AUG STONE: Tell me about Panther. It’s disturbing, niggling at the brain in a way I can’t put my finger on yet.
BRECHT EVENS: Yeah. I can’t totally put my finger on it and I’m not sure I’d want to. I never really plan any message in my books but I felt like I was toying, that there was something sardonic about doingPanther. I had a lot of fun making it, though I’m not sure that’s the vibe that comes across to people. It’s possible that the book might seem darker than the way I felt about it when I was doing it.
STONE: I saw it as both. Fun, that headed to a very dark place, as fun does sometimes.
EVENS: Yeah, yeah. (laughs) Exactly.
STONE: Was there a particular inspiration for it?
EVENS: There’s two things. It seemed that the basic idea for the story already existed. Years ago I did a book called Night Animals that was translated and published by Top Shelf in 2011. There’s a story in it called ‘Bad Friends’ about a girl being swooped up by a satyr and taken out into the forest. It’s a very short story but there’s already this idea of fun mixed with evil. A very sinister, uncanny vibe. But the Panther character came later. It was actually a character I incarnated for a game with my girlfriend at the time. She was a really fun girl to scare. If I would change my face to something more evil she would right away go ‘oh there’s a very unpleasant game about to start’. I developed many different characters, the cast got bigger and bigger, and the Panther was one of these characters I played, improvising to spook her. Every time she got too frightened, the character might become more humane and get some backstory. Out of all these characters Panther seemed to have a lot of potential and started ending up in my sketchbooks. A lot of the scenes that are in the book were already on paper in 2009. But then I put it away when I started doing The Making Of. Panther might’ve seemed like too simple a story or something.
The first episode of Paracuellos was published in 1975 shortly after the death of General Franco. What was the response to the series?
The first issue of Paracuellos–it wasn’t called that yet—surprised the editors of the magazine I was working for. At the time I was writing it for a humor magazine of the so-called “T&A” variety, but that strip had nothing to do with humor–much less T&A. The first episode caught them by surprise so they published it, but by the second or third they told me very politely, and with every reason, to get out. So I did. I tried some other magazines and was able to publish a few more issues. After forty years of fascist dictatorship and severecensorship the magazine editors wanted to publish funny stories about tits, but I was determined to publish stories about sad children in the “Homes” of postwar Spain.
Were you afraid to tell these stories initially and publish this?
No. I wasn’t afraid.
Your art style in Paracuellos is different from your earlier comics. Did you change your style because that’s what you thought the story needed?
To draw the stories of the children of the Social Aid “Homes,” I chose the type of drawing that seemed right. Just as you wouldn’t draw a humor comic in the same style as you’d draw an adventure comic. In this case it wasn’t about drawing pretty children; what I had to draw was hunger, fear, and helplessness. At first, making the panels so small was for space reasons. With very small panels I could tell a larger part of the story. Later I kept this formula when I realized that the small panels left no room for backgrounds. And the only backgrounds I wanted were those that were essential to making the story easy to understand. Backgrounds embellish images, and I didn’t want pretty pictures, but rather sober and, if possible, claustrophobic panels.
The longtime syndicated cartoonist Mell Lazarus has passed away. R.C. Harvey was kind enough to send along this notice from the National Cartoonists Society, which he has edited and expanded in places:
Mell Lazarus, 1927-2016
A press release from the National Cartoonists Society arrived just as we were going to post with this opus. Mell loved NCS, and I suppose he’s a little put-out that he died so close to the annual meeting: if he’d lasted another week, he could have made the Reuben dinner this coming weekend in Memphis. I knew Mell a little; we had some happy, humorous exchanges, and I spent a few hours with him a couple years ago, interviewing him for a video I’m working on with Tom Tanquary. Given a little time, I could probably come up with a joyful anecdote or two. But I haven’t time to re-write any of the release or add to it. Here it is, verbatim except for a few facts I added from other sources—:
We are very sad to report the passing on May 24 of Reuben Award Winner, Past National Cartoonists Society President (two terms, 1989-1993) and Medal of Honor recipient Mell Lazarus. Mell joined the NCS as soon as Miss Peach was launched in February 1957. In October 1970, Momma debuted, and for 32 years Mell wrote and drew both strips—over 30,000 of them altogether, he reckoned. Up until a few weeks ago Mell was writing and drawing Momma dailies and Sundays with the help of his wife, the wonderful Sally Mitchell, who Mell met through her father, renowned comic strip gag writer Ed Mitchell. Among those at their wedding were Bil Keane and Stan Lee.
