Smith, like Jones, is a name so plentiful in English-speaking countries that it achieves virtual invisibility and thereby anonymity. And the only Al Smith who ever broke free of the amorphous mob of Smiths is the one that was a picturesque governor of New York: he attracted enough notice that he was able to run for President of the U.S. against Herbert Hoover in 1928 and lost because he was Catholic, voters of the day being provincial enough to believe that if a Catholic was in the White House, the Pope would be running the country.
Our Al Smith, the nearly unknown cartooning one, wasn’t even a Smith at first: he was born March 2, 1902 as Albert Schmidt in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Henry Schmidt and Josephine Dice. Eventually, he “Americanized” his name to Smith. We don’t know when he did this, but it was done by the time he was signing one of the most famous comic strips in the history of the medium, 52 years after he was born. He continued signing Mutt and Jeff for 27 more years before retiring. By then, Al Smith had been producing the same daily comic strip for almost 50 years, at the time, a world record.
Supplying autobiographical information for the membership “album” of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) in 1960, Smith wrote: “Born in Brooklyn, I became an orphan at age four. My boyhood was like an Horatio Alger story. Shoeshine boy after school, made 60 cents a week. Quit that to become butcherboy at $1 a week. Loved to draw and make people laugh. Could not afford lessons. Loved vaudeville. Might have tried acting career if I hadn’t married. … I was too young for the First World War and too old for the Second.”
The world of Fuzz and Pluck is populated with deluded and frustrated characters and abounds in disturbing dreams and odd transformations. At one point in their quest to locate the tree, Fuzz and Pluck come across a swarm of angry bees, which ends with Fuzz covered in mud and Pluck swollen to twice his size in stings. There’s a frightening dream sequence early on where Pluck cuts off his legs in an attempt to make bait for fish and then Fuzz is torn by two stray threads asunder, until nothing is left of him but two eyeballs.
That Fuzz would have such an unsettling nightmare should should not be surprising to those who have read their previous adventures. Both Fuzz and Pluck and >Fuzz and Pluck: Splitsville had an element of horror to them, however slight. Think of their initial appearance with the cheesecake character that everyone ends up devouring. Or the creepy half-grapefruit villain in Splitsville. Or the little girl’s toys that tear off a duck’s wings in order to attach them to Fuzz (also from Splitsville).
Meanwhile, elsewhere: —Interviews & Profiles. Sam Thielman at The Guardian speaks to Ben Katchor.
I was looking at 17th-century draftspeople and not comics. [Nicolas] Poussin, and Rembrandt, and the whole other world of anything but commercial art. I grew up reading comics, but then I discovered a whole other world of picture-making. They didn’t all make comics, but they made heavily narrative pictures. Poussin was a philosopher-painter, he wasn’t just a painter, so there was a big literary angle to these images. So I looked at that. That’s what was always interesting work.
You can’t keep recycling what’s happening. The critique was that I didn’t like how most comics were drawn and I had to draw differently than they did. If you don’t have a critique of what you’re doing, you may as well not do it. Just go on and be an apprentice to somebody and do what they do. That’s a pretty deadly direction to go in. Robert Crumb was looking at Albrecht Dürer, and looking at Doré and these incredible draftsmen of the 19th century. He was looking at early newspaper comics.
The AV Club talks to Ed Brubaker about his comics and his work on the new HBO show, Westworld.
When I first came here, I had done a couple TV pilots, and a friend of mine wanted to leave comics and come work in Hollywood, and I said, “Well, you’ve got to understand that when you sell a TV pilot, imagine if you turned in the best issue of Batman ever, and DC was like, ‘Well we love this, but we can’t publish it because we have to publish this other thing by this other person.’ There’s always room for a great issue of Batman at DC Comics, but networks have a limited amount of shows they can put on. You could do a pilot that is everyone’s favorite pilot at the network and they all say, “Yeah, but who’s going to watch this?” They’re not just judging shows on, “Is this good?” They’re judging it based on how many people will want to see this in our estimation. The odds are really long on getting anything made, so if you come from comics and you’re still making a living in comics, that really helps because you’re not desperate for someone’s permission to write for a living.
Mike Dawson has put TCJ Talkies into hibernation and started a new podcast with fellow cartoonist Zack Soto called Process Party. The guest on the first episode is Vanessa Davis.
We are lucky to have Ron Rege interview Dame Darcy on the occasion of her essential new book, Meat Cake Bible. It's a doozy.
Rege: This is not a graphic novel by any means. You’re a cartoonist from the pre-graphic novel era, which isn’t that long ago.
