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Alternate Route

Hello from Los Angeles, and more specifically Sammy Harkham’s dining room table, with TCJ #40 by my side. Cover image by Mike Nasser and Bob Layton of Starhunters. Interview with Jim Shooter. And of course John Benson profiling Art Spiegelman. Hilarious. I am reminded that Mike Nasser worked Ms Mystic, and that character design blew my mind as a kid. And still looks OK. The void body. That sword. 

Anyhow,  today on the site we have the 1979 TCJ interview with the late Len Wein by Roger Slifer. Here’s a bit:

SLIFER: When did you start writing for comics regularly?

WEIN: For the most part, I started doing a little fiddling around early on. I think about the fifth story Marv and I wrote was a Teen Titans we did together. We started to gain a little ground at DC at that point. They liked the first one we did. We tried an issue of Teen Titans — it was the second Titans story we did — that introduced a black superhero. I think we called the character Jericho. It was a beautiful job. Nick Cardy was drawing the book at the time. He did an absolutely lovely job on the art. And, apparently, DC didn’t know there was anything but white Anglo-Saxon Protestants appearing in comic books, and the introduction, in our story, of a black character was apparently frightening. Nick Cardy, who was part of the old school, brought that job to Carmine, and asked him, “Do you think we’re going too far? Should we be doing this? There’s a black character in here, God help us!” And, Carmine panicked, went, “Oh my God! We’re doomed! We’ll never sell our magazines in the South, anywhere south of Toledo!” They scrapped the issue, they completely scrapped the story. Neal Adams came to our defense, as Neal is so wont to do, and tried to convince Carmine that it was a good story and it didn’t need to be scrapped. And, it was a beautiful art job, one of the best things Nick ever did. I don’t think he ever really matched it. The fact that the story would not see print struck me as a real shame. But, Carmine would not be swayed. Carmine had made up his mind. It was set in cement once he made up his mind. In fact, it probably still is.

Neal ended up rewriting — over a weekend — an entirely different story featuring a character that was no longer black. He wrote it, penciled it, inked the entire 19-page story over a weekend, proving that, yes, he could make deadlines. But, it didn’t help my situation. And this happened just when I had started to gain some inroads.

DC was revamping the Metal Men at that point. I had come up with a whole new concept for the Metal Men for Jack Miller, working Marvel-style. Mike Sekowsky was penciling it, I was going to dialogue it off the finished pencils. And, Carmine, of course, decided, “No, you can’t write. Things aren’t working out,” based solely on the fact that I had introduced a black character in the Teen Titans. He took back the artwork I had just gotten my hands on — the Metal Men pages. In fact, I wrote the first 10 pages totally on speculation, like, “Please look at what I’ve done at least and see if it’s good.” But in the end, he gave the story to Denny O’Neil, who took it reluctantly, knowing the circumstances. After he had written his own, and I showed him my script, he said he thought it was a better job than he had done. It was simply Carmine’s reacting rather than acting.

Murray Boltinoff got a little shy over several plots I had approved for Tomahawk and Challengers of the Unknown. Suddenly he had no use for either. Marv and I were abruptly non-entities for six months or more and started to look for work elsewhere.

SLIFER: How did you finally make your inroads back?

WEIN: Good question. I’m not sure if I remember. We started doing stuff elsewhere. Marv sort of faded out of comic books. He moved out to Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island.

SLIFER: What year was this?

WEIN: This is 11 years from ’79 … it was about ’69. I didn’t do a whole lot of work in my first year. I think I only managed to make as much at my old $10-a-page rate in my entire first year as I make on a single issue-and-a-half of Superman right now. A big difference in the rate. I started looking elsewhere. Marv got out of comic books. He had a degree as an art teacher. He taught school for a while. I sort of wandered around. I found some work at Gold Key. I started doing mystery stories for them. I ended up doing Hot Wheels and Mod Wheels and Star Trek comics. Anywhere there was some place to go I went. I did mystery stories for Marvel, for Roy [Thomas]. I learned most of my training on mystery stories. Most of the people now don’t have a chance to learn on them. Mystery stories require you to create an entire entity in seven pages, a cast of characters, personalities, problems, and resolution. It’s great training.

That is all from here. I’m opening this exhibition on Saturday night, 6-9 pm. I’ll be there and always enjoy talking about Hal Foster.

 

Blursday

Today on the site, something great: Mark Newgarden speaks to Glenn Bray and Frank Young, the editors of the essential new book on Art Young, To Laugh That We May Not Weep.

Frank, your concentration has been in the field of comic books: as a writer, editor and scholar. But you’ve also written extensively on newspaper strips and Hollywood animation, especially on the work of Fred “Tex” Avery (and in my estimation, you are the absolute go-to guy on everything John Stanley.) Can you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in Young and involved in this ambitious project?

Frank Young: Art Young was on that list in my head called “Great Cartoonists Whom I Admire, Based on Two or Three Images I Keep Seeing Over and Over Again.” I saw these images in older books about comics history, poorly reproduced but visible enough to give me the idea that this fellow was important. I also aligned him with Harvey Kurtzman. There’s a similar life in their ink lines. But as with so many towering figures in an ignored art form, there wasn’t any Art Young to pore over as I developed my critical and thematic eye towards comics.

In the 1990s and 2000s, I served my infamous term as managing ed on The Comics Journal, begun comics scholarship blogs, and came into contact with some great people. My work on John Stanley led me to meet Art Spiegelman, Michael Barrier, Glenn Bray and you, to name a few. While David Lasky and I worked on our graphic novel The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, Spiegelman invited me to be on the board of advisors of The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. My involvement in that project led to many good things.

Visiting the home/museum of Glenn Bray and Lena Zwalve in summer 2013, through our mutual friend Carol Lay, was a religious experience. The first thing Glenn showed me was the original art for the cover of Mad #11. From there on, it was a staggering tour of his extensive collection of original art, comics, artwork, books, etc. I wonder if Carol realized how much of an impact this visit would have on my life…this kid was in the candy store by which all candy stores are judged. I flashed back to my one visit to Bill Blackbeard’s chaotic den in San Francisco. Glenn’s collection is organized, curated and attractively presented. From bound volumes of 1940s comics to impeccably stored originals to shelves of work by cartoonists familiar and unknown to me, this is the best hoard of significant comics work I’ve yet encountered.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. For LARB, Anthony Loewenstein writes about Eli Valley’s controversial Diaspora Boy.

DIASPORA BOY is the work of an artist who aims to challenge the fundamental beliefs of the Jewish-American community, not least its at times slavish love for Israel. Cartoonist Eli Valley — who grew up in New York and New Jersey, the child of a rabbi and a social-worker-turned-lawyer — is unafraid to celebrate the noble tradition of secular Judaism while still despairing at what Zionism has become, and arguably has always been, in its repression of the Palestinians. In this lavishly produced book, Valley includes his own commentary alongside his comics, which are clearly inspired by the underground commix movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the iconoclastic Jewish-American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Valley’s political framework is never far from the reader’s mind, but it is his art that is central to every page.

For Vector, Christina Scholz has written an academic article on trans identities as represented in superhero comics.

Since the comic book industry still only seems to be discovering and cautiously exploring transgender issues, this takes us back to one of the beginnings. Should characters like Lord Fanny from The Invisibles be included in categories and ‘boxes’ of trans* characters in comics? Are ‘boxes’ helpful at all, seeing how complex and diverse and dynamic identities are? My stance on this is based on my quantum theory of identity as well as Antke Engel’s concept of ‘queerversity’, and implies that superhero_ines with their history of being Other can be read as inherently queer, always standing outside the established norms and always implicitly questioning (and hopefully undermining) them. Thus characters like Lord Fanny shouldn’t be excluded from this article (and technically can’t be, according to the all-inclusive nature of queerversity), since Morrison is making some valuable points about identity and reality in The Invisibles, and gender identities are varied, diverse, heterogeneous, and dynamic.

