Today, Julia Gfrörer is here with a new Symbol Reader column, tracking the winged creatures to be found in new comics by Ben Duncan, Lala Albert, and Ward Zwart. Here’s a sample of her analysis:

Bees labor tirelessly until their deaths, slaving daily to make honey, volunteering their lives when they sting to defend the hive, and for this reason they often appear in a story to remind us of the virtue of hard work and self-sacrifice, the honey its luminous, longed-for reward. But in this parable, which originates with ancient Indian Buddhism, the bees represent desires, and the honey their fulfillment: though briefly pleasurable, it brings no true relief. And in an economy where hard work has been largely uncoupled from lasting reward, the symbolic role of honey must again be renegotiated.

The protagonist of Lala Albert’s “Brain Buzz” experiences the swarm of bees that break out over her body and her mind as compulsiveness: as in the Buddhist parable, their slightly ominous presence suggests the anxious demands of desire.

And in our final supplement to the recent publication of the Comics Journal Library collection of Zap interviews, we have a previously unpublished 1972 interview with Victor Moscoso, conducted by Patrick Rosenkranz. Here’s an excerpt:

Seeing Zap really turned you around.

MOSCOSO: I was ready for it. We were already getting ready to do a comic-book trip. Then Crumb came out and laid out the form, just like that. The form was perfect. Crumb had to change it — there have been a lot of variations, but the form is like the form. A comic book that size, on newsprint, black and white. We didn’t even think black and white, when Rick and I were working on it. We automatically thought color. That’s where our heads were at. Except what that does is make it too expensive.

ROSENKRANZ: That’s what the overground comics have been doing all this time.

MOSCOSO: Which is all right. It’s getting to the point where we’ll be getting into color now too. Young Lust is coming out as an all-color comic.

ROSENKRANZ: Up From the Deep is planning a second one with color insert.

MOSCOSO: I’m planning to do some more color. I don’t know when I’ll get to it, but I will.

ROSENKRANZ: You hadn’t seen any other comics at the time, like God Nose or Feds ‘N’ Heads?

MOSCOSO: Sure, I’d seen God Nose almost two years before. Jaxon gave me a copy of it when he was working for the Family Dog. He was then in charge of the posters. But it didn’t click. I said that’s nice. It’s nice and old-fashioned that somebody’s doing a comic book like this.

ROSENKRANZ: What was so different about Zap?

MOSCOSO: The time, the form, the price, and Crumb’s attitude towards it, how he saw it. The way he was relating to it was something I had totally forgotten about since I was a kid. It was a means of expression. I hadn’t been thinking about it that way. When I saw the way he was relating to it — you could do your trip in this form, and how far out he was getting in that form, which I had considered a secondary form or kid stuff. It’s OK for Marvel Comics. It’s not where my head was at at that time. By him doing it that way, I saw a potential in it that I wasn’t seeing up until that point. It opened the door. It said, “See this.” I said, “Yeah.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Ware writes about the expansive influence of Richard McGuire’s “Here”.

Publishers Weekly has released their annual critics poll, with the Tamakis’ This One Summer topping the list.

—Interviews. Pádraig Ó Méalóid talks to Bryan Talbot about his Grandville series. Comics Tavern has ten questions with Joshua Cotter, and I think we missed that right before Thanksgiving they had ten questions for Leslie Stein, too.

—Misc. The Guardian has published a selection of birthday messages written to whistle-blower Chelsea Manning in prison, including letters from comics figures including Joe Sacco, Alan Moore, Terry Gilliam, and Molly Crabapple.

And this interview with Adrian and Alessandro Nivolo has a nice Saul Steinberg anecdote.


Literary Downers

Today: Paul Tumey joins us for a thorough look at Art Spiegelman’s recent performance piece, WORDLESS!

If you’ve followed Art Spiegelman at all in the last 20 years, you’ve seen his lectures, filled with insight, wit, and lots of visuals projected onto screens. This has all been pretty swell — but predictable — stuff. But when have we ever seen Spiegelman take the stage to talk about comics with a giant movie screen and a six-piece jazz combo?

“I wanna talk to you about words and pictures. And pictures without words,” Spiegelman says in WORDLESS!, his new work created with jazz composer/saxophonist Phillip Johnston. In 90 minutes, WORDLESS! explores selected works of H.M. Bateman, Frans Masreel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel, Milt Gross, and Si Lewen — with quick sidetrips into comics by Basil Wolverton, Wilhelm Busch, and several others. In addition, Spiegelman includes pieces of his past work as well as “Shaping Thought,” a brand new comics tour de force designed exclusively for the hybrid live music and movie format.

