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Experience

Today on the site, we present Rob Clough’s interview with Keiler Roberts, the creator of Powdered Milk.

RC: How do your husband and daughter feel about being characters in your work? Have you ever had to self-censor something because you realized it was too personal for them?

KR: They generally feel good about it. Xia laughs her head off when I read her parts to her. I do hold back on their behalf. I don’t write about Scott in ways that would make him look very bad or would reveal too much. He proofreads all my rough drafts if he’s in them. I won’t put anything in about Xia that I think might embarrass her. It’s hard to know exactly what that’ll be with kids though.

RC: Do you ever collaborate with your husband Scott? Are there unique challenges or benefits to living in a two-artist/cartoonist household? Do either of you ever seek out the advice of the other in helping to solve particular difficulties you might be having with what you’re working on?

KR: No. I hate working with him on almost anything. He wanted us to make a birthday card for Xia together and I scowled at him, drew a bunch of stuff very quickly, and said, “You finish it. I’m going to bed.” Of course when I woke up there was this gorgeously ornate card on the counter. He’d somehow covered everything I did in this lace pattern. I just want to get it done. He wants to take forever and consider all the options and then be elaborate. It’s not just him though, I don’t want to collaborate with anyone.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. March: Book Three, created by John Lewis, Nate Powell, and Andrew Aydin, has become the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award.

“I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, going down to the public library, trying to get library cards, and we were told that the libraries were whites-only and not for coloreds,” Lewis said.

But Lewis, whose work in the civil rights movement is chronicled in the March trilogy of graphic memoirs, said he would not relent.

“I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school who told me, ‘Read my child, read!’ And I tried to read everything,” Lewis said.

“To come here and receive this award — it’s too much.”

—Reviews & Commentary. Kelton Sears reviews Julia Gfrörer’s Laid Waste.

The book is, unsurprisingly, incredibly bleak. Agnés’ is a quiet devastation. Her walks through town are punctuated with children burning their dead parents’ bodies, dogs gnawing on decomposing limbs, and pits of corpses, to which Agnés will add her sister’s body and the body of her neighbor Giles’ wife. Gfrörer’s masterful emotional juxtaposition reaches a crushing zenith here. In one of the most brutal sequences of her career, we watch Agnés plainly and dutifully pound dough into bread as the world around her is subsumed by the darkness, until she breaks down sobbing, begging Saint Catherine for her own death. Soon follows the most heart-rending, nihilistic sex scene you’ll probably ever read, in the midst of which Agnés quips, “Nothing matters at all.” Despite everything I’ve just written, Laid Waste is, counterintuitively, a life-affirming glimpse into the void.

Rob Clough reviews The Shirley Jackson Project.

[Editor Rob] Kirby will surely earn some degree-of-difficult points with his The Shirley Jackson Project, an anthology featuring “comics inspired by her life and work”. Jackson has been dead for nearly fifty years, but her influence on modern psychological horror remains as strong as ever. A new biography that’s just been released has also stirred up more attention to the novelist and short story writer as well. Simply put, this was a passion project for Kirby, who was delighted and surprised to find as many Jackson fans in the alt-comics world as he did who were willing to contribute to this book.

John Marsfelder tries to go deep analyzing Garfield.

The impetus for the joke’s setup comes from actual cat behaviour: Much of Garfield’s personality is derived from taking humans’ observations and interpretations of the things their housecats did and anthropomorphizing them: Cats are vain, cats are aloof, cats only care about me for what they can get from me, they claw things I don’t want them to claw, don’t listen to my commands like my dog does, and so on and so forth. So Garfield asks us to imagine how cats would display this behaviour if they could rationalize like humans do, and then, without missing a beat, turns around and points out the absurdity of its own question. Because for one thing, the joke is, of course, double-edged: Jon may mock Garfield and accuse him of having an inflated ego, but the cat is right. After all, whose name has the title of the comic been given, and who is its central character? The defense rests.

—Interviews. Rachel Gould talks to Jessica Campbell.

