2,000 Words of Amnesia

I found an old, small piece of myself last month that I didn’t even know I’d lost. And the tale of what I misplaced is a fable about mortality, the raw power of trauma, the whim of memory — and The Comics Journal.

This is what was unexpectedly returned to me: a 2,000-word article that I wrote more than 25 years ago for The Comics Journal that I can’t recall writing, that I never saw in print.

It wasn’t like the hundreds of articles I reported and typed in a frenzy when I started out as a punk reporter in rural New Hampshire. This was a magazine article written for a national publication (modest, yes) back when I considered every 250 or 500 words sold another brick in the potential cathedral of my career.

But there it sat — 2,000 words of prime amnesia.

The article lurks in The Comics Journal No. 94, printed on the cheap paper of its day that, in its dotage, carries the sweet reek of decaying pulp. My article was about Futuropolis, a Paris publisher then of vintage American comic strips like Segar’s "Thimble Theatre", Herriman’s "Krazy Kat" and Eisner’s "The Spirit".

And there it waits, on Page 56 of The Comics Journal No. 94. It bears my name, the words sound like me, but I don’t recognize it. And reading it makes me feel queasy, as if  I’ve stepped sideways and backwards into some Philip K. Dick mind-scape.

I retrieved this fugitive in a thoroughly modern manner. As I scanned the The Comics Journal web site recently I noticed the article index. I did remember an article on Will Eisner and the Angouleme, France, comics festival I wrote that appeared in The Comics Journal No. 89 — and I was thrilled to get the byline and the $35. I keyed in my name.

Up popped No. 89 … and the wholly uncanny No. 94. I clicked to Amazon right away, snagged a copy for three bucks — and that’s how the article ghosted into my possession. When I glanced at the cover (Moebius, Crepax, Kojima and more) then read the article, all it did was make my head hurt. It wasn’t until I saw the magazine’s date — October 1984 — that I finally understood.

1984, the year I turned 27, was a tough one. A manageable case of ulcerative colitis, diagnosed two years before, turned feral. I kept working — writing and editing — but in a colitis-induced fog.

When I think about 1984 I recall the betrayal of my immune system, of my body undone by pain and blood loss. Ultimately, in October, I ended up in the hospital — my lips blue, my ribs stark against skin as pale as skim milk. I spent six week in the hospital, got 27 pints of blood, and had my entire colon cut out. Then I convalesced at home for another three months.

What’s an article in the face of eternity … of mortality?

This is what I think happened. As sick as I was in early ’84 I soldiered on — a deadline is a deadline, after all — wrote my article, mailed it off and forgot about it as I worried about my health. Serious illness brings clarity, burns away the underbrush of your life.

I wasn’t fretting over my meager words and The Comics Journal. In October 1984 I grappled with the power of physical trauma and wrestled for my future. As for copies of No. 94, maybe The Comics Journal forgot to mail them to me, or they might’ve got dumped in the trash. But I never saw them, never got my memory — overwhelmed by sickness — jogged by their presence.

Then, as I recovered, I looked straight ahead. My wife and I were ready to start a family. I needed to write another draft of my first novel, there were articles to be written and edited — a career to chase once more.

I put 1984 behind me, save for the sharp memories from the country of near-death. And my 2,000 words about Futuropolis got abandoned, got stuck in that year. My memory — as traumatized as my body  — let that tiny part of me go, ceded a small death.

Staring at that Comics Journal article from 27 years ago now, I still feel wary, somehow unmoored in time. But, too, I realize, I’m looking at other unlikely survivors — article and magazine — from October 1984.


Rainy Days

Today on the site:

Writer Dana Jennings discovers a piece of himself in an old issue of The Comics Journal.

Up popped No. 89 … and the wholly uncanny No. 94. I clicked to Amazon right away, snagged a copy for three bucks — and that’s how the article ghosted into my possession. When I glanced at the cover (Moebius, Crepax, Kojima and more) then read the article, all it did was make my head hurt. It wasn’t until I saw the magazine’s date — October 1984 — that I finally understood.

