This is a fascinating conversation about the mechanics of independent publishing, as seen through the microcosm of small magazines. this kind of frank discussion of the economics of culture publishing. (via NR)
First off, Whit Taylor is here with a report from SPX, including an account of her visit to the Library of Congress and a peek behind the scenes of the Ignatz jury process. Here’s a sample:
As everyone continued to look at the art, I sat down with Warren to talk to him about the show. Warren started volunteering at SPX in 2002 and eventually became the executive director in 2011. For him, coming from the corporate world and managing “large multimillion-dollar projects,” running this show was a lot less stressful, and an avenue for exercising his creativity. He noted that he and his staff received no compensation for SPX, explaining that because there was no personal monetary gain their motivation for running the show was intrinsic. Warren’s goal for SPX was to “provide a low-cost event for people with the understanding that the economy is tough for people in their twenties and thirties.” He proudly mentioned that SPX had booked the Marriott until 2016, so that hotel rates would not go up for participants for a few more years.
Warren’s business savvy has been noted as a large reason for the SPX’s relatively smooth sailing and operation. But it’s been less publicly apparent that Warren’s attention and interest in comics’ past, as well as the current comics landscape, is what keeps the show both honoring comics history as well as keeping it relevant to the emerging generation of younger cartoonists.
And if you missed it, please don’t neglect to go back and check Joe McCulloch’s SPX report from last Friday, which was posted too late to be excerpted on this blog but definitely deserves your attention:
I wasn’t seeing any “SPX people.” There’s usually not a lot going on in Bethesda, at least in the area surrounding the Marriott, so you can generally spot a potential attendee by their mohawk as soon as you’re off the highway, but this Saturday there was nothing. It was raining. The TopatoCo van, smiling bravely in the parking lot, was the only clue that the con was even happening.
Immediately upon entering the hotel — and this was not an impression that subsided as I collected my badge, chuckled at Mr. Wheeler’s good humor, and entered the show floor — I noticed that the crowd seemed more diverse than ever before, and by that I don’t just mean there were as many women as men (although that, as usual for SPX, was true); there were a *lot* of younger teens, kids with parents. Attendees over the age of fifty. Average folk. Usually, in spite of my attendance at the show for nine years’ running, I’d expect to feel at least a little out of place, given my tragicomic haircut and the oversized long-sleeved shirt I’d grabbed at random when I’d noticed it was chilly that morning, giving everyone pause for a moment to ascertain whether I’d come to the show in literally my pajamas, but by god I suddenly felt normal.
As a result, I immediately wondered if alternative culture was dead.
And also, today is the first day of a new artist’s take on our Cartoonist’s Diary feature. This week, it’s Kayla E., and I won’t describe her first entry except to say there’s a George McManus connection…
—Interviews. The Wall Street Journal talked to Roz Chast about her NBA nomination. Vulture talked to Alison Bechdel about her MacArthur grant (and her disinterest in film). Fumetto Logica has a lengthy interview with Adam Hines.
Many of the Hilda books thus far, especially the new one, involve creatures and characters that seem menacing or meddlesome at first but turn out to be harmless or beneficial. I was wondering how conscious you were of this theme and how it ties into your desire to have Hilda avoid violence.
I’m very conscious of it and worry about how quickly that could (has?) become trite. I suspected that people might roll their eyes and take a stab at the ending as soon as the Black Hound even appears. So I try to make the details and the unfolding of that outcome as interesting and unexpected as possible. It’s definitely connected to avoiding violence but also to avoiding antagonists in general. I don’t particularly want to pit a little girl against some supernatural villain who’s out to get her. That would change the tone of the series completely. I have one real “bad guy” in mind that could potentially come in towards the end of the series, but really I think any true antagonist of Hilda’s would just be some other kid. I’m not against depicting violence or anything and it does occur to some extent. The Nisses are pretty violent towards each other, the elves trash Hilda’s house. I tried to show that the Hound is dangerous; it’s not a misunderstanding or anything. I’m inclined to finish each book on a positive note because they’re standalone stories and everything needs to be resolved in some way. I just don’t want the resolution to ever be Hilda bashing some evil creature’s head in and for that to save the day.
