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Today on the site, Michael Tisserand interviews Thi Bui’s about her memoir The Best We Could Do.

At any point did you encounter resistance to your decision to tell your story in a comic, due to old ideas about comics not being serious?

Sure, but I didn’t listen to it. I kind of like the low-brow reputation that comics have. It’s not unlike the experience of being underestimated because I’m a woman, a minority, a short person, or I look younger than my age. I enjoy the sweet revenge of surprising people. I have to, or else I would walk around in a rage all the time. 

With the Ken Burns’ documentary The Vietnam War recently concluded on PBS, I’m wondering what are the primary misconceptions that you feel Americans have about Viet Nam, its history, and our involvement there? How have popular movies or books led to misperceptions, and did you consciously consider how your work was countering these misperceptions?

The primary problem with American narratives about the war is the need to center American experiences in a conflict that was not all about America. So even when Americans go in with the intention of critically examining the United States’ involvement in Viet Nam, they continue to keep the focus on themselves — look how bad we were, the damage we did — not realizing that in continuing to talk over the voices of those who have been heard from less, they continue the damage and prevent people from healing. I was surprised and sad at how easily the Ken Burns documentary overshadowed the work of so many Vietnamese and Vietnamese American writers, filmmakers, and scholars. 

Images we pick up from movies stick around for a long time. If your idea of what Vietnamese people look and sound like comes from movies like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, then I have a lot of work to do to replace those caricatures with carefully observed characterizations of real Vietnamese people. Some people are able to do this entirely in prose; for me, drawing was in my arsenal, so I used it. My hope is that my images will stick around and influence people’s ideas of Vietnamese people for the better — not because I portrayed them all as model minorities, but because I showed them as fully formed human beings who can be wonderful, average, or total assholes, just like everybody else.

I’d like to hear from and help amplify voices even less heard than the Vietnamese. My family’s story doesn’t touch on the experiences of ethnic minorities in Viet Nam, or people in neighboring Laos and Cambodia who were impacted by the war.

Elsewhere:

Frank pointed me to this Flickr album of photos of the David Mazzucchelli show I curated some years back. His work looks as great as ever.

This is a decent overview of Samuel R. Delany's work, including some comics. 

The Karasik/Newgarden How to Read Nancy is the best book ever written about comics. I'll have an interview with them soon. Meanwhile, here is something that uses Nancy in all the off-brand ways, but worth your time regardless:

 

 

Everything is Terrible

Today on the site, Rob Clough reflects on the best way to run a comics festival, focusing particularly on the growth of CXC.

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus just had its third iteration, and by all accounts it was a success. This show is extremely ambitious in its scope, as founder Jeff Smith, his wife and business partner Vijaya Iyer, and academic/librarian Lucy Shelton Caswell imagined nothing less than an American version of the annual festival in Angouleme, France. The show's mission statement:

"We hope to provide an international showcase for the best of cartoon art in all its forms, including comics, animation, editorial cartoons, newspaper strips, and beyond, in a city that is a growing center of importance to comics and cartooning. We also focus on helping the next generation of young cartooning talent develop thriving careers that invigorate the industry for years to come."

I can't imagine a creator more suited for this particular kind of show than Smith, who sits right in the center of alternative and mainstream comics. His seminal series Bone helped to establish the currently thriving children's and YA market. Caswell is another story, and it's her involvement that gives CXC resources that no other show can match.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—CXC. Comics Workbook has two of its own takes on comics festivals and CXC. First, Adam Griffiths had a report on the various panels and talks he saw there.

“How many of y’all have heard that art is gonna make you money?” Vicko asked the audience. All of the kids raised their hands. “How many of you like art?” All hands raised. At this point, Jiba Molei Anderson, who was watching the talk, joined the panelists onstage. “If I ignore something I love, my mental focus is gonna go out of whack, right?” Alvarez declared. The children agreed with her.

“We are all here for the love,” Anderson says. “Even when we’re frustrated we’re not gonna quit. Creative people, to survive we really need to create…that hamster wheel never shuts down.”

