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Ink & Pixels

Hello everyone. Frank Young is here this morning with a review of an unusual Italian comics biography, Agustin Comotto's Prisoner 155: Simón Radowitzky.

Writer-artist Agustin Comotto has done his job exhaustively well. Packed with footnotes (most of them essential to understanding what’s going on), the book offers an overwhelm of information in telling the story of Ukraine-born anarchist Simón Radowitzky (1891-1956). Much of the book’s events occur in the early 20th century. There are inescapable parallels to our times. Mankind’s inability to treat itself with kindness, and to accept dissenting views without violence, may never be laid to rest. The struggle remains as real today as it was in the events that shape Comotto’s narrative.

We meet Radowitzky amid his long prison sentence in Argentina—a country he emigrated to, as a teenager, to escape the oppression and brutality of Eastern Europe. Radowitzky has spent most of his adult life behind bars. Much of his time outside prison has been perilous. He witnessed the slaughter of his childhood village in the hands of the Czar’s footmen (an example of the ethnic cleansing and persecution Jewish people suffered in Europe long before Hitler’s rise to power) and took part in a 1905 worker protest in St. Petersburg, Russia—a day known as Bloody Sunday, in which unarmed proletarians were slaughtered in their attempt to present a petition to the Tsar. Radowitzky, by the time of adolescence, was a hardened survivor of a brutal endgame.

A confirmed anarchist by his teens, Radowitzky sought asylum in Argentina, as a step in the process of his family’s relocation to America. At 18, he was part of an attempt to assassinate Ramón Falcón, a Buenos Aires police chief who destroyed the lives of anarchist and Communist protesters in a 1909 demonstration. For this crime, Radowitzky would have been executed, were he of legal age. Instead, he was imprisoned for over twenty years. While imprisoned in Ushuaia Prison in Patagonia, where he was beaten, starved and (in an event not shown in this book) raped by prison guards, he became a cause célebrè to those who sought freedom from political oppression.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. As I'm sure most of our readers know, the San Diego Comic-Con just ended, which means there were lots of awards handed out last weekend. That includes the Inkpot Awards (congratulations to Eric Reynolds), the Prism awards, and the Eisners. Emil Ferris won two of the top prizes (Best Writer/Artist and Best New Graphic Album) and also won Best Coloring. Frequent TCJ contributor Mark Newgarden won for How to Read Nancy (with Paul Karasik), as did contributor Anne Ishii for her recent translation of Gengoroh Tagame. Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's Monstress won five Eisners, and other prominent winners include Jillian Tamaki, Tillie Walden, Tom Gauld, and Taneka Stotts.

This website won the award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. I've been nominated for that prize without actually winning it a fair number of times now, both for this site and for Comics Comics, so I more or less assumed that was going to be the way things continued indefinitely. I am pleased that we won for 2017, which both honors the work Dan Nadel put into the site for so long, and recognizes the new energy and spirit that Tucker Stone brought with him when he came aboard. I asked Dan if he wanted to make a comment, and he asked to express his gratitude to Gary Groth for the opportunity, and said it was a nice way to cap off his time at the Journal (though I will continue to commission him to write stories). I'm grateful too, especially to our readers — and all of our contributors. It's really their award. Tucker may have something to say tomorrow.

As you probably also know, this week brought the news that The Comics Journal is relaunching its print edition, with familiar faces RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti at the helm. Just as exciting, Rick Marshall is also relaunching his classic comics magazine Nemo.

—Reviews & Commentary. At the Paris Review, Yevgeniya Traps writes about Geneviève Castrée's heartbreaking children's book, A Bubble.

