When the scenarist René Goscinny (1926 – 1977) died at 51, much of the world felt they knew him. With Astérix, he had created a hero who outsold Tintin. Yet Goscinny had also helped to found and run Pilote, a magazine often described as "MAD à la française". It was Pilote that won French cartooning back an audience – adults – that it had lost after the 19th century.
Forty years after Goscinny's death, two Paris shows are remembering him. One has taken over the Cinemathèque Française, the other is at the Museum of Jewish Art and History (mahJ). Goscinny and Film is a romp about his love for movies, but Goscinny Beyond the Laughter at the mahJ is more. It looks behind the author's orderly CV and discovers years of isolation and frustration. Two things helped Goscinny surmount his frequent setbacks: the outsize expectations he created for himself and his absolute refusal to surrender.
When he began as a scenarist the role was shabby. Those who scripted comics were not mentioned in contracts, they were badly paid and rarely credited. But his enormous talents turned it into a real profession and, eventually, they also made him famous. Goscinny stuffed his scripts with what the French call "second degree": puns, wordplay, double-entendres, cultural jokes and subversions. The comics expert Jean-Pierre Mercier contends that his use of subtext "has taught generations how to critique the media."
But wait, there's more: in today's clean up position, we've got Matt Seneca on Shaky Kane. And while this review of Good News Bible is unquestionably the first to utilize an Emily Dickinson comparison, keep an eye on that date stamp. It won't be the last!
Is Shaky Kane A Major Artist, though? If you're forking over the 25 pounds sterling (or however much that is in countries with proper dental care) for a collection of early work, you probably aren't much in doubt. Still, it's a question worth asking - this book adds to Kane's available output by a fairly hefty percentage, and none of that output goes down with particular ease. Dude is a weird-ass cartoonist, basically, and if anything the itchy, uncomfortable technicolor deconstructions of American pop culture his work currently trades in are a lot easier to grapple with than the comics on display in Good News Bible.
This is difficult stuff, work that originally appeared in anthology issues alongside (somewhat) more conventional comics. To analogize with some other influential weirdo British art, Kane's strips in the Deadline comics magazine functioned a little like Brian Eno's synthesizers did in Roxy Music, adding outre bits of pure bizarrerie to a bouquet of forward-looking but still definable material. Like Eno, Kane eventually proved himself more than capable of putting together solo works that retained his individualism while acting, at least superficially, like the commercial objects they're packaged and sold as. But, you know, imagine an album of just the blorps and whizzies that Eno contibuted to those Roxy records! It'd be awesome if you're into that kind of thing, and so is this book. Kane's work on The Bulletproof Coffin is the kind of stuff pretty much anyone who's interested in comics can get something out of; Good News Bible is the connoisseur's choice, unfiltered and very strange.
I was in Portland to catch the 2018 Synchronized Skating Championships over the weekend, while I was there, I stopped by the Hilton to meet the team from Delaware, and ran into a whole bunch of some of America's best comics retailers. I was lucky enough to book a room across from the Valiant chill-out suite, which was open 24/7, but I wasn't lucky enough to get over there and grab my own commemorative shotglass featuring the character Bloodshot. It's an interesting show, not dissimilar to the ABA's Winter Institute in its mission to bring retailers together with publishing partners to promote the upcoming frontlist and forge stronger relationships, but because it's comics, it's also got a more wildcat quality to it, where retailers can really get into whatever particular issues they have going on in roundtable sessions or a more public forum, and this year's show was no different--there's been a lot of financial upheaval in the direct market in the past year (Shannon O'Leary's annual retailer piece for PW covers this well) and ComicsPRO's organizers had been upfront that this year's meeting would focus on problem solving a lot of those issues. The main response to the meeting so far has been the cloak and dagger methods used by Marvel during their portion of the meeting (due to their size, financial importance and history with the direct market, Marvel and DC have entire portions of ComicsPRO dedicated solely to them at the beginning of the weekend, whereas all other sponsors and publishers present in open door sessions during the final days), but it's my hope that ComicsPRO will make public the "conversation starter" portion of the "Industry Discussion" session they ran at the beginning of the wider meeting. A series of powerpoint slides containing the greatest concerns that retailers currently have, built off the aggregation of a membership wide survey with the intent of discussing solutions, I thought it was one of the most constructive sessions i've seen out of anything comics related. The conversation that followed those slides was broad ranging, intelligent and solution oriented. If some of the publishing partners don't want to hang out with that kind of conversation? That's their loss.
