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Today on the site, Annie Mok returns with an interview she conducted with Sophie Yanow, about changing art styles, the dangers of navel-gazing memoir, and her webcomic, The Contradictions.

The Contradictions is autobiographical fiction and some characters are amalgams. I showed the nearly final draft of the work to some of the folks who appear (fictionalized) in the story and listened to their feedback. I'm not going to pretend this was easy, I was pretty nervous – it's like showing them your soft underbelly. Some people had requests and others actually asked not to see it at all, they didn’t want to influence the work and said they would trust me. Ultimately I don’t give these people 100% veto power but I take what they have to say very seriously. I strongly believe that our stories belong to multiple people, and it’s also important to own my perspective. But there is power in being the one with the platform and over time my platform has gotten larger, and so I continue to evaluate what it means to be the person telling my version of something. I try to keep it grounded in what it meant or means to me.

As a little aside, I also feel like I should say – a lot of autobiographical work is accused of being “navel-gazey,” but I don’t think the genre is any more navel-gazey than fiction. As far as I can tell we’re all writing about ourselves on some level. There is bad work across genres and it can manifest as navel-gazey anywhere.

We're starting a new blog strategy this week, so we'll be saving most links till Friday, and writing more thorough blogs during the week when the news demands it or the mood strikes.

 

Meet You At The Tower

Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to welcome back the third installment of Sloane Leong's interview series. This week, she's speaking with Glynnis Fawkes (who you'll certainly remember from her recent Cartoonist Diary) about the metric ton of projects that Fawkes has in the pipeline.

Right now I’m working on illustrations for a film about Black Holes—I haven’t done anything quite like it before. While at the MDA [Maison de Auteurs] I worked a little bit on 3 different projects: Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre, a graphic biography that will be out this fall; new comics for Persephone’s Garden, an autobiographical collection that will also be out in the fall; and a thumbnail draft for my next book, a middle grade adventure set in late Bronze Age Greece and Egypt. I probably spent the most time on this last project, because I knew I could concentrate for continuous hours at the MDA—which is not usually possible at home. I also wanted to let the influence of European comics carry me away-- and try to make a European book by writing it there—that it would have daring drawing, hi-jinx and humor. (I suppose this is possible also in America!) At the library I found books by Europeans that have not been translated and that are very inspiring.

Today's review is of The Ballad of Sang, a new Oni title. Martyn Pedler walks us through:

Here’s how to tell if The Ballard of Sang is for you: at one point, the protagonist plucks out someone’s eye and squishes it in front of its owner with a smirk and a "SQWAP". Sang’s a mute assassin, just a boy, and his sword’s dripping blood by page two.

 

Catnaps

Today on the site, Irene Velentzas returns with a report from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s "Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes exhibit, which juxtaposes Renaissance art with new related work by cartoonist Karl Stevens.

Although the "Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes" exhibition offers placards of Botticelli’s history and work for visitors to peruse and better understand the context of the artwork, it does not offer any literature regarding Stevens’ work, or how the juxtaposition of the two artists re-informs and reimagines Botticelli’s work through a contemporary lens. A short video of Stevens detailing his artistic process in creating the exhibition’s companion pieces offers patrons a small glimpse into the relationship between the two artists’ work. In it, Stevens explains:

The connection that I felt towards Botticelli is that we’re both storytellers, and that’s something that a lot of old masters were, particularly in the Renaissance. That’s something that has been consistent throughout Western Art for a long time. And cartooning is sort of the last bastion of that. It’s like what’s going on in drawing right now is happening in cartooning.

In fact, this connection between traditional Italian artistic practice and comics art is implied by the very word cartoon. As comics scholar Hillary Chute writes in Graphic Women, the "word cartoon comes from the Italian word cartone, which means cardboard, and denotes a drawing for a picture or design intended to be transferred, historically to tapestry or to frescoes. Yet, when the printing press developed, cartoon came to mean any sketch that could be mass-produced.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Baker & Taylor has announced it will be shutting down its retail wholesaling program, which could represent a major blow to independent bookstores (and comics retailers).

When word of a possible Ingram acquisition of the B&T retail arm first surfaced, booksellers and publishers both expressed concern about being dependent on only one national wholesaler. Early bookseller reaction is in line with the comments they made previously.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher said Wednesday was "not a good day, calling B&T's decision "bad news for booksellers." He credited the "competitive wholesale environment" for playing a key role in the resurgence of indie bookstores over the past several years. With B&T gone, Teciher said, ABA intends to work as closely as we can with other industry partners to ensure that indie bookstores can continue to access inventory in as cost-effective and rapid a manner as possible to allow member stores to continue to serve their customers."

