Road Rage

Oh boy, holiday travel did a number on me. Luckily, Dan Nadel has returned to the site with a review of a new book about one of the most mysterious cartoonists of the last century, Herbert Crowley (who was featured prominently in Dan's own Art Out of Time).

Looking back on my own interest in the strip, now I realize that "The Wiggglemuch" strips were partly compelling because Crowley suggested an affinity with a larger and also esoteric visual and literary culture, which was unusual in comics at the time. The spiritual allusions, stiffness, and symbol-driven character design also suggested another way to think about comics entirely: less drawing-based and more like moving sculptures. I wondered then, as many others did, just how he intersected with comics. As it turns out, Crowley really was just stopping over. His life and work is now the subject of a large and generously illustrated book, Herbert Crowley: The Temple of Silence by Justin Duerr. It is the kind of scholarly and research-driven deep dive that I wish for about... well, most everything. Duerr gathers every conceivable strand of Crowley's unusual and extremely complicated life and work and weaves them together into a coherent and quite moving whole.

Duerr begins the book with a lengthy illustrated biography of Crowley, and then turns it over to absolutely stunning reproductions of Crowley's work, including the complete "Wigglemuch" run, plus two-unpublished installments, and numerous drawings and paintings. The artwork, aside from the comic strips, is wonderful, but not entirely unique to him. The imagery -- gargoyle-like forms, temples, and other mystical symbols -- is in keeping with slightly older contemporaneous Symbolists, like Odilon Redon and Felicien Rops, and the proto-Surrealist literature bring published at the time in Paris. It is certainly connected to last year's incredible exhibition at The Guggenheim in New York: Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The two winners of the sixth annual Slate/CCS Cartoonist Studio Prize have been announced. This year, Keren Katz won for print, and Michael DeForge won for the web.

—And the latest guest on RiYL is Julia Wertz.


His Stutter Step

Today at the Journal, it's Friday: Good Friday, if you care. I'm using the opportunity to get out of work early to visit my local cinema and catch the new Spielberg picture. Not because I'm itching to see that lousy actor who somehow managed to fuck up Cyclops, the second best X-Man, but because I want there to be more movies featuring the Battle Toads. After that? I'll probably re-read today's Journal installments, because they're just that good.

First up, we've got Ardo Omer talking to gg, whose 2017 graphic novel I'm Not Here has been continually accumulating praise since its release. (We reviewed it in January). I was struck by this portion of gg's response to Omer's question about the theme of freedom in her work.

Everyone pushes up against all kinds of walls every day and it's natural to wonder how to go beyond that. I'm don't think we can ever know what's beyond the outermost walls (ie. totally free) but the struggle to get closer is fascinating to me. Isolation, escape, and abandonment (being abandoned and abandoning) can be strategies to deal with this unknowable thing, but as you can probably see in my stories, they're never really effective and often become traps themselves. I think of my work as a way to meditate on my general feelings, whatever they may be at any given time but I guess I think about these particular things a lot and that's why they come up so much.

On the review front, Tegan O'Neil read all 300 plus pages of First Second's latest by Pénélope Bagieu to find out if you had to. (She makes a case that you do.) It's called Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World.

The most remarkable aspect of Brazen is Bagieu herself. She tips her hand early in the book with a profile of cartoonist Tove Jansson, creator of the deathless Moomins. Bagieu draws the Moomins really well, as well as every other Jansson creation she packs into those pages. Jansson is perhaps just one influence but it’s interesting to see just how unerringly her style reflects Jansson’s very particular and peculiar line. Bagieu’s thin and expressive lines communicate a great deal. She has an eye for caricature without which this book would be a futile endeavor.

And for your final piece of TCJ content, here's an excerpt from the long awaited debut of controversial cartoonist Dilraj Mann, Dalston Monsterzz. The graphic novel was released earlier this month, and we'll have a review of it up next week. 

