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You’ll Eat It & You’ll Like It

Big day here today. First, we complete our (unplanned) trilogy of articles on EC Comics with a new piece by the great Bob Levin, with the perhaps unexpected title, “Let Us Now Praise Al Feldstein”. Here he goes:

I have no major disagreement with Gary Groth’s recent remarks. I applaud his formulation that a comic’s value is “intrinsically literary.” I swallow, with only a slight gulp, his recognition that EC’s prose was often cliche-ed, formulaic, “overwrought and fatuously earnest.” But as one who had his world rocked by – and sped to the newsstand each Tuesday and Thursday to skim the cream from its most recent deliveries – I take umbrage (“Take my umbrage… Please!”) at his equating ECs to “decent” noir B-movies.

You think Lee Marvin tossing hot coffee in Gloria Graham’s kisser was something? You ought to see that ranch hand after its owner smote him with her branding iron. You consider “Kiss Me Deadly” perversely erotic? How about that cheating wife and her lover whose heads were transplanted onto each other’s body by her cuckolded husband?

Decency, as Mae West might have said, had nothing to do with it.

Sure, with ninety-minutes at their disposal, B-movies may have deepened and shaded characters more than EC could in a six-to-eight-page story. And maybe this time allowed movies to present more disturbing world views. (Or maybe not. EC damn well frequently disturbed me.) But in two areas critical to the interests of red-blooded American boys, EC kicked the ass of anything 1950 Hollywood films – A, B, C, or D – could offer.

I am talking SEX and VIOLENCE.

We also have another preview for issue 302 of the print edition of this magazine, available this month from fine stores everywhere. Today, it’s another extract from Gary Groth’s long talk with Maurice Sendak, the last major interview of Sendak’s career:

SENDAK: … It’s what you see as a child, it’s what you notice. It’s like when I was … the man who wrote a book that said Hauptmann was not the killer of the Lindbergh baby … and that’s bad. He made the terrible mistake of talking about his book at the Richfield Library. Richfield, this is the most right-wing, goyish a county that could ever be. And I went to the lecture, about eight people there — Who wants to hear about the Lindbergh kidnapping? — I kept raising my hand saying, “No, no you got that wrong, you got that wrong,” and afterward … he came over to me and said, “Can we have coffee? You seem to know an awful lot about his case.”

And I said, “I know when you made a mistake. You really haven’t done your homework carefully enough.”

So we went out for coffee and he said, “What is it about his case that … Why are you so involved in it, even now?”

And I said, “Because when I was child, and I was shopping with my mother and she was holding my hand because I was a very little boy, and I passed the newsstand, and I saw a picture of the baby dead in the woods with an arrow pointing down to show it had to be him, and I took my mother to see it. And apparently nobody but me saw it.” So I was convinced that I was crazy and that I saw a dead baby in the newspaper. And I said, “It’s only in the past few years that I realized Colonel Lindbergh was enraged that that picture was used and it was taken off the afternoon edition; I saw the morning edition.”

I spent my whole life believing I saw that picture. But that to me is why children are so important: they see these things.

And then you have a mother who says, “You didn’t see that, that’s disgusting! Why do you think of such things?”

And I told my father and he says the same thing, “I don’t want you to talk about that!”

But see, children see those things. And when you take away the truth from them, you take away everything from them. And one of the passions I have about children is, we don’t know what they see, we don’t know what they really hear. And occasionally they are polite enough to let us in.

And we also have a review from Chris Mautner, of Régis Hautière and Renaud Dillies’s Abelard. He doesn’t seem to have liked it much:

Seemingly bereft of parents and living in a bucolic, mostly female-free marsh, Abelard is astoundingly naïve. Seriously, no one over the age of ten is as clueless as this kid appears to be. How clueless is he? So clueless that, when he falls hopelessly in love with a young woman visiting the marsh, he decides to travel to America so he can hop in one of those new fangled flying machines (the story seems to be set in the early 20th century) and give her the moon. He does this after a passer-by suggests offering the girl the moon is the best way to win her love and Abelard is obviously a very literal-minded person (we’ve already been treated to a winsome sequence of him attempting to reach the moon via ladder).

Elsewhere:

—Don Rosa wrote a must-read essay on why he quit drawing his duck comics, which Disney did not allow to appear in its licensed editions of the complete Don Rosa.

—Conundrum Press provided the internet as a whole’s favorite English-language Angoulême report.

—The never-ending Stan Lee authorship controversy has made its way into The New Republic.

