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.


Book of Life

Today on the site, Arthur Lortie and Michael Catron report on the life of the colorful comics writer Michael Fleisher, a well-known figure to longtime TCJ readers.

Michael Lawrence Fleisher, an often controversial and polarizing comic-book and comic-strip writer, died February 2, 2018, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in Beaverton, Oregon, according to his half brother, Martin Fleisher. He was 75.

Fleisher is perhaps best remembered in comics for his groundbreaking work at DC Comics on The Spectre and Jonah Hex, the authorized encyclopedias he wrote on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and a libel case he doggedly pursued and lost against The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics, Inc.), Journal editor Gary Groth, and the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

Though comics would dominate the first part of his professional career, in later life Fleisher proved himself to be a dedicated researcher, scholar, and humanitarian.

Charles Hatfield is here, too, with a rave review of John Porcellino's latest King-Cat collection, From Lone Mountain.

John Porcellino, cartoonist, memoirist, poet, and zinester, is one of our greatest comics artists. Many know this; many more should. He remembers places and people beautifully—that is, he does a beautiful job of remembering through art. Increasingly, I find myself drawing an improbable sort of joy from Porcellino’s art, the more improbable because of what I used to think was a great gulf between his experiences and mine. His work has crossed that gulf, in fact persuaded me that it wasn’t there to begin with. That may sound facile—and why shouldn’t art be about the strange and unknown, as well as the worn comforts of the familiar? Actually, Porcellino offers both; he wonders at the world. I suppose that’s what we mean by art making the world larger.

From Lone Mountain, just out now, is Porcellino’s fifth book from Drawn & Quarterly, and the third in a D&Q series reprinting work from his near thirty-year-old, still-ongoing zine King-Cat Comics and Storiesfollowing King-Cat Classix (2007) and Map of My Heart (2009). I am most thankful for it: as good and beautiful a volume of comics as I hope to see this year.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Commentary. Michael Kupperman writes about sentimental death-tribute cartoons for The New Statesman.

The death tribute cartoon is different from simple tribute art, in that it uses a visual format designed to amuse, but to be maudlin instead. As near a perfect description for the death tribute cartoon as I can find is German writer Winfried Menninghaus summary of the concept of kitsch: “A simple invitation to wallow in sentiment.”

Every celebrity’s death is treated as an occasion for cloying fantasy or impossibly awkward visual metaphor.

The most common death tribute cartoon trope shows the celebrity arriving in heaven, most often encountering St Peter. It doesn’t matter what religion the celebrity actually practised (as with Steve Jobs, a Buddhist, who was placed in this context at least ten times, including on the cover of The New Yorker).

Rob Salkowitz writes about the current market for digital comics.

If you’re a sharp-eyed shopper, you’ve probably noticed that Marvel has been running some crazy deals on digital trade collections for Kindle and comiXology, blowing out collections for 99 cents that are list-priced at $19.99. Other publishers run the same kind of doorbusters on a regular basis, and subscription programs like comiXology Unlimited or Marvel Unlimited offer access to thousands of titles for a single monthly fee.

All this discounting means the effective price of digital back issues has crashed way under the "magic number" of 99 cents, the price point that everyone in the industry seemed fixated on just a few years ago. [...]

New release digital issues have, for the most part, held the line at the cover price of print editions. But with so much cheap content floating around out there, including a lot of stuff from the last year or two that is still being talked about and is still relevant to continuity, how soon before we start seeing price cuts on new material that has to compete with the publisher’s own recent backstock?

And more fundamentally, is the current shape of the digital market a sign of health, maturity and evolution, or should we be concerned that the model is failing?

At Slate, Marissa Martinelli makes the case that new (and old) readers should follow the recently begun annotated republication of Meredith Gran's Octopus Pie.

If you’ve already read Octopus Pie, the re-launch isn’t just a chance to experience it all over again (although it is that, too). You could easily zip through the archives at your own pace if you wanted to, but the daily schedule offers a unique opportunity to watch Gran’s art and storytelling change, if not quite in real time, then at least spread out over the two-and-a-half years or so it’ll take to get from start to finish—ten years worth of Gran’s work condensed into about a quarter of that time. The most obvious shift is the evolution of Octopus Pie’s art, especially the gradual creep of color into the comic before taking the complete plunge, with help from colorist Sloane Leong and, later, a lush palette by Valerie Halla.

—Interviews. The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Box Brown.


Tengo Hambre

Today at the Journal, we've got Nate Patrin's excellent review of Blutch's Total Jazz, which was released by Fantagraphics last month. 

Total Jazz is a tonally wide-ranging if relatively slim volume collecting French cartoonist Blutch's strips and illustrations for the now-defunct '90s-'00s magazine Jazzman, which he drew between 2000 and 2004. Creating work for a jazz magazine that was founded when jazz's mainstream commercial impact was largely relegated to the record crates of hip-hop producers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier relies on the likelihood that the audience you're creating this work for is well familiar with the subject already, and wants to see something more reflected in that subject than just a simple joke or an easy reference. And Blutch's work here is dedicated to finding the answer to what makes not just listening to jazz but finding yourself in it, dedicating yourself to it, obsessing over it, actually worthwhile -- and finally getting lost in that connection between the music and the people who play it.

And that's not all! The crew at Kilgore are working on a Kickstarter campaign to set up there next list of titles, and they've set TCJ up with a some handy previews to let you know where the money is going. Today, we've got a look at Blammo #10, from Noah Van Sciver. 

While I really liked watching Viggo Mortensen dismantle people in A History of Violence, I tend to roll my eyes whenever some throat-clearer tells you that his (it's always a he) favorite movie based on a comic book is Ghost World or American Splendor--I get it, guy who thinks he's 2 good for 2 Guns. And yet, like that backseat driver who still reps for Batman: Mark of the Phantasm, lemme tell you: The Death of Stalin will probably supplant Blade 2 in my estimation as the top of the heap of comic book related films. I just need to watch it a few more hundred times to see if its intensely, insanely acid-black comedy remains intact. It's a hostile movie, far crueler than I expected it to be, totally lacking in any sense that a better world is possible. In the world it depicts, any moment of joy or freedom occurs purely out of luck, and the best one can hope for is to be ignored long enough for your death to occur naturally. It's a deliriously mean vision of a country in the grips of the selfish, the venal, the stupid, and the cruel--and much like Blade 2, the survivors are those who are happy to stand atop a pile of bodies. 


In Battle

Today on the site, editor Mike Catron explains what exactly went into the new edition of Bhob Stewart's tribute book, The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood.

Bhob Stewart, who originally began this project for Fantagraphics, ultimately came to regard the version of it that saw print from a different publisher as a profound and bitter disappointment.

Despite the fact that it was well received at the time, Bhob cringed at the mediocre paper, the less-than-stellar reproduction, and the cheap binding. (Pages are literally falling out of my softcover copy.) But most of all — the thing that made him grind his teeth the hardest — was the censoring of Wallace Wood’s art. Bhob never got over that.

The other publisher required him to go through all of Wood’s art and delete anything the publisher felt was improper. Particular words had to be deleted or printed with asterisks, even when part of a direct quote. He was allowed to print semi-nude figures, but only if certain body parts were whited out — even when only shown in silhouette. Some of the Wood art he wanted to use was summarily rejected outright as unredeemable, and he had to scramble to find innocuous replacements that weren’t even relevant. This was especially evident in a chapter devoted to Wood’s infamous “Disneyland Memorial Orgy”. It offered some amusing panels poking fun at Disney characters that Wood had drawn for Mad magazine — but nothing at all from the “Orgy”, which was the subject of the discussion.

In another instance, Bhob had cleverly reconstructed an EC “prank page” in which Wood drew a nude female figure. It was so heavily censored that readers rightly wondered what all the fuss was about. (To set things right, an undaunted Bhob wrote an essay explaining the whole muddle. We re-reconstructed the prank and that became a new chapter in Volume 1.)

It was ridiculous. It was appalling. It was a desecration. But Bhob had signed a contract, and he felt he was stuck.

We also have Judy Berman's review of a comic with a very odd high concept: Derek Marks's Grace, Jerry, Jessica and Me.