Nicole Rudick writes about a new show of the comics-influenced painter Karl Wirsum’s paintings and drawings.

A dozen of Wirsum’s paintings and drawings are on view at Derek Eller Gallery, in New York, in the show “Mr. Whatzit: Selections from the 1980s.” Each work is a portrait of a single character, and the backgrounds, in the case of the paintings, are monochromatic: flat fields of red, teal, ochre. Whether alien, mechanical, or human, each character appears as a kind of totem of their own world, like the corner boxes on the covers of classic comics (those small rectangles in the upper left corner that show Superman or Spider-Man or Hulk on a solid field of color). Mr. Dry Iced “T” is part hulking Jack Kirby creation (too many fingers, too many knuckle joints), part mystic oddity rising out of a blue ether, his hands like two hamsas. The Mesoamerican Shower Girl performs under a showerhead-cum-stage-light in the semiprivacy of her shower-curtained stage. The half-human, half–jet pack figure in If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Nairobi Except in Nebraska shoots diagonally across a Joan Miró–inflected cosmos.

—Interviews. The CBLDF podcast interviews comics translator Anne Ishii.

Topics include: yaoi / BL, Osamu Tezuka, Detroit Metal City

 

Not Totally There

Today on the site, we have the TCJ obituary for Len Wein. We’ll have some archival material later in the week. 

Wein was no auteur or stylist along the lines of a Stan Lee or an Alan Moore, but he worked smoothly with a wide range of talented artists at both Marvel and DC. As a result, he kept busy in every corner of the mainstream comics industry in the 1970s and 1980s, and was present at several significant creative moments. Wein was instrumental in the rebooting of the X-Men with Dave Cockrum in 1975, transforming the original Lee/Kirby misfire into something like the multi-ethnic mutant collective that we know today. In Incredible Hulk #180 in 1974, he and artists Herb Trimpe and John Romita introduced stout, Canadian brawler Wolverine, who would become a key element of the revived X-Men.

In 1971, Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson created Swamp Thing, an atmospheric DC monster series that worked its way through unusually mature themes, as it observed society through the eyes of its profoundly alienated antihero. The series went on to capture the imagination of some of mainstream comics’ best writers and artists — including Alan Moore, who created Watchmen in 1986 under Wein’s editorial guidance.

No links today — no dice here. Off to LA now. 

 

Nuh-uh

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews Warmer, the climate change-themed anthology making its debut at this weekend’s SPX.

Climate change, when it’s not visible in a sweeping, violent fashion, can be difficult to perceive, more present for some people as a looming abstraction than a felt, measurable thing. This might be why, during the last two decades, few depictions of climate change in the arts have captured the cultural imagination, despite its planet-wide implications. This absence informed the Kickstarter campaign for Warmer. Editors Andrew White and Madeleine Witt told visitors to the campaign page, “We both spend a lot of time thinking about climate change. […] And we haven’t always found art that reflects that.” An anthology of comics about the climate crisis, Warmer at least fills a void within alternative cartooning, exploring personal experience within a global phenomenon.

Warmer is about as cohesive as anthologies get in terms of tone and sensibility. It includes, for instance, multiple past contributors to the Comics Workbook Tumblr, multiple six-panel grid compositions, and multiple works of colored-pencil cartooning (though without full overlap among these categories). Consider it the hazard of a coherent editorial vision—a sense of monotony might set in if a person reads too many pieces in one sitting. A spirit of contemplation characterizes many of the comics, which often feature soft colors and other formal choices that convey quietness, perhaps at the expense of other sensations (e.g. outright panic). Even so, this is a result of Warmer attempting something challenging.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Reviews & Commentary.
Emily Gosling writes about Charlotte Salomon.

If all the world really is a stage, the production created for it by Charlotte Salomon is one of the darkest tragedies imaginable; a story of suicide, Nazism, illness, and a poisoned omelette.

