BLOG

Overwhelmed

Today on the site, Robert Loss writes about the work of Bianca Stone, and poetry comics in general.

In the past three years, discussions about poem comics have sprung up at The Comics Journal, the comics blog The Hooded Utilitarian, Comics Forum, Poetry magazine and The Atlantic. Taken as a kind of critical chapbook, these articles and interviews point to the growing awareness of poem comics as an art form (if also to recurring issues of cultural turf and the challenges of definition and terminology). They also expose a lack of critical engagement with specific works like Bianca Stone’s I Want to Open the Mouth God Gave You Beautiful Mutant, Warren Craghead’s “A Flame Expelled,” and Derik Badman’s series MadInkBeard. We haven’t been paying enough critical attention to poem comics.

Why? If “the language of comics criticism is still young and scrawny,” as Douglas Wolk has written, then comics scholars have been bulking up in a number of ways, but our general regimen is the narrative. This emphasis may owe to comics studies’ emergence from the fields of English and film studies, both of which are highly invested in narrative; the terminology of film has been useful if inadequate in describing how comics work. And then there’s semiotics. Since the publication of Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, greater attention has been paid by cartoonists, critics, and scholars to the formal dissection of comics, a venture wrapped into the larger expedition that is the burgeoning discipline of comics studies. The influential work of Thierry Groensteen in The System of Comics and, recently, Narration and Comics, has truly pushed formalist comics studies into the realm of semiotics, which has helped to reestablish the importance of the image. This is seen as a corrective to the past emphasis on comics as literature, which I’m not sure is entirely fair, but that seems to be the thrust of things. Oddly, though, this work in semiotics has focused almost exclusively on narrative comics. Most comics are narratives, but then again, we used to say that most visual art was either painting, sculpture, or architecture. If we’re going to define what comics are, then we have to account for non-narrative work. Poem comics are comics.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, I got locked out of the server somehow last week, so a lot links got built up…

—Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The legendary cartoonist and gekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi has passed away at the age of 79. Paul Gravett was the first to report this in English, as far as I can tell. We will have more soon.

—News. The shortlists for the Slate/CCS Cartoonist Studio Prize have been announced.

The National Cartoonists Society has announced the Reuben Award nominees: Roz Chast, Stephan Pastis, and Hilary Price.

Nilah McGruder has won the first annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Hero Complex has more on that.

The L.A. Times Book Prize finalists have been announced.

KAL has won the Herblock Prize.

—Reviews & Commentary. Tom Spurgeon seems to have gotten energized by his recent move to Ohio. I always enjoy it when he’s on a roll. Here he is on recent moves at DC and reviewing RL Crabb’s Scablands.

Shaenon Garrity reviews the manga Apocalypse Meow (aka Cat Shit One). Tim O’Neil lays into Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor.

Zainab Akhtar lists ten under-appreciated female cartoonists.

Christopher Stigliano catches up with recent Steve Ditko.

Johannah King-Slutzky reviews Bitch Planet.

Liza Donnelly writes about a cancelled cartoonist’s symposium in France, and being a cartoonist in a post-Charlie Hebdo-attacks world.

Christopher Caldwell appreciates Calvin & Hobbes for the Wall Street Journal.

Whit Taylor shares what she’s learned by making autobiographical comics.

—Interviews & Profiles. Timothy Shenk interviews Wonder Woman scholar Jill Lepore for Dissent, about her Wonder Woman book and about more general feminist topics.

Comics Alternative has a nice, long talk with the always funny Joe Ollmann.

At the Toronto Globe & Mail, Alexandra Molotkow has a short profile of Wendy creator Walter Scott.

Spurgeon again, talking to Tom Neely and Keenan Marshall Keller.