“But tethering that to real life is always a challenge to me,” said Lisa Sheperd.

Also on that site, Juan Fernández uses his experiences at CXC, SPX, CAB, and others to think about the future of comics festivals.

Comics, as we engage with them today in the United States’ existing festival ecosystem, are facing a cultural choking point. There’s a huge role that comics can and should be playing in broader cultural discussions.

But they’re not and our Festivals have something to do with this. It’s 2017 and it is essential to reframe the discussion of comics shows.

Comics making and comics reading practices need more breathing room. To grow. To continue expanding. We need to nurture interdisciplinary approaches to experiencing comics.

We need our festivals to make this their guiding principle.

—News. As seems to be happening on a nonstop basis lately, another metaphorical mask fell off this week. On Friday, Marvel announced via Twitter that they would be partnering with the the world's fifth-largest defense contractor, Northrop Grumman, and would explain their plans on Saturday at the New York Comic-Con. As you might expect, many fans expressed concern about the move. Not long after, Marvel announced that the collaboration had been canceled. Nothrop Grumman pretended that the partnership had been intended simply to promote STEM.

The company is working to develop the U.S. military’s B-21 Raider, an opportunity it advertised during last year’s Super Bowl. And it is in the throes of an advertising blitz for a $100 billion opportunity to replace the Pentagon’s stock of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, which make up the ground-based leg of the U.S. nuclear counterattack capability.

“Northrop Grumman is a very capable company, but the bottom line is they make products that kill people,” said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant with the nonprofit Lexington Institute. “And that’s a hard sell in popular culture.”

If only.

Children's author Mo Willems (along with Mike Curato and Lisa Yee) wrote a letter in protest of a mural at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts that included a Chinese man with chopsticks that the writers claimed was a racial stereotype. (I haven't seen the image myself, but believe them.) After a great deal of controversy on social media, which included personal attacks on Willems and his co-authors, the museum decided to remove the image. The city's mayor has called for the mural to stay up, and a local businessman has offered to buy it. From the museum's statement:

It is in that spirit that Dr. Seuss Enterprises and the Springfield Museums listened to the concerns voiced by the authors and fans and have made the decision to take down the Mulberry street mural at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and replace it with a new image that reflects the wonderful characters and messages from Dr. Seuss's later works. This is what Dr. Seuss would have wanted us to do. His later books, like The Sneetches and Horton Hears a Who, showed a great respect for fairness and diversity. Dr. Seuss would have loved to be a part of this dialogue for change. In fact, Ted Geisel himself said, "It's not how you start that counts. It's what you are at the finish."

 

Can You Read Me?

Today on the site we have Annie Mok's review of Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld. 

I smiled weakly a couple of times. Gauld’s ultra-minimal drawing style seems developed to showcase the words, but the words fall limply. In small doses, in a newspaper, these cartoons may have offered some amusement, but put all together, the effect is stifling.

Elsewhere:

Gary Panter is opening an exhibition in NYC on Thursday. It's something new for the Gary man, and from what I've seen, it'll be a great experience. 

Comics Workbook has a CXC 2017 report.

I perversely loved this 2017-like-its-1977 report on Continuity Studios. Disappointed not to hear more about Ms. Mystic.

RC Baker at the now online-only Village Voice revisits Fredric Wertham.

Shannon Wheeler is the latest guest on Virtual Memories.

 

Ventriloquism School

It's been just more than a month since Joe McCulloch was last with us, but it feels like years. But he's back now with a review of Berserker #1, a new magazine from Breakdown Press, and suddenly the world feels all right again.

