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Chimney Climb

Today on the site, Alex Dueben talks to David Wiesner.

Of all your picture books I really love The Three Pigs. Could you just explain what you did with the story?

There are all these different threads that have been floating in and out of my work since I was a kid. The idea of alternate realities, the multiverse, is one of those motifs. The first place I encountered this idea was in a Droopy Dog cartoon – for the longest time I thought it was a Bugs Bunny cartoon – where the character is running running running and then skids right out of the film. You see the sprockets on the edge of the film frames and the white space behind it. The character then runs back into the cartoon and keeps running. I loved that there was a world, a seemingly blank world, outside the reality of the cartoon. Duck Amuck is another classic where the hand of the animator comes in and is messing with the actual cartoon. There are of this idea examples in MC Escher and Magritte. I was always drawn to that visual representation of looking behind what seems to be reality.

I thought about how I could do that in a book form. I had all these cool ideas about things that could happen visually, but I needed a story. I began thinking that I’d have the characters come out of the story. I began by trying to write that story, but that didn’t work, because no one – including myself – would know what that story was and who the characters were. It was very confusing. At some point when I was drawing in my sketchbook I drew a few well known characters, and I thought, what if I start with a story that as many people as possible would know. That way you can just forget about it because you already know the characters and what happens.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Jia Tolentino has written a very fine profile of G. Willow Wilson for The New Yorker.

Wilson’s introduction to comics came in the fifth grade, when she was given an anti-smoking pamphlet featuring the X-Men. Later in the school year, she asked to join a group of boys who were playing mutants on the playground during recess—the “X-Men” cartoon on Fox had become her favorite show. They didn’t want a girl in their group, but she told them she could play the glamorous mutant Storm, who, in the comics, is the daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American photojournalist, and can control the weather. “It speaks to the power of women done well in this kind of role,” she said. “Those boys didn’t care much for girls but they really cared for Storm.”

Two years later, Wilson’s family moved to Boulder, Colorado. She was a goth teen—“black eyeliner, corsets, magenta hair, the whole thing,” she said. “There was lots of going to concerts and sitting in the under-twenty-one balcony, lots of tabletop role-playing.” She continued to devour comics, tracking down issues of “Shade, the Changing Man” at a local shop called Time Warp. Wilson’s parents were secular liberals who had left Protestant churches during the sixties. To them, God was a “bigoted, vengeful white man,” she writes in “The Butterfly Mosque,” and atheism was “not just scientifically correct, it was morally imperative.” Wilson had other instincts. When she was a sophomore in college, she started suffering severe adrenal problems, which helped spark a search for God—an experience she recounts in the memoir using language that wouldn’t be out of place in a superhero’s origin story...

The RiYL podcast's most recent guest is R. Sikoryak, and the CBLDF podcast returns from a long hiatus with guest Katie Skelly.

—Commentary. The cartoonist Steve Bell has written The Guardian's obituary for Leo Baxendale.

The cartoonist Leo Baxendale, who has died aged 86, created many of the characters that form the backbone of the Beano comic. He introduced Little Plum – Your Redskin Chum in April 1953, followed by Minnie the Minx (a female version of Dennis the Menace) that September, and the Bash Street Kids, the strip that began life as When the Bell Rings, in October. Their success was spectacular and Leo began working for DC Thomson, the Dundee-based publishers of the Beano, full-time in November 1953. He and his young family lived for the next 10 years in Dundee, where he produced work of such detail, such comic intensity and such concentrated anarchy that it will surely live on for ever.

For the Times Literary Supplement, Nicola Streeten writes about comics and history.

Maus had even earlier forebears, as becomes clear from a new exhibition at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, Shoah et bande dessinée, in which we see that Spiegelman was not the first person to use cartoon animals to convey the inhumane treatment of Jews. The comics on display here, from 1940 onwards, often draw on animal motifs to depict the Jewish genocide. The result is a powerful, moving and sometimes difficult experience.

