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Sun and Set Tower

Hey, today it’s yours truly on the late Richard Kyle, who commissioned Jack Kirby’s “Street Code”, which Matthias Wivel wrote about on Tuesday.

I became fascinated with Richard Kyle sometime in the mid-2000s because of his writing and his own publication, Graphic Story World (later called Wonderworld), and because it was clear that he was both prescient in his vision of the medium and keenly aware of the nooks and crannies of its history. Even more unusual, he had a novelist’s approach to that history and its personalities. He always managed to suss out the humanity of the creators and publishers he was discussing – an approach that only a few writers have really grasped, Tom De Haven and Gerard Jones perhaps first among them. This began with his very first contribution to a fanzine: “The Education of Victor Fox” for Dick Lupoff’s Xero #8, 1962 (and recently reprinted in Alter Ego, vol. 3, number 101, May 2011).  “The Education…” looked at the early 1940s output of Fox Publications and its infamous proprietor Victor Fox, through an interpretive reading of the comics, from cover to story to advertisements. In 1964 he wrote “The Future of the Comics” in which he coined the term “graphic novel” (he would later publish the first self-identified graphic novel,  Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger). Kyle later had a column, Graphic Story Review, in Bill Spicer’s brilliant Graphic Story Magazine and contributed other texts, including co-authoring the wild, sprawling interview with Will Gould in issue 11, 1970. That interview, which he and I spoke about below, was one of the very first of its kind for comics. 

Elsewhere:

The new editor of the Paris Review Daily is memoirist, comics writer, and editor Nadja Spiegelman.

The New Yorker profiles Instagram cartoonist Arianna Margulis.

Andrew White writes about his time at Frank Santoro’s Rowhouse Residency. 

 

 

Not Worth Dwelling O—

There is no way to adequately replace Joe McCulloch’s This Week in Comics! column, and so we will not try. While we figure out what to do, Dan and I (and possibly others) will still provide the buyers’ guide portion of the column, spotlighting the most interesting-looking comics new to stores each week. This particular week is pretty skimpy, unfortunately. (I’m sure few of Craig Yoe’s defenders will take any note of the Fantagraphics pans, either…)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Podcasts.
Joe McCulloch hasn’t vanished completely, though, and will hopefully return to this very site in some form or another. In the meantime, he’s still one of the regular hosts of Comic Books are Burning in Hell, and their latest episode attempts to replicate the This Week in Comics! magic in audio form.

Other recent podcasts of note include Jerry Moriarty on Inkstuds, Jeff Smith on Process Party, and Kathy Bidus on Virtual Memories.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sarah Chihaya reviews Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless.

The easiest way to read Tamaki’s title is formally: Boundless is a book that plays with the malleable conventions of graphic storytelling. The portrait orientation of its first piece, “World Class City” — a dreamlike semi-narrative that slips back and forth between pop lyric and lyric poem — demands that the reader turn the book sideways, while the abstract bodies and plants it depicts bleed across generous two-page spreads and, in a couple of cases, over page turns. The final section, “Boundless,” mirrors this vertically oriented, panel-free format, as a menagerie of urban animals flit and swoop across its sparse pages, narrating their nonhuman lives with deadpan panache. The stories contained between these bookends require the same readerly dexterity. Even when she works within the constraints of panels and gutters (which she often abandons in favor of borderless panels, backgrounds that are either overfull or hauntingly vacant, and splash pages), Tamaki’s layouts are kinetic, fluid, and unexpected. Her style is similarly mobile, as each of these nine stories articulate their own distinct idioms of color and line.

Joe Riaola, senior editor of Mad magazine, writes about the most recent Charlie Hebdo controversy, and what he considers the limits of satire.

The editors of “Charlie Hebdo” would probably say that they were making a broad point about what they view as the prevalence of white nationalism in Texas. However, connecting white nationalism to random deaths caused by a hurricane is not only nonsensical, it makes light of the suffering of those who died. Newsflash: The editors of “Charlie Hebdo” don’t care. This is their brand, it’s what they do. We are just paying more attention now, because they are offending Texans instead of Muslims.

Robert Boyd rounds up his summer reading, including various prominent comics by Emil Ferris, Ron Regé, Gabrielle Bell, Noah Van Sciver, Mimi Pond, Jason Shiga, and Seth.

The end of Clyde Fans is kind of an epochal event in Seth’s career as a cartoonist–the ending is very contemplative and somewhat melancholy. But the other story, “Nothing Lasts,” is really good, too. A great work by one of comics’ greatest artists.


