Today, we are happy to republish Ken Parille’s 2014 essay on Abner Dean, with a new introduction.
I can rarely remember where I was when I discovered any of my favorite cartoonists. But Abner Dean is different. On a summer afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, I went to a used bookstore near the University and headed, as always, straight to the cartoon/humor section. An oversized book’s black hardcover spine sporting the title Abner Dean’s Naked People stuck out from a shelf filled with beat-up paperbacks and small hardcovers with torn dust jackets. (It’d be cheesy to say that the book was “calling” to me, though that’s how it felt, or at least how I remember it). Opening the volume, I was instantly amazed — and puzzled. The drawings employed an elegant style I’d seen in pre- and post-WWII American magazines, but everything appeared strangely skewed, with nude yet de-sexualized characters, washed-out black and gray dystopian settings, and cryptic captions. The work radiated a peculiar aura, blending funny and sad with smart, provocative, and (oddly) inspirational. I quickly paid the seven dollar price penciled inside, left the store, and read it on the walk home.
Rob Kirby is also here, with a review of Walter Scott’s artworld satire, Wendy’s Revenge.
Walter Scott’s first book, Wendy (2014, Koyama Press), was an out-of-left-field surprise. Having never encountered the series before, I was delighted by Scott’s razor-sharp satire of the twenty-something art-hipster milieu, and the layers of truth and emotion that rise in bas-relief from the often absurd shenanigans of his artist heroine and her friends. For most of them, life consists of stumbling through a myriad of roommate-swaps, relationship drama, spur-of-the-moment hook-ups, grant-chasing, and professional jealousy, all interspersed with partying—lots of partying. “My life is a mess, like always,” Wendy says. The humor and poignancy of the story is that Wendy’s messes are generally self-inflicted.
Wendy’s Revenge expands upon the saga and heightens the absurdity of our heroine’s adventures. As the book opens, Wendy moves briefly to Vancouver, where she takes part in a group show (this goes badly), goes to see a psychic, nabs a residency in Yokohama, and later travels to LA to attend a gallery opening and indulge in some stressful intrigue with some shady art people. Through it all, we are privy to her hopes, her dreams, and her ever-present anxieties. She truly suffers for her art, even if we don’t see her make any. Wendy spends so much of her time living The Artist’s Life that she doesn’t really have a lot of time to actually do art. At one point in the story, an acquaintance asks Wendy exactly what kind of art she creates. Wendy’s reply: “Uh—it’s a secret.”
—Henry Jenkins interviews comics scholar Bart Beaty.
Some have worried that a core canon (Spiegelman, Ware, Bechdel, Satrapi, Gaiman, Crumb, Moore, Sacco) has emerged in comics studies prematurely — that too much of the early writing defining the field circles around a small number of writers and works and as a consequence, we are constraining our methodologies and theories to reflect that limited sample. Would you agree?
This is the subject of so much of what Benjamin Woo and I wrote about in our book The Greatest Comic Book of All Time!, and I absolutely do agree. In our first chapter we attempted to put some data behind what seems to be a pretty common understanding about comics studies: that it has been thoroughly concerned with a small handful of creators and works published over the past thirty years. In the book we surveyed the field of scholarly publishing on comics in order to demonstrate just how narrow the work being done can be. What we found is that comics studies is disproportionately concerned with a very small handful of creators and texts in comparison to cognate fields. So, yes, I absolutely agree with that.
—The Guardian talks to Dash Shaw about his new movie.
The whole film looks like your work. How much of it did you draw?
That’s a good question and it’s hard to answer. There are other people involved – Jane Samborski is the lead animator on it. For some sequences she’d pencil the figures and I would ink. For others, maybe it’s all my drawings but she’s compiled it into aftereffects. So it’s a lot of my drawings. I storyboarded the whole movie, and so there are kind of indications of how the whole thing would look. It was kind of a collage – replacing temporary elements with better elements and adding more elements. I can’t really give you a percentage.
—Crockett Johnson biographer Philip Nel explains How to Read Harold.
Thanks to the stylistic consistency of Johnson’s clear line, Harold and his artwork all inhabit the same reality. Their shared aesthetic allows Johnson to convince us that, for example, oscillating between two and three dimensions is perfectly normal. Or, at least, this oscillation — which begins at the moment when Harold draws the path — convinces most people. It puzzled both of Johnson’s editors. Looking at Johnson’s dummy, his editor Ursula Nordstrom said, “I found myself asking such dumb questions — like where did he draw the moon and the path and the tree?” First among a list of “The parts I am not too sure of,” Harper reader Ann Powers also named “the pathway at the beginning (too strange?).” It may be strange, but when Harold is standing in an empty void, it also makes sense for him to draw a “long straight path.” It’s practical. It anchors him. It also creates the illusion of three dimensions in what has — up to this point — been a two-dimensional space. Unlike most pre-schoolers, Harold understands the vanishing point.