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Let’s Go to the Zoo

Today on the site, Matthias Wivel is back with one of his best columns yet, a look at the thoroughly individual (and empathetic) work of Dominique Goblet.

The Belgian artist and comic-book maker Dominique Goblet is intensely concerned with life as lived by others, and life as a communal experience. She is among the most empathetic of artists working in the comics form, with each project pushing further the boundaries of interpersonal hermeneutics. Goblet is of the generation that emerged in the '90s and helped consolidate ‘the graphic novel’ and ‘art comics’ in broader cultural terms—the first, arguably, to unabashedly self-identify as artists.

It is probably unsurprising, therefore, that she made autobiography—the genre that centered that movement—her proving ground. But she differs from most of her peers in that she has consistently looked beyond herself, in the process redefining for reality-based comics the way of working that has determined so much of the historical evolution of comics: collaboration.

Her latest book, Amour dominical, published this year, is no exception. On the face of it, it is less her book than that of her collaborator, Dominique Théate. Badly injured in a motorcycle accident when he was young, he suffered brain damage that radically changed his life. He lives in the area in which he grew up, the Vielsalm municipality in the Ardennes region in southeastern Belgium. Goblet first met him there in 2007 when, as part of a group of comics-oriented artists associated with the Belgian collective Frémok—of which she has been a constituent part since the early '90s—she visited La “S”, Grand Atélier, an arts center for the mentally handicapped located in an old army barracks.

We also have a new artist making the Cartoonist's Diary this week: Chris Kuzma. Here's Day One and Day Two.

Robert Kirby is here, too, with a review of Joakim Drescher's Motel Universe.

The intergalactic adventures of Motel Universe unfold in seemingly free-form fashion, driven by creator Joakim Drescher’s delightfully go-for-broke imagination in both storytelling and visuals, along with his seriously loopy sense of humor. Drescher sneaks in some potent tropes about scapegoating and the exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society, but his satire is offered up in such over-the-top surreality that it all goes down quite easily. Drescher is clearly having a lot of fun with his creations and that fun is contagious.

The plot centers around a hapless slave race of folks known as the Skins. The story opens with two of them, a father and his young daughter named Plum, being cast out of an apparent place of safety by a weird tiny being who rides a bird as if it were a horse. As they are forced to fly off into the dangerous unknown, the father laments: “Nothing changes, there is no sanctuary. As long as the skin of our people is precious – we will be HUNTED FOR IT!”

And AJ McGuire reviews Rich Tommaso's Dry County.

Rich Tommaso’s Dry County has a regular-guy protagonist, Lou Rossi, who plays at being a detective. It’s hard to blame him for this bit of make-believe after he stumbles into what anybody would recognize as the start of a mystery. He meets a pretty girl, Janet Laughton, and then only a few days later she disappears, followed by a note that reads, “Do not call the police or she dies.” He spends the rest of the book trying to track her down with the skillset and street-smarts that would actually be available to him as a young cartoonist and movie critic in the year 1990 - which is to say not much. He bumbles around, recruits some friends to stake out her ex-boyfriends, and runs a contest in his newspaper comic strip to try and send her messages. The most daring he gets is when he climbs through a window and looks around in someone’s house for her, thinking she may be inside being held prisoner, but since she’s not there he leaves the way he came in.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. DC has announced a restructuring, part of which will involve finally putting the long-suffering Vertigo imprint out of its misery.

DC will shut down Vertigo, its pioneering non-superhero comics imprint, at the end of the year, a move that has been rumored for weeks. Shuttering the imprint is part of a restructuring that will also eliminate DC’s recently launched Zoom and Ink publishing imprints, which published children's and YA comics, respectively.

All DC titles will now be published via three age-specific publishing lines: DC Kids, which will serve middle-grade readers or readers ages 8-12; DC, for ages 13 plus, which will primarily include the DC universe of characters; and DC Black Label, for readers 17 and older. The newly announced publishing lines will launch in January 2020.

—Interviews. Glen Martin interviews Darrin Bell.

What’s the bedrock ethos of editorial cartooning?

An editorial cartoon is not a gag. Bob Mankoff [former cartoon editor for The New Yorker] called me a few years ago out of the blue and asked me to submit cartoons to the magazine. And I pointed out that I’d never done gag work. And he said editorial cartoons were basically gag cartoons—both have a single image and a caption. But they’re not the same thing. For me, editorial cartoons don’t have to be funny. I want them to make people think and feel, even if they end up thinking I’m an idiot and want horrible things to happen to me.

In Candorville, one of the main characters is a young writer who regularly submits his work to The New Yorker and is rejected. Did you ever submit any of your cartoons per Mankoff’s request?

I did, and one was accepted after eight or nine attempts. And it just ran, as a matter of fact. They held it for a year or so, and then finally published it. I’d been checking each issue every week to see if it had run and then basically given up. But apparently, that’s standard practice—they can hold cartoons for a long time.

The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Edie Fake.

—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Buhle uses the occasion of a new edition of Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls to write about the history of sex in comics.

Erotic art as actual comic art, sequential art in panels, is necessarily of a still more recent vintage. Anthologies of explicit sex comics, published within the past few decades, reveal very little before the 1920s, when some joke book series, like Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, pushed at the limits of the publishable. In these cartoons, “college widows” (unattached older women living in the campus area) and hot-to-trot coeds set the pace, with their avid boyfriends, for the rawer material to follow.

“Tijuana Bibles,” eight-to-24-page small-sized comics, began to appear during the Depression, following the expansion and consolidation of organized crime networks. Never sold in public, they circulated mysteriously, and sexual organs were very much on display. They were first distributed in tobacco shops (which at an earlier time had offered a literal entryway to commercial prostitution). Rendered less necessary by the slippage of censorship in wartime, these “bibles” slipped downward to distribution at gas stations and off-the-truck direct sales.

—Misc. Kevin Huizenga has a Patreon account.

 

One to Go

Today on the site, Derik Badman writes about Guido Crepax.