The art world (and the comics world) have serious gender parity issues, and talking exclusively about how a male artist looks and disregarding his accomplishments is a way of obliquely poking fun at this idea of male genius in the arts. Certainly, addressing the canon in this way is obscene, but it feels like awarding myself agency in an arena in which I often feel helpless. Plus so much of art history is men painting women they want to have sex with: Cezanne’s wife, Gauguin’s coterie of Polynesian children, Vuillard’s mom… I want to reverse that gaze.

There’s also a history in art of neglecting the work of women in favour of men’s work. Janson’s History of Art, the book used (still) as the text in many art history survey courses, including my own as an undergraduate, included no women when it was first published (1962), which H.W. Janson defended by basically saying women can’t paint. Now, of course, there are women included in that text, but there are still people (Georg Baselitz, for instance) who continue this argument. And the same is true in comics!

 

The Fight

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews the Machine Man compilation.

Jack Kirby’s Machine Man belongs to multiple worlds, both on the level of plot and in the circumstances of its creation. Kirby devised Machine Man (aka X-51, aka Aaron Stack) during his return to Marvel in the late ’70s, as a character in his loose adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although the company’s license to publish 2001 comics later expired, Machine Man fell under Marvel IP and fell into the Marvel universe, wrestling with rival robots, the US military, and his own existential malaise. The character’s name sums it up—he’s machine and man, an artificial intelligence that insists on its humanity. Machine Man: The Complete Collection covers the character’s brief post-2001 series, including Kirby’s issues (the first nine), a few installments of The Incredible Hulkfeaturing X-51, and issues 10 through 19, for which Steve Ditko provided art. These comics are not the best-remembered work of either artist, but the exceptional talents of Kirby and Ditko, balanced against the stories’ missteps, make the collection a fascinating, multifaceted book—no ordinary mixed bag.

Jerry Dumas, of Sam’s Strip, and a longtime Mort Walker-collaborator, has passed away.

And in more Ditko-related news, Abraham Riesman at New York magazine reports on Steve Ditko in lengthy and lazy fashion by rehashing Sean Howe’s Marvel book and Jonathan Ross’s pathetic documentary, hilariously referring to Paul Levitz and Arlen Schumer as “historians”, and managing to marginalize the last two decades of Ditko’s (frequently brilliant) output as “mail order curios.” And that’s not even the worst part. That comes when Riesman, after Ditko (of course) has declined to be interviewed, interviews the artist’s neighbors about Ditko’s mail (!), and waits in his hallway in order to ambush him, with success! He got him! He got the old codger! Scoop! Fanboy scares old man!  What, exactly was the point of stalking Steve Ditko? It was not going to result in an interview, so I guess the idea was to just fuck with an 89 year old artist who, for fifty years has asked for privacy? No point. Just fanboyish masturbatory pleasure.

In other links fun, Bob Eckstein interviewed by Gil Roth.

 

A Total Mess

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings us his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting all the most interesting-sounding books being released to stores. His spotlight picks this week include new titles by Taiyō Matsumoto and Dash Shaw.

He also writes at length about the work of La Morris Richmond.

Not a few months ago, at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival, it was my great pleasure to meet La Morris Richmond; he was present for SÕL-CON: The Brown + Black Comix Expo, a suite of events partnered with CXC and run concurrently in the same venues. I’ve written about Richmond’s work before, specifically the 1993 Northstar horror comic Boots of the Oppressor, one of the most potent among b&w indie shock-horror specimens for its detailed attention to the systemic and linguistic dehumanization of black men and women under slavery. It is probably still Richmond’s most visible work, coming half a decade after his comics debut in NOW Comics’ The Real Ghostbusters #4, pencilled by a young Evan Dorkin; a rather gentler style of horror.

Indeed, there were not a few black creators active in the ’90s indie horror comics scene and its adjacent ‘bad girl’ boom of sexy occult divas. The late Steven Hughes springs to mind; he was co-creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death, titles most commonly associated with their writer, Brian Pulido. The artist Louis Small Jr. was also prominent, having overseen the revival of Vampirella with writer Kurt Busiek and inker Jim Balent. But Richmond’s works as a writer were much spikier, and far less common – he only published one other short story with Northstar, the almost oneirically scattershot “.12 Gauge Solution” in Splatter Annual #1 (1994, drawn by Rich Longmore), before embarking on a work ostensibly more populist yet pushed even deeper into intensity – scenes from the life of a black separatist superhero.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—In a bit of good publishing news, Fantagraphics has announced they will begin distributing the books of UK publisher Breakdown Press.

Breakdown Press was founded by Simon Hacking, Tom Oldham, Josh Palmano and Joe Kessler in 2013. Their goal was to put out the work of cutting edge cartoonists and some of the very best alternative manga. Since then, Breakdown Press has become a curatorial publishing force, releasing books by Conor Stechschulte, Lale Westvind, Seiichi Hayashi, Antoine Cossé, and many others.

“Breakdown is the UK’s most ambitious, progressive, and editorially risk-taking comics publisher, so it was logical to partner with someone we considered a kindred spirit.,” said Fantagraphics President Gary Groth. “We look forward to getting their books and authors the wider readership in the US that they deserve.”

—Sacha Mardou writes about the treatment of women in the work of Daniel Clowes, making comparisons to Updike and Nabokov.

Clowes’s most stirring heroines often get to blow the joint at the end. Naomi walks out of David Boring’s warped (after?) life. We can’t help but note how pathetic and inept David looks next to this smart, deserving woman who packs her bags, vowing to escape the coming apocalypse. Good for her! Vida leaves for Hollywood, Violet leaves her bullshit non-marriage and step-family behind, and of course Enid is going to get on that bus before the story’s done.

What is going on here? The women get more choices than Clowes’s men. From Clay Loudermilk to Daniel Pussey to David Boring the men inhabit this spectrum of sad indignities like Fate’s blind somnambulists. The women are operating on a more awakened level I think. Dan Clowes writes women so damn well that they overshadow the men they deal with on every page that they interact together. Why is this so? Is it because of feminism? Post modernism? Punk rock? What’s driving this?

—The most recent episode of Inkstuds features Seth and Noah Van Sciver.

 

Territory

Today on the site we have part one of a two-part sprawling, fascinating conversation between our own Paul Tumey and the author of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White (Harper Collins, December 6), Michael Tisserand. I can’t wait to read this book, which, from what I hear, will be a landmark in the study of 20th century visual culture. Here’s a bit of their dialogue:

 

 

Paul Tumey: That leads me to my next question. For almost a hundred years, people have been writing about the life and work of George Herriman. Gilbert Seldes sang his praises in 1924. In 1986, Patrick McDonnell and Karen O’Connell published Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. This has been regarded as the definitive book on the subject. In addition, there’s been a library’s worth of introductory essays to the various reprint volumes of Herriman’s work published over the years by Bill Blackbeard, Richard Marschall and others. One would think all the stories were told, and the subject was exhausted. And yet, in 2016, you’ve given us something new and, I think, quite magical: a 560-page, detailed biography of Herriman. Can you talk a little more about the research methods you used to deepen and broaden Herriman’s story? How did you dig all this stuff up, man?

Michael Tisserand: Patrick and Karen’s work was certainly a foundation. Their writing about Herriman is beautiful and timeless, as is Gilbert Seldes’, actually. But of course none of these writers had the Internet to make it possible to do a more exhaustive search.

But I started there. Patrick and Karen very generously shared all their original research with me, as did many others. When I started out, I was concerned that the comics scholarship community would be suspicious of an interloper, but it was just the opposite. The generosity has been overwhelming.

Paul Tumey: So you built on the work of others?

Michael Tisserand: Yes, exactly. Rick Marschall invited me to his house and beneath a painting by Rudolph Dirks, answered question after question about early newspapers and syndications. I had a most wonderful day with Bill Blackbeard. Tom Inge had once pursued a biography of Herriman and shared with me the letters and other information he’d received, which then led me to contacting Russell Myers, who shared a recorded interview he’d conducted with Bud Sagendorf that focused just on Herriman. Jeet Heer took me under his wing and provided copies of his copious files, and engaged in conversation after conversation about Krazy Kat. Same with Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. Brian Walker, who co-curated the show that sparked this book, opened up his archives and even invited me to lunch with his father, Mort Walker, and Jerry Dumas. One of my happier afternoons of research!

And there were so many more. I learned the extent to which cartoonists are scholars of their art. Not only do they possess the knowledge, but in many cases, they own the historical treasures such as old letters and inscribed pieces of art that are necessary for telling the story.

Elsewhere:

The Nib has 10 cartoonists’ reactions to the election.  I look forward to much, much more, like the new New Yorker cover. This 2015 essay by Toni Morrison has been shared a lot lately. It’s worth revisiting.

RIP The great Leon Russell, love poet. I will miss you.

 

Through the Graves the Wind is Blowing

We must hope for the best, but after Tuesday’s election, even the best tastes like ashes. There are innumerable issues that should be of great concern to all Americans: violence against religious and ethnic minorities and immigrants, likely civil rights abuses, an unleashed police-state mentality, the empowerment of white nationalist groups, the potential erosion of press freedoms, the imminent possibility of another economic collapse, almost certain international turmoil, and a gutting of our already far too meager efforts to fight climate change. Among many other things.

Cartoonists have historically played a small but important role in times of political and cultural crisis: giving vent to anger, attacking powerful and oppressive forces, providing emotional comfort to the afflicted, helping to focus attention on absurdities and wrongdoing and means of action. Those of us who value the art form should be vigilant in our support for and defense of those artists who will be brave enough to tell the truth in the days, months, and years ahead. It should go without saying that this is only one small part of a wider range of vital struggles, but it should not be forgotten, here least of all. We will need as many courageous artists as we can get. I hope they are out there.

I would like to look back at this post years from now and feel embarrassed by my dramatic tone. But I don’t expect to.

——————————

Rob Clough has written a review of the first installment of a new anthology, 4Panel.

Canadian artist Mark Laliberte has been publishing his 4Panel experiments in the pages of Carousel magazine and on the web for quite some time now. They are the product of a less restrictive version of OuBaPo-style constrictions, which give artists certain parameters they have to work with, like including certain elements on a page, telling the story as a visual palindrome, or using the same images but different words in multiple panels. The sole constriction for this particular project is that each artist has to work with the old comic strip standard of four panels at a time forming a single, coherent unit. What goes into those panels is up to each artist, and for the first print volume of 4Panel, Laliberte chose three artists whose visual styles are certainly varied.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News.
Former Wizard World convention exec Stephen Shamus has been sued for alleged theft, according to a brief report in the New York Post.

A comic-convention marketing exec raked in $1 million for himself by stealing celebrity-signed merchandise from his own company and then selling it, according to a lawsuit.

Stephen Shamus, 42, helped select celebrities for fan gatherings run by Wizard World, which pays stars to show up and sign autographs for fans — but often fenagled the high- profile figures into signing memorabilia for him personally.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian speaks to Al Jaffee.

What do you think of the current political scene? There’s so much now that’s so far afield it’s a little hard to blow it out of proportion.

You’re absolutely right. I think they’re defeating Mad, because they’re going beyond anything we can think of doing to show the clownish nature of their claims. It used to be that politicians claimed that they would make jobs for everybody in the country within two years or something like that; now they claim that they’re going to make jobs for everybody on Mars. It’s just so outlandish.

GQ talks to Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, about Dr. Strange.

