Let’s keep 2014 going right with another column from historian R.C. Harvey. This time he looks into some of the murkier aspects of the origin of the Superman comics:
We know who invented the Man of Steel. Jerry Siegel. But the invention in early 1933 was followed by frustration: for the next four years plus a few months, Siegel and his drawing partner Joe Shuster tried in vain to sell their creation to newspaper feature syndicates and to publishers who were just hatching the comic book business by reprinting newspaper comic strips in magazine format. Nobody wanted this super strong refugee from the disintegrated planet Krypton. And then, all of a sudden, Superman was “discovered” by a young editorial assistant tangentially connected to the McClure Syndicate. Sheldon Mayer, just out of his teens, was working with M.C. “Charlie” Gaines, who, in turn, was functioning as a sort of freelance salesman and packager, scouting for printing jobs for the two new color presses McClure had acquired when Bernarr MacFadden’s scurrilous Daily Graphic folded in 1932. Hanging around the McClure offices, Mayer saw the Superman comic strip Siegel and Shuster had submitted in the hope of getting their brain child syndicated. And Mayer’s brain exploded.
“I went nuts over the thing,” Mayer said years later when remembering the event. “It was the thing we were all looking for. It struck me as having the elements that were popular in the movies, all the elements that were popular in novels, and all the elements that I loved.”
But he couldn’t convince anyone to sign up the feature. Not Gaines. Not any of the McClure officials.
“They all asked me what I thought of it,” Mayer said. “I thought it was great. And they kept sending it back.”
And Rob Clough takes a look at Real Good Stuff, the latest Dennis Eichhorn comics:
[Dennis Eichhorn] was a sort of mirror image to Harvey Pekar, as both men were writers who employed a number of alt-cartoonists to depict stories from their everyday lives, as well as their checkered pasts. In Pekar’s case, of course, he sought to draw poignancy from the mundane and quotidian while exploring his emotions, intellectual interests and the interesting people he happened to work with and frequently befriend. Nothing much “happened” in those stories in a kinetic, narrative sense, other than a particular thought or anecdote being relayed in a memorable fashion. Eichhorn, on the other hand, has led an extraordinarily colorful life and isn’t afraid to share every detail with his readers.
Indeed, every Eichhorn story includes either a fight or some threat of violence, a wild drug sequence, a graphic and frequently hilarious sex scene, a recounting of some interesting and generally unbalanced person he happened to encounter, or some combination thereof.
—Interviews. Excellent interviewer Michael Silverblatt has a discussion with Joe Sacco. Tom Spurgeon talks to writer-about-comics (and TCJ contributor) Zainab Akhtar. Political cartoonist Zapiro talks about getting a complaint by phone from his frequent target Nelson Mandela (via):
—Funnies. The Barnacle Press site has a bunch of newly posted strips from George McManus’s Newly Weds. And Janelle Asselin & Katie Cook start a series of webcomics on gender and comics at Bitch magazine. (Slight point of disagreement: in my opinion, “sequential narrative/storytelling books” is definitely not a term worth knowing.)
SOBEL: Did you plot the story out from the beginning, or did you write it as you were going?
LUST: I brainstormed from the beginning to the end. I wrote down everything that I remembered in a book, but I didn’t do a storyboard for the whole book because that would have bored me. A lot of ideas come during the drawing.
SOBEL: I’ve heard a lot of artists say that the best drawing is the first drawing.
LUST: No, not with me. I always start with something simple, you know, the first idea which comes to my mind, and most times that idea is ok. Then I start re-doing it and it gets better and better all the time. (laughs)
SOBEL: So was that your typical process as you were drawing it?
LUST: I’d do the sketches in the evening, in bed… like little sketches just for the next scene.
SOBEL: You did it in sequential order?
LUST: Yes. That’s very important, it was in chronological order. That’s a very important point. Maybe if you do a storyboard, you don’t need that, but without storyboards, it’s extremely important because of the flow, you know? Also to build the tension and make it stronger and stronger. I think it’s very important to be in the timeline.
So I’d draw the sequence in the scene, and then I’d read it, and then I’d redraw it, and then I rearranged stuff, and then finally, when I liked it, I would make the final drawings. Sometimes I also redrew the scene but not too often.