Reliably, today our man Jog brings you the week in comics.

And, elsewhere around town, it's all about lawsuits and masked men:

The estate of Bob Montana is suing Steve Geppi for non-payment for a massive artwork sale. But the story gets weird from there. It's an intriguing one, with wider (though at this point, just rumored) implications for Geppi's Diamond.

And, as expected, the Kirby heirs are appealing the recent summary judgment against their claims.

Paul Tumey has a great Jack Cole Midnight story posted, with analysis.


Ten Thousand Doors For Men to Take Their Exit

Kim Thompson remembers Francisco Solano López:

Argentina’s Francisco Solano López was a titan of South American comics, on a level with the great Alberto Breccia, the temporary honorary Argentinean (during the 1950s) Hugo Pratt, and the hugely influential writer Hector Oesterheld (who collaborated with all three).

Frank Santoro's back in full storyteller mode, talking about his recent trip to New York to collaborate with Dash Shaw. (There's another bonus Michael DeForge cartoon, too.)

One night I, Dash, Dan Nadel, and David Mazzucchelli went out to dinner. Dan and Dash have been around David enough times that they don’t get starstruck – but I still do. It’s embarrassing only because I drink too much and start yelling and Dan has do that hand gesture thing where he is saying calm down when Mazzucchelli isn’t looking. Whatever. I was having fun.

John Hilgart of 4CP fame reviews Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta's Starstruck. Here's a brief excerpt:

Now raise your hand if you [...] imagined that Starstruck must be either a campy sci-fi gender parody or a didactic exploration of how things would be different if women were in charge of the galaxy. The fact that it is not remotely either of these things is one of writer Elaine Lee’s greatest accomplishments. She pulls off the coup, engineers the genre sex-change, without our even noticing. She realized that she didn’t need to do much more than change who got the close-up; instead of Luke Skywalker, it’s the pilot of the fighter off to his left, who actually turns out to be the important one. Lee’s characters have long been there in science fiction; she simply makes them the protagonists and extrapolates from there. Starstruck’s feminism is both as invisible and as pervasive as air, and therefore an accomplishment in its own right.

Most readers of The Comics Journal have probably already seen Tom Spurgeon's essay from this weekend, explaining that his recent hiatus was due to a life-threatening illness. It's a moving and candid reflection on mortality, family, and life in the comics industry. (And the Green Lantern movie!). If you haven't taken the opportunity to look at it yet, you should. A must-read of the week, month, year:

If I learned anything that first 48 hours awake, it was to focus on the next event: the next breath, the next five minutes, the next question written on the notepad, the next time someone might come into the room. To my surprise, after a life of avoidance I'm not that bad at taking things as they come. Although come to think of it, no one carves time like an unproductive writer.

In the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, Robert Crumb wrote an open letter explaining the recent cancellation of his trip to Australia:

Sorry, folks. I do feel bad, as I hate letting people down. But I decided I'd rather bear the pain of letting people down than subjecting my long-suffering wife to a 10-day period of dread and anxiety for my well-being. She's been awfully nice to me since I told her I wasn't going! She baked a chocolate cake even!

I know, I know, it's galling to give the Sunday Telegraph sleazeballs the satisfaction. ''Ha ha, we scared him off.'' But they have already got what they wanted out of me anyway, which was to use me to make the City of Sydney look bad.

The worst part is the apparent irresponsibility of these cynical media hacks. What if I'd gone there, and what if some Mark Chapman-type person who'd read that article decided the world needed to be cleansed of scum like R. Crumb? (Mark Chapman shot John Lennon.) This possibility worried Aline deeply.

More on the decision here. And the Daily Telegraph (the tabloid that initiated the whole thing) responds here.

Finally, Eddie Campbell bought the recent Bill Mauldin collections, and writes about some observations that occurred to him while reading the cartoons in chronological order for the first time:

The first is that I am surprised to find that there is no break between the war cartoons and the post-war cartoons. They are continuous. The second is that in the middle of 1944 Mauldin appears to have decided to stretch the proportions of his figures from a normal height of seven or eight 'heads' to as many as ten heads (previously I presumed variations might be explained by pressing circumstances).



