The Sniveling Beings

Today at TCJ, we've got that hot George Lucas action for you. Wait, really? Yup, it looks like that's part of the story that Shawn Martinbrough has to tell in his interview with Alex Dueben. Here he is on what it's like to look at his work via the medium of picture frames:

Seeing pages in isolation on the wall at a show is a very different from seeing them printed in a book.

Preparing for this exhibit has created an opportunity for me to appreciate my past work. Too often as artists, we turn the art around, move onto the next project and it piles up in a drawer somewhere. For me, this is a really good opportunity to stop and actually appreciate the work that I’ve done. I’m usually my biggest critic so I always see the flaws. The many ways I could have done something better. It was a nice chance way to just absorb the work and appreciate how others react to it.

An interesting example of seeing art in person versus in print was seeing Mignola’s show. I was really surprised how grey the original art was. His work prints as stark black and white but the originals were complete gray washes. It creates a completely  different effect seeing it in person. It’s funny because I’m always searching for THE black ink that will create the richest, deepest blacks. It was such a stark contrast seeing Mike’s work which was almost completely gray and my work which was stark black. The Society folks were like, “How did you get your blacks so black?” and I'm never satisfied that the ink is dark enough. It’s a different experience seeing original art in person.

While the "really?" horse left the barn a long time ago when it comes to what the New York Times decides to print about comic books, this article single issue recap by George Gene Gustines feels like something that even Jonah Weiland would have sent back for another round of journalism. To top it off, the article actually ran before the issue was published, which is just pointlessly mean.

Speaking of decisions Marvel has made that I don't understand, this is the ugliest cover I can recall appearing on one of any of their comics in recent memory.

Is that a photograph of an action figure in the center? Is that Mystique drawing pulled from an old Mystique comic book? Are the characters in the top right attacking the title? Look, I get it: Greg Land (whoa that image) can't seem to make the jump to Image Comics because nobody will take him with them, and Marvel has to hang onto somebody with a connection to the time when they weren't solely dependent on variant covers and relaunches, but still-do we get embarrassed anymore? Is that no longer a thing?

Rich Tommaso, who is a funny guy and a talented artist, will be teaming up with three people who have the same last name to tell Dick Tracy stories for IDW. I wouldn't want to be outnumbered by a family on a collaborative project as they have a bunch of vested interests in always getting their way, but that's what I like about Tommaso: the dude loves a challenge.

Speaking of challenges: I bet it was hard to maintain your mettle when a swarm of these helmets were coming at you. KIRBY!



Austin English returns to once again to rethink comics cant. This time around, he wonders if Will Eisner really deserves more acclaim than Don Martin, compares Crumb's "Short History of America" to corny Green Lantern comics, sticks up for Carlos Burgos and Anke Feuchtenberger, and pans Kristen Radtke.

One of Eisner's acknowledged classic works is "The Story of Gerhard Schnobble", a Spirit yarn from 1948. Eisner said this was his favorite all-time Spirit tale, remarking, 'It was the first time I could do a story that I had great personal feelings about.' The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Book Comics selected "Schnobble" to represent Eisner within its authoritative pages.

A shame, then, that this is perhaps one of the most appallingly corny comics you'll probably ever read, genuinely creepy in its gross sentimentality. 'THIS IS NOT A FUNNY STORY!!" Eisner warns on page 1. Yeah, it's not funny, but it is laughable. The plot: a sweet nebbish (his name is Schnobble, if you didn't get the message from how he's drawn) is fired from his job. He has the ability to fly but has kept it a secret. After losing his job, to prove his self-worth, he decides to finally reveal this ability. As he jets around the city, he is 'tragically' caught in a stream of bullets that resulted from a conflict the Spirit was engaged in. But don't worry, Schnobble can still fly... as an angel!