As far as first impressions go, this new comic book-format Breakdown Press magazine is a total success. You can't tell from my scan at left, but the cover stock is so extremely thin and glossy as to seem perpetually wet; running your fingers up and down the surface, prints trailing, you can almost feel the slime on the skin of that Robert Beatty alien, his Martian sky moist from evening humidity, prison brick wall dripping from new-sprayed paint. Yet this is not a soft world - the interior stock, non-glossy, is quite heavy and firm, so that one senses not only flesh from touch, but the easy peeling of such skin from bone: a hardness only suggested by Beatty's painting, but vivid in your hands. Who picked out the paper? Was it Joe Hales, the print producer? Someone at Hoddesdon's Crystal Press? They did a wonderful job.

Reading the magazine is not so uncomplicated a pleasure, though at least it has cohesion of its side. The editors are Tom Oldham, a Breakdown co-founder, and Jamie Sutcliffe, a writer-on-culture and one of the operators of Strange Attractor Press, a house devoted to books on marginal and esoteric subjects, among them several fictions by the magician and comics writer Steve Moore, who (among other things) devised the "Future Shock" format for twist ending short stories in the UK's venerable genre comics weekly 2000 AD. And -- beginning on the inside-front cover, where we approach the "Nerve Centaur" to encounter Low Priestess Kleax Nix Vizz, the magazine's maniacal host -- it is clear that Berserker wants to evoke the immediacy and thrill-power of Britain's history of serial comic venues, if in part, one guesses, as conceptual binding. Or, to hear it from Oldham: "There’s a lot of people producing comics who are working in genre, whether that’s formally or in terms of content. There’s also a lot of contemporary art floating around that’s sort of mining genre narrative and genre narrative aesthetics. We just wanted to do something that presented that work, and the format and mode that we chose to present it in was that of a European science fiction anthology comic à la 2000 AD."


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Roz Chast appears on Fresh Air this week. She also talks to the New York Times about her reading habits.

The last book that made you laugh?

“Trashed,” the graphic novel about a garbage collector that I mentioned before. At one point, the garbage collector is taunted by a jerky kid. Later that day while on his route, he sees that kid from behind and throws a bag of garbage at him. When the kid turns around, he realizes it’s just some poor bespectacled shlub who happens to be wearing the same shirt as the taunter. He muses about how, for the rest of his life, that kid is going to wonder why a trash collector threw a bag of garbage at him.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles Gene Luen Yang.

In the mid- to late ’90s, Yang hadn’t seen a viable career as an illustrator, and instead became a computer programmer, then a teacher, after graduating from UC Berkeley. The comic book industry was threatened with collapse as Marvel Comics declared bankruptcy. “So I just thought, ‘Some people spend money on golf to relax. I will spend money on making comics,’” Yang says.
As a child, Yang read comics in secret, hiding from disapproving parents, sneaking out of the library with a friend to a nearby comic book store. “We’d check out these coffee-table size books that we could sneak our comics home in,” he recalls.

Curbed briefly talks to Julia Wertz and excerpts her new book.

Wertz hesitates to categorize the book as any one genre; though it has elements of a guidebook, or a memoir, and (most notably) a history of the city, she says it’s really “a canonization of my obsessions in New York City.”


—Reviews & Commentary.
Robert Boyd writes about the painter (and former PictureBox artist) Trenton Doyle Hancock, and the connections between artists, comic books, and recurring characters.

For Hancock, the idea of making characters involves the whole universe of modern capitalist trademarked characters. That includes making toys of characters; Hancock is a devoted collector of toys.

As I talked to Davenport, we both realized that for most of art history, artists had a bunch of characters they could use over and over. Biblical characters are obvious choices, and mythological characters, and historical figures. What is different about those characters and modern corporate characters is that no one owned Jesus or Zeus. Disney owns Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man. Warner Brothers owns Batman and the Teen Titans. And artist can use these characters once or twice, but if they try to create involve bodies of work using these characters, they'll get legally shut down. Spider-Man is just too valuable to Disney to let Trenton Doyle Hancock or any other artists to do with it whatever they want.

—Misc. The Washington Post writes about a new Charlie Hebdo initiative to cover the United States for an American audience. It looks so far to be a great deal less caustic than the magazine's traditional product.

