Today on the site we have the final (for now?) episode of Greg Hunter's excellent podcast, Comic Book Decalogue. Appropriately, he goes out with an important guest, Carol Tyler. Greg plans to continue contributing to the site from time to time, but his podcast will be much-missed.
—As mentioned last week, John Porcellino has launched a new weekly strip at The Chicago Reader. Melissa Mendes has started one, too.
—The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards have been announced. One of the contenders in the autobiography section is Nora Krug's Belonging, and, refreshingly, I haven't noticed anyone making a big deal about a comic being named.
The material is both arrantly silly and satirically sharp. Walt Kelly’s insistent lampooning of McCarthyism takes a place next to The Crucible as far as artistic stands of the American 1950s, but political commentary is only a grace note to the fullness of this world. The detail and depth of the art, the whimsical quasi-Southern dialect (and spelling, and lettering), and the expansive range of characters (and characterizations) are equally singular. Kelly lays out a crackling music-hall sensibility of routines, equal parts word-play and slap-stick, self-consciously old-fashioned and slyly up to the moment. Though it’s impossible to imagine strips like Doonesbury or Bloom County without it, Pogo is like nothing before or since in the newspapers.
Today at TCJ, we've got a nice, deep dive into...The Teen Titans? Yup, you read that correctly. Michel Fiffe's Fiffe Files returns with its monthly does of dusty longbox-ing. But..the Titans?
Aw, but that's too many comics to look for and collect and read. Who has the time? C'mon, it's not that much to collect... at least it's not Claremont-written mutant titles.Well, I just cleared 5 longboxes full of unread stuff from my studio... it got overwhelming and literally in the way. Okay, but this would only be one longbox, tops. Yeah, but I know Teen Titans is gonna disappoint me, though... it's not their fault but it will fail to deliver what I need at this moment. I know it will. It happened with John Byrne's Namor, Jim Valentino'sGuardians of the Galaxy, Dwayne McDuffie'sDeathlok (that one kinda broke my heart), Firestorm/Hawkworld/Eternal Warrior by John Ostrander, New Warriors by Nicieza and the Bag Man... it goes on and on. As if binge reading automatically unlocks magical qualities. Is it a quest for exciting new stories that drives me, or is it just an excuse to nurture this neurosis? Might be both! I hate this habit of mine, this hungry and impatient consumer-monster with an optimistic streak driving my decisions. Clearly, the rush is in the hunting, the amassing, the checklist fetish, the sense of completion. But it's never complete, is it? That hole you want to fill just keeps getting as big as your tolerance lets it. Hey, maybe if I stuff this terrible meal down my throat I'll grow to love it. It never works.
The most interesting thing about Tinderellais its sudden and sharp shift in tone about two thirds of the way through. Prior to that moment, the book appeared to be an entertaining if rather familiar look at the trials and tribulations of modern dating. But Harkness reaches for something deeper and more emotionally resonant towards the end, both strengthening the book and suggesting that she is a more thoughtful author than first glances would imply.
Over at The MNT, there's a solid interview with a couple of comics retail mainstays, James Sime & Ryan Higgins.
Fisher’s actions speak volumes about how unsure of himself he was. He sought the company of famous people. He went to great lengths to associate himself with them. He courted celebrities by depicting them in the strip. He recognized consciously that he too was a famous person, but unconsciously, he wasn’t sure. He had to be convinced. To shore up his own opinion of himself, he needed the reassurance he could feel if he were in the company of the people he regarded as famous. If he associated with famous people, surely he too was famous. His vanity — not to mention the very vitality of his self-esteem — was fed by his proximity to the famous.
And Fisher was unquestionably vain. He tooted his own horn. He carried around lists of all the newspapers that subscribed to his strip and would proudly produce them at the slightest provocation. Few major figures in cartooning ever make an exhibition of themselves like Ham Fisher did — proclaiming his own greatness to his peers, who all knew, as no other assembly of persons could, just how great he was.