Also, Joe McCulloch has the first of our two planned SPX reports. Here’s Joe, in his inimitable style.
Dan linked to this Alexander Chee piece at Salon yesterday, and I’ve seen a lot of comics people posting it on social media approvingly. In it, Chee talks about the Roz Chast National Book Award nomination and the Alison Bechdel MacArthur grant and discusses how often literary award jurors express difficulty with knowing how to evaluate comics in a literary context. While I absolutely agree that many cartoonists (including those two) produce work at least as artistically complex and worthy of celebration as that of the prose works nominated for awards, I also think those nameless jurors have a point: comics is a different art form than prose. In a sense, nominating a graphic novel in a category dedicated to prose novels is like nominating a film in an award category devoted to live theater. Chee elides that point and attacks only the straw-man argument as to whether or not comics are worthy. I want to be clear here that I do not in any way think Chast is unworthy of nomination (I haven’t read the other books nominated, but bet hers would be one of my favorites if I did), and the Bechdel award is obviously okay considering the eclectic nature of the MacArthur grant. But there is something odd about a comic competing against prose books—they work in extremely different ways—and I don’t think it does anyone any favors to pretend people who notice that are somehow ignorant. It’s ignorant to pretend otherwise. Chee undoubtedly knows this on some level, as is indicated by his remark implying that someday comics should have award categories of their own. Until that happens, confusion is going to be impossible to avoid.
The Auteur is a comic concerned with the process of the creative process. And not in the way that Oscar-bait movies about movies tend to be. The Auteur’s philosophies about the birthing of art are largely merciless in their honesty. For Nathan T. Rex, creative conception is selfish, even violent. When a starlet he hired purely based on the caliber of her breasts refuses to do a nude scene, T. Rex feeds her a bunch of manipulative BS about the power of art. “Good art is never easy. Creativity takes courage. To become truly immortal, an artist must escape all human limits.” For Nathan T. Rex, making art is not a righteous act, it’s often a criminal one as he finds himself ditching a growing pile of human remains into the ocean.
SULLIVAN: What other markets were you breaking into at the same time? You did get into Heavy Metal. When did that take place?
BURNS: Around 1982 or ’83. It didn’t pay great, but it paid, so that was nice. The El Borbah strips were serialized in there, and at that point I was starting to take the strips that appeared in Raw and sell them in European markets. That was where my other income was coming from. But it was a trickle, it was very, very gradual. I was trying to get a strip in The Village Voice, and I had a little one-panel strip that appeared in the The Rocket [a Seattle-based rock tabloid] for awhile. A couple of them got reprinted in that “Raw Gagz” [#8]. They were dumb one-shot gag cartoons. I wasn’t very comfortable with that, to tell the truth. I had made up a bunch of samples, and I was supposed to get this space on the back of The Village Voice, because supposedly whoever was doing that was going to be booted out or something. There was something weird there. I was talking to the editor about it, and he was encouraging, but I was never very happy with what I had come up with.
At that point Art Spiegelman was working for Playboy, and that was really big bucks. I remember trying to create a one-page strip for Playboy. It was kind of a romance throwback. I just never could get it. Art was trying to help me: “You’ve just gotta think about what Hugh would like.” And I never could figure out what Hugh would like. My stuff was still much too weird for them. I had a strip called “I Married a Maniac,” about some woman who’s chained to the bedpost, and she’s washing dishes. Their response was, “Uh, Charles, you’re not quite getting it. The guys who’re reading Playboy don’t want to think of themselves as sexist pigs. They’re not going to think that’s too funny.”
SULLIVAN: You were critiquing the Playboy ideal.
BURNS: Yeah. Then I was trying to throw in this sexy humor, but I just could not get with it. It was really lame.
SULLIVAN: Lots of big, buxom gals, though?
BURNS: Well … I was too embarrassed. I ended up doing stupid stuff. A woman comes home and her husband’s in a giant bunny outfit, and he says, “Come on, honey, can’t you get in the mood?” Just real stupid.
