Sich Lengwidge

Today on the site, Alex Wong interviews Jonny Sun, the artist/author and Twitter personality, about putting together his first book, aliens as listeners, art as therapy, and deciding to stop being anonymous.

You’ve mentioned that putting this book together helped you figure out some things personally too.

It was huge. When I started thinking about the book, I was in the most insecure point in my life, it was definitely the most difficult point in my life. I started a doctorate program, and I was in a lab doing work that was not interesting to me. I felt very intimidated and had imposter syndrome. I didn’t know what I was doing there. I felt like I had no control of what I was doing.

Whenever I get in situations like that, I turn to creative work. It’s something you can control and I know what I’m doing. The book originally started as this small piece of creative therapy, and that’s when I really grappled with the idea of mental health and realized that maybe what I’m going through here isn’t what everyone is going through. I started realizing I had anxiety and depression, and started seeing a therapist.

The actual experience of going to therapy played into the book’s narrative. I see the alien character as a listener, someone who is more quiet. I think my relationship with my therapist informed that a lot. I was just thinking a lot about how I felt better after going to therapy, and what exactly that meant for me. This book became this metaphor for therapy but also another way for me to work out ideas and thoughts, and to put things to images.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Howard Cruse writes about his experiences cartooning for Playboy.

Giving four whole pages to an unknown newbie was apparently too much for Hefner to swallow. But despite that rejection, though, Michelle thought I still had a good chance of cracking “Playboy Funnies,” especially if I came up with more comic strip parodies. Not multi-page ones, maybe; ones that could slip smoothly into the small spaces that would be allotted to strips in“Playboy Funnies.” She was confident I would make the cut, but my first step would be to go home and work up sketches.

Not all of them would need to be parodies, she explained, but some should be. They could be sexually randy; Playboy was a magazine for grown-ups, after all. But they would need to be acceptable for newsstand display.

In practical terms that meant that, while naked females and sexual innuendo would be welcome, practically de rigueur, I should not take my freedom too far. No erections and no penetration, she explained, was the rule at Playboy.

As a cartoonist with roots in uncensored underground comix, I was fine with being funny about sex. Eager, even. Compared to undergrounds, mainstream comic strips were relentlessly prim. That primness was what I was being invited to parody, and I considered that sexlessness overdue for roasting. My point of view was: What would it be like if sex were matter-of-factly embraced by our cartoon favorites instead of being invisible?

Comical incongruities came to mind effortlessly.

—At The Guardian, James Reith writes about Maurice Tillieux's Gil Jordan comics.

Tillieux took Hergé’s “clear line” drawing style and muddied it; where Tintin’s world is clean and sparse, Jordan’s is grimy and littered. The same can be said for the storytelling. Whilst critics adore Tintin for its conceptual complexities, Hergé’s stories are often straightforward adventures peppered with throwaway gags. But for Tillieux, gags have consequences: what you might think is a joke will turn out to be a crucial plot point. Tillieux took familiar comic tropes – then complicated them.

—And it's hard to believe that July is almost over, and we haven't linked to Gabrielle Bell's annual month-long July Diary comics yet.



Today on the site we have Sarah Horrocks interviewing Katie Skelly about her new book, My Pretty Vampire.

Something that is a recurrent theme in our conversations is the idea of the hustle and scamming. A segment of the population would use words like “earned” or “achieved.” Why do you think you phrase things that way?

Honestly, I just think it’s funny. I like to see how people react when I say, “I’m just grifting here.” But I’m also terrible at letting myself enjoy things. I think it’s a way for me to mentally distance myself from any idea of success, because I don’t want to let it slow me down.

Is success scary? How would you contrast the difference between the fear of success, and the fear of failure–because you’ve had both, yeah?

It is scary, because it feels ephemeral. But I also don’t think I’ve quite got it yet. I kind of let go of the idea, I think. I don’t set big goals any more, I just want to go as far as I possibly can with what I’ve got.

So getting into the new book–as an artist you’ve evolved rapidly in just the few years I’ve known you. How do you perceive the changes from Operation Margarine to My Pretty Vampire?