There's more reporting and analysis here.

B&T and Follett called the decision to exit the wholesale retail business "not an easy one. The retail market has become an increasingly difficult market in which to operate. Operating costs have continued to rise which, compounded with customers' expectations for same or next-day delivery, has put strong pressure on the supply chain and operating profit. The leadership at Baker & Taylor and Follett studied options that might help our retail performance and ultimately determined that the best course for Baker & Taylor would be to devote our resources to our public library and publisher services businesses."

—Interviews & Profiles. Kadia Goba profiles George Booth.

Now in his fifth decade as a contributing cartoonist at The New Yorker magazine, Booth claims Crown Heights as his home. The artist moved in with his daughter, Sarah Booth, 50, five years ago after a two-week hospital stay. For George Booth, the neighborhood goes unmatched, even compared to the small Missouri town of 75 people, with a single wooden sidewalk and one general store, where he spent his childhood.

“Well, if it’s any help to you, I’ve fallen in love with Brooklyn,” he said. “Other places don’t function as a whole unit,” adding that “everyone in Brooklyn knows what to do with themselves.”

That includes him, as is evident in watching him spend time at a Crown Heights favorite pastime: the block party. On hands and knees, using only a piece of chalk and the city as his canvas, Booth introduces a new generation to his drawings of rabbits, dogs, and even “rabbit-dogs.”

Nancy Powell interviews Michael DeForge.

Nancy Powell: Where did the idea for Leaving Richard’s Valley come from?

Michael DeForge: I’d been wanting to write about a cult for a while, since I kept circling around some of those ideas but never got around to it. I’ve always been very interested in the cult leaders who aren’t scam artists or bad faith actors from the get-go — the ones who start out well-intentioned and then have things get away from them. I also knew I wanted to do something set in Toronto and write about my own changing relationship with the city.

 

Spanners

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got the first installment in H.W. Thurston's new column, A Classical Education. What does a new-to-comics reader have to say about the books that are sitting on the shelf marked canon? Time to find out. In the debut, she's taking a look at Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns:

The purpose of this series is to close-read works that are generally considered to be classics of the comics form and hopefully help illuminate just that: what makes them so good. I’ve chosen the works that I have because they made me go Aha! They made me get what comics could do, why I was bothering with the medium in the first place. Perhaps more importantly, they made me get what comics even were. I came away from The Dark Knight Returns thinking that it was wrong to call it “literary.” It was something else. Something essentially and unapologetically comic-like. “Comic-ary.” The way that it was fluent and artistic was inextricable from the fact that it was expressed via this popular, visual idiom.

Our review of the day comes to you from Austin Price, who is taking a deep dive into Tsutomu Nihei's Abara. It's not the first time that Don Delillo has been namechecked at TCJ, and it better not be the last! He's the closest thing to a mascot we've got.

Despite that relevance – or perhaps because of it – there remains a dearth of works interested in tapping that same vein; seventy years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thirty years after the Cold War, artists of all stripe still seem preoccupied with the dread and the spectacle of the nuclear sublime. Popular culture at home and abroad remains redolent with imagery meant to recall mushroom clouds and nuclear fire or of scrappy survivors scrounging through post-nuclear deserts so barren it suggests the atomic holocaust has scrubbed them clean. Even the rare creator who can lay claim to peculiar eschatological sensibilities – artists like Katsuhiro Otomo, videogame directors like Yoko Taro -- draw their water from the same irradiated well. No matter how particular the vision offered by these creators is, each seems inescapably fascinated by worlds in the late stages of systems that have grown overripe to bursting and so arrogantly bent on harnessing godlike powers for martial superiority that apocalyptic conflagration has become inevitable. But there remains hope for the world, even if it can come only after a great leveling; the comfort of the nuclear sublime is that it at least offers the chance for a renewal, a rechanneling of those same cataclysmic energies that leveled the old one.

Our pal Abhay Khosla caught the latest in Otomo--yup, you read that right--popping up via a blog called Halcyon Realms. Dig in now, who knows when it'll come out in English. (Seriously, who does know. Does Joe know? Do you?)

Over at The Criterion, I found out that Enki Bilal--the man who invented chessboxing--is going to be on the jury for the next Cannes Film Festival. That's not the only comics adjacent business either: they'll also be screening The White Snake Enchantress.

Over at Comicosity, E.A. Sofia has an article on what it was like to enter comics via G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat's Ms. Marvel. It's a smart piece because it goes beyond the traditional why-I-liked-this-thing and into what the thing exposed her to, good & bad, historical and contemporary. I've read quite a few pieces on Ms. Marvel over the years that comic has been in existence--it's received as much coverage as Grant Morrison's work used to, many of those being "my first comic book articles"--but I don't think i've seen one that so clearly distillates the crash course in the Marvel economic/aesthetic system that reading that book provided. (It's outside of the scope of what Sofia was writing about, but it did leave me wondering--has any new super-hero launch been as successful as Ms. Marvel in the last however many years?)

 

Almanac

Today on the site, Brian Nicholson returns with a review of Daria Tessler's Cult of the Ibis.

There are different kinds of silence. There is peaceful quiet and there’s eerie stillness, and while the former is conducive to reading, the latter could mean listening too intently for what might soon intrude to pay attention to what’s before one’s eyes. A comic generally gets called “silent” when reading it entails following images alone, without any dialogue or narration providing guideposts of written language. While there are extended passages of The Cult of the Ibis where the story is told purely visually, there’s enough words in it that anyone translating it into another language would still have their work cut out for them. I see a different silence in it. It’s a signifier, referring to the earliest years of cinema, similar to the films of Guy Maddin that approximate a fever dream of forgotten history more than they attempt recreation or adaptation.

The plot contains a mixture of genres at home in early film: After a bank robbery goes wrong, the getaway driver is in possession of the stolen loot. Other criminals want this money back. However, before considering this possibility, the getaway driver, interested in the occult, sends away for a build-your-own-homunculus kit, after seeing an ad in a magazine The Modern Alchemist Monthly. In silent or early sound films, both crime stories and occult skulduggery would be a a likely premise for a fable of moral reckoning, but that’s not what happens here. Daria Tessler understands that the reason movies were made about these subjects as soon as movies existed is because magic and bank robbery are cool and interesting to think about, and there is no better way to meditate on a concept than the time-consuming process of making narrative images about it.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The cartoonist Musa Kart has once again been unjustly imprisoned by the Turkish government.

Word came though of an imminent order for arrest and so Musa and his colleagues have elected to surrender at a time and place of their own choosing, a typically dignified gesture. Before entering Kandıra he said:

“I believe people will see the injustice that is being done here. Several brave reporters have recently summarized what’s happening in Turkey: people who punch the leader of a major political party are permitted to go free while those who draw cartoons or report the news are put in prison. We look forward to the day when journalists need not make proclamations such as these in front of prison gates.”

As Tucker alluded to yesterday, the nominees for the 2019 Eisner Awards have been announced. Weird year!

D.D. Degg at the Daily Cartoonist covers the recent controversy over a cartoon published in the New York Times International Edition that struck many as anti-Semitic, as well as links to various commentators. Followup here.

The Guardian has an article about how the recent success of superhero movies hasn't translated into success for comic-book stores.

Dozens of closures have been reported across the UK and US over the last few months – including, in January, the end of St Mark’s Comics, once one of New York’s most venerable institutions. (It even appeared in Sex and the City.) Last year, comics website Bleeding Cool documented how 50 comic shops had closed in the previous year, in both the US and UK. And since June 2018, at least 21 shops in the US and 11 in the UK – including shops in Nottingham, Ramsgate and Tooting – have closed, with others likely going unreported.

While superheroes have never had a higher profile, the gap between cinema and comics has never been wider. The days when you could pick the latest issue of Spider-Man or Batman from the newsagent’s shelves are long gone. Last week, comic writer Ron Marz tweeted that, during a presentation to a school class, one girl raised her hand and asked him where she could actually buy comics.

—Reviews & Commentary. Mohini Gupta writes about the challenges of translating Asterix into Hindi.

“The first and immediate constraint,” [Puneet] Gupta said, “was fitting the Hindi translation into each speech bubble, despite Hindi being syntactically different from French, and also because of the maatras on the top, bottom and the side (in French, the accents are only on the top and bottom). Before translating the nuances into Hindi, we had to go into the etymology of the words, the idioms, the phraseology of the region in which the Asterix and Obelix find themselves.”

“As we went along”, explained [Dipa] Chaudhuri, “it became clear that we were translating not only from French to Hindi, but depending on the provenance of the protagonist, we were translating from Latin, and on occasion, German too...Negotiating between different registers of each language to establish the social hierarchy that binds the characters, was part of the task at hand.”

—Crowdfunding. Paul Karasik has launched a Patreon.

Matthew Thurber is raising money to make a film.

—RIP. John Singleton

 

Work, Money & Miracles

Today at The Comics Journal, we're launching ourselves into the week with comics legend Mary Fleener, who recently released Billie The Bee--her first graphic novel--with Fantagraphics. She's talking with Alex Dueben about all things comics related.

I’m kind of a workaholic. I’m always doing something. If I don’t do something, I won’t do anything. [laughs] Because of comics I got into illustration – when there were lots of magazines and they were paying people. All the Weirdo people were getting work. Hustler was paying great money. My husband had gotten laid off from work during the 90s and that’s when I was doing a lot of illustration work. Hustler saved us and paid our bills. I’ve been involved in the fine art world, but right now I’m mad at the art world and I don’t care if I do anything in the art world ever again. Because that means I have to go to LA and I never want to go back to Los Angeles. I was born there and I hate it. It’s getting worse. You can’t even drive there anymore. For years I would show at galleries like La Luz de Jesus but all these places take fifty percent of your sales. That’s something I never liked either. And then you had to ship the art which always cost a lot of money. The frames ALWAYS get damaged. It’s a lot easier to work in ink on paper and send it through the internet.

I think I was juggling a little too much and that’s why a few years ago I decided to focus on doing a book. Because I really do like cartoonists. I like talking to them. They’re interesting. They have something to say. Artists are boring. [laughs] They are so boring. Cartoonists have camaraderie. I think because comics were always looked down upon and the underground people we were always outsiders so we would cling together. Cartoonists always bitch about each other, but basically, I think everybody’s rooting for each other a little bit. I hope so.

Today's review comes to us from Tegan O'Neil. She's taking a look at Little Girls, a graphic novel published by Image that they've been comparing to Sabrina and Optic Nerve. Gutsy. It's sort of like me comparing myself to Idris Elba and Snake Eyes. Aim for the fences!

The bits with the lions and hyenas are consistently better and more interesting than the sequences of the main characters interaction with themselves. Delaine seems to have a knack for wildlife, which is to be fair a difficult topic in the world of mainstream comics, where being able to draw a horse is second only to knowing how to draw a car on the list of “Optional Skills.” The book seems unsure at times whether it wants to be something more along the lines of an explicit coming-of-age story for the two young protagonists. There’s some of that, yes, but most of the book features the two Junior detectives chasing down answers regarding mysterious happenings, and then war between gangs of charismatic megafauna.

Over at (the Eisner-nominated!) Comicosity, Véronique Emma Huxbois is writing a piece directly aimed at my heart, as it focuses on Lone Wolf & Cub and its many children. There's all kinds of bold claims being made, only a few of which are backed up, I don't care: Lone Wolf! And Cub! 

Over at Book Riot, Jessica Plummer has a rundown of Power Girl's various costumes over the decades in which that character has existed. I had forgotten some of these, and like all important tragedies, we must never forget.

Smash Pages broke the unfortunate news that Ethan has just became the cooler of the two Van Scivers for the first time since there was more than one to pick from. Sometimes you just gotta say no, Noah!

Over at The MNT, Sara Century talks with Gilbert Hernandez, and he gets pretty specific about where things are going with his current run of L&R stories. 

Bleeding Cool caught up with the fact that the CIA was tabling at Washington DC's Awesome Con, and the Beat went even harder in the paint with it. As someone who has worked for a large, bureaucratic type company, this is the kind of occurrence that makes me wish we lived in a world where I had a giant expense account and my own personal Seymour Hersh to send after this story: I want to know everything. I want to know who came up with the idea at the CIA that Awesome Con was a place where they'd get some good candidates for employment, I want to know whether that person was high up in the chain of command and therefore no one could say "you're a fucking moron, no" or whether the person was low on the chain of command and is possessed with such a powerful charisma that faced zero conflict when pitching this to the people upstairs. And then when they got it approved--where did it go from there? How did they decide which stock photo they were going to use for the ad, and what the tweets were gonna read like? We've got a million oral histories of when Anne Hathaway got the call that she was gonna be Catwoman--why can't the comics community be graced with the staff and budget necessary to go after the CIA? Life is a miserable, unfair place.