The eponymous heroine of Momma was based upon Mell’s own mother, Francis “Frankie” Lazarus. He based the character of her son, Francis, loosely on himself.
Mell joined Creators Syndicate in 1988, as soon as his contract with United Features let him take Momma and Miss Peach there. Said Rick Newcombe, founder and CEO of Creators: “He was an adviser to me from the beginning. I loved Mell. He was so talented, so smart and so much fun.”
Mell began his career editing comic books for Al Capp at Toby Press. His time with Capp inspired his first novel, The Boss Is Crazy, Too published in 1963. Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22 (whom Mell met through Walt Kelly) wrote this blurb for the book – “Mell Lazarus is the second-funniest writer in America and has written the second-funniest novel.” Mell wrote a second novel, Neighborhood Watch, three off-Broadway plays, and several television specials based on Miss Peach. At the time of his death Mell was working on another novel and a screenplay.
“Writing novels doesn’t interfere with doing the strips,” he said, “—they use different creative muscles.”
The time I met Mell, he learned I had been an English teacher, so he asked me a question that came out of his novel-writing. It was about quotation marks. At the end of a quotation sentence, he wanted to know, do you put the period inside the quotation mark—or outside?
“Inside,” I said. “The punctuation mark—the period—is embraced by the quotation marks.”
He smiled. Mell was always smiling. Even when he was criticizing my Milton Caniff biography—half joking that it was too long—he smiled.
As President of NCS, Mell helped create regional chapters, and he was instrumental in moving the annual Reuben weekend out of New York and to other cities. The years he was President included two Reuben weekends on cruise ships that people are still talking about.
Parties at Mell’s house are legendary. One resulted in the piano in his living room being covered in cartoons. “We had a bunch of drunken cartoonists in the house one night and they just destroyed a perfectly good French provincial baby grand piano,” Mell said in an interview. Among those who have drawn on the piano – Charles Schulz, Cathy Guisewite, Garry Trudeau, Don Martin, Arnold Roth, Sergio Arragones, and Matt Groening to name a few.
Mell was beloved by all at the NCS. He was funny, charming, and full of stories, many we cannot repeat here. Talk to any NCS member who spent time with Mell, and they will surely have a funny Mell Lazarus story.
“Here are a few facts about Mell that he told me over the years,” says friend Tom Gammill, “He was a high school drop-out who later joined Mensa. For a time he lived in Palm Springs down the street from Milton Caniff. He was in Times Square on VJ Day and told me ‘everybody was banging that day.’ And he loved the NCS. In an interview Mell said, ‘We have the best club in the world. They’re all terrific guys and girls. It’s a body of people like no other industry. They all become relatives very fast.”
Mell is survived by his wife Sally, three daughters Marjorie, Susan and Cathy, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
We will all be toasting Mell at the Reuben Awards this year. If you have a funny Mell Lazarus story we can share on this website, please send it to the editors.
RCH—Here’s the last of Mell’s autobiographical entries in the NCS Membership Album. It leaves out a lot, but he included the important cartooning stuff—dates and images.
What would happen if our government banned self-publishing? I mean, it’s easy to imagine a world where the government attempts to restrict or censor internet content—in part because we currently live in that world—but printed works? Come on now. So when French Parliament outlaws self-publishing in Pierre Maurel’s dystopian Blackbird, it’s a reminder of a time—at least in the U.S.—when published material was actually thought to be a weapon of influence. Think the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on obscenity that lead to censorship of underground comics, or the era of The Comics Code Authority. The printer mightier than the sword, as it were. The imagined world in Blackbird is simultaneously sentimental and dismal as it reminds us of the potential power of small, independently-produced works, but then ultimately shows us how easily the government can extinguish that power. I fear that this book will come and go without the props or the critique it deserves.
How would we describe the editorial culture at DC under Mr. DiDio?
I think there’s evidence in support of those who would use the phrase “Editorial Chaos.”
Here’s one of the most promoted New 52 creators Rob Liefeld talking about why he left DC in 2012: “Massive indecision, last minute and I mean LAST minute changes that alter everything. Editor pissing contests… No thxnjs.”
Or there was the time that DC editorial in New York “stepped in” to alter a comic handled by DC Entertainment in California — after its contents had been promoted in TV Guide, which was reported by Wired.