What great personal feelings can Eisner have actually felt he was imparting us with here? I really have no idea. I can't even guess, that's how empty it feels. Even more mysterious, the world of comics continues to maintain that this story holds something mature within it. Comics self-caricatures itself as barren of thought, and then elevates attempts at complexity to the forefront. Of course, to accomplish this sleight of hand, actual expression must be either misunderstood or discarded.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Kiel Phegley talks to Mike Mignola.

But that [Parkland school] shooting piece – “Enough” – that one was really an eye-opener. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but to do a piece that doesn’t really rely on any of my usual subject matter and just funnels basically rage and horror into a piece of art? To not have to think about “Where will this be collected some day” or “Is this the part of a larger body of work”? Instead, it was just directly responding to this one incident. And in fact until you just mentioned it, it never occurred to me to ask “Will that piece be collected in a future body of work?” I guess it could be. But I’m so geared to doing stories and for everything I do being a part of something, it’s really hard to wrap my brain around saying, “I just want to do one drawing of something.” I don’t want to have to say, “If you do something, it needs to be collected. And if it’s going to be collected, it needs to have ten pieces with it in a similar theme.” I’m trying to break away from that mindset where everything is a book or is part of that larger thing and just draw, paint, whatever you want. That’s what my brain is trying to wrap around.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories show is Dave Calver.

Vice talked to Garfield creator Jim Davis:

—News. The nominees for this year's Ringo Awards have been announced.



Today on the site, we are publishing the second of Michael Dooley's followup interviews with the participants in his fine art and comics roundtable. Today's artist is Robert Williams, and their discussion is wide-ranging, to say the least.

WILLIAMS: So, Surrealism got really, really popular after the Second World War, but something that came along and stifled it was Abstract Expressionism. And so that’s where American modern art came in, and Abstract Expressionism, there was just no stopping it. It had a powerful reign for close to 30 years. But anyway, I got interested in drawing and painting at a very early age, and I loved comic books, the drawings in them. I could deal with the stories, but I preferred the drawings. Prince Valiant was the best. I liked Disney to a certain extent, but the ECs were killer. The ECs were the killer comics. Of all those that I preferred, of course, it was Wallace Wood. I didn’t have much of an understanding of fine art other than I like old Renaissance art and I liked Surrealism, especially Salvador Dalí. And I had no idea of the manifestos and whatnot, the pressures of the Second World War and stuff like that.

DOOLEY: Yeah, Dalí actually considered Disney an American Surrealist in his way [laughs]. Looking at Fantasia, that sort of transformative —

WILLIAMS: Disney started out on the right foot. He snorted coke and his buddy Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, and if you look at the very early Mickey Mouses, Mickey Mouse is making out with Minnie, and there’s stuff in there that wasn’t family rated. And that would have probably stayed that way. Early Disney would have probably had really good quality to it like Max Fleischer if they hadn’t gotten rid of Iwerks. Iwerks attempted to come up with his own studio and lost his ass and had to go crawling back to Disney and got a safe job with him. But he lost all his stock and his power and whatnot. His partnership was broken off. Iwerks’s [grand-]daughter is going around with a documentary about him. It’s really good. It’s in art museums, if you have a chance to look that up on the Internet.

DOOLEY: I didn’t mean to derail you. You were transitioning from Dalí to Abstract Expressionism.

WILLIAMS: There’s a couple of points of power with Abstract Expressionism. One, it was truly an American art form. Number two, of all the arts, it lends itself better than all the rest of the schools of art for architectural decoration. For modern art, it could not be beat. It was the best thing to go into a bank lobby or whatnot. It couldn’t be beat.

DOOLEY: [Laughs.] Is that the only benefit you see in Abstract Expressionism?

WILLIAMS: No, no, it isn’t. It is not.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. DC has announced a deal with Wal-Mart to distribute four new comics anthologies exclusively through the retailer's stores, including both reprints and new stories.

Dark Horse Comics has announced that the health insurance they offer to employees will soon begin offering coverage for trans-related services. This change came after tireless advocacy efforts from Jay Edidin (a former Dark Horse employee)
and others.