They didn’t need Fisher to tell them about Fisher. They knew and appreciated his achievement. But they were turned off by his loud and boorish displays of self-adulation. And they saw through his obsequious servitude in the bar of the Illustrators clubhouse: They knew he was courting the favor of those whom he regarded as great. The rest of the company — the cartoonists whom Fisher did not see as very famous — Fisher ignored. And those cartoonists resented it. Resenting it, they were receptive to tales that revealed Fisher as they saw him. The story of Fisher’s treatment of Rube Goldberg, for instance.
At one of the early meetings of the Society, Weiss said, Fisher buttonholed Goldberg, telling him how much he, Fisher, admired his work, how great Goldberg was, and so on. Later, Fisher confided to another cartoonist that it was “too bad” about Goldberg: The man was a has-been, he opined, over the hill. Goldberg heard about this. And it galled him. And it irked others who learned of it. The episode confirmed them in their low opinion of Fisher. Fisher, they could see, was a self-serving blow-hard, willing to advance himself at everyone else’s expense whenever the opportunity presented itself.
I quit comics, but I kept on drawing. Drawing and making all sorts of different things. And then I did this project with Michel Gondry [My New New York Diary, a book accompanied by a short film on DVD, published by PictureBox in 2010]. I love his films and all that, so I just said yes. But I was already not that much into drawing. And it was quite a lot of work. It was really just supposed to be a tiny project, like trying something, but it ended up being, not big, but quite a lot of work.
That’s when I had burnout, and after that I just couldn’t draw anymore. Because the film with him involved drawing and at that point I didn’t really feel like drawing, but it was just impossible to say no.
I had burnout, and I just couldn’t draw anymore. Or, I could draw, but it was really on automatic pilot. Not really anything creative.
Really, there aren’t a ton of “name” retailers, stores that might register with an average comic book reader, but I think Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics might be one of them. Chuck posted to Facebook “I fervently believe that the economics of comics publishing simply no longer allow smallish neighborhood comics shops to be successful”
If that wasn’t horrifying enough, Chuck went on in his recent newsletter that Mile High, one of the largest and most successful retailers in the country, was reacting to the new realities of publishing in the DM with this: “If you are a fan who wants to just browse the racks in our stores each week, however, you are most likely going to be sorely disappointed if you do not come in to one of our locations on Wednesday morning. We will definitely still be ordering copies of many new releases for speculative sale on the racks in our retail stores, but in such small quantities that we will be almost certainly sell out by the first weekend”
One of the most successful stores in the world is saying that they’re cutting bait on most new releases because they can’t stock them profitably. Think about that a second.
I think a lot of burgeoning cartoonists see you as something of an artistic hero. Have you seen or heard about your influence on other cartoonists and their work? Are there artists you, in turn, have work you’ve been influenced by?
Uhhh I haven't heard this, about me being an artistic hero haha. There are a lot of artists and works I'm influenced by, of course! Jillian Tamaki and CF, as I mentioned above. Brian Chippendale has certainly been an influence on me but please don't ever talk to me about Fort Thunder. I'm always inspired by Michael DeForge (SA123 wouldn't exist were it not for Leaving Richard's Valley, which was Michael's daily Instagram comic that inspired me to start my own) and lately I've been reading the Naruto manga which has been really inspiring, for like, life in general haha, also watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (about to start Legend of Korra) which has been similarly inspiring and energizing in lots of ways. It feels stressful to make a list of people who inspire me right now because I'm really bad at recalling things off the top of my head and might forget to include a person that is particularly inspiring to me or something!!! So i'm not gonna do that. But there are so many amazing cartoonists working today! I feel inspired just thinking about reading comics. I just really like comics right now I guess!
One of your signatures is speech balloons with the tails connecting right to the speakers’ mouths, and hand-lettering with a lot of flair and personality. The decision, of course, makes no more or less sense than any other of the visual languages comics has developed over the last century, but it’s striking. When I read your comics, this touch makes me think about how the characters are communicating, how they may sound when they talk, in a way I may not get from more traditional speech balloons and lettering. How did you come to these approaches to balloons and letters?
