Knee Jerk

Today on the site, Shaenon Garrity finally finishes her epic binge-read of the entire Homestuck saga. An excerpt:

  • Rose and Jane are evil now.  They got possessed by a bad guy.  I think.  People are powering up to planet-shatteringly extreme forms like it’s hipster nerd Dragonball.

    • Anyway, all the kids and trolls have a giant battle as a run-up to the even more giant battle against their bajillion final bosses, following the superhero/anime rule that the good guys have to fight each other before they can team up.  A lot of people get killed or partly killed and everybody’s planet blows up, and John blips back from being unstuck in time to find the universe in a complete mess.  Stupid teens with their stupid video game.


  • Never mind, they’re going to go back in time and fix it and make everybody less dead again.  It’s done more interestingly than the previous retcons.  Every time Homestuck repeats a concept, it does a better job of it, but man does it keep repeating.

    And Keith Silva is here with a review of Charles Forsman's Revenger and the Fog.

    Give Forsman’s Revenger comics a quick flip -- Revenger and the Fog is the second collected volume, paired here with a one-shot, Revenger is Trapped!!! -- and they appear as love letters to those twin arrested adolescent male thrill machines of the '80s: action movies and Marvel Comics. Think Commando and Cobra as well as lesser (greater?) flicks like Lone Wolf McQuade and Red Scorpion. Comics-wise Forsman channels Larry Hama and Klaus Janson at their workmanlike most awesome.

    In her review of a similar genre send-up, Anya Davidson’s Lovers in the Garden, Katie Skelly challenges readers “to read Lovers in the Garden back to back with All Time Comics #1 and see the difference between absorbing and reinterpreting genre versus trying to sell it back wholesale for laughs.” I may disagree, a bit, on what Messrs. Bayer and Marra et al. are after in All-time Comics, but Skelly, who in her own comics absorbs and reinterprets genre like a boss, is on point. She nails the nitrous hit nostalgia gives an artist while simultaneously undermining making art that’s on par with the beloved primary text. Forsman’s voice may belong to a previous era and he may wish he could've hung out in the ‘Marvel Bullpen,’ but he has to reconcile that impulse in order to say something relevant, personal.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere:

    —Interviews & Profiles. Jason Zinoman at the New York Times profiles the new cartoons editor for The New Yorker, Emma Allen, who hasn't taken very long to make her presence and sensibility felt.

    Ms. Allen has a sprawling set of responsibilities: She also edits the daily cartoons for The New Yorker online; works on video and radio humor pieces for the magazine; runs its humor Twitter account; and for three years has edited Daily Shouts, comic essays that have become one of the most popular features on the site. (According to the magazine, in the past three months, traffic to those essays is up 60 percent from last year.)

    Her ability to find new voices for Daily Shouts is what first drew the attention of The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick. “She was bringing in people and things that I hadn’t heard before, and sometimes you need to reinvigorate parts of the magazine,” he said by phone, adding, “We need to have a deeper exploration of the web, as far as cartooning.”

    For Jezebel, one of today's best writers-on-comics, Chris Randle, talks to one of today's best cartoonists, Jillian Tamaki.

    JEZEBEL: I was struck by how you placed “World-Class City” at the beginning of the book—you’ve made comics like that before, where the images are abstracted from the text, but I like leading off a bunch of short stories with a non-narrative piece. Did you have a certain effect or framing in mind there? Were the words written as a lyric?

    JILLIAN TAMAKI: It was placed there mostly due to the format—the story is printed sideways to achieve a “continuous flow” effect. The story “Boundless,” which appeared on the Hazlitt website as an infinite scroll, is presented similarly sideways. It was [Drawn & Quarterly editor] Tom Devlin’s idea to put them as the first and last story. Perhaps the physicality of turning the book is annoying or interesting? Like entering and exiting a space.

    At Artillery, Doug Harvey talks to Gary Panter.