Like the silent comics it presents, WORDLESS! has a lot to say. And much of what is said holds within it the potential to transform. Literature is transformed from prose to visual art. Simultaneously, visual art is transformed into literature. The introduction of old, strange comics to a new audience also creates a transformation around our understanding of the form itself.  In developing this luminous musical art lecture Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston have created yet another transformation: the intimate act of reading comics turned into watching/experiencing comics as part of a group.

And we are very pleased to present an original comic strip by the great Howard Cruse entitled Slang and Profanity Illustrated. I encourage everyone to check out Howard’s work, which was and is brave, wise and beautifully drawn.


Jack Davis has announced that he is retiring at age 90. What a career that man had.

Rube Goldberg’s old home in SF has been slated for landmark status.

Gil Roth’s podcast lists some favorite books chose by his past guests.


Between the Panels

Today, as is traditional for Tuesdays, Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the most interesting-sounding new releases in comics stores. His highlights for this week include Aisha Franz’s Earthling and a collection of Al Feldstein’s 1940s teen humor comics.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. Bob Temuka interviewed Dylan Horrocks. Alex Dueben talks to Tim Lane. Megan Purdy talks to MariNaomi. Rob Kirby talks to Max Clotfelter. Salon talks to Grant Morrison. Comics Alliance talks to Box Brown.

—Best of Lists. Whit Taylor picks her favorite graphic novels of 2014. Robert Boyd picks his favorite comics of the year. Brian Nicholson picks his top ten online comics of the year.

—News. Seth Kushner has posted a very welcome Facebook status update.

The Wow Cool alternative comics store in Cupertino, California was burglarized.

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Mautner reviews The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio. Dana Jennings at the New York Times reviews the same book and the latest volume of the Complete Peanuts. Brigid Alverson reviews the deluxe edition of Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics. Carla Kaplan at the New York Times turns in the latest in a long line of reviews of Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman.

Cathy G. Johnson has a provocative take on a recent Mike Dawson strip.

Zainab Akhtar wades into the recent contentious debate over Lizz Hickey’s online strip about crowdfunding (the eternal subject).


Good Play

Today on the site we have Katie Haegele profiling Leanne Shapton, an artist who has made multiple picture-story books, worked with tons of cartoonists, and published innumerable illustrations, but somehow remains little known in most comics worlds.

Like good character actors, some artists are everywhere and nowhere, consistently putting out high quality work but not drawing particular attention to themselves. A Canadian artist who lives in New York, Leanne Shapton is one of the more interesting artists working in the U.S. right now, and though you may well have seen her stuff—if you watched Spike Jonze’s exercise in awkwardness, Her, for instance, you’ve seen the artist’s rendering of what two people having armpit sex might look like—you may not yet know her name.

For an artist her age—Shapton is 41—she has already had a large and tremendously varied output. She paints lettering and patterns for book covers by Harper, New Directions, and Vintage Classicsand runs J&L Books, a small art book press, with the photographer Jason Fulford. She has seven books to her credit, some of which are almost purely visual and contain little or no text, while others (well, one, anyway) is a good old-fashioned prose piece with a few paintings thrown in.

Though she’s not really a comics artist herself, Shapton has also had a hand in putting the work of many cartoonists in front of a mainstream audience. As the art director of the Op Ed page at the New York Times from 2008-2009—and before that, for the Avenue section of Canada’s National Post—she hired visual artists with from a variety of backgrounds, from Blexbolex to Jillian Tamaki.


James Romberger has a nice review round-up of comics that mostly flew under my radar.

This is me being an old guy, but I really enjoy this kind of trainspotting, thought I understand if you don’t.

This is old for the internet, but I hadn’t seen this short profile of Jackie Ormes before (via Frank).