Today Alex Dueben is here with an interview with the inimitable Canadian cartoonist, David Collier, and his latest book, Morton, a sort of travel comic, for lack of a better term.
What was interesting is that this wasn’t just a book that really gets into the history of these places, but it’s about your life and your history in these places.
You’ve interviewed Gabrielle Bell and I was on a panel with her at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival a couple months ago with Jason and they called the panel “The Monsters of Autobiography.” I don’t know. Kim Thompson was always on my case about that. He didn’t want autobiographical comics, but I always thought you’ve got to put a bit of yourself in if you want to do history. Putting stuff in about yourself puts it in context, gives people a little bit of gossip they might be interested in, and then they might be more interested in the history that you’re interested in, too. I look at Morton and your other work and you’re writing about history and culture and other topics much more than people writing memoir are, but you’re also writing about yourself more than most people writing nonfiction about a particular subject are.
I really like Nicholson Baker. He wrote Double Fold about the New York World and how he’s got this big warehouse to save old newspapers. He puts himself in there and you’re really sweating when you read his stuff, how the hell is he going to pull this off. I’ve been inspired by a lot of other people, maybe not comics though.
[The book] spans the length of America’s official involvement in Vietnam. Because Truong was himself only six years old at the start of this period he’s no kind of political actor whatsoever. The previous volume, Such A Lovely Little War, covered the period of 1961-63 and Truong’s very young childhood in Vietnam on the eve of the escalation. The present volume begins with the Truong family – Vietnamese diplomat father, French mother, and four robust children – landed in London. It’s drab and rainy all the time but Dr. Who is on the tellie and the Beatles are just around the corner. And those things are important to six-year-old Marco, so they’re important to the book in their turn.
There’s a tension here that the book never adequately resolves. The main dramatic tension of the book naturally arises from the author’s proximity to the Vietnam War, but the war itself takes place at a remove of half a world away. This means the narrative is split into two streams, that of the actual memoir and the historical montage that explains the context of the author’s life. The two threads are twinned but the book itself acknowledge as time goes on that Truong’s cultural understanding of his father’s home is poor and fading. The lack of political engagement on Truong’s part becomes a theme, as he is naturally unable to participate in an anti-war movement his family believed to be inherently misguided.
Ramberg and [Philip] Hanson also created a scrapbook of comic-book clippings with examples of explosions, word graphics, and dreams, among other categories. The scrapbook, Ramberg noted, was “valuable as a sourcebook of comic conventions or shorthand methods of depicting various themes and objects.”9 She did not, however, employ collage and comic-book imagery in her paintings, as some of the artists Ramberg admired—Öyvind Fahlström, the Swedish master of reconfiguring comic-book elements; San Francisco’s symbolist painter and collage-master Jess; and Yoshida—did in their own. For Ramberg, these fragments revealed modes of rendering and moments of accidental strangeness, such as when a speech balloon hovers above a house to indicate an interior conversation. Taken out of sequential context, as in Ramberg’s scrapbook, the house appears to “speak,” as if in a Magritte painting.
—And finally, I can't believe I haven't yet linked to TCJ star Joe McCulloch's recent Steve Ditko talk, delivered live at the Parsons New School in NYC, and now available in adapted audio-with-slides form on YouTube.
If this all sounds like the stuff of a classic Western film, that’s because it’s designed to be. The whole thing is cinematic in the extreme, practically begging you to imagine it on the big screen with a John Ford type behind the camera. (There’s even a scene where the tough, steely Mexican señorita on the side of the rebels drags a wounded Rizzo through a massive thunderstorm gathering on the horizon which will make you positive you’ve seen this movie...even though there’s no movie.) Everything from the way Ferraris illustrates the stark southwestern vistas to the way he mixes his archetypical characters together is well-crafted pure genre nitroglycerine.