    A lot of the comics I have done are formalist procedural strategies that I am exploring or playing out, which sometimes makes for unreadable comics. So it’s good to also do comics like this one that also try to entertain while following some rules to produce them. Larry Poons used systems to arrange the dots on his early ’60s work—that made an impression on me. And also the ever-transforming work of Paolozzi and Fahlstrom. So those are models out of fine art for my comics.

    Comics are different from paintings typically because they are trying to trap your attention for a while and take you on a little trip and maybe make some aphoristic point or joke. Painting is more of a shorter, arrested, indeterminate moment. A painting is a mood-influencing experience. The history of painting seeps in and the formalism of making and the abstract view and the processing of figuration if there is any, so painting doesn’t seem as linear to me. Though one can take strategies and apply them however you want.

    And finally, the latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is the man of the hour, Howard Chaykin. I haven't listened to that episode yet, but I get the impression that it was recorded before the recent cover controversy and public-relations debacle that Dan mentioned yesterday. Dan linked to many relevant and valuable sources, but I did want to also link to one other perspective I found particularly useful, Abhay Khosla's. Abhay wrote about the various controversies surrounding it in three Tumblr posts.

    I agree with Abhay about the potential value of offensive art, though this whole recent episode underscores one of the most important things to remember about creating it: if you're going to caricature something, you have to know what your targets actually think. In his FreakSugar interview (and those are three words I never hope to write again), Chaykin quite rightly argues that people should read material before criticizing it. (Incidentally, I don't think this argument makes sense when discussing cover imagery, which is the only part of a comic designed to be read out of context.) But Chaykin makes that argument about direct engagement only a few minutes after proudly announcing that he has made a solemn vow not to read any criticism about his work if written on the internet. If he hasn't read the critiques, how can he understand them? It's hard not to get the impression that Chaykin is fighting against a mediated phantasm. Chaykin could make better art—and better arguments—by dealing with the real thing.


    Dog’s Life

    Today on the site, Dash Shaw talks to Gary Panter about Panter's new masterpiece, Songy of Paradise.

    This book doesn’t feel like it needs footnotes the way some of your books have. I just read it straight as a story. I thought, “Oh, this’ll be great interviewing Gary about this book, because I won’t have to do any research!” [Panter laughs]

    Yeah, there’s tons of research underneath it, but you don’t have to have it to get the book. And really, it’s because the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan—I don’t know how many verses, five or six verses in the Bible—and Milton just lards it with words and allusions and his philosophy. And so it’s hyperinflated, but the story’s simple. One of my friends, John Wray, who was also in the Cullman Center, he asked me why I stopped using multiple panels the farther I went. But the farther I went, there was less said, you were just hashing over the same things in different categories, and they weren’t worth turning into comics in a way. I start realizing, “Well, Milton’s using all these words to say something that’s just two sentences often.”

    Right, right. Yeah, I understand.

    Oh, can I say one thing. I still interspersed a reading of Dante with this. I did the same thing as the other books formally, somewhat, in that I broke the pages down according to the same books and visions of Milton pretty much, divided among the 33 pages. And I still read Dante for lighting effects. So I didn’t address Paradise by Dante directly, but the lighting gets lighter or darker according to Dante or more stars or eagles appear, that sort of thing.

    The lighting meaning the darks on the page?

    As you’re going through, like on the first few pages when finally the Babylonian God appears, and there’s a moon in that panel. And that place in Dante’s Paradise is when the moon appears. And then as you go through, rings of stars or interlocking rings of stars or birds or the eagle appears… There are these big symbols that appear in Dante’s Paradise that are the stagecraft of the book, a hidden set of tiers. It’s not important, you don’t have to know about it, but that’s just how I did the book.


    Tablet has a lengthy look at Eloise creator Kay Thompson's life and identity.

    Continued proof that comics history remains under-explored, no matter how many books are printed: Jay Jackson's Home Folks, which appeared in African-American newspapers in the 1950s.

    Longtime inker Joe Sinnott is profiled in the NY Times.