The curators have set out to showcase the representation of Jews in the Holocaust. While their aim is to demonstrate how the comics form can successfully depict serious subject matter, it is also to highlight how comics functioned to silence the Jewish voice for a thirty-year period, from 1945 to the late 1970s, through a lack of Jewish representation. The exhibition is, in effect, divided into before and after Maus. A large room following on from the display of Spiegelman’s own artwork pays homage to the influence he had on the development of comics, displaying a vast and diverse array of artworks. But the exhibition opens with direct visual testimonies from witnesses of the Shoah, underlining the strength of the comics form in providing a narrative for the Holocaust right from the beginning. The first item on display is a tiny illustrated booklet of fifteen watercolour-and-line drawings dated 1942, entitled: “Mickey AU CAMP DE GURS”. Produced by Horst Rosenthal, a Jewish prisoner at Gurs internment camp in southwest France, this booklet may not strictly be a comic, but it is certainly a version of the form, combining text and image. One page shows a drawing of Mickey Mouse, hands outstretched, with an expression of incomprehension, standing before a French camp officer. Rosenthal, narrating as Mickey Mouse, is able to relate the unfathomable stupidity of camp life through his depiction of everyday detail. (The guard asks Mickey for papers that do not exist.) Gurs was not a concentration camp, which perhaps explains how Rosenthal was able to access drawing materials, though the dimensions of the booklet suggest it was something he had to keep hidden. The booklet’s cover reads: “PUBLIÉ SANS AUTORISATION DE WALT DISNEY” – a joke thrown into sharp relief when we learn that Rosenthal was, in that same year, transferred to Auschwitz and killed on his arrival.

 

Late late late

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews Tracy Auch's Necrophilic Landscape.

Tracy Auch’s necrophilic landscape is a combat zone, the site of a schism between adults and children. The story’s kids, dissidents behind “the blight of child crime,” have started using vessels in the shape of adult bodies to infiltrate the adult world. Lucas Barrette, an ace detective, responds in kind; he opts to be divided at the waist before he enters a child stronghold. Barrette’s body is split into autonomous halves and placed atop pairs of prosthetic legs, so that he better resembles (twice over) the vessels of the child criminal element. Barrette’s head tops one of the new entities, and his genitals top the other. This process marks the end of the comic’s prologue; it’s a memorable start to a demanding, singular story.

Tracy Auch has created work under a few different names (e.g. her contribution, as “Hennessy,” to Austin English’s Tusen Hjärtan Stark #2), though The Necrophilic Landscape may be her most visible piece of cartooning, given the growing profile of its publisher, 2DCloud. Even so, a couple of years removed from the comic’s release, there’s not much writing on Landscape, which could be a function of Auch’s opting out of typical brand-building or of Landscape as a challenging work.

Elsewhere:

Longtime cartoonist and publisher Paul Lyons could use your help getting through a medical crisis. I just donated. Please consider doing the same.

The Guardian has an obit for Leo Baxendale and here is a sampling of work by the great cartoonist.

 

Of Sea and Jungle

Today on the site, Frank Santoro continues his series on Risograph printing in comics, interviewing the undersung John Pham.

Tell me about this legend I've heard: you created your own brushes for your process? You may be giving away trade secrets with this answer - however, I'm curious: Can you walk a layperson through your process of "Photoshop and the risograph talking to each other" or at least the process that Ben Jones refers to in this interview?

It's pretty simple and 100% super boring. I basically examined scans of a lot of my wet-media-type pen and ink drawings and tried to reproduce them faithfully as Photoshop brushes. I have sort of an insane comics process in that I can only take sips and fragments of work time whenever I can because of my ridiculous day job and personal life. I do a lot of the work digitally wherever I may be. So it's important to me to have Photoshop tools that still feel like I'm drawing using a rapidograph or hunt 102 dip pen on bristol board ... and now you're falling asleep.