Yesterday, Image Comics announced a whole list of new titles, ranging from "Harry Potter meets Riverdale" to a print edition of Dean Haspiel's webcomic. The one that caught my eye was, in a surprising coincidence, the one related to Rob Liefeld. Following in the footsteps of that thing where Brandon Graham reimagined Prophet as a comic featuring anthropomorphic toilets that didn't make any sense, Liefeld's handed the reins of Bloodstrike over to comics titan Michel Fiffe, who kindly provided readers of The Comics Journal with a preview from the upcoming series.
The other big news from yesterday was the announcement of the LA Times Book Prize nominees, which has proven itself over the last few years to be genuinely interested in comics in a way that puts quite a few other newspapers with the word "Times" in their name to shame. The nominees include Gabrielle Bell, Yuichi Yokoyama, Leslie Stein, Connor Willumsen & Manuele Fior. (They even have the class to namecheck Fior's translator, Jaime Richards.) Go figure: if you bring aboard judges who actually like and read comics, the list they produce has the potential to reflect the breadth and depth of the medium.
I was intrigued by people's reactions to the first installment of this series. Some expressed excitement at seeing one of the first zines by artist Margot Ferrick. The work in question is from 2012, not ancient history in the least, but Ferrick's work has changed considerably since that moment. As I said before, zines disappear arbitrarily and without warning. A reader's favorite artist may have made something deeply heartfelt in the very recent past, but the work and the attitudes expressed may forever be obscured. With this in mind, for the final installment in this series, I've tried to write about a great many zines, in the hopes that works that have moved me might open up forgotten corners of what is possible in cartooning (which is the not so secret intention of this column in general).
Secret of the Saucers by Char Esme, 2013
Pages from Secret of the Saucers by Char Esme, 2013
I'm always surprised that we so rarely see comics like this one, works where total expression is attempted without much concern for the trouble the reader will go through to grasp what's being communicated, but instead with a desire for the audience to catch up. Underground/art comics is a small world, with (it varies year to year) virtually no industry. Experimental works often allow themselves to fall into trends of the day, allowing their truly groundbreaking qualities to be go through a twisty straw constructed with of-the-moment popular aesthetic tropes to make the enterprise more palatable. Not so with this comic by Esme. A comic based on the life of Orfeo Angelucci, a man who claimed to be in contact with extraterrestrials, this is an uncompromising work: the characters change appearance from panel to panel, there is no visual relief in the form of negative space, facial expressions often clash with what is being expressed verbally and the subject matter itself makes one uneasy. I don't believe any work of art is made up solely of intentional choices and I don't believe in a 'gotcha' critique in which a nontraditional work is shown to be doing things exactly as it set out to do. And yet... with this comic, all of Esme's choices are thrilling, all add up to an experience that has no peers elsewhere, in a way I've never had (and I'm sure never will have) elsewhere. I believe Esme once expressed that she liked reading 'any comic' that was put in front of her, and this work, in spite of its seeming opposition to what cartooning is, can only be a comic. It presents us with an experience using images, text, and characters that is entirely its own, and rewards, both in feeling and intellect, the challenge it presents.
—News. Marvel Comics is relaunching its entire line, always a good sign of a healthy brand. This is probably just the lingering virus in my system that had me out of commission for the entire three-day weekend, but I'm getting less and less confident about the near-term survival of comics stores as we know them...
A GoFundMe fundraiser is very close to raising the money necessary to publish the last comic by Mark Campos.
Creepy and charming, it mashes up oozy, sick horror and dark, politically barbed comedy. The story satirizes racism, structural and environmental, via a blighted Chicago neighborhood and an imposing, temple-like block of an apartment building there that serves as the setting. A hyperbolic SF riff on urban decay, BTTM FDRS also skewers the kind of White hipster hypocrisy that extols urban decay for its authenticity. It does all this with a cast of distinctive characters, funny, stinging dialogue, and moments of queasiness built around a body horror conceit: that of a building that literally gets inside your guts. It’s one of a kind.
[John] Lent investigates comics cultures and changes regionally, from East to Southeast to South Asia, while Gravett explores its subject thematically within a loose chronological timeline. Visually, Asian Comics has a textbook vibe, with its university press-style workmanlike cover and amateurish layout, while Mangasia comes across as an eye-popping coffee-table book, from its screaming cover starring Star Punch Girl to pictures on every single page, beckoning you to keep flipping through. And while Asian Comics has less than 200 images, all in black and white, Mangasia is in full color and packed with more than a thousand. And while there are a few by familiar names like Osamu Tezuka, Sonny Liew, and Nestor Redondo, many are wildly experimental and most have rarely, if ever, been seen in the U.S. However, in this case less images would have been more, inasmuch as a handful are either undersized or unsharp.