Darcy: Yeah, and all the kids do this manga thing now. Everyone does anime and this anime style. It’s fine, especially in my genre, Gothic Lolita. It’s all this anime goth. I’m Gothic Lolita too, but I have nothing to do with anime. All the millennials are super into anime and they need to expand on that, you know.
Rege: I think eventually they’ll absorb it and do it in their own style or something like that.
Darcy: I hope so because I’m kind of getting sick of it. You know, you’re drawing really great, but you’re drawing just like anime. Come up with your own thing guys! I’m going to do a skill share video series teaching how to self-publish and do your own comics, and coming up with your own style is the main part of it! [laughter]. You’re not learning anything if you do that. You gotta go into your soul and come up with your own look!
I taught sequential art at the School of Visual Arts, and I’ve done lectures with PNCA and SCAD and Columbia and stuff like that, and one off things at public schools. I’ll volunteer. I did a little comics course for kids in the inner city schools in LA. I did it here for summer camp in Savannah. I’m all about it. One of the first things I say is, ‘Okay what’s you’re spirit animal? What’s your favourite stuff? What’s your favourite colour? What’s your favourite food? Combine it all in to a character, that’s where you’re going to get your style!’
Rege: That’s cool.
Darcy: Yeah, they come up with the cutest, hilarious stuff. I just love teaching people how to tap into their pathos. That’s what it’s really about. Just inspiring people with your work to be themselves, and to tap into their pathos. Like, be yourself so brazenly!
I love how when Obama became president he was like ‘yeah, I know there’s never been a black president before, but my reality and my confidence is so strong that I changed reality. I made it so there was a black president even though there’d never been one. In my world there could be one, and so now there is.’ I love that! That’s the key to manifestation and magic. Just alter reality so that it becomes your reality!
Rege: Oh my god.
Darcy: Seriously. I wanna be as big as Snoopy or as mainstream as Hello Kitty or some shit. Really I do.
Monday night I attended Dash Shaw's NYC premier of My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, which I absolutely loved. It's beautiful to look at, funny, and suspenseful. I was blown away, really. There are visual effects in there that I've just never seen before. If it's playing anywhere near you, go see it.
I also wanted to mention, since I've gotten a few emails asking about it, that all the installation photos from the Ben Jones exhibition at The Hole are now online. Ben's new show was fascinating because it was a rare instance of a cartoonist making comics that function as narrative drawing in a contemporary gallery space. These are not enlarged images (e.g. Shrigley), murals, or groups of drawings (Pettibon), but rather straightforward canvases that take a new approach to the comic medium. The show consists of oil stick-on canvas 3 by 3 foot cartoon panels assembled into narrative blocks (or 6 by 9 foot “pages”). They manage to feel as intimate as his notebook-sized comic strips and yet take on a new, somewhat ominous meaning — their dumb subject and large size a visual equivalent to, say, the comedy of Eric Andre or Will Ferrell. On a technical level, the work functions because his line is distinctly warm, his cartoon forms basic, and his sense of space and scale adaptable to large spaces.
There’s a strange and digressive history of how comic art has been shown in museums and galleries (this is leaving aside cartoonish art, like Peter Saul). Usually a cartoonist like Clowes or Barry or Crumb exhibits the original drawings for their publications. Every so often (particularly in the 1940s and 50s) a cartoonist will make paintings or, in the case of a young artist like Aidan Koch, sculpture.
But mostly it’s original pages on a wall. Even Jim Shaw generally shows his “dream" comic book pages as if they were made for publication. And of course there’s the legacy of Pop: It’s rote by now to discuss Roy Lichtenstein's use of comic book panels as material for paintings. Less well known is that contemporaneous cartoonists, notably Al Capp (Li’l Abner) made “pop art” prints of their own work, complete with enlarged ben-day dots and the like, as if to compete with the men they considered “thieves”: Lichtenstein, Mel Ramos, Erro, et al. And younger contemporary artists have toyed with the comic strip as a source for material, like Jayson Musson, who exhibited his own versions of Nancy-cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller’s renditions of modern art, circa mid-20th century.
That's all. Just a few thoughts on this great show.
This weekend marks the second annual Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, and festival director (and Comics Reporter editor) Tom Spurgeon talked to me about what people can expect at this year's show, about the process of putting together We Told You So, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics coming out this December, and what it was like to work with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson in the 1990s.
I was probably one of the last employees who went to work for Fantagraphics in part because I wanted to be with people who got my jokes. I was pre-Internet, a solitary comics reader, and the thought of working on a magazine I enjoyed about a subject I loved was way more appealing than watching people sniff underwear at a Home Shopping Network warehouse. I was Gary's fifth choice.