Valentina Rosselli was a Milanese photographer born in 1942, fashionable, a communist. She first appeared as a side character in the 1965 story "The Lesmo Curve", which largely focuses on the character Neutron, a.k.a. Philip Rembrandt, an art critic with the mysterious power to stop humans or objects via his gaze. The two characters became lovers and Valentina assumed the role of protagonist in subsequent stories, which were, at first, genre adventures reminiscent of American newspaper serials and mixing science fiction, horror, and intrigue, and later on, grew into tales more concerned with the reality (and the fantasy) of her domestic life.

Valentina's rich dream/fantasy life often features eroticism and a predilection towards s&m, and that last element is probably the main source of notoriety for Guido Crepax, Valentina's creator. Previous to the Complete Crepax series, currently ongoing annually from Fantagraphics (the fourth and latest volume of which I am mostly concerned with here), the easiest English translations of Crepax's work to find were his adaptations of such titles as The Story of O, Venus in Furs, and the Marquis de Sade's Justine. Other translations have appeared in English, primarily in the late '80s and early '90s from Catalan Communications, NBM (via their Eurotica imprint), and a handful of stories in Heavy Metal, but they have been long out of print, and represent only a patchwork of a larger whole. The heavy focus on the erotic aspects of Crepax's work has made knowledge of him in English-speaking countries too limited. He is a master of the comics form, creating beautiful drawings within a framework of innovative page layouts and panel breakdowns.

Yesterday, we published an excerpt of Sean Knickerbocker's Rust Belt.

Rob Clough is here, too, with a review of Mary Fleener's Billie the Bee.

Mary Fleener's first new book in years, Billie the Bee, is one part Jon Lewis' True Swamp (a favorite of Fleener's), one part Jay Hosler's Clan Apis, and one part Fleener weirdness. If you're one of the fortunate few who read her eponymous series Fleener back in the '90s, you'll have a sense of what you're getting into here. Fleener uses highly stylized and surreal character designs, exotic settings, and an overall bizarre aesthetic that differentiate it from Fleener's more familiar autobiographical comics.

Billie the Bee is set in a coastal lagoon that is also part estuary, with a mix of fresh and salt water in the environment. Fleener has clearly done a lot of research into this subject and mixes nature facts into her narrative in the way that Hosler did in his story about a beehive's inhabitants. Fleener adds footnotes regarding these facts and scientific classifications of the flora and fauna in the area. The various insects and animals that we meet have anthropomorphic qualities while still retaining their natural qualities. Things don't get quite as weird as they do in True Swamp, as Fleener is clearly interested in hewing as close to the actual qualities of the creatures as possible, and resists adding the bizarre and supernatural elements that are present in Lewis' work.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—This year's Russ Manning Award nominees have been announced.

—Naomi Fry writes about the comics-adjacent work of Judith Kerr.

"Once there was a cat called Mog. She lived with a family called Thomas. Mog was nice but not very clever. She didn’t understand a lot of things. A lot of other things she forgot. She was a very forgetful cat.” So begins Judith Kerr’s picture book “Mog the Forgetful Cat,” published in England in 1970. Though this was only the first of Kerr’s “Mog” volumes—which ended up numbering more than a dozen by the time the last of the bunch, “Goodbye Mog,” came out, in 2002—these opening lines establish the series’ rhythm and sensibility. Kerr, who died in May, at the age of ninety-five, having published more than thirty much-beloved books in the course of her career, once said that she tried to never use more than two hundred and fifty words in any of her books, so that young children could follow along. But it was, perhaps, exactly this limitation that heightened her ability to pinpoint, with a beautiful specificity, the character of her feline protagonist. Just like Mog—a stout, friendly tabby with a round face, a white bib, and white paws, who gets into a variety of small domestic scrapes because of her limited grasp of the world around her—Kerr’s language is simple and a little plodding. The sentences are short and of consistent length—not unlike the padded footfalls of a rotund cat—and, in their occasional repetitiveness, mimic a feline’s clumsy thinking.

—The Paris Review excerpts the new book from Ulli Lust.

 

Grind

Today on the site, Bill Kartalopoulos reports from a recent panel at the Society of Illustrators, celebrating the Book of Weirdo and including Weirdo contributors (and rivals) including Kim Deitch, Drew Friedman, Glenn Head, John Holmstrom, Mark Newgarden, and Art Spiegelman.

Several of the panelists agreed that Weirdo’s embrace of outsider cartoonists — “outsider” even in the context of underground and alternative comics — was among the magazine’s unique and memorable characteristics. “What I always really dug about Weirdo was that it had this unvarnished kind of originality,” Head said. “So there could be this work like Eugene Teal’s ‘Sunday Frog Funnie’ or the Elinore Norflus stuff, where it really looked like the artist doing the work was completely untutored in art as well as comics. They just didn’t even have a background in it. So you could put Crumb’s work up against it, and a lot of artists’ work up against it, and it was like there was different work from different universes all mixed up in Weirdo. So I was really into that.” Newgarden agreed that among the magazine’s three successive editors, “Crumb tended to go for more what he considered primitive.” When selecting artists to portray on the book’s cover, Friedman was mindful not to only include the magazine’s most well-known contributors. “Weirdo was all about the lesser-known contributors and the fringe artists and the social misfits who contributed to the magazine,” he said. “Weirdo gave guys like Bruce [Duncan] a chance to be published and be seen,” Deitch affirmed. In a sense, Crumb’s openness to artistic outsiders in Weirdo sits in continuity with his embrace of the underground comix work of Rory Hayes, who was very much an artist's artist during his life.

Yesterday, we published the final installment of Michel Fiffe's OVERWORD column, focused on Mark Gruenwald.

We've reached peak clusterfuck in terms of any sort of hardline continuity in comics today. There's a thin narrative thread running through mainstream comics, but we all know it doesn't matter anymore. Anything goes, it just has to be compelling, it just has to sell books, and so the hyper attention to long running, company-wide continuity doesn't hold much weight anymore.

