Tuning Up

Today on the site we have a roundtable about the best comic released thus far in 2017, and easily one of the best of the last few years: Songy of Paradise. We convened critics Rachel Davies, Craig Fischer, and Nicole Rudick, along with cartoonist Sammy Harkham, to discuss it with me and Tim by email. 


In his interview with Dash, Panter says, “I don’t want to be a person that’s just nailing the same nail in over and over.” This is partly why I never feel disappointed by his work. He’s always approaching it from different perspectives, but it remains of a piece. If he feels he’s exhausted the approach he took in earlier books, it’s great to see him tackle this text in a way that makes sense in relation to its particular complexities. Later in the interview, he talks about artists’ early work frequently being the most intense of their career, the kind that “blows your brains out.” Adventures in Paradise was that book for me—I never saw comics or art the same way again. It was for me, as Panter puts it, a way out of a cage (one I didn’t even know I was in). But that sort of experimentalism is unsustainable over the course of a long career, and at some point, you’re just spinning your wheels. This new book is sophistication of a different sort. It feels textual in a way his other comics don’t. I went back and read parts of Milton’s poem and was reminded that it’s not only a dialectic—in which Jesus, having a vision in which he argues with Satan, comes to realize a truth—but that but that there’s a conceptual textuality too. For instance, in the first part of Milton’s poem, God tells Gabriel that he has begun “To verifie that solemn message late, / On which I sent thee to the Virgin pure / in Galilee, that she should bear a Son.” That message resulted in Mary’s conception, so that Jesus is himself the message, the words or text that were relayed—he was conceived by language. And later, Milton describes the “great duel” between Jesus’s vanquishing of Satan “not of arms” but “by wisdom.”

That dialectic comes through in the way Panter has simplified the narrative and the art, in comparion to his Inferno and Purgatory, as well as the language, as he explains on the book’s title page: “Hewing to John Milton’s Epic Poem Paradise Regained but Without Milton’s Verbosity.” So he’s not only toned down Milton’s more circuitous linguistic style, he has also, as Rachel pointed out, tweaked the classical verbiage with hillbilly slang (which is as expressive as anything Milton came up with). I’ll admit that I haven’t completely reasoned this through—and some of it may sound rather obvious—but I think that part of Panter’s “translation” of Milton’s language is done by putting the story into comics (as opposed to, say, retelling it in prose). Pictures are language, too, and images work on two levels here: as symbols of a metaphysical language (the Assyrian, biblical, and Javanese stuff, for instance) and as narrative language (i.e., storytelling). Craig, this is the same stuff you’ve identified in the earlier books, but here it’s honed to fewer sources yet is, to my mind, equally ambitious.



Over at Inkstuds two of our favorite contributors, Joe McCulloch and Katie Skelly, talk about the latter's new book, My Favorite Vampire.

Wonder Woman artist Nicola Scott discusses her work on the character with W Magazine.

The latest guest on Virtual Memories is writer-about-comics Ben Schwartz.



We’ve Got to Remain Logical

Joe McCulloch is here as usual with his indispensable guide to the Week in Comics (spotlight picks this week include new books by Gary Panter and Gou Tanabe), along with a short essay on the latest from Seth:

Ridiculous as it may seem to refer to an artist of Seth's success and renown as underestimated in some sense -- and, actually, I'm of the type who considers success and renown to encourage the use of shorthand to summarize a notable artist's traits, often leading to discreet underestimations -- few have discussed how careful he is in preparing books of unfinished parts so that they read as coherent statements of ideas. He is like Chris Ware in this way, and it's not only a consequence of book design. Clyde Fans: Book One, for example, balances its two Parts as directly opposed in terms of narrative presentation and character motivation. Part One is a veritable one-man show in which Abraham Matchcard, aged air circulation mini-magnate, caught extraordinarily post hoc, walks us through his neighborhood in the then-present of '97, detailing his own life story as a good-not-great salesman while expounding upon local haunts, household knickknacks, and all the things that come to summarize your footprint on this world. Part Two shifts the scene to 1957, finding Abe's timid brother Simon absolutely failing to live up to each and every virtue of his brother's worldview, as just described to us at length. Abe talks directly to the reader; Simon is viewed from omniscience as we follow his disastrous sales tour of bustling Dominion, images from inside his head often interrupting panel sequence, so that his nervous pondering suffuses and frustrates the objective of connecting with customers and the world at large, i.e. customers.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Maya Barzilai interviews James Sturm about the reprint of his Golem's Mighty Swing.

The golem story resonates with most artists and writers as it is at the core of what we do: creating something and hoping it goes on to have a life of its own.

