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Book Smarts

Alex Wong is here today to interview Tom Gauld about his latest book, Baking with Kafka, which gathers many of his Guardian literary-themed comic strips. They talk books, the challenges of a weekly strip, why Gauld doesn’t solicit feedback, and who should be the next James Bond.

I don’t seek out anybody’s opinion at all. When I’m making a graphic novel, I’ll let some people read it. With these cartoons, I would rather have a handful of them turn out kind of weird, then have all of them turn out as well-functioning ordinariness. If I showed my wife an unfinished cartoon and she didn’t quite laugh enough or in the right way, I’d feel anxious about it and I’d think about it in a way that wouldn’t help. I obviously think about how the audience will read them, but it’s not about me, it’s not some form of primal scream therapy. The cartoons are about communicating to the reader and making a joke happen.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Forbidden Planet has published Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s interview with the late Leo Baxendale.

All the things in the Co-op orders were wrapped in large smooth pale buff paper sheets, and I thus had an unending weekly supply of sheets of paper to draw on.

Beyond all this, I had a yet greater expanse for drawing on. The wall alongside the staircase being distempered, the palest green, I covered it with drawings from top to bottom of the stairs, my parents taking care to provide me with plenty of pencils for the purpose.

Barges hauled by boat horses brought coal to my grandfather’s coal yard from the Wigan coalfields to the south. At the end of our terrace the canal broadened out to a basin where the barges could dock and turn. A wharf on the opposite bank from my grandfather’s coal yard unloaded coal for the steam engine of the weaving mill; and there was the stone-wharf, built for the loading of millstones from Whittle Quarries.

Yet it didn’t occur to me to draw any of this, any more than I thought to draw my grandfather’s great black mare pulling wagon loads of coal past our house. I drew from the imagination, or things from the greater world that I had seen in the newspapers: biplanes or ocean liners or such. I must have thought that my own world was ‘ordinary.’

The SyFy Wire podcast interviews Marvel editor Sana Amanat.

—Commentary. At Mindless Ones, Maid of Nails remembers Steve Dillon.

I met Steve Dillon once, at London Super Comic Con 2016 – his last UK convention. Coincidentally I was dressed as Lady Dogwelder, who of all the characters he created was probably the one he least expected to encounter in cosplay form, let alone from a short foreign woman.

At first I didn’t recognize him at all, since most publicly visible photos of him had been taken years before. Who’s this guy sitting at Steve Dillon’s table? I wondered. Later, I learned that he’d been ill for some time; that plus the toll mortality takes on all of us created a gap between the Steve Dillon I saw and the ruddy, Guinness-hoisting fellow from photographs.

Sophia Foster-Dimino has posted a minicomic she drew about the making of Sex Fantasy.

 

Cheap Things

Matthias Wivel is here today with another installment of his Eurocomics column, Common Currency. This time, he reviews three French-language comics as a way of examining the unexpected challenges that have been created by the huge aesthetic and technical explosions of recent decades.

Each [of Antoine Marchalot’s stories] is graphically distinct, adapted to the tale at hand: the one about the little boy who refuses to eat his fish, and gets invited by it and his suddenly talking dog to record a “hardcore pornographic rap video,” is rendered in digital imitation of smudged crayon with irradiant coloring and turns spectacularly expressive toward the end; the one about a renegade scientist in a fancy lab secretly trying to hook two potatoes into a network, and eventually succeeding with two dogs instead, is drawn in black and white in thin, clear lines, with old school zip-a-tone-type texturing (very Elvis Studio); the western spoof with a dog-cowboy riding a tiny horse kept in his pocket features black and white or monochrome figures set against hallucinatory, digitally patterned desert landscapes garishly colored not to look like nature.

All this is obviously done with some skill, and the occasional dialogical exchange or visual surprise hits home, but it really, really helps if you are high. Which basically seems to be the point. Now, far be it from me to dissuade people from getting high, or reading comics while doing so, but there’s something safe, even lazy, in resorting to absurd non-sequiturs and digital psychedelia rather than coherently building a humorous language or crafting a visually compelling environment where the absurd takes on its own meaning. In other words, the difference between disposable fare such as this and, say, Cowboy Henk or Megg, Mogg and Owl. The problem here is not so much the one I’ve been outlining of mismatched form and content, but rather a digitally-enhanced shortcut taken to update a traditional comics format — the short-form humor strip.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The most recent guest on the Comics Alternative podcast is R. Sikoryak.

