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Today:

Irene Velntzas reviews Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless. 

Tamaki applies her narrative voice and style to both human and natural subjects, resulting in a formlessness, or perhaps an erasure, between human and natural subjects. Lines such as “I get stronger with every passing day” are difficult to attribute to the water depicted in the scene or the person swimming within it. Similarly, affirmations such as “And I’m going to be respected” create a curious relation to either the worker shown carving a tree or the tree itself. This fluid relationship between Tamaki’s words and images provoke a captivating plurality, one that tumbles down one vertical double-page spread to another. At times, the human is relegated to the periphery of the page, clinging to subjectivity in the face of sprawling nature across the two-page spread; at other times, the reverse is true, with the human form clinging to its subjectivity while it views the world from a liminal position in Tamaki’s text. With each page, humanity and nature vie for a balanced co-existence.

Elsewhere:

Douglas Wolk writes about Captain America and politics.

Vice has a good and frank article about the financial life of a young cartoonist.

 

Get Up

Today on the site, J. Caleb Mozzocco interviews Mark Fertig, the editor of Take That, Adolf!, a recent book on the anti-Nazi comics of World War II.

The value in these comics lies in the truth they tell about the America of the war years, a truth that is sometimes overshadowed in our pop culture reverence for the American fighting man and the “greatest generation.” The racism found in the comics, movies and radio programs of the period is as ugly as it is ever-present, so it couldn’t be ignored.

I guess it would have been possible to make a book about these covers and stories while minimizing the topic in the text and being extra careful about which images to include and which ones to leave out, but I would have felt like a fraud if I’d done so. And while the book is undoubtedly a celebration of the comic book’s contribution to the war effort, my goal was also to tell the whole story, warts and all.

I doubt anyone would have noticed if I’d omitted something as obscure as Dell’s The Funnies #64, but it was on newsstands in 1942 and so I needed it in the book. And if I’d not mentioned Fawcett’s Steamboat, then I couldn’t tell about the schoolkids who were horrified by the way the he was depicted and actually managed to do something about it. That’s a story worth knowing, particularly because we seem to have made so little progress on race in the seven decades since the war ended.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Eleanor Davis was one of eight people arrested yesterday at a Georgia Board of Regents meeting. They were protesting policies that restrict access for undocumented immigrants.

Board members left the meeting when the protest began. When they returned, the demonstrators continued their protests. Several demonstrators repeated the phrase “To come for one of us is to come for all of us,” before their removal.

The demonstrators were taken to the Fulton County Jail.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Process Party is Tom Spurgeon, and the most recent guest on Virtual Memories is R.O. Blechman.

 

Leadership Level

Well folks, it’s another day, another nerve-racking story. It’s endless. Anyhow, there are still comics. First, Joe McCulloch will tell you about the week in comics, with a side of Corben. 

Elsewhere:

Tom Spurgeon gives us a brief report on TCAF this past weekend.

Here’s a nice local story about Paul Karasik’s commencement speech for this year’s graduating class from the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Not comics: The New Yorker profiles printer and publisher Gerhard Steidl. This is a good read about book-making and niche-publishing that should be of interest in today’s publishing climate.

 

 

Don’t Open the Door!

Today on the site, Rachel Davies reviews Sarah Ferrick’s Yours.

Years ago, my primary hobby of choice was looking through old photos. Photos of a group of people mid-laugh at a restaurant’s outdoor patio, clutching Coca Cola branded paper cups that I admired for their antiquated design. Photos of men in a makeshift home–were they soldiers? Miners? I wasn’t quite sure. Women dressed in outdated styles posed with their homemade holiday tinsel. It was irrelevant whether I knew a subject of the photos, or even knew someone who knew someone–it was mostly an exercise taken up because I was bored with the outcome of my own social life. The inherent glossiness in a movie’s presentation of social life bored me–I wanted to observe the glee found in the opposite outcome without it being orchestrated, and that’s what the photos showed me. What was most exciting about these photos was when a photo was graced–months, years, decades ago–with a tiny inscription on the back, some textual clue of how the person behind the camera felt about its subject. The words left behind placed me in the original viewer’s feelings, making the experience all the more emotional.