When was the last time it did, though? Crisis in '85? Post-Heroes Reborn? Pre-Hickman's Secret Wars? Like Roy Thomas a generation before him, Gruenwald lived to serve continuity. There was a groundwork for him to study and work from, and it had real value to the readers, too. That was part of the Marvel appeal, being the longest running shared universe in history.

So I can't help but root for the guy who was fighting an uphill battle with the times. Especially when his writing style was geared towards those unwavering convictions. And he wasn't gonna go rogue and do his own thing! No way was he gonna go independent; as established in the Quasar post, the Big Two establishments are where it's at. Anything outside of that simply didn't count. And this isn't some sort of demented corporate loyalty, it's a marriage to the ideas he surrendered to as a kid, as a professional, and as a creative force.

Sean Witzke reviews Rick & Morty Presents Mr. Meeseeks.

Rick and Morty is a television show originally created as a joke where Marty McFly blew Doc Brown for a Channel 101 pilot, and it is now the current cause du jour cartoon for a theoretical 16-year-old white male who hates everyone and thinks he’s smart but really isn’t that smart because he’s still too dumb to realize that true nihilism is going to require a lot more reading than he’s prepared to do because said 16-year-old is too busy saying “tampon tampon tampon” in the comments section of a YouTube video that will be revealed as the work of an astroturfing Nazi in about three months.

Leonard Pierce reviews House of the Black Spot.

Good comics, in whatever form they’re presented – graphic novels, monthlies, daily strips, zines, or any of their other manifestations – have to do one job that is simultaneously stone simple and devilishly complex:  use a primarily visual medium to communicate a narrative story. All the best comics do this well, and all the worst don’t do it at all. 

Ben Sears’ “Double+” series, released around this time each year for the last few, is indisputably in the former category. It’s probably an exaggeration – well, cards on the table: it’s definitely an exaggeration to call it one of the best comics being made right now; Sears’ talents are remarkable, but his work also occupies that porous border between good and great. While he takes care to provide enough chewy content for older readers who want to take what they read seriously, it would be a stretch to call his work thematically weighty in any meaningful sense. But it would also do him a great injustice to call it slight.  Sears’ strength is absolutely as a visual storyteller, but there’s enough happening in his engaging characters, involving storylines, and light-fingered explorations of contemporary issues that the books are always something to look forward to, and the latest, House of the Black Spot, is a perfect example.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. I missed this, but earlier this month, the editorial shakeup at Esquire magazine also included the dismissal of cartoons editor Bob Mankoff.

Ronald Wimberly's LAAB is crowdfunding a new issue, including comics from Emily Carroll, Ben Passmore, Hellen Jo, Jonathan Djob Nkondo, Nishat Akhtar, Josiah Files, Freddie Carrasco, Richie Pope, Tanna Tucker, and Gymah Gariba.

—Reviews & Commentary. Jeet Heer has a new position at The Nation, and his first piece is an essay about the New York Times and its recent decision to cease the regular publication of political cartoons.

Speaking for many in his profession, Joel Pett, a Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist for Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader, decried the decision as “chickenshit and cowardly.” More politely, CNN’s Jake Tapper told The Daily Beast that this was “just one more nail in the coffin of what is a struggling art form, given how corporate America has taken over local newspapers and gutted the industry.”

It’s undeniable that editorial cartooning, even more than journalism as a whole, is in crisis. A 2012 report by the Herblock Foundation found that there were fewer than 40 editorial cartoonists with newspaper-staff jobs in America, a steep decline from more than 2,000 such positions in the beginning of the 20th century. The situation has gotten only more dire since that report, with the high-profile firing of Rob Rogers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for penning anti-Trump cartoons. Newspaper editorial cartooning is well on the path to extinction, a dire end for a vital art that has been inextricable from modern political protest.

At the New York Times, Hillary Chute reviews recent books by Mark Alan Stamaty and Jaime Hernandez.

The comics form sets up poignant juxtapositions in “Is This How You See Me?” The book is structured episodically, with present-day sequences — in which the two women, in their early 50s, return home, full of self-consciousness — intercut with scenes from the past. While in the table of contents these sections are marked out by year — 1979, 1980 — the story itself seamlessly slides into the past without announcement or warning. “Love and Rockets” focuses sharply on style, and we see how the characters shift fashions, grow older, change bodies. But other juxtapositions float throughout: the as-obnoxious-as-they-used-to-be young queer couple whom Maggie and Hopey encounter at the art house movie theater; their friend Daffy and her punked-out daughter standing side by side at the reunion for the local band Ape Sex. (The mom has some good advice: “I told her you never wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see.”)

And Michael Sherber writes in the journal Physics about a recent conference in France in which cartoonists and scientists discussed how to depict science through comics.

“The comic strip is a storytelling art,” says Pierre-Laurent Daures, one of the TSDS organizers and the president of Stimuli, an association that directs artist-scientist collaborations. The typical comic contains characters whose experiences are captured in a time-ordered sequence of panels. Scientific findings, by contrast, are usually presented as objective, timeless facts—with rarely any story behind them. “Combining scientific knowledge with comic drawing is a challenge, but it can lead to innovative solutions for communicating science,” Daures says.

These “solutions” were on show at the conference. In the entrance of the Museum of Comic Strips—where TSDS was held—several graduate students displayed comic-strip versions of their Ph.D. theses that were made for university-sponsored outreach programs. In talks, researchers from France, Morocco, and Chile presented a number of science-based comic books, such as one that used Alice in Wonderland to explain elementary statistics.

 

Whoops

Today on the site, Simon Abrams interviews Michael Kupperman.

In a lot of criticism, personal art is presumed to be better art. The idea that you have to literally bleed on the page to get people to take you seriously or to find your work “accessible,” which is another critical crutch. Was moving away from your collage-style work your way of making your art more accessible? That is: was it a conscious goal? 

