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Liking Comics

Today on the site we have Joe McCulloch giving us the latest in funny book releases.

My own recent reading reading has included the new IDW/Library of American Comics-published Gasoline Alley. It’s 1964-1966 by Dick Moores, who was Frank King’s assistant and then successor.

I don’t often use my kid-self as a gauge for comics, but I have to say, this strip, which I read five days a week throughout the 1980s, more or less signals “comics” to me. Just the lines and shapes alone remind me of straightforward enjoyment not just of the strip itself but of “comics”, a category that might also include Far SideSteve Roper and Mike Nomad and Spider-Man.

Seeing this artist’s work for the first time in 25 or so years has been delightful. Moores’ Gasoline Alley is not King’s. Moores is not graceful like King was, but instead brings mid-century solidity to the people and places. He was an exacting craftsman seemingly utterly at home in his pictorial world. This sequence, below, is crisp and clear cartooning, full of personality but all in service to the moment it depicts which, in purely formal terms, is kind of challenging. A handful of moving parts, and Moores brings the reader right in and manages wonderful extraneous details (the truck driver’s face, the planks of the bridge, the mallet) as well. Like King, Moore had real graphic flair.

There’s pleasure to be taken in being led through such a complete-drawn world by such a steady guide. Moores’ lines are thick and resolute, his pace and attitude free of anxiety. There is no strangeness in his work. Rather, there are on-model characters that work through various situations that resolve nicely and without ambiguity. In other words, it’s the fantasy America that, every now and then, I like to drop into. But better still, it’s really fine and classic cartooning, and that craft, in service to a sense of decency that King established almost a century ago, makes for heartening reading.

Still elsewhere — old comics only:

-Some early Katy Keene ovah heah!

-Some seriously incredible details in this Simon and Kirby spread.

-Abe Lincoln: always good for comics.

 

Nudder Time

Another week begins, and the Chris Ware/Building Stories mini-symposium isn’t over yet. Today we have Georgiana Banta’s essay on the book, focusing in on Ware’s use of silence. An excerpt:

In a separate series of snow-suffused panels, the monologue of the heartbroken protagonist juxtaposes the silence of despair with the soothing quiet of expected, even longed-for extinction. She looks through the film of falling snow to imagine her death, and the relief that death would bring her, and to remember the sense-enhancing silence of childhood, of long Saturdays spent drawing. In the longer flipbook the snow burial appears in a different, more emollient light. In the diaper-change scene our gaze wanders to the snow-coated windows behind the doting mother. We realize the snow doesn’t layer any higher from one panel to the next, which tells us how much time has passed in between panels. It’s a matter of minutes, which fall here as slowly and lackadaisically as snowflakes. The wordless flipbook suggests a dilated, endlessly elastic sense of time by monitoring the almost imperceptibly shifting curlings of a cat asleep on the bed. In moments such as these the silence is situational rather than imposed, and the quiet lull of the panels emerges from the unnaturally prolonged focus on naturally quiet phases of life.

We also have Rob Clough’s review of Circles Cycles Circuits, by Dunja Jankovic.

Elsewhwere:

—Rachel Cooke reviews Building Stories at The Guardian. The one thing that has surprised me most so far about the reception to this book is how many people have been disappointed that Ware has given no set reading order—it’s as if the very idea of making sense of the book independently of the author makes them anxious.

—Big Interviews, Dept.: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez talk entertainingly and at length with the A.V. Club, and Julia Wertz talks to Tom Spurgeon.

—Gary Panter has a short tribute to mangaka/tv hero Yoshikazu Ebisu.

—Philip Nel has written up a NYC Crockett Johnson-based walking tour.

—And for a certain segment of the comics world, Caleb Mozzocco is sadly right.

 

Paper Compulsions

Ok then. Here we are.

We have the sixth in our series of essays on Building Stories, this one by Margaret Fink, focusing on the central character’s disability.

What we have among these papers is the funny high-low meeting of major human questions of how we make meaning, how we know things, and how to act (hermeneutic, epistemological, and ethical concerns) with the ordinariness of tourist traffic, toast, fellatio, and Facebook.  So many of the novel’s reviewers explicate beautifully how Ware is asking us to think about how meaning is made, and how the odd format unsettles routine reading practices, but as far as the ways in which gender, race, and ability inflect the protagonist’s experience, there’s been an eerie silence.  The critical—and potentially political—clout that Building Stories wields risks going unnoticed, perhaps, because of its subtlety and its embeddedness in the mundane. Oppressive, and unfortunately still normative, interpretations of disability see it as a life-wrecking condition, a subhuman existence; if a way of seeing or representing starts from these assumptions, disability as a characteristic of a human being metastatizes, becoming the only salient feature. If the New York Times run I analyzed in TCCW managed to represent disability as something quotidian by mostly eliding it in the verbal register, this novel form of Building Stories has managed to represent disability as having a real weight in the unfolding of a life without making it exert the kind of overwhelming gravitational pull that ableist interpretations of disability have to assume.

And Tucker Stone and co. bring what they need to bring to those that need to need it.

Because the combination is irresistible, here’s Tucker, Joe McCulloch, Matt Seneca and Chris Mautner talking about Building Stories.

More Building Stories, this time by Douglas Wolk in the NY Times Book Review.

Other topics and other places:

Tom Spurgeon has the most cogent analysis of this week’s Shuster/Superman decision.

Here’s an interview with Sammy Harkham, whose Everything Together I published.

This is a funny and fairly true post about trying to get published over at First Second. I’m not quite so gung-ho on collaboration or super duper niceness, per se, but a sense of being human beings in it together is important, that’s for sure. That sense is indeed pretty rare.

Hey, it’s Virgil Finlay, who looks better and better with every passing year. I like a fantasy artist not afraid to be out and out weird.

Here’s a piece of a debate about the fuuuuttttturrrre of books.

 

 

Bubbling Up

And today we take a brief break from our ongoing Building Stories fest to offer something a little different, Brandon Soderberg’s interview with Josh Simmons, creator of one of 2012’s most underappreciated books, The Furry Trap, who’s now also a filmmaker. Here’s one exchange:

SODERBERG: Let’s talk about sequencing the stories in The Furry Trap. It seems like the main stories are organized so that each one is darker than the previous one. It says a lot that “In A Land Of Magic” – which depicts a wizard neck-fucked by a rage-filled knight – is the most humorous, but I do feel like each story moves readers into a harsher world.

SIMMONS: Overall, the stories do get less funny, and less fantasy-based. The most obvious way to see this is to compare the first story to the last. “Magic” is the most cartoonishly drawn, it’s brightly colored, and obviously fantastic in its subject matter. With “Demonwood”, I tried to do a naturalistic strip in terms of the drawing, the characters, the coloring, and even, the supernatural elements. At the same time however, the stories also generally, become less graphic. The idea of leaving the worst of it up to the reader’s imagination works not just in individual stories, but in the final story in relation to the rest of the book. “Demonwood” shows no sex or violence at all. Yet, what is going to happen is described very clearly, and it is maybe the harshest story of all.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Fast Company talks to Scott McCloud about how the ideas he laid out in Understanding Comics relate to, uh, business leadership. I am allergic to this kind of talk, and am thus unable to tell you anything useful about it except that it exists.

—The cartoonist and publisher Tom Kaczynski is profiled by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Uncivilized Books is one of the most intriguing small and relatively new companies out there.

—According to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. has just won a major ruling in the ongoing Superman rights case. This will likely head to appeal.

—Missed this Editor & Publisher interview with Richard Thompson earlier this week about the end of Cul de Sac.

—If I lived in Cleveland, I’d get this new library card.

—WFMU’s Benjamen Walker paid Gary Panter a studio visit.

—Finally, Joe Procopio sent me an e-mail about a guest post at Today’s Inspiration he wrote about “the lost art” of Heinrich Kley, and I’m glad he did.

 

Beach Bully

Well now here’s some more Chris Ware for you. The latest in our series, this one by Matt Godbey covering the implications for urban life in Building Stories.

Today, more than ever, cities are defined by a near constant sense flux which has the effect of leaving us feeling disoriented and overcome by a flood nostalgic memories, both real and imagined, for cities as they used to exist and the lives we lived in those past iterations. In the face of the provisional nature of the urban experience, buildings offer at least the possibility of order and structure, no matter how messy the lives of the inhabitants they contain.

Ware assembles Building Stories as the literal embodiment of this messiness, self-consciously subverting linear narrative conventions in the box’s structure in order to reflect and shape the stories told inside. Throughout the strips, time constantly shifts and circles back on itself, which parallels the circuitous nature of time in our daily lives.

And TCJ-columnist Craig Fischer spoke to the artist himself and comes to us with a report on that encounter and how it affected his perception of the publication.

Building Stories taxes our abilities to build a tight story out of its discourse fragments. If you begin the book by reading one of the “Branford Bee” pamphlets, for instance, and then read the volume designed as a children’s Little Golden Book, you’ll be hard-pressed to see connections between the two. You’ll have to wait until you stumble across the panel in yet another piece of Building Stories that indicates that “Branford Bee” is a bedtime story that the central protagonist sometimes reads to her daughter. Yet even though this information places “Branford Bee” in the same world as the human characters, it doesn’t tell us the order in which we should read “Bee” in relation to the main narrative. I suspect that no matter how much I analyze Building Stories, some challenges and ambiguities will remain.

Elsewhere (old comics and no comics):

D&Q goes Rookie in NYC. I missed these parties and now I have to live with my regrets.

-Oh that Turok!

-Some nice and weird early Jack Cole comics here.

-Jog has a great story about Jesus. Of course.

Waaaay off topic, let’s take a moment and look at some moments in this Bob Montana 1963 Archie Sunday.

Look at Veronica’s swim cap. What a wonderful rubber pattern. Check out the porcupine-like hair on the bully. And then look at how the bottom tier builds to a (classic) crowd scene and the comes down with a gag. Woof. Great workman-like cartooning.

 

The Linchpin

As on every Tuesday, Joe McCulloch has This Week in Comics!, your annotated list of the most interesting new comics being released this week.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—The Building Stories juggernaut is rolling along. Here’s Paul Gravett’s review, here’s a critical back-and-forth at A.V. Club between Noel Murray and Tasha Robinson, and here’s a short Q&A Chris Ware gave to the Guardian. (I have a feeling they were more careful with editing Ware after what happened to Dan Clowes.)

—The Guardian also has an interesting interview with Nathan Hamelberg of The Betweenship Group, regarding Sweden’s controversial recent decision to reshelve some Tintin books due to racist elements.

—The great manga blog Same Hat is back after a way-too-long absence, with scanned images from a 1971 issue of Concerned Theatre Journal, packed with underground Japanese comics, and arguably the first manga translated into English. It includes the legendary Yoshiharu Tsuge story that would later be retitled “Screw-Style.” Same Hat also thoughtfully provides a complete pdf of the issue for free download!

Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson underwent brain surgery over the weekend, and convinced his doctor to let him draw during the procedure. Thompson explains over here.

—Laura Siegel Larson, daughter of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, has released an open letter regarding her family’s longtime battle with Warner Bros./DC over the rights and profits due from Superman, and talks specifically about allegations made against attorney Marc Toberoff.

—Sean Howe, occasional TCJ contributor and author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, is interviewed about his book by Salon.

—Drew Friedman is selling prints of Al Jaffee.

—And finally, another of the SPX panel videos has been released. This time, it’s Sammy Harkham, interviewed by your co-editor, Dan.

 

Moat

Today on the site we have the next Building Stories essay, this time by series editor David Ball:

