BLOG

Hardy Hero

Joe McCulloch brings us the week’s releases, as well as some thoughts on Richard Kyle and early fandom. Kyle is a fascinating figure whose magazine Graphic Story World remains a touchstone in early comic book history. He also famously commissioned Jack Kirby’s “Street Code.” I interviewed him a few years ago and have yet to transcribe it, but one of the days…

Still, from this excerpt, we can glimpse the true thesis of Kyle’s essay. He is fascinated by that most second-half-of-the-20th-century of all aesthetic preoccupations: the division between “art” and “trash,” which we might rephrase to ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. “Art,” to Kyle, appeals to the emotions and the intellect, while “trash” appeals only to one, yet because trash is embodied in “the spirit of the thing,” it can evade the scrutiny of art’s critical practice, and, sometimes, in its perennial success, prove itself more important. Specifically, “costume heroes” of the Golden Age disregard personal interest in favor of “idealistic beliefs of justice and right,” their dual identities emphasizing the capacity for the ordinary within the extraordinary, the simple humanity latent in the liberation of joyous power – “the hearts of these paper dolls.”

Thus, the “[e]ducation” of Victor Fox — “blue jeans gaping at the knees, being drummed out of kindergarten” — was that his eventual darkening of the superhero milieu in Blue Beetle, amping up sexualized peril for the heroines and stripping down the villainesses’ attire as the vogue for crime comics crept forward, only led to his rejection by a public given to “a mean streak of decency.” On first blush, this seems patently absurd – the (adolescent) public quite obviously loved pre-Code crime and horror comics; that’s why the Senate held hearings for a fast-crashing Bill Gaines to melt down over. But then, Kyle himself was a writer of adult-targeted crime novels, and perhaps saw a distinction between superhero comics and other types, the former appealing bang-on to impressionable children through the unique traits of the comics form, “where symbols can artistically replace representative realism more easily and convincingly than any other story-telling medium,” allowing idealism to flower.

Elsewhere:

David Lasky points us towards his earlier work.

A fine gallery of 3-D comic book imagery.

Stoner 70s fantasy over here.

OMG: A comic book character is dying this week, guys.

Some new Marvel editorial tips.

Not comics: Documenting the installation of Jay DeFao’s The Rose at The Whitney.

 

 

Don’t Ask Me Why

This morning marks the return of Charles Hatfield and his column on children’s comics. This time around, he writes about a frankly awful-sounding Fairy Quest: Outlaws, a title that has very representative flaws. Here’s part of the column:

The premise leans hard in the direction of Fables, complete with a setting called Fablewood “where all of the stories that have ever been told live together” (compare Fables’s Fabletown—or, for that matter, Once Upon a Time’s Storybrooke, though, to be fair, work on Fairy Quest predates the launch of that show). The twist here, besides the fact that Fairy Quest aims to avoid the barefaced adultness of Fables, is that, instead of familiar characters being run out of their Homelands by an evil Adversary, this book has familiar characters trying to get out of their homeworld for freedom’s sake. Fablewood is a dystopia, suffering under the despotic bureaucracy of a “Mister Grimm,” a narrative traditionalist whose mantra is “Keep your story straight—do not deviate!” Grimm runs the storybook world like a police state, issuing penalties and punishments for every departure from the conventional narrative logic. As the oft-invoked words “straight” and “deviancy” suggest, there’s potential for social commentary here (recalling, perhaps, Pleasantville, with its conflict between “black and white” and “colored” citizens). The authors, however, don’t rise to their own bait, and the implications of the premise remain unexplored.

Perhaps I should be grateful for that, given the number of formulaically “dark,” dystopic takes on fairy tales and old storybooks that comics have offered up (lately we all seem to be living in a world designed by American McGee). But Fairy Quest is generic in the most tiring way. Reading it reminded me of Underwhere, another deluxe yet underwhelming fantasy comic Paul Jenkins was involved in some years ago: all the expected pieces are there, but nothing new leaps out. There is beautiful cartooning on display, but nothing makes extraordinary demands of authors or readers.

We also have a few more free samples of The Comics Journal #302 for you. Today, it’s a short bit of Gavin Callaghan’s piece on proto-cartoonists such as William Blake:

The writer-artist (or artist-writer) is a problematic figure for many reasons. A hybrid figure in either medium, literature or drawing, he or she is suspect. The literary world, for its part, often displays an almost aniconic idolatry in its repudiation of image in favor of language; while the visual world, compelled to reject figurative renderings as mere “illustration” in its promulgation of the extremes of abstraction, often dismisses out of hand the writer-artist, who actually dares to combine figurative images with the additional blasphemy of the written word. But whether they are called pictorial writings, as they were by Austin Osman Spare, or American hieroglyphics, as they were by Vachel Lindsay, or Illuminated Books or stereoscopic printing, as they were by William Blake, the time has come for us to finally recognize it as cartooning and be done with it, and allow the cartoonist to assume a proper place in literary and artistic history.