Oh my heavens, it's Friday already. This week has zoomed by, and I'm not sure why. Some work has been done, and things accomplished. I've edited (that would be pushing it -- I've gently massaged) some excellent pieces to roll out in the next few weeks. But I ask you, gentle reader, is anyone still reading in August? Should we just hold onto the REALLY good stuff, like pot dealers witholding their personal stash? Or should we pack the bong for you? Concerned and vacation-oriented editors want to know!

In the meantime, speaking of the good stuff, Shaenon Garrity drops her latest column today, this one all about Girlamatic:

Girlamatic is also the friendliest webcomics site I’ve been a part of.  As one of the old-timers of webcartooning, I’ve done comics for nearly all the sites in the Modern Tales family (I didn’t have a comic on Adventure Strips, but then it turned into Graphic Smash, for which I wrote Smithson), and Girlamatic has the warmest community.

Plus, she snuck in a reference to Kenneth Smith. Shaenon! Busting some O.G. knowledge.

Elsewhere on the internet:

This is the most expensive comics anthology I've ever heard of. Even the numbers as presented make no sense, since a good accountant would wipe out the income and the shipping (after the comp copies) should be paid for by the customer. A little perspective: I could print 2 Kramers Ergots and 2 Odd Future books for this amount of dough and pay all the contributors a decent page rate. Put another way, I could publish 25 issues of Cold Heat and give Frank Santoro a pro page rate. Or another way, I could buy the rights to certain 1960s characters and employ half of Providence to draw them. But what the hell do I know. I should get out of publishing and editing and whatever other stupid shit I do and just do Kickstarter proposals for a living.

In other irritating news, the Atlantic published quite possibly the worst "Best of" list of all time, "10 Masterpieces of Graphic Nonfiction", leading off with the horrendous book that convinced me that Harvey Pekar was really hacking it out (and shit, why not?) before his untimely death, The Beats. Holy moly is that a bad list. And compiled by someone who is doing "Gogol for the Google era." Clever! I myself am working on Dostoyevsky for the coming Dark Age. Look for my analog Kickstarter campaign on a street corner near you.

In good news, Nicholas Gazin has posted his latest Comic Book Love-In, this time given over entirely to an interview with Monte Schulz, son of Charles... Come back to us, Nicholas!

And in good news you can close out the week with, SPX this year has one hell of a guest and programming slate. It'll be a really great weekend, even for grumpy ol' me.


Number Seven

A panel from Sturm & Baxter's "Response to Chapter Nine"

Today, Kim Deitch continues his memoir-via-music in part 6. If you aren't reading these because you think they're all just a bunch of old music talk, you're really missing out on an incredibly enjoyable (& repeatedly jaw-dropping) autobiography from not only one of the most significant cartoonists alive and working today, but also someone who led a rich life, which partly because of his family and partly because of his own career, intersected with all kinds of interesting people and events. For example, today's entry includes appearances by Jules Feiffer, Pete Seeger, children's television host Freddie the Fireman, Connie Converse, Handsome Harry (a Brazilian gigolo), and Bill Griffith, not to mention such topics as his parents' divorce, a trip to Prague, a mysterious suicide, the loss of Kim's virginity, and his entry into art school. So if you've already been reading along, the new installment is here, and you need no encouragement. Otherwise, go back to part one, and get caught up as quick as you can. You won't be sorry.

Also, Hayley Campbell reviews Jaques Tardi & Jean-Patrick Manchette's Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot. I'm really looking forward to this book.

Okay, and now some links for the day:

1. The cartoonist Seth declares his support for the boycott against Marvel, mentioning in passing his own fondness for some of the company's comics, his thoughts on the company's obligations, and his suggested plan of action for those who still need their fix of stories featuring characters created by Jack Kirby.