“Everybody’s talking about Riverdale and the Archie who fucks,” I texted a friend. “But the original Archie that fucks is Burnout from Gen13.” The sad truth that led to me having Gen13 on the brain was that I had recently purchased the last few issues of Adam Warren’s run on the title. Not the issues drawn by Ed Benes, whose figures have the expressiveness of mannequins, but whose proportions make it clear you’re supposed to jack off to them, but those drawn by Rick Mays. Mays’ manga-influenced style is close to Warren’s own drawings, though its less maniacally cartooned, a little closer to mainstream superhero comics notions of detail. He illustrated the Kabuki spin-off miniseries Scarab. The first issue has its main character on the toilet, flipping through comics and talking about an earlier Adam Warren Gen13 comic. It’s a weird scene. Not just the page, but the subculture of comics that produced it. That’s not to place any value judgment on the work. I’m not necessarily in love with Rick Mays’ art, but it’s a good match for comics I feel conflicted about.
While many comic books involving tense political climates announce it clearly, or feature the political climate as the meaning for the book, Red Winter’s 1970’s Sweden, following the fall of the social-democratic party, isn’t so much important on its own, but in the way that it affects our protagonist, secondary to the romantic emotional tether of the book. Books like Art Spiegelman’s infamous Maus or Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less grapple with the way politics affect our lives in a very head-on way––the central tension of these books is parsing through a problematic history, and using politics as a lens on love, and other emotions. Furmark has strayed from that route, and uses love as a means to view politics, commenting on almost exclusively the ways that a political affiliation problematizes a relationship between two people.
It must be Drawn & Quarterly day here at TCJ, because that's not all-we've also got a visit from Robert "Bobbie" Sikoryak, who documented his most recent book tour for you, the Journal reader. As is his wont, said documentation comes in comic form, and features a loving tribute to the "other" Robert in comics--sweet Liefeld. Before agreeing to run the piece, I extensively confirmed with D&Q and Sikoryak that Liefeld's work would be treated with the utmost respect, and they assured me that was the case. It's not so much that I'm a super huge Liefeld fan, although I do have a lot of fondness for the way Matt wrote about him, but that I'm not a super huge fan of that thing where 80% of the comics internet started talking about the feet thing all the time. Same thing with the tv show 24--for the entire time it was running, every guy and their best guy friend had the same joke, asking about when Kiefer went to the bathroom, and everyone always asked it with the same gee-golly tone of voice that made it clear they believed they were the first person to ever make that observation. Liefeld was/is the same way--he's the guy that turns every pencildick into Manny Farber with the fucking feet comments. It doesn't matter that there's like 800 zillion super-hero artists who couldn't draw a flatscreen television set without lightboxing an IKEA catalog, all of whom have completely escaped criticism since the dawn of their miserable, dull-ass careers, Rob Liefeld is somehow the exemplification of the failing of modern illustration because of some affectation that had absolutely zero bearing on his job, which was to draw giant steroid cases with guns shooting at Spider-man rip-offs while women with the most insane hair you've ever seen screamed so big you could trace their gumline with a cricket bat. Until I started reading the comments section to Rob Liefeld articles, my opinion on the guy was that I had zero interest in reading any of his comics ever again, but ever since he became the target joke for people who call themselves intellectuals while also calling Saga an "indie" comic, I sort of fell in love with him. That being said, I've met him a few times and he always seemed deliriously happy with his station in life, so maybe I should just let it go, it's not a battle that needs fighting. I also did try to read some X-Force a few years ago and it was an impossible slog. I guess the whole point of this complaint is: sharpen your knives?
Elements of his aesthetic - acutely distinctive character designs, aggressive contrast between black and white (with artfully-deployed dots and grays), busy layouts that bulge uncomfortably against the edges of the claustrophobic pages - push any given narrative moment or representational image distressingly close to the point of abstraction. Trying to grasp the deceptively simple narrative induces tension and unease, reflecting emotions that afflict the characters to varying degrees.