Or there was a report in April 2014 of Mr. DiDio stating at a retailer summit that he couldn’t tell them about a September event because “only about half the teams have been confirmed” at that late date, adding also that a 3d cover promotion from the year before had lead to DC destroying “125,000 copies due to blurry proofs and some had cover dimples due to heating issues in production.” Long-time readers might remember an article written by Brian Hibbs covering that 3d cover situation — an article entitled “The staggeringly epic incompetence of DC Entertainment.”
If this Bleeding Cool report regarding the new DC comics initiative, DC Universe: Rebirth, is correct, and from all appearances it is, DC’s editorial strategy has now been reduced to straight-up trolling. Those critics responding to this as a positive or even promising move are either stunningly cynical or staggeringly stupid.
—Misc. Michael Dooley at Print has gathered various tributes to Darwyn Cooke from comics figures including Gilbert Hernandez and Rian Hughes, among others, along with a generous selection of Cooke’s art.
In Brown’s world, Paul is the villain of the piece, telling the Corinthians that “the body is not for prostitution but is set aside for the Lord” and thus censoring Jesus’ much more accepting line on the issue (p. 177–178). It is clear that Jesus did not condemn prostitutes anywhere in the Gospels, and we might therefore with reason extrapolate that he did not disapprove of sex for pay (although we cannot say whether he gave it much thought either). It is further reasonable to assume, as Brown does, that worldly prejudices and social mores informed later interpretations of Jesus’ words, not least in the case of the Evangelists. What does not follow automatically, however, is that Mary was a prostitute, but Brown is most intent on proving just that. This is the more fundamental reason for his retelling of the stories of the four women mentioned initially: Matthew included them in his—unusually female—genealogy of Jesus along with Mary, according to Brown because he wanted to slip the truth of Mary’s profession by the censors of his day—you know, those who were intent on furthering the idea of the Virgin birth.
I am not a theologian, nor am I a Bible scholar—I am not even Christian—but I think I know a contorted argument when I see one.
—Reviews & Commentary. Over at The Smart Set, Chris Mautner’s also taking on Chester Brown.
The best hint of Brown’s offbeat take on spirituality can be found in “The Twin,” a short story collected in The Little Man compendium. An adaptation of a Gnostic text, “Twin” depicts a young Jesus meeting his “twin brother” (i.e. the holy spirit), and ends with the two kissing and then meshing into one being, the sacred and the profane combining to make a whole, newly self-aware person.
But it is in Mary Wept that Brown’s interest in Gnosticism, Biblical studies, and re-examination of traditional Christian doctrine comes to the fore. Designed to look like a little chapbook or pocket Bible, the cover image features a yoni or vulva-shaped center panel, the inset of which shows Jesus’s feet and a slow drip of liquid posed above exactly where, as critic Ng Suat Tong notes, the clitoris would be. Meanwhile, two phallic snake heads adorn the upper corners. While the imagery is subtle, it is also clear to the reader that we are a long way from Picture Stories from the Bible.
Cooke, like Toth, devoted much of his creative energy to the cheap-jack, low-stakes world of corporate comics, where distinctive vision and personal style are not always valued commodities. Cooke, like Toth, bristled. His early projects—a Batman psychodrama from 2000, a revisionist take on the Justice League—would sometimes take years to come to fruition. Such delays arose partly because Cooke wanted to handle both the writing and drawing—a luxury the big companies rarely afford even to established auteurs anymore—and partly because he refused to be beholden to “continuity,” the editorial policy that dictates that each superhero character comes saddled with decades of inviolable history. Unlike Toth, however, Cooke did manage to steer ambitious, innovative projects through that recalcitrant system. The most significant of these was the six-issue, 400-plus-page, Eisenhower-era epic DC: The New Frontier (2004).
As well as brief reviews of Kramers Ergot 9, Aidan Koch, Rebecca Roher,
For more than a decade, editor Sammy Harkham’s Kramers Ergot anthology has been a standard-bearer for the newest, best crafted and most provocative pieces in comics. The latest instalment is a phone-book-sized behemoth, featuring more than three dozen contributors. Its prickly assortment of short gags and dense longer stories all seem united by a seething anxiety, distressed by violence and preoccupied with the past. Dash Shaw’s tale of Union soldiers raiding a “secession house” during the U.S. Civil War is elegant and morally murky, for instance, while underground legend Kim Deitch’s flashback to a massacre of intelligent monkeys is nutty and vaudevillian.