Co-mix is not light reading, although it contains a great deal of humor. These are comics that use — among other things — sex, drugs, funny talking animals, and well-crafted comics to encourage one to think harder. A joke in a Spiegelman comic is rarely just that, being more often an inquiry: why is this funny? About ten years into his career, Spiegelman began to figure out ways to cram more and more information into his verbal-visual matrices, so that a medium supposedly for beginning and semi-literate readers actually tasks — and rewards — as much as art and literature. In addition to the high density of information contained in Spiegelman’s comics, there is also a moral stance, fiercely taken, that challenges us to go beyond the escapist qualities of comics as entertainment. In some sense, Maus can only work at its deepest level when we constantly see past the animal masks, and refuse to de-humanize. In his work, he questions everything: culture, art history (including comics), and politics. Often, his work co-mixes what we might consider extreme opposites — comics and genocide (in the 1970s, this was a radical idea for mainstream America), jazz and politics, the Crucifixion and taxes, hard-boiled detective fiction and Cubist art, to name just a few of the heady concoctions. While there is a certain amount of formal experimentation in Spiegelman’s comics, there is also a tremendous personal investment that makes the work relevant and worthwhile. Spiegelman’s comics may not be light reading, but they are enlightening.
The Shia Labeouf story just gets better and better. I mean, now that we’re past the “he did something immoral and illegal” part (which is actually the only important part), it’s just like watching TMZ, but in some bizarre and goofy microcosm. I hope it goes on for all of 2014 and beyond. I can’t get enough of this guy. He’s the lesser James Franco. Or maybe he’s the better James Franco. Who knows! He loves Jeff Koons. He’s got big, undergrad ideas about authorship swiped from Richard Prince. I love it. He’s not what comics deserves, but he’s everything the comics internet deserves. Anyhow, here’s an incredibly awesome interview with him.
Shia is alllllmmmmost like a character out of INFOMANIACS — almost a creation of the internet. And here’s Matthew Thurber at The Paris Review to tell you about all things INFO.
It’s a brand new year, and here at TCJ (Internet division) we have a brand new attitude. Dan and I are well-rested and have spent our web-free days meditating on how to provide better criticism and coverage of the art of comics. I think it’s fair to say that 2014 will likely be the best year here yet. So prepare yourself.
To start things off, we have Joe “Jog” McCulloch, who has a recap of his own personal experiences with the last two weeks of comics. (This has been a trying fortnight for Joe, who has been e-mailing us regularly to see if he might be allowed to post during the holiday hiatus. I’m feeling a little guilty now, seeing what he Joe resorted to reading during his imposed vacation.)
—News. Marvel has decided to stop selling individual issues of their comics in traditional bookstores. Columbia University’s library has received the Kitchen Sink archives.
—Funnies. Kate Beaton went home for the holidays and posted a slew of comics about her visit. Joe Ollmann on the job. Sean T. Collins has started a new Tumblr called Comics Democracy reposting only the most popular webcomics, without commentary. He explains his reasons here.
Well,folks. R.C. Harvey is here this morning, with a column on George Baker and Sad Sack:
A few months following the Sack’s debut in Yank, Baker was transferred to the staff of the magazine, and he served there for the duration of World War II. Yank sent Baker to military installations all over the world to expose him to every possible phase of Army life in order that he might reflect it in the cartoon. In the early months of Yank’s run, Baker also distributed subscription blanks wherever he went. Eventually, the magazine acquired a circulation department, which involved Baker only to draw promotional posters. One of these gave the cartoonist “the first tangible evidence” that the Sack was a success. The poster said: “Subscribe to Yank and see the Sad Sack every week.”
Baker shouldn’t have worried. As perennial low man on the regimental totem pole, the Sad Sack was popular from the very start. He epitomized the frustrations and disappointments of Everyman, dragged somewhat reluctantly into a military bureaucracy he didn’t understand and could never master. The Sack’s adventures took place entirely in pantomime; each cartoon was a series of eight-to-ten borderless pictures that progressively depicted the cascading persecution of the week. Like some dumb animal being inexplicably punished for behaving in a perfectly natural way, the Sack was all the more pitiful for being mute.