Salomon was born in Berlin in 1917, and during the war her Jewish family—like so many others—was persecuted by the Nazis, resulting in her fleeing to France. After war broke out, she was sent to Camp Gurs in the Pyrenees with her grandfather; later allowed to return to Nice due to her grandfather’s age. It was there that the artist, who’d previously been admitted to the Art Academy in Berlin, started making images again.

Felipe “Feggo” Galindo remembers his hero, Rius.

A typical Rius production, Discovering Columbus tells the other side of Columbus’ official history, narrating and illustrating his rapacious conquest of the new lands grabbed from the natives. Rius’ narrative portrays him as the perpetrator and initiator of one of the largest genocides in human history. I had read about Columbus before, but Rius’ take took me by surprise. In a concise, humorous and simple manner he opened my mind to new interpretations of history, something similar to what I experienced after I read him for the first time some 45 years ago when I was in middle school, with his comic book series “Los Agachados” (The Stooped Ones, a word used in Mexico to refer to those who don’t assert their rights or don’t “rock the boat.” It also refers to the labor performed by migrant farmworkers.)

The issue of Los Agachados I remember best was a behind-the-scenes take on Coca Cola, Mexico’s favorite drink, and how U.S Empire had used this drink along with many other products as another form of colonialism. It blew my innocent mind back then. I thought, “How can this guy say all those things against such a powerful company and with facts and humor!” It felt like the day when you find out Santa doesn’t exist. After that I became an avid reader of his comics and a fan of his cartoons.

Paul Buhle writes about that other great socialist cartoonist, Art Young.

NEARLY 80 YEARS AGO, one of the sweetest books in the history of American radicalism appeared: Art Young: His Life and Times. A wonderful memoir in every sense, it encompassed and expressed the beloved socialist artist’s saga, from Midwestern small-town boy suspicious of radicals to the greatest of all radical cartoonists in the English language. He hated the spoils of capitalism and war with a ferocity scarcely to be equaled in art anywhere, Picasso or John Heartfield or Spain Rodriguez notwithstanding. But beneath Young’s rage, evident to any reader, could also be found a deep sense of sorrow at the outcome of civilization at large. A popular favorite, his drawing of a caged lion dreaming of free life in the jungle captures the aphorism of philosopher J. J. Rousseau, that “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Young would have added, indeed did add more than metaphorically in his many drawings over 50 years of work, that the rich and powerful did not seem to suffer so greatly, but nevertheless bore the scars of meretricious lives.

Craig Yoe is NOT MAD.

—Misc.
Interested readers can follow along with Lynda Barry’s University of Wisconsin comics class online.

The winners of the annual Comics Workbook Composition Competition have been announced.

 

Showing up with Steve

Today on the site, Bob Levin reviews Chester Brown’s mini-comic, The Third Remedy. Bonus interview with the artist included!

The addressees (neatly hand-printed) in the center of the tiny envelope were Adele and I at our home in Berkeley. The addressor (also neatly hand-printed but tinier) was the cartoonist Chester Brown from his apartment in Toronto.

 Inside was a black-and-white comic, 37 pages, four-by-five-inches.

The title was The Third Remedy.

In a box centered on the back cover it said “This story was originally published in 1949 in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories number 101 (Volume 9, Number 5) February.” On the title page, in a larger box, it said, “Story written by Carl Barks. Artwork drawn by Bob Kane.”

There was no price, no copyright notice, no identification of or information about the publisher.

The principal characters were Batman and Robin.

Huh?

Elsewhere:

Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein died over the weekend. Paul Levitz paid tribute to him on Facebook.

The Juxtapoz co-founder  and “lowbrow art” champion Greg Escalante has passed away.

The tributes to the Village Voice continue, with this report on a reunion party.

 

Basking in the Warmth

Today on the site, Rob Kirby reviews Michiel Budel’s Francine.