I started doing the word bubbles that way because I used to not be so good at anticipating the layout, so I would just have to squeeze the bubbles in wherever, and sometimes it would be really confusing as to who was speaking if the bubble didn't connect directly to their mouth haha. So, it came about out of necessity. I still do it because I think it's way easier to understand that way, and it always felt kind of weird to me that the word bubbles are often added after the drawing is done, just overlaying the drawing, like they aren't an integral part of the comic?
Also I found I could break up the bubbles (sometimes a character will have two or three bubbles coming out of his mouth in the same panel) which allowed me to control the pacing of the speech -- so I was able to deliver it to the reader in a more specific manner, like in a movie! Hope that makes sense. I guess you can do that with regular word bubbles too!
—Hannah Berry talks about the financial difficulties of life as a graphic novelist. (Via The Beat.)
Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? We’ve come this far together, let’s not get all coy about the financial side of things:
As a comicker I’m extremely fortunate to be published by Jonathan Cape, who as part of Penguin Random House are able to afford a bigger advance than a lot of other publishers of graphic novels. Specifically, for Livestock mine was £10,000. (NB never ask a prose novelist about their advances at similar points in their career because it will keep you up at night.) You only get a portion of this advance on signing the contract, though - the rest you get on delivery of the final thing and on publication. My editor is a kindly man, and so he arranged for the portion on signature to be £5,000.
Fortunately the Arts Council also offer grants under their Grants for the Arts scheme, and I made a successful bid (fourth time lucky) for just over £10,000. The various bits of freelance work I did on the side amounted to maybe another £9,000. Altogether that makes an income of approximately £24,000 over three years.
—Angouleme has named its Grand Prix nominees: Emmanuel Guibert, Rumiko Takahashi, and Chris Ware.
So I guess the thing after- after that was Adam, which we talked about a little bit. I guess I was curious with Adam, what kind of feedback you’ve gotten from trans readers.
Well I’ve gotten- well there’s personal feedback I’ve gotten from friends of mine who are trans and then there’s the internet, which is a whole other level of feedback.
Were people very critical?
Are you not aware of the extreme backlash that the book received?
No, I’m not.
Oh, yeah. There was a lot of criticism of it. For various reasons. It kind of turned into a bit of a wildstorm where many people who just hadn’t even read the book but just didn’t like the premise, you know, would go online and be like “this is the worst book I’ve read the synopsis of."
So, the book isn’t perfect or anything and if somebody is pissed off or reads it and has a critique then I’m interested in that but it’s kind of hard, at least on the internet- it’s kind of hard to find that within the barrage of people who haven’t read it or who skimmed it or who just want something to be angry about.
But most people- I have a lot of trans friends who have read it, and there are a lot of reviews by trans people that were positive and some that are negative. As long as somebody put thought into it I’ll pay attention. But, the main thing that people took issue with were that they don’t like the idea that a lesbian would date a trans man because that means she’s not a lesbian. Which is the point of the book.
There's also a lot of difficulty with people understanding the difference between showing a character doing something bad and condoning that behavior. But they also don’t like it because it promotes incest, because Adam watches his sister have sex. It’s just weird to me. It’s not how I’ve ever experienced media-
You didn’t get these kinds of criticisms for Awkward and Potential?
No, but I don’t think as many people have read those so maybe they would- there’d be more-
Autobio comics trick you into having empathy. When we read comics, we articulate voices and imagine their utterance, and on some level I think we convince ourselves we understand the emergence of thoughts and feelings onto the page. In autobio, our reading enters us into role-play as the author, and without realizing it we begin to view their perception of the world as normal. The talented artist of autobio have the power to make something particular appear universal, to make us take the truth of an experience for granted before we even construct it as an experience. (This power can also be abused -- the reader of recent Chester Brown or an irritating self-help webcomic alike will often find themselves asking, “who let you into my head?”)
Over at The Beat, they've got their final installment in their annual Creator Survey results, which focuses on their Comics Industry Person of the Year. (You get one guess, although you'll need two). The survey goes on past the top line to touch upon various creators and titles, with special admiration reserved for the Publisher of the Year: Annie Koyama.