I encountered the golem story in the pages of the Marvel comics that I read as a kid in the 1970s. In addition to the short-lived “Golem” character from a run of Strange Tales, The Hulk was mistaken for a golem in a 1970 issue. The golem was also one of the few explicitly Jewish characters that I encountered in comics. Later I became aware that almost all of Marvel’s foundational characters have Jewish roots. It’s obvious now, but as a 10-year-old you don’t see it.

Nicholas Eskey talks to Jason Shiga.

I assumed out of the gate that Demon would likely never be published. But instead of trying to make it “more-friendly” to publishers, I wanted to double down and make something even more unpublishable in both form and content. This includes varying issue sizes, from 4 pages to 60 pages, having an all-black issue and of course the depraved content which we’ll talk about later. The plan was that I’d release it as a series of self-printed minicomics over the course of 2 years, then call it a day.

Rob Clough is expanding to include other contributors to his High-Low blog, starting with Whit Taylor, who interviews Miranda Harmon.

But when I sit down and spend time making something with more intent, it can be difficult because I don’t want to hurt anyone with my work. In one journal comic, I show myself explaining to a therapist that I feel, “rotten.” After I made this comic and put it online, a friend who almost never reads any comics at all sat me down and, crying, told me I’m not rotten and that she was worried about me. I was surprised because I nearly forgot that when I put a comic online, it can be read by anyone! I still think that when I make something it’s only for me and a handful of my friends to see, but the reality is different.

New New Yorker cartoon editor Emma Allen talks parenting with cartoonist Emily Flake (video).

The most recent guest on Process Party is Eric Haven.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Toni Bentley writes about the mysterious painter and quasi-cartoonist Charlotte Salomon.

In February, 1943, eight months before she was murdered in Auschwitz, the German painter Charlotte Salomon killed her grandfather. Salomon’s grandparents, like many Jews, had fled Germany in the mid-nineteen-thirties, with a stash of “morphine, opium, and Veronal” to use “when their money ran out.” But Salomon’s crime that morning was not a mercy killing to save the old man from the Nazis; this was entirely personal. It was Herr Doktor Lüdwig Grünwald, not “Herr Hitler,” who, Salomon wrote, “symbolized for me the people I had to resist.” And resist she did. She documented the event in real time, in a thirty-five-page letter, most of which has only recently come to light. “I knew where the poison was,” Salomon wrote. “It is acting as I write. Perhaps he is already dead now. Forgive me.” Salomon also describes how she drew a portrait of her grandfather as he expired in front of her, from the “Veronal omelette” she had cooked for him. The ink drawing of a distinguished, wizened man—his head slumped inside the collar of his bathrobe, his eyes closed, his mouth a thin slit nesting inside his voluminous beard—survives.

Mike Lynch remembers the late Martin Landau's short career as a cartoonist.

Martin Landau was a staff cartoonist at the New York Daily News in the 1940s. He was just a kid, assisting other cartoonists (the Daily News' theatrical caricaturist Horace Knight and, later on, THE GUMPS cartoonist Gus Edson). He was seriously thinking that he would maybe be a pro cartoonist one day. Actually, he was; he assisted Edson for several years in the late 1940s, graduating from drawing backgrounds and lettering to drawing THE GUMPS Sunday pages.

Finally, RIP George Romero.


Garg of Course


On the twenty-first episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Greg Hunter and Michel Fiffe (CopraZegas) talk Hellen JoLarry HamaErnie Colón, and more.


It looks like the Valerian movie is coming out this week and, I know, there are lots of comic book movies, but I really like Luc Besson and Valerian, so, uh, here's a look at the comics.

And maybe this was known already, but Galaxy Magazine, home of great illustrations and SF, is now archived online.


Setting In

Today on the site, Alex Wong interviews the cartoonist Hellen Jo, primarily about her translation work on Yeon-sik Hong’s recently published Uncomfortably Happily.

Alex Wong: As a cartoonist yourself, how did you relate to Hong’s personal experiences?

Hellen Jo: I can’t tell you how many times I’d stop translating, simply to shiver in a moment of are you kidding me right now? The parallels between the book and my life were ridiculous and uncanny. I’d translate a page about the main character avoiding his editor’s pleading calls, and literally within the hour, I’d get an urgent email from an animation director where my revisions were, which I would then ignore. I’d spend a few hours having a spiraling panic attack, then attack the weeds in my yard to de-stress, and then I’d sit down to translate a chapter where Hong did the exact same thing.