—Misc. Kelly Thompson at Comics Should Be Good is attempting to list every woman involved in the comics field, and requests readers’ help. The same site is also running a poll on the top fifty female cartoonists and comics writers of all time. It might be nice if artists like Shary Flenniken, Lynda Barry, Phoebe Gloeckner, Julie Doucet, etc. got on that list somewhere (superhero stuff is sure to dominate), so vote for whomever you appreciate if you feel inclined.

A Case for Pencils is a newish site, devoted to the tools and materials used by various cartoonists.

D&Q has a preview of some new Joe Matt work which will be in their upcoming anniversary book. I sometimes wonder how Peepshow would have been received if it had debuted in the Tumblr era.

—Not Comics. At NYRB, Robert Storr writes about every art cartoonist’s favorite painter, Philip Guston.

 

Old and Out of Touch

Today on the site:

Morten Harper joins us to write about Spanish cartoonist Paco Roca.

Even though English translations are few and far between, graphic novels from Spain have lately become increasingly more visible across the main European comics markets in France, Germany and Italy. The poignant Wrinkles, about Alzheimer’s disease and day-to-day life in a retirement home, is at the crest of this new Spanish wave.

Wrinkles (in Spanish: Arrugas) was a huge commercial breakthrough for Paco Roca when it was published in Spain in 2007. The protagonist is a retired bank manager who has Alzheimer’s disease and moves to an institution. Roca convincingly portrays the rituals of the retirement home, and how this man gradually recognizes and attempts to handle the disease. The book has been adapted to an animated feature movie, with an award winning script by Roca himself.

The book became a bestseller, acclaimed by critics and has won all there is of Spanish comics awards.Wrinkles became in many ways larger than itself, and was received as the frontrunner of a new wave of Grafica Novellas. To quote a newspaper headline: “The new superheroes are elderly with Alzheimer.”

Roca together with Miguel Gallardo released a book, Emotional World Tour, about the fuss surrounding the original releases of Wrinkles and Gallardo’s autobiographical María y yo (Maria and I) about his daughter’s autism. The two books were promoted with the slogan “cartoons and social reality”, and Roca and Gallardo jointly travelled on countless festivals and book signings.

Elsewhere:

I have mentioned this before, but hey, tonight is the opening: Victor Moscoso: Psychedelic Drawings, 1967-1982 is opening tonight. I co-curated the show, which features over 30 examples of Victor’s work, including the complete original art for classic Zap strips like Luna Toon, Camel and Hocus-Pocus. These are among the finest original drawings for comics that I have ever seen (I’d rank them with McCay and Panter in terms of ink-on-board precision and power). Straight-up masterpieces of comic art, and never open to public viewing until now. There will not be a better comic and poster art show in New York this year, and probably not this decade. Oh yes, and there is a catalog which will be available at better bookstores and online in a couple of weeks. Anyhow, the opening is 6 to 8 pm. Victor will be in attendance. So will I. Ask for “the cone”.

Deb Aoki has a good summary of, and take on, a web comic controversy that blew up yesterday.

Hmmm, what else can this old and out of touch person think of? I know, more from the past! If I have done nothing else in my life, I did publish the best Batman comic of the 21st century (other than DK2).

Smoke Signal is having a fun-sounding release party on Saturday night in NYC.

 

Good Buyer

Hi there, today we a have R.C. Harvey on the long-forgotten Winnie the Wac and Vic Herman.

“I never thought in the beginning that I’d be a cartoonist,” he told me when I visited him in December 1993. “I was interested in drawing, but I wanted to capture what I saw realistically.  And my realistic side shows the Spanish influence.  I don’t do cartoons on Mexico and Spain.  That’s pretty serious.”

Herman’s father, eager to advance his son’s various aspirations, arranged for the boy to have the run of Fox Studios.  Young Vic learned about casting, characters, scripts, costumes, color, camera angles and distance, timing, staging, and so on.  Watching movies being made, he gained some understanding of the ways visual, literary, and musical elements could be combined into a unified whole.