A Bubble, the artist and musician Geneviève Castrée’s posthumously published last work, is, in essence, a children’s board book. It begins with the caption “Maman lives in a bubble,” above a drawing of a little blond child in cat-face knee socks gazing at her mother, who floats in the titular sphere. “I love you very much,” the mother says, her freckled face anxious, her choppy hair concealed under a beanie hat. She may be unwell, sick. Indeed, the next page confirms it, the mother has been ill for some time: “It has been a while now. I no longer remember the time when she didn’t live in the bubble, I was too little.” The mother works on projects in her bubble: embroidery, reading, crafting, drawing. She gets sicker and sicker, her illness progresses, her hair thins, she starts wearing a cannula, she is connected to a tank. She cannot leave her bubble, but sometimes the little girl joins her in it. They eat breakfast together (“She doesn’t mind if I make crumbs with my toast”), nap (“a special time for Maman and me”), make art (“I draw with her, it brings her great joy”). When she goes on excursions with Papa, the little girl makes sure to tell Maman about her adventures. The bubble separates them but cannot keep them apart.

Over at Print, Michael Dooley previewed the Eisner awards, and contemplated their usefulness to readers.

Forget about who’ll walk away with Eisner Awards on Friday at San Diego’s Comic-Con. Sure, there’ll be worthy winners. In my feature on Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters, which garnered multiple well-deserved nominations, I wrote that it would easily top any comics and design “best of” award. More on that notion momentarily. But honestly, the Eisners are much more a popularity contest among comics industry professionals than it is any real gauge of who and what is most worthy in any given category. Simply put, personal favoritism is the dominating determinant. Nevertheless, the Eisners themselves do serve a valuable and commendable function. Truth is, it’s not only an honor just to be nominated, it’s the only worthwhile honor, inasmuch as the nominee list news we can most usefully use.

At The New Yorker, Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman discuss the work of Saul Steinberg.

Patterson Sims: Did his high visibility and great success at The New Yorker compromise his success and status as an artist in the gallery world?

FM: He talked a lot about that topic to me. He said it was his choice to do magazine covers and drawings, even if it might have done him a disservice and prevented him from reaching the height of fame of some of his friends like Calder or Willem de Kooning. He was surrounded by very famous people, though a greater number of his friends were esteemed writers rather than artists. He talked about the invention of abstract painting, in a broken-down barn by Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. He told me about how the two of them went to Long Island one summer when they were young, unknown, and had no money: the barn that they rented was about to fall apart. They went to the hardware store to buy some paint, basically to hold the planks together so that they wouldn’t blow in the wind. They started rolling on the paint and that’s where Pollock took a bucket of paint and started throwing it on the floor, inventing Abstract Expressionism. Saul said to me (and, again, I wish I could have recorded our conversations), “I could have been an Abstract Expressionist” and noted that he was married to Hedda Sterne, an abstract painter. He said, “I could have thrown a bucket of paint. I could have figured out how to play that game.” But his love of the lowly magazine prevailed.

 

Grudge Milk

Today at TCJ, we're very pleased to share this extensive interview with cartoonist Dana Simpson, courtesy of Alex Dueben. The passage below is from the very end of the interview, but it is a valuable sentiment worth sharing twice:

Now we’re at the point where kids can say, I know who I am, and people will listen.

I know. I’m super envious of those kids. It makes me feel like I was born thirty years too early. Not that it’s easy being a trans kid. The trans kids that I know are some of the bravest people that I’ve ever met. I’m in awe of them.

I don’t know how I would have been if that had been an option. It was not when I was growing up. Now you can say, this is me, I’m going to be me, and some people will actually listen to you. I think if I’d said “I’m a girl,” no one would have known what to do about it in 1985. Or 1995 even. Hell, in 2005, when I came out, people acted, like, very differently than I think they would act now. I know differently than they would act now. In 2005 I I didn’t know any trans people. It turned out that I did, I just didn’t know that they were trans.

I’m glad people can authentically be themselves. People are much more aware of it now in a way they weren’t. I speak at schools a lot and I usually don’t bring that up, but sometimes I do. Especially if they tell me there’s a trans kid at the school. When I do that, kids react like it’s not a big thing. Maybe that’s just the kids I’m meeting, but they always just nod like, oh, okay. This generation is great. We have to start listening to them more.

Today's review is from Tegan O'Neil, and it's on the new graphic novel from Nate Powell, Top Shelf, and the color black.