On Wednesday, the newspaper released a lengthy report in English on the so-called American resistance, with a particular eye to what remains of the U.S. left. The project, titled “Feeling the Burn: The Left Under Trump,” will appear online in weekly installments in the form of a graphic nonfiction novel, which will permit the newspaper to continue with its visual trademark: caricatures and cartoons.

The online Paris Review has a story about an impromptu sorta-collaboration between children's book author Sandra Boynton and New Yorker cartoonist George Booth.

This past August, Boynton, sixty-four, wound up in Brooklyn at a block party with bipedal George Booth, the legendary New Yorker cartoonist, ninety-one-years young and known, among other things, for cartoons of dirty garages and pets forced to endure lunatic owners. He spent that afternoon parked in a folding chair drawing cartoons for the neighborhood children. As Motown music played, the nonagenarian quickly sketched a couple hapless dogs on a piece of printer paper—one sitting down, one mid-twirl on one leg—and gave them to Boynton as a gift. On the car ride home to Connecticut, with the drawings on her lap and the music playing in her head, Boynton conceived of the whole story.

Lynn Johnston does an "unboxing" video (!) to mark the first volume of IDW's complete For Better or Worse.

 

Years and Years Ago

Today we bring you the tangled tale of the invention of that now utterly outmoded icon of patriotism, Uncle Sam. RC Harvey brings you the goods.

“Uncle Sam” meaning the United States appeared in newspapers from 1813 to 1815; in 1816, he appeared in a book in that symbolic role. By the 1820s, “Uncle Sam” was often being used as a term for the United States. The Sam Wilson connection seems a little shaky to me, but Congress passed a resolution in 1961 that recognized “Uncle Sam” Wilson as the namesake of the national symbol.

The visual representation of Uncle Sam, a tall man with a white goatee wearing a top hat, swallow-tail coat and striped trousers, evolved from pictures of an earlier symbolic figure—Brother Jonathan.

Until the Civil War, goateed and top-hatted Brother Jonathan in striped pants often stood for the United States even though the cartoon character initially represented just New England. The term Brother Jonathan originated across the Atlantic during the English Civil War (1642-1651) between the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) and the Royalists (“Cavaliers”) as a somewhat derogatory name for the Puritan Roundheads, and then the name was also applied to the New England colonists, who were also mostly Puritans who also supported the Parliamentarians in the mother country. By this route, Brother Jonathan became a stock character that good naturedly lampooned Yankee acquisitiveness and other crafty peculiarities attributed to citizens of the region. 

Elsewhere:

I always like to see more Jim Flora. 

Little Orphan Annie and Banned Books Week.

 

 

Choose Your Own Apocalypse

Today on the site, Alex Wong talks to Tillie Walden about her new memoir, Spinning, her relationship with figure skating (the book's subject), the importance of representation in the comics industry, and her affinity for Studio Ghibli movies.


Have your parents read Spinning and what’s been the feedback and conversations you’ve had?

I get that question a lot. I get a lot of questions about how people in my world have reacted to the book, and I always have the same answer, which is, that is between me and the people in my life. As a memoirist, people are very eager to hear more about my story. There’s a lot of my story that I’m willing to talk about, but I have to draw clear lines to keep some of my life to myself, because so many people think that just because you’re a memoirist, you’re a very public person. In reality, I think I’m a pretty private person, and I control what I let out about myself, and in this book, I obviously let out a lot.

There is often this expectation from people that when you do something personal, they just expect you to be an open book.

I find that a lot of people expect it to be a continuing conversation, and in my mind, it’s like, no, everything I had to say about my life and my story is in that book. Outside of that, sure, there’s tidbits I’d be happy to talk about, but no, it’s not a continuing conversation. That book is it. That’s what I’m putting out, the rest of my life is for me and my loved ones.

I always use Instagram as an example. People can share personal things on there, but they’re not there to have a conversation about those moments.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by like-sharing, especially with social media. You really have to control your own flow of information.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Rebecca Shuh talks to Eli Valley (Diaspora Boy) about making political comics in the Trump era.