When Herman was about eleven, his mother, also an artist, helped him to an apprenticeship with the Yale Puppeteers, a marionette team then producing shows at the Teatro del Toro (Theater of the Bull) on Olvera Street in the Mexican district of Los Angeles.

Herman’s parents divorced in 1931, and in 1933, Herman and his mother moved to Bayonne, New Jersey, to live with her parents.  By this time, Vic, fourteen years old, was an accomplished puppeteer, managing a repertory cast of 35 puppets, which he had made himself out of wood with wires for joints.  He staged puppet shows in “El Teatro Pequeno” (The Little Theater), the basement of his grandparents’ home.  He produced four shows:  Pinocchio, Treasure Island, Cinderella, and Uncle Tom’s Shack (“shack” rather than “cabin” to avoid payment of royalties; entrepreneurial cunning came early).

A fifth show was a Hollywood revue, with a variety of entertainment-world characters—a talking monkey, a dragon that belched fire, and a Pagliacci clown (crying on the inside while laughing on the outside), a boop-boop-a-doop girl, a trained dog (reminiscent of Rin Tin Tin), one of the dwarfs from Rip Van Winkle, and so on.

Elsewhere:

Heidi MacDonald on the strong showing by women in 2014’s Bookscan numbers.

Off Life features an interview with Ed Piskor.

The feud over the Walt Disney family fortune is explore in depth by The Hollywood Reporter.

This multi-media comics fest in France sounds fun.

And finally, I can always look at Kevin Nowlan process posts.

 

Content

Today on the site is Joe McCulloch’s week in comics.

And elsewhere:

Here’s a fine interview with the great Peter Saul. 

Tomi Ungerer is enjoying a well-deserved round of press, lately. Here’s a profile related to his retrospective at The Drawing Center.

That new-ish graphic novel about Robert Moses is previewed over at Hyperallergic.

And Steve Brodner has a nice new comic up about Sholem Aleichem.

 

Mind Touch

Today, we are republishing an interview with the inimitable Dame Darcy, conducted by Darcy Sullivan, which originally ran in issue 171, from 1994. Here’s a sample exchange, in which they discuss her experiences with spirits:

DARCY [SULLIVAN]: Did you still see ghosts when you were 12?

DAME DARCY: OK, here’s what happened. There was this old woman’s barn across the alley and we had this clubhouse up there. The ghosts were living in the barn. See, they weren’t living in the barn until I called them into the barn, and then they wouldn’t go away.

DARCY: What would they do?

DAME DARCY: They would make the room ice-cold in the middle of the summer, when it was like 90 degrees. It would be like a freezer! Because ghosts are freezing cold. I’d opened a porthole for them to come through, and now they’d come through and I didn’t know how to handle it. I was only 11 and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Later on, when I was 17, they tried to possess me. It was really scary. [Laughs.] See, I constantly see and hear things, and some people might say that I’m crazy and I’m delusional. But I am not. They are always there, it’s just that some people can see them and some people can’t.

DARCY: Were these ghosts dead people?

DAME DARCY: Of course. They were children who had died early.

DARCY: They were all kids?

DAME DARCY: They were between 4 and 13. One of them tried to make my lungs stop one time and that was really scary. The ones that tried to possess me later weren’t the same ones. The four-year-old told me that if I stood with my back to her and took a mirror and looked over my shoulder, I would see her reflection in the mirror, and that way not only could I hear her but see her. I didn’t do it, because I was too scared.

I found out this later: Where I would hear them talking was in the back of my head, not the front of my head, where your thoughts are. At school I found out that’s where the [sense of] sight is. I found this out when I was 14 and I said, “Oh, my God, that makes so much sense!”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. Darling Sleeper has a little talk with Simon Hanselmann.

—News. A parent in Rio Rancho, New Mexico has complained to school officials after her son checked out Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar from his high school library. The CBLDF has more.

Philip Nel guides you through a bunch of recent news regarding Dr. Seuss.