There’s a lot of black ink in Nate Powell’s Come Again. The pages are soaked, with darkness creeping around every edge, devouring each panel border and threatening every character therein. It’s a paranoid story, defined by disappearance and memory loss, as well as the fear of secrets left to fester. The bright parts aren’t any less unsettling. The juxtaposition between light and dark that recurs throughout the book is disorienting and echoes in multiple places throughout the narrative. Throughout the story characters are hiding secrets or struggling to exhume secrets, caught in some fashion between ignorance and understanding.

Abhay Khosla briefly touches upon one of comics' ever present annoyances: morons, and why it's no fun to read their reviews of comic books

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go refresh youtube until I can see the ding dang Aquaman trailer!

 

 

Piano Player

Rob Clough is here today with a review of a recent comic by the German artist Nadine Redlich.

This is her third collection of strips and drawings. Her first, Ambient Comics, established her as an artist who loves to use the grid to play with time and set up subtle jokes. Ambient music is designed to relax someone with a series of sounds aimed at different kinds of brainwave activity, and so too seem her ambient comics about following images through a grid. There's a candle melting, an inchworm moving, and a shadow moving. However, Redlich starts to slowly subvert these images in funny ways. In one, there are six panels of the earth taken from space, where there is no doubt a great deal of change going on on the planet in each of the six panels, but it's so far away that we only see the same image six times. The best example is the image of an alpine mountain peak, with an avalanche forming over the six panels. The irony of meditating and being in the present with destruction is exactly the kind of paradox that informs her work. Her second book, Paniktotem, does something similar, this time pairing extremely cute images with scenarios related to anxiety, frustration, and meaninglessness.

I Hate You – You Just Don't Know It Yet is a mixture of comics, doodles, scrawled aphorisms, and scorched earth destruction of romantic cliches.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Criticism. Jillian Steinhauer at The Nation reviews Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

Writers weighed in on all sides [of a debate on whether female literary characters needed to be likable]: The New Yorker’s ”Page Turner” blog convened a “forum on ‘likability’”; Jennifer Weiner went to bat for likable female characters in Slate; months later, Roxane Gay published an essay about the value of unlikable female protagonists in BuzzFeed. The debate dismantled the double standard that women should be pleasant and agreeable, even when they’re fictional creations. Despite being outdated, the idea was clearly still present—an old wound whose scab was due to be picked once more.

It was maddening, but also comical, to watch the argument rage on, as if the work of some of the best female creators wasn’t a ready-made rebuttal to this myth. Aline Kominsky-Crumb, for one, has devoted her career to breaking down the expectation of women’s propriety, often with humor. In 1972, she contributed a story, “Goldie: A Neurotic Woman,” to the inaugural issue of the groundbreaking underground magazine Wimmen’s Comix. Her first published work, “Goldie” is these days considered the first autobiographical comic created by a woman. The five-page piece is a sort of dreamlike narration of how Goldie—a stand-in for the author, who draws herself with a big nose and even bigger hips—rediscovers her pride after puberty and an extended period of sleeping around have ruined her self-esteem. It’s a tale that Kominsky-Crumb would go on to retell many times in her work.

—Interviews & Profiles. Newsday talks to Jules Feiffer on the publication of his third noir graphic novel.

In “The Ghost Script,” when you look at Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist witch-hunt and the fear and paranoia in American society at the time, you can't help but think about the toxic political atmosphere today. Was that parallel in your mind at all?

It was not a parallel at the time. First of all, I write the script long before I illustrate it. At the time I was writing it, I was in Berlin, at the American Academy in Berlin. It was way before Donald Trump; it was way before any speculation about Donald Trump. When I began the series, with “Kill My Mother,” I had no intention of being political. I just wrote, and let it take me where it took me, and it took me in this direction. I wanted to show that the blacklist was an attack on our entire civilization, on our notion of ourselves as a country, by people who were trying to save it for themselves and only themselves. That's the parallel to the age of Trump. But the age of Trump hadn't descended upon us yet.

Willamette Week profiles the late cartoonist John Callahan, the subject of Gus Van Sant's latest film.