E.A. Bethea's comics read as detailed, confessional fever dreams. Her comics have the cadence of poetry, the text and images coalescing into commentaries on visual detritus, hilarious observations, charged and frequently sexual memories, and fascinating personal and cultural details. She's been fairly prolific of late, and Domino Books published a collection of her work titled Book of Days Daze. It is unfortunately printed on cheap newsprint instead of the thicker paper stock she's used in self-published comics like Faded Frankenstein and All Killer, No Filler. That said, those latter two comics had limited print runs, so the Domino edition is most people's best chance to read Bethea's work. Despite its limitations in this format, it is my choice for the single best single-issue minicomic/zine of 2018.
Faded Frankenstein, from 2016, is my favorite of her collections. Bethea ranges from nine to twelve panels per page, shakily hand-drawn as though she had no time to indulge in precision. There's a furious flow to her writing that makes it seem as though it's bursting out of her pen, each page a separate explosion of images and memories that demand to be expressed. Sometimes a page will have a single image. Other pages are illustrated text in an open-page format. Some of her stories have a conversational feel, as though she was confessing them to the reader at one of the hole-in-the-wall bars that she favors. Others are directly poetic, didactic or purely observational. All of them are dense and immersive, demanding a reader's full attention.
The actual combined votes lead to the following consensus list for 2018:
1. Jason Lutes, Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly), 16 votes
2. Julie Doucet, Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly), 13 votes
3. Eleanor Davis, Why Art? (Fantagraphics), 12 votes
4. Lauren R. Weinstein, Frontier #17: Mother's Walk (Youth in Decline), 11 votes
5. (tie) Tommi Parrish, The Lie and How We Told It (Fantagraphics), Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam (First Second/Avery Hill/self-published), and Lale Westvind, Grip Vol. 1 (Perfectly Acceptable Press), 9 votes each
8. (tie) Yvan Alagbé, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures (NYRC), Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (D&Q), Hartley Lin, Young Frances (AdHouse), Olivier Schrauwen, Parallel Lives (Fantagraphics), Noah Van Sciver, One Dirty Tree (Uncivilized), and Jim Woodring, Poochytown (Fantagraphics), 8 votes each
Note: If all votes for works by Olivier Schrauwen, Noah Van Sciver, and Lauren R. Weinstein were added together (each artist received multiple votes for multiple works), the list would have been somewhat different. The top 13 artists of 2018 would then be 1. Lutes, 2. Van Sciver, 3. Weinstein, 4. Doucet, 5. Davis, 6. Schrauwen, 7. (tie) Parrish & Walden & Westvind, and 10. (tie) Alagbé & Drnaso & Lin & Woodring.
Apologies to all affected artists and publishers.
—Interviews & Profiles. David Foster Wallace biographer D.T. Max profiled Nick Drnaso for The New Yorker.
Drnaso is as composed as his panels, which are rendered in crisp, almost rigid lines. He had only complimentary things to tell me about other cartoonists, and insisted that he wasn’t bothered by the fact that Drawn & Quarterly, which specializes in indie comics, had greatly underestimated the demand for “Sabrina.” “I don’t care in the least,” he said. “I never thought there was some sales goal I needed to hit.” He is so modest that, at one point, he offered an apology for his modesty, observing that “self-deprecation can be a little bit overbearing on the person who is forced to listen to it.” The only time I saw him express an impolite emotion was a few weeks after the book fair, when we were in a minor car accident on Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago. He was taking me on a tour of Logan Square, a fast-gentrifying neighborhood about which he has “mixed feelings.” It is not far from where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their three cats. We had just eaten a meat-heavy breakfast at a favored diner—“It does the job,” he commented—when a minivan rear-ended us. Drnaso’s car had barely budged, but he was clearly upset. “What the fuck was that?” he said.
The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Peter Kuper.
Some things don’t become particularly interesting until they’ve survived their own era, outlasted the competition; they’re bizarre remnants. In the early ’60s, among the Sunday comic strips abandoned at the local laundromat that I most enjoyed reading were reprints of Gene Ahern’s Our Boarding House (1921–1936) and Room and Board (1936–1953). I found the prehistoric quality of these strips, both of which were set in dumpy boarding houses featuring patched couches and worn-out lamps, and a cast of layabouts who looked like beaten boxers with misshapen noses, very compelling.
