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Some Guys

Today on the site, Alex Wong interviews Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim about their collaborative book, Poppies of Iraq.

 

In the book, you convey very well the overall experience of growing up as an Orthodox Christian in Iraq. How would you describe that experience now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on it?

Brigitte Findakly: I didn’t think about it. I just grew up thinking I was a normal little girl. Life in Mosul was very calm. Our neighbours were our best friends and they were Muslim. When there was a coup d’etat, the only perceptible consequence was that we wouldn’t have to go to school the next day. I never saw hangings, dead bodies or any sort of war scene. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this book, to show that Iraq in the 1960s was different from the place we’ve heard about on the news for so many years.

There’s a lot in the book about the history of Iraq juxtaposed against your own experiences living there.

I learned Mesopotamian history in school by heart. For the book, I really wanted to juxtapose my family’s personal history with the larger sweeping headlines from political and historical events. I was hesitant to delve too far into the past. I wanted to stay in my area, beginning in the 1950s. I would have loved to be able to talk about other older facets of history in Iraq. I think Americans would see a different side of the country if they knew that it was the birthplace of beer (Not Budweiser, of course, but just beer in general).

I especially loved the “In Iraq” interludes in the book where we get to learn about traditions and customs of the country.

Brigitte Findakly: Those pages gave us the chance to talk about the culture of Iraq and things that were true to most people who grew up there. It was important to me that this could be seen as a history of many of the millions of Iraqis who exist, and that I wasn’t just telling my story.

There are social customs in Iraq that are specific and different from many other cultures. Specifically, you mentioned in the book about marriages and relationships, that 95 percent of marriages in Iraq are arranged. Did that shape the way you approached relationships at all growing up?

My parents did not have an arranged marriage so I knew I wouldn’t end up in one, even before we left for France. I think my parents were much braver than I was when it came to this. I am and have always been puzzled that my family continues to believe in the practice of arranged marriages. I’ve become pretty fatalistic about this position, though of course everyone is certain their way of being is the right and only way.

Elsewhere:

Hey, the CXC festival starts tomorrow. That's a thing I'd like to attend sometime. 

Sometimes I get excited about some new comics release. Such is the case with D&Q's upcoming Anna & Froga collection. These comics are so sturdy and enjoyable.

Great book over here.

 

You Varmint

Today on the site, Greg Hunter returns with the latest episode of the greatest comics podcast available, Comic Book Decalogue. This time, his guest is Gina Wynbrandt, and Someone Please Have Sex with Me creator talks Phoebe Gloeckner, Truth Zone, Chewing Gum, and more.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Steven Heller interviews Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden about their long-awaited and highly anticipated book, How to Read Nancy.

You have an incredibly smart way of deconstructing the comic by breaking down the three panels into major themes like Gag, Last Panel, Dialog, each character (Nancy and Sluggo) and many, many more attributes and props, then you define each into Context, Text and Moral. How does this deconstruction work? Why does it work?
Some people like to take apart car engines. Some people like to take apart strands of DNA. We like to take apart the Saturday, Aug. 8, 1959 episode of Nancy.

Where did this insane quest begin? We originally met as students of Art Spiegelman at SVA in the early 1980s. Through our continued association with Art and RAW magazine we were exposed to a mind-altering frame-by-frame deconstruction / analysis of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe by experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs—that literally lasted for weeks. This event provided the impetus for our original short essay in Brian Walker’s essential 1988 book The Best of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Decades later, as our essay found its way into comics curriculums around the globe, we decided it was time to take a look at how much was left in that randomly chosen strip to deconstruct. And we wanted to learn more about the man behind the work.

For du9, Mola Lontes talks to the Swedish cartoonist Max Andersson.

I was a socially inept and shy teenager, compensating by drawing, living in my own world a lot. I went to high school in a small town on the Swedish mainland, where anything out of the ordinary was treated with suspicion or outright contempt. As soon as I could, at eighteen, I moved on my own to Stockholm and got a job in a hospital. When I worked in the hospital at 18, I was mainly in the cancer ward, where I had to deal a lot with death. Often patients died alone, with no relatives or friends present, and it was part of my job to keep them company. Afterwards I took care of the corpses, cleaning them and preparing them for autopsies or transportation. It was all very physical and practical, no big mystery at all. Mostly through my interest in punk and post-punk music I met people who were involved in bands and alternative culture in general. I soon learned to embrace my own “strangeness” instead of struggling unsuccessfully to fit into the norm, and ever since then I’ve been quite happy with myself.