—Reviews & Commentary. Eric Liebetrau writes about Roz Chast’s Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Jacque Nodell looks at Jack Kirby’s unpublished Black romance comic, Soul Love.

Brigid Alverson reviews Matt Madden’s new formalist experiment, Drawn Onward. Rachel Cooke looks at Andy Hixon’s dystopian Lucia.

I haven’t listened to the Comics Burning in Hell episode about Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor yet, but based on what I’ve heard from Tucker Stone, it should be a particularly entertaining one.

Mike Sterling looks at how the DC Star Trek comics handled the absence of Spock between movies. RIP Leonard Nimoy.

For Playboy, Matt Wayne writes an article commemorating Dwayne McDuffie.

Rufus Dayglo remembers Brett Ewins.

 

Woodcut

Today on the site, Greg Hunter interviews Peter Schilling Jr., the author of Carl Barks’ Duck, a new book on the Disney artist’s classic work. Here’s one exchange from it:

I’m glad you mentioned Barks’ framing of his stories as stage plays or novels, because you made a decision to put your own frame on the work, but at the same time, you do some biographical criticism of the work. You talk about his financial struggles, his divorces. How did you decide what from Barks’ life or from his stated views was most worth accounting for?

The one I thought was most worth accounting for was definitely his struggles with money. He had a real work ethic. It could have been driven by the fact that, I think at one point, he got eight-hundred dollars for one of his comics, which I think represented three one-hundredths of a dollar per comic sold. Ridiculous, even for the time. And work means a lot to the character of Donald Duck.

An early analysis that I was going to pursue was that Donald really does personify a lot of the things the American middle class were struggling with in the wake of World War II. We’ve got this American dream of having a job, having a house, living a life, and Donald has all these mishaps in going about his daily business. So it’s Carl Barks’ own struggles with work. Listing off Donald Duck’s jobs, they go to ridiculous extremes—he’s a falconer at one point. But then you have Carl Barks’ own list of jobs. It’s crazy too.

Yeah. I was not familiar with the chicken rearing.

And the weird thing is that with Barks being an egg farmer, there’s a ton of stories that include eggs. One I don’t talk about in the book is called “Omelet”, and it involves Donald having a chicken farm that produces this huge sea of eggs that he’s trying to hold up with a wall. For some reason, he has this chicken farm up on a hill, and millions of eggs descent on the town below, and the only way they can clean up is to burn the city, which will cook the eggs so they can haul ’em out and rebuild the town. It’s a really nicely laid-out story.

And yesterday, we published Rob Kirby’s review of the latest Michael Dowers-edited anthology, Treasury of Mini Comics Volume Two. Here’s how Rob starts:

In the introduction to the third and final volume of his tribute to the mini-comics art form, editor Michael Dowers traces the wide-ranging scope of the entire collection, which began with Newave!: The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s and Treasury of Mini Comics Volume One. He follows the form from little-known antecedents in the early half of the twentieth century to the ragged, pre-photocopier obscurities of the late sixties and seventies, on to the boom of the Reagan years and the Generation X era, up to today’s meticulously crafted, colorful art objects, sometimes risographed or featuring fancy silk-screened covers. Volume Two wraps up the trilogy with some quite sophisticated works, such as the full-color minis Spithouse #1 by Leah Wishnia and 5/4 by Nick Bertozzi, both light years from the unassuming work of earlier decades. Minis have come a long way, with their fascinating, previously secret histories still being revealed.

As with the prior installments, Volume Two has its peaks and valleys. Dowers states he wants the series to showcase a wide variety of comics, including “good art, mediocre art, and bad art,” clearly embracing the democratic, all-are-welcome ethos of important ’80s-era minis publisher Clay Geerdes (profiled in Newave!). The chronology of featured work is somewhat loose. Rather than following the ’80s-themed Newave! with work from the ’90s in Volume One and then comics from the ’00s and beyond in Volume Two (which I would have preferred, for the sake of clarity), he has opted to include comics of all eras in both Treasury books, which admittedly allows for on-the-spot comparing and contrasting of styles and content from different periods.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Society of Illustrators has announced the winners of its second annual Comics and Cartoon Art Annual competition. Gold medalists include Bianca Gagnarelli, Lauren R. Weinstein, Roger Binyone, Olivier Schrauwen, Roger De Muth, and Maëlle Doliveux.