The Breyfogle stuff is so dynamic, and the plotting is so straightforward that publishing it alongside an annual by different people and a 16-page “Bonus book” that tried out new creators is basically only useful as a point of contrast, but everyone reading this collection will be immediately aware of much better the Grant/Breyfogle stuff is compared to pretty much everything else without needing any help. (Good lord, imagine someone who willingly reads the Batman comics DC currently puts out monthly reading this!)
That Fisher’s obsession about Capp had become utterly shameless can be deduced from the venue of the essay — an instruction booklet for a correspondence course in illustration and cartooning. Rather than supply a drawing lesson, Fisher was asked by Coulton Waugh, the author of the course, to tell how he had become successful: Waugh’s expectation was that Fisher’s story would be inspirational to aspiring young illustrators and cartoonists. The hillbilly origin tale is wholly extraneous to the essay’s ostensible purpose — and to its running argument. But it is integral to what had, by this time, become Fisher’s absorbing preoccupation: that the hillbillies who were making Capp rich and famous appeared first in Joe Palooka.
And Fisher was right. In Al Capp Remembered, published in 1994, fifteen years after Capp’s death, his brother Elliott wrote: “Alfred never quibbled about the obvious relationship between Big Leviticus and Li’l Abner. He freely admitted that his hillbilly was germinated in the Sunday pages of Joe Palooka.”
The essential fact was never in dispute. At issue was who created Big Leviticus. If Capp created Big Leviticus, he could scarcely be accused of “stealing” the hillbilly idea.
We’ll probably never know, with certainty, the truth about who created the hillbillies in Joe Palooka. But it is more than probable that each of the participants in the dispute has a piece of the truth on his side. Take the question of the “creation” of a comic-strip character. In his mind, Fisher could legitimately claim to have created Big Leviticus and his obnoxious family even if all he actually did was give Capp instructions to do a sequence about Joe Palooka fighting a roughneck hillbilly. The concept, as they might say these days in Hollywood and other suburbs in La-la Land, was Fisher’s. The execution might have been left entirely to Capp. And if Capp fleshed out the idea — gave personality to Big Leviticus and his entourage — he could legitimately claim to have “created” the character, too.
While Drifter took pleasure in mostly recapitulating color schemes already proven in predecessors like Von Spatz or The Artist series, The Mouse Glass focuses on establishing harsh contrasts, for example between the luminously bright fires in yellow resulting from the attacks of marauding street fighters and the environment surrounding them, laid out in large green and orange flats on the cover. In times of war, the light flair of her former works has to step aside for a kick in the eye.
Q. It’s said in France—and in the West in general—that Akira depicts your concerns about political issues, especially nuclear power. Do you think that’s an erroneous interpretation, brought about by cultural differences between Japan and the West?
KO: I’m aware of this line of thinking, but it’s because France takes a philosophical view to everything, distorting it. It’s not how it’s seen in Japan, and it’s not what’s depicted in the comic. I have no intention of expressing my political views or philosophical opinions. I’ve said this often before, but one of my influences as I made Akira was Tetsujin 28-go. This was a manga series meant for kids, with numbers applied to the cast of characters, and I wanted to make an homage to this series. I also wanted to depict the later Showa period (postwar Japan), including preparations for the Olympics, rapid economic growth, and the student unrest of the 1960s. I wanted to recreate the assorted elements that built this era and craft an exciting story that would seem believable enough in reality.
Looking at the world now, I wonder how it wound up like this. Looking at issues like wars/conflicts and organized crime, I can feel the world slowly fall out of balance, and I hope we can improve on that. Basically, though, Akira was heavily influenced by the manga I read as a child, and it portrays this kind of brilliant force that you see in people around the world in their younger, purer years. That’s the simple theme preached by Akira; it’s a tragedy depicting people destroying the world’s balance amid this era that I wanted to recreate.
Wolff & Byrd creator Batton Lash died Saturday at the age of 65 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. Though he was never a star of the comics mainstream, the announcement drew a surge of web posts from fans and independent comics creators who knew Lash as a friendly and supportive presence at comics conventions.
Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Lash attended New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he studied under comics legends Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. After graduation, he did illustrations for such publications as Garbage magazine and the book Rock ‘n’ Roll Confidential and worked as an assistant for comics artist Howard Chaykin. Invited in 1979 to contribute to newly launched newsweekly Brooklyn Papers, Lash noted that the area where the broadsheet was distributed included a concentration of courts and law offices: a prime audience for a humorous strip about the law. His Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre followed the case files of Alana Wolff and Jeff Byrd, whose legal practice specialized in supernatural and super-powered clients. Both gothic and cartoonish, Lash’s art reflected the influence of his mentors by combining realistic detail with expressive caricature. The strip ran in Brooklyn Papers until 1996 and, in 1983, was picked up by the National Law Review, where it continued until 1997.
Paul Kirchner's Hieronymus & Bosch collects over eighty comic strips that riff on the afterlife of a "shameless ne'er-do-well named Hieronymus" and his faithful wooden toy duck, Bosch. The hapless pair are trapped in Hell, the primary setting for most of the strips (although we do get a bit of heaven and earth thrown in here and there). Kirchner's Hell is a paradise of goofy gags. The one-pagers in Hieronymus & Bosch cackle with burlesque energy, propelled by a simple plot: our hero Hieronymus tries to escape, fails, and tries again.
And what sins have damned poor Hieronymus to Hell? When we first meet the cloaked miscreant he's passed out, drooling all over an altar, clearly having enjoyed too much communion wine. An annoyed bishop prods him awake and kicks him from the church doors and into the village, where he proceeds to sin his ass off. Kirchner's Hieronymus doesn't quite fit all of the seven deadly sins in this morning (those same sins that the historical Hieronymus Bosch captured so well in his famous table), but he comes pretty damn close. Notably, he steals his comrade Bosch--a toy duck--from some poor kid. The wages of sin are death though, and poor Hieronymus, in a fit of wacky wrath, slips in some shit, falls on his toy duck, and careens into death.
Bad news: He's in Hell, where hope is strictly prohibited.
I was looking into this drawing because it had dawned on me recently that I’d never quite understood the joke. Was it “Oh New Yorkers! they think they’re the center of the world!”?? Or was it, “Well, it’s funny that they think that but also they are, right? ha-ha!” I saw in it a poking fun at the paradox, the small-mindedness of “cosmopolitanism.” Maybe, the artist’s little joke against himself.
Was I ever wrong! Not one person whom I’ve asked about this drawing understood what Steinberg meant by it, even though the answer is written plain as day in the weird and excellent 2012 biography by Deirdre Bair—and still more clearly in the image itself, once you know how to look. It turns out the answer matters, too; it matters a lot.
In the story “Life Ain’t A Comic Book, Kid,” two comic creators, Muñoz and Sampayo have discovered that there’s a real detective who shares a name with their fictional detective character, so they visit New York to meet him. It’s for comic relief, mostly, but crime fiction doesn’t really traffic in this level of fourth-wall breaking. There are arcs of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal and Rich Tommaso’s Dry County that work the job of a cartoonist into a crime plot, but that’s those works being beholden to the tenets of realism, and using autobiographical lived experience for verisimilitude, which isn’t the goal here. Instead, it creates a space for the cartoonists to say, explicitly, to their main character: “Yeah, you’re an honest man and you don’t kill people, but you’re still an American, and so complicit in a system that exploits the rest of the world, so we are not cool.”
Groundbreaking, epic, and heartfelt, the quintessential indie comic Love and Rockets is as relevant today as it was when Mario, Gilbert (aka Beto), and Jaime Hernandez self-published the first issue in 1981. A blend of sci-fi, telenovela, superhero tales, comics, jokes, and short stories, the magazine was worlds away from anything anyone, especially Marvel or DC, was publishing during those days.
Not only did Love and Rockets usher in a new age of independent comic books, but it also broke ground with stories featuring marginalized voices and characters from the LGBTQ and Latinx community. By the time DC and Marvel had introduced Latinx characters like Sunspot, Firebird, and Bushmaster in the early '80s, Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo, Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass and the fiery Luba were living out real lives in the fictional towns of Hoppers and Palomar in Love and Rockets.