ELSEWHERE, Buzzfeed published an extensive, revolting piece on John Kricfaulsi's past relationships with two teenage girls. It's a disgusting, criminal situation described in excruciating detail. Buzzfeed has done excellent work exposing and thoroughly documenting the behavior of sexual predators in the past, but what remains even more impressive is the courage shown by the women who are telling their stories, at a time (and via a type of media) that continues to lash out at them for doing so. Although I personally found out about this story via an email from my co-editor, who has by now figured out how bad I am at the linkblog part of TCJ, I was later struck by the comments I saw in response to a successful female cartoonist who had merely linked to the piece on twitter, like countless others had. Over and over, the responses attacked her for daring to even mention the article, and by the time I'd scrolled 15 lines down, the hateful and crude attacks on her began in earnest. Is it a surprise? No, of course not. But it was to me a reminder of how much is owed to people like Robin Byrd and Katie Rice, who are willing to tell their stories in this climate, for a website du jour, knowing full well the sort of targeted harassment that will follow. 


Green Spirit

Today on the site, RJ Casey interviews a new cartoonist who goes only by the initials D.R.T., and who unexpectedly blew RJ away with work he sent through the mail.

RJ CASEY: Your book has no name on the front, no synopsis on the back, but the work inside this book was so singular that, after I finished, I immediately jumped on my computer to attempt to do some research into you. But there’s nothing online but a bare-bones shop selling the book and that’s basically it. Was it your intent for this book to have an air of mystery around it?

D.R.T.: Thank you! Yes, I am naturally wary of the internet and don’t post anything that I can’t easily take down. I prefer to use the Jaws approach, where you just see a glint of teeth and maybe a rough outline of a head and your imagination fills in the rest. I don’t know if that approach is sustainable in 2018 though… It’s a push and pull between getting my art out there and still keeping my privacy at a level I am comfortable with.

Your book says on the back, “Created by D.R.T.” Is that what you go by?

I go by Daniel. I started signing my initials on my “fine art” about seven years ago.

The book I received contained a letter inside written by “LH.” Who is that?

That is my wife, Lori, who lived through most of that with me.

By that, you’re referring to what the letter speaks of. Can we discuss it?

Yes, I don’t want you to feel like there’s anything off limits.

You had a major health issue. Can you break down for me what happened?

I had a hemorrhagic stroke when I was 27 due to an AVM [Arteriovenous malformation].

What is an AVM?

An AVM is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels that bypass the normal flow of blood to the capillaries. There can be a lot of stress on these blood vessels and sometimes they rupture. AVMs are rare and not all of them rupture. I lost a significant part of my left brain. So much so that the right side of my body was paralyzed, and I couldn’t do any of the most basic things like swallow or think with language. I had to start over. With incredible help from my family, my girlfriend (now wife), and therapists, I relearned how to walk, speak, read, write, do math, etc. I still have no functional use of my right arm or hand, so I have to do all of my drawings with my non-dominant left hand and a container of pennies to hold the paper in place.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

The Los Angeles Review of Books has published several interesting pieces lately, including Ashley Rattner on Noah Van Sciver and Paul Buhle's Johnny Appleseed:

MOST AMERICAN FOLKTALES are characterized by violence. The American myth glories in the inevitability of westward expansion, venerating war heroes or men who wrangled the land into submission, subjugated the frontier piece by piece until it no longer existed. To be manly is to be strong, and strength is too commonly demonstrated by the physical domination of weaker parties. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett grew famous through hunting, trapping, and their conquests in the Indian Wars. John Henry and Paul Bunyan exerted mastery over nature by laying railroad track and clearing the forests, subduing the wilderness by fundamentally altering it. The traditional American folk hero adheres to an aggressively masculine stereotype, rooted in destructive traits like violence, coercion, domination, and mastery. In Johnny Appleseed, Paul Buhle and Noah Van Sciver present the life of a man who dramatically defies this characterization. Buhle and Van Sciver’s graphic biography is nothing if not timely: published in 2017, it appears at a moment when some Americans are rekindling and others rejecting the violent and oppressive narratives that have long underwritten the nation’s peculiar brand of patriotism.