Lots of ways, really. I think it’s more stylistically accomplished on the whole. The drawing got better, the color adds so much more to the mood. The horror is right there at the forefront, you don’t really have to go digging around for it. My eye sort of gets wider for background and mise-en-scene.

Hey, on that note, New Yorkers: Go out to the Strand tonight and see Katie in conversation with Gary Panter and Leslie Stein, moderated by Nicole Rudick. Those are some great, great people.

In other news, Mike Diana has some new products out in the world, and Breakdown Press has announced its fall slate.


Support Your Local Sting-Ray

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews Kristen Radtke's widely acclaimed Imagine Wanting Only This, and seems to have come away largely unimpressed.

Imagine Wanting Only This
follows Radtke’s narrator/avatar across several years and locations, placing Radtke first at a site of an early-twenties cohabitation and then at graduate school and afterward. As the years advance, her narrator’s curiosity about declining cities and structures grows into true fascination, leading to an ambitious, international survey of ruins during her time in grad school. The circumstances surrounding this project are severe: the passing of an uncle, the passing of a friend, and the possibility of a hereditary heart condition. To critique the resulting work is not to suggest that these events deserve anything less than real empathy. But the memoir blurs exploration and consumption in a manner that may make some readers queasy, and the visual choices on display undermine the effectiveness of the book.

Scenes with the potential to intensify Imagine’s themes of decline and decay—a wake, a breakup call—are often blunt in their execution or awkwardly staged. Radtke’s grayscale, photo-referenced artwork registers as not drawn but traced, with static sequences across panels and unnaturally smooth figures within panels. The approach to light and shadow gives most objects, including people, a plastic sheen; the placement of certain captions and speech balloons appears to be a last-minute consideration.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Ellen Forney, the most recent guest on RiYL is Mike Diana, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Carta Monir.

—Misc. The Bristol Board has published a nice old Marie Severin splash page which features secret caricatures of many Marvel personalities, from John Romita to Mimi Gold and Sol Brodsky.

The annual Comics Workbook Composition Competition has been announced.


Today is Now

By traditional and demand, today is Jog's day of posting. He will bring it to you tonight.  


Here's a very nice local profile of Geoff Darrow in the Chicago Tribune.

Tom Spurgeon gathered some of the relevant publishing news from SDCC in one post.

And finally, Frank Santoro has announced the Comics Workbook Composition Competition 2017. Go here for details.


Uh Oh

Today on the site, Frank Young reviews Sunday Press's new Rube Goldberg collection, Foolish Questions & Other Odd Observations: Early Comics 1909-1919.

American wit has the furrowed brow and cautious stance of a boxer. Its affect may be dry, ironic or absurd, but its goal is to lay us among the posies—to cause that ker-plop moment as we absorb its blunt impact.

This hasn’t changed much in the last century. The assault has become harder, fiercer. TV sitcoms, stand-up and mainstream movies pelt us with brute force as they bruise the boundaries of what’s shocking, startling and amusing. Alas, the American comic strip, which has been on life-support for decades, barely manages a feeble swat anymore.

As shown by this, the latest in Sunday Press Books’ vintage American comics reprints, we’re not far removed from the earthy thump of Rube Goldberg. Goldberg is forever linked to his invention cartoons, which still inspire young creators to design what Wikipedia dryly calls “…deliberately complex contraption[s] in which a series of devices that perform simple tasks are linked together to produce a domino effect.” They’re one facet of a long and ambitious comics career that spanned slapstick and melodrama, social commentary and a big Bronx cheer.

The set-up of Foolish Questions, Goldberg’s first successful comic strip series, is familiar to anyone who’s read Al Jaffee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” a longtime feature of Mad magazine. Formula: well-meaning person asks painfully obvious question; gets smart-ass reply by deadpan recipient.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Eisner Awards were announced, with some solid winners and plenty of head-scratchers. Most gratifying, possibly, is the induction of both Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez into the Hall of Fame.