 

So Tough

Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews Andy Warner and Sofie Louise Dam's This Land Is My Land.

Andy Warner excels at creating bite-sized pieces of unusual history, as seen in his first book, Brief Histories of Everyday Objects. Those observations weren't neutral, as he was careful to discuss the cultural and political ramifications of familiar objects. Much of his other work is more explicitly political in terms of reportage, but his books couch their political barbs in wit and whimsy. In his new book, This Land Is My Land, Warner teams with Danish artist Sofie Louise Dam to tell the stories of micronations, failed utopias, and other such communities throughout history. Simply relating these stories is important because it helps to establish a continuous legacy of resistance not just to the government, but to the entire cultural status quo.

Dam's art is stripped down and cartoony, and it relies a lot on color to tell each story vividly. I found myself wishing Warner had drawn the book himself because I thought his sharper, more naturalistic style would have been a better fit for a lot of the stories. Dam's art does the job and looks beautiful in a few spots, but some of the stories would have benefited from a denser line.

...

Besides his research skills, Warner's true talent is his ability to synthesize that information into engaging, small chunks. Most of the entries in the book are just four to six pages, yet Warner is able to convey what made each micronation and the people behind them unique and interesting.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Lynley Stace has a long post analyzing Olivia Jaimes's Nancy by way of Scott Dikkers' humor theory.

—Elena Goukassian at The Nation talks to Brian Fies about his Fire Story.

The sad thing about something like this is you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone with an interesting story. I very much wanted the expanded graphic novel of A Fire Story to be a work of journalism. I wanted to expand it beyond my little bubble of a story and talk about other people’s stories and about the context of geography and climate, socioeconomics. I was very much aware that my experience was a narrow window into this thing. It was bounded by where I lived, how much money I had, my family situation, so I really wanted to go out and find people living different lives. Like Dottie, who it turned out didn’t lose her home in the fire but was still—is still—in dire straits. She is an older woman without a lot of resources, who still doesn’t know how she’s going to get through the day. I talked to a lot of people to feel them out and decided on a few people to interview in depth, because I thought they captured the breadth of the story.

—Vice News profiles Eli Valley.

 

Clawing At The Eyes

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got a long one for you--and it's worth it. Next week sees the release of Clyde Fans, Seth's twenty-years-in-the-making graphic novel detailing the relationship between two brothers and the rise and fall of the the fan business they inherited. Initially serialized in issues of Palookaville, partially released in a hardcover 14 years ago, the upcoming release is nearly 500 pages long and contains everything one would associate with the idea of a "Seth comic"--methodical pacing, men in the throes, willing and otherwise, or ritual, the performance of ritual, heavy, monolithic line. Birds on signs, women with triangle hair, old habits, old hobbies. If I'm writing longer than is necessary to introduce a feature, it's only because these two--the book, and our interview--were both revelatory in a way I didn't anticipate. I've read everything Seth has made over the years, often immediately upon release, and I've read some great writing about the work--but I never found my way in. There was always a dour humor to his work that I didn't catch until later, when I was told how to find it, and I never felt as if I could catch the rhythm of his books in the way I felt taken along by his major contemporaries. Upon reading (and loving) the nerdcore jokemachine that is Wimbledon Green, I found myself often apologizing to him in my head, imagining that he'd be disappointed to know how to have a fan whose enthusiasm was reserved for crowdpleasers only. 

Reading Clyde Fans in conjunction with today's feature interview changed quite a bit of that. In this 30,000 word conversation with the cartoonist, which took place in the fall of 2018 between two longtime Seth scholars, Eric Hoffman & Dominick Grace, I found myself fascinated with his use of comics to unpack splinter factions of his own personality, surprised and excited to learn how much discovery is to be found in the way he creates a story, and inspired by his willingness to criticize and question the identity he's chosen to embrace over the decades that have formed his professional career. I wouldn't say that I feel like i'm owning a mistake--I always knew the guy was a talented artist--but it wasn't until now that I felt like that was something I felt and believed, which are two things a bit more valuable than mere knowledge.

(There's also a fair amount of gossip in this one, and I like those things quite a bit too.)