As for how I get the color mixing and "airbrush" effects, it's all a combination of adjustment layers (which I learned from working in animation); a p-shop airbrush set to "dissolve" (which I learned from Dan Zettwoch who I think might've gotten it from Chris Ware) and converting all my solid colors to diffusion dithered bitmaps. It gets a little involved and would probably require its own sort of tutorial lesson, but that's essentially it. And of course these are just tools and techniques anyone can learn - what you do with it is something else entirely.

When I got my first GR it really was much more of a challenge getting my files and my Riso to talk to each other, and I think that's what Ben's referring to. This was about 6 years ago and I had to do a lot of experimenting and trial and error to figure it out. The solution ended up involving connecting my RIP (even getting the RIP was a challenge) with an older version of my Mac's OS (which had to be run through an emulator), with the appropriate postscript driver file. All really exciting stuff! But it worked, and that's the workflow I ended up using for the first issue of SCUZZI and Epoxy 4. Anyone out there still awake?


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

I've been enjoying Gloria Rivera's guest posts at Comics Workbook, including her most recent, a guide to the comics her parents read growing up in Mexico.

I’ve been meaning to write something about these comics since I found out about them a year ago. Before this I never knew my parents read comics in their youth. They both grew up in Mexico (b. 1964 and 1966) in small pueblos, and left their houses at 14 and 19 to work.

I was so curious as to what interested them enough as kids to capture their attention week after week. What captivated them had to actually interest the town as a whole in order to be read. They explained that children in the pueblos were poor and could only afford an issue here and there, and swapping comics with other kids was the only way they could finish the adventures. Even more removed – they paid to read to whichever child in the pueblo had the issue they needed to read next.

For Vice, Nick Gazin talks to Lawrence Hubbard about Real Deal.

VICE: What's it like to have this hardcover collection of your comics after all these decades?
Lawrence "Raw Dog" Hubbard: "What's it like?" It's a feeling of euphoria, of validation. Thinking of all of the hard work, hours of drawing and creating Real Deal and wondering, Does anybody give a shit about this?

All of the times me and H.P. McElwee took Real Deal directly to the people, the fans, they loved it! But at the same time when we went before the gatekeepers of the industry—publishers, distributors, shop owners—they said, "No! Why don't you come up with a new superhero?" The best way to look at this is to never give up! If you love something and have a passion for it, stick with it! And whatever happens will happen!

Ha ha ha ha.

 

Support People

Today on the site, Matthias Wivel joins us for a thorough critical discussion of last year's George Herriman biography, Krazy. This is our final piece on the book. Read other takes here and here

 

Michael Tisserand’s long-awaited, magisterial biography of Herriman, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, cogently points us in a compelling direction, however, by framing the art in terms of the artist’s ethnic identity. Since the discovery in 1971 of George Joseph Herriman’s 1880 birth certificate, on which he was categorized as ‘colored’, it has been well known, at least to comics cognoscenti, that the light-skinned Herriman spent his life passing as ‘white,’ kinky hair hidden under his ubiquitous Stetson. Tisserand is cognizant that his take is not new, but he digs much deeper than before attempted, taking us back to Herriman’s birthplace in the Tremé section of New Orleans in the last decades of the nineteenth century, as post-Reconstruction segregation laws were formally gutting the promise and practice of emancipation. His research here is rich in the way it conjures up a quintessentially American family history as it unfolded against the fraught and complex tapestry that was, and remains, American racial relations.

Elsewhere:

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo founding editor Karen Berger as she prepares to embark on a new line of comics.

John Porcellino is raising money to publish The Complete Strange Growths, 1991-1997, by Jenny Zervakis. A very very worthy cause for an excellent and little-seen comic.

And finally, Edward Gorey's collections, examined.

 

Smaller Size

Joe McCulloch is here this morning with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, pointing out the most interesting-sounding comics new to stores. Spotlight picks this week include two must-read titles: Sammy Harkham's Crickets #6 and Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons. Joe also talks a little about Frédéric Coché.

I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. AIGA profiles Eleanor Davis.

