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.
Today, we have Shaenon Garrity’s latest column, which this time around is a lot more personal than usual, chronicling her history with Joey Manley’s recently shuttered Modern Tales webcomics site:
Joey had a plan for making money. By 2001 he’d begun talking to cartoonists, sometimes over email, sometimes in person. He’d made contact with an eclectic group of webcartoonists in Chicago and was wooing small-press creators in the Bay Area, taking them out to dinner and talking Internet. His plan: a subscription-based webcomics site. Maybe 30 artists, ongoing serials, a monthly or annual fee to read the archives, with the profits split between the artists based on number of hits. In the spirit of old pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Weird Tales, it would be called Modern Tales.
Meanwhile, Joey was educating himself about webcomics. He set up a podcast, Digital Comics Talk, and a comics review site, Talk About Comics (which continued for many years in various forms, eventually morphed into Graphic Novel Review, and finally passed away peacefully in its sleep). He hung out on message boards. In a corner of the online world that was, back then, small enough that you could be Known pretty easily, he was starting to be Known.
I don’t know how Joey found my comic Narbonic, probably through the Bay Area indie crowd, but at some point it made it to the bottom of his list and he emailed me. He recruited me all sneaky-like. I know, because I kept the email.
Also, we have Dominic Umile’s review of Ian Culbard’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Case of Charles Dexter Ward:
Action-packed comics don’t often owe to depictions of characters sifting through moldy correspondence, deciphering archaic language, and unlocking mantras typically reserved for cellars or graveyards. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is largely driven by words, but Ian Culbard — evidently also prone to unearthing dusty texts — has adapted several novels for the comics medium and nabbed the British Fantasy Award for Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (2010), so he knows well how to move the author to a stylish visual format. There’s lots of talk here, yellowed newspaper cut-ins, and letter reading, each set on black pages. Culbard’s slope-chinned cast wears angular-cornered overcoats and facial expressions styled with minimal line work. They’re dead ringers for the affluent, early 20th century Brit zombies he drew for The New Deadwardians (2012), perpetually serious figures who mull documents and converse in the tall, plush chairs preferred by the era’s upper class. But within these dialogues and rigorous literary exploration lie an urgency and a textured work of horror.
—Michael Cavna (also an Eisner judge this year) interviews Ben Katchor.
—Buried at the bottom of this promotional blog post is the news that Chester Brown has apparently rewritten all of the text and dialogue in The Playboy for a new paperback edition. He’s sort of becoming the Henry James of sex comics.
—Alan Moore talks at length about Nemo: Heart of Ice and his upcoming Lovecraft series Providence with his favorite interlocutor, the man whose name must be copied and pasted to be spelled correctly, Padraig O Mealoid. Also, video has emerged of an old Moore performance of his hard-to-find CIA conspiracy book Brought to Light.
—Image publisher Eric Stephenson talks the Saga/Apple/comiXology controversy, and the line’s upcoming schedule, with CBR.
—Not Comics: An interview with J. David Spurlock, the co-author of a new collection of Margaret Brundage art. Brundage may not have been a cartoonist herself, but her pulp magazine covers were a huge influence on early comic-book imagery.
—Apparently, there’s a long Les Coleman essay on Mark Beyer in the most recent issue of Raw Vision.
Yeah, a lot of your earlier work was more metaphorical and fantastical, less realistic.
I feel that I’m done doing more fantastical things. Who knows, maybe in ten years I’ll be singing a different tune. But it’s weird, because as I was making this book based on reality, I’ve encountered people who’ve said, oh, I wish there was more fantastical elements in this. And I personally feel there’s enough fantasy out there, there are enough beautiful landscapes. In the past, I think there were two factors in making those kinds of fantastical comics. The first factor was mainly that I was terrified, because I felt I still was under this impression that whatever happened at my house when I was a kid was nobody’s business but my own. And the second factor was that I was lazy [Laughs.] My default mechanism was to draw landscapes that were more from my imagination, and that’s kind of easy to draw, because you can make your pencil go and not have to look at anything. And for this book, because I wanted it to be as close to reality as possible, I had to find images, and I had to think of what kind of tree there would be in this or that geographical place, and in some cases look at photographs too, and I personally feel a lot more complete now that I’ve done that, as an artist I feel that I can do this! I can pull it off! And I just feel like a grownup about it. Also I care way more than I used to about facts, I think that all stories deserve to be from… even if I’m making stories that are not autobiographical, that are totally coming from my head, I like the idea that there would be these facts that could anchor it to a specific place in the world.
It’s a slow news day. Here are a few morsels:
The 2013 Eisner Awards have been announced. We’re pleased to be nominated for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism.
And the under-new-ownership Alternative Comics announced a whole slew of releases centered mostly around the publisher’s core cartoonists, a lot of whom really have been missing from the last handful of years of the publishing boom. More news, the best of the day, really: It’s Reggie-12.
It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s Joe McCulloch’s guided tour of the Week in Comics, along with his thoughts on Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.
—Department of Politics. Over at Hazlitt, TCJ columnist Jeet Heer reviews Victor Navasky’s new book on political cartoons, The Art of Controversy, by way of Hitler’s cartoon problem. Paul Gravett examines Margaret Thatcher’s influence on British comics. And Françoise Mouly and Toon Books have started an “Agitprop” section on the Toon Books Tumblr. (Here’s Sue Coe on animal farming.)
—Department of Interviews. Gil Roth, who I had the pleasure of meeting at MoCCA, just posted the first “live” episode of his Virtual Memories podcast, with special guest Ben Katchor. Alex Dueben at Suicide Girls talks to Ann Nocenti, who has had an interesting career. Michael Cavna talks to internet celebrity and Simon’s Cat creator Simon Tofield.
In this 1989 Comics Journal interview, Gary Groth picks Ralph Steadman’s brain on the topic of his growth as an artist, changing interests, loss of faith and times working with Hunter S. Thompson in a career-spanning conversation that always finds its way back to politics and all that’s wrong in the world. Continue reading →