The CBLDF talks to Jarrett Dapier, the student who used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover Chicago Public Schools officials’ role in a classroom ban of Persepolis.

The Wall Street Journal reports on internal discord within the Charlie Hebdo staff on how to proceed editorially, post-massacre and post-massive cash infusion.

Editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes writes about a planned cartoonists’ conference in France this April, which was cancelled due to security concerns.

—Interviews & Profiles. Mustard has published an enormous interview with Alan Moore on everything from movies to the effect of drugs on his work to magic.

—Comics History. At Print, Michael Dooley talks to our own R.C. Harvey about the work of the pioneering Black cartoonist and illustrator E. Simms Campbell.

Sean Kleefeld looks at Marvel’s practice of recoloring background characters to change their ethnicity in some of their reprints.

Shea Hennum at Paste writes about recent alternative manga publishing attempts from Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, PictureBox, etc.

—Reviews & Commentary. I believe we forgot to previously link to Paul Gravett’s annual survey of the best international comics of the past year (part one, part two).

Justin E.H. Smith has a strong essay defending satire in the Chronicle of Higher Education, worth reading even if you’re tired of reading essays on satire this year.

David Carter at The Beat looks at the declining fortunes of DC’s Vertigo line.

Marcus Farrajota introduces Portuguese comics.

 

Animal Camo

Today on the site: Mighty Matt Seneca on the new Jupiter’s Legacy.

LISTICLE: 10 Things About Jupiter’s Legacy #5

  1. Jupiter’s Legacy is for all intents and purposes an annual comic at this point. One issue came out in 2014, and issue #5 looks to be the only one we’ll get this year (though there’s a prequel miniseries in the pipeline, so uh, yay?). For my part, I don’t mind; the annual schedule is a pretty excellent one. Provided the work is good enough, a year is a perfect amount of time to fully digest everything put on display in a comic book – from each line of dialogue to the color choices being made in each panel on down – without the general plot outline completely slipping out of mind by the time the next installment drops. Prison Pit had a great run as an annual for a bit there. So did ACME Novelty Library.  John Pham’s Sublife and Epoxy are models for the format, and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books have also favored it in recent years.  And now Jupiter’s Legacy(unintentionally, due to scheduling issues) joins the ranks. Being a pamphlet-format superhero comic it’s a bit of a sore thumb in the annual crowd, but since it’s the best superhero comic I’ll let it slide. The annual format makes every issue an event, and new issues of Jupiter’s Legacy are definitely that. Especially in this extra-sized fifth issue, there’s more than enough meat to satisfy until 2016 (aka the future). This is hardly the most plotty comic anyhow: the fun part of reading it is getting hyped over all the neat little bits Mark Millar and Frank Quitely insert to elevate their superheroes-fighting-back-against-a-world-taken-over-by-the-villains story above the reams of stuff with the same general idea going on. Especially now that Quitely seems to be completely done cutting corners on his backgrounds and Millar is structuring his installments as discreet acts rather than incremental “single issues”, this is a jewel of a comic, one in which just about every panel contains an individual idea worth interrogating. Following are some of the ones I thought were noteworthy.

Elsewhere:

Our own Paul Tumey will be in NYC on Tuesday night, March 3rd at Parsons for the weekly Comics and Picture-story Symposium presenting “Forgotten Funnies
Images of America in the Comics of Percy Winterbottom, Dwig, and Ving Fuller.”

Great piece on Heavy Metal in 1985 over here.