And a Sarah Chihaya interview with Adrian Tomine.

I’m interested in the way time passes in these more recent stories, especially in pieces like “Hortisculpture” or “Killing and Dying,” where the gutter between two frames sometimes communicates the passage of months or years. Your work is so often described as realism, but there is something speculative about that disjointed nature of time in Killing and Dying that reminds me of the simultaneous unpredictability and coherence of time in a book like Richard McGuire’s Here. Do you think you’re consciously thinking about temporality differently in your more recent work?

Yeah, I appreciate that — no one’s picked up on that, at least not consciously. To me, that’s one of the huge differences between this and prior books. The old work was, I think, fairly accurately described as “slice of life” — you’re literally peeking in on these characters for a short duration of time, and you just see what happens in that unbroken span of time. The real change for me was having kids. I think that completely affected me on many levels as an artist, but I think you’re picking up on something that was maybe half conscious, but is suddenly becoming apparent: parenthood really affected not only my sense of time as a human in real life, but also my storytelling. And I think that change is evident in the stories. There’s also an anxiety or sadness about that change that infuses a lot of the stories, too.


Fit The Print

Today at the Journal, we've got the first piece of evidence that Matt Seneca meant it when he said he was going to review everything he read this year--here it is, his new column, titled Search & Destroy. There's a lot of meat in this column, but the part I liked best was when I read how he refers to the Holy Trio of Violence as "my three favorite rough boys":

When I go to a comic store that only has superhero stuff on sale (most of the time these days), I usually look first at the selection of Wolverine, Batman, and Punisher comics. These have historically maintained a higher standard than most other hero books, I believe because of the smaller amount of imagination necessary to do a serviceable job on them. If you’re doing the Silver Surfer or some shit, you’ve really gotta cast a wide net and pull in something pretty different with it to make a mark. But with my favorite three rough boys, all you have to do is concoct a situation that forces the main character into committing acts of violence. From there, they pretty much write themselves, differing only in milieu and the level of sanction their heroes find it acceptable to administer: Batman usually stops at unconsciousness, Wolverine at grievous bodily harm, and for the Punisher only death will suffice. Like the novels of Jim Thompson, these comics deliver on a hyper-masculine, voyeuristic formula, elevated by the exoticism of their settings and the particularities of their protagonists’ pathologies. And as with Thompson, if you come in with the right expectations it’s hard to go wrong.

And that's not all we've got: Over in the Reviews category, Leonard Pierce has returned to us with a look at Image's latest bestseller, Bingo Love. 

It’s a very sweet story, and it’s told with a certain degree of charm and flair.  And unquestionably, it’s the kind of story we need to see, especially in comics, where there’s a dearth of anything but lunkheaded superhero variants from companies like Image, let alone stories that center older queer women of color.  It was produced outside of traditional venues of publishing, and it showcases creators who don’t normally get this degree of attention.  The book’s good intentions are obvious.  So…what’s the problem?

ELSEWHERE? The biggest news in comics criticism looks to be two recent hires at the New York Times--Hillary Chute & Ed Park, who have been brought on as regular columnists focused on the graphic novel category. For more information about the hire, Calvin Reid has you covered on that, and the possible connections to a recent agent-led campaign to return a Graphic Novel Bestseller list to the newspaper.

An INTERVIEW I rather liked, in no small part because it is about a book I publish by my favorite cartoonist went up yesterday, you should read it, absolutely. Am I biased? Yes. Of course I am. It's with Michel Fiffe and Kyle Welch, and it's over at Multiversity.

This PROFILE on William Messner-Loebs started making the rounds yesterday, and while I share the writer's emotional connection to those old Wally West issues--not just the Pied Piper ones, but also the ones where Wally was sleeping with a married woman when he wasn't binge-eating hamburgers--said connection is not required to be disgusted at the never-ending cycle of cruelty that is financial difficulty.