Oh yes, absolutely. I mean, I think there are very few artists who don’t want more audience. Yes, I wanted to make my work more accessible and have it read by more people. The thing about Hodags and Hodaddies which was great was: I would do these comics and then people I know would see them and comment on them to my face. That was really rewarding for me. That aspect to the work disappeared pretty quickly after that.

You’re now on Patreon. How has that worked towards your goal of fostering a more immediate connection between your readership, your work, and you?

I think it’s still developing, really. Patreon is part of a more conscious shift on my part to make that connection and to build it. The old system has so consistently failed me. If I have a chance now to keep making comics the way I want to, it’s only going to be with the direct support of an audience that enjoys them.

Was it harder to be taken seriously by comics gatekeepers—both critics and publishers—because your style is not stylistically dense? You’re not exactly Chris Ware, who puts all the work on the page and kind of overwhelms you.

Absolutely, yes. I am not a designer per se and my work is not design-heavy. And yes, I think Chris Ware’s work, which is omnipresent now, has achieved that status partly, or mainly, because of its design sensibilities. I think design has really overtaken art in our culture right now. People think they’re the same thing and they’re not at all. In some senses I’m anti-design, and I see it as a limitation that our culture has placed on itself now, that everything has to be “designed” just so. I find the disruption caused by the human touch and the human brain to be much more interesting than something perfectly designed.

On Friday, Alex Dueben spoke to William Johnson, deputy director of Lambda Literary, about that organization's relationship to comics.

“The cartoonist Jennifer Camper made a great note at the Lammys,” Johnson said, mentioning the legendary cartoonist who was a presenter at this year’s Lammys alongside other distinguished figures like Jen Benka, Melissa Febos, John Roberts, Paul Tran, and Christine Vachon. “She said we shouldn’t really call it a graphic novel because comics exist cross-genre – memoir, science fiction, poetry. Comics is a huge door and anything can fit through it. That’s important to recognize.”

Since establishing a graphic-novel category, the Lammys has continued to recognize comics in other categories as well. This year, two comics were on the shortlist for the LGBTQ Erotica prize—Crossplay by Niki Smith, and Miles and Honesty in SCFSX! by Blue Delliquanti and Kazimir Lee—competing against prose work, with Delliquanti and Lee winning the prize.

As far as why they were nominated for and won the erotica prize, Johnson said that it was simply what the judges decided. “It’s judged by a panel of their peers so the judging panel is other erotic writers,” Johnson said. “The panel felt that this was the most notable book of the year and that it deserved the award.”

Keith Silva reviews the new collection of Don Rosa's Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes about how the combination of a cartoon character in a realistic setting creates a ‘mask’ for the reader--think European and Japanese comics or any animated Disney movie ever. And speaking of the big ‘D,’ the popularity of Donald Duck—the most published non-superhero comic book character in the world—is thanks to Carl Barks, a maestro of masking. And so it must follow, as a mother duck with her ducklings, Don Rosa, self-disclosed super fan of Barks’s signature work-for-hire creation, Scrooge McDuck, is a mask maker par excellence too.

Barks and Rosa’s use of masking in Duck books provided the reader with agency, engagement and complicity, the act of becoming, of being—the foundation of fiction, of comics. And what better places to be than a haunted castle, a riverboat plying the mighty Mississippi or a tumble-down town on the frontier? Masking means layering, which makes Rosa's The Complete Life and Times of $crooge McDuck a veritable French pastry full of adventures, history, laughs, thrills, sorrows, failures, triumphs and morals. Most of the lessons like fairness, frugality and forgiveness are child’s play. It’s the sad and wiser truths that The Complete Life and Times of $crooge McDuck masks about comics, corporations and the reader’s (consumer’s) conscience that makes this the ultimate work about understanding comics.

And Tegan O'Neil reviews Benji Nate's Lorna.

Benji Nate’s Lorna is one of the cuter books to cross my transom in a minute. I debated how and whether to use the word “cute” because under certain circumstances it can certainly be an insult, and indeed the last thing I would want to do is be seen to damn with faint praise merely by calling a book “cute.” But in this instance “cute” is the word because it seems difficult to imagine from the results on display that Nate wasn’t striving for cute the whole time.

The titular Lorna is a bit of an odd duck, by which I means she really likes carrying knives and stabbing things. She’s carrying a knife on the cover, carrying a knife on the first page, and although I didn’t actually count she’s carrying a knife on most of the interior pages as well. “Threatening boys with knives is just a hobby of mine,” she relates. Just one of those girls who really likes murdering people, y’know? And only sometimes scavenging their bodies for loot, like sunglasses.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Johnny Ryan is one of the writers working on a new series of Looney Tunes.

The shorts are part of the studio’s commitment to creating 1,000 minutes of new Looney Tunes animation. When WB announced the project at last year’s Annecy festival, the studio touted that the shorts would take a “cartoonist-driven approach to storytelling,” and based on what was screened today, they’ve stayed true to that mission.

—Andrea Ayres at The Beat writes about the possibility of a union in comics.

Saying you want a guild or union is one thing; actually forming one is an entirely different beast. How do you organize a disparate collective of workers? [Sasha] Bassett believes other industries, like construction, can serve as a template for comics. She says, “Another example can be found in a recent development with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), who has helped establish the IWW Freelance Journalists Union – comics could go a similar route and have all freelancers work within the same bargaining unit, rather than with smaller groups oriented around individual jobs.”

—The NCS responds to the recent New York Times decision to suspend regular political cartoons.

Editorial cartooning is an invaluable form of pointed critique in American newspapers that dates back to the 19th-century work of the legendary Thomas Nast, as well as to pamphlet images published by Benjamin Franklin. The history of our great nation can be read through the pens of our editorial artists and cartoonists. Journals of record are the conduits to this history.

The cartoonists that contribute to your publication are not mere hobbyists, but deeply committed life-long devotees to the art of political commentary. It is not a job that is taken lightly, nor done with ease. It is a passion that not only feeds the national and international conversation, but just as importantly, feeds their families.