The most recent guests on the Virtual Memories podcast are the political cartoonists Ann Telnaes and Matt Wuerker.

 

Pastel Cookies

Today on the site, Matt Seneca visits us with a review of Windowpane 4. 

With this year’s Windowpane 4, Kessler trains his newfound sense of narrative focus on a higher plateau. Tipping the scales at 82 pages, the issue could easily have been marketed as a complete graphic novel, but Kessler retains his admirable commitment to the single-issue format, complete with staples and everything. The untitled story trades in the quotidian world of “Goodbye Strongbody” for something more akin to a modern fable, in which a lone man seeks shelter and escape from societal oppression. Is he a criminal? A dissident? A heretic? A minority? We never find out, and it doesn’t make a difference. The story is about repression in general, about the other shoe dangling and then dropping, about the difficulty of life on the run. It is split into three parts, the breaks telegraphed by changes in the risograph printing process.

Elsewhere:

The great Marc Bell has started a Patreon.

Noah Van Sciver interviewed Peter Bagge over at Comics Reporter.

 

 

Oy

Today, Frank Young is here with an extended look at the most "meta" sequences of Chester Gould's career.

The Gravies appeared only in the Tribune through its six-year run, which ended January 26, 1964. At first signed “Chet,” the early run of the strip is often solo Gould, with loose-limbed linework, sloppy lettering and other evidence of a tightly wound cartoonist blowing off steam and amusing himself. Gravies later credits the first names of Team Gould: Al Valanis, Chester's brother Ray Gould, Dick Locher, Jack Ryan and Rick Fletcher. The single-tier strip grew in 1958 to a double-decker approximately a third of a page in size.

Skewed comedy was hard-wired into Dick Tracy from its 1931 start. Gould’s fight-and-flight narratives of doomed criminals, hurtling toward claustrophobic doom, can be gripping, grotesque and deadly serious. Humor elbowed its way into the darkest storylines. Eccentric supporting characters, settings and casual commentary on current fads and foibles informs the strip. Post-war Tracy, until the end of the decade, stressed comedy over crime-solving. The popularity of the hillbilly family of B. O. Plenty, his wife, Gravel Gertie and their daughter, Sparkle Plenty (the focus of a merchandising blitz in the late ‘40s) threatened to crowd the no-nonsense Tracy out of his own strip.

The hit-and-miss humor of The Gravies was no surprise to Tracy’s Chicago readership. In the past year, they’d read a long narrative with the enigmatic Mumbles, a revived villain from a 1947 sequence, paired with a physical-culture fanatic and his feral offspring—acrobatic twin tots who vex the criminal with their anarchic slapstick mayhem. And though 1956’s Tracy narratives (which I wrote about in this essay) represent a peak year in the strip’s darkness and drama, there are also occasional moments of screwball comedy.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. For The Paris Review, Trina Robbins writes about Neil the Horse.

Unique among the black-and-white comics of the 1980s and, in fact, unique from any comic ever published, Neil the Horse is the world’s first and only all-singing, all-dancing comic book. Each issue includes sheet music and lyrics—you can play the songs on your piano!—and along with the lyrics, some evocative poetry that is not set to music, all by Arn, who truly lived up to Neil’s motto: “Making the World Safe for Musical Comedy.”

Anders Nilsen writes a personal, persuasive essay on the importance of access to affordable health care.

This afternoon I wrote postcards to seven US senators asking them to vote NO on Graham-Cassidy, the latest Republican attempt to dismantle Obamacare and rob people of their health care. I'm not usually that vocal in public about my politics. Social media generally makes me slightly queasy, even if it is the water we all swim in these days. But the issue of health care feels urgent to me.

—Interviews & Profiles. Pádraig Ó Méalóid finally publishes the third part of the enormous "Christmas" interview with Alan Moore, in which among other things, he reveals his recipe for rarebit pasta.