SULLIVAN: How did Art feel about working for Playboy and trying to meet that Playboy ethic?
BURNS: He was doing it for the money. It was one of the games in town. He was smart enough to figure out how to play by their rules, and did it. I think it was fairly painless for him. But it was pretty painful for me.
The original Incal is a tough act to follow- so esteemed in some quarters that Humanoids were recently able to charge $79.95 per volume (that’s for 48 pages of art in their luxurious “coffee table” format) and find an audience for it. That’s almost $500 for six books, which have been published many times before over the last three decades. But Final Incal is also a damn entertaining read, with pretty spectacular artwork by Ladrönn, and quite good artwork by Moebius. (The aborted volume of After the Incal is appended at the end, cleverly giving the book the same circular structure as the original Incal series.)
And speaking of Sugar Skull, we also have a more thorough review of the conclusion to the Nitnit trilogy, written by the great Richard Gehr. Here’s a bit of what he has to say:
Could the colorful Hergé-inspired trilogy Charles Burns concludes with Sugar Skull be read as a formally audacious sequel to his black-and-white masterpiece Black Hole? “A hole is never just a hole,” Burns has said of the series, which launched in 2010 with X’ed Out and continued two years later with The Hive. And the lacunae, tunnels, cavities, orifices, and other absences so present in these three books cover a lot of the same creepy-ass territory as their diseased-adolescence predecessor – although his trademark meticulously rendered deformities are relegated to a fantasy realm. This time around the emphasis is on the biological consequences of the sexual desires thrumming though Burns’s young fertile creatures.
Besides providing a delightfully Freudian read with heavy emotional repercussions, Sugar Skull also offers a final opportunity to enjoy the trilogy in all its fine Franco-Belgian drag prior to the inevitable single-volume repack. Hergé has been called a thieving magpie of imagery, and Burns wreaks artistic justice by inverting both Hergé’s narrative style and star. Tintin becomes Nitnit, the oneiric representation of Doug, whose three-stage development from the late-seventies art-punk wannabe who calls himself Johnny 23 to a slacker record-store clerk several years later is chronicled. Snowy the dog becomes Inky the cat, who leads Nitnit down a grungy hole on X’ed Out‘s first page and returns for the trilogy’s uncanny conclusion. (Burns’s books are also littered with desert skeletons reminiscent of the dead dromedaries Hergé snagged from photographer J. Pascal Sebah and dropped into The Crab With the Golden Claws.)
—SPX. This was the first SPX in something like a decade that I wasn’t able to attend, and of course the Social Media has made it seem like the most entertaining ever. As Joe mentions in his column, if all goes well, he will have a report from SPX up for us later this week. We also plan to publish another SPX report in a different mode, from Whit Taylor (who you may remember from her excellent piece on the Comics & Medicine festival earlier this year). In the meantime, we’ll all have to make do with what we can find elsewhere online, including Brigid Alverson’s photo report from the Ignatz Awards.
—Interviews. Tim O’Shea talks to the Magic Whistle artist (and occasional TCJ contributor) Sam Henderson.
—Reviews & Commentary.The New Yorker has a long piece by Jill Lepore on the hidden history of Wonder Woman (with a cameo from Margaret Sanger). I assume this is either an excerpt or includes material from her upcoming much-anticipated book on the same subject.
Birds and other flying creatures are associated with Mercury, the wing-footed messenger god, and thus with intellectual thought, ideas, and communication. Birds sing to one another and can be trained to speak and carry messages for humans who tame them, and like thoughts, they freely explore places beyond human (physical) reach. Inspired ideas can seem to be soaring overhead; we glimpse them and hope they will choose us as their perch. Untethered birds are impracticable ideas, ideas not yet snared by the ponderous necessity of action. Sometimes airborne imagery denotes wishful thinking: an unrealistic fantasy is a “flight of fancy,” a daydreamer’s refuge is “cloud cuckoo land.” When a flock behaves unpredictably or attacks, insanity is implied—the subject’s own thoughts are trying to kill them.