Ho Ho Ho! I’m the Protagonist

Bud Grace's thirty-year comic strip Piranha Club ended this year, and R.C. Harvey is here to tell its history.

How it lasted that long is a puzzler. Like all good comic strips, it was character-driven. The characters determined the action. But the characters in Grace’s strip are scoundrels and frauds. They represent the entire lexicon for “venal”: they are not only capable but eager to betray honor, duty, or scruples for a price. And yet, we loved them. We loved them enough to keep the strip going for three decades. And that says as much about us as it does about Grace. And his characters.

The strip is unlike any other American comic strip, but it is the very epitome of what our culture is. And that is undoubtedly why we kept reading it for thirty years: we saw ourselves—our worst selves—in it. And we laughed about it.

The strip began on February 1, 1988 as Ernie. It changed its name to Piranha Club on September 6, 1998. Said Grace: “We tried a promotion, and we thought that by changing the name we might pick up some papers. That didn't work, so then I thought I’d change my name to Bill Watterson. Piranha Club is still called Ernie in the rest of the world.

Ernie is the most widely syndicated comic feature in Scandinavia,” Grace continued. “My paternal grandmother was Swedish. Maybe that's the reason it's so popular over there. I also had an Ernie comic book in Scandinavia in which I did special stories every month. I did a Sunday Ernie, too, and unlike my daily strip, it's not nearly as offensive.”

To save a few strokes at the keyboard, Ernie is what I’ll call the strip herein. Ernie ended on Saturday, February 3, 2018. Thirty years almost to the day. And throughout its run, Ernie was a flamboyantly outrageous enterprise, an unabashed assault on ordinary, everyday decorum and civilized sensibilities.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The New York Times has a short profile of French cartoonist Yvan Alagbé.

Alagbé consistently gets the same question about his work: “Why do you always draw black people?” His interrogative reply is twofold: “Have you ever once asked a white person why he only draws white people?” and “Is it not possible for me to draw a black person who is representative of humanity in general?”

With his twisted goatee and shaved head, Mr. Alagbé cut a shamanistic figure as he calmly surveyed the teeming hordes at the annual Children’s Books Fair in Montreuil, a suburb just east of Paris. As a co-founder of the comic book publisher Fremok he has been attending the event, where we met at the end of November, every year for the last 17 years.

Though not a children’s book, Mr. Alagbé’s “Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures” is popular among the world of French comics. It was published in 2012 in France, and has now been translated into English and is being released by New York Review Comics on April 3. The 47-year-old author began “Yellow Negroes” more than 20 years ago and has been adding narrative layers to it on and off ever since. It has been compared to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” by the art historian and comic book critic Matthias Wivel.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Jerry Moriarty, and the most recent guest on Comics Alternative is John Porcellino.

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Mautner writes about the horror manga of Junji Ito.

There’s a scene in Uzumaki, Junji Ito’s much-lauded horror series, that I think best exemplifies his particular style. The overarching story involves a secluded village in Japan whose residents become obsessed with spirals and usually meet grotesque and destructive ends as a result. In the third chapter, a scar on a teen girl’s forehead turns into a spiral black hole of sorts, eventually consuming her entire body. A horrific reveal shows the spiral hole extending back into her head, her right eye sitting gruesomely on the edge of her face. Then, in a series of smaller panels, the eye starts to roll back towards the vanishing point in the back of her skull.

It is, obviously, pretty horrific. It’s also very, very funny: a rimshot as we literally stare into the abyss, acknowledging the absurdity of the image while underscoring the gore.