Elsewhere:

—Sam Sacks ventures into somewhat similar territory in his post on The New Yorker‘s blog praising the illustrated book.

—Neil Cohn offers a short academic response to Eddie Campbell’s Rules of Comprehension.

—Julie Doucet still doesn’t want to return to comics.

Richard Sala talks to the back-up-and-running Tom Spurgeon.

—Scott Edelman wonders about the differences between the covers of romance novels and romance comics.

—Stephen Bissette tries to resurrect Binder/Grandenetti 1960s-era For Monsters Only.

—Two looks at interesting shows: Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX in Vancouver, and The Art of Harvey Kurtzman in New York.

 

Things Are Happening

Good morning, friends. Today we have another sample of the 302nd print issue of The Comics Journal for you, Tim Kreider’s consideration of Chester Brown’s Paying for It. Here’s a bit:

It’s some sort of testament to Brown’s fearless honesty in addressing such a taboo subject, about which there is apparently only one publicly acceptable opinion, that so many reviewers have gone out of their ways to make known their moral — and, in some cases, physical — revulsion. New York Times critic Dwight Garner, in describing a scene where Brown admits to being excited by the possibility that he’s hurting a prostitute he’s fucking, adds: “I cringe even to type that sentence.” Brown has said in an interview that he was disturbed by this incident, too, but he didn’t cringe at portraying it. And although I’m frankly made a little queasy by that scene too, I also admire Brown, as an artist, for showing it to us without the cover of some preemptive self-castigation. The unattractive truth is that men (and women) are sometimes aroused by things that are, in the light of day, creepy, disturbing, degrading or cruel. (Though I should also draw a distinction here between enjoying such things in fantasy or consensual play and actually doing them.) One of my female friends said the book “confirmed some of [her] suspicions about the male psyche.” The part of Paying for It that most resonates with me is (annoyingly) not in the book itself but elaborated in an endnote; Brown explains how, every time he used to see an attractive woman on the street, he’d imagine that there was some theoretical sequence of events that would result in her having sex with him and immediately condemn himself as a coward and a loser for failing to ask her out.

We also have another installment of Rob Clough’s High-Low small-press column, this time gathering up ten recent minicomics of note. Here’s a bit where he talks about relative newcomer Zejian Shen:

Shen is part of the Collective Stench group, a collective I was entirely unaware of until her comics showed up in my mailbox. To say that her style of drawing and sense of humor line up precisely with the sort of comics I like is an understatement. Each one of these comics is a sheer delight, reminiscent of two of my favorite cartoonists: Chris Cilla and Matthew Thurber. There’s a touch of the grotesque and bizarre in her work, but she also mines the same kind of Dada absurdity that informs Thurber’s comics so hilariously, as well as his surprisingly iron-clad command over both plot and character.

Upset Cats and Let’s Do It are short, one-joke comics. The former is exactly what it sounds like: drawings of cats dramatically expressing their woes, with captions ranging from “a mystery” to “I hate peanuts” to (hilariously) “TETSUO!” The latter title initially seems to be about having sex in any number of locations, but as the comic is folded out, it turns out to be something far more grisly. Shen has a nasty streak in her work that pops up in unexpected ways at surprising times, and this is a good example of that tendency.

Elsewhere:

—Interviews We Missed: Richard Sala at CBR, Drew Friedman for the National Cartoonist Society newsletter, Colleen Doran at CBR, and Tom Kaczynski at Hooded Utilitarian.

—That Tom K interview was conducted by James Romberger, whose reissued 7 Miles a Second just made the NY Times bestseller list, a pretty heartening development. It’s a pretty amazing book, and it would be a shame if it fell through the cracks.

—Cartoon Movement reports that one of their Palestinian cartoonists, Mohammad Saba’aneh, has been arrested and detained by Israeli authorities, for as-yet unspecified reasons.

—Glen Weldon at NPR responds to the recent Orson Scott Card/Superman controversy productively, by listing several recent comics and graphic novels with nuanced and compelling stories about gay or bisexual characters.

—I can’t imagine anyone will agree with all of R. Crumb’s casual assessments of cultural figures, but man are they fun. This time, he talks about a lot of writers (Kerouac, Miller, Roth, Sartre) and artists (Picasso, Peter Max). The must-read portion this time around is his discussion of Hugh Hefner, which includes an extended bit on Hefner’s relationship with Harvey Kurtzman.

—Aspiring cartoonists, take note: WFMU has dug up a 1946 instructional record from Art Ross on How to Draw 1000 Funny Faces.