 

Two to Go

Yesterday, we published an essay by Zoran Djukanovic exploring the visual storytelling of José Luis Salinas's Cisco Kid.

The Cisco Kid is one of the famous “eternal” Westerns, appearing on the pages of American newspapers for eighteen years, which can be considered a short period for a syndicated comic strip. In the world of comics done for King Features, many series lasted for more than half a century. The editors of KFS knew pretty well whom they were engaging as an artist for this series. José Luis Salinas (1908-1985) was an extremely skilled comic artist and illustrator. Prior to The Cisco Kid, he showed his extreme craftsmanship in a series of strip adaptations of well-known classic adventure novels in collaboration with the writer José de España. More importantly, Salinas was the author of the masterful Hernán el Corsario (1936-1938; 1940-1941; 1945-1946), which absorbed a lot of creative influence of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. Hernán el Corsario is considered the first great comic series in Argentina. Salinas was a quick-drawing artist. This proved to be important in nearly two decades of work on The Cisco Kid which was an exclusively daily strip. It’s one of the few syndicated comics where one can hardly notice variations in drawing quality.

[...]

The lightness of the narrative tone, with elements of exaggeration that verges on the comic, is immediately established from the first weeks of The Cisco Kid. Were the King Features Syndicate editors the ones who set the task of simplifying the story in The Cisco Kid? Yes, there was a warning that Cisco’s character always had to be good. It created a somewhat narrowed space for individualization of characters. It’s divided between good guys and bad guys, providing a certain naivety ready-built into the storyline.

And what about Cisco? There is a certain almost boyish enthusiasm in his character. Cisco is partly based on a humorously simplified characterization. He is an indisputable hero, a young man with a well-shaped, tight waisted body, always dressed in the same embroidered black shirt. A more ironic reader would have called him Narcissus. He is tirelessly flirts with women, and then triumphs against desperados.  Cisco’s romantic vision of falling in love is not exclusive and focused upon only one woman. He is primarily attracted to falling in love, to flirting as such and it doesn't matter if his sympathies overlap partners in real time. That brings a certain element of self-parody. Despite the Latin, partly frivolous Prince Charming appearance, sooner or later, he provokes trust and a feeling of protection for women. However, there are very little sexual undertones coming to the surface, if we compare it with other comic classics (Prince Valiant, Casey Ruggles, Lance, The Heart of Juliet Jones, and most of Alex Raymond’s work).

Today, we published an interview with the Indian artist and comics scholar Aarthi Parthasarathy, conducted by Kim Jooha.

Kadak Collective

What is Kadak Collective? How did it start?

Kadak is a collective of women, non-binary, and queer artists who are talking about a gamut of social issues, mainly related to gender and sexuality, through graphic storytelling. So it is not just comics, but also illustration, graphic design, animation, and now hopefully other forms as well.

Kadak started in 2016. Eight of us came together to showcase our work at a table for ELCAF. Under the collective, we’ve got approximately forty self-published books/zines/comics in different formats. We showcase them in The Reading Room. There are webcomics too. We’ve done a few commissions for different publications/organizations as well, including Gaysi Zine (an Indian queer zine) and the Akshara Foundation (an NGO working with issues related to gender). Last year, we spoke about the direction the collective should take and we decided to take on a big publication project, and that’s where we’re at right now, with the Bystander anthology.

Why feminist and queer?

In India, the last decade has really brought a lot of issues into people’s consciousness - the issues of violence against women, representation, caste hierarchies, intersectionality, among others. Before 2016, when Kadak formed, there were a lot of incidents like violence against women and minorities that fired a well overdue outrage. There was the case of the rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012 that really shook the nation, and this led to big societal shifts in the way people talked about sexual assaults and toxic masculinity, embedded patriarchy in systems. We realized how the media had contributed to lopsided representations, encouraged misogyny, turned a blind eye to forces of caste and class hierarchy. A lot of us were wondering, asking ourselves, discussing, how we could contribute to this conversation? As artists, storytellers, we felt we had a responsibility. And as women, queer, non-binary individuals, we knew we were best equipped to tell our own stories. We believed there was a kind of storytelling that hadn’t been foregrounded, and we wanted to bring attention to it.

Greg Hunter reviewed Dash Shaw's Clue: Candlestick #1:

An ideal encounter with Clue: Candlestick #1 might involve discovering it in a dollar bin twenty years after publication. Already a curious aside in the bibliography of a celebrated cartoonist, Dash Shaw's board-game tie-in miniseries is likely to look even stranger as time passes and its context begins to blur. But here we are, only a few weeks after its release. Without the benefit of any back-issue-disinterment aura, Candlestick #1 sometimes reads like a comic for nobody--perhaps too odd for a fan of the game (or film) who stumbles upon it, perhaps too restrained for fans of Shaw's most ambitious works. But comics for nobody have an aura of their own, and Candlestickstill illuminates Shaw’s skills as a storyteller.

And Sean Witzke reviews Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman's Thumbs #1.

The opening issue of the five-issue miniseries Thumbs, by Sean Lewis and artist Hayden Sherman, mainly focuses on a sister taking her wounded brother to the hospital for medical care. The press release for the book mentions Charlier Brooker and Annabelle Jones' Black Mirror, our current moment’s most relevant science-fiction concern. Brooker has always in his writing shown a true distrust of human selfishness, working in the territory scratched out by Rod Serling and George Romero--it's a world view where people poison their own well, where we are the monsters. It's a place where it doesn’t matter what the hook is, because you have to be more worried about your neighbor with the gun than any monster that is breaking down the door.

