the influence of American comics. But how great it would be to have an image of Japanese actually reading them!

Elsewhere:

Art Spiegelman’s WORDLESS! is coming to Chicago. I regret having to miss it in NYC. Don’t be like me.

A comics reprint fantasy football list over at The Comics Reporter.

The LA Review of Books on that new Alan Moore biography.

Tom Scioli on Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe.

The Chicago Tribune has a brief comics roundup.

I will be in LA this week and part of next, so Tim’s taking over. Go easy on him.

 

Smug Complacency

Rob Clough has read Renee French’s Hagelbarger and That Nightmare Goat, and wants to tell you about it.

It has the cadence of a children’s book as opposed to a comic. The left-hand side of the page has text, and the right-hand pages have wordless images. The story’s main protagonist is an amorphous blob creature named Hagelbarger, who spends his day building nests for creatures both above and below water. He gives a special stick teeming with benign luminescent swimming creatures to some underwater snakes in their nest. French quickly establishes Hagelbarger as a positive force who derives satisfaction from creating and helping others. The book’s looming monstrous presence is That Nightmare Goat. The odd use of “that” as a demonstrative adjective here conjures up more wholesome associations like That Darn Cat or That Girl, but the protruding, dangling tongue of the Goat is somewhere between obscene and simply disturbing. That Nightmare Goat’s dead glassy eyes belie its status as a wisecracking, profane character who nonetheless is a ruthless predator. Meanwhile, Hagelbarger and his friends Hap and Tiffo are cute but also faintly unsettling, as they don’t fit into any status of creature I’ve ever seen. They are simply oblong, bulbous creatures with bulging eyes and teeth that are drawn with a level of naturalistic detail that make them look strange and unpleasant in comparison to the smooth, white, and non-threatening way things are drawn early in the book.


Elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Quill & Quire explores the career of Seth. I didn’t know until reading Richard Evans’s obituary of art historian Frank Whitford that Whitford made a serious attempt at becoming a cartoonist. Alexandra Korcz interviews Matt Madden. The New York Times interviews Vishwajyoti Ghosh. Tim O’Shea interviews Brendan McCarthy. Forbidden Planet talks to comics critic Douglas Wolk about his first published Judge Dredd comic. Tim O’Neil interviews Abhay Khosla.

—News & Misc.
If I understand correctly, today is the first day to register for the SPX exhibitor lottery. Jackie Estrada has started a Kickstarter for a comics photo-history book.

—Reviews & Commentary. The only kind of writing about comics more confused, glib, and ignorantly self-satisfied than fan criticism is that written by newspaper art critics. John Porcellino shares his favorite comic of 2013. Samantha Meier looks at woman-centric comics anthologies. Larry Vossler reviews Zak Sally and Simon Hanselmann.

 

Remember What I Said Last Night?

Today on the site:

Well, Frank went to see Kevin Huizenga, and guess what they taaaaalked about?

I drove to Kevin Huizenga’s house because I was going stir crazy in my own house. The fact that Kevin lives 10 hours away didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Lots of snow and ice in between our two houses. I saw two tractor trailer trucks jackknifed by the side of the road. It was worth it though. Hanging out with Kevin always warms my heart.

I dug through Kevin’s library and found these gems. I haven’t seen many of the comics pictured below in over ten years. They just disappeared off the face of the Earth into collections like Kevin’s. These are the types of original editions that I never see anywhere for sale ever. Except on eBay, I guess. Please enjoy.

Please note: If you have a substantial mini comic collection and live within 10 hours of Frank he may show up on your doorstep.

Elsewhere:

Lilli Carré has been announced as the winner of this year’s Columbus Museum of Art and Thurber House residency program. It’s nice to see comics have some infrastructure for programs like this.

Looks like Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory is getting another launch, this time with a good roster of artists. Happy to see some of these guys working on Kirby ideas. Could be interesting. Or at the very least, very pretty. This kind of reminds me of when guys like Matt Wagner and Guy Davis went to work for DC and Dark Horse. In a good way.

A whole bunch of people on their “desert island” graphic novels.

And Paul Gravett is curating a very cool sounding exhibition at The British Library later this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of Snow on the Ground

Nicole Rudick is back on the site, with a review of Julia Gfrörer’s Black Is the Color:

Water and time are the basic elements of the story in Black Is the Color, which involves a young sailor, named Warren, set adrift in the ocean in a small boat. Starving and alone (his likewise marooned compatriot dies quickly and is dispatched overboard), he is visited periodically by a mermaid, who provides him with companionable conversation and sex. Warren’s moments in the boat take up roughly a third of the book and are concentrated in two long sections, set, as the rest of the book is, in a six-panel grid. Many of these pages contain little or no dialogue and show Warren alone in the boat or being comforted by the mermaid, Eulalia; these particular pages draw out the passing of time, slowing it and pitting the finiteness of human life against the perpetuity of the ocean. (Gfrörer’s sense of pacing is superb—her panels advance patiently, so that the dread of her endings has the controlled pluck of a Twlight Zone episode.) Eulalia is Warren’s only reprieve from these interminable stretches: she helps carve out brief moments of humanity for him. In one such instance, she encourages him to relate the tale of his first tryst with another sailor. “What was it like?” she asks, and he tips his head back and closes his eyes thoughtfully, as though imagining himself in that moment. Over the next three panels, Gfrörer subtly alters Warren’s expressions as he moves through the memory, before concluding, with a painful, faraway look, “It was sweet.”


Elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Stephen Bissette reviews the new Miracleman reprint, and wonders why Marvel can’t always do right by their backlist creators. Rick Marshall looks back at 1934, the birth of the adventure comic. Chris Randle reviews Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony. Andrew White has two quick but solid reviews of horror comics by Julia Gfrörer & Sean T. Collins and Sam Alden. Greg Baldino reviews two feminist/LGBT anthologies, The Big Feminist But and Anything That Loves. The Tove Jansson biography (and a recently published memoir) were both reviewed at The Guardian and the Financial Times. Dana Jennings at the Times recommends various newspaper strip reprints. Sean Kleefeld writes about Jay Jackson’s Speed Jaxon.

—News & Misc. Variety reports that a new team has purchased Heavy Metal from Kevin Eastman. The Shuster heirs were denied a rehearing. Retrofit is having a 2014 subscription drive. Tim O’Neil’s blog is ten years old.

—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben talks to Jim Woodring about Fran. The Rumpus talks to Tom Motley. Ana Merino profiled Paul Gravett, and Richard Graham interviewed him, and both their stories are here. Michael DeForge and Shary Boyle both appear on a recent Hazlitt podcast. Somehow I missed this video of a conversation between Zak Sally and the late Dylan Williams:

 

Not Very Observant

We’re back from the long weekend here.

Patrick Rosenkranz has written the obituary for the crucial underground figure Gary Arlington.

Gary Arlington started what might have been the world’s first comic book shop in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1968. The San Francisco Comic Book Company began inauspiciously in a small storefront on 23rd Street, where he offered duplicate copies of his EC Comics collection for sale. By a twist of fate, the store became ground central for the explosion of underground comix that began that same year with the publication of Zap Comix #1 by an unknown artist named Robert Crumb. Arlington soon began to sell Zapalong with his vintage comics and new Marvel and DC titles.

And it’s Tuesday so, as I write this, one Joe McCulloch of Pennsylvania is frantically writing the week in comics.

Elsewhere:

Well, Marjane Satrapi has directed a Ryan Reynolds movie about a guy who takes killing commands from his cats. That’s sort of awesome.

The Washington Post on Bill Finger. Tom Spurgeon interviews Ron Marz.

Chris Mautner interviews Kevin Scalzo.

Comics about the Civil Rights movement. 

A couple year-end lists…. Forbidden Planet and Jared Gardner.