Slow Improvement

Good morning. We have two new pieces for you this morning. First, a previously unpublished interview with Zap contributor and Furry Freak Brothers creator Gilbert Shelton, conducted in 2012 by Patrick Rosenkranz. Here’s a brief excerpt from that:

SHELTON:I don’t suppose you have a copy of Zap #1 printed by Charles Plymell, do you?
ROSENKRANZ: No I sure don’t.
SHELTON: You know the underground comix price guide says that’s worth $10,000.
ROSENKRANZ: A friend of mine sold one recently for $12,000 to the CEO of Nike.
SHELTON: That’s amazing.
ROSENKRANZ: One time I was in [Don] Donahue’s office in 1972 and he had a whole box of Plymell Zaps and I asked him how much are you selling those for? He said 10 bucks apiece and I remember thinking at the time, “Who would pay 10 bucks for that?” I should have bought all 30 of them, if I had 300 bucks.
SHELTON: You’d be wealthy today. If you tried to sell all 30 at once, it would probably bring the price down.
ROSENKRANZ: There are some that were damaged in the fire at the Opera House that have also become highly prized collector’s items now.
SHELTON: Because they’re damaged?
ROSENKRANZ: Yeah, because they’re charred.
SHELTON: That was a busy day at Mowry’s Opera House.

And then we also have a review of the new IDW collection of the 1940s Wonder Woman newspaper strip, written by Tim Hanley. Here’s a sample of that:

The first week of strips was light on Wonder Woman. They were set in a newspaper office, with an editor keen to get the scoop on the new female phenom. Wonder Woman popped up briefly in each strip, saving a baby from a fire or stopping a runaway car, but most of the space was devoted to the increasingly frazzled editor.

It was an odd beginning to a strip that had a very specific purpose. Before becoming a comic book writer, Marston was a psychologist whose research led him to believe not only that women were superior to men, but that a matriarchal revolution was inevitable. He created Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” She was a way to get young readers used to the idea of a powerful woman, and thus pave the way for this revolution.

Giving Wonder Woman only two lines in the first week of strips seems like an ineffective way for Marston to further his cause, but week two launched into a detailed account of her origins that was chock full of matriarchal messages. The strips were an almost exact recreation of Wonder Woman #1. At first glance, it appears that Peter had simply reused the art, but almost every panel was actually an entirely new drawing based on, and often superior to, a panel from Wonder Woman #1. After years of drawing Wonder Woman and her world, Peter’s comfort with the material showed in his more confident and detailed artwork.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, I hope you like interviews:

—Reviews & Commentary. Adam McGovern takes a look at Marguerite Van Cook & James Romberger’s The Late Child and Other Animals.

Novelist Adam Roberts reviews Charles Burns’s Sugar Skull.

Ivan Brunetti explains his latest New Yorker cover.

—Best Of lists. The Guardian has their Best of 2014 list. So does the A.V. Club (whose own comics coverage in general has improved dramatically this past year). Frequent contributor Rob Kirby has his top ten minicomics and top ten non-minicomics. Zach Hazard Vaupen offers a top-ten digital comics list.

—Interviews & Profiles. Both Boing Boing and CBR have interviews with Here creator Richard McGuire.

Alex Dueben talks to Olivier Schrauwen.

I always enjoy the Gary Panter episodes of Inkstuds.

The Toronto Star talks to comics scholar Bart Beaty about his new book and Archie comics.

Kevin Huizenga‘s on Make It Then Tell Everybody.

Off Life speaks to Isabel Greenberg.

The New Republic talks to the Danish editor Flemming Rose about the infamous Mohammad cartoons he published in 2005.

Gilbert Gottfried (!) has Drew Friedman on his latest podcast.

Chris Mautner talks to Zak Sally.

—Video. Here’s the trailer for the She Makes Comics documentary:


Through Door

Back again… Frank has some things he’d like to get off his chest.

Matisse lived in the south of France during the second world war and painted nudes and still life subjects. Maybe it’s best to just ignore the world outside. It’s pretty mellow around here where I live. Well, it depends on where you go, but you aren’t gonna get fucked with too bad. Michael DeForge wanted to go jogging around here when he was in town on tour. I drove him to the park instead of letting him just figure it out. There are these roving packs of scary white “yinzer” teenager boys who hangout across the street in the shopping center. They remind me of the roving packs of wild dogs that patrolled Williamsburg, Brooklyn, back in the early ’90s. Often I’d have to run for it on the way to the subway. Once, one of the dogs followed me into the subway and up on the platform and then got on the train when the doors opened and went to Manhattan. I wonder if he ever made it home to Brooklyn. It was like a Disney movie, I thought. The dog gets a whole new life and new friends but he misses his old neighborhood and wanders the waterfront staring at Brooklyn across the river and sniffing the air. Sorry. What was I saying about Matisse? Maybe just be like him and ignore the dogs of war?

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum’s Caitlin McGurk get the local profile treatment.

I gotta admire the sheer stubbornness of whoever is giving the green light to these Dover books, none of which have even the slightest chance of making a dent in the marketplace. I do love Sam Glanzman’s work, though, and now his finest war comics are being reissued.