Blind To Passes

Today at the Journal, we'll hear from Tessa Strain, the heir apparent to the Chesapeake County Cheesecake Forum (yup), with her review of Prism Stalker, the latest comic from Sloane Leong and Image Comics. It's a doozy of a piece, befitting a comic that brings no small share of the dooze. Here's a taste of the hurdles Tessa needed the comic to clear, and a hint at whether Leong accomplished said clearing: 

The word “worldbuilding” makes my gums bleed, conjuring either a text bogged down with endless exposition (because god forbid your readers not be aware of every detail of your research and design process) or deliberately opaque (smugly suggesting a world so impossibly dense with detail that you can hardly expect to be exposed to more than a delicate truffle-like shaving of it), but the world of Prism Stalker manages to be complex and richly developed without being wankily self-serving, a feat more impressive given that Leong has said that the idea for the series has been gestating for years. Her story and characters have emerged fully realized and sure-footed, without the extra baggage that often comes with extended percolation.

And that's not all. To get your Monday launched properly, we've got another look at one of the comics in the Kilgore Books Seasonal Kickstarter--Tinderella, by M.S. Harkness. In this installment, a young person procrastinates on getting an eye infection checked out, despite the fact that conjunctivitis is highly contagious. They even go to a public pool. Selfish!

If I was Joe Casey, I would be sending invoices to Tom King every couple of days. (Or Joe could just forward the ones he gets from Grant Morrison Alan Moore.) 


Factory Farm

Austin English is back with a doozy of a new column this month, looking at the appropriation argument, Roy Lichtenstein, Mike Sekowsky, Sherrie Levine, Philip Guston, Fox News, George Herriman, and much, much more. Even if you're very tired of the endless high art/low art debate, this should not be skipped.

Within the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, we come across Sherrie Levine's 1989 art work Untitled (Mr. Austridge: 2). It is not currently on view, but was up in the galleries from June 30, 2010 through September 12, 2011. It is an exact replica, save the grain of the wood support, of a drawing by George Herriman from his comic strip Krazy Kat.

About her work, Levine commented: "Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. We know that a picture is but a space in which a variety of images, none of them original, blend and clash. A picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture."

Except, in this case, it's one quotation from one specific area of culture. Levine might protest that her larger project shows this specific work as one fabric within the tissue, but for readers of Herriman, there'd be (at the very least) a compelling argument for the former. Now, that alone doesn't invalidate Levine's project in any way. I happen to find her work important and complex. The overarching unity of much of her work, the appropriation of 'idolized' male artists to question ideas about 'artistic genius,' is razor sharp art-as-critique and particularly prescient today.

Levine, if this was her intention, is correct to lump Herriman into the 'idolized' camp. He was beloved by peers and critics of his day, and continues to be in 2018. And yet, as a subject for appropriation, an important question arises: does Herriman have the same visual currency as a Walker Evans photograph?

Tegan O'Neill is here, too, with a review of Shaky Kane and Starking & Shainline's The Beef.

The Beef goes into very graphic detail about how cows are killed in slaughterhouses. You see the machine that puts the bolt in the cow’s brain. You see the animals being dismembered. Fun stuff.

That warning goes up front because the folks who made The Beef are making a point here. It’s not a particularly subtle point but this kind of messaging rarely is. Slaughterhouses are foul and filthy places under the “best” of circumstances. The premise underlining this book is not just that slaughterhouses are bad, but that the act of killing animals for food – and in such an especially savage way, for both the animal and the man – is inescapably morally corrosive, and that corrosion in turn trickles its way back up the food chain when the meat is processed for human consumption.

Frankly, The Beef is an unpleasant comic. I wouldn’t describe it as a bad comic, however. On the contrary, it definitely knows what it is about and sets about its business with a rather impressive single-mindedness. One issue is really too early to tell which direction the story may be heading, but it’s certainly not heading in a pleasant direction. Anyone thinking about picking this comic up, even given the creative team, should brace themselves for a book that has been purposefully designed to crawl under the skin of anyone who reads it.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Paul Gravett profiles the comics journalist Olivier Kugler.