Dutch cartoonist Michiel Budel’s wildly idiosyncratic webcomic Slechte Meisjes stars a rotating cast of Lolita-esque girls in surpassingly strange, hilarious, often Sapphic adventures that are mixed with political allegory. The comics first made it to U.S. shores in two full-color comic books, Wayward Girls and Wayward Girls 2, published by Secret Acres in 2012. Since then, Budel has honed his cast down to one main character, the tempestuous Francine, and her circle of friends and enemies. This new eponymously titled book collects eight issues of Budel’s self-published Franzine, with a few extra one-off strips thrown in. While Budel’s comics are perhaps known and discussed mostly for their seriously pervy qualities, they should also be appreciated for their great humor and wonderfully wrought, even lyrical, dream logic. Many folks will immediately correlate Budel’s work to artists like Henry Darger and Balthus, who also trafficked heavily in pre-adolescent sexual imagery. But like Darger himself, Budel has a guilelessly bonkers sensibility that keeps itself to itself.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Paste, Seth Simons writes a detailed story about the decline of the Cartoon Bank, the online marketplace for New Yorker cartoonists’ work.

New Yorker cartoonists are paid in two tiers. More established artists receive $1,450 for a cartoon, while the rest receive $700. The sales of original artwork bring cartoonists some of their largest one-time payments, often as high as $2,000 or more. Until January 2017, sales made through the Cartoon Bank were split 70-30 between cartoonists and Condé Nast. In December, cartoonists were sent a contract revising that split to 50-50. Condé Nast also recently stopped warehousing original artwork, leaving that responsibility to the cartoonists themselves. “They just, like, fired all their archivists,” said one cartoonist. “There was no place to put it. People who were trying to reclaim their archived cartoons were being told that they had been lost. So now we’re at a place where it’s just, ‘Make your own high-res scan at home, email in the high-res and that’s what we’re going to run in the magazine. You’re responsible for storing and archiving your own artwork. We will let you know if a collector wants to buy your cartoon.’”

—Dan Gearino interviews longtime comics retailer Dick Swan, about the comic shop he co-owned and opened in 1969, Comic World.

DG: How old were you?

DS: I was 15. We opened on June 26, 1969 and I turned 16 a month later on July 28. The other guys were all 17. We got the stock from the HoustonCon which ran from June 20-22 in 1969. We drove home, went out and rented a store the same week.

—At Quill & Quire, Andrea Bennett checks in with Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on its 10th anniversary.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly opened in 2007, nearly 20 years after the press was founded in the same Montreal neighbourhood. Staff had noticed that English stores in the city carried mostly English comics, and French stores carried mostly French books. “At each store, there was a little lonely shelf that would be like, ‘Local Publishers,’” says Peggy Burns, D&Q’s publisher. D&Q’s goal was to open a store where readers could find not only their books, but also titles from other popular independent presses, like McSweeney’s, that were hard to find in the city. The timing was unfortunate – right before a recession, and just as Amazon’s influence was rising – but the staff felt confident. “It was a crazy time to open up a bookstore,” Burns says, “but we always just felt that there were books here that we wanted to read and other people wanted to read.”

 

Sun and Set Tower

Hey, today it’s yours truly on the late Richard Kyle, who commissioned Jack Kirby’s “Street Code”, which Matthias Wivel wrote about on Tuesday.

I became fascinated with Richard Kyle sometime in the mid-2000s because of his writing and his own publication, Graphic Story World (later called Wonderworld), and because it was clear that he was both prescient in his vision of the medium and keenly aware of the nooks and crannies of its history. Even more unusual, he had a novelist’s approach to that history and its personalities. He always managed to suss out the humanity of the creators and publishers he was discussing – an approach that only a few writers have really grasped, Tom De Haven and Gerard Jones perhaps first among them. This began with his very first contribution to a fanzine: “The Education of Victor Fox” for Dick Lupoff’s Xero #8, 1962 (and recently reprinted in Alter Ego, vol. 3, number 101, May 2011).  “The Education…” looked at the early 1940s output of Fox Publications and its infamous proprietor Victor Fox, through an interpretive reading of the comics, from cover to story to advertisements. In 1964 he wrote “The Future of the Comics” in which he coined the term “graphic novel” (he would later publish the first self-identified graphic novel,  Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger). Kyle later had a column, Graphic Story Review, in Bill Spicer’s brilliant Graphic Story Magazine and contributed other texts, including co-authoring the wild, sprawling interview with Will Gould in issue 11, 1970. That interview, which he and I spoke about below, was one of the very first of its kind for comics. 

