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Winding Down

Today we have a review by Doug Harvey of a new book collecting the Dick Tracy-quoting collages of the San Francisco artist Jess. Here’s the review’s opening:

Even among those familiar with contemporary art history, the relationship between comics and so-called “high art” is often limited to a few superficial talking points, boiling down to the early token recognition of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat as great art and the wholesale and arguably condescending swipes of the Pop artists – particularly Roy Lichtenstein. Fortunately for all involved, the story is more complicated than that. Artists like the late Swede Oyvind Fahlstrom or Scotland’s Eduardo Paolozzi created complex works that honored original comic creators while looking to the medium’s innovations in pictographic language as extensions of the parameters of Modern Art. Europe was way ahead of America in recognizing the medium’s legitimacy, in a broad popular sense as well as in academia and the art world.

But there were pockets of brilliance in the USA too. One of the greatest-ever fine art interrogations of the funny pages has to have been Tricky Cad, created by the San Francisco artist Jess (Collins) between 1952-1959. An eight-episode series of cut-ups made entirely out of fragments of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, the five known extant collages have been collected and reproduced at a legible size for the first time ever in O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica edited by LA-based art writer Michael Duncan and published by Siglio Press — who also released a stellar 2008 collection of NY artist Joe Brainard’s decades-long body of work deconstructing Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy.

And as the year (possibly the world?) winds down, so shrinks the comics internet bubble:

—Tom Spurgeon has begun his annual year-end series of interviews with comics figures, this time starting out with Alison Bechdel, one of a small handful of artists who dominated the news this year. It’s a good interview too, and a great way to start off a series.

—The mega-popular site The Awl has an interview with Sean Howe, whose history of Marvel Comics was another of the year’s big books.

—Douglas Wolk reviewed a whole slew of comics for the New York Times.

—And finally, Spider-Man writer Dan Slott has reportedly been deluged with death threats via social media sites after the leak of an upcoming plot twist involving Doctor Octopus. This is depressing on several levels.

 

Premium

Well, last night we said goodbye to Gossip Girl. I was heartened when I recently met someone in his 50s who also likes the show. It means I’m not nearly as much of a loser as I could be. Also, I bet someone up north is softly weeping into his bound editions.

Today Joe McCulloch brings us his final comics list of the year.

And elsewhere:

Following on Tim’s entry yesterday, here’s more R.O. Blechman — this time his classic take on Eustace Tilley.

Hey, why not spend your holiday season with Jack Cole? Don’t answer that. But go check out two rare cover images and follow along for the duration.

No more pulp heroes at DC Entertainment. The over-90 crowd will be heartbroken.  More importantly: No more Spirit archives in print. Huh.

Not comics: The landmark magazine/edition Aspen is the subject of an exhibition in London. Nice piece on it here. Worth a look for the book-as-object crowd. (via). And this, too. More England. More book design quandaries to think about.

My gift to Tim this holiday season.

 

 

Advent

Today we have the final 2012 column of Sean T. Collins, in which he says hello to Aidan Koch, creator of The Whale and The Blonde Woman. Here’s an exchange from their discussion:


Are you content with tone coming through even if the transmission of the narrative is incompletely received? Is the tone the important thing to you?

Oh absolutely. I mean, think about the idea of studying literature and the hundreds and thousands of students that have to pull theses and hypothesize about symbolism and undercurrents. I think it’s fair to say that sure, those authors probably didn’t intend the majority of what people speculate, and yet we recognize it as a valid undertaking. I think what’s important is what the author does give us is a basis or guideline to such speculation. I’d much rather create work that’s dynamic and compelling than overly explanatory or simply “readable.” In comics especially, there is so much the artist has to work with in their favor between the written, visual, and sequencing. It’s kind of like how film is to photography, comics are to drawing/painting. It’s about the immersive experience.

Elsewhere, in no particular order:

—The Comics Reporter republishes a very funny Noah Van Sciver comic about traveling back to early ’90s Seattle and applying for work at Fantagraphics.

—This piece at The Scotsman about the rise of graphic novels isn’t anything new really, except perhaps in tone.

—Hogan’s Alley republished an interview with the late Bud Blake.

—The Guardian has another long profile of Alan Moore, of the kind they seem to run every fortnight or two, but this is an unusually good one covering lots of new territory.

—There’s a forthcoming biography of Ward Kimball that’s apparently run into trouble with Disney.

—Milo George has transcript of a 1955-era Orson Welles talking about horror comics.

—James Romberger reviews a slew of comics. I always enjoy reading his take on things.

—I missed this studio visit with the publisher, cartoonist, and occasional TCJ contributor Austin English.

—MoCCA &The Society of Illustrators has announced the formation of a new steering committee.

—Finally, a couple videos from 1966. First, the legendary Gene Deitch’s test film for a never-made version of The Hobbit (via):

And second, a vintage CBS Christmas message from R. O. Blechman (via):

 

Restricted Travel

It’s Friday, but no Tucker today. He’ll be back next week. Instead we have a special treat: Patrick Hambrecht and Dame Darcy on Heather Benjamin’s Sad Sex. Be warned: the images within the review are very NSFW.

Elsewhere:

Jeff Trexler weighs in on the latest Superman ruling. More on that here.

Rising young comics fest CAKE announced Michael Deforge as a special guest.

Tove Jansson’s Hobbit illustrations. (via)

Arthur is inspected.

Here’s a useful guide (part 1) to some releases to look for in 2013.

Sequential hand gestures over here with Bruno Munari. Not really comics, but certainly in the ballpark.

Not comics except by proxy: The great Gene Wolfe is reissuing 19 of his out-of-print novels as e-books.

Not comics but of interest to me, so why not: A review of Bob Dylan’s new art show that references the “Richard Prince did it” theory. Prince is a current fascination of mine, especially as a collector and user of artworks. He is able to recognize (or imbue) the uncanny in objects. Whether that’s real or imagined is sorta beside the point. Also, I’ve grown to enjoy his gag cartoons on canvas, not to mention the joke paintings. And there’s also his collecting and use of works by artists like Richard Powers and Bill Ward. Finally, Prince might be making the best artist’s books around these days. Each is a lesson in concept, image selection and sequencing. It’s all working in a jacked economy, of course, but even that luxury element doesn’t bother me since it’s so self-evidently part of the work/game. What’s The Wire quote? “All in the game”?

 

Fun Times

Block out some time, because we’ve got a big one for you today, a long interview with Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez conducted by Dan and myself and Frank Santoro. Both Gilbert and Jaime were on that morning, and willing to talk about anything and everything. Here’s one exchange taken more or less at random:

HODLER: I might be misremembering, but I believe I read an interview with you where you said that when you create stories, you kind of work at the beginning and the end and the middle all at the same time.

GILBERT: It’s different all the time. That’s probably most of the way I worked. Sometimes, I would just draw the last page real sloppy because I’m tired, I’ll do that as I start the story, and if I know what the ending is, I rarely know what the ending is, but I’ll draw the last page early on if I know what it will be. Like, Marble Season, my Drawn & Quarterly book, I drew the last page when I was halfway done with the book, because I didn’t want to get to that last page feeling, “I’m tired, I don’t wanna draw this page!” [Laughter.] That lesson came from one of the early Barry Smith Conan stories, it was “Red Nails.” Was it the end of the first chapter, or the whole…? The page where you can tell, Barry Smith, it was probably 4 in the morning, and he just couldn’t do it much justice.

JAIME: I thought the whole second issue was …

GILBERT: I think it was the last page of the first chapter, ’cause the first part was real intense and Conan gets chased by the dinosaur and he has to carry Valeria; and then at the end, it was the last page of the chapter, it looked like Smith handed it to Vinnie Colletta to finish.

NADEL: Oh, Colletta finished it?

GILBERT: No, it looks like it. Or Pablo Marcos.

NADEL: Oh. [Laughter.]

GILBERT: I can tell because it looks like Barry Smith was fried at 4 in the morning, and he’s gotta get it into the office and it’s not done. I don’t wanna do that, so the trick is to do that page before you get to the end. Yeah. And the sloppy page might be in the middle of the story now, instead of the very end but not a lot of people notice. It’s very telling when it’s at the end.

I learned from those mainstream guys, that’s one thing. And I think a lot of indie artists don’t. And that’s why they can’t freakin’ tell stories or structure stories or have stories, ‘cause you gotta learn from the mainstream, the nuts and bolts of putting a comic together, anyway. Like Dan Clowes said, “You watch enough episodes of Mannix and The Twilight Zone, you learn how to structure a story.” These guys don’t. You know, story structures. I mean, they might be talented in their own way, but you’re not getting stories there. And I think that’s what makes our comics kind of awkward in the indie scene, ‘cause they’re actually stories. No plots, but stories still.

In other news:

—The Eisner Awards judges have been announced.

—In Buffalo, a mysterious illegal mural has appeared, celebrating the work of the late Spain Rodriguez.

—Tom Spurgeon clarifies a recent organizational news release from the CBLDF.

—Chris Ware appeared on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Brooklyn magazine has a tour of Gabrielle Bell’s apartment.

—Jenna Brager at the Los Angeles Review of Books reviews Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.

The New Statesman has a slew of comics coverage out right now, including among other things Colin Smith interviewing 2000 AD‘s Al Ewing and Henry Flint, and TCJ‘s own Hayley Campbell on the UK comics boom.

 

Twelve Twelve

On the site today:

I’m pleased to welcome writer Rudy Rucker to the site. His most recent novel is Turing & Burroughs. (Described as: “What if Alan Turing, founder of the modern computer age, escaped assassination by the secret service to become the lover of Beat author William Burroughs? What if they mutated into giant shapeshifting slugs, fled the FBI, raised Burroughs’s wife from the dead, and tweaked the H-bombs of Los Alamos?”). So who better to review the two new Burroughs-centered releases, Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook, and Me and The Lost Art of Ah Pook: Images from the Graphic Novel. And so:

The results are staggering—the best pictures of dicks that I’ve ever seen.  I think in particular of an image in The Lost Art of Ah Pook Is Here, showing a Mayan musician with an epic hard-on that reaches up to the strings of his electric guitar. A little insect-man with a curled proboscis and a dangling ball-sack stands on the neck of the guitar.  Wonderfully jagged fields of force trail from the guitar to the musician’s hand.  This design was made for a 1978 Burroughs-inspired “Cumhu T-shirt.” Cumhu is a Mayan character in Ah Pook.  If and where this T-shirt was ever marketed isn’t explained.  In any case, McNeill and Fantagraphics should consider reissuing reissue this transgressive T.

Elsewhere:

Some videos now (thanks GB): Here’s comics-relevant artist Jim Shaw on the occasion of his retrospective at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

And here’s Justin Green in Portugal.

Holiday shopping alert: Noel Freibert posters. I love the wonky geometry of these designs.

Hey it’s Brother Voodoo.

And Robin McConnell talks to Ruppert and Mulot.

 

Large Print

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Joe McCulloch talking about the new comics day. This week, he’s also takes a long look at the latest comic book from Stammerin’ Steve Ditko:

Tucked away in the midst of all this meaningful mayhem is a six-page chiller that could have come straight out of The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves, had that august forum abandoned the supernatural entirely for a hardcore focus on psychological distress. Nobody in American comics has ever mastered the art of people freaking the fuck out like Steve Ditko, and that’s what we get in this Poe-like flyover of a thief who can’t stop believing that all eyes are upon his guilty brow.

I tend to find these kinds of stories the most humanizing of Ditko’s works; for all his invocation of the excellent potential of the human mind, the visceral kick of his art comes from his profound sensitivity to anxiety, obsession, self-loathing: the mess of human living in a damned fallen world. Looks at that guy’s head *splitting in half* in panel 4 – is that a photocopier effect? Definitely it seems like a foreign technological incursion; all those broken sentences read otherwise like the collapse of language in the face of unutterable realizations, words transformed into marks in perfect parity with the lines that compose the bodies of every Ditko hero and villains. These are stories where everybody says what they mean, and… what they mean… is…

Well, you can read it, right? Can’t you see? With your own eyes?

And again, we’ve added another round of tributes to the Spain Rodriguez post. If you haven’t checked it out for a while, it’s worth doing so. New contributors include Sharon Rudahl, Craig Fischer, Charles Dallas, and M.K. Brown.

Also, Fantagraphics has a post giving us all a sneak peek at the upcoming print issue of The Comics Journal, and it looks pretty amazing.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—Speaking of Steve Ditko, he’s still corresponding with fans.

—Chris Ware is here to help you with your holiday shopping, both with a long list of his favorite gift books, and a blog post about the books he most enjoyed reading this year.

—Steven Weissman goes comics shopping with Mario Hernandez.

—And I haven’t had a chance to listen to this yet, but it’s got to be good on some level: Josh Simmons interviewed by Dean Haspiel.

 

Underdone

Dan is unavailable to blog right now, so I’ll be your replacement host this morning. Today on the site, our columnist Shaenon Garrity makes a long-awaited return with a new piece on three genres of webcomics that are surprisingly underproduced.

Around the time my webcomics reading list included one comic about two married female itinerant laborers in space, one about eighteenth-century Bavarian religious politics, one that was at the time devoted to drawing gag strips based on Nancy Drew book covers, and one with a holiday installment entitled “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas”, I started to suspect that Rule 34 had officially extended from pornography to webcomics, and there was now a webcomic on literally every subject conceivable to the human mind. That was two whole years ago.

And yet, despite all the thousands of comics knocking around in the tubes, some genres remain surprisingly underrepresented.

We have also continued to add new additions to our Spain Rodriguez tributes post, including a contribution from Kim Deitch.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Wired has a lengthy excerpt from Alan Moore’s introductory essay for the Occupy Comics project.

—Sean Kleefeld has pulled out a bit from Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics history worth remembering whenever the Pearl Harbor anniversary comes around.

—And I missed this earlier this year, and can’t remember where I finally learned about it, but someone at Drawger has posted the entire contents of Frank Tashlin’s How to Create Cartoons.