For 27 years, if you opened Willamette Week, you'd find one of his cartoons, needling polite society with jokes about feminists, lesbians, nuns, doctors, lawyers, the homeless, conservatives, liberals and his fellow "quads."

Callahan pissed off many in his day. The cartoonist, who was paralyzed in a car accident at age 21, made a career of pushing buttons, testing boundaries and immolating all notions of good taste with the belabored stroke of a pen. Advertisers complained, and there were occasional boycotts. But none of that prohibited him from becoming, at one point, one of the most visible cartoonists in America.

Wander around Northwest Portland and chances were you'd run into him, or he into you, as he blitzed up the sidewalk at speeds that rendered his electric-orange hair a tangerine blur.

Hyperallergic talks to Vanessa Davis about her work in painting.

—Misc. Two comics-related publications of possible interest launched crowdfunding attempts recently. First, The Nib is starting a quarterly print version, and has already reached its $50,000 goal. On the smaller end of the spectrum, the leftist video-game podcast No Cartridge is attempting to launch a series of politically oriented comics criticism zines.

 

Brothers In Closure

Today at TCJ, we've got a look at Reid Psaltis' Kingdom/Order, courtesy of Ryan Carey. It's a good one:

Eric Drooker’s groundbreaking Flood comes to mind throughout this book, not only because both are entirely “silent” works, but because Psaltis often veers into Drooker-esque woodcut-style illustration, yet the focus here is tighter, although arguably no less ambitious. One could even argue that the plethora of socio-economic problems Drooker touches upon in his book all stem from the separation of man from the natural world that Psaltis explores in the pages of his. Indeed, I’m sure someone of the “Green Anarchist” political persuasion would say precisely that, and Psaltis’ thick, expressive, detailed line manages to convey a lot of the universality he’s aiming to imbue his story with. When his protagonist is curious at the outset, it shows in every facial expression, every “tic” of his body language, and the same holds true when his feelings “evolve” into fear, complacency, happiness, and finally into aggression. You know right where our man is every step of the way here, emotionally as well as physically, and that’s all down to the power and precision of Psaltis’ rich, nuanced illustration.

In satellite Journal contributions, Tom Kaczynski followed up his recent Eddy Current column with a series of tweets on American superhero comics, urbanization, architecture & more. You start here, and yes, it has numbers

While this weekend's San Diego Intellectual Property Convention is sure to release its fair share of comics adjacent news, you would have a very hard time convincing me that there will be any greater and more up-my-alley advertisement for a Marvel property than this sixteen second video of Paul Rudd & Michael Douglas hamboning back in 2015. I have liked loved hamboning far longer and with more consistency than I've loved reading, and while this video is a bit too short and would have benefited from a longer build, it's still mainstream hamboning that may introduce it to a wider audience, thus ensuring a future full of hamboning.

 

 

Tough Love

Today on the site, Annie Mok returns to interview Ronald Wimberly, the creator of Prince of Cats and Black History in Its Own Words, about his new magazine, art school, animation, and Walt Disney.

ANNIE MOK: In LAAB #0, you use Mickey Mouse a couple of times as a richly layered visual motif. On the cover, a poster in a NYC street scene shows a group of men tearing down a Mickey statue like it's a war monument. In another image, you layer Mickey's face over Jean-Michel Basquiat's, but obscure the eyes with Barbara Kruger-style typography. Can you break down why you used Mickey in this way, including how Mickey's origins and influences may have factored into your playing with this corporate icon?

RONALD WIMBERLY:
LAAB #0 deals with the political unconscious in pop culture aesthetics. These images are meant to provoke thought. Honestly, they seem embarrassingly didactic as is, a bit on the nose; describing my intention defeats the purpose of looking at the work. So instead of answering your question directly I’m just going to give some more context to the information about the subjects in the pictures and let people contemplate the images.

Mickey Mouse, as readers may know, is the flagship character and brand icon of Walt Disney Corporation. Mickey Mouse is recognized around the world. Mickey Mouse was designed by Ub Iwerks; I think a lot of what Disney is can be summed up in this first relationship between Walt and Ub.