—Reviews & Commentary. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson calls the firing of Rob Rogers a dangerous omen. (Anderson himself was laid off by his Houston paper last year.)

[W]hat's missing from the situation is the outrage for the quiet firing of over 100 cartoonists around the country over the past few decades. The generally accepted number by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is that there were about 180 staff cartoonists three decades ago. Now there are fewer than a couple dozen. My state, Texas -- the second-largest in the Union -- doesn't have a single full-time cartoonist.

Newspapers get tired of the controversy that a full-time cartoonist can cause. A staff cartoonist is someone who works as a salaried employee, much like a reporter. A syndicated cartoon is distributed to hundreds of papers by a news service. Editors get tired of the complaints from readers. But those firings could easily have been masked as layoffs, especially since syndicated cartoons are far less expensive.

It's harder to kill a cartoon from your staff cartoonist -- like a writer would, they complain. They fight back. They have a voice that they can raise with you in person. It's easier to kill a cartoon from a syndicate. You just quietly discard it in favor of a less controversial cartoon. The power to select content is also the power to stifle content.

Amy Ongiri writes about the connections (imagined and otherwise) between Black Panther the comics character and the Black Panther Party.

Released in September 1974, at the tail end of the conflict in Vietnam, “Panther’s Rage” also explores the cost of warfare on both warriors and their communities. By this time the BPP had become a global movement, with organizations calling themselves “Black Panthers” as far away from Oakland as Polynesia and Palestine. It had also already helped to spawn an underground, proactively military organization called the Black Liberation Army. In a history that finds echoes in both the cinematic and comic book representation of the Black Panther, it was discord within the leadership of the party that led to the formation of the Black Liberation Army. In 1971, Minister for Information Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the party over a conflict between himself and Huey P. Newton about the efficacy of armed struggle. Cleaver’s expulsion broke the party into sometimes-warring factions. BPP co-founder Newton was more much more wedded to the idea of armed self-defense and change on the local level than Cleaver, who saw armed struggle and internationalism as the way forward. There are echoes of this conflict in both “Panther’s Rage” and in the film’s representation of Erik Killmonger as a lost son of the African diaspora.

Johanna Draper Carlson points out a tacky move by Boom!

—Interviews & Profiles. Studio 360 has an episode about Nancy and its new artist, Olivia Jaimes.

—Misc. Terrance Hayes joins the small but proud tradition of poets using visual images to make something akin to comics.


The Big Sleazy

Today at the Journal, we'll launch you into the weekend with sex on the brain: courtesy of Niki Smith, who stopped by to talk with Alex Dueben about her new book with Iron Circus Comics, Crossplay.

Have you been able to step back and especially now that you’re hearing from people about the book, think about how you feel about it after all this time?

I’m really proud of how it turned out. I wanted to make a book about queer friends figuring out who they are and who they love. There’s drama, but not trauma, if that makes sense. There are so many queer stories that focus on struggle and tragedy and I wanted to make a book that celebrates us and shows the found families that we can form.

Over at The Nation, you can see some of the comics that got Rob Rogers fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette--they're being featured as part of their OppArts series.

Roger Langridge put together a glorious adaptation of a classic Jeeves & Wooster story as a proof of concept, the concept being that he'd like to do a longer PG Wodehouse graphic novel--I still can't really believe this is something I'm just linking to, that was made for free, and that there are 15 pages of it. Go get you some.

Ryan Cecil Smith's most recent men's fashion comic--which he claims is a crowded field, which I believe is a complete lie, albeit an enjoyable on--sees him doing one of my favorite things that an artist can do, which is burrow deeply into the things that fascinate them. It's what Langridge does above, it's what Niki talks about with Alex today, it's the best thing that someone can do. Find that thing, answer that question, scratch that itch. I could not be more impressed.