—Tom Spurgeon’s review of All-New, All-Different X-Men #5 matches my thoughts almost exactly. (Wait, that isn’t funny. Here’s hoping Comics Reporter is back online soon, if only so’s Dan and I can steal his links.) [UPDATE: Looks like CR's temporarily moved to Tumblr.]

 

Game Set

Today on the site: Eddie Campbell discusses his rules for comics comprehension:

Occasionally I see a well-regarded comic wander across the view of a regular person. It happened on my travels recently when I was a houseguest of a friend, a 70-year-old lady who makes her living as an artist. While I was there she was working on some etchings to go into a limited edition anthology of poetry on the subject of war. I mention this simply to show that this person understands pictures. The mail arrived and among it there was a volume of Bryan Talbot’s Grandville, which her husband had bought. She opened it and checked it, in order to let him know by phone that it had arrived. While idly looking at the pages she confessed to me, after putting down the phone, that she didn’t know how to read these graphic novel things. I took a quick look and said, “My first thought is that I can completely understand what you’re saying, because I can see that the author in this case has broken at least three of the basic rules of comprehension.”

Elsewhere:

-An appreciation of Ted White’s Heavy Metal editorship.

-A preview of the upcoming psych-comic reprint, Jodelle.

-Hey, it’s psychology for designers. I thought that was called advertising.

-C.F. has a four-page comic in the New York Times.

-And Marc Bell goes Prada.

 

 

Discomfort All Around

Today is Tuesday, which means it’s Joe McCulloch alerting us to all the new comics day. As usual, he adds a mini-essay on some object of obscurity, which this week is basically European horror films from directors like Jean Rollin and the great Louis Feuillade (whose movies I strongly recommend to any fan of Richard Sala).

I should have spent the weekend reading comics, but instead I shut myself in with the book to your left, Kier-La Janisse’s 2012 House of Psychotic Women, published by the happy sleaze merchants at Godalming’s FAB Press, purveyors of heavily-illustrated, intensive studies of Eurohorror and world exploitation cinema, and, not coincidentally, one of the primary forces behind convincing me that writing about things to a potentially imaginary audience was something I’d be interested in doing.

I’ll always have time for their wares, and Janisse’s “Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films” is a worthy selection, being the sort of extended nonfiction essay that climaxes with a pill-addled vision of Argentine character actor Alberto de Mendoza appearing before the teenaged author in full costume from the 1972 Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee vehicle Horror Express and approaching her bed with glowing eyes. Textually, this occurs in the midst of a disquisition on the neurotic portrayals of director Andrzej Żuławski, which are later compared to those of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist – my kind of book. Soon, I was poring over my own movie resources and making my own connections.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—Some interesting sales figures and analyses have been released over the weekend, including John Jackson Miller’s post claiming that overall, around $715 million worth of comic books and graphic novels were sold in bookstores and comic stores last year. (Several sites have mentioned that this is the highest yearly comics sales figure since 1993, but as Miller updates his post to clarify, that due to inflation and higher per-unit costs, that comparison is somewhat misleading.) Also, retailer Brian Hibbs has put out his annual BookScan analysis.

—Tom Spurgeon gathers the latest developments in the ongoing Orson Scott Card controversy.

—The other kind of icky internet flame-up going on lately involves DragonCon’s continued involvement with co-founder Ed Kramer, who has been accused of child molestation. DragonCon recently issued a statement explaining their present inability to resolve the situation as they would like.

—The CBLDF has an interview with Mike Diana of Boiled Angel. I probably haven’t ready any Diana work in more than twenty years, but those images are burned into my brain.

—Dave Sim talks about his upcoming art auction through Heritage.

—Lynda Barry gave a convocation speech at Lawrence University this year:

 

Red Rover

Today:

My conversation with cartoonist Gabrielle Bell, whose The Voyeurs was one of my favorite books of 2012 and remains lodged in my brain. Gabrielle’s matter-of-fact tone just burrows in deeper with each reading. Anyhow, here a bit where I berate her for how she spends her time:

NADEL: What have you been doing?

BELL: I don’t even know. [Laughter.] I’ve been doing portraits on the Internet.

NADEL: Right, the Skype portraits.

BELL: And that takes a lot of time. And that’s pretty much it.

NADEL: And that was just straight up, you needed rent?

BELL: Yeah. Also, I just wanted to try it. Seemed like I was broke, and I had this idea, and I saw that nobody else was doing this on the Internet, and I was like, “Maybe I can corner this market.”

NADEL: Why Skype?

BELL: Last year I did it from photographs. That just didn’t work for me. It was just — I worked too hard on each one, and they always came out feeling stiff and awkward. Maybe because I’m not formally trained as an artist. I just don’t know what I’m doing. And then it took so long, and then the same thing is happening with the Skype project, but I like them a little better.