The proactive, attentive, sensitive approach of Olivier Kugler to graphic reportage takes him into firsthand, face-to-face exchanges with his subjects – confronting and communicating their experiences and realities in print and online press: from features in The Guardian and Harper’s magazine to full-length book projects. While Kugler’s documentary comics are related to the wave of cartoon journalism sparked by Joe Sacco’s genre-redefining comicbook, later graphic novel, Palestine (1993 and 95, respectively), they typically avoid autobiography and self-depiction. Kugler’s focus is on the individual, their appearance, locale and story. Aside from some scene-setting and arrowed captions, all the words are their words, quotes distilled from his extensive audio recordings of their conversations. Self-effacing, Kugler prioritises giving his routinely ignored or overlooked interviewees their voice.

—The most recent guest on the Mindkiller podcast is Jessica Campbell.


The Issue of Value

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got a triplet, a power trio, a triumvirate. Things: there's three of them. The first is an interview--let's call it "The Interview"--with cartoonist Joe Infurnari. Full disclosure: I fucking love this guy.

There was a friend of mine when I was at Deep Six studios, this guy Nathan Schreiber. We were listening to Notorious B.I.G. and there's a line where he talks about eating canned sardines in one of his songs. Nathan made the joke to me, "I didn't know that Biggie was a cartoonist!" because I was living on canned sardines for a while. So this is our way of coping with the reality of eating sardines, and that's how we bridged the hope that one day we would be a Biggie of sorts. So in that environment of deprivation, it certainly is nice to not feel like you're penny-pinched and nickel-and-dimed up above you. And that's not a slight to any other publisher, because it's definitely the reality of a lot of publishers who aren't multi-million-dollar corporations. But in this case, thankfully, Skybound has the resources that it can afford to pay a healthy page rate. And they can have you work six issues in advance. So it kind of protects you a little bit from the knocks of the market. And everybody I've dealt with there has been really cool. It's kind of relaxed, not to say that other places are not. It's just been a good experience, personally.

 Then, we've got your review of a Neil Gaiman property--no, not that one. The other one. No, the Dark Horse one! It's called Only The End Of The World Again, and the review (which has chapters?) is by Keith Silva. Here's a taste.

The fact that such a benign piece of ephemera exists—and is on its third go round no less—says more about the power of Gaiman’s brand than perhaps anything else. To go further and devolve like an upstanding Innsmouth-ian into downright nihilism, readers are being asked to, once again, buy something they already love that’s been cobbled together from other stuff they also love too. Reprints gonna reprint!

So where does that leave the consumer reader? New work from Hollingsworth that’s easier got for far less filthy lucre in a recently published pamphlet? Yes and no. Only the End of the World Again represents a study in what it means to be a comics pro. Like some Ghost of Christmas Present, Gaiman et al. swish aside their Dickensian robe to reveal the sins of competency and consistency. Everyone wants to pose as punk and ragged—especially in the august ones and zeroes of ‘TCJ.’ Gaiman wanted the same thing when he was poolside in his black motorcycle jacket in the Florida heat. True Story. Whiter the professional, the ace, the old hand? When did professionalism turn uncool?

Finally, in the world of free comics, the Kilgore squad has set y'all up with a preview of Monkey Chef, by Mike Freiheit. It's an autobio comic set in another country, sure, but it's also about monkeys. So it'll win awards and sell based off the strength of the cover? I think that was how Marvel Apes was explained to me back in the day.


CHANGES: The guys who run Meltdown Comics are shutting down the physical edition of Meltdown Comics to run a "new business" that they've been working on for "four to five years". Here's a video that explains nothing. 

HISTORY: Matt Seneca mentioned this on Twitter, and it took me back--has there ever been a better panel than the one where Marko Djurdjevic pulled back the curtain so hard on what it's like to work at Marvel Comics? I would argue that there has not been one. I hope Hannah's professionalism crusade mentioned here doesn't mean more people will act like Johnathan Hickman did that day, because Jesus Christ, the man sounds like Human Nyquil. Let's leave the jokes to the professionals, spreadsheet guy.