I would encourage readers to look up the Disney animators strike of 1941.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. TCJ's own Greg Hunter weighs in on one of the most acclaimed books of the year, Nick Drnaso's Sabrina.

Drnaso makes comics of acute psychological realism that approach their subjects from an almost anthropological remove. An easy comparison is Chris Ware, with his clean-lined compositions and stories of the lonely, the stunted, and the mistreated. But unlike Ware, who enacts these scenarios with complex, formally dynamic layouts, Drnaso’s stories are tidy, unadorned, and judicious in their limited emotional range. The effects of this approach, and possible explanations for it, are numerous.

An uncharitable take on Drnaso would go something like this: the distance in his comics is a way to safeguard the work, even the artist’s ego. Such a measured style reduces the risk of being perceived as sentimental. It avoids any flourishes that may be seen as overreaches or miscalculations. It’s an eminently — even excessively — adult and respectable approach to comics fiction.

And Tom Kaczynski cannibalizes what should have been his next TCJ column for a Jeet Heer-style tweetstorm on "architecture, urbanism, Capitalism, suburbanization, and American superhero comics."

8/ America has a love/hate relationship with the city. Metropolis & Gotham are the yin/yang of the city, each representing a way America thinks about New York, Chicago, etc.

9/ Noted Batman writer/editor Denny O’Neil famously said that Gotham City is New York below 14th Street, Metropolis is New York above 14th Street.

—Interviews & Profiles. Also at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Tahneer Oksman talks to Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

This collection seems very complete. I feel a great sense of relief that it exists. It covers a lot of territory, and it’s a good representation of my career as a cartoonist.

It’s not like there’s a direct evolutionary line. It goes all over the place, and keeps going back to things. There’s a period of time where you feel better, a period where you feel worse. Where you’re fatter, where you’re not in touch with your body, where you’re drinking too much, doing too many drugs, whatever it is. And I think the work reflects those different periods, but I think there’s a general trend toward fulfillment and self-awareness. Some of the early images are really out there — I was so crazy then, I was just trying to rebel against my upbringing completely. I had so much pain and so much anger. Those stories are very painful, very anger-driven. Some of the later stories are not quite so full of venom as the earlier work.


—Misc.
A new journalist-run website Popula launched last week, and under editors Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos already has a strong comics presence, with regular comics by Ron Regé, Lauren Weinstein, and Ben Passmore, as well as a recurring Sunday strips package featuring Steven Weissman, Karen Sneider, Jon Lewis, Megan Kelso, and Tom Hart.

 

To Sedate As Humour Dies

Thanks for starting off your week with TCJ: why not take a look at this roundtable conversation between Ellen Forney, Megan Kelso & Raina Telgemeier, spurred in part by Trina Robbins’ Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896–2013? Here's a taste:

RAINA TELGEMEIER: After Smile, I was really surprised by the reaction that book got. I thought it was my little autobio story and that my friends would read it, and I would get a few readers who’d nod their heads and say, “That was cool,” but, what I got was thousands of 9-year-old girls emailing me to ask me, “When’s the sequel coming out?”

I was like, you don’t understand, this was a true story and I managed to condense four-and-a-half years of my life into a package with a beginning and a middle and an end, and you can’t just do that, that has to exist, that has to be a part of your life that you feel comfortable compartmentalizing, and I don’t feel that way about any other aspect of my life. And they were like, “Well, that’s nice, but when’s the sequel coming out?”

Elsewhere, you'd be hard pressed to convince me there's a better blog post on one's influences out there then this one by Michel Fiffe.

And then there's this: Comichron & ICv2 released their most recent report on comic sales, which are down (with some caveats). You can read the report here, or watch a video of it below.

 

 

Geeks Be Gone

Today on the site, we present our usual (near-) weekly excerpt. This time, it's Kingdom/Order, the new graphic novel by Reid Pslatis.

We also have the fifth and final day of Sarah Horrocks's tenure as our Cartoon Diarist. Thanks, Sarah!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Matt Furie has continued his legal battle against white supremacists attempting to appropriate his comics work, and has now forced the Daily Stormer to remove all images of Pepe the frog from its website.