NADEL: But what’s the difference between a Skype image and a photograph?

BELL: Well I guess, for one thing, everybody is in the same position. I like drawing people’s portraits. So I guess the idea is that I’m sitting on a street corner doing portraits, only it’s on the Internet, in the comfort of my own home. That was the idea.

NADEL: And it’s like 40 bucks a shot?

BELL: 35, but —

NADEL: That’s cheap!

BELL: I know.

NADEL: You’re not charging enough!

BELL: That’s what people say, but —

NADEL: You need a business manager.

BELL: [Laughs.] I need a lot of things. And a lot of people.

Also, here’s another preview of TCJ 302, this time featuring the Toon Treasury Think Tank.

Elsewhere:

It’s digital vs. print over at Tom’s place.

Nick Abadzis names his desert island comics.

Neal Adams is doing an awesome job of being Neal Adams.

You can now download Reid Fleming comics and pay what you wish. That’s a fine comic.

These days I hesitate to mention Jack Kirby on this blog since it inevitably leads to a deluge of bizarre outpourings/Tourrets-like symptoms/cries-for-help, but I can’t resist. Here is the original art for 16 pages of a 1966 Thor story, and, yep, it’s pretty great to look at. Just spend some time looking at all those scale shifts.

Finally, this is a good idea and an excellent online exhibition for a project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory show, in which even some cartoonists exhibited.

 

Is There a Fly In Here?

We’ve got two things for you this morning. First, a rare interview with the underground legend Gilbert Shelton, creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, providing something of a casual snapshot of his current Paris life. Here’s a bit:

How long does it take you to do a page?

Oh, I don’t know. Forever.

One of the things I’d heard you say is that when you moved to France, you were able to finally tell people what you did. That there was a prestige afforded to comics that you didn’t find in America.

Yes. I used to tell people that I’m in the publishing business. But here I can probably say that I’m a cartoonist, or a “dessinateur de bande dessinée.”

Did they know your stuff well here?

Yeah. It’s well known. It’s been around for a while. The problem is that the French comic book industry publishes around four thousand new comic books every year. That’s more than a hundred a week. And the bookstore owners can’t cope with that. They know the Freak Brothers and they know they can sell some, so they can order that.

We also have your usual Friday installment of Comics of the Weak. Somewhat disturbingly, Tucker Stone continues to mellow.

Elsewhere:

—The Orson Scott Card/Superman controversy continues, with an official response from DC, editorials and reports about the matter reaching The Guardian and The Huffington Post, and various comics figures holding forth on the subject.

—Drawn & Quarterly has a late but strong entry in the Angoulême festival report race.

—Ryan Sands announces a new book, and, very promisingly, a new quarterly comics zine and publishing house.

—William Mesner-Loebs needs help.

—Jeet Heer pointed to this short take-down of Watchmen from The American Conservative. There’s some smart pushback in some of the comments.

—And here‘s a video essay on the Scott Pilgrim movie that talks about the formal challenges of adapting comics to film:

 

Mysterioso

Today Ken Parille looks at the “elegantly bleak, un-cinematic minimalism” of Harvey Comics:

In Casper the Friendly Ghost, for example, Casper’s repeated attempts at friendliness are thwarted by his ghostliness—he accidentally scares would-be companions. The company’s visual strategies are equally basic: this page from “Search Party” consists of sparsely-filled, same-sized panels all drawn as ‘wide shots’ (showing the full character and his environment) and colored with a limited flat palette. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that Harvey’s reliance on a few narrative ‘blueprints’ guarantees an uninteresting comic or reflects an unexceptional design sensibility. The more we look (or at least the more I look) at this page, the more carefully organized and attractive it becomes.

And Rob Clough reviews Windowpane.

Elsewhere:

Only comics by way of baseline ideas: TCJ-contributor Naomi Fry on the power of teenage artifacts, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and other matters.

Here’s a big and fun blog account of this year’s Angouleme from Drawn & Quarterly.

Maurice Sendak will have a school named for him Park Slope, Brooklyn, just around the corner from me.

Here’s a delightful cave-boy strip (cave-man culture is always a winner) by the man better known for lettering for Milton Caniff: Frank Engli.

TCJ-interviewee Ed Piskor on his upcoming residency in Ohio.

Cartoonist Marian Churchland buys an apartment, draws beautiful tree-dwelling.

And finally, TCJ-columnist R. Fiore needs a little visual aid assistance. He asks if you can locate this image on this here Internet: “there was a panel from a DC comics story that showed up on a number of blogs. It was the character Darkseid sitting in a chair in a hotel room or something like that, chatting with another character. I think it showed up repeatedly because it just looked so weird to have Darkseid sitting in a normal chair like a normal person, when he actually ought to be on a throne in a cave.”