—It must mean something that an artist as well-established as Paul Dini is putting out a new comic book via Kickstarter, though maybe I’m overinterpreting and this particular project is just not very interesting to publishers.

—Shea Hennum pans a reprint of one of Spain Rodriguez’s last books, Che.

 

Shallow Dive

Today on the site, we present Kim Jooha’s interview with Ron Regé, Jr., about his recent mystical books, What Parsifal Saw and The Cartoon Utopia, as well as his early career and future projects.


Kim Jooha: What does What Parsifal Saw mean?

Ron Regé, Jr.: Parsifal is an opera by Wagner – the last opera that he did. It centers around the holy grail, and Parsifal is a character who, at the height of the opera, has a mystical vision where he’s brought up to see something, and he sees this goddess in the light.

The first three pages of the book are what Parsifal saw. The cover is what he saw. The first image is the spear with the holy grail, and then the next page is this figure led toward it. What he saw is like having a mystical vision, which a lot of my work is about.

I didn’t realize how complicated the title would be. And I realized that no one says it, I don’t like to say it, and it doesn’t say it on the cover, so… A lot of the confusing things about my work aren’t on purpose. For instance, I have Alex Schubert’s Blobby Boys in the book. You and I know what that is, but I realized that most people who buy the book aren’t going to know what that is and say, “What are these little green creatures?” All I had to do was just write a little thing. My work has a lot of confusion like that. A lot of things that are confusing to people are either mistakes or my nearsightedness… To me, it all makes sense!


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The Evening Standard has a story on the creation of Tove Jansson’s Moomin strip.

There were just three stipulations when Charles Sutton approached Tove Jansson about creating a Moomin comic strip for the London Evening News in 1952: no politics, sex or death.

This was fine with Jansson; legend has it she replied that she didn’t know anything about the government, sex wasn’t part of the Moomins’ anatomy, and she’d only ever killed a hedgehog.

Sutton, syndication director of Associated Newspapers, had headhunted Jansson for the position after the phenomenal success of English translations of the Moomin books. She prepared day and night for the meeting, with Sutton arriving in Finland to meet her on the first day of the national May Day celebrations; by the end of his visit, a seven year contract had been agreed.

—This Slate story critiquing New Yorker covers is annoyingly written in about ten different ways (for one thing, anyone who truly disapproved of “thirstiness” would never use the term in a headline), but the writer isn’t wrong that generally the magazine’s topical covers are its least successful.

—Robyn Chapman has written a piece on Eleanor Davis’s early works.

Davis discovered zines as a teenager and had published several by the time she graduated high school. She went on to study cartooning at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and during those years she created remarkably sophisticated minicomics (and lots of them). These minicomics generally had a production value beyond your standard fold-and-staple zine. They were cut, punched, printed, stickered, and even burned—and these details were generally relevant to the story within. Her comics were each carefully constructed from cover to cover, and often printed on high-quality paper. So while I see these works as minicomics, those in the fine arts world would see them as artist books.

 

Thank You for Not Reading

Today on the site, we have an unusual feature: Leslie Stein interviewed by her mother.


What do you want your audience to experience through Present?

I get worried that people will misinterpret what I’m saying, and they have, but that’s part of the risk of making art. I try to be kind to people in general, and be kind in how I portray others. People have said that it leaves them with a light or hopeful feeling, which I suppose is what I’m going for. I’m not trying to change lives here, but maybe bond with others through mutual experiences.

How do you feel about being portrayed in the comics as a character? The first story in the book, “Daughter’s Day”, is based on a conversation we had about different love relationships you’ve had over the years.

“Daughter’s Day” is about my love relationships? I thought it is was about you calling me two months early to say Happy Mother’s Day? I’m hoping that you and readers will not misinterpret my actions in your stories. I guess we are in the same place.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. I’m not sure why The Beat is dividing up this Christmas interview with Alan Moore into such small sections, and publishing them so many days or weeks apart, but part four is now up.

The most recent guest on the CBLDF podcast is Jeffrey Brown, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Karl Stevens. Apparently, they discuss the editorial changes at TCJ on that last episode, so I won’t be listening to that…

—Commentary. Gary Tyrrell writes a little about announced content restrictions at Patreon, and how it may effect comics creators, along with relevant social media commentary from Spike Trotman.