Grant Snider, in “Collecting My Thoughts,” presents himself as at the mercy of his untamed mind. In the form of winged animals, the thoughts swarm, buzz, evade, impose, stupefy and loom. He gets the better of them only twice—his “bottled up thoughts” (trapped safe in a jar) and “thoughtlessness” (the thought/bird apparently slain with a slingshot) allow him to feel in control, but now he’s attacking them, rather than engaging. And the rest of the time he’s content to let the thoughts run roughshod over him, while he plays the role of their hapless observer, apparently unmotivated to chase them down, preferring to be resigned to his neurosis.
At first glance, Gabrielle Bell’s six-panel daily diary comics don’t have a lot in common with the Mines of Moria sequence in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings . Or at any number of subsequent glances, I suppose. But the more Bell I read, the more I think they share a primary strength: a sense of space, of environment. Autobio slice-of-life comics, by the nature of what most of us tend to do with our lives every day, often consist in large part of conversations, either with a small number of other parties or within the head of the diarist as they go about their day. Unless those conversations reference a specific landmark, cartooned depictions of them can, and often do, devolve into dialogues that could be taking place anywhere, or nowhere. They have all the spatial context of action figures or dolls or sock puppets held aloft by the cartoonist, one in each hand, and made to speak with the voices of the participants.
Here’s a preview of my show opening on Thursday at the RISD Museum. The article itself is filled with misquotes and bad information, but hey, it’s publicity baby! Quick notes: I’m the curator of the show; Destroy All Monsters and Forcefield didn’t use YouTube and Vimeo to distribute their work; I never published “Forcefield”. etc. etc. But, other than that, dive in!
Fantagraphics is launching a new imprint, Fantagraphics Underground, which will publish books with potentially low commercial appeal in very small print runs. You can read their press release about the announcement here. It’s an interesting idea, but one that inspired more than a few questions. Dan posed them to Gary Groth last night, and you can read that interview today. Here’s a small taste:
DN: Who is the editorial director of this imprint?
Gary Groth: I am.
Why [lead off with] Fukitor? That seems like a particularly controversial choice.
Both books could be considered controversial choices. One is certainly a prime example of transgressive art and the other is a relentless attack on modernist art and beloved and successful artists such as Warhol, de Kooning, and Schnabel. I’m glad you asked me this because I’ve been wrestling with this for awhile. Jim Rugg, an artist I like and respect, was the prime mover behind Fukitor (he edited the collection). I am admittedly more ambivalent about it than Jim, who is a passionate advocate, but I ultimately concluded that its mockery and ridicule of the more idiotic aspects of pop culture makes it worthwhile (and funny). I know, of course, that that is not everyone’s interpretation, and I don’t discount the possibility that it is both a symptom of as well as a response to a rancid pop culture, which makes it a more difficult work to navigate.
I think it’s a publisher’s obligation to take risks; I could probably publish safe, respectable “literary” comics or solid, “good,” uncontroversial comics for the rest of my life. I think it’s important, personally and professionally, to occasionally get outside your comfort zone.
We also have Dominic Umile’s review of Michael Cho’s new Shoplifter, the latest comics publication from major publisher Pantheon, and I believe their first comics debut. (Certainly one of their first.) Here’s some of that review:
The budding kleptomania in Shoplifter isn’t as extreme a case as the one that Canadian comics creator Pascal Girard recounts in 2014’s funny and also love-and-misdemeanor-driven Petty Theft, but like Girard’s Sarah, who calls book-stealing “a bit of a rush,” Corrina Park finds comfort in the inherent sense of danger. Exiting the store with stolen goods is a break from the hours she spends fantasizing about leading an isolated novelist’s life or mulling her own overt difficulty with interaction: “I’m so bad at groups,” she confesses. “Sometimes when everyone is talking, I start to get self-conscious.” Peeking out from under a head of black bobbed hair that never quite crests the shoulders of her peers, Park is cast as diminutive, disconnected, and alone, even in an enormous city that’s overrun with people.
—More Mouly. Alex Dueben talks to Françoise Mouly about the expansion of her Toon Books.