RS: You talk in the book about backlash you got at different points for the comics. Do you have any memorable stories about an incidence of that backlash?
EV: There were so many. The main one that changed a lot of things for me was the one where I positioned Abe Foxman as an anti-semite. I talk a lot about how he waged this war on The Forward until they stopped running me. The Forward didn’t want to make an immediate cut because they didn’t want to make it look like they were bowing to McCarthyite pressure, so they did a slow, don’t accept his pitches, we’ll take a smattering, but it’s over. I was able to get in three or four over the course of the next year, I don’t remember exactly how many, but…it really left me…it wasn’t a great experience.

—News. Ramón Esono Ebalé, a political cartoonist in Equatorial Guinea, was arrested two weeks ago and remains detained without charges today.

Human rights advocates initially feared that authorities intended to charge Ebalé with criminal defamation for his often-lewd caricatures of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Obiang, who has ruled the small country on the west coast of central Africa since 1979, earning a reputation for brutal repression of journalists, dissidents, and political activists. In recent years the crackdown has also spread to artistic domains including theater and popular music. Reports that they instead appear to be drumming up charges of money laundering against him are likely even worse news for Ebalé, who could be sentenced to many years in prison.


—Misc.
Best American Comics series editor Bill Kartalopoulos has published the list of "notable comics" that came out during the period covered by the latest volume. This is always a reliable, thorough guide to noteworthy work.

 

Even the Losers

The country/world is going to shit, and I'm pretty sad about Tom Petty's passing. I saw him play in July and it was a great, rave-up style concert. Just phenomenal. 

And today on the site, we have Annie Mok interviewing Iasmin Omar Ata’s on her debut graphic novel Mis(h)adra.

MOK: So the story follows Isaac, this young man who’s in college, and you said the story is semi-autobiographical? How would you categorize it as, what’s its relation to your life story?

ATA: It’s very similar. Pretty much everything that’s happened in the book, with some exceptions and rearranging has happened to me. This is all sort of a re-versioning and in my own way a processing of these events that have happened to me. Some details are changed, and some characters represent people but aren’t real people in my life, represent concepts and things I’ve interacted with. It’s just in the avatar as Isaac.

MOK: What was it like to go with Isaac and to kind of repurpose your life into this other purpose.

ATA: I’m not actually very good at talking about myself directly, so it was really hard for me to try and figure out a way to process all this stuff through art. I felt that to have it go through a character who isn’t quite me, is very similar, in that way I was able to distance myself. Get a perspective on events that I was writing, not be 100% in my own head to have a character that was representative of me. Look at things in a new light. That was helpful to recontextualize things I was going through, but also help me get comfortable writing about things that happened to me. Because it wasn’t just my face looking right at the reader, it gave me a safer or more comfortable place.

Elsewhere:

Roz Chast on NPR yesterday.

 

Beam Forming

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews the latest from Jeff Lemire, Roughneck.

In Roughneck, the latest graphic novel from Jeff Lemire, violence begets violence, the sins of the father are visited upon the son, and various other truisms apply. Lemire has returned to rural Ontario, but he’s visiting harsher places than those found in Essex County, his series of understated, beautifully rendered portraits of working-class life. Few of Lemire’s stories in the years since Essex have had the same poignancy, and while the environs of Roughneck are dingier, the book doesn’t cut as deep. Lemire’s lead, Derek Ouelette, is an ex-hockey player and a small-down nuisance. He spends his days drinking and fighting until the reappearance of his sister, an Oxycontin addict with an abusive partner, forces him to face his demons. The book is well intentioned but obvious; it has the ambition of a great work but a fixation on familiar tropes.