Hong and I also had similar reactions to stressful situations: panic, indignant anger, complete avoidance. The translation work ended up becoming a mental and emotional echo chamber as well, which I had never expected. As the first person to translate the book into English, I felt very much like Uncomfortably Happily was destined to land in my hands so that it could pat me on the back and say, “Hey, you’re not alone. We’re all freaking out together!”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

There seems to be a real pre-Comic-Con lull on the comics internet lately, with the only thing I find many people discussing NPR's recently released list of 100 "favorite" comics. In the introduction, they claim the list is "personal and idiosyncratic," but to me it reads as anything but. The older material on the list is pretty solid, if generally unsurprising (Mary Perkins on Stage is one pleasant exception to this rule), but a huge percentage of recent material is just well-liked but unremarkable milktoast. I guess that's what's popular, but it's kind of sad for critics to give junk like this cachet. NPR would never fill a 100 best books list with so many James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer novels, even if they are what sell...


Meaning Translation

Today on the site: 

Longtime cartoonist Sam Glanzman has passed away at age of 93. Here is our obituary. He was best known for one of my favorite comic books of the 1960s, Kona, and various war comics for DC, most prominently his U.S.S. Stevens series of stories. His autobiographical graphic novel, A Sailor's Story, was released in 1987 and remains beloved by many. Mark Evanier remembers him here. There is a gofundme campaign to defray his medical costs here.

Here's an excerpt from my text on Glanzman and Kona for my book, Art in Time.

Ostensibly the story of a family—Dr. Henry Dodd, his daughter, Mary, and her two children—who are marooned on a fantastic island, Glanzman turned the title into a study of the white-haired Kona, a somewhat anguished and highly moral Neanderthal. Working first with writer Segal, then with legendary Harry Smith-collaborator, the beatnik Lower East Side Rabbi Lionel Ziprin, and then with his editor, the artist L. B. Cole (who also edited John Stanley’s Tales from the Tomb), Glanzman created visceral, gripping stories of near constant danger marked by Kona’s attempts to protect the Dodds from the mythical beasts that rule the island. Glanzman created pages, he noted, “that would hold the reader’s eye as single compositions; I didn’t want the reader to ever glance off the page.” This translated into page designs that usually neglected a panel grid in favor of panels or scenarios inset in larger drawings. Glanzman’s figures are in constant motion, running, fighting, falling—there is hardly room for a reader to take a breath. Working from “stick figure” pencils, Glanzman rendered his illustrations mostly in ink, which further increased the urgency of the imagery. Glanzman’s dialogue here and in his later war stories is marked by lyrical passages such as “Nobody wins wars . . . like these!” and “What guarantee do we have that to the animal kingdom . . . ‘Man’ is not regarded as the most hideous of all forms? The most bestial?” This pulp philosophizing in concert with frequent full-page drawings amplifies the drama, making the action and danger palpable. With Kona, Glanzman imbued real life into a hackneyed genre, and gave comics an unforgettable protagonist.

And still more:

This is a good piece of writing about Gengoroh Tagame. 

Finally, here is a very enjoyable look at the Moomin museum in Finland.



Today on the site, RJ Casey speaks to Kimberley Motley, the prominent attorney representing Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie.

Do you have any idea of what kind of toll this ordeal has taken on Matt and his family?

It clearly couldn’t have been easy. Matt’s a really good guy. He’s very humble and a great artist. It’s been hard for him to see his creation being used in a negative way, especially since it was created to be a funny, friendly frog. I think it has been shocking and disappointing to Matt. For me personally, I always see what happened to Pepe over the last year and a half representative of what’s happening in America. This is a wonderful country with a lot of possibilities and opportunities, but unfortunately, from my perspective, we’ve seen a lot of ugliness lately. I’ve seen a lot of negativity that is taking our country in a direction that I don’t like. To a certain extent, that is what has happened to Pepe. The alt-right has hijacked him and has tried to take this symbol as their own. 

I think a lot of that has to do with how the internet is set up and in a way still feels like the Wild West. How are you going to take that on? Is this unprecedented? 

It is, in a way. It’s difficult. Matt, Jason, and I believe in freedom of speech and want to make sure people can still celebrate Pepe. You can’t really control how Pepe has been used on the internet in the past, especially since he’s been turned into this meme. Dealing with the internet is difficult because there are so many users all around the world. Pepe has taken on a life of his own. However, what should not happen is people profiting off Pepe and the intellectual property of Matt Furie. That’s a big concern. I couldn’t make a tuna fish sandwich at home and stick a McDonald’s logo on it and sell it to people. The McDonald’s corporation would come after me. This is Matt’s creation and people don’t have a right to take his intellectual property and then themselves profit off of it without his permission. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Alex Dueben interviews Keiler Roberts.