Elsewhere:

The new editor of the Paris Review Daily is memoirist, comics writer, and editor Nadja Spiegelman.

The New Yorker profiles Instagram cartoonist Arianna Margulis.

Andrew White writes about his time at Frank Santoro’s Rowhouse Residency. 

 

 

Not Worth Dwelling O—

There is no way to adequately replace Joe McCulloch’s This Week in Comics! column, and so we will not try. While we figure out what to do, Dan and I (and possibly others) will still provide the buyers’ guide portion of the column, spotlighting the most interesting-looking comics new to stores each week. This particular week is pretty skimpy, unfortunately. (I’m sure few of Craig Yoe’s defenders will take any note of the Fantagraphics pans, either…)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Podcasts.
Joe McCulloch hasn’t vanished completely, though, and will hopefully return to this very site in some form or another. In the meantime, he’s still one of the regular hosts of Comic Books are Burning in Hell, and their latest episode attempts to replicate the This Week in Comics! magic in audio form.

Other recent podcasts of note include Jerry Moriarty on Inkstuds, Jeff Smith on Process Party, and Kathy Bidus on Virtual Memories.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sarah Chihaya reviews Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless.

The easiest way to read Tamaki’s title is formally: Boundless is a book that plays with the malleable conventions of graphic storytelling. The portrait orientation of its first piece, “World Class City” — a dreamlike semi-narrative that slips back and forth between pop lyric and lyric poem — demands that the reader turn the book sideways, while the abstract bodies and plants it depicts bleed across generous two-page spreads and, in a couple of cases, over page turns. The final section, “Boundless,” mirrors this vertically oriented, panel-free format, as a menagerie of urban animals flit and swoop across its sparse pages, narrating their nonhuman lives with deadpan panache. The stories contained between these bookends require the same readerly dexterity. Even when she works within the constraints of panels and gutters (which she often abandons in favor of borderless panels, backgrounds that are either overfull or hauntingly vacant, and splash pages), Tamaki’s layouts are kinetic, fluid, and unexpected. Her style is similarly mobile, as each of these nine stories articulate their own distinct idioms of color and line.

Joe Riaola, senior editor of Mad magazine, writes about the most recent Charlie Hebdo controversy, and what he considers the limits of satire.

The editors of “Charlie Hebdo” would probably say that they were making a broad point about what they view as the prevalence of white nationalism in Texas. However, connecting white nationalism to random deaths caused by a hurricane is not only nonsensical, it makes light of the suffering of those who died. Newsflash: The editors of “Charlie Hebdo” don’t care. This is their brand, it’s what they do. We are just paying more attention now, because they are offending Texans instead of Muslims.

Robert Boyd rounds up his summer reading, including various prominent comics by Emil Ferris, Ron Regé, Gabrielle Bell, Noah Van Sciver, Mimi Pond, Jason Shiga, and Seth.

The end of Clyde Fans is kind of an epochal event in Seth’s career as a cartoonist–the ending is very contemplative and somewhat melancholy. But the other story, “Nothing Lasts,” is really good, too. A great work by one of comics’ greatest artists.


—RIP.
John Ashbery was happy to plunder comics and comics-related imagery and themes for his poems, such as Henry Darger in his 1999 book Girls on the Run and Popeye, in “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape.”

The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How pleasant
To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she scratched
Her cleft chin’s solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
“M’love,” he intercepted, “the plains are decked out in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish.” He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country.”
[…]

Also Walter Becker

And Holger Czukay