...Mix the breadcrumbs and the extra grated cheese together, and then cover the top of the pasta and sauce with the resultant crumbly mixture. Dot the halved baby plum tomatoes over the whole surface area, stick the casserole dish into the moderate oven, and then go and smoke the joint while reading, say, a short David Foster Wallace essay or story, and by the time you’re done with that your dinner should be ready.

—Misc. Lynda Barry has inaugurated an advice column at The Paris Review.

Dear Pissed,

Pee hoarding isn’t as uncommon as one may think. Type that term into a search engine and be amazed. It’s not about being too lazy to pee in the toilet. It’s about something else that usually has long roots going back to childhood. I knew kids who did this, who saved jars of pee and lined them up in corners of garages or in bushes. I’m sure pee hoarders have their reasons. ...

 

Happiness Pursuit

Today on the site,  Robert Kirby reviews Language Barrier.

Language Barrier is a collection of four one-off full-color zines that Hannah K. Lee, a talented Korean-American Brooklyn-based artist, created from 2012 to 2017. Each of the zines has a different focus, though all carry Lee’s playfully ironic aesthetic. The zines are presented in the following, non-chronological order: Hey Beautiful (2017), Shoes Over Bills (2012), Everyone Else is Younger and More Talented (2014), and Close Encounters (2015). There’s a nice trajectory from the relatively straightforward comics that open Hey Beautiful to the typography-based poster-style visuals of Close Encounters. Thoughtfully curated and presented, Language Barrier is a groovy, pocket-sized little handbook for self-doubting, conflicted artists (and other assorted human beings) everywhere.

Elsewhere:

Alex Dueben has taken on a regular feature at Smash Pages. Here's the lot, which is a good bunch.

More on the Village Voice -- this time a history of its art direction, which was crucial to comics and illustration. 

And a remembrance of Greg Escalante.

 

I Hope They Ask for a Lot of Money

Today on the site, North America's favorite manga scholar Ryan Holmberg returns with the second part of his essay on Yuichi Yokoyama and "audiovisual abstraction" in comics.

When it comes to figures of size, Yokoyama clearly favors bigness. His earliest manga, the building narratives in New Engineering (2004), feature gigantic landworks and monumental fantasy structures. Travel (2006) promises an entire long-distance train trip. Garden (2007) features hallways that extend into infinity and giant maps that describe an entire territory in detail. After Garden, I recall Yokoyama saying he wanted to make a 1000-page book depicting war, though he never did.

In all such cases, however, Yokoyama packs bigness into smallness. His books are rarely longer than 300 pages, and often much shorter. Like any comics author, he has to work with a finite number of small panel frames – which would be a meaningless observation were there not indications that Yokoyama has been interested in this aspect of comics-making on a figurative level. For example, the endless hallway in Garden turns out to be a library filled with wordless picture catalogues, suggesting that the entire universe can be condensed, quasi-wordless comics-like, into an accumulation of printed pictures without help of the written word. The horde of photographs dropped from the air and assembled into a map in Garden suggest a similar idea: when a large set of pictures/panels is properly ordered, they can recreate, even if the individual units are small, the world in near whole. Likewise, Travel might be ambitious as a comics project, but it also harbors within it the humble desire of the armchair traveller that the world be adequately contained and enjoyed vicariously through books, screens, and other domesticated media. As encyclopedias are vast by virtue of being compact, so Yokoyama has explored monumentality, infinity, and comprehensiveness through figures and practices of miniaturization, division, and containment.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The Chilean cultural critic and playwright Ariel Dorfman writes about the origin of his famous 1970s critique of Disney comic books, How to Read Donald Duck.

If there was a single company that embodied the overarching influence of the U.S. -- not just in Chile but in so many other lands then known as the Third World -- it was the Walt Disney Corporation. Today, in addition to the many amusement parks that bear its name, the Disney brand conjures up a panoply of Pixar princesses, avatars of cars and planes, and tales of teen-age angst and Caribbean piracy. But in Chile, in the early 1970s, Disney’s influence was epitomized by a flood of inexpensive comic books available at every newsstand. So Armand and I decided to focus on them and in particular on the character who then seemed to us the most symbolic and popular of the denizens of the Disney universe. What better way to expose the nature of American cultural imperialism than to unmask the most innocent and wholesome of Walt Disney’s characters, to show what authoritarian tenets a duck’s smiling face could smuggle into Third World hearts and minds?