Thumbs seems to come from a different school, one which the creators may not even be aware of, the post-cyberpunk of the '90s, things like Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, what you could call pre-9/11 tech anxiety books. In them, there are the kids who have been left behind by a technologically advanced society, the omnipresent tech du jour (a character is very clearly meant to be Elon Musk), adults that are often bad or missing, and a half-useful slang that’s only there to patch over uninteresting character motivations. Thumb's creators don’t need to have read those books as there's a type of science fiction that seems self-generating. The kind where it’s too clever by half, and could come from video games or YA novels or anime. The kind where the world falls apart if you tug at the ideas just a little. A book like Jennifer Egan’s Welcome to the Goon Squad can exist where it hits dozens of cliches and you feel like it’s not on purpose, but because the author literally has never read or watched any science fiction.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The very first piece of original Tintin cover art created by Hergé sold at auction for over $1 million this week.

Three separate bidders placed bids exceeding $1 million for the first cover illustration by Hergé, who is considered the star of European comics. The title character is shown carving a makeshift propeller for his plane from a tree trunk, under the watchful eye of his bandaged-but-attentive dog, Snowy.

—D.D. Degg has collected various reactions to the New York Times's recent decision to stop publishing editorial cartoons.

—Carol Tilley tells the story of the overlooked Golden Age cartoonist Jane Krom Grammer.

When Barrie Schindler was young, her mother Jane Krom Grammer mentioned to her that she had drawn art for comic books. Jane kept a package filled with several issues of Supersnipe Comics from the mid-1940s and pointed to the Dotty stories in them. But Jane’s name didn’t appear anywhere on the art and there were no pay vouchers or contracts to back up the story, only her word.

—And don't forget: midnight June 14 is your final deadline to vote in the Eisners.

 

The Rundown

This week, Sloane Leong continues her series of interviews with fellow artists-in-residence at the Maison des Auteurs in Angoulême, France. This time, she spoke with Josune Arrutia about cancer, Susan Sontag, and the growing interest in what's being called "graphic medicine."

Josune Urrutia: The project has no title yet. It’s about six women artists that lived with cancer and decided to make work in order to re-signify the surroundings and meanings of cancer through art.

And so what motivated you to write that sort of story?

It’s been almost ten years since I was diagnosed with cancer, and in a way it changed my life.

Oh, wow.

Yeah, I first made the Brief Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary of MY Cancer at the end of 2017. It’s not a comic, it’s actually an alphabet that approaches cancer from different points of view, territories, genres and languages, attempting to understand the universal reality of cancer based on my personal experience with cancer and illness.

[...]

What type of cancer did you battle with?

Ovarian. So this is the first thing I made related to cancer and illness. The Brief Dictionary has been germinal for other projects like the comic I’m working on here at MdA, or the one with Art Center La Panera and the Radiation Oncology Unit of the public Hospital in Lleida, Catalonia. We are working on a collective illustrated publication about cancer. It’s a participatory project where all the hospital community takes part: the team of radiotherapy oncology, doctors, technicians, patients, family expansive, etc. It’s like my Brief Dictionary, but collective.

The great Joe McCulloch returns with a review of panpanya's Invitation from a Crab.

Despite the terrific influence Japanese comics have had on small-press and online-focused cartoonists here in the English-speaking west, it's still pretty rare to encounter the Japanese equivalents of those none-too-mainstream artists in translation. Much of what is presented as 'manga' to overseas readers is very much commercial entertainment - because Japan's industry of comics is comparatively very healthy, there are many more professional working cartoonists, and a wider net can thus be cast into the stream of popular genres and topics; it's more akin to cable television than anything familiar to English-language comics. As a result, even if you stick to the biggest publishers and the more formulaic titles, 'manga' will appear to be more diverse. But smaller manga do sometimes get through. Just last month, the Tokyo bookstore and art gallery Popotame put out an English-translated selection of comics titled Popocomi, for release at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. This follows a 2016 English edition of the Japanese indie manga anthology USCA from Diorama Books, and 2018's š! #32, a Latvian-assembled showcase for Japanese artists. Among larger publishers, we must not forget that Kabi Nagata's hugely-acclaimed memoir My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (published in English by Seven Seas) began its life as a personal webcomic, or that the popular ESPer mayhem series Mob Psycho 100 (published in English by Dark Horse) is from an artist, ONE, who made his name doing similarly lo-fi online work.

Into this scene drops An Invitation from a Crab, a year-one release for the new manga-in-English publisher Denpa, as translated by Ko Ransom. The collection itself is not a small-press item; it was first released in Japanese in 2014 by Hakusensha, the same publisher that handles Berserk, and parts of it appeared beforehand via Rakuen, a mainline comics magazine marketed to women. However, the artist, panpanya, has deep roots in Japanese small- and self-publishing, particularly as it relates to Comitia, a seasonal convention dedicated to original works (as opposed to the fanfiction-heavy tables of the larger Comiket). Considerable domestic acclaim followed the 2013 release of Ashizuri Aquarium, a first-ever arrangement of the artist's theretofore self-published comics, as released by January and July, a book publisher-cum-anime goods merchant; An Invitation from a Crab is thus panpanya's wider-release sophomore collection - a major-label second album, albeit the first to appear in English.

And Toussaint Egan reviews Sharpe & Goodrich's Viewotron.

When it comes to reading Viewotron No. 1, the inaugural volume of Sam Sharpe’s ‘one-or-more-person comics anthology’ co-created with Peach S Goodrich, it’s all a matter of perspective. In the volume’s second comic, ‘The Secret Origins of Viewotron’, the eponymous thingamabob is revealed to have been a literal ‘deus ex machina’ created by Sharpe and Goodrich back in 2005 as a prop for an impromptu sci-fi film the two had been working on at the time. “It’s a machine whose purpose is unclear,” Sam confidently states, whose only explicit function being to reveal something “different” to whomever looks into it. When asked what exactly the Viewotron shows to the person peering through it, Sam simply replies, “Whatever your character needs to see.” This concept, of a tool facilitated to reveal the unseen and essential truth of one’s lived experiences through the animating spark of their subjectivity, is carried through to the color scheme of Viewotron itself: an mock-analyphic red and cyan composition evoking comparisons to the earliest forms of commercial 3D imagery. What at first is mundane can turn out to be revelatory, if viewed with the proper mindset. It’s an appropriate context for a disarmingly pleasant collection of stories that tackle everything from the anxiety of subjective experience, misplaced expectations, mortality, loneliness, and the aimless struggle to find one’s sense of place and meaning in the world.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The New York Times has decided to end their publication of all political cartoons, several weeks after the controversy over a syndicated anti-Netanyahu cartoon in its international edition. Times cartoonist Pat Chappette writes about the decision:

All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.