Reading Sarah Ferrick’s Yours, I’m reminded of the warming sensation of flipping through old photos at this point in my life. While her drawings aren’t inherently social and don’t give me a glimpse into a communal experience, her spare, crushingly meaningful choice of text is similar to the words left behind on the back of a photograph. Her pages are distinctive for their lack of characters; when a figure appears, it’s actually a jolt–breaking with the text-only mode means stumbling to making sense of a character’s appearance. In place of figures, Ferrick morphs her letters to the point where they become more interesting than any standard character. She elevates and surrounds them, giving words far more meaning than available in a dictionary, saturating them with more personality than a simple italic possibly could.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. This year’s Doug Wright Awards were announced this Saturday.

The Librairie Astro comic store in Montreal is raising money via GoFundMe.

Our yearly city tax bill has swollen to an enormous size, leaving us with a $25,000 shortfall. And that’s why we’re coming to you, hat in hand.

We’re just a small independent book/comic shop, not some huge outfit like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. We don’t have more money than God, like they seem to.

—Reviews & Commentary. Hyperallergic reviews the 2dcloud horror anthology, Mirror Mirror II.

In this volume, editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer curate a murderer’s row of alt-comic talent. Anthologies tend to wobble in quality from one story to the next, but the work here bottoms out at vivid and frequently reaches greatness. Empowered to grasp as deeply as they please into the darkest possibilities of their imaginations, these artists merge [Gretchen Alice] Felker-Martin’s ideas of great horror and great porn into a chimera of hideousness so lovingly detailed that it becomes beautiful.


—Interviews & Profiles.
At LARB, Alex Dueben talks to Gabrielle Bell.

When did you say this is a book, and not just a few comics?

I actually can’t quite remember. I mean this is my first full-length book. I’ve tried to do full-length books before and I end up burning out. Like I said, I could spend 10 years on a page so I didn’t really want to turn this into a book, because I didn’t want to fail at that. [Laughs.] I think it was just going to be a small collection of stories, and then when I gathered enough stories, I thought, this could be a book. I’m so cautious now because I failed a lot. [Laughs.] I don’t have that hubris you have when you’re young and think that you can do anything. When I was young I was like, I can write a graphic novel easily! I managed to do some good short stories. Not knowing how to do something sometimes gets you through it. But so does knowing that you don’t know how to do something. I’m aware now of how much I don’t know.

And here’s today not-exactly-comics link, though both interviewer and interviewee are occasionally involved in comics, and several comics creators are mentioned within the interview itself: the great Junot Diáz interviews the even greater Samuel R. Delany.

JD: People have called you a sex radical. What do you suppose they mean? What does it mean to you? Does it come with any political commitments?

SD: Intellectual radicals, rather than actual radicals, are people who say things where they are not usually said. And, yes, all true radicalism has to begin in the body—so being a sex radical means you have to be ready to act radically and be willing to speak about it in places you ordinarily wouldn’t—such as an interview about an activity you might otherwise confine to a journal. That’s how I started—and the world got started around me, as it were, when my mother found my secret writings, took them to my therapist, and they ended up in an article: Kenneth Clarke, who was the head of the Northside Center where I was going for child therapy, quoted them in an article in Harper’s and again in his book, Prejudice and Your Child (1955), and I found myself published because of it. My first professional sale, as it were. I got a lot of attention for it, too. It is the source of most of my “radicalism.”

 

Another Toilet Cover

Today on the site, Kim Jooha talks to TCAF director Chris Butcher ahead of this weekend’s festival.

Before 2010, it was only you working on TCAF?

Yeah, no, we had a lot of people that stepped up for specific roles. We’re very fortunate.

So you came to The Beguiling in 2002?

I was a customer at the store for a few years before that and I just became friends with Peter. I didn’t work at The Beguiling at the beginning, and one of the employees got a job. I was there a lot, setting up TCAF stuff —

When you started working with TCAF, you didn’t work at The Beguiling?