I got on an elevator yesterday and Brian Hibbs was on that elevator, and neither one of us were in a city we lived in: and I realized it had been a while since I checked on his video interview series, which documents the guests he has for his graphic novel of the month club. Sure enough, there's a new one, featuring Hartley Lin. The graphic novel in conversation is Young Frances, which I thought had some tremendous back-and-forth dialog scenes, images that have stuck with me since I first saw them serialized in Pope Hats, and the interview they posted only made me like the book that much more.



World Almanac

Greg Hunter's latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue features guest Laura Lannes, and in it, the cartoonist behind By Monday I'll Be Floating in the Hudson with the Other Garbage and the upcoming John, Dear discusses Laerte, Puiupo, and Sarah Manguso, as well as the uses--and perils--of humor in art.

Matt Seneca is back, too, with a review of Anthony Del Col, Geoff Moore, & Jeff McComsey's Son of Hitler.

Part of the reason it's tough to escape the WWII-story trap of glorifying US military adventurism is because that's what the familiar template for a WWII story is. In a perfect world, of course, earlier entries in the genre a story exists in wouldn't affect its contours one way or another, because the only good reason for a story to get made is legitimate inspiration. But we're talking about mainstream comics, in which the most likely cause for a shift in a writer's style is a decision to switch streaming services. A frustrating amount of scenes in this comic are visibly indebted to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds - not outright ripoffs so much as dramatic set pieces that don't seem to have had more than that one input fueling them. And this in a world where pretty much every public library has a copy of Ivan's Childhood on DVD! But oh well, better to choose that one than a Clint Eastwood movie or something.

I'd like to stay with Inglourious Basterds for just another second though, because for a name director with as underdeveloped a visual sense as Tarantino, the set pieces in that movie are pretty well put together. Not stunning, but highly functional, doing everything they need to do to set up the mechanics of their action scenes before things begin detonating, laying out everything about an interior floorplan that an audience is going to need to know ahead of time. In this comic McComsey struggles again and again with doing the same, and in a medium much more conducive to schematic views and architectural precision than movies can possibly be. McComsey has an interesting drawing style, something between Steve Dillon and Philip Bond, and flexes the same white-highlighted, straight-from-pencils approach that Connor Willumsen was recently hailed for in Anti-Gone. But his ability to create a comic in which one panel leads smoothly to the next is sorely lacking. Characters appear in-frame as if from nowhere, claustrophobic-seeming shots open onto vistas of open space that make it uncertain if a scene change has taken place, and whenever actual physical action occurs (which, for a war comic, is pretty rarely) following who's doing what and to whom is a severe difficulty that robs the book of just about all its impact and vitality.


The Great Awakening

Today at TCJ, Retail Therapy--the column where we talk to those in the sell-these-comics biz--is here. This time, we spoke with Jake Shapiro, from Washington DC's Fantom Comics. 

What's changed the most for your business in the last ten years?

The reinvention of Image Comics, the rise of Saga, and the ubiquity of trade paperbacks are all intertwined as the single biggest change to comics retail in the last decade. Saga is by far our bestselling comic of the last ten years: not only is it a non-superhero comic, but it doesn't have a TV show or movie or video game either. In a world where the "definitive" versions of Iron Man and Captain America are arguably onscreen, it makes a difference that Saga has built its colossal audience as... just a solid comic book. And the collected paperbacks have brought in a whole crowd of people who aren't coming in monthly for the single issues--plus they've increased comics' foothold in the book market. The nontraditional appeal of these titles has even rubbed off on superhero comics, where we're beginning to see more Marvel/DC books with new voices and experimental art styles.

Also in the world of retail, Diamond Comics is pushing their new spinner rack program pretty hard, which will see comics shop owners getting "incentives" if they purchase the racks and get them placed in other businesses. It sounds like a huge pain in the ass that once again places all the onus and financial responsibility on the comics retailer while maintaining the "focus on this one comic book format" philosophy that has served Diamond so tremendously well over the last however many years. 