Sketchiness, though, is integral to the impact of the work. The loose hand echoes the movement of Davis on her bike: her outlines are like that of a cyclist passing you by—fast, evocative, and a quick impression of shape and energy. As Davis’ recent comics deal with themes of sadness and mental health—her lauded 2014 How To Be Happy is an abstract collection of short stories that explore depression’s many forms—there is also something freeing in the looseness of the sketches in You & A Bike & A Road. In the story, Davis addresses the fact that the journey is, in part, a way to keep depression at bay. “I was having trouble with wanting to not be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling,” she writes on one page. The form of her drawing, its lightness, seems to reject the weight of crippling sadness, just as the process of cycling does for Davis.

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo/new Dark Horse editor Karen Berger.

The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Josh Bayer, and the latest on Process Party is Keith Knight.

—Reviews & Commentary. Bob Temuka writes about the latest Love & Rockets.

The smaller format means there is a smaller chunk of story, and Love and Rockets Magazine #2 features bite-sized slices of both brothers' ongoing sagas, taking a few steps forward and underlying the slightness of the plotting with a couple of devastating emotional truths. So, same as it ever was, then.

Attempted Bloggery has posted a New York Times article first published twenty years ago, when Bob Mankoff first took over as the magazine's cartoons editor.

At the same time, the definition of a New Yorker cartoon has changed over the last decade. Its principle characteristic, what has been called a kind of "wink-slash-smirk" humor tailored to Manhattan sensibilities, has been transformed into something a little more generally accessible.

And, some critics say, while New Yorker cartoons of past decades can still elicit grins, many recent ones are so dependent on the moment that they may not last.

 

Interesting Nonetheless

Our friend Ken Parille has joined us again with a fascinating column that begins with lettering and winds its way into Roy Lichtenstein. 

When I started reading Marvel comic books in the 1970s, I was baffled by the lettering. While it didn’t appear to be typeset, the dialogue, narration, and sound effects looked too perfect to be done by hand. I was sure that the letterers must have had some help — maybe a weird mechanical device controlled their fingers as they worked. How else, I thought, could they form the thousands of words in a comic book’s balloons and caption boxes with such precision and consistency? Years later I learned — with some amazement, and a little disappointment — that no strange machines were involved. Letterers typically used a plastic “Ames Guide,” T-square, and pencil to create reference lines for words inked freehand. Like the artists who drew a comic’s pictures, letterers worked on pages much larger than the book’s printed size. When the original art was photographed and reduced during production, guide lines and other imperfections vanished, leaving behind only the letterer’s calligraphy.

I especially loved the lettering in Marvel’s early superhero comics. Often done by Artie Simek or Sam Rosen, it looked much stronger than other companies’ text, giving the characters’ already bombastic pronouncements an even greater sense of drama.

Yet I had the impression that, of all the people involved in comic-book production, letterers were considered the least important, not only by fans, but by the companies who hired them. In some of the story credits he wrote, Marvel’s Stan Lee would praise the art (and his own scripts) as “daring” or “vigorous” and then make a joke about the letterer, whose name always appeared last: “lettered with a soggy penpoint by S. Rosen.”

After reading many credits like this — and noticing that letterers regularly went unnamed in other companies’ comics — I got the message. In the comic-book production hierarchy, lettering took last place.

Kind of a slow comics news weekend as near as I can tell, so I'll just leave you with this Tom Spurgeon interview with cartoonist Joe Decie.

 

Who Knows?

Today on the site, Katie Skelly reviews the latest book from Anya Davidson, Lovers in the Garden.

Anya Davidson’s genre entry Lovers in the Garden packs a tight punch with a roster of characters seemingly straight out of the Roger Corman playbook and the wacky animating idea that maybe, just maybe, women can get on top in this kind of tale. Lovers follows a colorful cast with enough backstory to keep them interesting, and timely references to anchor them in an unspecified, but obviously groovy decade: two rudderless hitmen (one suffering PTSD from his time in the shit in ‘Nam), the ukiyo-e loving sleaze who hires them, an undercover cop hungry for an overdue promotion, and a bottle-hitting journalist saddled with her lovelorn hippie boyfriend. Their worlds collide around a sting set up by a double-crossing secretary that ends in a stand-off and shootout worthy of a b-roll flick.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have released a statement regarding the supposedly controversial content of This One Summer, which was recently named the number one most-challenged book of 2016 by the American Library Association.