In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they'll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon - not even mine - that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world. [...]

Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie's infringement suit against InfoWars has ended with Furie receiving a $15,000 settlement.

The InfoWars lawsuit, filed last year, centered on a poster sold by InfoWars featuring Pepe alongside Trumpworld personalities like Roger Stone, InfoWars founder Alex Jones, and pundits “Diamond & Silk.”

Before settling, InfoWars tried a novel legal strategy of suggesting, without evidence, that Furie had actually based Pepe on an Argentinian amphibian cartoon character named “El Sapo Pepe.” But on Tuesday, InfoWars agreed to destroy all remaining copies of the poster, and pay back the $14,000 it made from the poster sales—along with an additional $1,000.

—Commentary. Ross Trudeau writes about his father, Garry Trudeau.

Dad only ever seemed to shut the studio door on Fridays. His slate of six dailies and one nine-panel Sunday strip were due to the inker by 6:00 P.M., and he rarely finished a minute before. And just as his professional anxiety reached its weekly zenith, we three children would burst back into the pre-war Central Park West co-op with typical weekend-anticipatory zeal. The few times my father could have been said to have snapped at me unfairly occurred at the threshold of his studio, in mid-afternoon on a Friday: deadline day (or, as my sister called it, “Daddy’s Mad Day).

At Women Write About Comics, Jameson Hampton writes about the online furor that recently erupted around Chelsea Cain and her current Image series, Man-Eaters.

It’s not breaking news that Chelsea Cain, author of Marvel’s Mockingbird, has seen her share of criticism lately for her new comic, Man-Eaters, published by Image Comics. Hailed by some as feminist critique, numerous aspects of Man-Eaters have also been slammed by critics for being insensitive to various groups of people. Cain has acknowledged these critics in the past, going so far as to publicly pledge to do better.

The very premise of the book — a mutation causes menstruating women to turn into dangerous were-felines — has been criticized for being gender essentialist and ignoring the existence of trans people, despite Cain’s claims otherwise. (It also features a plot point where estrogen is added to the water, which is uncomfortably reminiscent of real life fear-mongering about the trans community.) Additionally, more recent issues of the comic have featured (white) women in concentration camps and being forced to drink out of different water fountains than men, garnering criticism that she’s being hypothetically alarmist about things that have actually happened (and are, in fact, still happening) to people of color.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Bill Griffith, the most recent guest on Chapo Trap House is Alan Moore, and the most recent guest on RiYL is Jim Rugg.

Also, Henry Chamberlain interviews R. Sikoryak:

—RIP. Bushwick Bill.

 

Three to Go

If you haven't had the chance yet to dig into yesterday's Clyde Fans roundtable, I highly recommend it. In it, seven comics scholars and Seth experts—Charles Hatfield, Jeet Heer, Martha Kuhlman, Daniel Marrone, Barbara Postema, Candida Rifkind, Tom Smart—discuss in depth Seth's twenty-years-in-the-making signature work. Here's a bit from Hatfield's introductory remarks:

From the sound of it, Clyde Fans should be an epic: a mid-twentieth-century family story spanning some four decades in the life (and death) of a company inherited by two sons from a wayward father, a business vulnerable to technological and social change and thus ultimately made obsolete. Firmly set in postwar to late-century Ontario, and rooted in certain kinds of Ontarian landscape and a (then optimistic, now pitiable) commercial culture of nonstop go-getting salesmanship — an eager, scurrying, small-time capitalism — Clyde Fans seems determined to chart how a changing world looks from a particular vantage point. Culturally, it’s very specific, and there is so much that might be done to show how various people lived in and made that culture. The lives of Abraham and Simon Matchcard, mismatched brothers working for one too-long lived business, would seem to be an apt vehicle for depicting change in the world (or at least the Ontario) at large. Though mundane, Clyde Fans covers so many years, and has taken so very many years to complete and collect in book form, that the temptation to greet it as Something Big, a monumental work, is hard to resist.

The thing is, the collected Clyde Fans, to me, despite its physical heft, feels like a small story, or rather a meditative visual poem. It doesn’t feel big. It’s intimate. In fact, it’s more than intimate: it’s a closed world, a microcosm, much like the Clyde Fans building that encloses so much of the action. Seth, in rounding off the story, does what the Matchcard brothers do: he turns inward, tightening scope, excluding much of the social world whose changing nature might lead us to expect, well, an epic. This is a story about two recluses, each clinging to the Clyde building for his own reasons, one a go-getter perhaps tragically replaying the sins of his hated father, the other nursing their dying mother and embracing darkness and solitude as a relief from the world’s pressure, but both crawling inside themselves and seeking or succumbing to oblivion. The book itself mirrors their retreat, winding down and disappearing down its own ostrich hole, ending with a rejection of the larger world that ambiguously teeters between tragedy and affirmation.

Today, Alex Dueben returns to interview webcartoonist Kat Verhoeven.

At the start you were thinking of other webcomics like Octopus Pie and Girls with Slingshots.

Absolutely. I get the Octopus Pie comparison fairly often which I think is a compliment. It’s the same format and it was a really big inspiration to me at the time. When I describe the comic I say, it’s like the TV show Friends but sadder. [laughs]

[laughs] I like that. But why did you decide to use a horizontal page design?