A solidly influential comics figure sent a list of demands for coverage within days of me taking on this little role here, and one of those was that The Journal get around to talking in more detail about Retrofit's development over the last few years--it's not a bad idea, and maybe by outing it here I'll move it to the top of my to-do list, placing it one spot above "convince my wife to go see that Clint Eastwood movie with me."
It didn't seem right to ignore the release of Black Panther this weekend, considering how much I've been enjoying that Kendrick Lamar album. Don't get me wrong--it's still a Marvel movie that includes a slow motion flip over a car and a speaking role for that ridiculous ham they usually cover with motion capture dots, so I'm not holding out a lot of hope. But it's also absolutely plausible that Ryan Coogler--the man who realized that the beating heart of a sports movie is the workout montage, so why not include one that is 45 minutes long--has come up with something that even Chadwick Boseman, an actor whose ambitions don't seem to extend beyond the heroes of his 9th grade social studies class, can't turn into another leaden monologue on truth & justice. But hey: this is the COMICS Journal, we're not part of the Disney Marketing Arm quite yet.
SO: Back in 2010, Marvel Comics released an overpriced hardcover collection of Don McGregor's run on Black Panther, which contained the story "Panther's Rage". At that time, comics critic David Brothers and I teamed up to write about that story, why we liked it, what we thought it said about super-heroes, and Black Panther in general. We've repurposed those pieces into one article, which you can read on your phone while you wait in the line to watch Michael B. Jordan convince you to renew your gym membership. Ladies and gentleman: Fear of A Black Panther.
Today, Sarah Horrocks returns with a review of VS #1.
It takes place in the blurred borders between a first-person shooter and a reality show about war. The first issue follows soldier/gamer Satta Flynn, as he recovers from an injury and works to get back to fighting with his unit. The book slots alongside things like Robot Jox or Mobile Suit G Gundam; it's another story about protagonists participating in a sort of futuristic sporting replacement for war.
In contrast to something like Mobile Suit G Gundam, the war game aspect of the story exists in a kind of hyper-reality running parallel to a slightly more mundane world, and at least through the first issue, it’s not clear how the two worlds connect or what weight we are meant to give the things that happen in the “game.” Because of the artifice of the game world, where people stop fighting during commercial breaks, and seem to compete according to the the rules of a first-person shooting game, it’s hard to determine the physical stakes of what you see happening. While we do see Flynn recovering from some sort of injury to his legs, it’s unclear how he sustained those injuries and whether the last quarter of the book is happening in flashback or things are proceeding somewhat chronologically. While this displacement of stakes in terms of how we watch war is intellectually stimulating, the dramatic edge is almost nonexistent.
More than three-quarters of a century on, the collage novels still cast an unsettling spell, plunging us into a gaslit Victorian underworld of the unconscious, part magic lantern show, part séance, all Freudian uncanny. Armed with scissors and glue, Ernst performed meticulous surgery on 19th-century engravings— illustrations from Gothic romances, penny dreadfuls, mail order catalogues, and scientific texts — to create disquieting tableaux. Marrying hallucinatory visions to hard-edged realism, true crime horror to black humor, they flicker in the mind’s eye like scenes from a silent movie — a melodrama based on Jack the Ripper’s dream journal, perhaps.
Even now, after countless knockoffs in ads and album-cover art, Ernst’s collage novels pack a wallop. “They are still sinister, disturbing, and marvelous in their unrelenting power of suggestion,” Robert Hughes observes, in The Shock of the New. “The peculiarity of Ernst’s world never lets up or lapses into cliché, and its apparitions are always suddenly there, as if stumbled on.”
I grew up the daughter of a cartoonist and thought I knew a good bit about the craft. I was glued to this book and came away with a entirely new and deeper understanding of the comics form. Karasik and Newgarden turned an experimental idea, one that conceivably could have had limited appeal to students and cartoon geeks, and created a page-turner that should appeal to anyone who has ever loved a comic strip, or is interested in visual storytelling and humor. Not to mention Nancy fans.
In this in-depth interview, Mort Walker talks about growing up during the Great Depression, serving in the military, developing risque versions of his characters for overseas publishers, founding a comics art museum housed in a concrete castle, raising 10 kids, and much more. Continue reading →