—What curator just said this?: “The illustrator I chose to represent sequential art is Mort Drucker from MAD Magazine. He is hardly the flavor of the month, or even the flavor of last month, when it comes to sequential art such as graphic novels or internet comics. But there is an awful lot of lame artwork appearing in graphic novels today, no matter how moving or profound the text might be. If I knew of a current graphic novel artist who came anywhere close to the talent of Drucker, I would have used them. The interesting thing is, when you talk with a more fashionable artist in the show, Phil Hale, who does dark, obscure oil paintings 5 feet tall to illustrate psychologically complex Joseph Conrad novels, he’ll tell you that his ambition in life was once to go work with Drucker at MAD.”

—Johanna Draper Carlson explains why she’s no longer serving as a Glyph awards judge.

—Seth, circa 1987.

—Paul Gravett on Frederik Peeters.

—Did Charles Schulz invent *sigh*?

 

History Beckons

Hey it’s Tucker with some comic book reviews spanning the decades!

Elsewhere:

Your must read of the day is Joe McCulloch’s piece on his online writing history, philosophy and practice. It was in response to something that erupted on Twitter, but which I entirely missed, in response to Eddie Campbell’s essay here on Wednesday. Anyway, since this is so much in my house I ought to have some thoughts on it. I don’t, really, except to agree and nod gratefully. Joe’s point about writing about those things he wants to write about not implying that other things are less important is very important. If I can follow on his lead about Art Out of Time, the point was to broaden the discussion, not replace a canon or anything of the sort. I’d like to think ye ol’ Comics Comics and now TCJ is in much the same spirit, though obviously nothing can be everything to everyone. I should follow what people are saying about us more closely — I don’t know the reputation of Comics Comics (I do know that we had fun, we ran some good work, PictureBox lost some money. The rest… whatever.) to which Joe refers, and it’s hard for me to decipher what TCJ’s rep is, either, except that we run too much on Chris Ware or not enough. Or too much on EC or not enough.

Anyhow, how about some more links?

-Dash Shaw takes a break from writing for TCJ long enough to produce a huge graphic novel that will blow your minds. That’s my official blurb, from having read a chunk of it in draft form. See, I like young cartoonists. I even love some. Anyhow, here’s a preview.

-Bart Beaty brings us his final report on Angouleme 2013. No spoilers! Blake & Mortimer reviewed.

-Related to comics in the 1980s sense: Dave Sim is auctioning off some original art. I see a trend developing here. Investor’s tip: Wait a while and watch the prices get lower and lower.

-Related to comics in the 1940s sense: A profile of female pulp write C.L. Moore.

 

The Stuff

Today we present another excerpt from the latest issue of this magazine’s print incarnation, Lew Sayre Schwartz’s interview with Roy Crane! A snippet:

I was going to ask you what you thought was the reason that the circle has been completed, 360 degrees, and we’re back to the joke strip. I would assume, and you can comment on it for me, size and the television too, obviously the squeezing down of the comic, the dimensions of the television screen, are given as reasons for this decline in the adventure strip. And it’s probably quite true. But what are your feelings about this?

Well, I feel that continuity strips, at least my strip, Buz Sawyer, which I started during the war, that adventure strips were never stronger than they were during the war. And that certainly goes for [Milton] Caniff, who had his stories tied together and he got quite a lot of impact out of it. But now, the jokes that came after the war, the types of gags that were used in The New Yorker, changed the type of humor.

It became more sophisticated.

Yes. And, Chic Young certainly came out with a different way of telling a story, then. He would have his maybe four pictures and the third one would be his gag thing, and then in the fourth picture, he would give the reaction of the people, which is in [John] Gallishaw’s book on how to write a short story. Now that was picked up by a lot of people. I did it in Sunday pages and the like, where you maybe had humor and everybody else did.

Sean T. Collins is here this morning with a review of Johnny Ryan’s fourth volume of Prison Pit:

Prison Pit has always been gross, but this volume, in which the unstoppable protagonist Cannibal Fuckface attempt to break free of the subterranean psychemechanical prison ship he was stranded in last time around, was the first that made even a seasoned hand at the rough stuff like me emit weary moans of repulsion and disgust with seemingly each new pustule-encrusted beast that appeared.

Elsewhere:

—News Dept.: Bill Schanes is stepping down as VP of Purchasing at Diamond distribution after 27 years. And the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library announced its new Guide to Multicultural Resources.

—Opinion & Gossip:
Paul Constant is a little skeeved out by Neil Gaiman’s new campaign for BlackBerry; former Premiere editor Glenn Kenny gives the back story on how someone like David Mamet gets a cartooning gig at a major magazine.

—Interviews: Tom Kaczynski talks to Comics Bulletin, and James Kochalka talks to Panel to Panel.

—Education:
Somehow I missed that Lynda Barry is using her Tumblr to post resources and videos and notes for her ongoing class, “The Unthinkable Mind”.

—Trivia:
Mark Evanier talks about “Alfred” Astaire; the Library of American Comics blog compares the size of a 1928 Gumps strip to an entire comics page from 2013. Also, a picture of Nicholas Ray, reading:

 

Mawkish

Today on the site, Eddie Campbell says some things I’m glad he’s saying in: The Literaries. I look forward to the inevitable comments that ignore anything substantive and focus entirely on Stan Lee.

In the wake of the comics medium’s forty-year hike to serious acceptance, the chances are that now a person won’t get laughed out the room for putting them on a par with Literature. The flipside of the medium having gained this kind of recognition is that it has also acquired a new species of critic who demands that comics be held to the standards of LITERATURE. Since the invasion of these literaries, I have been observing a tendency to ask the question: if this weren’t a comic would it stand up? Would the story be any good if it were prose and in competition with the rest of the world’s prose? If we take away all these damn pictures, would the stuff that is left be worth a hoot?

And because TCJ 302 is hitting some contributor mailboxes now, here is a post you should refer to while reading the actual issue: Warren Bernard cites his sources for his Comics Journal #302 article, “Bloody Massacre: How Fredric Wertham Public Backlash and the 1954 Senate Delinquency Hearings Threw Comics on the Bonfire” and provides documents from the recently opened Frederic Wertham papers that shed new light on the Senate comic book Hearings of 1954.

With the opening of the Fredric Wertham papers at The Library of Congress, researchers finally have access to Wertham’s side of the affair, including Wertham’s hand-written notes of his telephone calls as they related to the Senate hearings.  The records of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held at the National Archives also held previously unseen documentation. Combined with the power of such newspaper search sites as Proquest Historical Newspapers and Newspaperarchive.com, both available at the Library of Congress, this allows us for the first time to understand the full story of how the Senate comic book hearings came to be.

Elsewhere:

This looks like an article on the “dirty” work of Angouleme Grand Prix winner Willem. Anal Symphonies, which I bought from the man himself some years ago at SPX (!) really is about as fine an anally-fixated comic as there’s ever been. I mean, for consistency (and ruling out Ed the Happy Clown).

Here lies the LA Art Book Fair. Scroll down for some choice words from Ben Jones. For those of you interested in the boring old “Art vs. Comics” thing, Ben’s kind of a good example, albeit somehow not often cited.

Hey it’s an announcement of a new Shaky Kane/David Hine project.

And here’s a preview of the classic French pop comic The Adventures of Jodelle.

 

Overload

It’s Tuesday, which means that Joe McCulloch is here with another of his weekly guides to the best-sounding comics new to comics shops tomorrow, which this time around also includes a possibly NSFW closer look at a new Euro-softcoreporn anthology from Humanoids:

I don’t know what the critical consensus is on this Argentinian stylist — and yes, I’m starting the Eurocomics post with an American, ha ha — but I do know that Heavy Metal once devoted an entire special issue (Spring ’00) to his short erotic comics, probably because they bought the rights to one or more album compilations they had to blow out somehow, but also, I suspect, because Altuna’s idealized ‘realist’ style evokes the enduringly popular Milo Manara to a considerable degree. All it takes is a good look at the curvature of his female forms to tell – and several generous looks are provided throughout his two contributions to Eros Gone Wild.

But I like Altuna in the ways he isn’t Manara. The first of his stories here, Holiday Hostages, is a dreary bit of male fantasy, seeing a hopeless nerd approaching a glamorous, lonely actress for an autograph, only for a Black Street Thug to ‘force’ him to have sex with the woman at gunpoint. The racial dynamics are sour as can be, but while the experienced Manara reader can mentally insert the obsessive and vindictive qualities il maestro might project onto the scenario, Altuna hones in on the satisfaction all three parties derive from this little encounter. He’s the light Manara. The ‘comedy’ Manara. This perhaps makes the gross aspects of his storytelling more risible for their purported sweetness, but I see it as an artist who can’t quite commit, fundamentally, to nastiness.

The collection doesn’t sound like my scene, at all, but Joe knows a lot so give him a listen.

Rob Clough knows a lot, too, as does Sam Henderson, whose most recent issue of Magic Whistle Rob reviews this morning. As Rob suggests, it’s been too long.

Elsewhere, there is too much to link to and read, so bear with me.

—Awards News: The Eisner judges have announced the slate of nominated figures eligible for the Hall of Fame, and it’s a very strong list, with some hard choices for voters to make. The judges have already made two of the easiest and best choices for us, by plugging Mort Meskin and Spain Rodriguez directly into the Hall of Fame themselves. Also, Slate has announced the shortlist of the ten graphic novels and webcomics eligible for their Cartoonist Studio Prize.

—New Journals Dept.:
Words Without Borders has released their February issue, which is devoted to graphic novels. It features a section on Oubapo comics, apparently edited or curated or at least translated by Matt Madden. Also, a new journal devoted to the work of women cartoonists, inkt|art, has launched with the seeming imprimatur of Nicole Hollander.

—Interviews:
Somehow I missed Evan Dorkin talking to Christopher Irving. Steve Bissette is on Inkstuds. And a rare 1987 French interview with Alan Moore has come to light.

—The Outside World: The CBLDF has more on the Missouri man imprisoned for the possession of comics deemed obscene. World War 3 Illustrated is highlighting a lot of work devoted to the late NYC mayor Ed Koch.

—Cyber-Mania!: CNN profiles The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman, comiXology goes to Europe, and Saturday’s Doonesbury annoyed a lot of webcartoonists (who, as we all know, are notoriously thick-skinned).

—Theory Dept.: Andrei Molotiu continues his series of “Might As Well Be Abstract” comics posts.

 

Cactus Face

I’m on my way back from L.A., so this’ll be short.

Today we begin our previews of TCJ #302, in stores very soon. So here’s a snippet of Kim Thompson’s Jacques Tardi interview.

THOMPSON: You haven’t worked with gray screens for a long time. You did a lot of it in the 1970s and ’80s, but in the last 15, 20 years much less so. You’ve either used simple black line-work, or color.

TARDI: Mmmm. Well, it’s necessary in this case, because I need to set the moods. Black-and-white drawings … I was going to say that after a certain point they end up being tedious, but that’s true of gray tones as well — I mean, it’s not exactly resplendent colors

There is a lot of text, so I worry that … Because it really is one guy’s impressions, day-to-day life, the showers, the food, the reveille, the work. He ended up working on a farm for a while, because he was hungry. At the time he was a junior officer, so in principle he wasn’t supposed to work, but he let them take him anyway because he thought he’d be able to find something to eat at the farm where he’d be sent to work, he figured he’d kill a chicken or find an egg somewhere. Which turned out not to be the case at all. So that’s what it’s about: Hunger, these guys’ daily problems, dreadful things that were done within the camp, even among people who are in the same straits … and then, afterwards, as the war wound on, the arrival of the Russians after the end of the German/Soviet [Non-Aggression] Treaty, because they were right next door, and then this departure at 30 below zero, in the snow. We were talking about movies earlier — imagine the cinematic possibilities inherent in that kind of situation!

And, of course, they’re the losers. They are not given a particularly warm welcome by the American soldiers. Things would get better later on, but initially they aren’t welcomed very well at all, and as he put it, that makes perfect sense! That makes sense: we were the losers, we were nothing, we hadn’t put up much of a fight.

THOMPSON: And Americans do have a fixation on winners and losers.

TARDI: Right. So my father was convinced they had far more respect for the Germans than for the camp’s prisoners. Also, during that return trip, led by the German soldiers, they kept a list of the towns they’d crossed through, along with the distances traveled, in a little notebook — along with the food problems, what they’d eaten, how long they’d stayed, etc. And tracing it on the map, you realize that the itinerary they pursued was totally disjointed, they went in circles, etc. At that time the Germans had gotten into their heads, or someone had put into their heads, that they would now be charging the Russians alongside the Americans. That idea didn’t last very long, but that explains why they didn’t turn themselves over as prisoners right away. And during that journey there were still guards, who were vicious. The war was over for them, but right up to the end they were beating the prisoners with rifle butts, and one day my father said, “OK, enough of that, we can’t take it any more,” and the prisoners took five German soldiers, disarmed them, and hanged them on the side of the road. [Pause.] That was probably just days before the end of the war. And again, why did they hang them? They’d disarmed them, why didn’t they just shoot them in the head, why hang them? It seems complicated. Maybe they wanted them to be seen, because he said that when they saw them, the other guards took off and were never heard from again.

When they linked up with the American soldiers, it happened in a town in Germany, and there was a field in which the weapons that had been seized from the Germans were stockpiled. Specifically cannons — small-caliber ones, of course — with matching ammunition, and right away, I don’t know whether it was the French, the Belgians, or who — maybe the Americans — they used those cannons to bombard, to raze part of the village and shoot at the column of Germans who were fleeing the combat zones. It was the end of the war, these were the horrors of war, there was nothing glorious about it, but you have to understand their state of mind. They weren’t exactly living a passionate love story with Germany right at that moment.