Retailers qualify by reaching a signed agreement with another business to allow them to place and maintain a spinner rack of comics in their stores for a minimum of six months. Agreements can be reached on a buy-sell or consignment basis with quantities, margin splits, payment terms, and other details being at the discretion of the parties. “There are lots of ways to structure an agreement,” said Schimmel. “We’ve provided a couple of templates that retailers can adapt as they see fit. The program is also flexible in that there are no requirements in terms of the titles or quantities retailers put on the racks.”

The only way this makes sense is if the spinner racks are used to burn off over-ordered garbage at full price via non-traditional sales outlets--that way whatever gets destroyed due to the "this ain't a library" type handling that occurs outside of the bag-and-board world won't hit as hard, because it wasn't going to move in the actual shop anyway. (The idea that a retailer would try to keep a spinner rack outside of their control stocked up consistently with non-returnable books carried on a consignment basis is ludicrous, and the idea that the spinner host--your local non-chain pharmacy, I suppose--will buy the titles outright more than once, only slightly less so). Thus ensuring that the fabled new readers--this phantom class of people who supposedly would regularly pay 4 to 8 bucks a month for the distinct pleasure of looking at something drawn by Ivan Reis, on purpose--will once again have the chance to take a look at a new comic book and be reminded all over again why they didn't want to read these things in the first place.

Oh, and what incentive do you get for participating in this 1988 of an idea? These:

  • Marvel: A 1 in 1000 Variant Comic TBD at time of redemption
  • DC: MAY178593 DARK NIGHTS METAL #1 B&W MIDNIGHT RELEASE VAR B plus a second limited edition comic TBD at time of redemption
  • Image: Retailer's choice of 50 in-stock Image Firsts, plus a 2017 Retailer Appreciation Variant (while supplies last).
  • Dynamite: A high perceived retail value item TBD at time of redemption
  • Boom: CGC Books & assorted Limited Edition Incentives TBD at time of redemption
  • Diamond Select Toys: Retailer’s choice of one in-stock Gallery PVC Figure

My favorite part on the above list is the part where I realized Dark Horse must have overprinted Darkness Calls to a pretty extreme degree to have that be the "get this shit out of here" book a full ten years after the initial release. To be in the room when that decision was made! 


The Erasers

Today on the site, Michael Dooley follows up his fine arts and comics roundtable with the first of several solo interviews with the individual artists. First up, Esther Pearl Watson.

I felt like when I was growing up, comics were for boys. At first, I totally ignored them. They had zero interest for me. But when I was young, like 8 to 10 years old, we moved to Italy for a little while, a couple years. And that’s the first time I started to see anime. And I really liked the anime stories, because they were more, in a way, dramatic. There was a lot of drama. And then when I came back to the United States I found some manga comics. I had a couple of them that I was very interested in. I really liked them. I liked the stories and the way the art looked. But I didn’t really read them or collect them. And we moved often and I never really brought them with me.

But the one thing that I feel like I learned to draw from the most, or I learned my comics from, was Barbie coloring books actually. Because I would trace the images and then alter them, and there was always text at the bottom. And the Catholic churches, too. I think they brought out a lot of narrative interest, the stations of the cross had these sequential images and sometimes text underneath it. And the churches in Italy with the beautiful paintings on the ceiling. I would just sit there during Mass, looking up. And you could just make up all these stories from the images. I feel like I was picking up sequential narrative imagery all around me. But not from traditional comics. [Laughs.]

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Chicago Tribune checks in on Carol Tyler and her Beatlemania.

There was the small book she made at 13 about the Beatles at Comiskey — “37 Minutes of Madness!” — scrawled in red ink and reproduced with great charm in “Fab4 Mania,” delivered not as nostalgia but a remarkable act of cultural reporting from an eighth-grader. (“I wanted to capture what it felt to be young in ’65. Including the boredom. Including the breeziness in my life that got trampled by the time I reached high school.”) There was a painting of the Fab Four, made in graduate school (now the end page of the book). There were old saw blades her father owned and one of her brothers wanted tossed; on each blade there is a long account of that very argument, painted there by Tyler. There were knickknacks made with thorns from her farm in Kentucky, and stationery saved from her father’s plumbing business, and turkey feathers that she fashioned into pens. (The other day she struck a wild turkey with her car, “the exact hour and day my father passed away,” and when she got out of the car, “what remained were feathers.”)

It's the fortieth anniversary of Garfield and the Jim Davis interviews are all over the place, including at the Edmonton Journal and The Guardian.

Named after his grandfather, James Garfield Davis (“a rather stern and intimidating person, but he had these really kind eyes – he was a teddy bear”), Garfield is a composite of the dozens of stray cats on Davis’s childhood farm. He developed the strip over a year, creating a cast of contrasting characters to interact with his lazy, lasagne-loving cat – geeky owner Jon, the playful, brainless dog Odie, Garfield’s vet Liz, and kitten Nermal. The strip was picked up – and then shortly afterwards dropped – by the Chicago Sun-Times. But readers bombarded the paper with more than 1,300 phone calls and letters demanding Garfield’s return. (The paper quickly acquiesced.)

So Davis quit his job and went all in for Garfield, showing a steely confidence despite a first pay cheque of, he estimates, $38 (£28) for the month. But by 1983, 1,000 papers were running Garfield. By 2002, it had the Guinness World Record for the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world, with an estimated 200m daily readers turning to the crotchety feline in 2,570 newspapers across the globe. There are countless bestselling Garfield books (Davis’s company Paws Inc says more than 135m have sold worldwide), television series, films, toys, clothes, mugs. (Garfield merchandise brings in an estimated $750m-$1bn a year.) There’s even a musical.

The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Chris Reynolds, and the latest on Inkstuds is Max Clotfelter.

—News. The shameful and political firing of Rob Rogers by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette continues to make news. Rogers himself wrote a short essay about it for the New York Times. Politico spoke to the paper's publisher about the reasoning behind his decision. The Daily Cartoonist has gathered many more reactions from fellow cartoonists and professionals here.

Juneteenth in 2018 feels quite strange, but it's always worth remembering that generations before us have fought against oppression and cruelty and won, and so it can be done again.


Mommy & Daddy

Today at the Journal, we're haring a look at the life and career of Nick Meglin, who passed away on June 2nd. Steve Ringgenberg has the details on a life lived well:

At various times, Bill Gaines called Meglin “the heart of Mad” and “the soul and conscience of Mad,” and he was responsible for recruiting many of the artists and writers who eventually came to be known as “The Usual Gang of Idiots” after editor Feldstein got tired of listing individual credits in the masthead of the very first Mad annual, The Worst from Mad #1.

We've also got a look at Pinky & Pepper Forever, by Ivy Atoms, published by Silver Sprocket. Our review comes from Carta Monir, and she's here to make the case:

Atoms’ choice to use discontinued fashion dolls as the characters in her surrealist lesbian suicide story might seem jarring, but I find it extremely effective. Knowing that these characters are based on mass-produced dolls - one of which makes an explicit appearance in the photographic spread depicting Pinky’s suicide - makes everything seem more real, somehow. It’s hard to explain, but knowing that I can go on eBay and just buy a Pinkie Cooper doll lends a sense of backstory and physicality to Atoms’ characters. Atoms has written about her creative process involving a lot of literal play, using the dolls to act out scenes and then putting those scenes in her book. As someone who puts a lot of emotional investment in certain toys, the idea of projecting hugely personal situations and fears onto these vulnerable dolls makes perfect sense to me. In a sense, Atoms is explicitly inviting us into what’s usually completely off-limits to the outside world: the private thoughts and daydreams a person has while playing.