—RIP.
John Ashbery was happy to plunder comics and comics-related imagery and themes for his poems, such as Henry Darger in his 1999 book Girls on the Run and Popeye, in “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape.”

The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How pleasant
To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she scratched
Her cleft chin’s solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
“M’love,” he intercepted, “the plains are decked out in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish.” He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country.”
[…]

Also Walter Becker

And Holger Czukay

 

Back to School

So, a quiet weekend on this site, huh? Gee. I’ve learned so much. I learned that I miss Matt Seneca very much. Wait, what else did I learn? Oh yeah: Nothing. RJ’s piece remains dead-on. But, I want to note a few things, which no doubt will be misconstrued, read in bad faith or otherwise distorted:

First, as a point of whatever shred of pride I have left: The idea that TCJ is a house organ of Fantagraphics is ludicrous. Tim and I live on the east coast and haven’t met officially with anyone from Fanta in maybe three or four years, or even heard from anyone aside from the usual PR stuff, image requests, and the odd bit of “hi, how ya doing?” Not on purpose, but because everyone is busy and work is work. Maybe one phone conversation in between? Maybe? We are freelancers. It is equally ludicrous if not insanely naive to think that Fantagraphics is trying to “hit” a competitor. TCJ just published a far more damning review of a brand new Fantagraphics book, one written by a TCJ contributor. I have written in praise of IDW books many times. We don’t care!

Then again, there’s never any point defending TCJ or Fantagraphics because people who imagine TCJ to be a “house organ” or Fantagraphics to be some elitist cabal are obviously not looking at either with any seriousness. It shows an astonishing level of willful ignorance and bad faith—every single page of the site has this text written on the bottom-right: “PUBLISHED BY FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS”—and there’s no point engaging with that kind of thing since there’s nothing substantive to engage with. Life is too short.

Yes, RJ works for Fantagraphics. Comics is a tiny community — he is a human with opinions first. Institutionally, comics and every other art form is a nest of conflicts-of-interest. Be thankful you’re not in the poetry world! In a comment on RJ’s piece, Carol Tilley, without an ounce of irony, writes, “I am friends with Craig, was a member of the Eisner judging committee during 2016 when Yoe Books was nominated for and won an Eisner, wrote an introduction for one of the Weird Love collections, and provided advice on a couple of other titles.” Hilarious!  

Anyhow, RJ’s piece isn’t going to dissuade anyone from buying those books. Gimme a break. Both here and at Comics Comics we’ve run negative reviews of Yoe books that, in retrospect, are probably (and wow, what a low standard) the best things he’s done. Most humans don’t buy books according to who published them. They buy according to subject. All the more reason for those subjects to be handled with care! RJ articulated exactly what every sophisticated reader and historian (especially the latter) knows about the problem of making considered and informed publishing decisions. Finally, it’s an understatement to note that it’s important to advocate for a more considered approach to comics history. 

Anyhow, that’s it. Today Matthias Wivel writes about Jack Kirby’s late foray into autobiographical comics, Street Code.

Late in life, Jack Kirby returned to his youth. After a long, distinguished career he drew his first unequivocally autobiographical story, “Street Code”, in 1983 (published 1990). In it, he remembers the dreary tenements on the Lower East Side of New York that he called home during the Depression, the unspoken love between he and his immigrant mother, the way his American identity was defined along ethnic fault lines, and the gang violence that became a constant, socializing factor for him.

It is an intensely sensed story, as always more or less improvised on the page. It ends abruptly with a sharply brooding self-portrait of the artist as a young man. He stares directly at the viewer with the glare of someone beyond his years, disgusted by the way of life he and his peers are forced to adopt. Kirby thus offers us a key to the art that led him out of this misery and with which he here brings that former reality to life. He aspires toward the arch-American narrative of social transcendence, ubiquitous not least in popular culture – and at the time he drew this story expressed most potently in New York’s still youthfully burgeoning hip hop culture.

Speaking of good books on comics, here’s the story of how Jerry Lewis wrote a foreword to Karask and Newgarden’s 150 years (give or take) in the making How to Read Nancy.

I love well-researched obscure comics history, naturally. Just like some of you. Here’s some raw data on the great H.G. Peters.

 

 

Honestly

Today on the site, for your Labor Day Weekend reading pleasure we have RJ Casey with the case against Craig Yoe.

We are at peak reprint. Because of this, the only worthwhile publishing projects reissuing old comic strips or books need to be either uncovering hidden gems and critical missing links to bygone eras, or repackaging material in a way that makes it more historically relevant or capital-I “Important.” Craig Yoe does neither.

The hardcovers discharged monthly by the IDW imprint Yoe Books have varying themes and subject matters, ranging from wacky horror stories and wacky romance stories, all the way to wacky funny-animal stories. Yoe Books look like they’ve been put through the Print Shop Deluxe ringer. They are all faux-sturdy, piss-poor print jobs, and committed to a cookie-cutter 9”x11” template, no matter the size or layout of the original material. This is because Yoe is the Spencer’s Gifts of archivists—forever more interested in novelty than preservation.

Eyes that go googly over nostalgia are often clouded by it as well. That can be the only reason these books look like they are assembled from color Xerox copies. It appears that the pages were scanned from the original comic book, blown up, and then that enlargement was shrunk down again to fit the book’s page size.

Elsewhere:

This is a wonderful and amply illustrated memoir by the illustrator Brad Holland, who was hugely influential in the 1970s and 80s.

Frank Santoro and Comics Workbook are hosting workshops at the upcoming SPX

 

 

Don’t Worry

R.C. Harvey is back with another expedition into comics history. This time he tells the true story behind Eustace Tilley, The New Yorker‘s monocled mascot.

Eustace Tilley is the name given to the 19th century boulevardier languidly inspecting a passing butterfly through his monocle on the cover of the first issue of The New Yorker dated February 21, 1925. The same picture appeared on the magazine’s anniversary issue every year until 1994, when a new editor at The New Yorker, Tina Brown, suddenly violated hide-bound tradition by replacing Tilley with a 20th century version of the boulevardier, a chronic slacker and layabout drawn by Robert Crumb.   Nothing was ever the same at The New Yorker since.

Crumb’s drawing arrived at the magazine without explanation, said art director Francoise Mouly. “We noticed that it showed the view in front of our old offices on 42nd Street, but we didn’t realize that it was also a play on Eustace Tilley.” Understanding that the picture was a parody of Eustace Tilley, Brown seized upon it as a way of breaking a 69-year logjam: she put Crumb’s Tilley, subsequently christened Elvis Tilley, on the cover of that year’s anniversary issue.

As Lee Lorenz, one-time cartoon editor at the magazine told me, Eustace Tilley appeared on the cover of the anniversary issue because no one could think of an appropriate alternative. So year after year, Eustace Tilley returned. Without too much difficulty, we can see how this custom had become a habit. It was Harold Ross’s fault.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Artsy, Alexa Gotthardt profiles Emma Allen, the new cartoons editor at The New Yorker.

It’s a new role at the magazine. While Mankoff focused on cartoons, Allen has a fuller plate, overseeing Cartoons, Daily Cartoons online, Shouts & Murmurs, Daily Shouts online, and humor videos and podcasts. She and the magazine’s associate cartoon editor, Colin Stokes, also star in a video series, “Cartoons, Etc.,” in which they engage with a rotating cast of guest cartoonists “so that fans can put a face to the squiggle signature,” Allen explains. They also have plans to introduce Daily Comics, or “multi-panel, longer-form funny things” to the website’s comic ecosystem.

“Some part of my brain self-protectively has made me forget what it was like the first couple months,” Allen says when I ask how she’s acclimated to wearing this rather Herculean number of hats. “After the initial blitz, it’s been more of a regular job that I can come in and do, and go home and not collapse in a heap or cry or drink a bottle of scotch.”

—And it’s a weird all-New Yorker day here, because Daniel Gross has a profile of the South African cartoonist Mogorosi Motshumi.

Motshumi was born in Batho five years after white lawmakers made racial segregation a national policy. His father died when he was seven. He was raised largely by his grandmother in a one-story house that had a corrugated metal roof and two large windows that faced the road. On the dirt streets of Batho, he learned to fight back when bullies picked on him, but at home he rarely spoke. “I preferred being inside my own head,” he told me. He learned to resent authority figures. As a nine-year-old, a cop drove Motshumi to the police station and forced him to explain why his grandmother wasn’t paying rent.
When, a little while later, he learned that his mother had married a cop, he felt angry and ashamed.

It was around this time that he started reading comic books that his older brother brought home from high school. Though some were local comics written in the colonial language of Afrikaans, he preferred American superhero comics, like “Spider-Man.” “These comics, they always had solutions,” he told me. In a comic book, evil exists, but justice prevails. Villains rise up, but heroes rise to meet them. “That is the light that you’re looking for,” he said. When policemen persecuted the Hulk, he felt vindicated in his hatred of authority. “He’d run and run and run until he could run no more, and he’d start to fight back,” Motshumi told me. “That was my kind of world.” He taught himself to draw in his grandmother’s backyard, tracing characters in the sand with his fingers.