What made you interested in making comics about yourself and your family?

Those are the people I know and can characterize pretty accurately. I’ve always been drawn to personal essays and stories, comics or otherwise. My favorite comedians dwell on themselves and their relationships. In fiction it’s always the characters that matter more to me than the plot. You can know a lot about the nature of a relationship by listening to the way people talk to each other.

The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Joyce Farmer, and the latest guests on RiYL are Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman.

—Reviews & Commentary. I'm a day late but I agree with Tom Spurgeon's guide to Prime Day.

Brian Nicholson reviews Daryl Seitchik's Exits.

Every sequence seems like a setpiece, playing with a limited palette. Not seeing the main character makes the reader more aware of negative space where that character could be, in order to follow along.



Today in mid-July we have Joe McCulloch busting in with the list of the week's releases. 

I've been traveling so a bit out of touch, but here's the news:

Bob Lubbers, longtime cartoonist, died on July 8th. He began in comics in 1940. He drew Firehair for Fiction House, and in the post-WWII years drew The Saint, Tarzan, Secret Agent X-9, and his own Long Sam. He was along a longtime assistant on Li'l Abner. Here's a good sampling of his work, and a longer bio here.


Ceiling Tiles

Today on the site, Ken Parille returns with a new installment of his column. This time, he writes an appreciation of Leslie Stein.

It was the unusual hand–written text that first attracted me to Leslie Stein’s diary comics. Instead of following the comics tradition of all capital letters, Stein makes surprising choices: some words use only lower-case cursive, others just lower-case print, some only traditional block lettering, while others move between these styles — and because she frequently changes text size and shape, some letters evade a clear-cut status as either upper- or lower-case, or print or cursive. It’s all done in an elegant, yet unpretentious calligraphy, the kind you might find in a thank-you note written by a thoughtful friend committed to the lost art of letter writing. Though she letters much of the dialogue in black, Stein uses color in an odd and stunning  way: a single line of narration, for example, might employ as many as eight different water-color hues.

From "The Bridge," 12/6/2016.

The energy of her letters and colors plays out in her drawings, especially in her character designs. At (where her color diary comics have been appearing since late 2014), her comics are occasionally described as “cute.” This is certainly true. There’s a real charm to the way she draws herself and others, and she presents scenes from her life with a gentle comedic sensitivity. But unlike so many online diary and autobiographical comics, Stein avoids the genre’s love of bland, relatable cuteness and its dependence on verbal platitudes and visual clichés. She approaches nearly every aspect of cartooning — lettering, coloring, figure drawing, backgrounds, page layouts, etc. — in an original and idiosyncratic way.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. At Lithub, Daniel Gross profiles Berlin creator Jason Lutes.

This year, almost a quarter-century after Lutes started the series, he will send the final chapter to his publisher. What began as an esoteric obsession, a fictional journey into the annals of history, suddenly seems timely. Berlin taught Lutes what fascism looks like—and although he knew he’d find it in old books and black-and-white photographs, he didn’t expect to see anything like it in his own country.

Petra Mayer at NPR asks several cartoonists (including Simon Hanselmann, Noah Van Sciver, and Katie Skelly) what comics mean to them. Skelly:

When I started drawing comics, it was to make my own reality.

At The Paris Review, Simon Otrovsky talks to Guy Delisle.

I read [Hostage subject] Christophe [Andre]’s story in the newspaper, like everybody else, and I thought the story was extraordinary because he escaped. At the time, there were a few French people coming back to France after a long time of being kidnapped. I remember this one guy, Brice Fleutiaux—he came back home and his wife had left him for another reporter, and it was really hard for him, and he committed suicide. Some people come back from a kidnapping, and it’s hard to be back home and have a normal life. I thought that escaping would be the best way to come back. There’s a recording of Christophe saying, I feel like the football player who scores the last goal and wins the match.

—Reviews & Commentary. At NYRB, Jon Day writes about Eleanor Davis.

The illustrations—sketched from the roadside during the journey—are charming: simple but evocative pencil drawings, some showing the smudges of the traveling hand, the impress of the snatched moments in which they were created. In their scratchy immediacy they bear witness to things seen and felt. Comics lend themselves to representing how a cyclist sees: the flatness of the bird’s-eye-view map set in contrast to the scene-by-scene illustrations of Davis’s daily experience. We are pulled into Davis’s perspective, seeing from her position on the road as well as from a close third-person view as if slightly above.

—Misc. Pittsburgh's ToonSeum is running a fundraiser in an attempt to expand its educational offerings. Rewards include various signed books, Drew Friedman t-shirts, and original art by Carol Tyler, among other things.