How does this concentrated exploration of failure shape our understanding of these artists’ accomplishments, as well as their relationship to their own work? What Ware holds in common with these and other literary antecedents is the conviction that failure is a creative and generative force in artistic production, that it allows us a lens through which to discover human narratives that resist our peculiarly American insistence on success at all costs (viz. Ware’s rejected Fortune cover, one of the most pointed critiques of the global financial mess we continue to inhabit). Before him, Melville famously wrote that “failure is the true test of greatness,” and Faulkner claimed that he would be judged ultimately on “his splendid failure to do the impossible.” Ware’s rhetoric of failure, I argued in 2010, was an explicit look backward to these earlier, literary claims of productive failure; indeed, he cited the essay from which Melville talked about failure as the true test of greatness when composing his thumbnail history of literature for the cover of a VQR special issue titled “Writers on Writers.” Such failures might be more profitably read as the laments of literary experimentalists straining to break with artistic convention, the protests of those not inured to the ethical disorientation of America’s economic determinists and free-market fundamentalists, or the chronicles of a human condition straining against the inevitable cliff’s edge of mortality. Failure, these artists remind us, is what drives our stories, defines our ambitions, makes us most keenly human.

And elsewhere it’s an orgy of interviews. We have your “Quotable Chris Ware” at The New Yorker and your “Rock Star” cartoonist Adrian Tomine at the LAist.

Jim Rugg brings us Matt Furie via Jim’s podcast, while Tom Spurgeon does one of his nifty page-by-page interviews with The Carter Family’s David Lasky and Frank M. Young. And finally, here’s a good interview with longtime Marvel man Chris Claremont.

 

Suggested Reading Order

Our Building Stories celebration continues with another contribution from our David Ball-organized team of authors. Today’s essay comes from Daniel Worden. Here’s an excerpt:

Building Stories finds a curious paradox embedded within loss. In one large, newspaper-sized component of the text, “loss” describes both the death of a close friend, and the triumph of shedding a few pounds; one of these losses is tragic, the other desired. This duality gives Building Stories a complexity that is rare and profound. Loss in Building Stories is a condition of life, yet it is never complete. That is, no matter who dies or what is removed, every loss leaves behind a remainder in Ware’s world. This is perhaps most visible in Building Stories’ female protagonist, who loses the lower half of her leg as a child in a boating accident. While the leg is gone, it remains as an absence on the three inter-related large drawings of the protagonist’s body in a hardback book within Building Stories. The reader cannot help but notice the leg as absence, and the absence registers, itself, as a presence, a marker of individuality. What is lost, remains.

Rob Clough’s High-Low column is back, too, with an enormous spotlight on several relatively new (or recently revived) small press publishers, including Koyama Press, Hic & Hoc, Conundrum Press, 2D Cloud, and Alternative Comics.

Tucker Stone had to call in sick with his column this morning, unfortunately, but if it’s Tucker you want, you can always check in with the weekly podcast he does with fellow Journal regulars Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, and Matt Seneca. Last week, they devoted most of an episode to Love & Rockets, and Tucker made a point about Jaime Hernandez’s comics in particular that is often obscured: it doesn’t really matter what order you read them in. Partly this is due to the way the stories skip back and forth in time, but primarily it’s because of the way Jaime tells his stories: even if you read every comic and story he’s written in order of its publication, you’re still going to feel like you’re missing some of the backstory, because a lot of it still has never been revealed. Even when he introduces brand new characters, such as Tonta in the latest issue, he usually starts in media res, and it can feel as if you’ve joined the story after a long series of chapters have already been missed. Strangely, this replication of the effect you can get from reading old contextless comic books is also one of the most “realistic” aspects of Jaime’s comics.

It’s not that far off from what Ware’s doing with Building Stories, actually, and speaking of correct “reading orders,” Joe McCulloch has decided to suggest his own for that book. I haven’t gone through his suggestion carefully to see how it works, so I’m probably wrong, but I’d suggest reading it in any order you want, then going back and doing it Joe’s way the second time around. Part of the fun of Building Stories is knowing that your own experience with the book, right down to the order in which you read it, is likely to be unique.

—Ng Suat Tong has just announced nominations for the third quarter of his 2012 best online comics criticism search, and is looking for more. He’s got a pretty good list going there now.

—Jessica Abel and Matt Madden have moved with their family to Angoulême, and Abel’s published an enormous post about the move well worth reading.

—More podcast news: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez are guests on the Bat Segundo Show, and Adrian Tomine and Joshua Glenn co-hosted an episode of Boing Boing’s Gweek.

—Tom Hart has released an online comic about his late daughter, Rosalie Lightning. Be warned, it’s genuinely heart-breaking.