Some historical convergences demand fanfiction. My own personal canon includes the first Redstockings meeting; the drafting of the Dogme 95 manifesto and “Vow of Chastity”; any given night at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire; Britpop’s Damon Albarn-Justine Frischmann-Brett Anderson love triangle; and the day Poly Styrene, Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sue, Chrissie Hynde and Pauline Black all got together for a class picture. For Derek Marks, nothing tops that time in the ‘70s when Grace Jones, Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange were roommates in Paris.

Like most great 21st-century discoveries, this factoid came to Marks, a New York-based cartoonist and illustrator who was once “a tragic gay teen goth” in Miami, via the internet. The first issue of his hilarious comic Grace, Jerry, Jessica and Me, from 2014, opens with the author stumbling out of a “Google hole” (wow, relatable) with the wondrous revelation clutched in his hot little hand. “The trio’s potential fabulousness blew me so far away,” he writes, “I found I had time-traveled to Paris and landed as their fourth roommate.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary.
BoingBoing has excerpted the introduction Lynn Johnston wrote for the first volume of the collected For Better or For Worse.

When I was barely 20 years old, I got married. My husband and I settled into an old apartment in Vancouver, near English Bay. He was working for the CBC as a cameraman and I was an ink and paint artist for Canawest Films. I wanted to be an animator and was learning the industry from the ground up. We did commercials, public service announcements and piece work for Hanna Barbera. I was one of 16 young women hired to hand colour acetate cells. Having signed an agreement to not join a union, we took shifts and worked around the clock for $1.50 an hour. It was hard work, but I learned quickly and I realized that an animator makes other people's drawings, other people's characters, other people's dreams come to life. With no children to occupy my time at home, I decided to try my hand at creating stories and characters of my own. I have always been more at home with realistic scenarios, so I decided to tell short stories about my childhood. Within a few weeks, I had a few tall tales worked out and perhaps, 15 coloured drawings. I wondered if they might even be published some day. It was 1968 and I was creating a graphic novel.

For the New York Review of Books, Dash Shaw reviews Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's How to Read Nancy.

One of the defining traits of 1980s New York City postmodernist writing and painting was the urge to deconstruct. This extended to the comics medium in Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly’s Raw, an oversized anthology magazine that serialized Maus and introduced readers to “art comics” from around the world. Spiegelman’s experimental work looked like exploded pages of Sunday cartoon battles between what was then considered “low” and “high” art. Richard McGuire’s short story “Here” dissected a single room across time using a panel-in-panel device also seen in 1980s painters like David Salle and Robert Longo. Gary Panter drew apocalyptic nightmares that dismantled and intuitively reconstructed drawing modes from Picasso to Jack Kirby.

In the midst of all of this deconstruction was a renewed interest among cartoonists in a humble, plain-looking gag strip that began in the 1930s: Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Nancy follows an eight-year-old suburban girl as she solves mundane problems and interacts with Sluggo, a fellow prankster and sometimes romantic interest. Bushmiller (born in 1905) drew it for most of his life, with each strip as a self-contained “gag”—a single joke that could be easily digested as the reader glanced across the strip. The imagery and jokes are so prototypical and simple that the American Heritage Dictionary uses it to illustrate the meaning of “comic strip.” The appeal of Nancy to the art comic crowd might seem counter-intuitive, but while Nancy was never particularly clever, it was always cleverly constructed. In fact, the accomplishment of Nancy, with its refined, reduced lines and preoccupation with plungers and faucets, might primarily be a matter of form. As Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead, also Raw) wrote in his 2012 introduction to a collected Nancy volume: “Nancy doesn’t tell us much about what it’s like to be a kid. What Nancy tells us is what it’s like to be a comic strip.”

At LARB, Jackson Ayres reviews Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward's Black Bolt.

Ahmed’s Black Bolt, then, springs from these two interlocked narrative and extraliterary developments: Marvel’s positioning of the Inhumans as cornerstones of their line-wide continuity, and the company’s push, via live-action adaptations, for broader public recognition of the franchise. Unfortunately the Inhumans television series debuted to some of the first truly bad reviews for the franchise since its 2008 launch in the first Iron Man movie. But the coup of hiring Ahmed, an acclaimed writer of prose SF and fantasy, to helm Black Bolt no doubt helped to introduce the character to those who may not previously have heard of him.

After a too-long absence, Janean Patience returns with a very long piece on the 1980s work of Howard Chaykin.