When Max de Radiguès began making comics, he had never taken drawing lessons. “I loved to draw but wasn’t especially good at it,” he explains. “I quickly stopped trying to draw in a realistic way and went for an efficient one.” He wanted the reader to understand instantly what he was trying to convey, and as he pursued this goal, his drawings became simpler and simpler. Now, after more than a decade, and with a rapidly growing list of published works, he has begun, he says, “putting in more details and more backgrounds”—though nothing too elaborate; he still wants readers to be caught up in the stories rather than in intricately rendered, virtuosic panels.
—Interviews & Profiles. Meg Lemke talks to Tom Hart about Rosalie Lightning.
When you experience something like this, it would have been easy to become self-destructive or numb. I wanted to let it be a part of me, not to deny it.
Peplum starts at the far reaches of the Roman empire, following an exiled squad of adventurers descending into a cave to find a goddess rumored to be imprisoned there. Finding her neither alive nor dead, they remove her from the cave, and are immediately cursed with the cravenness her visage induces in them. One dies of fever. Another finds his face eaten away by strange pustules. Madness overtakes the group, and in the end a lone figure stands atop a blood pile of murderous death. This man, goddess in tow, and bearing a resemblance to Martin Potter from Fellini’s Satyricon (1969), proceeds to go on a series of adventures throughout Ancient Rome that remix and refigure Petronius’ original work.
The effect is as alien as the original text, but in many ways much more brutal and violent. If Fellini’s adaption used the romantic cocksmanship at the heart of the original novel to depict a dreamlike bacchanalia of science fiction-like excess, Blutch blunts those ambitions into wild-eyed madness, interrogating the crippling obsession that the sublime experience induces within its possessed. If Fellini is the ecstasy of the high, Blutch’s Peplum is the hunger of purgatory.
In his writing and art, Schulz offers brutally frank self-assessment worthy of R. Crumb at his most lacerating; grim, grotesque imagery that often metastasizes into Cronenberg-esque body horror, and scathing outrage toward American societal inequities that any hardcore anarchist or hard-left political cartoonist would appreciate. In Sick, Schulz doesn’t just spill ink, he spills blood and guts: bright, red & squishy, in operatically grotesque, often nightmarish drawings. He depicts the title illness in full-scale body-horror mode, which in turn triggers an intensely self-loathing self-examination, which in turn bleeds into a scathing indictment of the American body politic. It’s a challenging 82-page primal scream, like a performance art piece—the kind Karen Finley was famous for in the ’90s—in illustrated form, viscerally tearing apart all the personal and social filters we construct like armor, to keep ourselves going, to stay sane.
—Interviews & Profiles. The University of Chicago has posted video of an interview of Daniel Clowes conducted by Daniel Raeburn, whose Imp #1 is still one of the very best pieces of writing ever to have been published about the cartoonist.
Michael Cavna at The Washington Post spoke to series designer Seth about the final volumes of The Complete Peanuts.
“Today, it seems like a no-brainer,” Seth says of collecting Schulz’s entire works. But more than a dozen years ago, he says, it still seemed like a no-go. When Seth worked with Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth years ago on a Comics Journal project, he tossed out the idea like a distant wish: If anyone ever published the entire catalog of “Peanuts” strips, Seth said, he’d love to design it.
Then one day, out of the blue, the call came. Seth and Groth were soon traveling to “Peanuts” headquarters in Santa Rosa.
Our most recent contributor to the Cartoonist’s Diary feature, Sara Lautman, recently spoke to Sophia Foster-Dimino.
When I quit working corporate I was making my life more difficult in many ways, but I had faith (unfounded or not) that it would be beneficial for me. It’s very scary, especially for someone prone to instability, to take away routines, obligations, easy opportunities to socialize, security, creature comforts, job sponsored healthcare… but my thinking (and this is just a vague possibly superstitious conviction) is that by forcing yourself to get these difficult circumstances under control, you lay the foundations of your own stability, and prove to yourself that you’re capable of weathering this scarier life, which will prevent you from freaking out during worse crises down the road. And a comparatively more sheltered life wouldn’t have accomplished that.
—Commentary. The Doug Wright Awards has posted two tributes delivered at this year’s ceremony: Seth on Darwyn Cooke
He was very mouthy and inappropriate, and i would say even pushy. These are qualities I respect.
A class action lawsuit has been filed by a former Emerald City Comicon volunteer—the organization calls them “minions”—alleging that the convention violates labor laws by treating their volunteers like employees, but failing to pay them.
The suit, filed in King County Superior Court on May 16 by plaintiff Jerry Brooks and naming ECCC and three members of the Demonakos family as defendants, alleges that as many as 250 people may be among the class.