I was just like, “I’m just a guy who’s got this crazy idea, and I just need a computer to work on it with you.” Peter’s like, “Fine,” so I stole one of the computers upstairs to work on. I got to know all the staff, because I was in there all the time, and they asked me to like, “Can you cover the register?” “Can you cover a day?” “I got another job, can you work five days a week?” I was like, “Great.” I didn’t like the job I had at the time and I wasn’t great at it, so it worked out. I started working at The Beguiling in June or something like that, of 2003, but for the first seven or eight months I was just working on TCAF.

Was TCAF the first comic show that didn’t ask public to pay?

We did ask people to pay in the first year. It was five dollars, or pay what you can, because everything in Toronto for the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s was five dollars/pay-what-you-can. And we made probably a thousand dollars or something like that at the door. Almost nothing. Because it was dumb. A lot of people were like, “Oh, I’m going to check this out, I’m not going to pay.” Or like, “I would have given you a hundred dollars.” Well, spend that money with the creators.

We decided in 2005, because it was going to be tents and it was going to be outside, to make it free and to attract as many people as we can. Treat it like everything else that happened behind Honest Ed’s.

And that became the philosophy for the festival. It was determined by where we chose the venue one year, and we just went from there. And we went from 600 people in the first year to 6000. We were taking photographs of the area and counting people. As soon as there’s no barriers to entry, people who were on the fence will be like “Oh, I’ll go check it out then.”

Elsewhere:

My pro tip for TCAF: First thing you do, buy Gary Panter’s Songy in Paradise. It’s an accessible, profound meditation on resilience and human vulnerability. The Doug Wright Awards is having a fundraising auction with art referencing Archie on that comic’s 75th anniversary. Check out the remarkable Chester Brown page!

Here’s a nice review on Hyperallergic of Mirror Mirror II, the horror comics anthology edited by Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer.

 

Uh Oh

Today, Greg Hunter returns with the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast. This time, he talks to Ben Sears.

Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas!

Also, Robert Boyd reviews Crawl Space, by Jesse Jacobs.

Crawl Space’s cover is a rainbow-color explosion—a geometric face on the cover with a screaming mouth and an eye in its forehead. Filled with colorful detail, it looks like the cover of some forgotten psychedelic record album.

It doesn’t let up inside. The inside cover pages feature grids of 71 grinning, wide-eyed faces, all drawing with multicolor lines. They appear manic and alarmed. The title page is basically similar—a single somewhat sinister grinning creature staring at the reader, portrayed in intense rainbow colors. Then the first page brings it down to earth—a washer and dryer portrayed in stark black and white, floating in a page of full-bleed black. Then there are several more pages of psychedelic color as two characters start interacting in a densely-drawn environment of pure color. One of the characters, Daisy, seems to be guiding the other, Jeanne-Claude, who is experiencing anxiety. Daisy is guiding Jeanne-Claude on her first trip down the rabbit hole. They drink tea from a little tea-pot-shaped creature (that changes color in each subsequent panel), which causes the hallucinations to intensify.

Then the two rainbow colored people climb out of the washer and dryer back into the ordinary world. Daisy quickly reverts to a black and white being while Jeanne-Claude takes longer. Black and white in Crawl Space symbolizes ordinary reality. Daisy asks Jeanne-Claude not to tell other people about the washer and dryer experience. She is “still trying to fit in. I don’t want to be known as the girl with the magical appliances. I just don’t want that stuff defining me.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes writes about cartoons and freedom of the press.

It was 1903 and Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker had had enough. After a year of being depicted as a parrot by the cartoonist Charles Nelan of the North American newspaper, the governor wanted the satirical drawings stopped. The reason for Pennypacker’s frustration was that the cartoonist was using this visual metaphor to portray him as a mouthpiece for special interests. The governor did not take kindly to that and had an anti-cartoon bill introduced into the state legislature in order to silence his detractor. The bill proposed a ban on “any cartoon or caricature or picture portraying, describing or representing any person, either by distortion, innuendo or otherwise, in the form or likeness of beast, bird, fish, insect, or other unhuman animal, thereby tending to expose such person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.” Pennypacker’s attempt to silence his critic backfired, though, when another cartoonist proceeded to draw the governor as a tree, a beer mug and a turnip.