Sophie Yanow has an excellent comic strip up on The Nib. Speaking of online comics, Seth has one ongoing at The Walrus.

 

Big Top

Good morning. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Bill Schelly’s forthcoming biography, Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America. In this section, Trump (Kurtzman’s attempt to out-do Mad with the help of Hugh Hefner’s money) has just failed, and Kurtzman and his collaborators are looking for their next move:

HAVING EXPERIENCED magazine interruptus, Kurtzman and his collaborators on Trump gathered in the brownstone to commiserate. The termination of the magazine had come with no warning. The others wanted to hear the details of Kurtzman’s conversation with Hefner. The news was still sinking in. “After we finished with Trump, we all sat around . . . and we were very unhappy that we were about to break up,” Kurtzman recalled. “And Arnold Roth, who is a dear, sweet fellow . . . was the only one who came up with an optimistic attitude.” He also came up with a large bottle of Scotch.

As they passed around the bottle, the mood lightened. They knew they could produce a terrific magazine if only they had a fair shot at it. They were proud of Trump and confident it would have done well. (This was before Kurtzman had the actual sales figures in hand.) Given the talent in the room—each of Kurtzman’s crew was destined to have a successful career—how could they fail, if only a publisher had the good sense to back them solidly? If Mad magazine became a publishing phenomenon, there was no good reason why they couldn’t produce a magazine that would sell as well or better.

“Quality will sell” was the refrain, but after getting burned by Hefner, seeking another publisher met with little enthusiasm. One can imagine a still-resilient Kurtzman saying, “All we need to do is get a magazine on the stands next to Mad, and we could all make a fortune.” As the supply of Scotch dwindled, someone said: “Let’s publish it ourselves!”

Outrageous as it sounded, publishing their own magazine would have many benefits. The group of six—Kurtzman, Elder, Davis, Jaffee, Roth and Chester—had gotten along well in their nine months together. They would have creative control, own the rights to their own work in the magazine and split all the profits. That meant they would benefit if the material was reprinted, possibly in the paperback format that was doing so well for Mad. They would also be able to keep their own original art. (Gaines had never returned the original pages.)

A publishing cooperative, with each participant owning part of the enterprise, had never been tried in comics. Some creators had owned their own companies, like Simon and Kirby with their short-lived Mainline Comics, but the writers and artists who worked for them received none of the benefits of ownership. With the formation of Humbug Publishing Co., Inc., the workers were rising up to take group ownership of an enterprise. It was agreed that the “six musketeers” would create the magazine and split the profits equally, even though the setup differed from being a purely cooperative effort. The individual members wouldn’t simply “do their own thing.” The operation was predicated on Harvey Kurtzman being the editor and guiding force. The others wouldn’t have entertained the idea except for their confidence in their charismatic leader’s talent and vision. (Kurtzman had learned at the Charles William Harvey Studio that someone needed to be at the top.) As John Benson once put it, Humbug could be more accurately called a “commune” than a “co-op.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Interviews & Profiles.
Alex Dueben talks to the webcartoonist Erika Moen at CBR, and to Finnish cartoonist JP Ahonen at The Beat.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette interviews historian Michael Barrier about his new book on Dell comics.

—Reviews & Commentary.
King-Cat creator John Porcellino names his favorite comics of 2014.

Will Wellington reviews Michael DeForge’s First Year Healthy.

Paul Mirek looks at an exhibit of Arab comics currently up in Providence.

Marc Singer covers the latest Grant Morrison Multiversity issue.

Rob Clough reviews the gay fantasy romance Fearful Hunter.

—News. ISIS has called for the murder of surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Zineb el-Rhazoui. (via)

—Spending Opportunities. An interesting-looking new comics-related journal, Ley Lines, is offering subscriptions.

Melissa Mendes is crowdfunding her webcomic The Weight.

—Video. Here’s the trailer for a Barefoot Gen documentary: