Tuesday morning means it’s Joe McCulloch morning, and he’s got your Week in Comics right here. Joe also delivers something of a eulogy to Comics Alliance, the popular website that was apparently shut down by its parent company AOL over the weekend. Robot 6 ran the first report, and The Verge has a little more information over here. The reasons for the shutdown aren’t clear yet, though CA-affiliated editors and writers have claimed via social media that the closure was not due to traffic or “performance.” Comics Alliance was never my go-to site, and it seemed to have lost some momentum over recent years, but it undoubtedly featured some talented writers (some of whom are also occasional contributors to this site) and was very important to a certain kind of comics fan, still emotionally attached to the popular superhero properties of their adolescence, but beginning to question some of DC and Marvel’s corporate decisions — the type of people who would invoke (and celebrate) the idea of “geek culture” in earnest. That’s not my bag but it is a lot of other people’s, so it’s a shame to see the site end so abruptly and unceremoniously.
Today we have Charles Hatfield on Gilbert Hernandez’s two new books, Marble Season and Julio’s Day.
This morning, over breakfast, I read Gilbert Hernandez’s new book Julio’s Day, which I had just gotten the day before.
This evening, before dinner, I read Gilbert Hernandez’s new book Marble Season, which I had found waiting for me on the dining room table when I got home.
Crossing the synapse between these two lit my head up, like fireworks. In the stretch between the two of them, in the distance but also consistency between 2001 and 2013, is fresh proof of Beto Hernandez’s fidgety talent, his rare mix of raw provocation and affirming humanism, toughness and tenderness of heart. When it comes to Beto, the lightning keeps striking, and if it doesn’t strike exactly the same place twice, it does testify to the same divided genius. To read two new books by Hernandez in a day—and both of them self-contained and freestanding, unlinked to the elaborate continuities that shape his signature projects, Love and Rockets and the “Fritz B-Movie” series—this, to me, is a gift.
Today it’s Comics of the Weak time, and that means that Tucker Stone is talking Jupiter’s Legacy, and newssnarker Abhay Khosla is talking about whatever it is that’s been happening over the past few weeks…
And Rob Clough is here with a review of Jon Lewis’s True Swamp: Choose Your Poison, a book that’s been quietly influential on any number of important artists you wouldn’t expect. Here’s an excerpt:
The obvious touchstone comparison for True Swamp is Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and Lewis clearly drew inspiration from Kelly in terms of setting up a particular kind of swamp patois and creating a huge, broad cast of colorful characters. Where Lewis sharply differs is in the way he depicts these characters. This is a raw, nasty world where death is always at hand, yet there are small joys to be experienced every day. Love, sex, friendship, jealousy, knowledge, and religion are all important concerns, but they are experienced in ways unique to each animal. The animals have animal needs—food, survival, and sex (just like humans)—and Lewis enjoys playing up the cruder aspects for humorous effect.
—Alan Gardner writes about a recent controversial Daryl Cagle cartoon (or pair of cartoons, rather), in which Cagle appeared to sell two versions of the same cartoon by changing the punchline to reflect both sides of a political debate. This sparked some consternation, including even the usually so-even-keeled Ted Rall. Gardner’s relatively forgiving, but as you can see from the comments to his post, opinions differ.
Today Robert Loss discusses Mark Beyer’s recent retrospective exhibition.
The temptation in looking back at this compelling exhibit, which the Urban Arts Space described as “the first in-depth retrospective” of Beyer’s work, is to search for a trajectory, a progression from one aesthetic or subject matter to another concurrent with the artist’s biography or history. Retrospectives encourage this, don’t they? Well, it was there if you wanted it. Following the exhibit’s route, you began in “With Text: 1975-2011,” starting with mainly black-and-white comics, including a wall of original Amy and Jordan comic strips, and proceeding to the commercial art of New Yorker covers and commissioned album art and posters, where words became images themselves, and his animated series The Adventures of Thomas and Nardo, where words were only spoken. You concluded in “Without Text: 1975-2012″ which was largely comprised of silkscreens and reverse paintings on plexiglas, absent of words or motion.
And yet, any argument the show might have made about the progression of Beyer’s work by dividing it into “With Text” and “Without Text” was leveraged by the fact that each section covered Beyer’s entire career. On the other hand, Beyer stopped publishing comics in the late 1990s and has returned to the form, so far as I know, only once.
Chris Mautner is here with a review of the inaugural volume of TwoMorrows’s history of U.S. comics, John Wells’s American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s. Here’s an excerpt:
This is the first entry in TwoMorrows’s extremely ambitious attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the American comic book industry in America. Running from the 1940s to today, the series proposes to detail all the “pivotal moments” that occurred both behind the scenes and within the comics themselves, with different authors tackling different eras.
Just glancing at that timeline, though, gave me pause. Why start at the 1940s? Why not begin earlier? I understand that TwoMorrows wants to focus solely on comic books, but even so, to ignore the first forty years of the newspaper comic strip, which, to put it mildly, laid most of the groundwork and influenced many if not all of the cartoonists that worked in the first few decades of the industry (to say nothing of the high aesthetics of the work being done during that period) seems problematic at best. Turning the book over in my hands I wondered: Is this going to be a thoughtful, engaging look at how the industry has changed over time, or just a fannish reminiscence of bygone years?
—Talk talk. Tom Gauld talks to NHPR, Gilbert Hernandez talks to The Portland Mercury, Liza Donnelly talks to Cartoon Movement, Blutch talks to Craig Thompson.
—Award fever. Voting is now open for the Eisner Awards, with the ballot available here. Eisner judge Charles Hatfield addresses the recent controversy over Frank Santoro’s Before Watchmen comments. SAW has announced their latest round of micro-grant awardees. And the Doug Wright Awards has begun an auction of supervillain-related original art to help fund itself. Details are here, and the first item up for bid is the following piece from Seth.
A boy named Barnaby wishes for a fairy godmother. Instead, he gets a fairy godfather who uses a cigar for a magic wand. Bumbling but endearing, Mr. O’Malley rarely gets his magic to work — even when he consults his Fairy Godfather’s Handy Pocket Guide. The true magic of Barnaby resides in its canny mix of fantasy and satire, amplified by the understated elegance of Crockett Johnson’s clean, spare art. Using typeset dialogue (Barnaby was the first daily comic strip to do so regularly) allowed Johnson to include — by his estimation — some 60% more words, giving O’Malley more room to develop a rhetorical style that, as one critic put it, combines the “style of a medicine-show huckster with that of Dickens’s Mr. Micawber.” In its combination of Johnson’s sly wit and O’Malley’s amiable windbaggery, a child’s feeling of wonder and an adult’s wariness, highly literate jokes and a keen eye for the ridiculous, Barnaby expanded our sense of what comics can do.
Though one of the classic comic strips, Barnaby was never a popular hit — at its height, it was syndicated in only 52 papers. By contrast, Chic Young’s Blondie was appearing in as many as 850 papers at that time. As Coulton Waugh noted in his landmark The Comics (1947), Barnaby’s audience may not “compare, numerically, with that of the top, mass-appeal strips. But it is a very discriminating audience, which includes a number of strip artists themselves, and so this strip stands a good chance of remaining to influence the course of American humor for many years to come.” He was right.
—Since the last time I posted on this blog, the comics internet erupted with controversy over the Eisner Awards judging, especially in regards to past comments by Frank Santoro (who, as all readers surely know, is a Journal columnist and my friend), only to die down almost as quickly once the facts came to light. At this point, I don’t know how much there is to add to what’s already been said, but I think that Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald are both well worth reading. (My take in a nutshell: You want judges who have strong tastes and opinions, and Frank is one of the most knowledgeable people about comics I have ever met in my life.)
—In other awards news, the Stumptown awards nominations have been announced, and are now open for voting, and Natalia Yanchak, one of the Doug Wright Awards judges, writes about those awards for the Huffington Post.
—And in still other awards news, Sammy Harkham’s Everything Together has just won the L.A. Times Book Prize.
—Librarian Carol Tilley writes about the recent Persepolis debate for the CBLDF.
—Small publisher news: Sparkplug Books has announced that Virginia Paine will be taking over ownership of the company, and Domino Books owner Austin English announces an imminent move that will affect several small publishers and cartoonists, including Domino, Rebus, Revival House, etc., and says this would be a particularly good time to buy some Domino books if you’re so inclined. (I’d guess the same is true for Rebus and Revival House.)
Castrée chronologically documents every hurt, every slight, every refusal of affection, and every thoughtless maternal dismissal. A child tends to crave routine, affection, agency, and a certain solidity from her parents. From her single mother, Castrée apparently received a life of constantly shifting emotional quicksand.
Ivan Brunetti is auctioning off an original comic strip page to help fund his student’s anthology, Linework #4. The page, originally published in The New Yorker, is beautiful and I’ve seen the earlier issues, which are accomplished and beautifully put together.