Flo Steinberg, Stan Lee's secretary and a key presence at Marvel during its most culturally vibrant period, died yesterday morning at the age of 78. Her replacement at Marvel, Robin Green, wrote a story about her in a story about Marvel for Rolling Stone in 1971.

Hundreds of letters came in every week from fans, and Flo was the one who opened them. One time there was a letter addressed to Sergeant Fury from a man in Texas, a real rightwinger, who said, "I notice in Sergeant Fury that you're anti-Nazi. Well, if you're anti-Nazi, that must mean you're pro-Commie, and you're all a bunch of no-good dirty kikey commie pinko people, and I have a gun and I'm going to come to New York and shoot you." It was addressed to Stan Lee and the Marvel Comic Group.

Flo passed the letter around the office, and everyone got hysterical because this guy was going to come and machine-gun everybody. Flo didn't know what they were hysterical about because she was the one who went out to meet the people. Flo was loyal, but for a hundred bucks a week you don't get shot. So they called the FBI and a man came down. He said, "Wilkins, FBI," and Flo said, "Steinberg, Marvel."

—Reviews & Commentary. Hillary Brown writes about Andrea Pazienza's Zanardi.

Zanardi is a book that inspires surprisingly complicated feelings. Usually, when I don’t like a comic, I put it in a pile of things destined to leave my house, and I don’t look back. Zanardi has been sitting in a box for weeks, mostly because I hated it, and yet it’s still here. These comics, focused on the titular character, appeared in Italy between 1981 and 1988, after creator Andrea Pazienza died of a heroin overdose. They are foul and rude and nihilistic, full of drug use, misogyny, casual violence, crime, manipulation and general rotten behavior. Zanardi screws over his friends because it amuses him. The attitudes demonstrated throughout are decidedly retrograde. The stories also don’t hang together particularly well; instead, they have a vaguely pornographic feel, with panels strung on the most basic whiffs of narrative—but each plot thread leads to a simple obsession with debauchery.

Megan Liberty writes about the "Something Unusual is Happening" exhibition at Printed Matter.

Other comics in the show contain more traditional plot elements, including text bubbles and characters. Lale Westvind’s Joan the Drone Pilot & Mary the Drone (2017), printed with blue ink on pink pages (except the cover which is red ink on cream), is the story of a world that exists in several dimensions, with those in charge controlling those trapped in the lesser plane for profit, until Mary arrives and attempts to escape. A heavy-handed metaphor for our use of technology, or technology’s use of us when in the hands of advertisers, it has a more traditional structure, with spreads divided into panels and text in word bubbles and boxes. But its dense imagery, heavy lines, and block shading, reminiscent of ‘70s and ‘80s pulp comics, make it at times visually dizzying and challenging.

An anonymous writer has begun a site called Reading Doonesbury, going back through the strip's whole history and connecting it to current events.

What set Doonesbury apart from virtually every other mass-market comic strip in 1970 was that it roots were firmly planted in the youth and campus culture of the time. Like Walt Kelly’s Pogo before it, Doonesbury brought pointed political and cultural satire to the funny pages. What was different about Doonesbury, however, was that its style, as much as its content, reflected contemporary values of youth rebellion. Trudeau jokingly referred to the “urgent scrawl” that defined his early strips as evidence that he was producing “cartoon vérité.” [1] Trudeau sees his early work as not merely a commentary on its times, but a product of them: “If Doonesbury looked like it had been created in a stoned frenzy,” he maintains, “then that was evidence of its authenticity. The strips were dispatches from the front.”

HiLobrow has been running a series of short posts by Jacob Covey, who has designed many of the best-looking comics of recent years, as he discusses book design.

Barcodes exist in service to commerce and if not in opposition to art then certainly with disregard of it. 99% of publishing’s barcodes are unnecessarily large, positioned in the lower right corner, and printed on a white field to maximize efficiency for human checkers. Distributors say they must be on white to read correctly but the red light scanners of barcodes read white the same as red.

—Interviews & Profiles.
Dana Jenning at The New York Times profiles Gary Panter.