Because we like to arrange things in threes, because that’s our pattern, there’s long been a glaring gap in the history of comics. Everyone agrees on two sides of the triangle: Watchmen and Dark Knight, the autopsy and the brass band funeral. But who’s the third? Maus has been most often suggested, even though it was only half-out, came from a very different place than those glossy contemporaries and wasn’t part of the hip, cool graphic novel movement. No, the third of the three, alongside Moore and Miller, was Chaykin. There was only one problem; the work.

Because there is, ultimately, an obvious advantage to being with DC Comics, however they rip you off. Even if it’s how they rip you off: they make your work available. They get it in comics shops and bookshops and airports and all those places, all those disregarded distribution outlets that are the grass roots of the graphic novel revolution, that take it to a wider audience. Without that, without that splash, you can be a key player in the revolution, a pioneer of creative ownership, and nobody will even know.

Back up. American Flagg, the comic Chaykin created, wrote and drew, began monthly publication in 1983. Moore was doing great things in 2000AD and Warrior and preparing to bound across the Atlantic. Miller had concluded his first spell on Daredevil and was writing and drawing Ronin. The revolution was gearing up. Everyone was already doing their creator-owned work alongside or inbetween their work-for-hire; it was a part of comics growing up from the very beginning. But Chaykin was winning. Flagg, published (and, according to the indicia, to some extent co-owned) by First Comics, was a hit right out of the gate. Monthly, independent, sexy, unleashing new ideas and characters and complications with every issue. It tore through its first year, 12 issues of 28 pages telling one overarching story. It was hot and it was Howard’s; a commercial sensibility of colour and design and action brought to that sector of comics previously aligned with the black-and-white fantasy of Cerebus and Elfquest. Everyone knew Flagg. I was like 11 years old and I knew Flagg.

—Interviews & Profiles.
The Comics Alternative podcast interviews Ho Che Anderson.


Philip Glass, Knife Collector

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got a lovely interview with one of my favorite artists, Roman Muradov. I wish I could take credit for setting this up, but it was presented on a platter by Aug Stone. Picking a favorite passage was easy: here's Roman on how The Fall influenced his work and taught him English.

I started listening to The Fall when I was about 18, when I couldn’t really speak English particularly well. I sort of learned English through The Fall (laughs). A bit of an abstruse route. I realize that a lot of my pronunciation is from The Fall and that Mark E. Smith’s actually not pronouncing very well so...(laughs) They were possibly my earliest artistic influence in my entire life, and also the most lasting. Because English is my second language I had the benefit of experiencing The Fall as a pre-linguistic awakening. I would listen to it and not understand 90% of the things he’s saying (laughs). But there was a force to it that really appealed to me, and it’s the same force that I recognize in, say, James Joyce, who I also couldn’t understand, because my English wasn’t up to the task. But I could still feel it in my guts. And it’s this very primal feeling, words connecting, sending a shiver down your spine—the whole idea that the sound of the words is actually much more meaningful than their meaning—and that’s something I’ve carried through my entire work. And with The Fall there are many other things. First of all, they had this whole amateurish approach to art-making. I change my style quite a lot as I’m sure you’ve noticed, so when I decide ‘ok, the next one will be in paint’, there’s a voice inside me that goes ‘hang on, you can’t paint’. But then there’s a little Mark E. Smith in my head that says ‘well, it doesn’t fucking matter. Get these three random tubes of paint and start painting. You’re not going to take classes or lessons. That is not how it’s done.’ So in a way I treat myself like he treats his musicians (laughs). Of course it’s even more unhealthy, I am my own tyrant and my own servant.

That's not all though! Today we've also got Mindy Rhiger's first piece for The Comics Journal, a review of Jen Wang's The Prince and the Dressmaker, a new graphic novel for younger readers published by First Second.

It may not begin with the words “Once upon a time,” but The Prince and the Dressmaker is a fairy tale through and through. From the prince looking for a wife (sort of) to the magical transformations (in a manner of speaking), the story blends elements of a traditional tale with modern ideas and sensibilities in a way that is every bit as charming and cinematic as the animated fairy tales many grew up watching. Perhaps this is a fairy tale that will speak to a new generation.