—Interviews & Profiles. Fast Company talks to Neil Cohn about his research into the visual grammar of comics. Ruben Bolling and Vanessa Davis are guests on the latest Gweek. Jesse Reklaw was on Inkstuds. Comics Journal regulars Joe McCulloch and Sean T. Collins talk about the business of alternative comics with Tom Spurgeon. I love both those guys, but that is a very odd and even skewed discussion to read, at least from my perspective. (I’m probably too close. Maybe they’re too close, too.) One thing I do think is worth saying is that given that the closing of PictureBox was a personal decision and not one forced by economics, it probably shouldn’t be overinterpreted; if Dan was a slightly different guy, or in slightly different circumstances, it would still be running. And I don’t agree with Sean’s comment that it’s hard to “imagine another 30-year anniversary of an alt-comix publisher after Drawn & Quarterly has theirs, maybe ever again.” Top Shelf is more than halfway there. AdHouse could easily make it, if Chris Pitzer wants to do it. If anything, there are more stable or semi-stable small publishers around right now than at any time I can remember… A thirty-year-plus run in independent publishing has always been the anomaly. Those guys are always worth listening to, though, so go to it.
—News. Stumptown is merging with Rose City Comic Con. The comics writer Scott Lobdell has admitted to being the mystery aggressor in MariNaomi’s xoJane story, and has given a statement to Heidi MacDonald. Screw publisher Al Goldstein, who employed many prominent cartoonists in his day, has died.
Today on the site: An anonymous (by request) article recounting one female cartoonist’s experience with being made to feel uncomfortable by unwanted attention.
I don’t normally feel like being a woman in this field is enough to justify having to answer questions about it all the time, most frequently: “What is it like to be a woman cartoonist?” Let’s face it, this is not dangerous work. This is not even physically demanding. I am not a police officer, I am not a fireman, I am not in the army. I don’t put my life on the line every day. Hell, I don’t even work in an office where some asshole could potentially pinch my butt. I work from home! I am practically a housewife. So please, stop asking that question.
In related news, the cartoonist MariNaomi has also just posted an article on XOJane about being harassed on a comic convention panel.
The Shia LaBeouf craziness continues. The Beat has an update, and I’m in the absurd position of reporting that it’s been brought to my attention that, yes, yours truly was also plagiarized by young Shia. Seriously. The “about” page of his publishing company is lifted from the “about” page for PictureBox.
Here are my words:
Why is PictureBox? Because I love the things I love and I want to champion them. I tend toward outliers and I’m obsessed with the history of visual culture writ large and small. But look, ostensibly PictureBox is a publishing company. I publish around 10 books a year (graphic novels, prose, design, art, etc.) as well as assorted specialty items like DVDS, CDs, and prints. Each project comes from my own tastes and relationships, and are rooted in what I believe in.
And here’s Shia:
Pretty amazing. And sad.
I should also note that this site reviewed LaBeouf’s comic books (since discovered to also contain lifts). We have amended the reviews.
Luce’s storytelling structure is far more loose, and in some ways, far more self-indulgent [than Bryan Lee O'Malley's]. I mean this in the sense that Luce simply writes about everything that interests him and throws it into one big stew. He’s a huge music nerd and manages to throw in references to everything from death metal to dance music to Morrissey to punk. He’s a knowledgeable fan of professional wrestling, so of course his lead character Oaf is a former pro whose nom de ring was Gote Blud. Luce can’t help but throw in musical puns and references, as Oaf’s finishing move involved him wearing a goat horn mask that spewed fake blood and was called “Raining GoteBlood”–a reference to the band Slayer. Luce is fascinated by cats, and so the cats here have weird fantasy lives of their own. And of course, Luce is gay and writes extensively about gay culture, particularly what he refers to in the comic as “oafs and bait”–big, frequently muscular and sometimes fat men (popularly known as “bears,” though Luce puts the kibosh on that term here) and their smaller lovers. There are elements of magical realism and just plain weirdness at work here, such as when the cat’s hair sometimes take on a life of its own or a future story where Oaf is the savior of the new cat race.