This book was not created for elementary readers, but for young readers. The publisher lists it for ages 12 to 18. There has been some controversy as to its inclusion on the Caldecott Honor list, so maybe it bears repeating that the ALA defines children as up to and including age 14. We agree the book is not for young children, nor was it intended for that audience.

We worry about what it means to define certain content, such as LGBTQ content, as being of inappropriate for young readers. Which implicitly defines readers who do relate to this content, who share these experiences, as not normal, when really they are part of the diversity of young people’s lives.

—Not exactly comics, but possibly noteworthy all the same, the Spanish fashion chain Zara has withdrawn a denim miniskirt from its stores after a bunch of people complained that the skirt featured an image that resembled Matt Furie's Pepe the Frog.

There is a lot of “how did this happen?” and “how deluded could they be?” going around the cybersphere, but the answer may come down to a blunt collision of globalism and cultural ignorance.

[...]

Mr. de Santiago is a Spanish artist based in London whose biography on his official web page states, “I like to explore social interactions and gather them into quirky and colourful storytelling compositions.” According to Zara, he said the frog face “came from a wall painting I drew with friends four years ago.” It is not hard to imagine he was unaware a similar frog face had been used for a somewhat different purpose in the United States.

The boilerplate comment to make about this situation from the comics booster position would be to say this only demonstrates the Power of Comics. But it seems like a more complicated situation than that, one that has very little to do with Furie's original comics at this point. If I were Furie, I'd be tempted to follow R. Crumb's footsteps when his signature character Fritz the Cat attracted the wrong kind of attention, and kill off Pepe with an icepick.

 

Yes, Of Course!

Today on the site, Annie Mok chats with Gabrielle Bell on the occasion of the release of her new book, Everything Is Flammable.

MOK: Self-talk and metacognition play a big role in your comics. In one part [of Everything Is Flammable] you’re like, “One night I got the shame attacks. ‘I’m such a jerk. Stop calling yourself a jerk, you jerk!’” How does this kind of self-talk find its way into your comics?

BELL: It’s just a learned behavior. In that particular story, it was me and my mother trying to deal with things that is really a kind of man’s world, dealing with negotiations and business and planning to build this home. Both of us have relied on men in the past and it’s kind of gotten both of us in trouble. It’s put us in this sort of helpless situation. So we were out of our element. And I think, being women too, there’s a husband or the father in our heads saying we’re doing it all wrong. In the story, my way of coping was to sort of flirt with the guy, and manipulate him in my way, while he’s sort of manipulating me. I am trying to play up this vulnerable female role with him and my mother, putting on this image of “We’re just helpless females, we don’t have any money.” “We don’t have these skills of being assertive and manly [laughs] and the art of the deal. So we work with what we have.” The shame attacks at the end just came from feeling ashamed of myself for being manipulative and also just relying on other people, like my friend Sadie, to stay at their houses. I mean, this is all normal stuff. People rely on each other and help each other out. But in this story we were both being forced to get out of our comfort zones.

MOK: There’s a lot in the story about men, and you talk about how in films mothers are portrayed in a negative light. You say, “Mine exists outside of that continuum.” You talk about navigating those kind of liminal spaces.

BELL: I’m very sensitive to mother-blaming. I think the most liberal among us… And father-blaming to. I did that too when I was younger, thinking “I didn’t get what I deserved” and stuff, and now… I’m very sensitive to people complaining about their moms not doing enough for them. Because of the difficulties that any mother has, we should be grateful that they were there at all. I mean, I know some people who had really abusive mothers, that’s sort of different.

Elsewhere:

Hazel Cills has a particularly well-sourced and researched piece on the gender dynamics of the New Yorker cartoon world, and the comics world in general. 

And at the LA Review of Books, Brian Selznick talks about his career and latest project.