    And over the weekend a controversy erupted online over the cover of the upcoming fourth issue of The Divided States of Hysteria, a comic book by Howard Chaykin, published by Image Comics. The cover image shows the aftermath of a lynching: a hanged man with a slur on a name tag and bloody/mutilated genitals. The cover can be viewed here. The first issue of the series was also offensive to some. In both cases, the arguments back and forth involve issues of intent, privilege, and the depiction of (and profiting from) particular acts and identities. Image, with Chaykin's approval, pulled the cover from publication and released this statement. That problems inherent in the statement have been well-annotated by Jordan Calhoun. Chaykin has responded here. The reaction to that statement, which is one of the clearest examples of a total generational disconnect I've seen in comics, is still unfolding on Twitter, and Sarah Horrocks has been particularly strong there. There are other strands to this story that pull in other Image creators (notably Brandon Graham), but going down those (many) rabbit holes becomes the stuff of a much longer piece of writing, and, to be honest, I haven't read any of the comic books in play here, nor do I keep up with Image. Anyhow, there are many good Twitter threads that articulate the issues with and around the cover/series. One could start with Michelle Perez.


    It Turns

    Today on the site, the great cartoonist Mark Newgarden interviews comics historian and Harvey Kurtzman biographer Bill Schelly about his writing, and his latest book, which focuses on the legendary John Stanley.

    Who was John Stanley? Can you describe some of the inherent difficulties you encountered in researching the life and career of this significant, yet (nearly) anonymous mid-20th century multi-mass-media worker?

    John Stanley was born in 1914, a son of Irish immigrants who was brought up in the Bronx, and lived in New York City environs all his life. He died in 1993. He only gave three interviews in his life, two of them being question-and-answer sessions on panels at NewCon 1976, the only comicon he ever attended. He shunned the limelight, largely because of his natural reticence plus an extremely self-deprecating attitude about his work, and a career that ended badly. In contrast, Harvey Kurtzman must have given forty or fifty interviews, many of them extensive.

    By 2014, when I starting doing my research, virtually all his colleagues and friends, not to mention his birth family and wife, had passed away. Only a few had been interviewed about him. His son Jim Stanley, the chief caretaker of his father’s legacy, was born in 1962 and he was still a child when his father quit comics in 1970. So putting John’s story together, and tracing how one event led to another, was a challenge. I’m happy with the way it turned out. I was able to unearth a lot of previously unknown stuff.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere:

    —Interviews & Profiles.
    Paul Morton interviews Guy Delisle.

    This is the longest graphic narrative I can think of that takes place in a single room for most of it. There are a lot of movies that do the same, recently Room, but also Lifeboat and any number of adaptations of plays. Did you look to those films to develop any strategies?

    No. I saw Lifeboat a very long time ago. I didn’t see Room. I saw part of it on the airplane. Movies are very different from comic books even though they look alike. I kept my drawing very simple. It’s a real-life story. The more you put special effects in a real-life story, the less it’s going to look like a real-life story. It’s going to look like a Hollywood blockbuster. I didn’t need to reference movies that are so different.

    Tom Heintjes has reposted excerpts from several 1980s interviews he conducted with C. C. Beck.

    —News. Tom Hart's Sequential Arts Workshop is now offering online courses for aspiring cartoonists, including various classes taught by Hart himself, as well as gag cartooning by Emily Flake and perspective drawing by Jason Little.

    Golden Age comics legend Sam Glanzman has entered hospice care. There is currently a crowdfunding effort geared towards both publishing a tribute book to Glanzmann and helping the artist and his family with medical and other expenses.

    In 1939, while still a teenager, Sam Glanzman produced his first professional comic book art (under the tutelage of his older brother, Lew Glanzman). A few years later he entered WWII, serving in the pacific theater, as a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Stevens. After the war, Glanzman began drawing comics again and never looked back! Not only was he prolific, producing thousands of pages of art over the decades, but he showed himself to be a true storyteller. This can be seen best within the panels of the 4-5 page U.S.S. Stevens stories, based on his real life experiences -and those he served with- during WWII. These stories also happen to contain some of the first biographical work EVER done in comics. Along with speaking frankly about the horrors of war, Glanzman also bravely addressed issues of race and homosexuality, at a time when those things were simply not part of the conversation in mainstream comics.

    It is the final day for the Comics for Choice anthology crowdfunder, co-edited by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and Ø.K. Fox.

    Comics for Choice is anthology of comics about abortion. Cartoonists and illustrators have teamed up with activists, historians, and reproductive justice experts to create comics about their diverse personal stories, the history of abortion, the current politics, and more. Proceeds will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Together with 70 member funds around the country, NNAF works to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access, so that everyone can have full reproductive choice.

    —Reviews & Commentary.
    Former cartoonist Tim Kreider writes in favor of artists being allowed to satirize presidential assassinations.

    Americans who take their kids to Saw and Alien movies still seem oddly shocked by violent imagery in political satire, maybe because most mainstream American editorial cartoonists have turned in such lazy, gutless, Donkeys-&-Elephants hackwork for the last half-century or so. Their British counterparts have always been crueler and funnier — possibly because they have a history of literal, rather than symbolic, beheadings in managing transitions of power. Crude images of sex and violence, gluttony and flatulence, dismemberment and cannibalism recur in the cartoons of Gillray and Cruikshank, and persist in the work of their successors, like Ralph Steadman, who drew Nixon as a malignancy being excised from the heart of the Republic, and Steve Bell, who draws President Trump's head as a toilet.

    Michael Dooley writes about Steve Ditko and shares a selection of his art.

    Looking back, we see that he’d been conjuring up his hallucinatory images a full decade earlier than Dr. Strange, not to mention him being around 15 years ahead of Jim Steranko’s pseudo-psychedelic Dali riffs in his Nick Fury. And these images are all the more exceptional in their stunning transformations of traditional genre narratives—often hacked-out schlock—into startling, phantasmagoric apparitions.

    —Misc. Comics historian and Crockett Johnson scholar Phil Nel is looking for some help with his latest batch of Barnaby annotations.

    At the back of each book, I provide a catalogue of the comic strip’s many allusions — some of which are topical, and others of which reflect Johnson’s wide range of interests. For those unfamiliar with it, I should add that Barnaby (1942-1952) mixed fantasy and satire in its many stories of its five-year-old title character and Mr. O’Malley — Barnaby’s loquacious, endearing con-artist of a fairy godfather. Read all about them in the first three books! :-)

    For Volume Four, here are a few allusions that elude me. Any thoughts? Any who help will of course be credited in the published book, of course.


    Devil’s Chimes

    Today on the site, Sloane Leong pays tribute to Meredith Gran's Octopus Pie, which ended its ten year run this month. 

    Finally I took the plunge and started reading through Meredith’s extensive archives, getting to know Eve and Hanna, Marek and Marigold, Park and Olly. I got to read through Meredith’s format changes, medium changes, breaking into more metaphorical imagery, laugh as her gags became dynamically abstract and digressive at the perfect moments. My heart got to clench up during bitter break-ups, awkward attempts at friendship, heart-to-heart talks with parent characters, and longtime friends overcoming relationship hurdles or crashing headlong into them. There are a lot of characters that flow in and out of the story, carefully made to stay thematically on point while still playing to their personalities, never forced into corners where only hammy writing will get them out.

    On top of all this, Meredith’s cartooning is world class. She made strong style choices from the start, building up her visual vocabulary into a fantastic set of storytelling tools that have only expanded as the story has progressed. As previously mentioned, she’s fearlessly experimented with page size, rigorously pushing each format until it felt like she’d expended its potential and then tried something new. The last few arcs of OP are sprawling and all-encompassing on the screen, letting the scroll pull you through decompressed character moments or jump through a non-linear sequence of memories. One of my favorite scrolling page moments is on pages 704-714 where the best (only?) depiction of a song-and-dance sequence literally gave my cartoonist-heart such a thrill, like I could hear the music as the character was singing.


    The longtime creator of the Paddington Bear books, Michael Bond, has passed away.

    Here's a nice look at the varieties of Steve Ditko's cartooning chops. 

    I like the close looks at original art on Rob Stolzer's blog.


    Loot Their Socks

    Today on the site, Brian Nicholson reviews Noel Freibert's Weird #6.

    Before founding Weird Magazine, Freibert made a series of horror comics that existed in an obvious lineage that led from EC Comics through undergrounds and work in Warren magazines created by the likes of Richard Corben. These had a "host" character, and depicted transgressive acts. It was easy to see Weird as intended to follow in this tradition, with its title's similarity to Warren magazine publications like Creepy or Eerie. However, pretty quickly, within the context of the more obvious horror stories made by his fellow Weird contributors, the work Noel was making himself attempted a more Beckett-influenced sort of blankness. Now, with those other contributors absent, the horror has moved away from anything approaching genre tropes. Once a mood used to discuss the inevitability of death in semi-humorous fashion, now it is more of a Mark Beyer-styled wail of terror, an ambience necessary for discussing life in America. The humor present, evident in his even older zines, is this sort of slack-jawed vacant-eyed caveman Beavis and Butt-head, taking-acid-and-watching-Faces of Death thing. The imagery interpretable as "heavy metal" that I found so gauche can then be understood as related to this, as an attempt to signal that his sympathies lie with this sort of figure. They exist in a timelessly vulnerable position, that being the kid in a tribal society who eats the unfamiliar berries to find out whether or not they're poisonous. The politics are essentially an outgrowth from that vulnerability, the result of an artfulness that attempts to achieve a state of thoughtlessness, somewhere adjacent to zen but reflecting absolute brutality and decimation.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere:

    —Reviews & Commentary. For Artsy, Matthew Thurber provides the most Thurber-esque possible list of ten cartoonists every art lover should know.

    [Keren] Katz’s work, like that of Matthew Barney or Mika Rottenberg, has its own logic. Her storytelling voice seems to link the divine nonsense of authors like Daniel Pinkwater, William Steig, or Edward Gorey with surrealist writers like Leonora Carrington. Her comics are Truly Weird, the highest compliment I can give. With drawings executed in confident colored pencil, her figures stretch, bend, and topple in a manner reminiscent of contemporary choreography. (Indeed, Katz studied dance and has mentioned Pina Bausch as an influence.)

    The Comic Books Are Burning in Hell podcast returns with all four hosts (Tucker Stone, Joe McCulloch, Chris Mautner, and Matt Seneca) discussing Kevin Huizenga's Ganges.

    In comics form, Anders Nilsen reviews Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.

    —Interviews & Profiles. Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes interview Gary Panter about his new Milton adaptation, Songy of Paradise.

    I haven’t read Milton or Milton criticism, but this seems easy to follow.

    Yeah, it’s different from my more formal, harder-to-read books. The story here is actually very simple. Satan says, “Hey, be my pal,” and Jesus says, “Noooo, you’re Satan.” And that happens over and over and over again throughout the whole story. Satan goes, like, “Hey, I’ll tempt you with food!,” and Jesus goes, “No, I’m not hungry.” “What about money?” “I don’t need your money!” That’s the nature of the Milton text.

    The most recent guest on Process Party is Dustin Harbin and the most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Graham Chaffee.


    Tech Support

    Hi everyone, we had some tech issues starting Friday morning, so forgive the disappearing act. Today on the site:

    Joe McCulloch brings the noir to the week in comics. 


    Welcome news on the scholarship-front: Washington University has acquired R.O. Blechman's Ink Tank archives, which contain work by some of the best illustrators of the 20th century. Nice.  

    Reports of Mad Magazine's imminent demise seem to be premature. Cartoonist and editor Bill Morrison is taking over as the editor in chief and the Gang of Idiots is moving to Los Angeles. More here.

    This upcoming comics exhibition at Printed Matter in NYC sounds good.

    Editor of the late great Comic Art magazine and author of one of the all-time great cartoonist monographs (that would be The Art of Jaime Hernandez/The Secrets of Life and Death), Todd Hignite has launched a comic art online gallery. Great things to be seen and save-up for there.

    The brilliant cartoonist Jason Shiga has posted the greatest book preview video ever. Of course.



    Today on the site, Rob Kirby returns with a review of Jenny Zervakis' The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997.

    To read Jenny Zervakis' The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997, the first book published by John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half comics distribution outfit, is to take a welcome step back to the Golden Age of Zines. Long before the advent of such things as social media, GIFs, hashtags, and ebooks, cartoonists and zine-makers like Zervakis created, communicated, and collaborated with kindred spirits through the magic of print media via regular old postal mail. The Complete Strange Growths is a great addition to the small list of archival books devoted to preserving classic titles of this crucial era, including Porcellino's own King-Cat Classix (D+Q, 2007), The Complete Deep Girl by Ariel Bordeaux (Paper Rocket Minicomics, 2013), and Fantastic Plotte by Julie Doucet (L’Oie de Cravan, 2013).

    Strange Growths has been credited as a groundbreaking comics zine for its quietude, and focus on the quotidian—or, as Tom Hart’s back cover blurb aptly states, “on thought and mood.” It’s easy to see why John P. has acknowledged Zervakis as a major influence on his work, and fitting that he has published this collection. Zervakis’ comics record her experiences, memories and contemplations of the moment with an aesthetic that is personable yet detached, intelligent but fun-loving, and observant of small details while never losing focus on their larger significance, and never sinking into preciousness or sentimentality.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere:

    —News. Professed Alan Moore fan Damon Lindelof is reportedly in talks to adapt Watchmen into a television series for HBO, which seems like a strange thing for anyone who respects Moore to do.

    Key parts of Ted Rall's defamation lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times have been thrown out by the judge in the case.

    The nationally syndicated cartoonist, whose work once appeared regularly in The Times, filed suit last year alleging that the newspaper defamed him by calling into question the veracity of his work.

    Acting on a motion by The Times, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Kalin dismissed Rall’s claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against three current Times journalists and former Publisher Austin Beutner.

    Alternative Comics publisher Marc Arsenault and his family are raising funds to help with various costs stemming from a burst appendix.

    Being self-employed, they've also had to hire help to run their bookstore, Wow Cool Alternative Comics, while Marc is in the hospital and will need continued help while he recuperates at home and undergoes physical therapy.


    Floral Nobility

    Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews Pretending is Lying:

    Reading the New York Review Comics edition of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying, I was reminded of an old Phoebe Gloeckner interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal. It’s commonly believed that the harrowing experiences she depicted in A Child’s Life and Diary Of A Teenage Girl are based partly on her own life. However, when Groth asked about certain events  in the book and referred to them as happening to her, she very insistently deflected that line of questioning. She repeatedly said that it happened to the character she created (named Minnie) and not her, no matter how many times Groth tried to get her to admit to something that seemed obvious.

    The reality was that Gloeckner was not being disingenuous, nor was she even deflecting. A narrative about a personal experience is a narrative, not the experience itself. It’s mediated by the author. In a way, it’s a kind of a lie, at least in the sense that when we pretend to play at something, it’s a lie. This does not diminish the importance of these kinds of experiences; in some ways, it’s easier to get at the truth through one’s own textual avatar than it is through a supposedly “truthful” autobiographical character. Art is also artifice, and clever authors can show us the strings and matte paintings that make up their world while still making us believe in them because of their own skill and self-awareness.


    NY Mag takes a long look at the business and popularity of YA comics.

    The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Joe Ciardiello.