—Gabrielle Bellot writes about Moebius, focusing particularly on Edena and gender.

Despite his fame in France and with renowned directors like Miyazaki, however, Moebius still, arguably, remains too-little-known in America. “You see it everywhere,” Ridley Scott said in 2010 of the French artist’s influence, adding that “it runs through so much you can’t get away from it,” but this is precisely where Moebius unfortunately lies for all too many people: beneath the surface. This is partly cultural; in France and Belgium, comics, or bandes dessinées (literally, drawn strips), tend to be held to a much higher esteem, even being classified as “the ninth art” alongside cinema, photography, and many others, and the Western stigma that labels cartoons as a form for children holds less true in Japan. Moebius’ relative obscurity in America is partly because comics, themselves, have only recently begun to attract the wider critical attention they deserve. And this is truer, still, of one of his most underrated, yet most ambitious, solo works: the lush, extraordinary cycle of stories, The Gardens of Edena, which freely blends fantasy and sci-fi, and which was released as a whole in a gorgeous new edition last December. Reading the stories for me was a revelation: here was a luxuriant grand narrative that, like an operatic Midsummer Night’s Dream on the starry deck of a spaceship, asked where the nebulous road of dreams ends and the road of non-dreams begins, all while telling a byzantine tale of love, politics, the body, and evil. To me, Moebius’ Edena cycle may well be his masterpiece—and one I find even more interesting due to its intriguing explorations of gender.

 

Name Game!

Today on the site, Tim closes out his wide-ranging chat with Sammy Harkham. Part 1 is here. Here’s a bit of part 2:

How do you approach composition? Is it intuitive or is there more of a considered method?

It starts for me with the tone of a scene and trying to find the right composition that conveys that tone. I don’t think of my art as being very expressive, so if I want something that feels oppressive or sympathetic, it’s all about where we’re seeing it from, and the number of panels, how large the image is. I have a lot of pages where if you flip the originals over, it’s the exact same page penciled a little differently, where it wasn’t feeling right. One that comes to mind is in issue 4, after the whole Palm Springs sequence. Seymour goes to his boss’s house and his boss is by the pool. It was such a subtle thing in my mind of wanting Seymour to feel like he’s not really welcome in this situation. Where he’s slightly not at ease, and it’s almost by design of his boss. His boss is trying to put him in the position of insecurity. So besides dialogue and story, you try to do that literally in the framing. I’m not going to do anything dramatic like put a spotlight on him or have like giant letters over his head. I’m not going to do anything formal, because I don’t want to get in the way of the storytelling. But it should just read a certain way.

It’s funny that you don’t think of yourself as an expressive artist, because that’s not what I would have said about your work. I mean, this is the most reductive level, but your characters often have very intense facial expressions.

They do, but how they communicate, their body language, all that stuff, I try to suggest things their body language or words are betraying. It’s that Bressonian method of casting. [Robert] Bresson never called his actors actors; he called them models. The idea being that the way someone looks and the way they deliver a line, that’s what they are, and you’re not trying to bend them into something else. and that becomes the springboard for anything else that character does. I don’t know how much this comes through, but there’s an element of trying to play with this idea of typecasting, where a certain kind of disposition and manner will imbue everything with a subtext. So even if they’re saying stuff thats totally in opposition to how they look or how they honestly feel, it creates a nice sort of tension.

Elsewhere:

If you’re looking for a little desert after your Harkham dinner, here’s Brian Nicholson on Crickets 6.

Also, Tim mentioned Alasdair Gray in the interview, and here’s a vintage Paris Review conversation with the great author.

Finally, today, the moment you’ve been waiting for: Let’s pause and appreciate this magnificently strange page of comic book art by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia from Sub-Mariner #3 P, 1968. There’s so much happening in this page. There is a seaweed monster made out of repeating thin pen scribbles enclosed by thick black fills. Next to that is an oddly carefully rendered fish swimming in the foreground. Why? Why not. Ambiance. Then on the bottom left of this page is some prime Kirby-tech seen as though through the eyes of Milton Caniff. And over on your right are three generic sea fellers and one of them is coming right at you, just like Buscema teaches in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Some days I like comics.