 

Locked in a Cafeteria

Today on the site, we have Joe McCulloch’s final Week in Comics column in which he reflects on reading, work, and sleep. Note that at Joe’s humble request, we have turned off the comment function. I am not alone in considering Joe one of the all-time finest writers about comics, and it’s been an honor to publish his column for so many years. I’m looking forward to reading Joe’s future work for this and other publications. 

Elsewhere:

Julia Wertz presents a mini-history of the Village Voice.

Matt Furie is continuing to deal with the misuse of his Pepe character.

And in further Jack Kirby centennial news, the San Diego Comic-Con has made its 60-page Kirby tribute book available for free download.

 

Watch a Giant Image Grow

Joe McCulloch’s final Week of Comics! column in its current form has grown “too insane” to publish this morning (according to Joe — I’m sure it’s great), so we have one more day to savor our wait for the finale. In the meantime, we have a new review by Rob Clough critiquing Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats #5.

Much of this story is about personal agency when faced with a culture that steamrolls indecision. Fran’s integrity and lack of interest in playing the game of climbing the ladder (in part because she is too busy keeping herself busy to even notice that there is a ladder to climb) draws the attention of the scheming partners of the firm, with the mammoth Marcel Castonguay being the shrewdest and weirdest. Rilly has firmly settled into his own mature style, utilizing a cartoony, clear-line approach similar to that of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. There are dot eyes, single lines for mouths, and in the case of Castonguay, blank circles for eyes a la Daddy Warbucks (by way of the Kingpin). That character’s bulk plays a key role later in the story that emphasizes the larger-than-life nature of the character. The design for Fran herself is elegantly simple: perpetual pony tail, dowdy sweaters, slightly slumped shoulders, and a facial expression that rarely changes. That seeming blankness belies the stewing turmoil within, but it also allows the other characters to fill in what they want to with regard to Fran. Her only seeming friend at the firm turns on Fran when she learns that she is about to get a massive promotion, thinking that Fran is a schemer like everyone else.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At The New Republic, Jeet Heer celebrates Jack Kirby’s centennial.

The superhero stories Kirby created or inspired have dominated American comic books for nearly 75 years and now hold almost oppressive sway over Hollywood. Kirby’s creations are front and center in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his fingerprints are all over the DC Cinematic Universe too, where the master plot he created—the cosmic villain Darkseid invading earth—still looms large. It was Kirby who took the superhero genre away from its roots in 1930s vigilante stories and turned it into a canvas for galaxy-spanning space operas, a shift that not only changed comics but also prepared the way for the likes of the Star Wars franchise. Outside of comics, hints of Kirby pop up in unexpected places, such as the narrative approaches of Guillermo del Toro, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Lethem.

If you walk down any city street, it’s hard to get more than fifty feet without coming across images that were created by Kirby or inflected by his work. Yet if you were to ask anyone in that same stretch if they had ever heard of Kirby, they’d probably say, “Who?” A century after his birth, he remains the unknown king.

At the New York Review of Books (all the big magazines keep poaching our talent), Ryan Holmberg reviews Kazuto Tatsuta’s Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

[This book] occupies a unique position in the history of comics. It is probably the first work of journalistic comics in the world to supersede its prose counterparts as the most popular source on its topic. In the case of Ichi-F, that topic is the cleanup and decommissioning work at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the local name of which (“F-1,” flipped to “1-F”) gives the book its title.

The publisher of the English edition, Kodansha Comics, however, has opted to call this 550-page tome of dry, detailed reportage a “graphic memoir,” presumably because autobiography seems the easiest way to sell literary-minded comics outside the young-adult market these days. The original Japanese subtitle describes the manga instead as a “rōdōki,” literally a “record of labor,” putting more emphasis on the work itself than the person doing the work. The difference might seem trivial, but it speaks to many of the things that Ichi-F both succeeds and fails in doing.

On his Facebook page, Derf too celebrates Kirby, looking back at the newspaper strip he created with Dave Wood and Wally Wood right before “the Marvel Age.”

This is the story of “Skymasters of the Sky Force,” the failed comic strip that inadvertently led to the creation of the entire Marvel Universe and all the superheroes you know and love and are currently making billions and billions for Disney Inc.

In 1956, Jack Kirby’s self-owned publishing company, Mainline Comics, went bankrupt and closed, and Kirby and his longtime creative partner Joe Simon went their separate ways. Dr. Wertham and the comic book witchhunts had devastated the industry. Half the smaller comics publishers simply closed up and concentrated on less-controversial products. Industry leader EC Comics was forced to shut down. For reasons unknown, Wertham had included Simon & Kirby’s four Mainline titles in Seduction of the Innocent, even though these titles contained nothing objectionable. It’s one of Wertham’s many unexplainable stances. Simon and Kirby had invested their own savings in Mainline and lost everything. Kirby was a free agent and desperately looking for work… and his options in ’56 were few.

Domingos Isabelinho names his 32nd favorite comic, Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde.

We’ve already seen how important this book was to establish alternative comics in general and the graphic novel artistic movement (and I say this following Eddie Campbell) in particular. We can identify Joe Sacco’s later style: the Célinesque captions continue flying around, so to speak, the Breughelesque detail is all over the place, except… in Joe Sacco’s self-portrait. He’s the only caricature that still remains. He put himself in his reportage comics to follow two traditions: the underground tradition of autobio comics (three names come to mind: Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Robert Crumb, Justin Green – whose Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary should definitely be in my list), the tradition of the New Journalism (and three names come to mind too: Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson). Since the beginning (and I mean “Cartoon Genius” in Yahoo # 1 – October 1988) that Joe Sacco drew himself with opaque eye glasses, but, in that story, he wasn’t half as cartoony as he is above. I don’t really know why he does it, but I suspect that he’s following Scott McCloud’s smiley face theory, according to which readers of comics find it easy to identify with simple cartoony faces than to complex portraits (add naturalistic backgrounds and… voilá… total immersion). This is absurd, of course, but enough about what I don’t like in Joe Sacco’s work. What I really like is that he gives a voice to those who have none in the Western media circus. And does so not with popaganda, but by being a really fine reporter.

Finally, Sarah Horrocks reviews Dark Nights: Metal #1.

If you asked me why I don’t care about superhero comics, this comic is pretty much what I’d conjure up as an example of why. I’m too old to give a shit about which of these palette swaps dies and then is resurrected or what worlds collide. And I don’t care about good versus evil in these basic cop versus robber terms. I’m not a child. But like I’m reading JRJR/Williamson and Nocenti’s Typhoid Mary comics this week, and thoroughly enjoying them. And it’s not because I give a shit about Daredevil. It’s because there’s actually shit on the page to react to. There’s great art to inspire you. And the writing is in big bold terms, but it has a certain soap opera quality. It’s not ironic. It just says what it means and is all about these sappy triangles of people. It works. It doesn’t matter that it’s a superhero comic. It’s just a great comic. I think what I want from superhero comics now, doesn’t have anything to do with them being superhero comics. It has to do with the two biggest companies putting the most resources behind their comics, I expect to see a quality of work, particularly artistically that I can look at and just be in awe and be like “never in a thousand years could I draw that”. I think people don’t respect the art in these things anymore because the styles artists have adopted don’t scare people, don’t put them in awe. And honestly neither does the writing. People read these things and they are just like “oh man, I could do this” which is cool, I mean I’m one of those people. But it’s not healthy in terms of the sort of reverence the top artists in the comics game should demand.


—Interviews.
The most recent guest on Process Party is Jim Rugg.

 

Back for More

I’m back from vacation and I’m rested and ready for comics! Let’s start with a Bob Levin review of Belgian Lace from Hell, the final volume of the S. Clay Wilson three-book biography/monograph:

But the primary reason for my disgruntlement lies with my and Rosenkranz’s differing philosophies about writers’ responsibilities.

Originally presented as a “documentary-style biography,” (or so read the back cover of Heartland), “Mythology” became, with Angels, a “biography retrospective” and, by Lace, a “retrospective” only. The result is that it often reads like a slightly textually enhanced, cut-and-pasted oral history. Take Lace’s first (“The Art Biz”) and last (“Legacy”) chapters. By my count, “Biz” has 15 paragraphs written primarily by Rosenkranz and nearly double that (28)  quoting others speaking about Wilson. (Additionally, there are seven paragraphs from letters written by Wilson and 15 paragraphs quoting him speaking to unidentified interviewers.) In “Legacy,” a final assessment of Wilson as an artist and person, Rosenkranz provides one brief, introductory paragraph, followed by 21 paragraphs quoting members of Wilson’s circle – and three paragraphs I wrote 22 years ago

Elsewhere:

Today is the centenary of Jack Kirby’s birth. The Jack Kirby Museum is celebrating with a few days of events in NYC. 

Dash Shaw now has original art for sale at The Beguiling. from his film, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. Here’s the listing and Dash explains all in the video below.

In more commerce news, Gahan Wilson has launched a web site.