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Gone Masters

Today on the site, we have a 1984 interview with the late Skip Williamson.

And it's another sad day for comics, as Bernie Wrightson, a beloved artist of numerous comics and books, has passed away after suffering from brain cancer.A fine summary of his life is on his own web site. Wrightson specialized in post-EC horror, emerging in the early 1970s to co-create Swamp Thing, draw covers and stories for DC, short stories for Warren, and co-found "The Studio", a space on Manhattan's Upper West Side where he, Barry Windsor Smith, Michael Kaluta and Jeffrey Jones worked, and about which an influential book was published. Wrightson is perhaps most acclaimed for his illustrations for Frankenstein, which were rendered in an elaborate pen and ink manner reminiscent of one of his heroes, Franklin Booth. He also collaborated with Stephen King, illustrating books including The Stand. Wrightson created his own character, Captain Sternn, who was featured in the print Heavy Metal and the anthology's film version. The artist went on to draw Batman, the Punisher, and in recent years returned to Frankenstein. There's more, of course, and we will have a full obituary soon, as well as an archival interview. I will say that, personally, Bernie Wrightson was the first artist I ever really studied. Starting when I was about 10 or 11 I ordered his posters out of the Bud Plant catalog and read and re-read his 1991 monograph, A Look Back, so many times that it fell apart. It was through Wrightson, and his old friend Joel Pollack (the founder of Big Planet Comics) that I learned about 19th and 20th century adventure illustration, to which I've returned in the last couple of years. Wrightson was the comic book heir to the EC horror line, and I suspect that if his influence on comics waned in the last couple of decades, it flourished in film via directors like Guillermo del Toro, who, like me, grew up on the stuff. I moved on from Wrightson somewhere just south of 18, but I have a a huge amount of appreciation for the work, in all its dedication and drama. He was at his best in Frankenstein, which I can still recommend, and whenever he moved into a his brushy horror mode, often in images for posters and portfolios. 

Wrightson, Jones, Kaluta, Smith.



 

 

Smoot

We are sad to report that another underground comic book great, Skip Williamson, has passed away. Patrick Rosenkranz has written his obituary.

Here's the trailer for the documentary on the artist:

and here is a 2012 interview with Williamson. 

We will have an archival TCJ interview shortly.

 

Daunting

Rachel Davies has interviewed R. Sikoryak, primarily about his strangest and most ambitious literary adaptation yet, a comics version of the iTunes users' agreement.

Because I try to adapt heavy, important works of literature, usually, like Crime and Punishment or Wuthering Heights, it sometimes gets daunting to struggle with a work that people are very familiar with, and that has characters that people really love. What was great about the Terms and Conditions for me was that there’s no narrative, and no one has an emotional attachment to it, at least not in the same way. I certainly don’t! It freed me up, it liberated me from having to worry about being faithful to it because there’s not a narrative to be faithful to. And it doesn’t lend itself to illustration in an overt way. I wasn’t interested in choosing a text that would be cinematic [laughs], I was interested in a text that didn’t have those concerns that I usually have when I’m doing a text. By choosing a text that had no narrative, it meant I could use the narratives of the comics that I was parodying to provide drama, or suspense, or humor. It was, in a way, a relief. I don’t know how I could do this again! [laughs] But for this project it was kind of a break from the way that I normally make comics.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian interviewed Sikoryak too.

Sikoryak has been praised by some for making T&Cs more accessible, which he finds baffling. He just enjoys the challenge of making something dismissed as unreadable readable. In his eyes, convincing someone to read terms and conditions is just like getting someone to read “worthy” classics they feel guilty about skipping, from Camus to Beckett and beyond. “I like using texts that are perceived as important,” he says, “and that includes iTunes T&Cs. All my work is an attempt to bridge the gap between what we call high art and low art, what we think is important or serious, and what we see as frivolous and meaningless. Often, that boundary doesn’t exist.”

Raymond Briggs shares his writing day for the same paper.

Ho ho, those were the days! When one had a “writing day”. Before the advent of No 1: old age, and No 2: partner, wife, whoever, getting long-term incurable illnesses. These slightly disturb the cosy pattern of the working week. A whole day to yourself! When was that last experienced?

In 1958, I got my first 30 bob a week bedsit and was earning a living as a self-employed illustrator. This was what got me into writing. I was often amazed at how bad some of the stories I was given to illustrate were. Golly, I thought, I could do better myself! So I tried to write one and sent it to the editor for some advice. To my utter amazement, he said he would publish it. Just shows what the standard was. Me, a kid of 24.

And the most recent guest on Process Party was Eleanor Davis.

—Reviews & Commentary. It was Will Eisner's centenary last week, and many tributes were written (some we linked to already), including a piece by R.C. Baker in the Village Voice:

Packaged in a Sunday newspaper supplement, the self-contained seven-to-eight-page Spirit stories proved a hit with readers, and by 1941 the young artist/writer/entrepreneur had a busy studio employing a staff of ten. As with Rubens before him and Warhol later, Eisner's name was signed to artwork he never touched; many soon-to-be giants of the medium, including Batman creator Bob Kane and future Village Voice cartoonist Jules Feiffer, did apprenticeships in the Eisner studio. In a mark of his business savvy, Eisner insisted on owning the rights to his characters, and he even had the prescience, as war with Japan threatened, to buy a wholesale quantity of finely crafted Japanese ink brushes — which he preferred over domestic brands — fearing that imports might soon come to an end. Decades later he would joke that he was still using brushes from that stockpile.

And by Michael Dooley for Print:

Eisner’s graphic style was often balletic in its grace. One Contract tale opens with a full-page aerial perspective of Dropsie Avenue with its stoops, fire escapes, clotheslines strung from building to building, its elevated subway line in the distance, and many other minutely indicated details rendered with deft, casual brushstrokes. Then it’s followed spread of panels that indicates a swooping down onto tenants chatting from their windows, then a zoom through to settle in on a domestic scene. With spare use of captions and cartoon balloon dialogue, a bounty of exposition is compacted into three small pages with breathtaking fluidity.

Osvaldo Oyola echoes Barthes with an essay about the pleasures of reading serial comics.

At the time that I began regularly reading Marvel superhero serial comics, it was pretty much assumed that any series that began was meant to go on for as long as it sold well enough, regardless of changes to creative team, or even sometimes the very title of the book. When the martial arts craze that inspired the Iron Fist series started to die down, for example, it was combined with the also struggling Luke Cage, Power Man (which had already renamed from Luke Cage, Hero For Hire) to make Power Man & Iron Fist starting with issue #50. It would go on with the two characters teamed up for another 76 issues, cementing an iconic friendship that was essentially mandated by the market, but would become a defining aspect of both characters. I tried to be a regular reader of the series soon after I encountered the pair guest-starring in an issue of ROM Spaceknight, looking for the first part of the two-part story that crossed over between them—how novel such a thing seemed then!—I found other issues that drew my attention. I was taken by its premise and sense of exploring a seedier part of the Marvel Universe. Still, I was unable to read as many of the issues I would have liked, nor could I count on getting every issue each month (actually, it was bi-monthly which made finding it even harder before the days of the pull-list and the advent of the direct market). In reading the first volume of Power Man & Iron Fist (which lasted from 1978 to 1986), I was always engaging with fragments of a larger unknown (and some ways, unknowable) whole.

Ray Davis connects Cerebus to the alt-right.

Not so much Cerebus-the-character, who Jeet Heer picked as Trumpalike a year ago. More Cerebus-the-comic-book: a Shoah-slow train ride from geeky lulz to lunatic-fringe antifeminism through a series of cosmological mother-in-law jokes. Beginning with MAD parodies of teenage-boy-aimed comics, Sim took his hard-earned technique into realms in which it's a less, let's say, established bearer of light: the Flaming Carrot and Druckerized Lou Jacobi dropped wisdom on the moon; Druckerized Maggie Thatcher led execution-torture for the matriarchal dystopia; Druckerized Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway rotated with Druckerized Marty Feldman and Mick Jagger and Batman/Wolverine/Punisher.

Jared Gardner wants people to start archiving webcomics.

It is always worth thinking about the history of earlier storage media when making predictions about the future. Film is as good an example as one could hope to find: a vastly popular medium with international reach and lots of industrial and institutional support. At only 120 years from its origins, one might imagine that the history of cinema is fully at our disposal. Sadly, this is not the case. Today, only about 20-25% of all silent films produced in the United States between the origins of cinema and the end of the silent era in 1927 still exist. In some part of the world, that proportion is considerably lower; for example, in Japan over 90% of all film made before 1945 is believed lost forever.

—Misc. Dangerous Minds has turned up an old Charles Mingus anti-bootlegging comic strip.

As one can see from the signature at the bottom left, the strip was executed by Gene Bilbrew, an African-American cartoonist whom some credit with creating the first black superhero, the Bronze Bomber. Bilbrew had once been an assistant to comics legend Will Eisner. Later on Bilbrew worked as a fetish artist at Irving Klaw’s bondage-oriented Movie Star News/Nutrix company; Klaw also discovered Bettie Page.

Finally, Clickhole gets some a-mazing quotes from Stan Lee. (I know.)

I knew I wanted to publish comics, but I was too lazy to learn how to draw, so I had to find an artist that was dumb enough to agree to make my ideas instead of their own. Jack Kirby was the perfect patsy, a dull-eyed rube with incredible artistic talent and no common sense. I paid a visit to his house while eating a big chicken parm and offered him half if he agreed to be my art slave for the rest of his life. He immediately accepted the deal and scarfed down the half-sandwich. I never paid Jack anything after that chicken parm, and he never fully understood how raw that deal was for him, though he suspected. When Jack passed, I felt some guilt, so I gave half of a Sprite Zero I had been drinking to his widow. I know that’s what he would have wanted.

 

Walkin’

Today on the site, it's a snowy day and Santa Joe brings you the new comics.

Elsewhere:

Al Jaffee interviewed over at Vanity Fair. It's nice that Jaffee has had such public appreciation these last half-dozen years. 

Passings: 

The New York Times on Jay Lynch.

Classic big foot New Zealand Cartoonist Murray Ball passed away.

 

 

Timeless

Today on the site:

Katie Skelly reviews Eleanor Davis's Libby's Dad.

Davis returns to her toolkit once again to explore the landscapes between language and reality, threat and violence. However, Libby’s Dad’s grasp doesn’t quite take the same hold as any of the How to Be pieces. A short story about a group of prepubescent neighborhood girlfriends, Libby’s Dad finds its tension in one of the girls spreading a rumor that Libby’s newly divorced father had threatened to shoot Libby’s mother as the result of some unknown argument. Libby’s father has also treated the girls with the utmost hospitality, ordering them KFC, allowing them to eat sweets after dark, letting them use the pool in his new midlife crisis pad. Philosophical questions rise up for the girls: how could someone be dangerous and generous at once? How could they possibly be close to someone who could also destroy all of them? And the eternal question: is it ever possible to really know someone? All of Davis’s usual pieces are in play: a child’s lack of grasp of nuance; an environment capable of enveloping its characters with its visually and psychically overwhelming elements; an ambiguous distance between truth and fiction; a paranoid whisper-down-the-alley; and an intrusion of imagined violence and mental illness — all diffused within pages of them reaching their greatest pitch. Why?

Elsewhere: 

Joe McCulloch talks Tatsumi over here.

Not much comics news, but comics-adjacent painting: R.B. Kitaj has a great retrospective in New York at Malborough, and here's a fine piece of writing on it.

 

Person in Charge

Anyhow, today on the site we have two of our great cartoonists in conversation: Phoebe Gloeckner and Julia Gfrörer. The two spoke on the occasion of the release of Gfrörer's recent book, Laid Waste. Here's a teaser:

PG: You just said that you’re working on the drawings; you have it all written. Is that your typical process? Do you write the whole thing out? Do you script it? What do you do?

JG: I thumbnail and script it at the same time. And then pencil it and ink it, so it’s all penciled now, and I’m just inking.

You generally do it in different passes. It general, you have the whole thing worked out, and then you return to the beginning, and start inking, and so on?

Yeah. Usually I’ll kind of jump around. I won’t do it straight from beginning to end, but I’ll do whatever part I feel like doing. If I’m feeling not super into it, I’ll ink a page or draw a page that I feel like is going to be fun or easy — when there’s not a lot happening in it. In this Flesh and Bone sequel, yesterday, I was feeling unmotivated, and there’s a page where the witch is spinning with a drop spindle. And then the thread gets tangled, it does that thing where it twists in on itself and makes a tangle. That was really easy to draw, it was just several panels of thread spinning and then tangling up. It went really quick, and I was like, this is really motivational. It was like: BAM, I finished a page.

You got into the swing of things.

Another question I had is about collaboration. Amongst your collaborations — and I don’t know all of them — I’m thinking of the work you did with Sean, and they were adaptations of Poe stories. That was just something I would just expect you to do on your own. I would totally trust whatever you would come up with, your interpretation. I’m wondering: why the collaboration, and how did that change your work?

The porn adaptations of Poe, that was Sean’s idea. He sent me the script for the first one before we really had a relationship, he just knew my work.

[Laughs.] That’s very seductive.

I know. [Laughter.] I read it, and when I realized what was going to happen in it — at first I was like, “Who does this guy think he is?” To try to improve on Poe seems like a gutsy move. When I finished reading it, I was like, “This is amazing.” I was really into it. I did end up drawing it. Then, it just became a thing we do for fun. I don’t usually collaborate with people. I drew some stuff for Anne Elizabeth Moore for a magazine but she hired me to do it. With Sean, I really like his writing, I think he as a good sense of what is going to be good for me to draw: what I’m going to enjoy drawing, and what’s going to look good drawn by me. We’ve done a couple Poe/porn books. We did a comic called Hiders, which was just a 4 page one about these two young women who turn into werewolves together. But they don’t talk about it when they’re both human.

Elsewhere:

 

 

Hooo wee, look at that great Kim Deitch drawing from the 1970s in our little window.

Podcast updates: Tucker Stone (who hangs out with Tim much more than me, which makes me secretly sad but I'll get over it) talked Punisher over here. At Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, Joe McCulloch and Katie Skelly talk Insufficient Direction and then Joe and Chris Mautner discuss Pretending Is Lying.

Reminder: The Women in Illustration Tumblr is on quite a roll lately, especially with the always amazing Margaret Brundage.

Over at the New Yorker, Paul LaFarge details the true life of one of a character in his new novel about H.P. Lovecraft. Salient line: "Who keeps track of the lives of fans." One of my favorite things is to track certain strains of fandom... I love the fandom that seeded underground comics, the fandom that resulted in so much commerce in the 1970s and 80s and the fandom that birthed this magazine and Fantagraphics. And now the fandom that keeps a thousand zine and comics fairs in bloom. 

 

Home Plate

Today on the site, RJ Casey talks to the cartoonist Sophie Yanow about memoir, comics journalism, and translation, among many other things.

I am interested in architecture and economics and how those things affect livability. It seems to me that the obvious short term is that more and more people will be priced out of living in “major” cities. Seattle suffers from the same tech industry influx that San Francisco does, which for residents means so much energy spent on keeping your housing or just needing to move. The crazy capitalist endgame might be what we see in London, where entire neighborhoods are empty of people because the international super-rich have bought massive apartment buildings as places to park their capital rather than to house humans. While there are many great architects and urban planners out there, they can’t solve this stuff alone. Short term, people need to band together to strengthen things like rent control and renter protections. Long term... replace capitalism?

Also, Rob Kirby reviews the new book by Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do.

In her early twenties, Bui traveled back to Vietnam to meet her extended family. It was shortly afterward that she began to record the family’s history, hoping that “if I bridged the gap between past and present… I could fill the void between my parents and me.” Her narrative flashes back and forth in time, illustrating how larger events (war, dictatorship, immigration) shaped the family’s lives. She records her father's traumatic, uprooted childhood in the 1950s (she calls him “Bố,” or “daddy”) and how he endured periods of living as a refugee with his abusive, philandering father in a country wracked with sociopolitical turmoil and poverty. Meanwhile, Bui's mother (“Má”) grew up in privilege as a child of a civil engineer, shielded for many years from the dire conditions of much of the country. After marrying Bố, Má gives birth to multiple children, usually under extremely difficult conditions, including her daughter, Bích, right before the Tet Offensive in 1968; a stillborn child, Thảo, in Saigon in 1974; and her son Tâm in a UN refugee camp in Malaysia in 1978.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The New York Times talks to outgoing New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff about some of his own favorite cartoons. I haven't seen much extensive commentary on this upcoming change yet, but Mankoff was a somewhat polarizing figure in some cartooning circles, for various reasons including the setup of the Cartoon Bank, the magazine's cartoon caption contest, and the fairly laborious submission process he oversaw.

While Mr. Mankoff, 72, may be leaving the magazine, he’s hardly retiring. He will be teaching a course about humor and communication at Fordham University. He’ll continue to consult on the Cartoon Bank, a licensing platform he founded in 1992. He’ll also be working on Botnik Studios, a company he’s creating with the comedy writer Jamie Brew that explores using artificial intelligence to augment creativity. (Mr. Mankoff, a former graduate student in experimental psychology, has already collaborated with a Microsoft researcher on an algorithm that can sort through the flood of entries to the magazine’s weekly cartoon caption contest.)

Newsarama talks to Ben Passmore.

I was reading some Frantz Fanon with a homie of mine, another black guy existing in the New Orleans punk scene, and comparing our experiences navigating various exchanges with our white friends and acquaintances. We were reading Black Skin, White Masks, which is largely about the psychological effects of colonization on black people. It wasn't the first time we'd had that type of conversation, it's the kind of thing black people that interact with some amount of white people on a regular basis have within five minutes of meeting each other. The only difference was that the context of the conversation was our sense of dysphoria, or how our social relationships with white people effected how we saw ourselves. Something about this particular conversation with my friend made me realize the extent we, black punks, live if a different world than our white friends.

The Beat talks to Maggie Umber.

I’m a cartoonist and the associate publisher at 2dcloud. This past year I had a 24 page comic in the anthology The Shirley Jackson Project edited by Rob Clough and published by Ninth Art Press. My first graphic novel, Time Capsule, was published by 2dcloud in 2015. My upcoming graphic novel, Sound of Snow Falling, is being kickstarted as a part of 2dcloud’s Spring 2017 collection.

—Misc. The New York Times gets R. Sikoryak to explain some of the thinking behind his pastiche-target choices in his comics adaptation of the iTunes users agreement.

Joe Cool, the Snoopy persona, is not that far from Steve Jobs. I had to use “Peanuts,” that’s why it’s in the first 10 pages or so, because that was one of the first things I knew I wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in pulling people into comics who might not even be that into comics, but are aware of them: “Oh yeah, I saw that Christmas special with the dog, right?” People might recognize the characters or the general notion of a strip and that sort of pulls them in.

Linda Medley, the creator of Castle Waiting, is in need of financial assistance.

Several years ago I was diagnosed with severe cervical spondylosis as well as carpal tunnel syndrome, and took some time off from creating artwork to rest, and adapt to new modes of working. Although my convalescence took longer than anticipated, I'm currently hard at work on Castle Waiting Volume 3 and hope to have the first 150-page installment ready for publication next year...but I'll need your financial help to be able to continue working on it.

 

Ticket Here

Today on the site, we bring you an interview with the late Jay Lynch by Gary Groth, conducted in the last few months of Lynch's life. It allows a glimpse into a life led in multiple areas of cultures and small publishing, and the kind of knowledge that only a certain kind of cartoonist of a certain generation has access to.

GG: Well, one thing you have said was that when you worked for The Seed, and by the way, was that an anarchist periodical?

JL: It started as such, but it kind of evolved into one of those permission-seeking “legalize marijuana” kind of papers. And that never interested me, that attitude.

GG: Why would that not interest you? I mean, would you not want to see marijuana legalized?

JL: I would. But the way to do it isn’t to beg for it. The way to do it is to just, everybody smoke marijuana and if that happens all of a sudden it will be legal.

GG: So you’re opposed to the strategy.

JL: Yeah. Well, it started as a … There were surrealist papers in Chicago, and it started off as a spinoff of those. But then it evolved into a political thing.

GG: Now I think you mentioned that you ran afoul of their political doctrine, where they rejected work by you because it was not politically pure. Did you experience a lot of that? You said at one point that hippies don’t have a sense of humor.

JL: With The Seed, yeah. Once I ran a cover with a man thinking of a woman wearing a brassiere, a pointy brassiere. And that was sexist to them. But it ran in the Madison-Milwaukee Bugle-Americanas the cover, they printed in. But The Seed lost all of my art and all of Crumb’s art, and when they printed it they’d print it in purple ink, so you couldn’t really reproduce from what they’d printed. It was kind of … If a free press and the free exchange of ideas is the goal, it wasn’t that. It was: “This is sexist. This is not good for the revolution.”

GG: Have you become more sympathetic to that point of view, sexism and racism as unpalatable sources of humor? How do you feel about that?

JL: Well I think what he did wasn’t really racist, but it was a mockery of racism. And I think it’s good what we did, because there was a reverse discrimination type thing going on. When I worked for Renewal [magazine], we ran a — Jerry Farber was the guy’s name — article called “Student as Nigger,” which compared college students protesting against the war to Negroes working within the system during protests in the ’50s. So for the illustration to that I drew a guy that was split in half, and one half was a student wearing a tweed jacket with patches and carrying schoolbooks and having a beard — all the clichés of what was a student then. The other half was a plantation Negro holding a watermelon, and that was the analogy that was in the article. But even the editor of Renewal at the time made me change the whole watermelon-carrying half to a Negro with a black suit on, like Sidney Poitier. So there was a taboo, but it meant that all black people had to be Sidney Poitier. Like there was a big outcry against Amos ’n’ Andy, but really Amos ’n’ Andy is just The Honeymooners but they’re black. It’s not like the janitor Lightnin’ represents all characters in the thing, any more than Ed Norton represents all white men. So as a reaction to the overly sensitive depiction of blacks in the liberal media, I think that’s what I did and that’s what Angelfood McSpade kind of was.

Elsewhere:

Here's more Jay Lynch.

Historian (and author of Lynch's TCJ obituary) Patrick Rosenkranz:

A lengthy clip related to his fanzine collaborator, Don Doehler: