Today at the Journal, we've got Michael Dean's obituary for Mort Walker, whose passing was announced a few days ago. It's an excellent piece of writing, full of the sorts of meat that you can only get when you let an expert go long. Try this one out:
Unlike Beetle, Walker eventually got a taste of the WWII European theater. Shipped to Italy in 1945, he was put in charge of a POW camp housing ten thousand German prisoners. He found he was sympathetic toward the prisoners, who often escaped overnight and returned the next morning. “It came to me somewhere along the way that I didn’t really care if the POWs did escape,” he wrote in Backstage at the Strips. “They never did anyway. Most of them were just poor suckers like I was, waiting to go home and trying to make the best of it until they got there.” As an intelligence officer, he investigated a murder, robberies, rapes and other crimes in Italy.
I am going to be wrapping my mind around the concept of that the investigation of "murder, robberies, rapes and other crimes in Italy" be a fact that only merits one line in an obituary, simply because it turned out that was a small part of my life and not what anyone was going to know me for.
Another big day on TCJ. First, Paul Tumey writes a tribute and remembrance for Mark Campos, the Seattle minicomics artist. He also includes memories of Campos written by many of his friends in and around the comics world, including Roberta Gregory, Kelly Froh, David Lasky, Tom Hart, and many others. Whether or not you know Mark Campos's name or work, I highly recommend reading this and learning why he mattered to so many people.
Although he remained on the fringes of comics publishing, appearing almost exclusively in the small press, Mark Campos was a crucial figure in the Seattle comics scene. From the mid-1980s, he participated in various groups which included many notable comics creators, including Jim Woodring, Lynda Barry, Peter Bagge, Jason Lutes, Tom Hart, Ellen Forney, David Lasky, and Megan Kelso. As Campos himself once put it, he was a part of “the Seattle wing of the alternative comix movement.” Many Seattle creators (myself included) received warm welcomes and gentle ushering into the Seattle comics scene from the soft-voiced, kind-hearted cartoonist. Campos even worked at print shops, where he helped midwife many a comic book by others into publication.
Mark Campos possessed the talent to gain success with a much broader audience. Cartoonist Steve Willis has written, “In all my years of meeting comix artists there are two people who I consider to be master writers in the medium: Matt Groening and Mark Campos.” In his remembrance below, Willis observes that Campos was ahead of his time, a more artful creator in the Newwave Comix movement and Seattle comics scene of the 1980s and 1990s, likening Campos to “a Shakespearian actor in a Wild West boomtown.” In his chronicle of the first decades of the small press comix movement, The Minicomix Revolution 1969-1989, Bruce Chrislip wrote: “Mark Campos is among the greatest writers in comix.” David Lasky has called Campos’ comics “the hidden gems of comicdom.”
We also present the final day of this week's excellent Cartoonist's Diary by Tom McHenry.
I will be completely honest, I did not intend to like Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix! That the book won me over is a testament to the skill of its creator.
Why didn’t I think I was going to like the book? Well, here’s where I make my own shameful confession that I’m sure will see me permanently blackballed from the Journal: I’m just not that big into Hergé. So when I saw the cover to Spy Seal I groaned, and although I’m not completely certain I think it was even an audible and not an internal groan. A Tintin pastiche? There are few things within the realm of comic books that hold less inherent interest for me.
Now, as the critic in this instance I think it’s only right and proper for me to frontload my prejudices. That’s part of the story, after all: right off the bat the book starts off with a demerit for me because I never read Tintin as a kid. And the problem with that is actually fairly common in comics: let’s call it the problem of secondhand nostalgia.
Today at the Comics Journal, we've got a collection of doozies for ya. First up, you'll find Day Four of Tom McHenry's Cartoonist Diary. While it's Day Four for Tom, he's only up to Part Two of Carlos. Will he manage to complete the entire miniseries before we run out of Diary entries? You'll have to come back on Friday to find out!
You took over writing the strip when [Hal] Foster retired and you have this great account about sending him a story idea and how he tore it apart and explained how comics work and how the strip worked. I was reminded of that famous story of Stephen Sondheim sending Oscar Hammerstein a musical he wrote as an adolescent and how Hammerstein tore it apart and gave him a master class in how a musical worked. Foster seems to have given you a similar master class.
It was. It was on the porch of the Homestead Inn, in Greenwich. There are some things you don’t forget. The conversation could easily have stopped with the words “no good.” In Sondheim’s case, as you know, he went on to become a very close friend of Oscar Hammerstein’s and he took the lesson seriously. I did too. That conversation was such an eye opener because it stripped away the superficialities of the work and went down right into the engine. You need to see how this works. You can put the body on later, you can paint it whatever color you want, but you have to know how the engine of the thing works. I took his advice very seriously. It was so clarifying to have him explain it. The minute it was explained, then of course you think, Oh right, why didn’t I see that? Most people just don’t see these things because they’re not doing it and it doesn’t occur to them to look at the innards in the way in which a practitioner sees them. What strikes me now in retrospect is that Hal was able to explain things so clearly. By that point he’d doing comic strips for fifty years. Some things that are second nature to you are in fact hard to explain, but he was able to explain it.
How did it work when he retired and you took over writing the strip?
I had started sending story ideas to Hal that were just narrative story ideas—written out as if they were extended plot summaries. That was in the early '70s, probably 1972. I was still in college. And Hal began to use them as the basis for continuities in the strip. Then there came a moment when I decided to try my hand at doing them the way he did them, breaking things down into descriptions and text. That was when we had that meeting at the Homestead and he told me that I had not mastered the trick. That would have been in ‘74-75. I kept doing it and got better at it and he began using them in Prince Valiant. I think it was ‘79 when he gave up the writing of the strip altogether and I took over as the writer. As to what happened in the background, I really don’t know. There came a point where Hal sold the strip to King Features, and so King Features would have had a hand in it. By that time I’d been working with Hal sufficiently that I was a pretty good candidate to take it over. Especially because I could work easily with my dad.
Also, Leonard Pierce reviews the latest Larry Gonick book, a collaboration with Tim Kasser called Hypercapitalism.
The degree to which you are already aware of the failures of capitalism is likely to the degree to which you are already one of its beneficiaries. So you may not need to be told that you’re fucked, but maybe it can’t hurt to find out exactly how fucked you are, and why; if that’s the case, you might find yourself reading Hypercapitalism: The Modern Economy, Its Values, and How to Change Them, the latest effort by edu-cartoonist Larry Gonick (best known for his Cartoon History of the Universe), this time in collaboration with fellow academic Tim Kasser. The book is divided into two sections—the first identifying the history, theory, and effects of capitalism on our stricken age, and the second a series of suggestions about what we might do about it.
The first part is better than the second, albeit more depressing. The nature of capitalism is a pretty ugly one, after all, and provides no lack of material for even the most casual historian. Unfortunately, ‘casual historian’ is exactly what Kasser is, and it shows in a number of ways; important developments are glossed over, sins of omission abound, and what is explicit is implicit while what should be text is subtext. Put simply, Kasser and Gonick have approached the problem of runaway capitalism from a reformist’s perspective, and the result is an often toothless and ineffectual attack on what is literally a life-or-death problem. There is little here that questions the idea that our current system is anything but rational and inevitable; it gives only the slightest analysis of issues like incorporation and imperialism, despite their centrality to the issue; and the labor theory of value—inescapably important to any understanding of the nature of capitalism—is referenced with a hand-wave in a single panel.
Finally, we have Day Three of Tom McHenry's Cartoonist's Diary.
Priest is nothing if not candid about his own career and the industry as a whole. In interviews and copious self-published essays, he speaks fiercely about injustices in comics, naming names and pointing fingers at people responsible for failures he thinks have been undeservedly ascribed to him. You might say that’s just a case of his being, to use his words, an asshole, but he’s frank about his own shortcomings and poor decisions. Still, he sees his predicament as part of a larger pattern. “When I read these self-congratulatory histories of Marvel and DC, they completely omit not just me but other persons of color or firsts,” he tells me. “Who was the first woman editor? Who was the first woman penciler? And I think part of it is that the people who were assembling these histories of it just didn’t think it was important. But these things do count, and they really do matter.”
—Reviews & Commentary. Aaron Peck writes about the comics-adjacent artist Gus Bofa.
Bofa himself has become as obscure as the shadowy figures that populate his drawings. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that toward the end of his life, when he could have consolidated his reputation, he withdrew from public life and became a virtual recluse. Another is the marginal place that a book illustrator receives in literary history. He has enjoyed a minor revival in France, where his books are now collectors’ items, particularly because of his influence on bande dessiné. In 2000, thirty-two years after his death, an exhibition about his collaborations with Mac Orlan was mounted at Musée de l’Abbaye de Sainte Croix at Les Sables d’Olonne, in western France. Throughout the last decade, Éditions Cornélius has reprinted a number of his books and published a biography of him by Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian in 2013. Although, at first glance, Bofa’s work exists in the tidal zone between the French political cartoons of the nineteenth century and the bande dessiné of the twentieth, on closer scrutiny it has more affinity with modernist literature, a characteristic apparent in his collaborations with Mac Orlan, which also foreground a less examined aspect in Bofa’s work. Since his revival in France, Bofa’s influence on French illustration has been well documented; less has been written about his significance in the history of French literature.
Today at the Journal, we've got a big, honking look at John Pham's J + K, which is currently only available to people "in the know". Now that Frank's let the secret out, will there be a run? Get yourself speculating like it's a Chromium Summer:
J+K retains the Pham look we know, just with the volume on 11. It seems to me that he took his printed strips and scanned them and touched them up to loomore consistent than the slightly inconsistent riso comic magazines. Like every color is amped up and right on the money. No mis-registration of the printing or streaking or digital effects that look like mistakes. Very smooth and very nice. And simply gorgeous bigfoot cartoony drawing. His approach here, by his own account, channels Suiho Nagawa’s aesthetic by unifying or harmonizing, the color and the line. The lines are made by overprinting colors. Not by a traditional, single “blackline.” So the lines which contain the colors have different values or different sounds, if you will. The effect being one of a warm gauzy magic hour firmly rooted in cartoon symbolism. Meaning it just works on your eyes and brain in a way “blackline” based comics do not.
Today on the site, RJ Casey interviews the popular New Yorker cartoonist (and former SNL writer) Zach Kanin.
You used to be the assistant cartoon editor at The New Yorker.
What did that job entail?
That mainly was managing the Cartoon Caption Contest, which was fairly new when I started. I think the contest started a year before I got there. I also had to do data entry and stuff like that for the cartoons in the process of getting them through. There were about one thousand original submissions a week for the regular cartoons. About five hundred from the regular stable of New Yorker cartoonists and about another five hundred from the slush pile. I had to go through them and pick which ones to bring to Bob Mankoff, the editor.
Most of my week, though, was going through eight to 14,000 captions for the Cartoon Caption Contest.
[Laughs] Is there a science to that?
Yeah, there are tricks. I put them all on a spreadsheet and would search for things. I would search for “fuck” and “shit” and things that they wouldn’t publish. I could eliminate all those immediately.
I would also always start out by searching for the word “Geico.” There were always about five hundred submissions that were like, “Good news. Now you’re getting a better deal through Geico.” [Laughter] So many Geico jokes. I was like, “We’re not going to do that!” Searching for swears or for Geico would immediately take about a thousand out of the running for the contest.
—News. DC continues to antagonize Alan Moore and his collaborators, this time incorporating his character Promethea into a comic without seeking permission or even notifying Moore or co-creator JH Williams III. (Moore created Promethea for WildStorm, after he had announced his intention never to work with DC again. A few years later, DC purchased WildStorm.)
In New York City, some forty years later in 1873, The Daily Graphic with a page height of 56 cm (22 inch) was seriously larger in size, featured poster-like full front-page art and more large pictures inside, all done in a single black — and supplied the daily news with it in letterpress. Technically half of it originated from stone, half of it originated from metal. Something it kept up for over sixteen years in 5,129 daily issues. A truly daily myriorama. Over the sixteen years of its existence — a respectable number of years which at least points to some success — nothing is known about circulation numbers, or the volume of the paper’s printing plant. At the very beginning, the month before it started, The Chicago Tribune, in its New York Letter of 13 Feb, 1873, reported: ‘they can make their journal pay with a daily circulation of ten thousand, though they expect one much larger.’
A press run of up to 10,000 copies per day in the early 1870s for a New York newspaper was modest. (The number may have been mentioned by outsiders to belittle the enterprise.) A drop in the ocean compared to the daily circulation numbers papers would have towards the end of the century — when the printers and presses of editor-publishers like Pulitzer and Hearst managed to produce hundreds of thousands of sensational newspapers a day, tons of it — and sensationally illustrated too. Thanks to the latest modern presses, and thanks to the Daily Graphic’s inspiration.
Rather than just steal Sally Ingraham's Library of Congress and Phoebe Gloeckner links from her post on Comics Workbook last week, let me just direct you to it.
I keep circling around like a falcon in the proverbial gyre to try and get my arms around this comic. I spend all day watching the news and reading the news and listening to the news and discussing the news – everything is bad, yes, but more importantly things feel very desperate. There’s something in the air, I don’t know whether it’s even good or bad, but – if you’re trapped on the inside here in Fortress America it feels like we’re stuck in the middle reel. We’ve had tons of exposition. Every conflict is established. Everything is always happening and nothing changes. Tension keeps ratcheting ever skyward on every side and nothing changes. It’s the strangest feeling. We’re stuck in the Dragonball-Z of governmental crises.
This is, after, all, work by a cartoonist who went to hell, artistically speaking, not just once, but three times! This is the guy who experienced what for many would be hell on earth, being put on trial for sedition (twice!) with the possibility of years of imprisonment. Undaunted, or perhaps just worn out from drawing his thousands of cartoons, Young famously dozed off in the courtroom during one of these trials. Whether or not you agree with Young’s politics, who could argue with the sad-beautiful reflections found in his gentle work? Art Young’s cartoons are some of the most complex, some of the richest, most original, most refined, most personal art I’ve ever experienced. To Laugh gives us the chance to have that experience. By presenting this work in a beautifully designed compilation, we can finally linger over it, take it in, and expand our understanding of what cartoons can do, and perhaps should do.
From there, Paul goes on to commit multiple cardinal sins of list-making, including praising a book of criticism (HISS) and then concluding his list with trying to convince you that a book written by the She-Hulk guy was better than Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls, which is so absurd that when I contacted Charles Soule (my wife's godfather and a close personal friend), and he told me I was legally allowed to edit that part out of Paul's list! (Charles Soule is a lawyer, as well as the guy who they made write the Old Man Logan comic.) I would have made those edits but I got so caught up in re-reading Every Empire Falls--the second best comic to have been released in 2017--that I stopped feeling angry and just felt sad.
Today on the site, Greg Hunter returns with a new episode of Comic Book Decalogue. This time, he spoke to the cartoonist and editor Rob Kirby in an episode recorded live. In it, the man behind What's Your Sign, Girl? and The Shirley Jackson Project discusses Eric Orner, Lynda Barry, Peanuts, and more.
David Steward II and Carl Reed aren’t impressed with the mainstream’s slow crawl into the 21st century. Both African-American men, they’re co-founders of Lion Forge Comics, an upstart publisher that recently launched its own superhero universe starring and created almost entirely by people who aren’t white males. Sitting in a pan-Latin steakhouse in Hell’s Kitchen, they calmly express their disdain for the big boys on the block.
“When they do diversity, it’s all almost …” Steward says, trailing off.
“Reactionary,” Reed finishes from across the table.
Steward nods and adds, “It’s almost kind of an advertising gimmick of sorts. They take Thor and make female Thor, but female Thor is going to go away, you know? If you’re really going to invest in that at that level, then it needs to be a new character with its own origin that you’re going to push and pull and really get behind.”
—Reviews & Commentary. Alan Moore pays tribute to the recently deceased UK comics artist Jim Baikie.
Developing that strip [Skizz for 2000AD] with Jim was an education into his meticulously thought-through processes: the work that went into the look – and to a great degree the basic conception of the character – was all Jim’s. It was him that decided to depict Earth’s first contacted extra-terrestrial species as a kind of highly-evolved marsupial, reasoning that this would make the entity look alien enough while still allowing it to appear biologically feasible. And then he placed that fantastical creature into a sharply-realised contemporary Birmingham, where even the background faces are full of human character, and somehow made it work.
When I began work for DC Comics, having Jim as the artist on my otherwise-unpromising Vigilante two-parter turned a job that I wasn’t enjoying very much into a pleasure. Several years later we found ourselves working together again, this time for Image Comics and its various splinter-companies, most memorably on Supreme, where I remember Jim contributing to a riotous comedic short piece that played with the most ludicrous and fondly-remembered tropes of early 1960s superhero comics, and gave Jim a chance to indulge his extreme fondness for Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s anarchic and demented Mad extravaganzas. Thinking about it, it seems very likely that the fun Jim and I had with that brief outing was what led, with the demise of Supreme‘s publisher and our subsequent involvement with the fledgling America’s Best Comics line, to Jim being the perfect choice for our Mad-inflected patriotic superhero parody in Tomorrow Stories, the to-my-mind underappreciated First American.