So there you go. I think all of these stories need to be told, because these people have not been talked about much. And when French cinema took on those subjects, it was always with a slightly comedic edge, portraying the Germans as big dopes, gluttons, sauerkraut- and potato-eaters, and the French of course were clever, etc.

Also, Craig Fischer is here with a column on nostalgia, change, and the challenges and beauties of serialized comics:

On Christmas Eve, we exchanged presents. I bought my parents a microwave, thinking that it would make it easier for my mom to cook one-armed, and she was ecstatic. Then mom and dad handed me my gift: the deluxe, polybagged version, complete with black armband, of Superman #75 (January 1993), the infamous “Death of Superman” issue. Of course, my parents knew that I read comics—though they didn’t realize that by 1992 my tastes had migrated to Eightball, Hate, and other black-and-white alternatives—and they saw and heard the publicity barrage surrounding Superman’s death. On the day the comic came out, my dad drove my sick, frail mom (who never had a driver’s license) to a local shop, where she stood in line for two hours (mostly with investors, I think) to get a copy.

Angouleme! It happened. Tom Spurgeon has the prize winners (Willem, the great cartoonist and master of scatological drawing, won the Grand Prix). And Paul Karasik has footage of artist Joost Swarte in performance.

Warren Ellis on the Instagramming of Books.

Not comics, but close enough because Peter Mendelsund has designed some excellent Tezuka covers. James Joyce.

 

Weird Week on the Ward

Tucker Stone closes out your comics week with a traditional up-and-down reviews column.

Elsewhere:

—Reviews: Illogical Volume on Eddie Campbell’s Lovely Horrible Stuff, Richard Baez on Ruppert and Mulot’s Barrel of Monkeys.

—Interviews: Hawkeye writer Matt Fraction talks to L.A.’s Hero Complex about the positive benefits of making comic books “less comic-y”, and writer-of-everything Max Allan Collins talks to CBR about his crime novel set in the Wertham era of the comics industry (apparently the first in a trilogy).

—News: ICv2 reports that Missouri man Christjan Bee has been sentenced to three years in prison for the possession of obscenity in the form of comics; indie comics artist Ray Felix is in a legal dispute with DC/Marvel over the use of the term “superhero”; Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers is being turned into a symphony. (The second link was stolen from CR.)

—Old News: Winsor McCay was once the target of an extortion sting. (via)

—I sometimes find it interesting to see the writing-about-comics that becomes popular outside the comics-blogosphere “walls”, if only to compare and contrast concerns and approaches — this week, it was Marie-Catherine Caillava’s essay on “Magneto the Jew”.

—Uncanny Comics: Josh Alan and Drew Friedman‘s comic from a 1983 issue of Weirdo (thanks, Jeet).

 

Relax, Don’t Care

Today on the site: R.O. Blechman remembers his friendship with Maurice Sendak. TCJ 302, which we’ll preview next month, contains a lengthy interview with Sendak conducted by Gary Groth. Leading up to that, here’s the great Blechman. We hope to publish more of Blechman’s chronicles of his life and those of his colleagues and friends.

His [Sendak's] turf could not have been more different than what passed for style in 1950s New York. Back then, walls were stripped down to the raw brick, lamps were Noguchi parchment globes, candles were stuck in  wax-encrusted wine bottles, and  occasionally, for somebody in the graphics business, there was a floor-to-ceiling cork wall. That was how we escapees-from-home lived in the ’50s. But not Maurice. He lived in a 19th Century  duplex on West Ninth Street. Dark and redolent with age, the décor was Jamesian—appropriately. His polished mahogany bookcases were lined with volume after volume of  first edition Henry James. His collection was second only to that of Leon Edel, the  eminent James biographer.

And elsewhere… I’m in Los Angeles this week for the LA Art Book Fair. I landed at noon yesterday and picked up my customary tiny rental car, though I somehow missed my customary stop at Randy’s Donuts.

First stop was the Ben Jones exhibition, The Video, at MoCA. It is a doozy. Ben commanded the space by installing massive video paintings and projections. It’s a meditative psychedelic experience.

Next stop was the Chateau Marmont for a meeting with the artist Wes Lang, who has taken up residence there for a spell. That’s a good kind residency.

And finally I landed at Sammy Harkham’s house, my home base in L.A. and favorite reading room. And so I’m here.

Now it’s off the fair to set up. I’ll be there the whole weekend. Booth S01. Ben Jones’ book is debuting, with accompanying events (a conversation on Saturday at 1 pm), and I’ll have plenty of other goodies. Come on by.