Mr. Panter, 66, is creatively footloose and has never been content to just draw comics and paint. (He’s represented by the Chelsea gallery Fredericks & Freiser, and his art has been shown worldwide.) He’s done light shows, puppetry, design, printmaking, sculpture, and plays rock music. He honed his early hack-slash style of punk pen-and-ink on posters and album covers for bands like the Screamers, the Germs and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Oh, and there were three Emmys in the late 1980s for his set design on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” (“I’ll talk about anything — except Pee-wee,” he said, laughing.)

Explaining his jack-of-all-trades attitude, Mr. Panter, who grew up mostly in rural Sulphur Springs, Tex., wrote in an email: “I am wired to make stuff. Life is short and these various mediums have different things to offer, so I am seeing what I can do.”


Let’s Fan

Today on the site: Robert Kirby on Tom Van Deusen's  I Wish I Was Joking.

I Wish I Was Joking is a short collection of Tom Van Deusen comics that originally appeared in publications and series such as Intruder, The Seattle Weekly, and Sam Henderson’s The Magic Whistle. Van Deusen describes these strips as “nonfiction, autobiographical” comics, but each story is clearly a tall tale of escalating absurdity. A few describe Van Deusen’s creepy encounters with famous people and reality television contestants that clearly never happened. But that’s the fun: Van Deusen’s keen sense of the ridiculous and wise-guy comic timing create stories that are over before you want them to be.


It's Comic-Con right now, so here's a pretty good history of the event from Rolling Stone. 

There's a very fine looking Quentin Blake exhibition up in London.



Door Mat

Today on the website, RJ Casey interviews Jason Murphy about violence, abstract art, narrative incoherence, kids' comics and his recent story, "The Character".

Is The Character a child?

No, but I feel like I was connecting with the design because of some of those childhood cartoon emblems like the Odie ears, the Mickey feet, and the Dopey butt. His design is a symbol of my childhood, but much of his story is based on my present reality. Does that make sense?

Sure. Was it easy for your kids to connect with it then? Do they read your work?

They do enjoy it, and they are very supportive. They’re both seven, so they are at a great age for making art. I probably get more inspiration from them than they do from me. I feel like they connected with my work more when they were three or four though. Much of my narrative work is silent, so I would flip through the pages with them and we would make up sound effects together.

You feel like they’ve aged out of it somehow?

[Laughter] Yes, they are much too sophisticated for it now. Three to four is my wheelhouse. I don’t know, they like it. They just don’t connect with it the way they did at a younger age. They’re making their own work now.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Sam Thielman profiles Gary Panter on the occasion of Songy of Paradise.

Panter, who spent a year-long fellowship at the New York Public Library studying Milton in preparation, has put a lot of himself into it as well. He describes himself as “Christian-damaged” but admits that religion does obsess him.

In fact, Panter says that he experienced his own formative vision, in a manner of speaking. Back in 1972, he “took a shitload of bad acid”, an experience that disturbed him so badly he had to leave school for a year. The memory of it still haunts him: “There’d be composite creatures made of vacuum cleaners, all kinds of devices,” he says of his trip. “And then they’d be covered with thousands of roach clips each holding a butterfly wing or a playing card, and they’d all be stop-motion animated, and going, ‘Come with us!’” This was not the organic and spiritual experience he’d hoped for.

Alexandra Alter talks to Junot Diáz about his new picture book, which should be very interesting. Diáz is one of the most comics-fluent novelists around.

A year and a half ago, Mr. Díaz was driving in Miami with a friend and her young daughter, when the little girl became restless and demanded a story. Mr. Díaz obliged and began telling her a tale he made up on the spot.

As the story grew more elaborate and detailed, Mr. Díaz’s partner, the author Marjorie Liu, who was also in the car, recorded a video on her cellphone. She later wrote out a transcript of the story and urged him to publish it, but Mr. Díaz didn’t think it was good enough. “I was my typical curmudgeonly self,” he said.

It might have ended there. But Ms. Liu sent the video to his agent, Nicole Aragi, who encouraged him to revise it and develop it into a children’s book.

The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Gabrielle Bell.

The New York Times has published its obituary for Sam Glanzman.


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.