I had started working in different printing presses, which is still the day job that I have. I was beginning to get into that work and had started to learn more about paper sizes and page sizes. I was thinking about comic books on shelves and so I mostly did it to try to stand out. Not a lot of comics are done in a horizontal format. Not a lot of long form print comics are done that way. It’s sort of it’s been a bit of a regret actually. As I’ve learned more about webcomic formatting and how to build an audience and make a comic more accessible across different devices, a landscape comic is the worst way of reading that you can have. But it was fun. I wouldn’t do it again but I’m glad Meat and Bone exists in that format. It will stand out on the shelf, I think.

And of course, we also published Days Four and Five of AJ Dungo's Cartoonist's Roundtable.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The nominees for this year's Russ Manning Awards have been announced.

—Cartoonist and community fixture Dustin Harbin had a serious bicycle accident and is raising funds for medical expenses.

—RIP. Dr. John.

 

Amazing Adult Fantasy

Today on the site, we present an excerpt from AJ Dungo's In Waves.

Dungo, of course, is the artist for this week's Cartoonist's Diary. Day Two and Day Three are up now.

Yesterday, we published the most recent R.C. Harvey column, which this time focused on Eric Stanton, fetish artist, Steve Ditko studio-mate, and possible co-creator of Spider-Man.

In 1951, Stanton married Grace Marie Walter on October 20; they had two children, both boys. The same year, Stanton enrolled in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School founded by Burne Hogarth. Stanton took courses from Hogarth and from Jerry Robinson, and in Robinson’s class, he met Ditko and Eugene Bilbrew, an African-American artist who Stanton would introduce to Klaw. As Eneg (“Gene” spelled backwards), Bilbrew, like Stanton, would pursue a career in fetish art.

Ditko, asked years later how he and Stanton met, said, “I liked the way he drew women.” More about their relationship anon.

Over the years, Stanton would produce work for several merchants of fetish art: Edward Mishkin, who ran a store near Times Square (in those days, the neighborhood of sexploitation with dozens of stores selling girlie magazines, photographs, movies, and smut); Leonard Burtman, publisher and merchandiser; Max Stone, publisher of fighting female serials; and Stanley Malkin, also a Times Square entrepreneur, who would hire Stanton, putting him on salary, to do covers for his magazines—Stanton’s longest salaried situation as a fetish artist, 1963-68. Malkin also furnished and paid all the expenses for a small apartment for Stanton.

All, plus Klaw, were eventually arrested, tried and convicted of trafficking in pornography (“printed circulars, pamphlets, booklets, drawings, photographs and motion picture films, which were non-mailable in that they were obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, and filthy”). After serving their sentences (usually payment of a fine), all returned to their businesses under different names—except Malkin, who gave it up in 1969.

Edwin Turner is here, too, with a review of the latest from Jaime Hernandez.

Hernandez's art is as impressive as ever. His Pop style is deceptively simple, with bold lines and controlled patterns reminiscent of Kirbyesque romance comics or Archie classics---but let's be real---nearly four decades in, Hernandez's work is its own idiom. His command of facial expressions is particularly praiseworthy. In one priceless panel, a teenage Hopey overhears herself being insulted. Her aghast frown is worthy of a dozen paragraphs of interior monologue (and far more economical). It's fascinating too to see how naturally Hernandez has realized the aging of his characters, as if they were not drawings on a page, but rather real people.

Is This How You See Me? is ostensibly the sequel to 2014's The Love Bunglers, a graphic novel that retold Maggie's childhood in a startling and impressionistic manner. Together, these novels make a nice introduction to Love & Rockets to anyone perhaps daunted by the series' long history and large cast. Both volumes show an author who cares deeply about his characters, and loves Maggie in particular. Reading Is This How You See Me?, one realizes that Hernandez could go on writing about Maggie for another three decades---and that she would continue to change and fascinate both her readers and her creator.

And Sean Witzke writes about Warren Ellis and Jason Howard's Cemetery Beach.

So this Warren Ellis comic that is indistinguishable from the last Warren Ellis comic I read (which would be a solid 7, 8 years ago), where the characters start explaining their predicaments before panel one and never stop explaining their predicaments until the 162nd page… there's obviously someone who wants this. But I don’t even know if Warren Ellis likes this style of writing. He’s done it, certainly, since the beginning; but his science fiction comics were often dialog-driven polemics, and his action comics usually providing some interesting visual elements while scaling the talk way back. I’m thinking of something like Global Frequency, or more recently his Moon Knight comic that was just a comic book version of the staircase scene from Tony Jaa’s The Protector. A bunch of somethings that a comics writer has very little say in whether or not it’s executed well, beyond teeing up and hoping a good artist will show off.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Tommi Parris's The Lie and How We Told It won this year's Lambda Literary Award for graphic novels.

—At The New Yorker, Dan Piepenring writes about Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart's How to Read Donald Duck.

Among North American audiences, Disney was most famous for its films and theme parks, but, abroad, Disney comics had a robust readership, and legions of freelance artists tailored them—or rewrote them—to international tastes. In Chile, Donald Duck was by far the most popular Disney character. But Dorfman and Mattelart argued that Donald was a conservative mouthpiece, dampening the revolutionary spirit, fostering complacency, and softening the sins of colonialism. What kind of a role model was he, this eunuch duck, who sought only fame and fortune, who ignored the plight of the working class, who accepted endless suffering as his lot? “Reading Disney,” they wrote, “is like having one’s own exploited condition rammed with honey down one’s throat.”

“How to Read Donald Duck,” published in 1971, was an instant best-seller in Chile. But, in 1973, Augusto Pinochet seized power from Allende, in a violent military coup; under Pinochet’s rule, the book was banned, as an emblem of a fallen way of thought. Donald and Mickey Mouse became champions of the counter-revolution. One official pasted their faces on the walls of his office, where, under his predecessor, socialist slogans had once hung. Dorfman watched on TV as soldiers cast his book into a bonfire; the Navy confiscated some ten thousand copies and dumped them into the bay of Valparaíso. A motorist tried to plow him down in the street, shouting “Viva el Pato Donald!”