Steve Brower on the new Richard Thompson book.

I always enjoy Metamorpho.

Graphic Design dept.: NY Times Book Review art director Nicholas Blechman (who published and edited the oft-overlooked comics anthology  Nozone) chooses his favorite book cover designs of 2014.

Richard McGuire is launching Here tonight in Brooklyn at Desert Island, along with a cute looking print.


Office Party

R.C. Harvey is here with another foray into buried comic-strip history, this time with a profile of Napoleon creator Clifford McBride. Reading Harvey is always an education, and a pleasant one. Here’s a sample:

Back in those dear, dead days of yesteryear, cartoonists drew comic strips; they didn’t rule them with a straight-edge. And one of the best examples of the truth of this freshly brewed axiom is Clifford McBride’s dog strip, Napoleon. McBride drew with great verve and an exuberant pen, producing such a ferociously kinetic line that even when depicted in repose, his subjects seemed vitally energetic. And the style suited the subject (in fact, given the low-key humor of the strip, the style may have been the subject).

The strip focused on a stout bachelor and his giant pet—Uncle Elby and Napoleon—achieving, as art critic Dennis Wepman once wrote in Ron Goulart’s Encyclopedia of American Comics,, a “beautifully balanced team—the fat man, all stasis and order, and the lean dog, all motion and chaos.” Napoleon1It is Elby’s fate (and the flywheel of the strip’s punchline, daily and Sunday) to be forever dogged (pun intended) by misfortune of a minor dimension: if his own bumbling doesn’t frustrate his plans that day, then the clumsy albeit good-hearted meddling of his affectionate, over-sized hound does.

And then we also have Thad Komorowski’s review of the new, much anticipated book from Michael Barrier, Funnybooks, his examination of Dell Comics:

Funnybooks meets Michael Barrier’s exacting critical standards through a compelling narrative on what made Dell Comics tick. A wealth of unknown information is made entirely readable as we learn about important figures as flesh-and-blood active characters. Jeet Heer left a comment on his own review of The Secret History of Wonder Women that I thought was spot on: “Countless comics studies are paper thin in terms of historical research.” With the well of firsthand interviews, personal correspondence and surviving documentation Michael Barrier draws from, no one will ever make that charge against Funnybooks.

In some respects, the book is heartbreaking, as the end notes make it clear there was a profound lack of existing hard data from Western itself. This isn’t Barrier’s fault. Western’s careless disposal of its archives and the fact that no one thought it was important enough to write these things down when the records were still available have created an obstacle for every comics historian.

Yet Barrier was still able to overcome that obstacle with more than enough fresh material, a testament to his skill as a historian. The most illuminating parts of the book deal with the corporate history: how Western negotiated its various licenses with Walt Disney, Looney Tunes producer Leon Schlesinger and Marge Buell; the marketing and printing costs; the life of Oskar Lebeck, the smartest Dell editor who hired the best people and shaped the best books; how the Comic Code that Western never adopted impacted its books regardless. Over a half-century later, none of this has been written about at any serious length or depth until now, and that alone makes Barrier’s book indispensable.


Hero People

Today Joe McCulloch brings you the week in comics, as usual.


Another new comic fest has launched: The Black Comix Arts Festival in San Francisco.

Inkstuds visits Gary Panter in Brooklyn.

Jed Perl is a great art writer, and here he is on Picasso. Read and learn. I could learn a lot. Perl’s new book, Art in America, is a pretty astounding gathering of writing about art that everyone should check out.

I fondly remember these superhero gag cartoons by Kyle Baker, even if they are for hardcore super hero nerds only. Love those colors, too.

Your most important link is naturally to a review of my book, Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream in the New York Times Book Review.

And: This Bill Everett artwork, circa 1940, when the artist was figuring out what his comic book world might look like, is the damndest thing. It popped up on Heritage auctions yesterday, which lately has been auctioning material from the Everett family, most unpublished and easily enough to make a fine little art publication (hint hint, email me if interested, har har) Here is a man in mysterious garb, somewhat SF, somewhat aquatic, halfway mythic. All primary colors. He appear to be controlling some kind of gear-related machine. The woman (in red dress, natch) is holding a helmet as well. It’s rendered in the Alex Raymond-influenced style that Everett would refine for the next 30 years, here still loose and sketchy. To me this drawing communicates so much of the invention and excitement these young artists must’ve felt when giving life to a new form, despite the shitty business conditions, etc. What a clear and ebullient vision he had.