We think of webcomics has having evaded gatekeepers, and on a content/editorial basis, it absolutely has. But in trying to make that independent effort a proper business, one must engage in a system that is entirely one-sided. Run afoul of one person at Chase or Bank of America and you’re frozen out; they’ll never take on a major corporate creator of inferior smut (cable and dish companies make a lot of damn money off of naughty pay-per-view; so does every hotel chain other than Hilton, who are weaning themselves off the grumble flicks), but they’ll freeze out anybody that attracts enough attention from a loud enough pressure group.

—News. Lion Forge has purchased The Beat.

 

Monster Party

Today on the site, the comics scholar and radical-politics historian Paul Buhle reviews the controversial Diaspora Boy, by Eli Valley.

Eli Valley has been torturing tribalist, Occupied Territory-seeking Jewish neoconservative and neoliberal hawks for about a decade now. His art style is utterly unique, a combination of cartoon and comic art all mooshed together, with odd items galore. If many readers miss a detail or two (or three) in this delightfully oversized volume, it must be on account of the dense content and story line, ruthlessly moral in an immoral world. Peter Beinart, a Jewish commentator who moved leftward after becoming famous, says in the preface that if the cartoons in this book are “outrageous and absurd,” it is because we are living in an “outrageous and absurd moment in American Jewish life.” That is: the language of American Jewry remains overwhelmingly liberal, but the silence over the cruel reality of the occupation of the West Bank is deafening.

Beinart calls Eli Valley’s work a “searing indictment of the moral corruption of organized American Jewish life in our age,” on the face of it a pretty shocking observation. With a kicker. The book is also… the Eli Valley Story. As you might have guessed, reader, Valley is the son of a rabbi, who grew up with all the imagery of the Jewish diaspora, imagery full of righteous suffering and return to the homeland in apparent triumph, ever-insecure triumph.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
The Hollywood Reporter talks to Tom Gauld about his latest book.

I almost always make these cartoons in a bit of a hurry, generally in a blank panic wondering how I’ve managed to do five hundred of these cartoons without it getting any easier, so I’m focused on the mechanics of making a joke that works on the page, rather than trying to express how I feel. But I think that the way I feel gets in there anyway and, when I look back on the cartoons, either once they appear in the newspaper or when they are collected in a book, I can see themes and ideas more clearly than when I’m actually making them. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I am probably cynical about the forces of the market and optimistic about the possibilities of the art.

Vice talks to Sheena Howard, co-author of Black Comics, and author of the Encyclopedia of Black Comics.

I think there are a few things going on. It’s hard as hell to break into the industry. Forget race, it’s a male-dominated world. When you’re in the comic industry as a woman, even when you’re doing your own thing, the cultural barriers can be very discouraging if you’re a woman of color in the industry because of course, you’re going to start publishing on your own, and then you try to build up and make connections. But it’s a male-dominated world so there’s sexism there and that is very difficult. I think too, you’ve got to stay consistent over a number of years if you really want to break into the comic book industry and do it full-time. Honestly, as an artist, I don’t think people even have the income to even keep pushing over long periods of time to get to a place where they can do this work full-time and actually sustain themselves.

The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is New Yorker artist Barry Blitt, and Slate’s Working podcast talks to the Billy Ireland librarian Caitlin McGurk. And McGurk and Jim Rugg are both guests on Process Party.

—Reviews & Commentary. Science fiction novelist Ada Palmer writes about the ghosts and monsters of Shigeru Mizuki.

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You may have met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.

 

Now That That’s Over

Today on the site, RJ Casey returns with a review of Connor Willumsen’s very strange, very rewarding Anti-Gone.

Spyda has terrible tattoos, wears a visor, and lives on his refurbished-couch-like sailboat. He can only relate to other people through movie quotes, but don’t worry, he’s getting professional help for that. Lynxa is his shipmate, sporting long finger nails, who seems to be jadedly reading and bronzing her life away in slow-motion. We know people like Spyda and Lynxa. They’re people we went to school with, old friends from back home or past lives. They’re here now, a fair-weather couple on an indifferent quest to get high, have sex, play hide-and-seek.