 

Death Comes to Us All

Joe McCulloch is taking a much-deserved vacation this week, so we’ve brought in a ringer to fill in for his usual guide to the Week in Comics: Katie Skelly. She highlights the most interesting-looking new releases to comics stores, and her spotlight pick is Sasaki Maki’s Ding Dong Circus. She also talks a little bit about a topic usually underrepresented on this site: fashion.

“Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week, and I still haven’t been up to see it. A stalwart of avant-garde fashion, Kawakubo’s designs tend to extend or distort the human form with unnatural volume and raw, unfinished materials and rejection of demure feminine beauty. A Kawakubo dress both protects and alienates the wearer; for example, a CDG puffer coat broke my fall a few years ago when I got hit by a tow truck, but no one could squeeze next to me on a subway bench.

But of course silhouette- and beauty-obsessed Hollywood rejected the theme (except, always except Rihanna!) at this year’s Met Gala, probably because everyone just wants to keep their jobs and no one wants to land on some basic’s “worst dressed” list in hindsight. I turned to my comic book collection to see which characters might fit the Kawakubo theme better.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Quill & Quire talks to publisher Annie Koyama.

I started Koyama to do art books the same year [local bookstores] David Mirvish Books and Pages Books & Magazines closed. Where else do you sell art books in Toronto? In the ’80s all the big gallery shows had catalogues, but pretty much no one makes gallery catalogues anymore. So the art books stopped.

I met Chris Hutsul at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. One day he put this hilarious comic online about a little kid hanging out with Kraftwerk. I convinced him to make that into a chapbook and I published it. It’s long out of print now but it was pretty fantastic.

The most recent guests on Process Party are Bill Kartalopoulos and Austin English.


—Commentary.
Friends and colleagues (including many writers on comics who readers of this site will be familiar with) remember the recently departed comics blogger Tim O’Shea. Here’s an excerpt from Brigid Alverson’s remembrance:

Tim faced the trials, the indignities, and the uncertainties of brain cancer with incredible grace. He found humor in the most unlikely places, often cracking up his doctors and the other medical staff who cared for him. (In this we are kindred spirits—I laughed my way through my cancer treatment, not because I wasn’t scared but because it made me feel better.) Comics fan that he was, he wore a carefully selected comics-themed T-shirt to each one of his radiation treatments. In between treatments, he enjoyed life, taking a trip to Nashville and going out for karaoke with friends.Even after he went into hospice, he remained gregarious, and his Facebook page was a parade of well wishes and photos of visitors.

The horrifyingly titled website Nerdophiles features a guest post from Hope Nicholson on five prominent female comics publishers.

A product of the traditional model of work (that has now since faded!) Helen Honig Meyer worked her way up from a clerk in Dell Publishing to vice-president, to president. A practical and strong-willed woman, Helen is best known for the way she cut through the bullshit at the hearings for comic book delinquency hearings in the 1950s. Rightly pointing out, with some beautifully arranged data, that her books were few in number but accounted for most of the comic industry sales, without any horror at all, she clearly saw no need for the assumption that comics in of themselves were detrimental. Sniffing at the rest of the comics industry that decided to enforce a code of conduct, Helen kept her company doing what it did best – selling good comics. Negotiating deals with top licenses (yes, movie and tv show tie-ins were essential to comics even at the very beginning!) Helen was responsible for one of the most significant and powerful publishers in comic book history – and one that was notable for marketing directly to the all-ages market.

—News. As has been widely noted, in the Fantagraphics comic released for last weekend’s Free Comic Book Day, Matt Furie portrayed the funeral of his now infamous character Pepe the Frog.

“A lot of the Pepe controversy has really troubled him,” [Eric] Reynolds said of Mr. Furie, who did not reply to requests for comment on Monday. “I think the strip was less about saying Pepe the Frog is dead — because Pepe is a fictional cartoon character — and more about him just sort of processing everything that’s going on.”

You can see the strip in question at The Nib (which is I believe the only site publishing the strip to have paid for the privilege.)