We would soon discover what an attack on Disney would be met with -- and it wasn’t smiles.

—News. As reported in Vice, Matt Furie is stepping up his legal actions against the rightwing provocateurs coopting his Pepe the Frog character.

Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has made good on his threat to "aggressively enforce his intellectual property."

The artist's lawyers have taken legal action against the alt-right. They have served cease and desist orders to several alt-right personalities and websites including Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and the r/the_Donald subreddit. In addition, they have issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Reddit and Amazon, notifying them that use of Pepe by the alt-right on their platforms is copyright infringement. The message is to the alt-right is clear—stop using Pepe the Frog or prepare for legal consequences.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Mimi Pond.

J.A. Micheline talks to Tillie Walden.

“I thought about my own memories,” Walden says, “not necessarily in terms of content but in terms of the space. Where I was when something happened and how did my emotions affect how I remember that space? In certain instances in the book, I would realise: ‘OK, during this competition, I was feeling horrifically restricted and sad and that emotion was growing inside me.’ So I would have this space that would suddenly grow bigger and become more cavernous.”

—Misc. Juan Fernandez writes about a fascinating old French television show based on the idea of the exquisite corpse game, and featuring artists such as Jean-Claude Forest, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, Moebius, and Johnny Hart(!), among many others.

The concept was simple, efficient, and allowed for many variations: A huge, blank white page and cartoonists equipped with just a simple marker. A theme was proposed (ex. invasion or pursuit), sometimes a visual starting point (simple line, spiral, circle), and the authors improvised, either collaboratively with their peers, or in a duel facing off against their opponents. The result was often far more than a juxtaposition of drawings, it was often a real visual dialogue between cartoonists.

 

Class Trip

Today on site, perhaps inspired by the comments section on this very site, Matt Seneca returns to review PayWall:

In his new graphic novel PayWall, Kelly pays down the promissory note of that Mould Map piece. Handsomely printed by Mould Map editor Hugh Frost’s publishing boutique Landfill Editions, it is work so relevant and contemporary that it seems to belong in a completely different ballpark than the rest of what comics has on display right now. Set in an English coastal city ten years from now, PayWall depicts a society in which rising seal levels threaten human survival, parking lots full of live-in port-a-potties are replacing apartment blocks, and the federal government and military have been torn to pieces and swallowed by a rabid pack of competing corporations. 

At its heart, this is an entry in that most recognizable of comic book genres, the hero’s origin story. Rather than create his hero as a slightly more ridiculously costumed version of a police officer, though, Kelly looks for inspiration at the real heroes of today’s world: the scared, angry young people pulling on masks and taking to the streets to put their bodies on the line against governmental and societal oppression. PayWall‘s hero team is a cell of militarized anarchists, its villains a loosely knit cabal of rich corporate dickheads who have reformed the world in their image, and its protagonist a regular working dude who is radicalized by the radical situation he finds himself in.  

Elsewhere:

Here's Steven Heller interviewing Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik on their upcoming book, How to Read Nancy.

Another deep dive into the data of cartoonists -- this time one of my favorite categories: Letterers.

And there's an SPX wrap-up over at The Beat.

 

Lotsa Stuff

Today on the site, Brian Nicholson reviews the second collection of Farel Dalrymple's Pop Gun War.

Farel Dalrymple is treated as an eccentric within the mainstream comics industry. His most high-profile work within the realm of work-for-hire was illustrating Jonathan Lethem's revival of Omega the Unknown for Marvel Comics. His style telegraphs traces of the 1970s house style of John Buscema's How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way while still having enough arthouse quirk that it can be sold to a New Yorker-reading audience interested in learning more about graphic novels. He also drew a few issues of Brandon Graham's revival of the Rob Liefeld character Prophet: When prevailed upon, his work is capable of maximalist detail, and can conjure up the same drawing-centered approach to science fiction found in the pages of a vintage issue of Heavy Metal. These disparate skills are all on display in the comics that Dalrymple writes for himself, which do not fit nearly as neatly into any preexisting box. They are nuts. They are busy with ideas and activity, maximalist with kitchen sink detail and clutter, alive with consciousness.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. At this weekend's SPX, the Ignatz Award winners were announced, with Emil Ferris picking up two of the biggest prizes (Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Graphic Novel), which Ben Passmore winning Oustanding Comic.