Darwyn forged a solid career in animation, but he became restless in his thirties. His childhood dream of becoming a comic book artist weighed on him. He looked back on his life and considered what really made him happy. There was only one answer: drawing comics. He decided he needed to try and make that long-time dream a reality, so he headed to the DC offices again with new work under his arm. He pitched Batman: Ego. Nothing came of it. Darwyn went back to being an animator and worried that his window for becoming a comic book artist was nearly closed. But then one day, nearly four years later, he received a call from Mark Chiarello who had been newly hired as art director at DC. Chiarello found his pitch for Batman: Ego in a pile of story ideas. He called Darwyn and asked if he wanted to do the book.
Batman: Ego was published in 2000 and it marked the beginning of Darwyn’s brilliant career in comic books. He burst on the scene with an art style that was unlike anything else. It is distinct and bold in the tradition of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, but also honed by time spent as a graphic designer and animator. Darwyn’s art felt retro and modern all at once, and his skilled line work conveyed an exhilarating honesty and joy in the characters he drew. He was a breath of fresh air to the comics industry.
The gents at Secret Acres report back from TCAF as only they do.
Charles Augustus “Gus” Mager (1878-1956) is known primarily for his Sunday newspaper comic Sherlock Holmes spoof, Hawkshaw the Detective, which ran off and on from 1913 through 1947. But there’s more to Mager — lots more.
Mager was a gifted humor cartoonist who held his own with with the likes of George Herriman and Jimmy Swinnerton, creating over 30 strips that are genuinely charming, beautifully cartooned, and totally forgotten by today’s audiences. Mager’s delightful drawings and goofy comedy remain fresh and interesting. Mager’s comics contain the same sort of greatness we find in the more famous newspaper humor comics, such as Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes — an intelligent mind having a great deal of fun with cartooning. However, his career is not well understood, and perhaps this is partly the reason his work has not received much attention. The comics of Gus Mager are ripe for rediscovery and appreciation.
I think it is safe to say that Jasper the bear was Canada’s most recognizable cartoon character of the 20th century. Just how well-known he is today is debatable. Certainly if you are over 50 years old or live near Jasper Park then you will instantly know his face. However I suspect he is fading away from younger generations. That’s a shame really. He was a character with a lot of quiet charm about him much like his creator, James Simpkins.
Simpkins was a part of a small group of cartoonists, mostly starting out in the 1950’s, who helped define the young pop-culture of Canada. Peter Whalley, Doug Wright, Len Norris, Walter Ball, Jimmy Frise—these names are fading away as their work grows dusty on the shelves of neglected second-hand bookstore humour sections.
—Interviews & Profiles. Julia Wright at Vice checks in with Kate Beaton.
Instead of doing the big city thing—say, paying $5,000 a month for a windowless basement apartment and an hour-long commute—last December she moved to Mabou, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island. Claims to fame: low-lying mountains and ocean vistas, great getaway for Americans looking to flee Donald Trump, home of the Rankin Family. But while the former coal-mining community, population 1,200, is definitely picturesque, Beaton remains iffy on the glossy, official tourism depictions of her hometown.
“The tourism industry tends to manufacture a nostalgia for this untouched experience,” Beaton says. “The TV ads, they use all this beautiful music, these colourful scenes, all that ‘wouldn’t you love to get away here?’ stuff. But for the people who live in those houses and do those things, life is hard. Services keep getting cut. They’re places the government just crushes.”
After 17 years, he says his latest book, Paul Up North, a story of first teenage love and heartbreak, will be the last to feature his alter ego, at least for now. “My wife and I have been divorced for three years. My dog is dead, my mother’s dead, my father’s ill – my life is really changing and I’m not in the mood to tell that kind of story anymore. I have to do something else.”
The Guardian profiles novelist Philip Pullman, focusing specifically on his graphic novel work.
Why are the British are so queasy about comics? “I think it comes from Pope Gregory the Great in 580 something,” says Pullman unexpectedly. “He said, what words are for the reader, pictures are for those who cannot read. But what that pronouncement did was to set up a hierarchy of esteem, so to speak: if you were clever you had words; if you’re not very clever you have pictures. That has remained almost unchanged for over 1,500 years.”
That can’t be the whole story. After all, in the US, Japan and France graphic novels are popular, and even respectable. What’s our problem? Maybe the puritans had something to do with it,” Pullman suggests. “The iconoclasm and the destroying of the statues and stained glass. The sense that these are vain fripperies and we should go back to the purity of language without pictures. I’m just guessing.”