Willumsen sets Anti-Gone in a post-global-warming event society, fittingly neither completely depleted nor fully stable; cities are under water, but the economy is still humming. After being given free tickets to the luxury movie house, and obtaining nostalgia-expanding hallucinogenics, Spyda and Lynxa take in a violent, existential superhero flick. Outside, and intermittently during the course of the book, a battle between a large group of protestors and police who are exploiting their sadistic authority comes to a head. Just like the inattentive duo, we’re kept in the dark as to what this oncoming riot is ever about. The chemical-steeped trips the pair are on leaves them separated, and they never reunite. The sun rises, the sun sets. They go on, alone, trekking for distraction. Leisurely delights or anxious grievances — any sensation will do. This is what Anti-Gone is about. At least I think so.

But the big news on the site is of course what Dan posted about yesterday: Dan’s leaving the site after today, and I’ll be joined by a new co-editor, Tucker Stone, who will be starting in November. I don’t have much to add to what Dan already wrote, but I do want to say how much I’ve enjoyed working with him. We’ve been editing together since the first issue of The Ganzfeld, which it astounds me to realize came out 17 years ago. Dan was the first person I ever regularly discussed comics with; before I met him, I just read books and The Comics Journal and argued with myself. After I met him, I argued with Dan. “Arguing” is actually too strong a word; I agreed with him on most things, and enjoyed disagreeing with him on the rest. He’s one of the smartest, most knowledgeable, most provocative people I’ve ever met. Sometimes he can come off as mean or dismissive, but even his laziest-seeming takes usually have a well-thought-out, sturdy skeleton undergirding them which can be revealed with a little skeptical pushback. He’s the kind of critic who provokes strong and productive thought even when he’s wrong. There’s a lot more to say but I’m not going to say it now. I can’t wait to edit his first piece as a contributor. The tricky part will be figuring out ways to get together without having TCJ “editorial meetings” as an excuse. (I’ll save the Tucker Stone talk for later. Longtime TCJ readers should already be familiar with him, and if you’re not, go through his old TCJ columns and reviews, and check out his many podcasts and blog posts at The Factual Opinion. I am excited to work with him, and to see what he does with the site.)

 

Swissvale Kitchen Table

Today on the site it’s the great Ken Parille on the art of the sales pitch in and around superhero comic books

Three recent DC comics Dark Nights: Metal #1, Batman: The Red Death #1, and Batman: The Dawnbreaker #1 include an advertisement for Snickers bars. A reader could be forgiven for momentarily thinking that the ad, which looks a lot like the narratives it accompanies, is part of the story:

As super-villain Gorilla Grodd attacks the stadium, he proclaims that “Events mean nothing to [me]!” But, as Superman discerns, this gorilla’s not what he seems: he’s “just a hungry fan.” After a few bites the Snickers works its magic, soothing the “crabby” fan’s rage.

It’s odd to see an ad with an event-hating fan in these particular comics, all of which are part of what the industry calls a Crossover Event. To follow an event’s sprawling narrative, fans need to buy a lot of comic books released over several months. While “events mean nothing” to villains (and crabby fans who refuse to buy the required books), they mean a lot to companies and their bottom line. Each of the twenty-five comics/chapters in DC’s current event Dark Nights: Metal costs $3.99 or $4.99. In the past, a major crossover from the “Big Two” (i.e., DC and Marvel) occurred every few years. Now they pop up once a season. We’re living in the pricey moment of Perpetual Event.

And hey, I have some news: Tomorrow is my last day as co-editor of The Comics Journal. The reason is straightforward: At the end of the summer I took a research and writing intensive curatorial position at a gallery, so I need to focus my energy there and on some longterm projects, including a few features for this site.

Tim will go solo for a week (it just happens that I’m going to be traveling next week), and then (drumroll) in November he and Tucker Stone will be co-editors. Tucker has long been one of my favorite writers and speakers about comics, and has been on all sides of the medium’s equation. I couldn’t be happier that he is coming aboard. He’ll bring fresh energy, ideas, and contributors to the site.

I want to thank Gary Groth for asking me to take a shot at the site back in 2010 (and Frank Santoro, who told me I had to accept!), and for his unwavering support; Kristy Valenti for offering great support from the Seattle HQ; the Fantagraphics team for its logistical and moral support; Mike Reddy for designing this web site and contributing great drawings long the way; and, of course, all the contributors I’ve worked with over the last six and a half years. I’m proud of what we’ve done together, and honored to have been an editor at The Comics Journal. For more than half my life TCJ has helped shape my critical and historical ideas about the medium I love. Gary’s generosity in allowing me and Tim to steer his great ship is something for which I’ll be forever grateful.