2. Eventually we will talk Kim Thompson into writing an ongoing dream journal for us, and it will be amazing.

3. One of my three favorite comics podcasts, the Comix Claptrap, is back with the first episode of its fourth season. This time, they interview Annie Koyama, one of the best and most fascinating publishers of new comics around. (The hosts also briefly disagree about whether or not Dan is "nice.")

4. Devlin & Burns & co. give a guided photo tour of their visit to Mimi Pond's home.

5. Stan Lee is pretty old now, so it's probably wrong to find amusement in the potential awfulness of something like this, but ... what can I say? A flawed and petty man is putting together this batch of links today.

6. Apple is apparently censoring certain underground comics for iPad and iPhone users.

7. Finally, Ben Towle has posted the still much-discussed comic-strip response to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics that was created by James Sturm and Art Baxter and originally ran in issue 211 of The Comics Journal. Towle also got comments from Sturm and Baxter regarding the creation of the strip and their thoughts on it today. If you read only one of these links, this should be the one! (Also the Seth one. And the Kim Thompson one.)


More Action

Continuing our all-action, all-the-time policy, today we have Kristy Valenti's wide-ranging interview with the great Jim Rugg.

And elsewhere on the internet:

-James Romberger on Big Questions for Publishers Weekly.

-Cartoonist Becky Cloonan writes about the realities of freelance life.

-You need more links in your diet. Sean T. Collins has 'em!

-Illustration critic David Apatoff recommends the new 41 Illustrators and How They Work.

-Finally, once again, I'm glad Tucker Stone does it so we don't have to.


Ram On

Joe McCulloch offers his usual take on the week in comics, with a bonus mini-essay on Phoebe Gloeckner.

Rob Clough reviewed the latest Jason (& Fabien Vehlmann) book, Isle of 100,000 Graves. This is a really fun story, and personally, I liked it as much as any other Jason I've read.

Department of historical oddities: An Alan Moore/Fantagraphics comic book that never happened.

Jordan Crane's Last Lonely Saturday has been made into a short film.

Department of profiles of important figures:
Dave Moriarty of Rip Off Press in the Austin American-Statesman (via)

And Mickey Mouse maestro Floyd Gottfredson, in The Australian. (also via CR)

The second part of the Walt Disney essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum I linked to last week. In this section, he moves on to evaluating the films (as of the essay's publication in 1975).

Paul Gravett writes about war comics, British and Canadian.

Some of you may remember the Australian tabloid story linked to here last week, in which a controversy was manufactured regarding an upcoming visit by Robert Crumb. Because of that story, the cartoonist has cancelled his appearance. [UPDATE: Tom Spurgeon has additional information here. This is a Spurgeon-heavy post today! It is good to have him back.]

Luc Sante once wanted to be a cartoonist? Who knew?

The A.V. Club tours the house where Siegel and Shuster created Superman.

Christopher Allen reviews the new issue of the Comics Journal.



It's Monday here, and we begin the week lightly, even with a touch of mellow.

-Yesterday Frank's latest column, complete with bonus cartoon and boycott notice, hit the internet!

-Today R. Fiore brings us a typically brilliant and discursive review of Luc Besson's version of Jacques Tardi's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec.

-And from the archives, Gary Groth's 1993 interview with Jim Woodring.

And now... a few links!

-Tom Spurgeon has an excellent interview with Brannon Costello, the editor of Howard Chaykin: Conversations. I also thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it as a fascinating document not just of Chaykin's evolving ideas, but also of the comics "scene" itself, and the various levels within it. Chaykin's takes on the underground, Maus, and other topics show a man grappling with the fast-changing medium he loves. The book also gets into his return to comics in recent years, as well as his years in television. In all the hubbub around the canonical figures of comics, it's too easy to forget about the important, more pulp-oriented artists like Chaykin.

-Also, via Comics Reporter, a profile of Mr. Paul Karasik.

-The Beat asks who is selling off all the great Barks work on Heritage.

Ok, see you soon.