Roughneck seeks to examine the effects of violence—how it travels down generations, how violence directed outward also impacts oneself. Derek’s father pushed a toxic notion of manhood on Derek the youth, encouraging an aggressive streak that eventually caused the end of Derek’s NHL career. Derek spends his life after hockey being provoked and lashing out, again and again. It’s worthwhile subject matter, and the book would be a welcome addition to the literature of masculinities—especially given Lemire’s parallel career as a writer of superhero books, a comics tradition that tends to depict violence without so much ambivalence. But from beginning to end, Roughneck is too formulaic to shake up anyone’s preconceptions.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Buried in the Paris Review's weekly staff picks, Nicole Rudick reviews Patrick Kyle's Everywhere Disappeared.

In some stories, Kyle marries geometric precision with surrealist accumulation (and occasional painterly marks), meaning that those panels are disordered with orderly elements. That appealing chaos creates a unique architecture within and between pages and gives an elasticity to the way the narratives progress. Often, those narratives involve circularity or refraction: one story proposes the idea of art as “a communicative invention used to encourage the layman to feel” and then offers a white painting that allows one “to look into nothing and forget.”

At Comics Workbook, Bill Boichel reviews John Hankiewicz's Education.

A tour de force of comics formalism, John Hankiewicz’s graphic novel, Education is a bolt from the blue. Hankiewicz’s comics work is perilously difficult to describe, but we’re going to take a moment to get our thoughts in order here at Copacetic… and make an attempt to back up our encouragement to any and all takers to tackle the challenge proferred by Education, through highlighting its artistic virtues, as it is a work that will offer rewards more than commensurate with the efforts made to come to terms with it.

At LARB, Nathan Scott McNamara writes about Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim's Poppies of Iraq.

The rich effect of Poppies of Iraq, written and co-illustrated by Findakly and her husband Lewis Trondheim, comes from the manner in which the sweet and domestic rests alongside horror. The book is packed with reminiscences that are part wholesome — playing on ancient monuments and going on class field trips — but that are scorched by political violence. ISIS soldiers destroyed those ancient monuments with dynamite and bulldozers. On some of those field trips, students were persuaded to publicly cry for dead generals, or to salute new ones. In 1964, Findakly’s nine-year-old brother and his classmates were taken by bus to see the hanging dead bodies of Baathist militiamen.

—Interviews & Profiles. Xavier Guilbert talks to Ed Piskor.

I’m really fascinated by just the stories of actual human beings, who do amazing and interesting things. That excites me. It’s kinda hard to stay in the drawing chair all day, grinding away, making these pages, so I’m a constant junkie for inspiration : I need it, every day, I need to see that there are people out there doing really, really cool things. These works that I made with Harvey Pekar, I would consider those to be some kind of informal art school, or comic-book-making school that I went through. In fact, Macedonia, I would call that like a “army book camp”, because after — I did some American Splendor stuff, and Harvey asked me if I wanted to do a bigger work. I said “absolutely,” then he kinda explained that it was Macedonia, and I thought it was going to be about like Alexander the Great conquering the world, or whatever. And he’s like : “no, it’s about the geopolitical destabilization of the Balkan region, and its relationship with the ethnic minorities, etc.” So I was just like : “Okay, I’ll draw that. Sure.” I learned a lot from the way that he paces his stories, the way that he structures the stories, and I do not see him as infallible, and I saw flaws in the structure, so I wanted to — very often, you could learn what not to do from somebody as well, you know.

Shea Fitzpatrick talks to Kim Jooha of 2dcloud (and sometimes TCJ).

After I joined 2dcloud, and after I started thinking about asking artists [to publish with us], I realized that a lot of artists I want to contact don’t have enough material for hundreds of pages of books or graphic novels. And lots of great publishers, like Koyoma or Fanta or us, are focusing on publishing books, not zines. Also, some of [the artists] I like, but I think their next works would be better. They’re in their growth. I was trying to contact this artist, [and I thought], maybe I should contact this artist when their really great work comes up next year or month, because this artist has been getting better. But at the same time, I worried, what if this person leaves comics? That’s happened so many times before, and so many artists I discovered recently left comics a year or so ago, and I didn’t want that to happen. That’s the reason why I wrote that Instagram post.

The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Shannon Wheeler.