The site, which has been called the "top hate site in America," has been online and offline repeatedly lately. It was taken down briefly last year following protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. It reappeared under a new Russian domain but went offline again after internet security provider Cloudflare dropped support for the site. A version of the site then moved onto the darknet.

That made sending DMCA takedown requests to the Daily Stormer difficult, said [Louis] Tompros, one of Furie's lawyers at law firm WilmerHale. By the time their letter had gone through one web host, he said, the Daily Stormer was on to another one.

Tompros said they identified about 25 instances in which Pepe was used on the site. The lawyers never heard back from the Daily Stormer after sending their takedown requests, but kept checking the site to see if the posts were taken down. On July 2, they noticed some of the images were down. By the next day, he said, they were all down.

—Interviews. Aline Kominsky-Crumb made a guest appearance on Kurt Anderson's Studio 360.

—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Nicholson didn't much like a recent comic by Lewis Trondheim.

I understood perfectly the relationship between the two main characters: It is based on a comedy routine no one finds funny anymore, where a man’s obsessive love for a woman is undaunted by her contempt and disinterest for him. The storytelling choices are visually boring most of the time and unclear during action sequences. The coloring is overrendered, and while the art is probably printed too small in the serialization that doesn’t really matter. (The proportions of a standard U.S. comic are larger than the English-language edition of Christophe Blain’s Gus And His Gang, and while I would love to have a larger printing of that book, the small size doesn’t obscure the fact that it fundamentally works.) I doubt you would want to pay more for the larger size I assume the collections will be printed at.

—Misc. The San Diego bar The Smoking Gun accidentally upset a bunch of nerds.

 

It Tastes Horrible

Today at TCJ, we're pleased to share the newest installment in Tom Kaczynski's line-in-the-sand study of what he's calling "Event" comics--this column sees him focusing on Eddy Current, by Ted McKeever.

Gritty, deliberately grotesque, messy, and challenging; these days you don’t see comics like Eddy Current. Many comics from the time of the Event had this quality. It was a deliberate distancing from the dominant styles established between the 50’s and 70’s, from the tight, abstract, dynamic pulp modernism (Kirby), and the elongated slickness of pulp neorealism (Neal Adams). In the 80’s, McKeever—along with his peers from that era, Kevin O’Neil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kyle Baker, Howard Chaykin, Keith Giffen, and others—were developing new stylistic innovations that mapped closely to what was going on elsewhere in culture and art: postmodernism. Many comics of the Event share many qualities with this much maligned & misunderstood movement (whether intentionally or not). This pulp postmodernism (for lack of a better term) was still redolent of pulp and serialized entertainment, but it questioned all established comics hierarchies.

Today's Cartoonist Diary sees Sarah Horrocks dropping some sportscasting for all y'all soccer fans.

And for your daily review, Leonard Pierce is here with his take on Running From The Devil, a memoir recently published by Markosia. Lukewarm responses were had.

Steve Kissing—who, according to his biography, is a sought-after motivational speaker and public relations executive—has a similar problem in his sometimes charming but overall flat adolescent memoir, Running from the Devil. Kissing grew up in Cincinnati as a smart and determined kid, motivated to excel and dedicated to his Catholic faith. Like, well, pretty much every American boy in the late 1970s, he told wild stories, drank, and lusted after every pretty girl in his class; but unlike most kids, he was visited by disturbing and sometimes terrifying visions that only he could see. Not realizing that he was, in fact, subject to frequent seizures and accompanying hallucinations, he attributed these visions to something that made plenty of sense to his religiously trained mind: the sinister hand of Satan.

The folks at Back In The Bronze Age have another one of their cover challenges up and running: I found it very entertaining. Prior to this one, they also ran a rare (for these sorts of enthusiast blogs) post where they looked at covers they didn't care for. It's also a good time. 

While I'm randomly linking to blog posts featuring covers, Kevin Huizenga's intermittent blog happened upon a couple of good looking oldies as well. John Severin! Save that horse!