“I think that’s what makes Doctor Strange so interesting and also so difficult to adapt,” says Howe. “I liked a lot of things about the movie, but the Doctor Strange comics are Exhibit A in the argument that some things that can be done in comics just can’t be replicated any other way. There’s a lot of great nods to Ditko’s visual motifs from the comic book, but it’s different to see them on a page. I think there are a lot of people who mistakenly believe that the movies are the realization of what comics really wanted to be, and I think that kind of shortchanges the comics”

The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Ed Koren.

—Reviews & Commentary. For the Saturday Evening Post, Ed Dwyer writes about the current state of comic strips.

Today, wherever I am, I still open the paper to the “funny pages” first thing to start my day with a smile. But I am in increasingly diminished company, as newspapers have consolidated or shut down across the country and readership has dropped dramatically. The numbers tell the tale: In 1960, there were 1,763 total daily newspapers (morning and evening) with a total circulation of 58,882,000; in 2014, there were 1,331 with a total circulation of 40,420,000. Meanwhile, average daily newspaper readers are now in their mid-50s and getting older. And reading the newspaper is not a habit with younger generations, who prefer to get their news online (ironically, often at newspaper websites) or via social media like Facebook or Twitter. Even some of my own contemporaries tell me that they don’t read the print newspaper. “Print, how quaint,” they sniff.

For Paste, Shea Hennum has written a basic introduction to European comics.

Since the mid-’90s, smaller publishers like NBM have intermittently translated work, but French, Spanish and Italian tomes came in at a mere trickle for more than a decade. As a result, a generation of readers was cut off from a rich wellspring. But that’s begun to change; thanks to the ascendance of publishers like Humanoids, efforts by smaller publishers like Uncivilized Books, New York Review Comics and IDW, which launched a EuroComics imprint specifically to import classics like Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese and Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo’s Alack Sinner, some of the finest comics ever produced are poised to become more accessible.

 

More From There

Life goes on, right? Right. So here we go.

R.C. Harvey reports back from CXC. 

The first two days of the four-day CXC took place at the Billy Ireland, with programming and special exhibits; the succeeding two days transpired downtown at the city’s Metropolitan Library, where the CXC Expo opened. Spinning out from those two sites, the CXC took over the city with special exhibits at various venues.

CXC replaces the triennial festival of cartoon art that was sponsored by the Billy Ireland for many years. The idea of CXC founders Jeff Smith (Bone) and Lucy S. Caswell (curator emeritus of the Billy Ireland) was to make Columbus the Angouleme of America. Like the International Comics Festival in France in January of every year since 1974, CXC would take over the host city.

For Smith, CXC is a dream come true. “I had this idea,” he said, “What if we could bring these artists together on one weekend in Columbus? This isn’t the kind of event where people come dressed up as Captain America (although they’re free to do that if they want to). These artists are people that are working from their own voice.” As Smith did in creating Bone (which, this year, celebrates its 25th anniversary).

This year, CXC took over Columbus from Wednesday evening, October 12, with a preamble event, through the following Sunday.

There’s no registration. No list of attendees. (And people, including Columbus residents, come and go all weekend.) And no head count. Attendance at last year’s “soft launch” was estimated at 600-1,200.

And elsewhere, links to amuse and uplift:

Nick Gazin loves CAB.

A cookbook that is also partly a comic? Do tell…

Christoph Niemann makes fun graphics. 

 

Not Feeling It

Art is and will continue to be vitally important in the days and months to come, but somehow blogging about comics feels too frivolous this morning.

Still, for those of you who need a distraction, we have published the latest episode of Greg Hunter’s Comic Book Decalogue, an interview with an upcoming comics artist named Trungles, who work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who appears in Mirror Mirror 2. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books.

Links will wave to wait until tomorrow.

 

No Snow, No Show

Nothing more important today than comics, right? Joe McCulloch will tell you about them.

Elsewhere, comics marches on…

Alex Dueben interviews Dash Shaw.

Fletcher Hanks is featured over at Vice.

Apparently The Saturday Evening Post still exists and has published a pretty broad overview of newspaper strips today.

And… oh boy, what a day.