The longtime comics review site run by retailer Brian Hibbs, Savage Critics, has closed shop.

Savage Critics started back from the old CompuServe days, where I would read an entire week's worth of comics, and give one word (or up to a sentence, maybe) reviews. I was young, and (well, I thought) very clever, so making snap judgements publicly seemed entertaining to me (at least). Once gated communities like CompuServe became passe (well, until Facebook, at least), I thought it might be cool to do the same thing on the internet as a stand alone blog. It was the Wild West back then, and this was an early blog (I think Tom Spurgeon called it "foundational" at one point?) of commentary and criticism.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Sophia Foster-Dimino, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Jesse Moynihan.

—Reviews & Commentary. The NYRB excerpts Elke Schulze's afterword to their new collection of Erich Ohser's fascinating Father and Son.

Erich Ohser became internationally famous for his comic strips in the 1930s, but the carefree world of his Father and Son gives little hint of the fate that would be suffered by its creator. After Ohser was driven to take his own life, his friend Erich Kästner wrote: “We’re going to mourn him by celebrating his drawings.” Ohser was a passionate graphic artist whose versatile talent spanned many techniques: pencil, India ink, writing ink, watercolor, and colored pencil. Along with his journalistic cartoons and illustrations is a large body of work ranging from freehand portraits and landscapes to nudes and studies of people observed in cafés.

At LARB, Daniel Worden reviews Gary Panter's Songy of Paradise.

Panter’s new comic, Songy of Paradise, brilliantly elaborates his aesthetic. The comic both comments on our world and disavows everyday concerns in exchange for the pleasures of thinking along under-traveled paths. While only 40 pages, the book is large in size — about 11-by-15 inches — so it feels like you are looking at Panter’s original pen-and-ink drawings themselves, rather than reproductions of them. This quality lends the book a hand-drawn, intimate feel, making its pages feel not only like original comic book art but also like the leaves of an illuminated manuscript. In any case, the artist’s hand is always very near. This makes sense, given that Songy of Paradise describes itself, on its title page, as a story “Wherein Satan And A Hillbilly Re-Enact The Temptation Of Jesus In The Desert, Hewing To John Milton’s Epic Poem Paradise Regained But Without Milton’s Verbosity.”

At Public Books, Gordon Douglas writes about the recent revival of and reevaluation of H.P. Lovecraft's work, particularly through Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows's Providence.

If primarily an inquiry into Lovecraft’s writing and literary influence set in 1919, Providence is an ideal engagement with the author for today’s America. It is fitting, for one thing, that the story begins actually in New York, with a Jewish gay protagonist named Robert Black exploring the city of immigrants as a journalist. (In earlier, related work by Alan Moore to which Providence serves as a sort of conclusion-by-extended-prequel—The Courtyard and Neonomicon—protagonists include a woman and a black man, while the villains are racist psychopaths devoted to Lovecraftian cosmology.) As Black encounters characters and events from Lovecraft’s stories, Moore and Burrows continue to introduce themes and personalities that Lovecraft would have been uncomfortable with, including the sympathetic portrayal of many whom the writer vilified as monsters in his stories. The “unusual colony of unclassified slant-eyed folk” in “The Horror at Redhook” (1927), for instance (implied to be Kurdish Yazidis, today under persecution by ISIS), are subtly humanized in Burrows’ illustrations. In exploring Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931), Moore and Burrows draw out its anti-immigrant and anti-miscegenation sentiments by showing explicit acts of prejudice and discrimination faced by the fish-faced townspeople (ultimately presaging World War II-era interment and genocide) as an oppressed minority. Providence likewise makes graphic the “unnamable” and “unspeakable” horrors to which Lovecraft alludes, including incest and rape.