Finally, my deepest thanks to my friend of 20 years, Tim Hodler, a man embarrassed by even the smallest amount of praise. Tim I started both The Ganzfeld and Comics Comics together. There is no one I’d rather work with, and I’m looking forward to submitting texts for his and Tucker’s consideration. Tim’s precision and rigor have kept this site together, and his willingness to stretch and try new things has helped us grow. He is a great friend and the best collaborator I could imagine. I can’t wait to see what he and Tucker do together. Bye for now.

 

Doubling on His Tracks

Today on the site, Greg Hunter brings the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast to the site. His guest this week is the cartoonist and TCJ contributor, Annie Mok.

On the twenty-fourth installment of Comic Book Decalogue, Annie Mok discusses Carta Monir, Emily Carroll, Satyajit Ray, and more.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Todd Hignite has fascinating discussion with the underground original art collector Eric Sack.

TH: [Collectors Showcase] was one [published by Leonard Brown and Malcolm Willits’ Collectors Book Store in Hollywood] and Tony Dispoto out of New Jersey put out catalogs [Comic Art Showcase], Jim Steranko [Cartoonists and Illustrators Portfolio]—and Russ Cochran in the Midwest [Graphic Gallery].

ES: Yeah, you would see prices in those, and little by little some artists would command more than others—but the fascinating thing I gradually started to notice is how something, say in the early ’80s, would be an expensive $1,000 and twenty years later would only be close to that still, or maybe $2,000, but other art in that same period would grow to $5,000 or more. So it was interesting to watch the market evolve as the interest in various artists changed. And it didn’t have anything to do with chronology, like I always thought it would coming from that Thomas Nast world—here was this guy doing the most amazing cross-hatching, documenting important historical events, and I could buy his original drawings in the early ’80s for between $200 to say $1,100, and even today some of the good ones can be had for $2,000! You would think because these were so early and well rendered from a godfather of the art form, that for all kinds of reasons those should be $10,000 or $20,000. But they’re not. So it’s an interesting question that I always discussed with other collectors, why such particular multiples started to happen.

TH: I think that’s always hard for collectors to wrap their heads around, especially early on—why aren’t values based on this agreed-upon hierarchy of what is important historically?

ES: Pop culture in general has a strong influence, of course—interestingly, as a parenthetical aside, that was one of the reasons I decided to sell the bulk of my collection when I did—I thought the market had peaked, because the collectors who were buying this stuff drawn in the late ’60s to the mid ’70s were getting to an age of deaccessioning rather than actively collecting, and I wasn’t sure there was another generation of collectors to take their place. But I was wrong!

—Reviews & Commentary. The nominees for this year’s Best Online Comics Studies Scholarship award have been announced.

Caleb Orecchio writes about what he learned about color from an old issue of Classics Illustrated.

I’ve been thinking and working with color a lot. In this day and age, where color is an option for cartoonists looking to print their work (color was not always an option for ye olde comics makers, true believer), the quantity of choice of what the colors should be and how to apply them can be intimidating. Fear not. In my opinion, the best way to start in color is the classic CMYK–which is essentially, as you probably know, blue, red, yellow, and black. One reason this is a good choice is that most riso printers carry these four colors (riso being probably the best option in self-publishing in color if you can swing it) AND they are easily acquired in forms of marker or colored pencils, AND because these are the colors comics used in the past and traditions are important to me.

Julia Wertz’s new book has been reviewed at both Hyperallergic and the New York Times.

Wertz registers the changes [to NYC] but without polemic. There’s no need; the coda to her project is enough. After 10 years in the city, she was priced out of her Brooklyn neighborhood last year. She wrote this book in California.

Finally, Chris Mautner writes about the mysterious Yuichi Yokoyama.

No one on the globe is making comics like Yuichi Yokoyama. That seems like a foolish thing to say — after all, I haven’t tracked down every cartoonist on the planet to do a comprehensive compare/contrast analysis — but I feel like it’s a pretty safe bet nevertheless. Completely unconcerned with the conventional aspects of storytelling — most notably plot and character — Yokoyama has built a body of work that is utterly unique in its near-relentless exploration of motion, sound, and structure. His comics are enthralling and dynamic, but at the same time drained of emotion, as if an alien race was trying to mimic a typical comic but couldn’t quite get the hang of it.