It was really young, Tim. I showed up for work about two months after Kurt Cobain killed himself — not related — so the whole city still felt young, but not excitingly so, maybe. But the office, Jesus. Gary and Kim were the oldest and they were like 37 and 39. Conrad Groth was a baby. The vast majority of us were 26 or younger. It was a lot rattier, with loud music and a lot of smoking on both porches. We did not have full computer coverage — Roberta Gregory used to come in to cut Rubylith and what is now the marketing room was half Kim's office and half the stat camera room.
Joe McCulloch is here too with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, spotlighting the most interesting-sounding books new to stores. His spotlight picks this week include new titles from Baudoin and Sarah Glidden, but it's a packed week, with comics from such major talents as Anya Davidson, Shigeru Mizuki, Ted Stearn, and Abner Dean, too.
Mickey Mouse was in fact racially ambiguous, since he owed much to black culture but wasn’t seen as black by the audience, all the more so because as he became a corporate symbol Disney played down the black cultural references. By the 1950s, Mickey was a home-owning suburban rodent living in a white picket house. The 1927 Disney short Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon with sound, was inspired by Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer—which is not surprising, since both Disney and Jolson (famous for his blackface) belong to the tradition of white artists who appropriated black culture and sold it to mass white audience. What got lost in the process was Herriman’s satirical intent. While Krazy Kat remains a powerful commentary on racism, one looks in vain for such commentary in most Disney cartoons.
The Melville House blog spoke about the situation with Furie's old editor at The Believer, Andrew Leland.
The Pepe knockoffs online are pixellated and shitty and have none of the charm of Furie’s achievement. They’re like the disenfranchised Bart Simpsons of the 90s, playing in the NBA or brandishing bongs and wearing dreads. But in reverse: Bart was born to be a schoolkid, but then got coopted into underground drug culture. Pepe, conversely, was born to get high, but now he’s been conscripted into a hateful subculture that has nothing to do with his true spirit.
I've heard several cartoonists describe Furie's situation as an artist's nightmare, and it's not hard to agree. I might add, though, that if Furie were inclined to take it, he has been handed a very rare opportunity to create a comic that will be read by an extremely large audience, one that might even be career-defining. I guess in a way that's kind of an artist's nightmare, too!
Soft City is something of a miracle. Not only for existing in the first place, but for surviving at all. Drawn between 1969 and 1975 by the Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner (now often just Pushwagner, though born Terje Brofos in 1940), it languished in obscurity for decades and was very nearly lost before finally being issued in book form by the Norwegian publishers No Comprendo in 2008, following a messy legal dispute involving the artist and his former dealer. Most pointedly, however, it is a miracle of its native medium—the comic strip—for its startling and disquieting vision in a form that had never before quite seen anything like it. Funny, or maybe not so funny, that it would take forty years for the rest of the world to realize it.
Robusto!!! is set in 1993, but seems to have been published between 2001 and 2005. If this is correct, why did you wait until so long after the events that you depicted had occurred?
Robusto!!! started more like a joke, actually. I was teasing my friends Red and (Peki?) because they tried to sell a few pirate discs just to get out of some debt. Then I said, “Hey, guys, you are criminals now, hahaha! But don’t feel ashamed because you are only small time crooks and the real big criminals are employed in our government and on other important positions in our state! Then I started to remember everything that happened in previous years in our unhappy and fucked up society and than I decided to make a comic serial.
But these characters can also front, deceptively, for a monochrome industry. [G. Willow] Wilson blames "a certain amount of gatekeeping" for sustaining this status quo. "Any time you get a new creator or writer or artist, there's this question of, well, how are they qualified, especially if this person is female or a person of color. The fact is, there is not such a thing as being qualified to write comics. A lot of the best comic writers don't have high school degrees. Now we have Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Roxane Gay [the writer, also black, tapped to write World of Wakanda as a companion to Black Panther]. If you look at their qualifications — he's a MacArthur 'genius.' Gay is a bestselling author, teaching at the college level. Margaret Atwood is another public intellectual [who's been recruited]. If you're a white dude, you can just write comics because you're good at it, but if you're a person of color or a woman, you have to be a MacArthur genius or have a Ph.D. or speak three languages."
It's been a sad week for French comics. In her second memorial piece on the site this week, Cynthia Rose remembers the legendary bookseller Jacques Noël.
Under cover of night, as September faded into October, bookseller Jacques Noël of Un Regard Moderne departed this life. It was not the sort of loss that cranks Le Monde into hyperbole. But outside of Noël's Left Bank bookstore, the stream of passing mourners has yet to pause. A few leave notes or flowers but most stand in silence, remembering.
That's because there is really no other bookstore – possibly no other place – like Un Regard Moderne. A literal temple to the book, it is most frequently compared to a den, a grotto or a cavern. Here the wary customer has to browse carefully, weaving in between the shaky stalactites, mountainous piles and heaving shelves of barely-balanced volumes. Noël's tiny kingdom is layered, stacked and crammed with riches: bandes dessinees, fanzines, monographs on art, graphics and literature, Beat Generation rarities, Situationist tracts, self-published everything, graphzines, underground comics, leftist lit and erotica. It's a place where Guy Debord meets Gary Panter, the Marquis de Sade sits atop Nazi Knife and William Burroughs knocks elbows with L'Association. For almost two decades, the shop has functioned thusly – both a living sculpture and a natural resource for artists, writers and thinkers.
—Interviews & Profiles. Jillian Capewell at the Huffington Post interviews Sarah Glidden.
She’s still present in this second book, but more in a minor way. “I guess I’m coming from the school of journalism where you don’t really believe in objectivity,” Glidden said. “Part of the reason I like comics journalism is that, by drawing, you’re kind of showing with every single panel that it is subjective. Somebody not only witnessed all of this stuff, but somebody drew it. I hope that the medium of comics itself reinforces that idea, that, hey, remember, somebody is telling you this story. Somebody is choosing what’s important.”
CBR talks to Dave Sim, who has returned, in a way, to Cerebus—in webcomic form.
It is very much a branding exercise. When we started putting “Cerebus in Hell?” together, at first I was just using the image of Cerebus from the “Cerebus” trade paperback cover. This is the “Cerebus” trade paperback that sell the best and this is the one that all the retailers keep in stock, so let’s just have this be the only Cerebus that we use.
It’s a branding exercise, and it’s getting back to the humor that attracted a lot of people to “Cerebus,” that it was actually a funny comic book as opposed to in quotation marks “funny.” By the time the twentieth or thirtieth “MAD” imitator was coming out, it was like, “Yeah, yeah, we get it, but this is not particularly funny.” Funny isn’t something that you can fake. You either read it and laugh or you don’t read it and laugh.
I like the dated-ness of the idea of living on the moon. It seems to come from a time when we were more simply optimistic about science and technology’s ability to change our lives for the better. It seems amazing that the moon was there for millions of years and humans looked up in wonder, then we went there, and for a few years people were bouncing around, playing golf, driving a car etc. Now, again, it’s completely lifeless and has been for more than forty years.
Frank151 discusses how Matt Furie's Pepe the Frog character has been co-opted by online Trump supporters with Furie's editor at Fantagraphics Eric Reynolds.
At first I was watching it from a distance and not necessarily feeling like we had to do anything or should do anything. When it really first started to take a more disturbing turn, in my mind, was first when Hillary Clinton’s website had an explanation about Pepe being associated with white supremacists and there was no mention of the fact that, actually, he was this sort of innocent creation of this innocent cartoonist in Southern California who has had absolutely nothing to do with his character being associated with these groups. I’m a Hillary supporter and it sort of bummed me out that there was this only half-truth to the story.
But then the really disturbing turn was when the Anti-Defamation League felt the need to categorize Pepe in this way, and in their defense, they perfectly did their due diligence in terms of identifying Pepe as the creation of Matt and as this character that took on a life of its own, completely irrespective of Matt’s desires or wishes and didn’t reflect on him personally. But still, it’s just creepy. It’s definitely disturbing and it’s also just really frustrating to see the Trump family being heavily responsible for all this. I don’t know, the whole thing is very, very, fucking weird.
Jacques Noël , the great founder and proprietor of the Paris bookstore where all good and bad forms of comics and illustration converged, Un Regard Moderne, passed away on Friday. The store was particularly renowned for championing the likes of Le Dernier Cri, ESDS, CBO, UDA, and other publishers of transgressive art. I was always honored to see one my books in the chaos. But that place (because calling it a store would be deceptive -- it was a place where you went and had an experience that sometimes resulted in maddening frustration and other times in walking out with a rare Pascal Doury edition) was just as likely to have a great stash of fiction, art monographs, pulp, and incredible reprints and archival material. Also, most of it was in head-high piles. What a place. I loved going there. It was a temple to print and it brought its owner few rewards, I suspect. I was just there in May and with a sly grin Jacques showed me a delightfully vicious Bruno Richard pamphlet. The vicious cannot be underestimated. I miss the vicious in art. RIP Jacques Noël. Thank you.
More prosaically, on to some links:
Gary Reed, founder of the classic 80s/90s company Caliber, passed away.
In this in-depth interview, Mort Walker talks about growing up during the Great Depression, serving in the military, developing risque versions of his characters for overseas publishers, founding a comics art museum housed in a concrete castle, raising 10 kids, and much more. Continue reading →